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One of These is Not Like the Other

[ 0 ] May 15, 2006 |

Read Rodger and Matt on the absurdity of including Libya, a country with long-standing and substantial ties to terrorism, as a friend in the War on Terror, and considering Venezuela, which doesn’t so much have any of those ties, as an enemy.

Love the moral clarity.

Fundamental Contradictions

[ 0 ] May 15, 2006 |

It’s no surprise that the Republicans are crashing on the rocks of immigration, but I never expected to see it this soon. I figured that the general loathing of the Other that the Republican Party has built its public identity around would be a big problem in the future, eventually pushing an ever larger Hispanic American population into the Democratic fold. The relatively solid showing that the Republicans made in 2000 and 2004 appears to have been a hiccup in this process, but a hiccup with consequences. The desire to do passably well among Latino voters, combined with the need to serve big money, the real constituency of the Republican Party, has brought the contradictions into the open. Seems like a fair amount of the voting base just doesn’t care to share a country with brown people. Who knew? Greenwald is cataloguing the implosion.

The notion of putting the National Guard on the border, especially as a “temporary” measure, is obviously too stupid for words. The “temporary” clause really gives away the show, as no one has contended that the border problem has become particularly acute in the last few months. It’s a pathetic sop; a fascinating-to-watch exercise in “How dumb do they think we are” vs. “How dumb are we, really?”

Reds Swept

[ 0 ] May 14, 2006 |

In an improbable 2-1, 12 inning loss to the Phillies. Bad weather and various logistical difficulties have limited my appearances at Great American Ballpark, but today’s game was pretty solid. Brandon Claussen pitched remarkably well for a guy who’s not really all that good, facing a solid offensive team in a hitters ballpark.

Claussen cruised through 7 2/3 shutout innings, but to be fair was assisted by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who started Alex Gonzalez at first base. The question of which Alex Gonzalez is the “good” Alex Gonzalez has become almost as moot as the question of who was the “good” Brian Hunter, and in any case neither ever belonged anywhere near first base. With two outs in the top of the eigth, Manuel corrected this problem by pinch-hitting with Ryan Howard, who promptly tied the game with a monstrous home run. Howard walked in his next at bat, then crushed another monster homer for the go-ahead run in the twelfth. The Reds probably had six warning track shots between them, any one of which would have won the game.

The Reds are certainly overperforming, but they just might come in at .500 for the year. I don’t think that Arroyo can be relied upon, but the return of Griffey should help. Much depends on how Brandon Phillips turns out. He started hot, but has tailed off. If he regains his touch, this is an incredible offensive team.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Lion

[ 0 ] May 14, 2006 |

This is the second of a four part series commemmorating the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

Part I: SMS Lutzow

HMS Lion was the first of the Big Cats (also known as the “Splendid Cats”), and the sixth battlecruiser constructed for the Royal Navy. The Big Cats were supposed to be a leap ahead in battlecruiser construction, designed with centerline turrets in order to take advantage of a full broadside, and were nearly a third larger than the New Zealand. The name referred to the fact that three of the five ships authorized bore the names of large cats; Lion, Tiger, and Leopard. Tiger, however, was completed to an alternative design after the construction of the Japanese Kongo, and Leopard was never completed. The other two ships in the class were Princess Royal and Queen Mary, neither having particularly notable feline connotations.

Lion displaced 27000 tons, carried 8 13.5″ guns in four twin turrets (two forward superfiring, one amidships, and one rear), and could make 27 knots. Her armor protection was poor, although slightly better than that of the Indefatigable class. Lion became the flagship of David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron, intended to counter and destroy the German battlecruiser squadron. While the Grand Fleet battleships were based at Scapa Flow, Beatty’s battlecruisers were stationed out of Rosyth, from whence they would be the first to intercept any movement by the High Seas Fleet.

The early part of the war was characterized by various German schemes to lure out and trap part of the Royal Navy in an engagement against the whole of the High Seas Fleet. None of these plans worked particularly well. In December 1914, Admiral Franz Hipper dispatched his battlecruisers to bombard several English towns. The operation, which came off successfully, deeply irritated the British public, which wondered what, if not to protect England, the purpose of all the battlecruisers and battleships of the Royal Navy was. Hipper decided to launch a second raid in January 1915, but British intelligence caught wind of the operation, and the Royal Navy battlecruisers were ready. Lion led a group of five British battlecruisers against Hipper’s force of the three battlecruisers and one armored cruiser. In spite of their numerical superiority, the British managed to sink only the Blucher, a German armored cruiser, and damage the remaining ships. Lion, at the head of the British line, was severely damaged, but managed to score a near-critical hit on the German battlecruiser Seydlitz. Only luck saved Seydlitz from a magazine explosion, although the Germans learned from the experience that battlecruiser magazines were vulnerable and had a tendency to explode.

Sixteen months later Lion would serve as Beatty’s flagship at the Battle of Jutland. Although the Grand Fleet had been alerted to the German sortie, Beatty and his squadron were the first to intercept the Germans. Beatty’s Rosyth squadron was supposed to consist of fifteen ships, including ten battlecruisers and the five Queen Elizabeth class fast battleships. However, HMAS Australia was under repair, Queen Elizabeth was in refit, three older Invincible class battlecruisers had been dispatched to Scapa Flow for gunnery practice. Thus, Beatty only had six battlecruisers and four battleships available for the scrum. Beatty’s questionable disposition of forces and poor British signalling meant that only the six battlecruisers would be involved in the opening skirmish with the Germans; the four fast battleships had received an incorrect signal and turned in the wrong direction.

Unaccountably, the British ships did not take advantage of their larger and longer ranged guns to engage the Germans at distance, and the two fleets began to fire simultaeneously. More poor British signalling left the order of fire confused and one of the German ships unmolested. Lion suffered the first major wound of the battle, as a 12″ shell hit her amidships (or “Q) turret. The hit peeled back the roof of the turret, and very nearly started a magazine fire. Major Francis Harvey, who had lost both legs to the explosion, managed to order the magazine flooded before dying, a move that saved the ship (and condemned many of his men to drowning). Harvey received a posthumous Victoria Cross. Had Lion exploded, things might have gone poorly for the British. Two of Beatty’s other battlecruisers would soon suffer magazine explosions, and the loss of the flagship would have left the British line in disarray. German fire would have been concentrated on fewer ships, and I suspect that the British would have lost at least one more battlecruiser (probably either New Zealand or Princess Royal) in addition to Lion.

Barham, Warspite, Malaya, and Valiant arrived to save Beatty and his ships from the Germans, and Lion was able to limp away. Another incidence of poor signalling prevented Beatty from reporting the size, position, and course of the German fleet to Admiral Jellicoe, a factor in the eventual escape of the High Seas Fleet. Lion continued to fire on German ships, although her role would never be as critical as in those first few minutes of the battle. After Jutland, David Beatty was promoted to command of the Grand Fleet. Much attention was paid to the failure of the British battlecruisers at Jutland, and future designs (including that of HMS Hood) were reworked to incorporate more armor. Regarding the battlecruiser concept, however, it is important to note that the German battlecruisers performed exceptionally well under fire, and that the battlecruisers that would survive into World War II would all be useful ships when employed carefully.

Lion, badly damaged, saw no further action in World War I. Along with her remaining sister, she was scrapped in accordance with the Washington Naval Treay of 1922. Beatty would later turn the surrender of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow from a somber affair into a humiliating one. He died in 1936.

Trivia: If you had to name your flagship after a German monarch, which one would you choose?


[ 0 ] May 12, 2006 |

Ack. Looks like the end for Deadwood. Either that or they’ll be killing off a bunch of characters this year.

I’ve never held to the notion that Deadwood deserves to be considered on the same level as the best of the HBO dramas, Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Especially in the second season, though, it has become a strong series. It’s better than Rome, although I’m glad that the latter has begun shooting its second season.

[ 0 ] May 12, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

Lady Justice Smiles on Kentucky

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Governor Fletcher indicted.

For those that only watch the Kentucky Derby, Governor Ernie Fletcher seems like a stand up guy. It turns out, though, that Kentucky shares with its northern neighbor an incorrigibly corrupt Republican Party. I am told that the business interests in Frankfort don’t care for Fletcher anymore, because he lacks the even basic honesty needed to be productively corrupt.

Much more from Bluegrass Report.


[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Glenn’s reaction to the NSA domestic data trolling story:

UPDATE: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Right. If people would complain about the absence of something in the wake of a terrorist attack, then it must be justified.

Let’s see what else we could justify using this logic:

Concentration Camps for Muslim-Americans: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Random Detention of Suspect Leftists: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Widespread Censorship: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

An Invasion of Canada: Of course, if we’d had a terror attack since 9/11 and didn’t have a program like that, people would be complaining.

Try it at home!


[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Hey, maybe there’s an upside to all this Da Vinci Code nonsense. If it drives James Dobson and his ilk batty, then who am I to complain?

Of course, I still won’t be seeing it.

American Way of War?

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

Adam Kotsko asks:

It’s indisputable that the US has superior firepower and has for quite a long time — in fact, although I’m willing to be corrected here, I seem to remember that the US was basically always ahead of the USSR in the arms race. That factor aside, however, is there any evidence that the US has ever actually been good at war on a technical level? Are there any of these moments of strategic brilliance where an amazing victory was pulled off on a shoestring? I know that the US has had successful generals, but have we had talented generals, the kind who will go down in the history of military strategy?

Certainly an interesting question.

In terms of thinkers who have really transformed the way that the world has thought about war, I think that the only American worth naming would be Alfred Thayer Mahan, who was read all over the world at the turn of the last century and is still taken seriously today. Mahan’s ideas had a profound effect on naval procurement in the early part of the twentieth century. Mahan didn’t really have the opportunity to command or organize a fleet in battle, but he’s certainly an important figure in the history of military theory, not too far off from Jomini or Clausewitz.

Mahan’s contribution really lay at the political and high strategic levels, rather than at the operational or tactical. For these latter, I think that some of the Civil War generals come off pretty strongly. Lee is an interesting case; his obvious tactical and operational brilliance was marred by a lack of good strategic sense. Moreover, Lee was not in any way revolutionary; he was simply very, very good at Napoleonic tactics, and at understanding the weaknesses of the generals he was fighting. I think that Sherman and Grant made a more lasting contribution. Grant and Sherman were exceptional generals, and both understood the combination between the military and the political in a twentieth century manner. Of the others, I think that both Longstreet and McClellan deserve some accolades.

What about the twentieth century? I think it would be fair to say that the United States, prior to 1991, had not distinguished itself in operations or tactics in land campaigns. The US Army was demonstrably inferior to the German Army in both war on an operational and tactical level, and I think that the same could be said of the US Army’s relationship with the Red Army, at least toward the end of World War II. Patton was great and all, but he doesn’t really shine in comparison with the best German and Russian generals. On the other hand, it would be wrong to say that the United States demonstrated itself to be inept at tactics and operations. Across the board, US performance was superior to that of the British, and has to be reckoned as better than that of the Russians prior to mid-1942. If the US Army had been subjected to the same tempo of operations as the Red Army, then it might have turned out as well or better than the Russians. As for post-World War II campaigns, there are some serious questions to be asked about the US performance in Korea, and, while the Vietnam War would have presented a profound problem for any military organization, it can’t be said that the US Army did a good job.

I would also say that the United States has not distinguished itself theoretically in the twentieth century. US military thinkers were (and in some cases still are) enamored with the German model, and spent much more time perfecting it than developing something new. There’s nothing wrong with this; the Germans were, operationally and tactically, the best model to be had. Perhaps the most important US contribution to land warfare has been in the field of logistics (and this really goes back to the Union half of the Civil War). The United States Army has done an exceptional job of integrating industry, supply train, and fighting units in all of its wars. The US has also done pretty well at the strategic and political levels, at least in major interstate wars.

The USN does better, I think. By early 1943, the USN outclassed all potential opponents in tactics, damage control, and ship quality. This last isn’t just a consequence of a strong industrial base; USN naval architects were better than the naval architects of other countries. US carrier tactics and operations were vastly superior to their Japanese and British counterparts, in spite of some early Japanese successes. It would also be fair to say that the USN was very good at the strategic level, choosing targets in 1944 that would force the IJN into battles where it could be (and was) destroyed. The Marine Corps has also distinguished itself repeatedly in the twentieth century, developing first an expertise in counter-insurgency warfare, then, in a short period of time, becoming the premier amphibious assault organization in the world.

Of the Air Force there is less to say, but the USAAF and the USAF certainly haven’t performed any worse than their opponents.

So, in answer to Adam’s question, I would say first that the US has excelled in the technical aspects of war in some cases, if not in others. I would also suggest, though, that it’s not quite the right question. Part of the US approach to war (and, really, part of any sensible approach to war) is to make sure that the battle is won before it is fought. Overwhelming logistical superiority helped to win the Civil War, both wars against Germany, and made the final campaigns against Japan a foregone conclusion. Logisitic superiority, which includes a careful integration of industry and warplanning, is itself a technical skill, and it’s one that the United States has executed better than any other country.

That’s my take, anyway. I hope that AG, Kingdaddy, and the gentlemen at OP FOR would also contribute.

UPDATE: I should add that I think that the belief that the US Army and Marine Corps are currently the most skilled (and technologically advanced) military forces in the world is accurate. The outcomes of the 1991 and 2003 wars were overdetermined, but the extraordinarily low casualty rates on the US side in both conflicts are evidence that both skill and technology favor the US. I think that this tends to reinforce the idea that military power is not fungible; some organizations are good at some tasks, others at different tasks, but very few organizations can do everything well.

Five in Twenty-Five

[ 0 ] May 11, 2006 |

I’m tickled that the New York Times Book Review assessment of the five best novels of the last twenty-five years aligns so closely with my own preferences. Here’s the top five:

1. Beloved, Tony Morrison
2. Underworld, Don Delillo
3. Rabbit Angstrom, John Updike
4. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth

I am deeply ashamed that I’ve never read Beloved, and the Rabbit novels have been on my “to read” list for the last four years or so. The McCarthy and the Roth, though, are on spot. I know that Scott disagrees, but I think that American Pastoral is, by a fair distance, the strongest of Roth’s later work. I like Sabbath’s Theater (which, along with five other Roth books, is on the larger list) but I always felt that American Pastoral was a more complete and accessible work. Blood Meridian is obviously the best McCarthy (the Border Trilogy also makes the larger list). Underworld is interesting; I think that it’s probably better than Libra and White Noise, although with the latter this is purely a stylistic preference on my part. It’s certainly more ambitious than Libra, but I think that it could be reasonably argued that Underworld doesn’t come together quite as well, apart from the magnificent first fifty pages.

I’m not sure that it’s quite fair to include Confederacy of Dunces as a candidate; it was written well outside the twenty-five year window. Then again, so were three of the four Rabbit novels. There are only three works since 2000, including two of what I thought were fairly weak Roth efforts (Human Stain and especially Plot Against America), which suggests to me that distance and hindsight are important to a project like this. I imagine that a couple of hundred prominent writers and critics asked in 2015 would return a much different set of works from the first part of this decade.

Are These Morons Getting Dumber or Just Louder?

[ 0 ] May 10, 2006 |

The right-wing of the blogosphere has become apoplectic about this post from All Things Conservative. The Corner, Powerline, Polipundit, Instapundit, and the inimitable Mickey Kaus have all seen fit to link. The cause for celebration is the latest Brookings Institution Iraq Index. To the naked eye, this Iraq Index is more or less identical to all of the others, but Bill Crawford, being the insightful type, lists eighteen points of progress.

1. Per Capita GDP (USD) for 2005 is forecast to increase from the previous year to $1,051. In 2002 it was $802.

Super. Glad to see that we can successfully increase the per capita GDP of country under crippling sanctions by 25% in four years.

2. Increases in GDP for the next five years: 16.8, 13.6, 12.5, 7.8, and 7.2.

Again, super. That is, of course, if those projected GDP gains actually pan out; I wouldn’t actually count this as progress until there’s, like progress…

3. Actionable tips from Iraqis have increased every month this year. In January, 4,025 tips were received; February, 4,235; and March, 4,578.

Great… Does this actually mean anything? Is this part of a trend? Did this lead to any, you know, action? Does this correlate in any fashion whatsoever with anything positive about Iraq? From a glance at civilian casualty numbers, the answer is clearly no…

4. On an index of political freedom for countries in the Middle East, Iraq now ranks fourth, just below Israel, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Super. Ranking below Morocco isn’t really a positive, and, in any case, this question hardly touches on what remains the most critical question in Iraqi life, which is basic security.

5. Crude oil production reached 2.14 million barrels a day (MBD) in April of this year. It had dropped to 0.3 MBD in May of 2003.

Yes, that’s quite the comparison. Surely, if you want to demonstrate progress, the best base metric is to refer to production the month after the war started.

6. Revenues from oil export have only slightly increased from pre-war levels of $0.2 billion, to $0.62 billion in April.

Just out of curiosity, what were oil prices like before the war, and what do they look like now? Oh, yeah.

7. Electrical output is almost at the pre-war level of 3,958 megawatts. April’s production was 3,600 megawatts. In May of 2003, production was only 500 megawatts. The goal is to reach 6,000 megawatts.

See #5.

8. The unemployment rate in June of 2003 was 50-60%, and in April of this year it had dropped to 25-40%.

See #5.

9. The number of U.S. military wounded has declined significantly from a high of 1,397 in November 2004 to 430 in April of this year.

Why, yes, every single month that the war has been fought does look good in comparison to the worst month of the war.

10. Iraqi military casualties were 201 in April of 2006, after peaking at 304 in July of 2005.

See #9.

11. As of December 2005, countries other than the U.S., plus the World Bank and IMF, have pledged almost $14 billion in reconstruction aid to Iraq.

And how, precisely, does that compare to pre-war estimates? Moreover, how much of that money has actually been delivered and spent?

12. Significant progress has also been made towards the rule of law. In May 2003 there were no trained judges, but as of October 2005 there were 351.


13. As of January 2006, 64% of Iraqis polled said that the country was headed in the right direction.
14. Also as of January 2006, 77% said that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

Both great, but the numbers look radically different if broken down along sectarian lines. Given that the insurgency is largely sectarian, all the great poll numbers in the world aren’t going to make it go away.

15. In May of 2003, Iraqi Security Forces were estimated at between 7,000-9,000. They numbered 250,500 in March of this year.

And, er, how many of those are actually operating? How many exist on anything but paper? And what noticeable effect have they had on the course of the insurgency, in terms of coalition casualties or civilian casualties?

16. The breakdown of foreign terrorists by country of origin is interesting. The largest number come from Algeria, at 20%. The next two countries are Syria and Yemen, at 18% and 17%, respectively.

Genuinely interesting.

17. The number of foreign terrorists fighting in Iraq was estimated at between 300 and 500 in January 2004. That number increased in April of this year, to between 700 and 2,000.

Also interesting, although I’m curious as to the methodology.

18. From May 2003 and April 2006, between 1,000 and 3,000 anti-Iraqi forces have been killed each month.

Which doesn’t, you know, indicate progress. If you keep killing the same number of insurgents every month for three years and the insurgency doesn’t end, then you have a problem, not a solution.

Reynolds summarizes the point of this little operation; there are good things happening in Iraq, and the mainstream media doesn’t report them. But take a moment to think about it; the best that four or five of the premier warbloggers in the country can do is link to piece that cherry picks (and poorly cherry picks, I might add) a few data points from one of the many Brookings Institute Iraq Indexes since the war began. And they insist, banging furiously on their keyboards, that it is the fault of the mainstream media that none of the “good” news can get out about Iraq.

I think it’s great that we’re training judges, and I deeply hope that that economic growth in Iraq continues, and it is my dearest wish that the insurgency could be defeated. This is fantasy, though, and it’s what passes for analysis on the right side of the blogosphere.

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