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Send Them to Europe

[ 0 ] January 25, 2006 |

From the appropriately dubbed Machiavelli’s Cat, a solution of Swiftian magnitude.

What’s Worse than MAD?

[ 0 ] January 24, 2006 |

Really, really interesting post by Brad Plumer on a project by Daryl Press and Keir Lieber to determine whether MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, still applies to the US-China and US-Russia relationships. They conclude that China and Russia cannot be confidant of maintaining a second strike capability against the US. It would be wrong to say that I’m surprised, but I hadn’t fully thought through the implications of the problem before reading Plumer’s post.

One caveat that I have (not having read the study I can’t fully evaluate it) is that a second strike capability doesn’t have to be absolute, or even probable. If, say, there is a 40% chance that China will be able to launch 5 nuclear missiles at the United States, then the expected utility of a first strike by the US is pretty goddamn low. Try to imagine what kind of foreign policy goal would be worth the incineration of 15 million or so Americans; it’s pretty hard. I’m also kind of doubtful about the likelihood that the US could track down every Russian boomer before they had a chance to launch, but Lieber and Press are both excellent analysts, so I’m sure they’ve done good work.

A second caveat regards the ability of China or Russia to strike US allies. While the Chinese have only a few missiles capable of reaching the US, they have plenty that can hit closer targets. I doubt, again, that an administration could come to the conclusion that a successful first strike was worth the destruction of Tokyo, Warsaw, Seoul, or New Dehli. However, to the extent that the analysis relies on the command and control centers of Russia and China rather than on their actual weapons, Lieber and Press may have that covered, as well.

The US has a number of advantages over our nuclear competitors. Our strategic bomber forces can deliver warheads with little notice. Ohio class boomers can fire extraordinarily accurate ballistic missiles from hidden position with extremely short flight plans. I doubt that the missile defense could actually do anything important, but it probably wouldn’t hurt in the case of an actual shooting war.

What does this mean? Well, clearly China and Russia are not worried about a US attack. Building more nuclear missiles is very cheap, compared to other ways of projecting power. That neither seem to be taking the US seriously as a nuclear threat indicates that they are paying a lot of attention to intentions, rather than to capabilities. Eisenhower was perhaps quite correct to suggest that the only thing worse than losing a nuclear war would be to win one.

Lexblogging: The Kentucky Theater

[ 0 ] January 24, 2006 |

Lexington is blessed with the Kentucky Theater, an institution which would compare well with most of the best theaters in Seattle. The Kentucky Theater has two large theaters, each nearly as big as the downstairs theater at the Varsity or the big old theater at the Guild 45th. The Kentucky Theater is not quite as well appointed as its cousins in Seattle, but it has two other factors in its favor. First, the cost of a regular film is $6.50, and a matinee $4.50. Moreover, the theater screens matinees every day, rather than holding to an afternoon schedule on weekdays. Second, the Kentucky Theater sells beer. It’s in a plastic cup, but goddamn, it’s beer.

It’s almost enough to make me forget that I have to wait four months to get movies like Broken Flowers.

In any case, I saw Brokeback Mountain on Saturday at the Kentucky Theater. I was pleased. I thought that the movie was very strong, including the performances by the principles. What impressed me the most was how Ang Lee used automobiles to convey time and socioeconomic status. From the moment that Jack drives up in his ancient, busted up pickup truck to the end, when Ennis’ daughter arrives at his station wagon in a new sportscar, the cars give us a roadmap to Jack and Ennis’ lives. The film isn’t perfect, although I didn’t have any problem with the way in which Jack Twist met his end; it is left ambiguous enough in the film (if not in the story) to leave us wondering whether Ennis has simply projected his own terrors onto a tragic event.

In other news, Mickey Kaus is a hack. Here’s some friendly advice, Mickey; admitting you’re moving the goalposts while continuing to radically understate the film’s likely take and, in the end, blaming the success of the film on its marketing campaign doesn’t actually mean that you have integrity. The shelf life on too-clever-by-half “liberal” contrarians has run out…

Google, Swiftly

[ 0 ] January 24, 2006 |

Chuckle.

LGM at the Movies

[ 0 ] January 24, 2006 |

Lists

Ten Flick that Define America
Scott, Ten Movies I Hate
Rob, Best Heist Films
Movie Scenes that Make You Cry
Movie Scenes that Make You Burst Out Laughing
Rob’s Top Ten, 2004
DJW, Best of the Oughts
Scott, Best of the Oughts
Rob, Best of the Oughts
Rob, Best of the 90s
Scott, Hollywood’s Worst Directors
Scott, Best of the 90s
Scott, Best of the 80s
Scott, Top Ten of 2004
Academy of the Over-rated: Directors

Reviews/Commentary

Farhenheit 9/11 (Rob)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (DJW)
Shattered Glass
Supersize This
She Hate Me
Hero
Before Sunset
Vera Drake
The Battle of Algiers
Shall We Dance?
The Motorcycle Diaries
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
House of Flying Daggers, Closer, Bad Education, A Very Long Engagement
Phantom of the Opera
Return of the King
Sideways, Closer, A Fond Kiss, Sex is Comedy
King of Comedy (by way of Colin Quinn)
Million Dollar Baby
Sideways
The Fog of War
Land of the Dead
Point of Order
Troy
Battle of Algiers (Dark Soul of Colonel Mathieu)
Duel
Cold Water
The Squid and the Whale, Good Night and Good Luck, Walk the Line
The Passenger
Point of Order (Redux)
Brokeback Mountain (Scott)
King Kong
Brokeback Mountain (Rob)
Match Point
Capote

Potpourri

Fun with Roger Ebert

Annals of Whoredom
The Stranger Recommends…
The Worst Argument About Michael Moore Ever
Elvis Mitchell
Worst Opening Ever?
Against Linklater
A Nightmare of Evil (Kevin Smith Edition)
Oliver Stone
Random DVD Purchases
Stalinist Criticism (Dogville Edition)
Academy of the Over-rated (Eastwood Edition)
Film Frustration
Presidential Acting
Stalinist Criticism Wears a Fedora
2005 Oscar Picks
Body of Work Award
Medved vs. Aesthetics
Contrarian for the Wrong Reasons
Ford and Wayne
Wolcott on Medved
Ozu Blogging
Bad Scenes in Great Movies
The Anthology Film
Odd Thoughts on Bizarre Topics (Or Innocence Lost?)
Ozon
Resistance is (Almost) Futile
Whatta Card
The Phantom Menace Effect
Podhoretz and Revenge of the Sith
Frank Galvin and Twelve Angry Men
Stalinist Critics of the World, Rejoice!
Peter Jackson’s Money
30s Movies
Piper Picks a Peck O’Pickled Peppers
Ozu
Stalinist Aesthetics Department
Right Wing Film Studies
Top 50 Movies of 1985
Curtis Hanson
Hollywood Having an Off Year?
Scenes from a Philistine
Why I am not a Studio Executive (Or a Populist)
Hollywood’s Revenue “Problem”
Kaus on Brokeback
Kaus on Brokeback (Again)
If You’re Going to be Pretentious, at least be Right
Medvedism with Bad Math
Oscar Context
Betting Brokeback
Bresson and Vigo
Going it Alone
Medved on Brokeback
Perverted Values (Brokeback and Utah)
Pajamas Media Reviewers
Spielberg

And don’t miss DJW’s film blogging at David’s Film Journal

Detroit

[ 0 ] January 23, 2006 |

I like Detroit as much as the next guy. Hell, I probably like Detroit more than the next guy. I love the post-apocalyptic feel, although I understand that city planning decisions ought not to prioritize my own aesthetic preferences. I appreciate the need to demolish some building in the pursuit of urban renewal. Still, I can’t help feeling like the powers that be in Detroit are fooling themselves if they think that the Superbowl is going to be the key to transforming the city’s economic fortunes.

It’s fairly well established that the construction of new stadiums in downtown areas does not, in fact, result in increased economic activity. This is why cities are increasingly becoming wary of dishing out huge sums of money to extraordinary wealthy baseball and football owners. How, then, is one game, nevermind how important, supposed to turn a city around?

Strikes me as wishful thinking. I hope that Detroit doesn’t spend too much from its already light treasury and doesn’t destroy too much of its heritage in the effort to showcase its finest for the Superbowl.

Keeping a Close Watch on Eastern Kentucky

[ 0 ] January 23, 2006 |

Who knew?

Beard

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Huh. I guess mine is of the Short Boxed variety? You know, a few years back DJW (who once possessed a Chin Curtain) and I tried to get Lemieux to grow a beard… I think he’d look good with some Friendly Mutton Chops…

Nothing is Unacceptable

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Matt hits the nail on the head with this:

It certainly makes sense as a negotiating tactic for the American government to appear open to military action. For similar reasons, efforts at diplomacy are probably strengthened insofar as Bush appears to be under domestic political pressure to use force. . .The trouble is that actually doing this stuff is a bad idea.

Right. Discussions of the Iran situation that fall on absolutes, such as the notion that Iranian nuclear weapons are “unacceptable” or that the United States should take whatever steps necessary to prevent a nuclear Iran are fundamentally unserious. A serious foreign policy analysis weighs that costs and benefits of a particular policy. We may decide that Iranian nuclear weapons are bad (I think they are, but feel free to disagree), but this does not mean that stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons needs to be the absolute final goal of US policy. The costs of such action may override any likely benefit that we can imagine; in fact, I’m inclined to think that this is the case.

An argument, like Bill Kristol’s, that treats a nuclear Iran as unacceptable is not an effort to open a discussion; it’s an attempt to close off a particular line of thinking. If Iranian nukes really were unacceptable, then a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iranian nuclear facilities and Iranian industrial targets would be entirely justified from a policy point-of-view. This is not, however, a position that even most self-appointed Iran toughs would express, at least in public.

Lexblogging: Rupp Arena

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

Made my first visit to Rupp Arena on Saturday to watch the Kentucky Wildcats play the South Carolina Gamecocks for the 42nd time. Before Saturday, the Wildcats led the lifetime series 35-6.

The experience at Rupp was quite unlike the experience at the other two arenas in which I’ve watched college basketball. Rupp is larger than either Mac Court or Hec Ed, the former by a factor of about three. The energy level at Rupp, even in the absence of a traditional rival or an excellent team, was considerably higher than anything I saw at Hec Ed. This really isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that UW is more of a football than a basketball school. The comparison with Mac Court is a little bit more complicated, because Mac Court only seats about 8500, and Rupp seats about 23000. Thus, only the most energetic and committed fans go to Duck games, while a much larger slice of the fan base can be found at Wildcat games. Nevertheless, the energy level was comparable, although the attitude of the crowd was a little bit different. At Oregon, even in good years, the crowd is rarely arrogant; the prevailing feeling seems to be one of defiance and resentment. At Rupp, the crowd expects the Wildcats to dominate, and is not shy in showing its disappointment when they fail. I attended with George Herring, sitting in seats that he has used since Rupp’s opening twenty-eight years ago. I understand that getting season tickets is mildly difficult…

The Wildcats did not fail on Saturday, winning an outstanding game 80-78. The Wildcats tried to lose, and South Carolina opened up a twelve point lead midway through the second half. Excellent shooting put Kentucky back into it, however, and they managed to win on an off-balance three with 1.4 seconds left in the game. Both teams shot well, with Kentucky at 56% and South Carolina at 52%. They hit 23 three pointers between them.

Halftime featured the 1966 Kentucky team, which is apparently now playing the role of EVIL in Glory Road. Sadly, Pat Riley couldn’t make it. Perhaps he had other, better things to do.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: Bretagne

[ 0 ] January 22, 2006 |

The construction of Dreadnought created a problem for the French Navy. The French had begun construction of a class of six advanced pre-dreadnoughts at almost the same time as Dreadnought. These ships were comparable in quality with the best pre-dreadnought battleships around the world, but they were no match for Dreadnought. Sadly, French naval construction proceeded slowly, and the six Danton class ships occupied all of the large French construction slips. Thus, the French arrived very late to the dreadnought game. The first French effort, the Courbet class, turned out well enough for a series of ships built in 1910. Unfortunately, they were not completed until 1914. The Bretagne and her sisters were an improvement on the Courbet class.

Bretagne, slowed by World War I, was commissioned in late 1915. She carried 10 13.4″ guns, displaced 29000 tons, and could make 20 knots. Her armor was somewhat lighter than foreign contemporaries. Bretagne was completely outclassed by the ships emerging from British, Japanese, and American yards. The Nevada class carried heavier guns, more (and better arranged) armor, and could make a higher speed. The British Queen Elizabeth’s could easily outgun and outrun the French ships, as could the Japanese Fuso class. At the time of construction, Bretagne would probably have proven more than a match for the Italian Giulio Cesare, but after the modernizations of both ships in the 1930s, Giulio Cesare was clearly the superior unit.

Bretagne’s career was relatively uneventful. She spent most of World War I in the Mediterranean, preparing for the possible break out of the Austrian Navy. In World War II she escorted some Mediterranean convoys from North Africa to France, but Italy did not enter the war until just before France’s surrender. After the surrender, Bretagne found herself with a French naval squadron at the port Mers El Kebir, not too far from Oran in what is now Algeria. The French fleet had, by and large, escaped the Fall of France unscathed. The world, and especially London, now wondered what the disposition of the fleet would be. Shortly after the armistice, Winston Churchill decided to stop waiting.

On July 3, 1940, a Royal Navy task force paid a visit to Mers El Kebir. The task force consisted of the battleships Valiant, Resolution, and Hood, along with the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and several smaller ships. The visit was not friendly. Winston Churchill had determined that the French fleet was a threat to the United Kingdom. Two Royal Navy admirals bitterly disagreed with Churchill on this point; they felt that destroying the French fleet would be a political disaster. French ships in other locations were forceably seized, but this was not an option at Mers El Kebir. The French fleet consisted of Provence, Bretagne, Strasbourg, Dunkerque, and six modern destroyers. Provence and Bretagne were old, slow battleships that could contribute little to either side; they lacked the speed to operate with the main battle line of the Italian Navy, and the British already had an excess of old, slow battleships. Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and the six destroyers were the real prizes. In Axis hands they would have the speed and firepower to stiffen the Italian battlefleet. The same qualities made the two battlecruisers valuable to the Royal Navy; in British or Free French hands, they might have been used to hunt German raiders (imagine them at the Battle of Denmark Strait, with Hood and Prince of Wales), or stiffen British forces in the Pacific.

The British ultimatum was simple. The French could join the British and continue the war against Germany. They could sail their ships to British ports and allow them to be taken over by the Royal Navy until the end of the war. Finally, they could sail their ships to the West Indies where they would be demilitarized or turned over to the care of the United States. The French response to this ultimatum was, more or less, “Can’t we all just get along?” The British reply came in the form of salvos of 15″ shells.

The French fleet was not prepared for combat. Provence and Dunkerque were each struck by several 15″ shells, but managed to beach themselves and escape serious damage. Bretagne was not so fortunate. Her armor was not up to modern standards, and one of the 15″ shells apparently penetrated a magazine before exploding. Bretagne exploded and rolled over thirteen minutes into the engagement. Strasbourg and five of the six modern destroyers escaped the harbor with only minor damage, making their way eventually to Toulon. The British fleet attacked Dunkerque later that week, inflicting minor damage but not preventing Dunkerque from also moving to Toulon under her own power.

The attack at Mers El Kebir must be seen as a political and operational disaster of the highest order for Great Britain. Having decided to attack its erstwhile ally, the British brought insufficient force to do the job, and allowed the most powerful French ships to escape with minimal damage. Moreover, the deaths of 1300 French sailors (roughly 1100 on Bretagne) were a massive propaganda victory for the Germans, and undoubtedly made the job of Charles Degaulle and the Free French much more difficult. Much of the blame must lie with Winston Churchill, who fundamentally misunderstood the French political situation in 1940. Even after Mers El Kebir, the French did not hand their fleet over to the Axis, and in fact scuttled most of their ships at Toulon in 1942, in order to avoid German capture. Had Mers El Kebir not happened, those ships might have found their way to Gibraltar or Malta, instead of to the bottom.

Trivia: When the German Bismarck was commissioned in August 1940 she became the largest battleship in the world. What ship held this title before Bismarck, and what ship held it after?

BSG Blogging IV: The Cylon Way of War

[ 0 ] January 20, 2006 |

BSG Blogging I

BSG Blogging II

BSG Blogging III

In PLA conversations, the phrase shashoujian has come to represent a set of strategies designed to defeat the United States. Specifically, these strategies concentrate on the idea of using the inferior to defeat the superior. In the context of war against the United States, this means either neutralizing or reversing the advantages of the US military. In practice, this can mean anything from concentrating on low cost options for destroying capital intensive US weapons like aircraft carriers, to disrupting American computer and information systems with the purpose of leaving US forces surprised, confused, and helpless.

Shashoujian essentially represents a type of asymmetric warfare, one that is available to mid-level powers, if not to terrorist or guerilla groups. The structure of the international system invites asymmetric warfare, as it will be some time before a peer competitor emerges who could fight the United States on the same level and win.

What does this have to do with Battlestar Galactica? Apropos of recent discussion abotu network centric warfare, BSG (2003) takes a position on the role of advanced warfare technology unnervingly similar to the position adopted by the People’s Republic of China. In essense, the Cylons win by turning Colonial military technology against itself. The Cylons act as both a peer competitor state and a terrorist organization, and win through a combination of conventional assault and unconventional subversive warfare. In a sense, the Cylons manage to represent both China and Al Qaeda at the same time; they are both the inscrutable yet powerful peer competitor, and the tiny, bodiless terrorist organization.

We have no idea of the actual military strength of the Cylons. They have some number of capital ships (basestars), but there is no indication of how many. Two, at least, have been destroyed by the Colonials. We can surmise, however, that Cylon military capacity is not overwhelmingly superior, in terms of numbers of ships, to that of the Colonies prior to the surprise attack. If the Cylons had possessed massive superiority, they would likely not have waited as long to attack. Also, we are led to believe that the Cylons possess only one world, compared to the twelve Colonies. We know that the Colonial Fleet possessed roughly 120 battlestars at the beginning of the war. We have reason to believe that an individual basestar is superior in combat to Galactica, but Galactica is one of the oldest and weakest of the battlestars. We don’t know, for example, whether the gap between Galactica and Pegasus (a newer battlestar) is better described as the difference between Michigan and Iowa, or as the difference between Arkansas and California.

This didn’t mean all that much, because the Cylons undertook a mission of subversion and infiltration that successfully rendered much of the Colonial Fleet useless. Specifically, the Cylons infiltrated Colonial computer systems, with the impact of both giving the Cylons complete information dominance on the battlefield and directly undercutting the effectiveness of those Colonial military vessels dependent on advanced computer technology. The Galactica survives only because of its aging technology and curmudgeonly Commander.

The disruption of conventional Colonial forces through subversion and Fourth Generation Warfare is followed by a very conventional and brutal high intensity assault against Colonial military and civilian targets. The Cylon attack is both conventional and terrorist, and it does not discriminate between civilian and military targets. It is also quite genocidal. The primary weapons for destroying both civilian and military targets are nuclear weapons, adding an additional dimension to the Cylon threat portfolio.

In short, the Cylons manage to encapsulate all of the potential forms of threat that the United States might face. They are terrorists who look and act like us. They are a peer competitor capable of matching and defeating us in open battle. Finally, they succeed in upending our advantage where we hold it most dear; in our advanced technology. In the BSG miniseries, the failure of technology is reacted to with a sense of stunned betrayal; in this, if nothing else, we feel ourselves secure.

…I can’t say that I cared for tonight’s episode, though.

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