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HBO Future

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Variety reports…

  • The Sopranos will not return until March. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first of several delays.
  • Rome will return in January, but will only have one more season. Maybe they’ll get to Actium? Max Pirkis is going to have to do some aging, and that’s a lot of civil war to have in only thirteen episodes.
  • Alan Ball is putting together a vampire series. I’m skeptical.

The upshot is that the next year will see the death of Deadwood, the Sopranos, and Rome, three of my favorite series. I would also wager that Entourage is not long for this world; I love it, but there’s only so much you can do with the premise. The same might be said of Lost. Let’s hope that Battlestar Galactica has a long and fruitful life.

Chinese Missiles

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Good Defense News article (subscription only) on the deployment of the DF-31 and the DF-31A. These are the first Chinese missiles capable of MIRVing (3-5 warheads each of up to 150 kilotons). The former have an 8000 mile range, which simply reinforces and expands existing Chinese strategic capability. The latter, however, has a 12500 mile range, which makes possible the targeting of the entire United States and all of Europe. Defense News says that the deployment of 60 DF-31s is expected, but doesn’t give figures for the DF-31A. In any case, we can expect that the number of Chinese missiles capable of reaching the US will triple or quadruple in the next four or five years.

China has also begun construction of the Jin class, its first group of genuine SSBN. My guess is that the first will enter service in 2008 or 2009. Each will be able to carry 16 SLBM versions of the DF-31. It will be interesting to watch how the PLAN deploys these boats in the next ten to fifteen years. Soviet naval doctrine was designed primarily to protect SSBN sanctuaries, but the Chinese seem to expect the PLAN to play a more active conventional role. We’ll see how they weigh those two roles.

None of this matters too much for US policy, although the prospect of a couple hundred Chinese missiles, as opposed to 24, should serve to further discredit the idea that a missile defense system will ever be able to provide security to the US.

Mickey Kaus is a %%$%@ Moron, Part LXXIV

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Yes, I realize this is an unhealthy obsession.

Mickey has responded:

Numerous readers email to note Plano’s very Republican voting record–Collins County, of which it’s a part, went 71% for Bush in 2004, for example. It’s certainly a Bush bastion. It’s less clear to me that it’s a “conservative” bastion if by that you mean social conservative (gay marriage, school prayer, abortion, etc.). Nor does it seem to be a “pickup” truck, chewin’ tobacco bastion in the classic sense. More of a Bobo Boomburg. Either way, the use of Plano to demonstrate red state outreach is still a PR-man’s con because, as mentioned, the Angelika Film Center, where the Gore movie is showing, draws from the entire Dallas metro area. It’s an art house featuring standard art house films–such as (currently) “Keeping Up with the Steins” and “Wassup Rockers.” If a film does well there that says no more about any subversive appeal to conservatives than if the film sold out the NuArt in West L.A.. Or the Angelika Film Center on Houston St. in Manhattan, for that matter.

Shorter Mickey: If we redefine conservative to mean what I want it to mean, then Plano is kind of not conservative.

What an idiot. Conservatives should loathe Mickey even more than I do; for Mickey, it appears, conservatives are ignorant hicks who’ve never heard of sushi, shop every day down at the Wal*Mart, and who all drive aging pickup trucks with “I Hate Queers” bumper stickers on the back. Moreover, while the “Plano ain’t social conservative” line could explain why Brokeback did well, it certainly doesn’t explain An Incovenient Truth, which hardly touches on any social conservative questions. If anything, libertarian conservatives should hate the latter even more than the former.

Just to add to the frivolity, Mickey’s claim that “people from all over Dallas go to watch movies in Plano” is somewhat undermined by the fact that there appear to be five theaters in the Dallas metro area showing Inconvenient Truth. The Angelika, it seems, is 20 miles from downtown Dallas. Pending further evidence, you can color me unconvinced that Plano is drawing all the raving liberals in the area…

Last Kaus post today, I swear. I should stop reading Slate.

UPDATE: I’ll grudgingly allow that I’m mildly impressed that Mickey linked to a post titled “Mickey Kaus is a %%$%@ Moron, Part LXXIV” without engaging.


[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

The Reds had a tendency to blow late inning leads. This was a problem. They have now solved this problem by ensuring that they will never again take a lead into the late innings.

Mickey Kaus is a %%$%@ Moron, Part LXXIII

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Mickey is railing again about Plano, Texas. Apparently, An Inconvenient Truth is doing well in Plano multiplexes, which has given Mickey conniptions. Plano, he would have his readers believe, is not, in fact, a conservative town. Indeed, according to Mickey, it’s not even really a Texas town:

Plano [is] not alll [sic] that much of a “conservative bastion”**–and certainly not the good-ol’-boy cow town its characterful name conjures for clueless coastal types

Mickey made the same remark about Plano when it was discovered that Brokeback Mountain was doing well. Here is what I commented at the time:

Plano, Texas is part of Collin County, Texas. It is genuinely affluent, with a median income of over $75000. In 2004, Collin County gave 71.2% of its vote to George W. Bush, and 28.1% to John Kerry, a percentage that exceeded Bush’s margin in Texas as a whole. In other words, Collin County is conservative for Texas.

Plano also rated as the fifth most conservative city in the United States with a population over 100000.

… I have sent an e-mail to the distinguished Mr. Kaus with the following query:

In spite of this, you continue to insist that Plano is a liberal, coastal elite bastion. I’m wondering: Did you not bother to do any research, or do you just not care?

We’ll see if I get a response. It should be noted that while Kaus precedes Weisberg’s tenure as editor, Weisberg’s stated policy of not requiring any fact-checking by his authors enables this kind of garbage.

Self-Parody at Slate

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

In the smartest column he has ever written (or will write) Jonah Goldberg described the Slate ethos as “liberals are wrong but not for the reasons conservatives think they’re wrong”. Today come two classics of the genre. Richard Ford helpfully points out that people who oppose gay marriage may not be bigots; they just want stable gender roles:

If I’m right, there are two reasons someone might oppose same sex-marriage: anti-gay animus or a desire to protect traditional sex roles. It’s no secret that traditional sex roles are in crisis. They’ve been battered by feminism’s attacks on male privilege and feminine mystique. Macho women have mocked female virtues (consider the gun-toting Thelma and Louise, the oversexed Samantha Jones of Sex and the City, or the wooden-stake- and holy-water-wielding Buffy). And house husbands, Mr. Moms, and “metrosexuals” have similary rejected or lampooned traditional masculinity. Today both men and women reject the constricting and unequal sex roles of past generations, but most still desperately want meaningful sex identities.

In other words, gay marriage advocates ought not to blame anti-gay zealots for political defeats. Rather, they should blame feminists (and also Joss Whedon, apparently). Ford is apparently oblivious to the two larger, obvious questions that this invokes. First, why are traditional gender roles worth defending in the first place, and how is it that defense of them is somehow more respectable than not liking gay people? Second, does Ford think that traditional anti-gay bigotry isn’t founded on the same preference for those traditional gender models?

Jacob Weisberg then launches a “liberal” attack on the New York Times for publishing SWIFT. The following passage really defines the Slate project:

The first thing to say about this fight is that conservative claims about the media’s supposed motivations in publishing both the NSA and SWIFT stories reflect only ideology and ignorance. . . . All that said, let me depart from the liberal consensus and argue that the New York Times, while acting in good faith, made the wrong call by printing the SWIFT story.

Fill in different nouns, and that passage could literally be included in every story that Slate (and probably the New Republic as well) has ever published. What’s even more irritating in the specific case is that Weisberg fails to then produce a “liberal” argument against publishing the SWIFT information. He allows that the notion that the disclosure will aid terrorists is exceptionally unlikely, but nevertheless argues that since the program probably isn’t illegal, it should have remained secret. This hardly strikes me as much justification for his position, and I’m left with no other conclusion than that Weisberg just really wanted to be disagreeable.

Thank God for Times Select

[ 0 ] July 12, 2006 |

Because of Times Select, I can rise each morning happy in the knowledge that I won’t have to read John Tierney.

Another Way for the Man to Keep You Down

[ 0 ] July 12, 2006 |

This sounds really cool, in a mildly creepy kind of way:

[Rick] McKenzie has devised Crowd Federate, a model that will add a crowd component to a variety of defense simulations. “The intent is to provide a real-time, realistic, psychologically based crowd model to provide interactions with control forces.”

Based on extensive psychological research, Crowd Federate works at several levels. At the smallest, the model tracks individual people, although only for navigation within the city at this point. The psychological aspects kick in at the group level, with groups typically composed of 10 people.

“There are different types of groups,” McKenzie said. “There is the protester group which protests for a cause. They’re the ones holding the banners. The agitator group is there to cause trouble. The bystanders are just there and don’t want to get involved. Then there is the curious group that will move toward anything interesting and stick their noses in. If something violent should erupt, they will probably run away.”

To some extent, the behavior of the military forces will determine the response of these groups. The very presence of soldiers may ratchet up tensions, as will shooting into the crowd. But numerous other factors influence crowd behavior, and many can be adjusted by simulation operators. One key sets the overall crowd emotion level, expressed through nine levels of aggression.

Terrain and cultural factors are also included, although the operationalization of the latter seems kind of clumsy:

The Crowd Federate has two cultural variables. On one end is a user-determined rating for inherently cultural aggression. On the other end is a rating for the cultural awareness of local customs among the military forces. The most volatile combination is an aggressive culture and a culturally insensitive army.
There are also environmental factors. Terrain affects the aggressiveness of crowds and their tendency to mass.

The simulation is being vetted for use by Joint Forces Command. Previous simulations have either severely simplified civilian behavior or just dealt with the behavior of groups. If it works for the Pentagon, expect the simulation to be used by your local police.

Baseball Challenge Standings, All Star Break

[ 0 ] July 12, 2006 |

The Bearded Ducks, unsurprisingly, hold a lead after the first half of the season. Loomis trails closely, and a mad run by Axis of Evel Knievel has placed Dave Noon within striking distance.

Remember that lineups restart after the All-Star Break; if you haven’t yet modified your team, you’ll be getting zero points.

1 Kentucky Bearded Ducks , R. Farley 4138
2 I Love Technology , E. Loomis 4080
3 Axis of Evel Knievel , D. Noon 4011
4 titleixbaby , P. Smith 3922
5 Bolts from the Blue , R. Payne 3785
6 green weinies , W. Bell 3551
7 The Stugotz , B. Petti 3525
8 Shangri-La Coelacanths , J. Daw 3495
9 Eephus , J. Schroeder 3457
10 Seattle HemiCats , M. Bruneau 3362
11 Moscow Rats , I. Gray 3315
12 Sector 7G Carbon Blobs , S. Meredith 3308
13 deez nuts , m s 3153
14 St. Louis Cardinals , D. Solzman 3133
15 Axis of Evel Knievel , d. noon 2825
16 GeorgeWCarpetbagger , P. McLeod 2279

Shine On

[ 0 ] July 11, 2006 |

Syd Barrett has died, only thirty-five years late.

Syd Barrett, the troubled genius who co-founded Pink Floyd but spent his last years in reclusive anonymity, has died, a spokeswoman for the band said Tuesday. He was 60.

The spokeswoman — who declined to give her name until the band made an official announcement — confirmed media reports that he had died. She said Barrett died several days ago, but she did not disclose the cause of death. Barrett had suffered from diabetes for many years.

Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with Roger Waters [ed], Nick Mason and Rick Wright, and wrote many of the band’s early songs. The group’s jazz-infused rock made them darlings of the London psychedelic scene, and the 1967 album ”The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — largely written by Barrett, who also played guitar — was a commercial and critical hit.

However, Barrett suffered from mental instability, exacerbated by his use of LSD. His behavior grew increasingly erratic, and he left the group in 1968 — five years before the release of Pink Floyd’s most popular album, ”Dark Side of the Moon.” He was replaced by David Gilmour.

I quite like Piper at the Gates of Dawn and some of the early Pink Floyd singles. I don’t particularly care for Barrett’s solo work, although during the height of my Floyd fandom I owned all of his albums.

… also read Jody Rosen. While I enjoy Piper at the Gates, I concur with Rosen that a) the best of Pink Floyd’s later work in much better than Barrett Floyd, and b) that Dark Side etc. would not have been possible had Barrett remained in the band.

Improving Counter-Insurgency

[ 0 ] July 11, 2006 |

Matt has some good comments on the excellent Fred Kaplan article on the latest US Army counter-insurgency doctrine. I differ from Matt on a couple of points, however. Matt writes:

I think that, basically, yes, we should give up these sorts of wars as futile. Kaplan observes near the top of his article that “as a nation we may simply be ill-suited to fight these kinds of wars.” This is a common trope in the counterinsurgency literature. And it appears to be true. The deeper problem, though, is that so do all the other relevant nations. The history of liberal democracies waging successful counterinsurgency campaigns of the sort suggested by the Field Manual is very poor.

I think this is wrong for few reasons. First, I don’t think that the history of counter-insurgency has been quite as grim as Matt suggests that it is, even for military organizations employing relatively civilized tactics. The United States Marine Corps assissted several counter-insurgency operations in the 1920s and 1930s in Cental America, and these operations by and large were successful and did not employ the sort of scorched earth tactics that Matt later aludes to. The US also assisted in the elimination of the Huk rebellion in the Philippines, and in the defeat of the communist Greek insurgency in the late 1940s. British success in the Malayan Emergency is well known. The Boer War has to be rated at least a qualified (if costly) success for the British Army, and again did not involve mass slaughter tactics (although large number of Boers died of disease in concentration camps). Now, there are also plenty of examples of successful insurgencies against liberal democratic opponents, and I don’t want to suggest that such operations commonly succeed, but the number is a bit higher than zero. The converse is also wrong, I think; mass slaughter as a counter-insurgency tactic works pretty rarely.

Second, Matt makes what I think is an important qualification: The history of liberal democracies waging successful counterinsurgency campaigns of the sort suggested by the Field Manual is very poor. Right, but that’s part of the point. For the modern military organization, nationalist insurgency is a relatively new problem. It’s important to recognize that insurgency and guerilla warfare are not the same thing; the former often (but not always) employs the latter, and the latter can exist without the former. In Iraq, the Saddam Fedayeen that the US encountered early in the war quite clearly employed guerilla tactics, but were not insurgents. European military organizations of the 19th century were accustomed to dominating huge colonial tracts with extremely low troop density. If we accept that the tools that make a military good at counter-insurgency are not the tools that make an organization good at conventional continental warfare, then it becomes apparent that even during the period in which nationalist insurgencies could be expected, many organizations had better things to do. Whereas keeping the colonies down was important, defending the border was usually viewed as the more compelling mission in most military organizations. Simply put, armies haven’t had that much incentive to either theorize about counter-insurgency or become proficient at executing it. The two conclusions that follow from this are first that the number of democracies executing these tactics in a competent manner has been quite small, but second that there is no very compelling evidence to think that military organizations cannot improve their counter-insurgency tactics over time. Indeed, we’d even expect it as the incentives for fighting counter-insurgency well increase. Training and doctine matter, and both can be improved over time. It is certainly well known that organizations vary in their capacity to execute counter-insurgency or peacekeeping operations; colonially experienced European military organizations (France, UK) tend to do better than continentally oriented ones (US, Germany, Russia). Finally, we can do a bit of process tracing and point to situations in which well-executed tactics worked better than poorly executed ones (see, of course, Andrew Krepinevich’s The Army and Vietnam, which points out how much more successful Marine operations were than Army, despite employing less firepower).

Treating insurgency as an intractable problem opens up other difficulties. Not all insurgencies are the same; some are weak, some strong, some have a large popular base, others don’t, and so forth. Even if we were to accept that defeating the Iraqi insurgency was impossible from the start (a proposition I regard as unproven) this hardly means that no insurgency can be beaten with civilized tactics. Moreover, simply suggesting that we should discard the project of improving our counter-insurgency capabilities because it’s too hard disregards the possibility that the US may be required to engage in difficult counter-insurgency operations. In the case of Iraq, I can think of half a dozen different scenarios in which the US would have come into conflict with an insurgency for entirely legitimate reasons. If Hussein had openly allied himself with Bin Laden, or attacked Kuwait again, or if the state had begun to collapse, US intervention would have been both justified and necessary. It’s quite possible that an insurgency would have developed anyway, and the US military would have needed to develop the tools to fight it.

Matt also argued that “we need to endeavor to steer clear of counterinsurgency situations as much as we possibly can.” I concur, although that doesn’t really distinguish insurgency from any other kind of war. Whether we’re just bad at counter-insurgency or the task is impossible doesn’t matter all that much, because we shouldn’t fight wars we’re unlikely to win. But this strikes me as an unproductive and potentially disastrous way to argue against intervention. The idea that war could be at least quasi-civilized and that particularly brutal tactics like gassing the enemy, incinerating their cities, and killing their prisoners didn’t help anybody out has, in spite of some setbacks, contributed to the reduction of human misery. Suggesting that the only successful counter-insurgency tactics are likely to be the brutal ones leaves a humanitarian with relatively few options in the face of a necessary counter-insurgent fight. Moreover, it’s not rhetorically compelling to argue, against someone invoking national necessity, that the tactics we need to win are just too brutal for us to conduct. In the wake of, say, an Iranian sponsored terrorist attack against the United States, the “we can fight them because we’ll kill too many of them” argument is likely to fall on deaf ears. Indeed, some considerable portion of the US electorate might regard mass slaughter as a feature, not a bug.

So, I can’t agree with Matt that efforts to improve counter-insurgency tactics and operations are pointless. I do, however, agree with him that trying to maintain a reputation for resolve is ridiculous. More on that later.

What World Are You Living In?

[ 0 ] July 10, 2006 |

On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Grace Sherwood’s witchcraft conviction through trial by water:

“With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice,” [Tim] Kaine wrote. “We also can celebrate the fact that a woman’s equality is constitutionally protected today, and women have the freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

Sigh. If only either of those were true…

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