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Bad Stretch

[ 0 ] April 22, 2006 |

Don’t miss the six-plus part series at Axis of Evel Knievel regarding the impending birth of the author’s daughter. The upshot is that if you’re not going to be born on April 1, you might as well wait until May.

The best review of this series comes from commenter “Wife” who states:

I’m sure everyone is enjoying my witty husband’s remarks on the daily atrocities that have occurred on past days of April. However, I am from the “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” school of thought where I figure his time could be better spent sucking the hairballs off of our ceiling with the vacuum cleaner; removing the mound of recycling from the floor of our kitchen; finding out where Henry, his neutotic pisser of a cat, has left his last mark; tossing out the empty can of Fresca and the empty beer bottle that have been laying on our deck for the past six months; or perhaps playing a game of “try to find the teabags,” which are hidden around our house in the strangest of places. He’s witty, to be sure, but he’s also a teabag tosser.

Couldn’t the same be said of us all? Except the witty, that is.

[ 0 ] April 21, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

No Child Left Behind Except the Ones Who Get Left Behind

[ 0 ] April 20, 2006 |

Redbeard has been smokin’ hot lately. His analysis of NCLB statistics and minority group exclusion is too good to summarize quickly, so just Read the Whole Thing.

Revert to Saved File

[ 0 ] April 20, 2006 |

One comment from the thread Scott linked to at Sadly, No! really captures it:

The question is, how many more turns of Anarchy until the Iraqis can select Democracy as their form of government? And do you get the feeling that the Bushies always play on Novice level, and frequently revert to saved files when things go wrong?

I get the sense that the Bush administration saved in May 2003, and doesn’t have its autosave turned on.

Speaking of Civ IV, the v1.61 patch seems to solve the crash issues that start to happen whenever I move into the modern age. I generally like Civ IV, although I have some quibbles. I don’t care for how they’ve nerfed shore bombardment, as you can only damage a city’s defenses, leaving its economic development and units safe. I also used to love send my fleet up and down an enemy coast, destroying improvements as they went. That doesn’t seem to be possible anymore, unless you have aircraft carriers. I also have to wonder why they decided, in both Civ III and Civ IV, to make ships essentially invulnerable to aircraft. My bombers can reduce a frigate or galleon 50%, but can’t sink it. This makes no sense. Improvements, especially of the cottage-hamlet-village-town type, are more valuable, making their defense (and a defense of territory rather than cities) more important.

The diplomatic system is good, and more transparent than the system in Civ III. The financial system also seems to be a little bit more open to manipulation, which is always a good thing in this kind of game. I haven’t played that much with the civics, haven’t really pursued a religious strategy yet, and haven’t done anything with specialists.

Good to be able to waste my life again…


[ 0 ] April 19, 2006 |

Was Scott McClellan just about the lamest press secretary in recent memory? Ari Fleischer was great; wore Evil on his sleeve and didn’t care who saw it. McClellan was pathetic.

The US IS Different…

[ 0 ] April 19, 2006 |

Not to pile on the Euston Manifesto boys (although they heartily deserve it), but this needs some extra attention:

The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of “rendition”, must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit. But we reject the double standards by which too many on the Left today treat as the worst violations of human rights those perpetrated by the democracies, while being either silent or more muted about infractions that outstrip these by far. This tendency has reached the point that officials speaking for Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, can assert that the legislative measures taken by the US and other liberal democracies in the War on Terror constitute a greater attack on human rights principles and values than anything we have seen in the last 50 years, and be defended for doing so by certain left and liberal voices.

This paragraph could have been downloaded from any given right wing blog over the last three years. Of course Abu Ghraib was bad (if we are allowing that it happened, and isn’t just some kind of fiction), but Saddam Hussein/Iran/Hu Jintao/Soviet Russia was much, much worse, so quit yer bitching. There are two responses to this. Matt has the first covered:

Both the American and Iranian governments torture people. But as an American, there’s very little I can do about Iranian policy. I can write blog posts condemning it, which will accomplish nothing except bolster my own sense of self-righteousness. As regards American policy, I can vote for candidates who are likely to halt or limit the torturing, and I can attempt to persuade my fellow citizens to do the same. Is it so crazy to focus on the latter more than the former?

Quite right.

The second response is to note that there really is a difference between the US government engaging in torture and Saddam Hussein engaging in torture, and that the former, for international human rights law and practice, is much, much worse. China, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are all dictatorships whose governments employ or employed various degrees of tyrannical means, including torture, in order to remain in power. They are not, however, considered role models for compliance with international human rights. No one points to China as a model for emulation in respect for human dignity. Although we can quibble as to the degree to which “freedom is on the march” and democracy is replacing autocracy, I think it’s fair to say that China and Iran are not typically understood as representing the wave of the future. In other words, we expect that autocratic states will maintain torture regimes, we decry it, and we hope that international law, NGOs, and international regimes will put pressure on these states to modify and reform their policies. To a considerable degree we are rewarded in these expectations; the international human rights community can be said to have significant successes in reducing human rights violations in countries around the world, including South America, Russia, and China.

The United States, however, IS a model for human rights emulation. When states and governments look at the international system for a set of appropriate behaviors, they look first at the United States, then at the advanced European democracies and Japan. The United States is deeply identified with the international human rights regime that it took pains to construct in the post-war years and has maintained, with more or less success, since then. Thus, when the United States engages in torture, extra-legal detention, and murder of prisoners, it matters. A lot. In fact, it matters a lot more than what happens in Tehran or Pyongyang. If the United States can ignore human rights practice in dealing with those it declares its enemies, then any country can.

This is why the US deserves the criticism it receives on this point. We have the right to expect better from the United States, and, indeed, if we value human rights then we NEED to expect better from the United States. If the US doesn’t take human rights law seriously, then no one will.


[ 0 ] April 17, 2006 |


Ever since 9/11 he’s been generating words as a fantastical rate the overwhelming plurality of which are based on pretty clear-cut misreadings of Thucydides such that a book about how a once-great country ruined its foreign policy and its own moral virtue in an unnecessary foreign adventure somehow becomes a book about how wars that look really stupid are, in fact, good because they provide a lot of opportunities to show resolve.

Right; the rise of Victor Davis Hanson must rank among the greatest absurdities of our age. His interpretation of the Sicilian expedition (and of the destruction of Melos) really reaches Straussian heights; you literally must believe that what Thucydides MEANT was the exact opposite of what he WROTE.

Lest We Forget…

[ 0 ] April 17, 2006 |

Belle Waring:

No, the thing that strikes me as funny is that everyone who supports was with Iran is all about the “mad mullahs” and how they can’t be deterred by normal deterrance because they’re crazed jihadis content to incinerate their own country, plus OMG THE HIDDEN IMAM The people making this argument now insist that of course MAD worked back when we faced rational opponents like the USSR or, you know, Mao’s China or whatever. But now, in a new era of crazy people having nukes, all bets are off. It’s like Iran is one big suicide bomber! The limits of the internet and my own laziness prevent me from researching this at all, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that all these people (over a certain age) did not regard the commies as secular rationalists who weighed the costs or war carefully back in the day. Not at all. Much more of the “they’ve got a plan to retreat to their bunkers and sacrifice their own hapless citizens upon the altar of destroying America” Just a theory. (Obligatory on-the-otherhanding: I’m sure some of the liberals now advocating deterrance railed against MAD at the time as an armageddon-hastening nightmare.)

Right. They seem to quite ignore the fact that Iran has the same capacity to commit national suicide NOW, without nuclear weapons, as it would if it had a few nukes. These are also the same folks who argued that Saddam Hussein could not be deterred, in spite of the incredibly clear evidence that, in fact, he could be deterred (why didn’t he use WMD against the US in 1991? I guess it just didn’t strike his fancy!).

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Baden

[ 0 ] April 16, 2006 |

The dreadnoughts of the High Seas Fleet had two notable characteristics. First, they were well armored and have excellent survivability characteristics. These qualities extended to German battlecruisers, most of which took brutal damage at Jutland yet survived. On the downside, German dreadnoughts tended to be poorly armed. The first German dreadnought class, the Nassaus, carried twelve 11″ guns in an extremely wasteful hexagon pattern that allowed a broadside of only eight guns. Later German dreadnoughts adopted the 12″ gun, but the Germans continued to arrange the turrets poorly, not adopting a full centerline plan until the Konig class of 1913.

To some degree these choices involved a value trade-off. The Germans focused on survivability more than did the British, although probably less than the Americans. The Germans also believed that battles in the North Atlantic would be fought at short ranges, and that at these short ranges lighter guns, with their increased rate-of-fire, would prove superior to heavy guns. On the other hand, heavy guns did more damage when they hit, and were more likely to penetrate a ship’s main armor belt and do severe damage to the vitals. In another sense, however, the German behavior was just foolish. Heavier guns did not necessarily require a larger frame or sacrifices in speed or protection. The 8 15″ guns of Queen Elizabeth weighed no more than the 10 13.5″ guns of Iron Duke. Correctly arranged, a larger guns could actually save weight while maintaining strength of broadside and increasing effective range.

The Royal Navy steadily increased the size of its guns, from 12″ on Dreadnought to 13.5″ on Orion to 15″ on Queen Elizabeth. The Imperial Japanese Navy designed Kongo with 14″ guns, and the USN followed suit with the 14″ gunned New York. The otherwise quite modern Konig, a contemporary of these ships, carried only 10 12″ guns. The German Navy, upon discovering that the British had decided to arm Orion with 13.5″ weapons, finally authorized the use of a larger gun. The next class of German ships would be built on a larger frame and would carry 8 15″ guns. These ships would become Bayern and Baden, and would be the only German battleships, in either war, to be sufficiently armed for their size.

Baden was an excellent design. She displaced 29000 tons and could make 22 knots, slower, but better armored, than the Queen Elizabeth class. Baden had a mixed propulsion system that used both oil and coal, an arrangement unique to later Imperial German ships. Unfortunately for the Germans, neither Baden nor Bayern were ready for the Battle of Jutland. Baden was not commissioned until March of 1917, while Bayern entered service a few weeks after Jutland. No single ship (other perhaps than the USS New Jersey) could have transformed the outcome of Jutland, but it’s fair to say that the Germans would have done much better if Baden or Bayern had been available. In particular, the battleships of the Fifth Battle Squadron, including Barham and Warspite, would have suffered badly from the heavier German guns. Warspite only barely escaped after being hit by 15 12″ shells. The 15″ guns of Baden might well have sent her to the bottom.

The German Navy did not sortie after Jutland, and Baden had a relatively uneventful career. The High Seas Fleet refused a suicidal order to sortie in late 1918, and at the end of the war the Allies demanded that the most powerful German ships be interned at Scapa Flow. The German fleet (somewhat ragtag after being poorly maintained for the last year of the war) was escorted from Wilhelmshaven to Scapa Flow by a huge fleet of British, French, and American battleships. The situation remained tense, and the Allies were careful to keep their guns trained on the German battleships as they left port. Baden was not originally slated for internment, but another ship, Mackensen, was not complete and Baden was taken as substitute

The German fleet remained, with skeletal crews, at Scapa Flow as peace talks dragged on. Several of the ships would have been significant prizes for the Allies, including Baden and Bayern. France in particular would have liked to incorporate some of the German ships into her fleet. The Royal Navy was content to let the ships rust. The British were reluctant to seize the ships while peace talks continued, and they believed, in any case, that the German crews would react to an attempt at seizure by scuttling the ships.

On June 21, 1919, acting on what may have been an erroneous report about the negotiations, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter ordered the High Seas Fleet to scuttle itself. Eleven battleships, five battlecruisers, and dozens of smaller ships opened up their hulls and sank. The Royal Navy, out on maneuvers, was unable to stop the Germans, although a few German sailors were shot in the confusion. Deeply annoyed, the British imprisoned the crews for some time before allowing a repatriation to Germany. Only the Baden could be saved, as the British towed her into shallow water before she sank.

Over the next two years, the Royal Navy tested, prodded, poked, and disassembled Baden in order to figure out how she compared to British ships. Their conclusions, which should be viewed with some skepticism, were that Baden was definitely inferior to her Royal Navy contemporaries. On 16 August 1921, Baden was mercifully sent to the bottom by fire from Royal Navy battleships. The wrecks of eight German battleships and battlecruisers remain at the bottom of Scapa Flow, and have become an attraction for adventurous SCUBA divers.

Trivia: Which German battleship of the twentieth century had the longest active service career?

Worst 9/11 Story Ever

[ 0 ] April 14, 2006 |


LPD: The New Dreadnought?

[ 1 ] April 14, 2006 |

Another interesting article in the April 3 Defense News concerns the increasing focus of the world’s navies on “expeditionary” ships, like LPDs, LHDs, LCCs, LHAS, command ships, and so forth. Broadly, this group includes just about any ship that is designed to manage, project, and protect ground expeditions as a primary mission. These ships are large, expensive, tend to carry helicopters, and usually have the capability to deliver and keep supplied a contingent of ground forces.

The USN has long been in the amphibious assault game, and currently has 12 amphibious assault ships (Tarawa and Wasp classes- LHA), and a dozen amphibious transport docks (LPDs). The Royal Navy has one LHA and two LPDs, and the French Navy has recently commissioned the first of the Mistral class, a large amphibious command ship. That the Americans, British, and French have such ships isn’t particularly surprising, given that these three countries have decided to maintain both blue water navies and expeditionary capabilities. What’s more interesting is that smaller navies are increasingly getting into the amphibious assault game. The Dutch commissioned Rotterdam, a 17000 ton LPD, in 1998. Spain has built two large LPDs and is building a big LHA, the Italians are building three LPDs, and Portugal is building one. Canada has expressed an interest in purchasing one of the US San Antonio class LPDs, roughly at 25000 ton ship. The trend extends to Asia, where India in attempting to buy a US LPD, and Japan operates three small LPDs. South Korea, believe it or not, is building a 19000 ton LHA. Malaysia is considering building two new 18000 ton LHAs.

The amphibious assault ship spree is somewhat reminiscent of the drive, around 1910, of a number of major and minor powers to purchase or build dreadnought battleships. Countries that had no business owning major modern units, like Brazil and Argentina, spent enormous sums on modern vessels for reasons of national prestige. However, the Defense News article suggests a more rational purpose to the purchases. As major warfare operations have increasingly become coalition expeditionary efforts, states with small militaries want a way to contribute. An amphibious assault ship gives a country like Spain, the Netherlands, or Canada a way to involve itself in an expeditionary operation without being excessively dependent on one of the major naval powers. Like their armies, the navies of these countries are becoming less focused on the traditional forms of territorial defense and more on the need for policing, peacekeeping, and other forms of expeditionary warfare. Also, amphibious assault ships are easier to sell to defense-spending averse European publics (and legislators) because they can be portrayed as more flexible and less “aggressive” than traditional naval vessels.

Still, I wouldn’t discount a constructivist explanation focused on national prestige and “appropriateness”. If Portugal has an LPD, then what does it say about Canada that they lack one?

[ 0 ] April 14, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson