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We Need a New Word for "Hack"

[ 0 ] November 20, 2005 |

Mickey went for a few days without saying anything staggeringly stupid. Then he decided he needed to make up for it:

Murtha has now established exactly the worst context for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. By making his (understandable) teary concern about the injuries to our soldiers his central motiviation, he makes it seem, if we pull out now, that the Sunni/Zarqawi strategy has worked–that we’ve been run out of Iraq because we couldn’t tolerate the casualties the insurgents were inflicting. That will encourage Al Qaeda operatives around the globe. Isn’t it a lot better if we start to withdraw, after a successful Iraqi election, while plausibly claiming that we’ve done our job? That’s why Hastert’s stunt yesterday to put down Murtha’s proposal was amply justified. It makes it easier to withdraw if it doesn’t seem to be a response to Murtha’s cry of pain. … 2:06 P.M.

Argh. Everything that’s wrong with Kaus as a blogger can be distilled through this paragraph. First, we’ve got the utter inability to view politics and political events through anyone’s eyes but his own. It doesn’t even occur to him that people might interpret the same event in different ways. Second, we have the desperate need to seem clever by interpreting an event in double-back fashion. Victory for the Democrats is actually defeat; what seems to be one way is actually another. Finally, and most infuriating, the complete unseriousness of it all, the treatment of politics as if it were no more than a game, and no more important than the internal workings of a Hollywood studio.

In response to this particular abomination, Mickey needs to be reminded that, if insurgents or terrorists still exist in Iraq after we leave, they will declare victory regardless of the status of various House resolutions. They are, I suspect, utterly indifferent to machinations of Murtha, Hastert, and everyone else in the US House of Representatives. Moreover, if they’re smart and well informed enough to care a lot about how John Murtha thinks, then they’re certainly smart enough to see through an effort as transparent as Hastert’s.

The implication of Kaus’ argument, of course, is that SAYING that the troops should be withdrawn MEANS that it will take longer for them to leave. It’s unclear, given this, how Mickey thinks that one should express a preference for troop withdrawal, especially given that he seems to agree it might be a good idea. The best way to criticize George W. Bush, it seems, would be to embrace him. That will really teach the terrorists…


[ 0 ] November 20, 2005 |

Kudos to the Fresno State Bulldogs, who fought one hell of a fight against USC. They went in to the lair of the finest team in college football and very nearly won. They have no reason to hang their heads.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Prince of Wales

[ 0 ] November 20, 2005 |

Gun caliber was a big deal in battleship construction. A ship carrying 8 16″ guns may have the same weight of broadside as one carrying 12 14″ guns, but the larger guns have a longer range and more penetrating power than the smaller calibers. Increasing gun calibers during and after World War I, therefore, were a matter of considerable attention. The best British battleships carried 15″ guns, as did the most advanced German vessels. American and Japanese ships carried 14″ guns. Near the end of the war, both the Americans and Japanese laid down ships with 16″ guns. After the war, the Royal Navy planned to trump the IJN and the USN by arming a new class of battleships with 18″ guns.

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 ended that dream, and limited gun caliber to 16″. The Royal Navy was granted special dispensation to build two ships with 16″ guns, in order to match the USN and the IJN. The 1930 London Naval Treaty reduced the number of capital ships allocated to each navy, but did not change the gun caliber limitations. The treaties allowed older vessels to be replaced after a certain time, and in the mid 1930s Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom began to plan for a new generation of battleships. The British, suffering from severe financial constraints, wanted to limit the size and expense of the new battleships as much as possible. Accordingly, the British proposed that all new battleships would be limited to 14″ guns. In a bout of wishful thinking, the Royal Navy designed its newest class of battleships around the 14″ weapon. The 1936 London Naval Treaty established a 14″ limit, but contained a clause that lifted the limit to 16″ if any one of the original signatories did not sign. Japan opted out of the treaty (and began building battleships with 18″ guns), and the United States took advantage of this clause by designing its new ships to carry the 16″ gun.

This left the Royal Navy at a disadvantage. The naval architects tried to solve the problem by equipping the new class of warships with 12 14″ guns in three quadruple turrets. Unfortunately, this led to a top heavy design, and the “B” turret on the design had to be reduced to a twin. Thus, while the new American battleships carried 9 16″ guns and the new Japanese ships 9 18″ guns, the British ships carried only 10 14″ guns. The King George V class had other design flaws, including a very poor turning circle. Their armor scheme was not particularly effective, being worse than any modern battleship other than the German Bismarck. The underwater protection of these ships was also very bad by modern standards. All in all, these were not fine ships, which is surprising given the experience of the Royal Navy and the quality of RN naval architecture at the end of World War I. King George V and her sisters displaced 42000 tons and could make 28 knots.

Prince of Wales was the third unit of the class. While still under construction, she suffered bomb hit that led to severe flooding. Her commissioning was hurried due to the threat posed by the German battleships Bismarck. When Bismarck and Prinz Eugen broke for the Atlantic, Prince of Wales was put to sea before fully working out in trials, and civilian engineers remained on the ship. Prince of Wales accompanied Hood, the best known warship of the Royal Navy at the time. The two battleships, accompanied by several destroyers, steamed north in an attempt to intercept the German ships in the Denmark Straits.

Hood and Prince of Wales were successful, and the battle was joined on the night of May 24, 1941. Hood was struck by a salvo from the Bismarck and, like any good British battlecruiser, promptly exploded and sank. Prince of Wales, although still facing some teething troubles, gave a good account of herself against the German battleship. Although she suffered seven hits (plus several dud shots), she managed to hit Bismarck three times, causing a fuel leak and limiting Bismarck’s speed. Her main armament no longer operative, Prince of Wales broke off the action and began to shadow Bismarck. Because of low fuel, however, Prince of Wales was forced to break off the chase, and played no role in the final destruction of Bismarck.

After six weeks of repairs, Prince of Wales was tasked with transporting Winston Churchill to Newfoundland, where he met with Franklin Roosevelt and helped hammer out the naval strategy of the Western Allies. In October, Prince of Wales was dispatched to Singapore in order to counter the increasing Japanese threat to British possessions. She and the battlecruiser Repulse formed the nucleus of the British Far Eastern Fleet.

The Japanese were well aware the presence and threat that Prince of Wales and Repulse posed to their offensive plans. They detailed the battlecruisers Kongo and Haruna (the former itself built in a British yard) to meet the two Royal Navy ships and protect the invasion fleets. There was no need. The Royal Navy admiral did not believe that Pearl Harbor conclusively demonstrated the lethality of air power against battleships. The Pearl Harbor attack was a surprise; the American ships were at anchor and could not maneuver. Unspoken, perhaps, was the belief that while American ships might be vulnerable to such attacks, British ships certainly were not. On December 8, Admiral Phillips sortied his two ships in an effort to intercept and destroy the Japanese fleets attacking Malaya.

On December 10, Prince of Wales and Repulse were caught in the open sea by 87 Japanese aircraft. Repulse suffered 5 torpedo hits, Prince of Wales 6. Both ships sank, although most of the crews of each were saved. The attacking Japanese planes were, by all accounts, exceptionally polite. They made no effort to attack British destroyers during rescue operations, and it is held that the Japanese squadron leader flew low and waggled his wings above the surviving British ships as Prince of Wales sank. Admiral Phillips gallantly decided to go down with the ship. Winston Churchill felt that the destruction of Prince of Wales and Repulse was a greater blow to Allied seapower than the Pearl Harbor attack. Certainly, it demonstrated that battleships could not hope to survive without support from aircraft, either from carriers or land bases.


[ 0 ] November 19, 2005 |

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the delivery of the Gettysburg Address.


[ 0 ] November 19, 2005 |

I concur with OJ; the system is unfair. You murder your wife, you go to trial, and you get acquitted. That should be it, right? But no, someone then drags you back into court and takes all your money. Clearly unfair. Probably the fault of the trial lawyers. And maybe the Democrats.

”I still don’t get how anyone can be found not guilty of a murder and then be found responsible for it in any way shape or form,” Simpson said in a phone interview from his Florida home. ”… If you’re found not guilty, how can you be found responsible? I’d love to hear how that’s not double jeopardy.”

No Shame

[ 0 ] November 19, 2005 |

Matt is right. There is no biography compelling enough to shame the administration and its goons. And there’s no shortage of people shameless enough to believe the propaganda.

[ 0 ] November 18, 2005 |

Friday Cat Blogging. . . Pippin

Also quite handsome/easy on the eyes

[ 0 ] November 17, 2005 |

Damn straight.

Lemieux is less loved than I.

Somebody’s got a hit man out looking for Watkins.

Useless Rant Department: MVP Voting

[ 0 ] November 17, 2005 |

To add to Scott’s point and to reiterate what I argued earlier, I think that the debate over this year’s AL MVP has wandered into the absurd. Let’s establish a few points that should be indisputable. First, Alex Rodriguez had a statistically better offensive season that David Ortiz. As far as I’m concerned, this is beyond debate. For those who insist that RBI totals are a viable indicator of offensive prowess, I introduce you to the door. Feel free to slam it on the way out.

Second, Alex Rodriguez plays a defensive position, and plays it well. David Ortiz does not. Now, that’s not quite as important as you might think, and I don’t believe that a DH should be disqualified from ever being the MVP. If the competition here were between Ortiz and Giambi, or Ortiz and Ramirez then it could be reasonably objected that defense shouldn’t be considered all that important. That Ortiz didn’t play first very much and Giambi did reflects a managerial choice more than their respective talents and capabilities. Someone, after all, has to play at DH. In the case of the Red Sox, a different set of managerial choices might have put Millar in left, Ortiz at first, and Manny at DH. This would probably have been slightly less optimal than what was decided, but really wouldn’t have made a huge difference on the field. Thus, it’s not quite right to point out that A-Rod was worth 156 runs defensively and Ortiz 8, because the difference isn’t really quite that drastic.

It is, however, a difference. The spread between a good defensive third baseman and a good defensive first baseman is at least forty or fifty runs. Third base is harder to play than first (or DH, of course). A player who can hit very well and fill a difficult defensive position is considerably more valuable than one who can only hit well. There’s nothing staggeringly difficult about this analysis, and it doesn’t even require having reliable defensive statistics to appreciate. I doubt that even Ortiz’ backers would consider putting him at an even mildly difficult defensive position; that his managers have decided to play him in the outfield exactly zero times in eight years speaks to their attitude about his defense. Conversely, A-Rod can play any position on the diamond, with the exception of catcher and (possibly) centerfield. And Jayson Stark should be made to understand that while “leadership” really IS intangible, in that we can’t come up with any quantitative measure of it, defense is not. Our measures may be crude (although they are getting much less so), but even a crude analysis can demonstrate beyond question A-Rod’s superior value.

Now, on to the “clutch” question. Like all right thinking people, I don’t really believe in clutch hitting. There’s just not very much convincing evidence to suggest that some hitters are consistently better in difficult situations than others. General offensive quality is the best predictor of how a hitter is going to perform in late and close situations. Now, it’s fair to say that this only matters as a predictor; it’s possible that, even if there was no systematic cause, that the offense provided by David Ortiz was more important to the Red Sox than the offense provide by A-Rod. Stark does a fair amount of this analysis, and it seems to suggest that, in fact, Ortiz did perform better than A-Rod in the situations normally described as “clutch.” Does this clinch it for Ortiz, in spite of all the other reasons to prefer A-Rod?

Not at all. I have tired of arguing with Derek Jeter partisans who insist that “if you’re late in the game, down by one, and need a hit, accept no substitute for Jeter.” There’s a whole wall of logical and empirical fallacies that need to be torn down to refute that, and I don’t typically have time or the spit to yell at someone for an hour. My pat response is this:

The difference between A-Rod and Jeter is that the game isn’t close if you have A-Rod. He hit a three run home run back in the fourth inning and didn’t let three grounders hit four inches to his left get through, resulting in two runs for the other side. You can have your clutch, and I’ll take my blowout.

The same applies to Ortiz. Good teams don’t win a lot of close games. They win a lot of blowouts. Great players don’t win games in the final at bat, or in late and close situations. They win games by preventing runs and scoring runs, and those runs count whether they come in the first or in the ninth. It’s more exciting to win a game with a walk off home run, but a good team more often wins with a home run hit in the first.

As a final note, let’s take seriously for a moment the leadership angle. Lance links to Michael Geffner, who thinks A-Rod is a loser and not a team leader. His column is a tragic mishmash of virtually all the nonsensical thinking on leadership in baseball. My first question is this: How much leadership does one team need? All those who take leadership seriously credit Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams with having lots of it. Does it magically disappear when A-Rod joins the team? Is he an anti-leader, capable of destroying leadership wherever he finds it? Or are columnists simply blathering nonsensically because they want to explain the failure of the Yankees with reference to the players they don’t like (A-Rod, Sheffield) rather than the (much worse) players that they do like? Moreover, let’s think about this historically. All of those guys who love to spout nonsense about leadership invoke the ghost of Don Mattingly, who carefully “led” the Yankees to their worst extended run of the twentieth century. It’s enough to make someone wonder if leadership actually matters at all…

My deep affection for Lance cannot blind me to this statement:

Frankly, I think Ortiz was more valuable to the Sox than A-Rod was to the Yanks, but I suspect that the reason they were the top two vote getters has more to do with their playing in Boston and New York than their comparative values to their teams.

Fine. Prove it. Demonstrate how Ortiz’ intangibles make up for all the extremely tangible reasons why A-Rod should be preferred. The teams had identical records. Without Ortiz the Red Sox would have played Ramirez at DH, someone better defensively than Ramirez in left, with the result that they would have scored and allowed fewer runs. Without A-Rod the Yankees would have played someone mildly worse defensively and much worse offensively at third base, resulting in more runs allowed and fewer runs scored. Moreover, it’s a lot harder to find a decent hitting third baseman than a decent hitting left fielder, so the Red Sox would actually have an easier time than the Yankees in replacing the lost offense.

Rant over.


[ 0 ] November 16, 2005 |

Like all right thinking people, I’m skeptical of the value clubhouse culture or character as meaningful variables for explaining success in baseball. However, I’m inclined to take this a little bit more seriously. Ichiro has a reputation for class and professionalism, and does not seem the sort to grind an ax in public. It indicates that he sees some real problems, and, as Derek at USS Mariner points out, a simple visual inspection of the Mariners at most any point last year would seem to suggest the same problems.

For example:

Midway through the season, he felt as though his teammates had given up on the rest of the year. (Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, by contrast, said he was satisfied with the team’s approach, though he also indicated there were instances in which the team could have done better.)

Last June and July, the Mariners looked like nothing so much as a team that only showed up in order to punch the clock. It’s hard to explain just what that looks like, and if pressed I might not be able to come up with concrete examples. Rather, I just got the sense that no one really cared about the outcome of the game.

Now, what are the implications of all this? Hard to say. The first guy you have to look at is Hargrove. If he can’t keep Ichiro happy, and by most accounts Ichiro is an easy guy to keep happy, then we have a problem. Does it mean that the Mariners should bring in “character” in the offseason? I find the idea of Bavasi trying to find character terrifying. He’s not even very good at maximizing those things we can produce reasonable numerical proxies for. He might get it into his head that the team need Raffy Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, for example.

So, the solution is unclear. However, I don’t think you could go too wrong with a policy built around pursuing those things that make Ichiro happy. Even his mediocre 2005 was still significantly above average for an AL corner outfielder. Perhaps more importantly, it’s hard for me to imagine too many people dragging themselves out to see a 90 loss Mariners team that did not feature Ichiro.


[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

At the risk of being declared an insensitive elitist, let me say that this would result in death, or an F, or at least a great deal of ill will.

More Oil Spots

[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

Praktike points to this:

All three towns had become strongholds of the insurgency, military officials said, as well as key command centers for the guerrilla-smuggling pipeline from Syria. Marines carried out an offensive in the Ubaydi area last May, only to see insurgents filter back in once American forces had left.

This time, the Marines intend to leave a permanent presence of American and Iraqi troops in the town, military officials say.

The sweeps of Husayba and Karabila ended on Saturday. In contrast to most other American military operations in Anbar, the Marines remained in both towns following the offensive and immediately set about building permanent garrisons there.

Each will be manned by at least two battalions, with at least one from the Iraqi Army, officials said. Joint American-Iraqi squads have already begun to patrol the streets. Residents, most of whom abandoned the towns in advance of the assault, began to return to their homes over the weekend.

It sounds hopeful. I’ve given my reasons for skepticism, but this really does seem to imply that the Marines are serious about maintaining a presence in cleared areas. The use of American forces in holding operations in conjunction with Iraqi forces is a very good idea. I wonder how much the Army has been willing to commit itself to this kind of operation.

In other news, Mickey Kaus actually has an interesting thought:

There’s one thing I don’t understand about the growing support for an “oil spot” strategy–which would have the U.S. military in Iraq “focus less on trying to secure the whole country and more on shoring up protection of major population centers.” That might make great sense if all we were trying to do was pacify Iraq. But how does it make sense if there are terrorists running around the Iraqi hinterlands using them as a base from which they can attack lots of other countries, including possibly our own? Are we supposed to cede Zarqawi the territory outside the “major population centers”?

It’s worth thinking about. The Iraqi insurgency is different in tactics and composition than other insurgencies. That’s not terribly shocking, since all insurgencies have their own characterisitics. However, the Iraqi insurgents seem much more willing to use low cost/high yield terrorist attacks (a few suicide bombers with bombs that can kill a lot of people) than most other insurgencies. This suggests that their overhead may be a bit lower than that, say, of the Viet Cong or Sendero Luminoso. In other words, the insurgency might be able to survive and cause damage with a fainter heartbeat than some other insurgencies. Another difference is that some portion of the Iraqi insurgency is made up of genuine terrorists who aren’t particularly interested in stability, amnesty, democracy, economic opportunity, and the other things that can induce insurgents to give up. Even if we manage to defeat the “negotiable” portion of the Iraqi insurgency, there will be plenty of diehards and foreign fighters left to continue the fight (inside or outside of Iraq) at some level.

However, I don’t think this changes the strategy. It’s unfortunate, but the focus has to be on defeating and/or reconciling with the Sunni insurgency. Once that is accomplished, attacking the genuine terrorist groups will become much easier. Until then, at least, we and the Iraqis will have to endure increased terrorist activity.

Incidentally, I think that the above applies whether or not the United States remains in Iraq. If we withdraw tomorrow, the Iraqi government will have to defeat the insurgents and the terrorists. If we don’t, then we’ll have to fight them. The basic task remains the same.

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