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A piece of the true cross

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

I’ve been away from the intertubes for most of the last few days, so perhaps I’m the last person to hear about this inspiring business success story.

Although his assertion has been impossible to verify — cobblers from Lebanon, China and Iraq have also staked claims to what is quickly becoming some of the most famous footwear in the world — orders for Mr. Baydan’s shoes, formerly known as Ducati Model 271 and since renamed “The Bush Shoe,” have poured in from around the world.

A new run of 15,000 pairs, destined for Iraq, went into production on Thursday, he said. A British distributor has asked to become the Baydan Shoe Company’s European sales representative, with a first order of 95,000 pairs, and an American company has placed an order for 18,000 pairs. Four distributors are competing to represent the company in Iraq, where Baydan sold 19,000 pairs of this model for about $40 each last year.

Five thousand posters advertising the shoes, on their way to the Middle East and Turkey, proclaim “Goodbye Bush, Welcome Democracy” in Turkish, English and Arabic.

Turns out the original shoes were destroyed during forensic testing, so no one can be quite sure of the exact brand. On the other hand, it quite possibly took longer to determine that al-Zaidi’s shoes were not explosive than it took to realize that Iraq’s fabled WMD did not exist.

I should also point out one error in the Times story, wherein the writer insists that “both shoes rocketed squarely at Mr. Bush’s head and missed only because of deft ducks by the president.” This is only half true. I’ll grant that Bush’s initial dodge was objectively impressive, but he was quite clearly unprepared for the second shoe.

A billion here, a billion there . . .

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

A back of the envelope calculation indicates the New York Yankees are now committed to approximately $875 million in guaranteed salaries over the next several years. To wit (all numbers in millions):

ARod: $250

St. Derek: $37

Rivera: $30

Posada: $40

Damon: $13

Matsui: $13

Cano: $22

Sabathia: $161

Burnett: $82

Tex: $180

The way things are going we’ll all be bailing them out too in a couple of years.

Whoops, forgot Wang. Throw another five million on that pile — now there’s a real bargain!

The "Invoking A Meritocracy That Never Existed" Gambit

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Quebec premier Jean Charest has, for the second time, selected a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women, perhaps establishing this as a norm for future premiers. Lysaine Gagnon is displeased:

This development is being touted as a progressive move by Mr. Charest. It certainly added a touch of gloss to what would have been a rather lacklustre event, since most senior cabinet ministers were simply given their former posts. But it’s sending our governments down a very bad path, because it means that some of these appointments will be made regardless of merit and qualifications.

Oooh, fetch me the smelling salts. Are you telling me that a cabinet appointment in Canadian government may be based on any factor other than “merit or qualifications”? What an unprecedented development! When I read this I was planning a string of snark about what an amazing coincidence it was that every Liberal who managed to get elected in the prairies turn out to be remarkably qualified for the federal cabinet, etc. etc., but the striking thing about her argument is that Gagnon completely recognizes this: “There are many factors apart from merit that must be taken into account when a premier creates his cabinet – geography, political considerations and so on.”

At this point, then, one is compelled to ask why exactly the train of political considerations should stop with the inclusion of traditionally underrepresented groups. This is a classic Charles Murray move: justify the exclusion of African-Americans by citing a non-existent American tradition of judging people on their individual merits. Somehow, the door always stops in front of discriminated against groups (legacy admissions are OK, but suddenly when more people of color start attending universities standardized tests are absolutely sacrosanct.) One can quibble with Charest’s precise mathematical equity, I suppose, but in general it seems likely that appointing more women is as likely to improve the quality of people serving in the cabinet as anything, and certainly redressing the gross gender inequality in political institutions is certainly a more compelling consideration than, say, rewarding the premier’s cronies. Which brings us to the last point: what exactly are the “qualifications” to be a lower-level cabinet minister anyway? Cabinet appointments are always in substantial measure political, and this is not only inevitable but not particularly undesirable.


[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Does this mean that Obama will try to have John Roberts arrested?


[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Russian submarine launched ballistic missile tests not going well:

“After its firing from the submarine Dmitry Donskoy, the Bulava missile self-liquidated and exploded into the air” – Russian MoD spokesman to Interfax 23 Dec 08

That’s three successful launches out of eight tries. Three out of eight actually works in terms of nuclear deterrence, but you’d still like to see the success rate a bit higher. But more importantly, I’m going to try to work the term “self-liquidated” into as many conversations as possible over the next few days; it’ll be my Christmas-Hannukah theme for 2008.

Maintaining the Balance…

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Surface to Air Missile technology is one of those areas where small shifts in tactical capability could have large strategic effects; if reliable, effective, difficult to counter surface to air missiles become cheap and available, the most common manner in which rich countries pound the bejeezus out of poor countries loses much of its attraction. This possibility is not lost on the USN or the USAF. David Hambling:

Soon after radar-guided anti-aircraft missiles became a threat, planners realized that the simplest way to stop them was to take out the radar. These radars make an easy target; in radio terms, they are equivalent to lighthouses, radiating brightly. So in 1958 the U.S. introduced the Shrike, an “Anti-Radiation Missile” that homed in on enemy radar and proved invaluable in the Vietnam War. The modern successor is the AGM-88 HARM High Speed Antiradiation missile, which has longer range and a speed of over mach 2. “No U.S. aircraft has ever been lost to surface-to-air missiles when HARM has been flying cover,” Mike Vigue, HARM Growth Manager at Raytheon, told me.

The problem with this type of missile is that it relies on the enemy radar being turned on. Once they spot a missile barreling towards them, the operators can turn off the radar so it has nothing to home in on. So the mission is known as Suppression of Enemy Air Defence or SEAD: you’re not likely to kill them, but you can force enemy radar to shut down, making the skies safe for friendly aircraft.

All that changes when you can fit HARM with a GPS module that allows it to accurately pinpoint the location of the radar emitter. The addition means that even if the radar turns off, the missile can still hit it precisely.

Raytheon’s upgrade is called HDAM, for HARM Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses Attack Module. It’s being built for the Air Force. And it incorporates both GPS and an inertial measurement unit with a fiber-optic gyro. Raytheon won’t say exactly how accurate it is, but unlike other anti-radiation missiles which rely on a shrapnel warhead, HDAM has achieved “metal on metal” hits on radar targets, both emitting and non-emitting.

From Colony to Superpower 7.2

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Paul reminds me of one of the most interesting parts of Chapter VII; the 1891 war crisis between Italy and the United States. The good people of New Orleans saw fit to lynch eleven Italians for roughly the same reasons that the good people of New Orleans ever see fit to lynch people, and the Italian government took offense. There was concern about the possibility of war, and someone noticed that the Italian Navy was actually larger and more capable than its US equivalent. An apology ensued.

Erik brings a second image argument to the table re: the military capabilities question. Heh; it’s so like an American historian to think that the development of ideas and institutions within the United States have a lasting effect on its foreign policy. So reductionist… Anyway, the argument is that a general skepticism towards the Federal government and preference for private actors permeated nineteenth century American politics, minimizing the interest in a large standing military. This isn’t quite the same as blaming the institutions; the US federal government maintained the capacity to mobilize behind big projects, but simply chose not to.

If my work can influence the thinking of just one sock puppet, it’ll be worth it…

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Nate Silver discovers that John Lott, Jr., is unable to comprehend the difference between a typo and a vast left-wing conspiracy.

His conclusion completely overlooks the fact that Mary Rosh thought the article was outstanding!

Friday Cat Blogging (Belated Monday Edition)

[ 1 ] December 22, 2008 |

Henry, 12/21/08, 6:40 p.m.:

And five minutes later:

’tis the season….

First Loss…

[ 0 ] December 22, 2008 |

My first thought was “Toyota suffered a loss in 1937?” But no; turns out that the automotive spinoff of Toyota Industries was founded in 1937. Impressive that they managed a profit in 1945 and 1946; apparently the surrender saved the major Toyota factories from bombing by a couple of days.


[ 0 ] December 22, 2008 |

Sam Rockwell as Rod Blagojevich. I can see that working…

Brazilian Military Blogging

[ 0 ] December 22, 2008 |

I think we can all agree that the progressive blogosphere has been pathetically remiss in the field of analysis of Brazilian military restructuring. Mr. Trend gets us off to a good start here:

However, I find Lula’s efforts to actually enforce military conscription for everybody to be quite a fascinating aspect. Although the military is technically and legally supposed to conscript from all Brazilian sectors regardless of class, race, etc., the reality is Brazil’s military ranks are composed overwhelmingly of the poor and marginalized who do not have recourse to get out of such service and who often accept it because they need the money. For decades and even generations (dating back to at least the Paraguayan War) there has been an unspoken understanding that elites and (more recently) the middle classes were “above” military service. So in one sense, any effort to break through this mold to prove that “mandatory conscription” applies to all Brazilian citizens, and not just those who don’t have an economic/cultural/political way to avoide it.

What strikes me as interesting about the article is that the motivating concept seems to be territorial defense and consolidation, with defense of the Sao Paulo oil fields being included under that rubric. This is all well and good, and would be expected of a second rank power in, say, 1930 or 1960. Today, however, most military organizations in Europe and Asia seem to be remodeling themselves around an expeditionary mission. This is as true of North Europe as North Asia; the dreadnought of the day, so to speak, is the amphib, and modular, deployable ground units are the new black. This doesn’t, however, seem to be the direction that the Brazilians are headed, which is curious for a country interested in promoting its benevolent image on the world stage. If you’re looking for international prestige, amphibs are a much better way to go than nuclear submarines; they show the flag, facilitate participation in a variety of different multilateral operations, and are sometimes even actually useful for executing policy (disaster relief, protection of locals in dangerous situations, etc.).

But not, apparently, the direction Brazil wants to go.