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Tall Stacks

[ 0 ] October 8, 2006 |

I’ve been at Tall Stacks, a semi-annual music and steamboat festival in Cincinnati, for two of the last three days. Saw Peter Rowan, Junior Brown, Del McCoury, Rhett Miller and the Believers, and Wilco. Good times.


Sunday Battleship Blogging: Admiral Scheer

[ 0 ] October 8, 2006 |

The Treaty of Versailles limited the German navy to vessels of 10000 tons or less. The intention was to prevent Germany from constructing any ships larger than coastal defense vessels, although the letter of the Treaty allowed Germany to build ships as large as Washington Treaty heavy cruisers. Using the most advanced construction techniques possible, the Germans decided to circumvent the Treaty by building capital ships within the legal limits.

Germany had used surface commerce raiders to good effect in World War I, and decided that purpose-built ships might do an even better job. Given the Treaty limitations, Germany could not hope to equal the Royal Navy in any case, so commerce raiding was a natural option. Admiral Scheer, the second Panzerschiff, displaced about 12000 tons while carrying 6 11″ guns in two triple turrets, and could make 28.5 knots. Scheer used diesel engines to provide for greater range. The Germans saved weight through the use of welding and a relatively light armor scheme. The German hope was that Admiral Scheer and his (Admiral Scheer is one of a very few ships referred to in the masculine) sisters could outrun any foe that they could not outgun. It’s unclear whether Scheer could have been expected to defeat a standard Washington Treaty cruiser, as such cruiser had more guns that fired more rapidly, and the armor scheme of Panzerschiff was not sufficient to protect from 8″ shells. In any case, Scheer was clearly outclassed by the three British battlecruisers. The construction of Dunkerque and Strasbourg by France cemented the obsolescence of the Panzerschiff type, and the last two ships were cancelled.

Obsolescence has never stood in the way of employment during war. Admiral Scheer was used by the Nazis to aid the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, firing on Republican positions and escorting Nationalist convoys. He underwent an overhaul and refit at the beginning of the war, and did not participate in the invasion of Norway. In October 1940 Scheer set out on a raiding cruise that lasted nearly eight months and took him into the Indian Ocean. On the cruise Scheer managed to sink sixteen ships with a total displacement of over 100000 tons. Although the raid was a success, it didn’t compare all that favorably in cost-effectiveness to U-boats or even to converted merchant cruiser raiders. In August 1942 Admiral Scheer sortied against Arctic convoy PQ-17, which was scattered in response with extremely heavy loss to submarines and Luftwaffe aircraft. In August he sortied again, shelling a Soviet weather station and sinking a Soviet icebreaker. Hitler became disillusioned with the surface fleet after 1942, and Scheer rarely left port for the next two years.

In late 1944 the German situation in the Baltic began to rapidly deteriorate. Scheer escorted escaping ships and supplied artillery support for retreating German forces. He returned to Kiel in April, 1945 and was sunk by an RAF attack. The wreck was partially broken up after the war, and the area in which the hull lay filled in with rubble and covered to serve as a parking lot.

Trivia: What Royal Navy dreadnought did not participate in either World War I or World War II?

UPDATE: In comments, Martin asks why Scheer was known as a “he”. Discussion here; all other examples of masculine ships are Kriegsmarine vessels named after men, which tells me that it has something to do with the Nazi construction of masculinity. The captain of Bismarck, apparently, ordered his crew to use the masculine because of Bismarck’s great power.

While researching the question, I found that the crewmen of Yamato commonly referred to her as “more beautiful than any woman,” which is kind of sweet.

That’s Gotta be Tough, Dude

[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

Brian Bennett, gay Republican political consultant, on why he stays with the Party:

When asked why he remains in the party, Mr. Bennett gave an answer common to gay Republicans: he said he remained fundamentally in sync with the small government principles of the party and was committed to changing what he considers its antigay attitudes.

Heh. It’s funny because it’s sad…

Regarding gay Republicans, it’s tough for me to have a lot of sympathy for people who are willing to let gay activists fight the most important battles for civil rights while themselves remaining within the comfortable embrace of a Party whose membership finds them loathsome and which has fought tooth and nail against virtually every effort to improve life for gay Americans over the past forty years. Certainly there’s no contradiction between being gay and supporting small government or a strong defense (although one might observe that there’s a significant contradiction between being a Republican and supporting those things), but gay Republicans seem happy to enjoy the benefits that gay activists have struggled for without being bothered to life a finger in support of those efforts.

Cylons and Suicide Attacks

[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

I don’t think it gives too much away to note that the Cylons become particularly perturbed at the Colonial insurgents for launching suicide attacks. A couple of observations on that:

  • The traditional defense of suicide bombing is the one Colonel Tigh gives, pointing out that he has often given orders to Viper pilots to engage in near-suicidal missions, and that the distinction between a suicide attack and a attack virtually certain to result in death is minimal. I’ve always found this argument fairly compelling.
  • We know that the Cylons have, in the past, engaged in suicide-like tactics. Recall that one of the “Doral” models blew himself up on Galactica in an effort to assassinate Adama. The Cylon response to a Colonial critique of this tactic might go something like “Yes, but we knew that we were coming back, so the attack wasn’t really suicidal.” This would strike me as unsatisfying from a Colonial point of view; the attack is legitimate because its perpetrator is unlikely to suffer permanent harm?

Any thoughts?


[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

If you ever had the faintest amount of respect for Bill Kristol (and I really haven’t), reading Glenn Greenwald should help dispel the notion that Kristol has a shred of human dignity. Kristol:

Well, Democrats care about the children, Brit, and so I think they should pressure states to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18 so that it’s clearly illegal for people like Mark Foley to hit on 17-year- old pages. . . . They could certainly pass a resolution supporting the Boy Scouts in their effort to keep people like Mark Foley from becoming scout masters, I think the Democrats could really do a lot of good for our children.

It’s not quite right to say that the above statement would be excusable if it had been uttered by an evangelical conservative Christian, but at least it would have been understandable. Kristol knows better, and yet has no apparent qualms about playing upon the basest prejudices of the Republican base.

What a piece of garbage.

Least Shocking Headline Ever

[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

I open up the Cincinnati Enquirer homepage this morning and find this:

Drinking problematic at Miami

A lot of beer, a few too many shots, and Miami University students start making questionable decisions, school officials say – ones that have led to tragic consequences for some.

1. Other than Tom Wolfe, who is surprised at the news that college students drink to excess?

2. If you lived in Oxford, Ohio, what would you do on a Friday evening?

No Spoilers…

[ 0 ] October 7, 2006 |

For my part, the BSG season premier didn’t disappoint. Not every series is gutsy enough to begin its season with… a Dean Stockwell sex scene.

Read Scott McLemee at Crooked Timber, who asks:

If the humans were originally us and the Cylons were Al Qaeda, how did the Cylons become America while we became the Iraqis?

Pretty Colors

[ 0 ] October 6, 2006 |

This is cool. Via Duss.

[ 0 ] October 6, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

…my veterinarian told me that Nelson was born without a tail; I had believed that he’d lost it at some point. So I started looking up info on the Manx. Apparently they keep growing until they hit five years old…


[ 0 ] October 5, 2006 |

Is the Russian Navy finally beginning to come out of its fifteen year hibernation? Admiral Kuznetsov, the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, will apparently rejoin the fleet by the end of the year. Admiral Nahkimov, a Kirov class nuclear battlecruiser, is scheduled to return to service next year after eight years laid up. By themselves, of course, these moves barely begin to staunch the bleeding that the Russian Navy has experienced since 1991, but they may nonetheless signal that the Kremlin has decided to make naval power a higher priority. The Russian Navy has begun to contribute in a small way to Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s effort to stop piracy, drug trafficking, and refugee trafficking in the Mediterranean.

In tangentially related news, the Tories apparently miss the Cold War. Speaking at a Conservative Party conference, shadow defence minister Liam Fox reportedly inveighed against unwariness:

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken recently “of having armed forces capable of fighting a global, regional and, if necessary, a few local conflicts”. The shadow minister said he had been “amazed” by how little coverage Russia’s new military build-up has received in the Western media. He said the country was spending 25% more on defence this year than last year and is testing new inter-continental ballistic missiles, and ordering new frigates for its navy, equipped with cruise missiles.

The Russians have also reportedly invested in two Syrian ports, he added. If they switch their Black Sea fleet there it would be their first Mediterranean base since the 1950s, said Dr Fox, who repeated his warning in a speech in the main conference hall at the Bournemouth conference centre.

For my part I would rather think about how the United States and the United Kingdom might make use of Russian military power in a cooperative fashion than about how Russian revanchism threatens the West. The relationship between Russia and the Western Allies need not be zero-sum, as Active Endeavour and similar proposals, like 1000 ship Navy, demonstrate.

Cross-posted at Tapped.


[ 0 ] October 3, 2006 |

The most vicious profanity imaginable cannot capture my hatred of Derek Jeter.

…&&*&^ &%%$ ##$@ %^&&*&( ^^&*##@ @#@#@$$ %$%^^&%# %$^$ $##@@!@ %%^$

Book Review: World War Z

[ 0 ] October 3, 2006 |

The common nerd enjoys yarns about alien invasions and zombie uprisings. The truly dedicated nerd, however, likes to pore over the details of the public policy response to such events. I have far more tolerance for Independence Day than anyone sensible person ought, largely because I find thinking about the aftermath of the attack an enjoyable intellectual exercise. With most urban areas and industry destroyed yet the population largely unharmed, the technical problems associated with food distribution, health care, and disaster assistance would have been staggering. Moreover, the destruction of most of the world’s infrastructure, combined with the abundance of battered alien technology lying about, creates a fascinating set of political problems. Frankly, I doubt that Bill Pullman’s administration would have the policy chops to handle these problems, but that’s really a question best left unpondered.

World War Z is Max Brooks’ follow up to the successful Zombie Survival Guide which detailed the strategies and tactics that individuals should use to identify and escape zombie uprisings. Max is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, and has a remarkable comedic ear for questions of public policy. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, is a Studs Terkel style retelling of the major events of a large zombie outbreak. The details of the outbreak are interesting but not particularly important; rather, what gives the book its strength is the plausibility (an odd word for a zombie novel) with which the tale unspins.

A zombie uprising represents a series of public policy problems that touch on virtually every role that the modern state plays. It is a health care crisis, a contagion control problem, a threat to social order and property, a threat to local police and legal institutions, and finally a problem of military capacity. Brooks traces the zombie uprising through all of these facets of state power, starting with the first outbreaks and the ineffective state responses. Institutions governing international trade and transit fail to contain the contagion. Social disruption in urban areas exacerbates the problem and overwhelms local authorities. Panic ensues, and public confidence in governmental institutions collapses. Military forces attempt to restore order, but lack the doctrinal and technical tools to solve the problem. Utter collapse and extermination threaten. Brooks describes most of these stages in realistic detail. I was especially impressed by his discussion of a military effort to destroy a zombie horde in Yonkers, New York. Anti-personnel weapons that rely on the destruction of part of the enemy’s body fail to seriously damage zombies. Tactics that concentrate on fire support, cover, and concealment are of no use whatsoever against a foe uninterested in its own survival. I spoke about this chapter with a seargeant in the Kentucky National Guard who had also read the book, and he said that he found the setup remarkably compelling; he had no doubts that officers would indeed order the men to dig in and construct useless field fortifications over the objections of the non-commissioned officers.

But, as we know from the movies, a zombie outbreak is an essentially soluble problem. Zombies are slow, dumb, and can be killed (Brooks holds to the traditional slow, mindless zombie, rather than the quick zombies of the new Dawn of the Dead or the learning zombies of George Romero). Local governmental authorities develop ways to detect infection and means for cordoning off and clearing certain safe areas. Brooks gives the most credit (both technical and political) to the Israelis, a decision that I found kind of interesting. He then gives an entirely reasonable account of how the major military organizations rethink their operations and restructure their tactics and procurement decisions based on the new threat. The zombies are eventually defeated, although they cannot be exterminated and the cost is extremely high.

Although I doubt I would ever be able to pull it off, I would love to do a policy simulation of a zombie uprising at my school. Brings new meaning to “thinking outside the box.” In any case, be sure to read the book even if you don’t have a zombie obsession. Brooks takes a very few missteps, but the narrative is solid throughout.

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