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Championship Week

[ 0 ] March 8, 2006 |

Does anyone else find Championship Week more exciting than the first week of the NCAA tournament? I love watching all the little regional tournaments, with dozens of teams I’ve never heard of, or know only from the 1993 tournament, or know only from applying to for a job on several occasions, play desperately hard for a 14 seed. When else do you get to see these teams? There’s also a certain chaos and disorder about the system that appeals to me.

The Loyola Marymount-Gonzaga game in particular was great this year. LM hasn’t made the tourney since 1990, and given that their run was one of the most exciting tournament stories I’ve seen, I was pulling for them. Didn’t work out, and Gonzaga doesn’t even need the automatic bid.

The consensus feeling here seems to be that the Wildcats are destined for a eight seed.

PLAN Maintenance

[ 0 ] March 8, 2006 |

Budding Sinologist at MeiZhongTai points us to this article about the maintenance record of the PLAN, or People’s Liberation Army Navy. Naval maintenance may not seem like an exciting topic, but it’s interesting in two ways.

First, the actual maintenance of naval equipment, like most other miltary equipment, is pretty critical to military effectiveness. I discuss the example of the Brazilian Navy here, but it’s worth revisiting. In 1910, Brazil purchased two of the most advanced and powerful battleships in the world and incorporated those ships into its Navy. By 1917, when Brazil entered the war on the side of the Allies, the two ships were nearly useless and had to undergo a two year refit before entering the Grand Fleet. Brazil had purchased the ships as symbols of national greatness; in practice, the Brazilians had no interest in making them operational vehicles of war. Apart from the question of training and doctrinal execution, simple maintenance procedures matter a lot for military organizations. I’m inclined to think they matter most for the Navy, the most capital intensive of all the services. Another example would be the Russian Navy after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russian Navy retains many of the powerful ships that the Soviet Navy possessed, but its maintenance procedures collapsed in 1991. Now, many Russian ships can’t safely leave port, and one of the Russian Navy’s top admirals described the flagship, a nuclear battlecruiser, as “likely to explode at any moment”.

A second, but related, question has to do with doctrine, training, and execution. Given the same material, some navies will be more effective than others because of more intense or useful training. We have come to expect that the United States Navy will out-execute any navy in the world, but it wasn’t always so. In World War II the USN excelled at damage control and carrier operations, but fell short in such skills as night-fighting and anti-submarine warfare, at least at the beginning of the war. In World War I, the German High Seas fleet could out-execute the Royal Navy in just about every aspect of fleet combat, although the German tactical advantage could not overcome the British material advantage.

This last example is particularly interesting in the context of the article on Chinese naval maintenance. The article makes a very plausible argument regarding the strength of China’s surface naval force, pointing out that the experience of the PLAN with major surface combatants is extremely thin, and that this probably means that the PLAN will be less effective than its surface assets suggest. The article is probably right, but I couldn’t help notice that it was long on circumstantial and short on direct evidence. Fact is, there HAVE been navies that have achieved a high degree of tactical execution in a short amount of time. The German Navy barely existed in 1871. By 1914, it could outfight the Royal Navy, a military organization with a MUCH longer history. Much of the success of the German Navy has to be laid at the feet of a political class committed to naval power. Similarly, the Soviet Navy went from being a joke in the 1940s and 1950s to being an extremely effective organization by 1970.

It could be objected that the complexity of warships in 2006 makes these comparisons inapt. I can’t agree. The destroyers of 2006 are far more technically advanced than the ships of 1914, but it does not follow that they are so much more difficult for a military organization to learn how to use. The skills needed to run HMS Victory, for example, are much different than the skills needed to operate an Arleigh Burke destroyer, but not necessarily far more complex. I would allow that aircraft carrier operation, which involves a whole set of complex skill systems, probably does take a lot more time to become proficient at, but I’m less certain of surface ships, even those with advanced equipment.

The upshot is that we can’t assume that the USN will maintain its “competence dominance”. It may actually be easier to close the training gap than it is to close the technological and numerical gaps.

World Baseball Classic

[ 0 ] March 7, 2006 |

Frequent commenter MHS requested that we write a bit about the WBC, and since that was my intention anyway…

It would be wrong to say that I’m wildly enthusiastic about the WBC, but I’m happy that it’s being put on. I’m glad to see competitive baseball at any time of the year, and although Japan’s 18-2 defeat of China stretches the term “competitive”, at least both sides were genuinely trying to win. I’m of two minds regarding the use of Major League players. I can see why Hideki Matsui or Pedro Martinez would bow out of the games, and I don’t hold anything against anyone who decides not to play. On the other hand, better players make better baseball, and I’m happy to see that many of the best players in the world have decided to play.

I will be cheering for Team USA. I actively cheer against the US in international basketball, partially because I can’t stand the NBA, and partially because I am put off by the arrogance of the US team (at least until 2004). In this case, it’s hard for me to cheer for another team. I like the Dominican Republic’s team a lot, hoped that China would manage to at least come near a win, and think that Canada is a bit under-rated. I wouldn’t mind seeing Venezuela, Mexico, or (especially) Cuba do well in the tournament. I can’t manage any sympathy for the European teams that have to fill out their rosters with third generation Americans; they can crash and burn, for all I care.

The WBC is ideally structured for this distribution of talent. Team USA is the best, but it isn’t all that much stronger than DR, Venezuela, or Japan. Over the course of a 162 game season, the US team might win by twenty or thirty games. On any given day, however, an inferior baseball team can beat a better team. This is more true of baseball than of football, basketball, soccer, or any other sport. Since the WBC involves a relatively low number of games, it’s possible for any of the solid teams to go on a hot streak and win the tournament. Clay Davenport, (subscription required) working out of the Baseball Prospectus, rates the chances of a US victory at 33%. The Dominican Republic follows at 21%, Venezuela at 16%, and Japan at 8%.

And the best part is, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre just hit consequential two run home runs, and it’s only March 7.

…oh, and the first Derek Jeter error of the year. My heart beats faster.

…and, of course, you have an outfield of Randy Winn, Ken Griffey, and Johnny Damon in which Griffey plays center. That should cost us a few doubles…

…it would be quite the embarassment for Canada to lose to South Africa. Down 4-3 in the 6th…


[ 0 ] March 7, 2006 |

Jeff Goldstein should probably go back to doing what he does well. I’m not sure what that is, really, but it can’t be blogging about national security. Regarding a report that some insurgent weapons have been made in Iran, Jeff lets loose:

Well, sure—if true, this is a declaration of war. But the real question is, why is Iran willing to take such provocative steps at this juncture? Are they farther along in their nuclear program than we know? Or is there something else to this?


The answer, it seems to me, is that the Mullahs have done the poltical calculation and believe that a western coalition (outside of the US, who is already fighting in several theaters), lacks the will to act in any but the most feckless of ways. And even if they could gin up the will, the inevitable 6-8 month “rush” to war would give the Iranians time (and an excuse) to accelerate their nuclear program.
I’m not sure. But I do know that it is fortuitous that we are staged in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And I don’t think we can waste much time. If it turns out Iran (and their Syrian allies) are behind the manufacture and supply of weapons being smuggled into Iraq to kill Americans (and bomb both Shiite and Sunni targets in an effort to foment civil war), we have no choice, it seems to me, than to quickly isolate both countries, and launch a series of strategic attacks with the hope of fomenting an uprising of our own among the Iranian student movement.

Where to start….

First, it’s entirely possible that the Iraqi insurgents are getting some of their weapons from Iran, Syria, and various other states that border Iraq. Indeed, I’d be pretty surprised if this wasn’t the case. Part of the problem with getting from this to a declaration of war, however, is that support may well not be state instigated. It’s entirely possible (and I would even say likely) that various Iraqi insurgent groups have made deals for weapons with various groups in other countries, probably without the consent of the governments of those countries. Iran and Iraq have a very long border, one that is hard to guard on either side. So, the Iranian government, rather than declaring war, may well simply be ignorant of what’s going on.

Second, the bugbear of “outside actors” has long been a preoccupation of the United States military in counter-insurgency operations, and has helped the military to ignore the very real problems of fighting an insurgency. In Vietnam, the United States Army relentlessly obsessed over the relatively meagre trickle of supplies coming to the Viet Cong over the Ho Chi Minh trail, while largely ignoring the much more significant supply base that the Viet Cong had in sympathetic South Vietnamese villages. This mis-focus is not terribly surprising; supply lines can be interdicted with firepower, while pro-insurgent villages cannot be so dealt with. This is a long way of saying that Iranian support, even if tacitly or explicitly consented to by the Iranian government, almost certainly isn’t significant to the outcome of the conflict. It is attractive militarily and politically to believe that the problem in Iraq is the cause of outside forces, but it just ain’t so, and operating as if it were so will be quite detrimental to our efforts.

Third, it’s nifty how Jeff moves so quickly from a few shipments of arms across the Iranian border to war with both Iran and Syria. It is here that Jeff moves from simple fancy to sheer idiocy; he apparently genuinely believes that a few airstrikes might foment a student uprising in Iran resulting in the destruction of that regime. Let me be as clear as possible; to believe that airstrikes will bring about a revolution in Iran, you have to be either stupid or deluded. Airstrikes have, invariably, made target regimes more and not less popular. If the United States attacks Iran, the state will become, at least in the short term, much MORE popular with its people. It will have, if anything, greater capacity to crack down on dissidents. Iran may have a revolution at some point in the future, but airstrikes ain’t going to bring it about. Jeff seems to have internalized some kind of neocon fantasy here; just demonstrate US resolve, and all of the nasty regimes in the world will fall like dominoes.


Fourth, and this brings us to the basic contradiction in Goldstein’s argument, if we have enough force to deal with both Syria and Iran (and, presumably, to occupy the both of them), then we really, really don’t need to be in Iraq anymore. If the troops we have in Iraq are free to be used elsewhere, then it seems to me that they don’t need to be in Iraq. Thus, we should feel free to withdraw them anytime, just like lots and lots of lefties have argued. It’s hard for me to see how someone with who believes the things that Jeff Goldstein believes could argue this, but I suppose asking for consistency is really too much. US troops continue to die in Iraq at a reasonably high rate, and the country has not, to the naked eye, been pacified. If this constitutes a finished job, and really a model of what we’d like to do to Syria and Iran, then I really…. well, I just don’t know what to say about it.

I suppose that I could rattle off an analysis of the military situation with Iran… much larger territory… much larger population… no particular reason to believe it will be any easier to manage or occupy than Iraq… but I’m not sure that would make any difference to Jeff; he’s escaped reality based analysis, and wandered wholly into some fantastic world where Iranian students will launch a revolution as soon as the first bomb hits Tehran, and where the people of Iran will greet us with flower petals, etc etc.

In fairness to Jeff, he’s already prepared a dodge. He’s just talking about “options”, and hasn’t come to any firm conclusions. Great…

Kirby Puckett, Rest in Peace

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

It was fun to watch him play.

1783 games
207 home runs
2 World Series rings (1987, 1991)
.296 lifetime EQA

UPDATE: Joe Sheehan has a good column on Kirby.

American Fascism

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

Via Magnus at Capital Cadre, this offering at The Officer’s Club is about the clearest distillation of an American fascism that I’ve ever seen.

A selection:

The problem with our world today is cultural rot. Cultural rot can be detected by symptoms such as terrorism, oppression, overpopulation, ineffective government, poor economic models, and extremism. Conversely, cultural rot can also be identified by an obsessive media, a naval gazing pop culture movement, isolationists, pervasive liberalism, ignorance of history, and a society becoming disconnected from its past.

And demonstrating that a little knowledge is often worse than none at all…

When a society disconnects itself from the principles and institutions that played a prominent role in its establishment, rot begins to fester in the darker crevices of the culture. In America, tougher-than-nails colonists and settlers hacked their existence out of the wilderness. They went to church, prayed, ate dinner with their families, and labored with a consistent vision that tomorrow would be better than today. We have now disconnected ourselves from these principles. We have jettisoned our families in the inner cities, and become so self-focused that our individual wants and desires insert themselves in front of our duties and responsibilities to our family. We have maligned or marginalized (Judeo-Christian) religion in this country, and have lost the values that were taken from religion and applied elsewhere in life. Morality, publicly and privately, has suffered because of this. Because of this encroaching rot, consequences have emerged. Parents who were too successful in providing a better life for their children have led to children leading lives of privilege, not understanding the values that allowed their existence to be so leisurely.

This translates directly into a disrespect for society, the institutions that govern it, and the military that defends it.

In a particularly delightful move, and one demonstrative of Robert Paxton’s observation that fascism always takes on essentially local characteristics, he maintains that part of America’s greatness is “rugged individualism”. In other words, individualism is great as long as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual.

Paging David Neiwert; David Neiwert to the lobby please…

UPDATE: Speaking of which, it never hurts to give Neiwert’s essay The Rise of Pseudo Fascism another read.

The Picks

[ 0 ] March 5, 2006 |

Picture: Brokeback

Director: Lee

Actor: Hoffman

Actress: Witherspoon

Supporting Actor: Gyllenhall

Supporting Actress: Weisz

Original Screenplay: Good Night and Good Luck

Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback Mountain

Let this serve as an open Oscar thread.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Ostfriesland

[ 1 ] March 5, 2006 |

SMS Ostfriesland was the second ship of the Helgoland class, the second group of German dreadnoughts. Germany had been taken aback by the construction of HMS Dreadnought and HMS Invincible. The Kiel Canal, which provided for quick, safe transit between the Baltic and the North Sea, could not accomodate vessels of Dreadnought’s girth. The German’s dawdled a bit before finally deciding to enlarge the Canal, and in 1907 laid down their first dreadnought battleships. The construction of HMS Dreadnought turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because while the Germans trailed badly in naval strength in 1906, Dreadnought reset the race; everybody went back to zero, and the Germans were well positioned to make a game of it.

Commissioned in August 1911, Ostfriesland displaced about 23000 tons, could make 21 knots, and carried 12 12″ guns in six twin turrets. The turret layout on Ostfriesland was remarkably inefficient, including one turret fore, one aft, and two on each wing. This meant that Ostfriesland only had a broadside of 8 12″ guns. To compare, the much smaller USS Michigan also had an eight gun broadside. The Brazilian Sao Paulo and the Argentinian Rivadavia each had ten gun broadsides, and the Hungarian Szent Istvan and Italian Dante Alighieri each managed a 12 gun broadside on a smaller displacement than the German ship. However, like all German ships, Ostfriesland was very well armoured, and capable of sustaining a great deal of damage.

Ostfriesland’s career mirrored that of the rest of the High Seas Fleet. It was thought at the time that encounters at sea tended to heavily favor the side with numerical superiority. A naval battle, unlike a land battle, suffers from relatively few natural impediments. Thus, it was thought that any encounter would quickly become a match of competing battle lines. In such a match, the side with more heavy guns would cause damage above ratio to the other fleet. A small numerical advantage would mean a large victory; if sixteen ships met thirteen, the ships would not simply cancel each other out, and the smaller side would be devastated at a relatively light cost to the larger. Because the High Seas Fleet could never match the Grand Fleet in numbers, its admirals were loathe to sortie.

The only major clash between the dreadnoughts of the two fleets came at the end of May, 1916, at the Battle of Jutland. Ostfriesland played a relatively small part in the battle, taking no damage but probably inflicting some on portions of the British squadron. On the way back to port, Ostfriesland hit a mine, but did not suffer crippling damage. The High Seas Fleet made only a couple more minor sorties, and mutinied when ordered on a near-suicide mission in late 1918.

Being fairly old, Ostfriesland was not interred at Scapa Flow at the end of the war. The remaining German fleet was parcelled out among the great powers. Ostfriesland was allocated to the United States. A forty-two year old American aviator, General William “Billy” Mitchell, had been arguing since the end of the war that aircraft could destroy surface naval units. In July of 1921, this argument was put to the test. Along with a number of other naval units, including the pre-dreadnought Alabama, Ostfriesland was attacked by successive waves of US Army Air Force bombers. The first attacks by the bombers caused relatively light damage, but later attacks by heavier aircraft caused extensive flooding, and sank Ostfriesland. Mitchell concluded from this demonstration that surface fleets had become essentially obsolete. The US Navy rejected this, arguing that the German ship was, old, small relative to new US ships, carried no anti-aircraft armament, and could not maneuver. A fleet under steam, the admirals argued, could not be so destroyed.

Both services took the tests seriously. The B-17 was intially designed to attack naval targets, although it was rarely used in that capacity. In battleship refits after 1921, the US Navy substantially increased the anti-aircraft weaponry of its main units. Aircraft would sink at least 14 battleships in World War II, the largest single cause of battleship loss.

Trivia: Seven of the ten fast battleships constructted by the United States have been or will be preserved as museums. Five of the ten fast battleships represent coastal states. Which fast battleship representing a coastal state was not preserved, and why wasn’t it preserved?

Situation: Belarus!

[ 0 ] March 4, 2006 |

This will be of mild-to-no-interest to most readers, but the Patterson School just finished its 2006 Spring Simulation. A good time was had by all. The theme this year was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, interrupted by a coup in Belarus. Here is the website.

Suffice it to say that US and Italian warplanes were on their way to Minsk when the simulation ended. The reputation of Gerhard Schroeder was fatally impugned, and the Secretary General of NATO lay on his deathbed.

[ 0 ] March 3, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck


[ 0 ] March 2, 2006 |

If you can spare a moment, try the survey.

Many thanks to our readers, and also to our sponsors, the fine people at Boomershoot 2006.

A Sound Beating

[ 0 ] March 2, 2006 |

Alex at Martini Republic take Victor Davis Hanson out to the woodshed.

I think maybe Vic should stick to Ancient Greece….