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Random Airport Blogging, Newark Edition

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

While crossing the Atlantic, I had time to pore over the most recent Economist, time that has been precious in other, more dynamic settings.  I came across Norm Stamper’s letter to the editor regarding the benefits of legalization.  Stamper was the Seattle police chief from 94 until he was either forced out or resigned on his own volition (my money is on some interpretation of the former) following the WTO circus of 1999.  I like to see statements like his, though my cynical side would prefer, yet never expect, a serving person of some authority to make such a reasonable argument.  

This dream did, indeed happen in the UK a few years ago.  Brian Paddick was a police commissioner for a London borough where he proposed that his officers don’t bother with possession charges so they might concentrate on the shit that really matters.  While not as radical (or as brilliant) as the “Hamsterdam” experiment suggested in Season 3 of The Wire, it was still one of the rare realistic approaches to the issue.
Of course, while Paddick did realize some success when then Home Secretary (and rumored womanizer) David Blunkett demoted pot (or, what the British charmingly refer to as cannabis) from Class B to Class C, one of Blunkett’s numerous successors, Jacqui Smith, restored cannabis to its full Class B glory.
Hence, while Stamper is fighting the good fight from the security of his retirement, the cause may appear to be in retreat.
Some random bits: I fly a lot, and when I fly, I tend to cover longer than average distances, and frequent several airports on any given itinerary.  Which means I sort of know what I’m doing.  While generally a patient man, I can’t stand people who are befuddled by simple procedures like the following:
a) check in.
b) security.
c) airports in general.
This one really gets to me: people wandering around airports, preferably slowly, marvelling at the innovation where your connection is actually on television screens, or even these newfangled innovations where gates at airports now have numbers that operate in a logical manner (repeat after me: 2 comes after 1, 3 after 2, and if you walk far enough, you’ll work out that there is a structured order to where these gates appear.  Usually.)
d) the tacit rules of the airplane.
if you are just settling in to your seat, and there is a line behind you, especially if it’s a single aisle aircraft, don’t reorganize the contents of your carry-on that you have just stowed in the overhead bin while 3/4 of the passengers have yet to even view their seats for the first time.
Oh, another bit: I hate flying, and not for any of the reasons listed above.  I have a healthy fear of falling out of the sky from somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 feet.  
But over the years, I have developed coping mechanisms.  While the coping mechanisms aren’t great in Newark Airport, they’re nicer than the bloody marys I had a dozen hours ago in Bristol Airport.  


[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

Tell your statistics to shut up

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

While trying to think of something interesting to say about the Sotomayor hearings for the purposes of paid journalism (no luck so far), I found my mind wandering back toward Pete Rose. Here’s a question: Has the increased sophistication in the analysis of baseball stats over the past 25 years had an appreciable effect on the probability of things like Pete Rose’s 1983 season being allowed to happen?

That year, Rose played 151 games and had 555 plate appearances. He hit .245 and didn’t hit a homer, while racking up a total of 20 extra bases on hits for a nifty .286 slugging percentage. He stole seven bases in 14 attempts, and had an OPS of 69.

Given that he was a lead-footed 42-year-old first baseman with essentially no defensive value this represents, I submit, possibly the worst season ever by a regular on a pennant-winning team.

Now of course even at the time it was widely recognized that Rose’s stats were bad, but I think today it would be somewhat less likely that either the relevant decision makers or public opinion would tolerate all the nonsense about intangibles and grit and hustle and character that made it possible for a first baseman who was hitting like a backup catcher to hold a starting job on a good team for an entire season.


[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

Count me in:

I would pay good money to hear Sonia Sotomayor say, “Senator Sessions, I think it’s ironic to be facing these questions from a man whose judicial nomination was rejected by this very committee on the grounds that he’s a huge racist.”


I also have to agree with Matt about the optics, especially given the particular focus of the Republican Senators.

Big Decks on Big Carriers

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

To follow up on Dave’s post about the Royal Navy, it appears that the first steel has been cut for Queen Elizabeth, the first of the RN’s new big deck carriers.

The debate on defence budgeting in the UK is a good deal healthier and more substantive than that in the United States, if only because there’s a widespread understanding that weapons cost money and that the money spent on weapons can’t be spent on other things. In other words, defence is part of the budget, rather than an untouchable entitlement for the military-industrial complex. The Army, RAF, and Royal Navy seem only too happy to shiv one another during the budget process, in contrast to the rigidly self-enforced comity between the services in the United States. The RAF, for example, expressed a selfless willingness to give up its Harriers, without mentioning that the Harriers are the only fighter/attack aircraft that can currently operate from the decks of Illustrious and Ark Royal.

The decision to build two big deck carriers has, accordingly, produced the need for sacrifices in other areas. The number of Type 45 destroyers has been cut from twelve to six, and other escort vessels have either been delayed or had their service lives extended well beyond what was originally projected. The RN is paying a significant price for Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, a price that I suspect will eventually include the SSBN fleet. It’s also possible that, in spite of the steel cutting, Queen Elizabeth and her sister will never be completed. Followers of the Royal Navy are concerned that after having cut the service in order to fund the carriers, the government will now cut the carriers.

Alternatives exist, even within the force projection requirements of the Royal Navy. Ark Royal and Illustrious are both twenty-five years old, and will eventually require replacement. Had the RN not chosen the big deck route, it could have pursued something similar to the Italian Cavour, which displaces 27000 tons and could carry about 20 F-35Bs. The development of the F-35B and the advent of the Age of UAV has reduced the capability gap between big and small carriers, as the latter can now operate aircraft substantially similar to the former. With lower operating and construction costs, a British Cavour type might have saved some of the Type 45 destroyers. That said, big deck carriers have certain advantages, even in the era of the F-35 and the UAV. A big carrier with an angled deck can carry out operations at a much greater pace than a small carrier, and a big carrier is typically more resistant to battle damage (never an absurd consideration). Big carriers can obviously also carry more aircraft, whether manned or UAV. If I ran the Royal Navy, I would probably skip the F-35B (the VSTOL variant) in favor of the F-35C (the conventional carrier variant) as the performance of the latter is said to exceed that of the former in endurance and payload. Alternatively, a limited number of F-35Bs could be purchased for deployment on Ark Royal or Illustrious during their remaining service lives, with the bulk of the purchase consisting of F-35Cs.

However, I still think it’s quite likely that the Royal Navy will get its two supercarriers. Designing and building smaller carriers would, at this point, be almost as expensive (and probably quite a bit more time consuming) as going through with QE and PoW. Whether or not the United Kingdom should view force projection and independent expeditionary capability as a foreign policy value is secondary to that fact that it believes such now, and that naval aviation in some form is necessary to conduct that foreign policy. Even allowing that the Royal Navy will likely operate in cooperation with the Americans and French, having supercarriers wins the United Kingdom a bigger seat at the table, and thus more influence over the conduct of any proposed operation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is very difficult to envision any British government accepting a world in which France, Italy, Russia, China, and maybe a few other countries have larger and more effective naval aviation arms than the United Kingdom. Prestige considerations may seem kind of stupid, but they are considerations nonetheless.

As alluded to above, I suspect that the Royal Navy’s SSBN force is in much greater danger than the carriers. Although the carriers are more expensive than the submarines (and much more expensive to operate) they also return benefits that are apparently visible and tangible. The submarines just hide. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the strategic rationale for an independent British deterrent has collapsed; I find it extraordinarily difficult to envision a scenario in which a country could lob a nuke at London without triggering a response from either Washington or Paris. Prestige considerations are also relevant for nuclear weapons, and the continued French possession of SSBNs may make British abolition untenable, but nuclear weapons also have a lot more domestic enemies than aircraft carriers.

Random Airport Blogging, Bristol Edition

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

I’m in the early stages of a PLH-BRS-EWR-PDX itinerary.  Stop two, enjoying what is perhaps the worst bloody mary of my life.  And that’s saying something.

This is clearly karmic balance for the window with nobody in the middle seat on the BRS-EWR leg, and the exit row, again with nobody in the middle, on the EWR-PDX leg.  And I’m not sure it’s worth it.
My thoughts go out to John Hartson and his family.  He was one of my favorites on those Celtic teams.
Freddy Flintoff appears to be injured again.  It must be Tuesday.
This I don’t care about.
This however, I do give a damn about.  It’s been 11 years since the Good Friday accords.  It’s been up and down, of course, but one would think that the so-called Real IRA might have received the memo sent out by Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness.  
It’s 14 July in England, so I’m stunned that it’s raining.  I don’t think I’m going to too much mind some time away from this island.

Heavens To Betsy

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

Look, this is a civil website, so discussions about who tortured who and which public officials may have violated which statutory and constitutional provisions frankly make me a little uncomfortable, and I feel like the Rev. Rodney King, Jr.: “Can’t we all just get along?”

On the other hand, I’m not sure that the republic can withstand such a profound attack on civil discourse:

Oh how ghastly! Have Richard Cohen fetch me the Broder Brand Smelling Salts, post-haste.

Preserve Dragon Tank Jobs!

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

Obama Axes Pentagon Plan To Build Billion Dollar Tank In Shape Of Dragon

What this video doesn’t discuss is the plight of the 95000 workers who will be put on the street by the cancellation of the Dragon Tank. For shame, President Obama. For shame.

LGM Baseball Challenge: Midseason Standings

[ 0 ] July 14, 2009 |

We have reached the All Star Break, and the end of Segment 1 of the LGM Baseball Challenge. M. Ricci’s Free Leonard has turned in an outstanding first half, but several teams remain in contention. Recall that last year’s LGM Baseball Challenge was decided in the final game of the final day of the season…

1 Free Leonard, M. Ricci 5207 100
2 LawDawg, D. Howard 5040 99.8
3 Headless Thompson Gunners, S. Hickey 4637 97.1
4 Austin Electric Chairs, E. Loomis 4529 95.5
5 Glen Ellyn Stein Hoisters, T. Mohr 4247 89.8
6 Theibault Moor Orioles, J. Theibault 4225 89.3
7 Spikes’ Polish Warriors, B. Thomas 4219 89.2
8 Smith, P. Smith 4161 87.9
9 Amsterdam Rugmakers, D. Sparks 4133 87.2
10 Unfounded Rumors, E. Udall 4132 87.1
11 Iowa City Spacemen, J. Austen 4056 85.2
12 kodos423, k. crockett 4052 85.1
13 gj manatees, b. junge 3995 83.4
14 Fanged Monkey, J. M 3985 83.1
15 Split Lip Rayfield, P. McLeod 3970 82.6
16 O’Quendo’s Irish Rovers, J. Murray 3952 82
17 NW USA All-Stars, N. Beaudrotq 3919 81
18 Bellmaniacs, D. Rowland 3757 74.2
19 Worcester Brownstockings, M. Favreault 3692 70.7
20 Anarchist Sucklings, m. christman 3691 70.7
21 TooMuchCoffee, P. Daley 3661 68.9
22 Gregory, J. Gregory 3653 68.5
23 The Briar Gates, E. Moser 3615 66.1
24 Minneapolis Homebrewers, J. Kenny 3603 65.3
25 Ducking Minerva, M. Power 3573 63.3
26 Moscow Rats, I. Gray 3523 60
27 Evan, E. Robertson 3468 56.3
28 Mike and Ikenberry, A. Arroyo 3444 54.6
29 Socraticsilence, S. Whiting 3422 53
30 Fraud Guy, E. Cerevic 3395 51.1
31 Jokeland Laffletics, M. Prentice 3369 49.3
32 Kurzbein Millers, J. Kortebein 3336 46.9
33 Free Barry, M. Schilling 3315 45.5
34 Cincinnati Bearded Ducks, R. Farley 3310 45.1
35 Shadow Moses, Z. Keane 3268 42.4
36 fire megan mcardle, B C 3233 40.3
37 Swissvale Sluggers, f. Anderson 3218 39.3
38 SemiCanadianTough, K. Houghton 3083 32.1
39 Tizzod, T. Bennington 3075 31.7
40 Free Range Werny, S. Werny 3054 30.8
41 YankeesFTW, B. Jackson 2902 25.6
42 Ain’t That Pretty at All, R. Cobeen 2843 23.9

Channeling the Elders

[ 0 ] July 13, 2009 |

If you wish to espouse a weakly conceived and difficult to defend policy propositions in a limited space, there’s no better strategy than finding a figure of age and respect to hand down the pronouncements from on high. That way, they acquire a certain gravity without actually having to make any sense. Witness Melanie Kirkpatrick, who decided to sit down with former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and saw fit to publish the results in an op-ed. As arguments, Schlesinger’s comments make little sense. As pronouncements, however, they acquire the quality of ageless wisdom. Ageless wisdom, of course, does not need to be defended, and doesn’t particular need to be coherent.

Kirkpatrick’s interview of Schlesinger begins with a series of cliches, then goes downhill. We learn that nuclear deterrence takes place everyday, and thus that if nuclear weapons went away wars would suddenly break out all over the place. Schlesinger doesn’t give us any indication of where these wars might happen, and neither does Kirkpatrick. Similarly, neither Kirkpatrick nor Schlesinger indicate why they believe that the massive conventional superiority that the United States enjoys over any opponent or plausible combination of opponents would fail to deter aggression; it’s almost as if spending as much on defense as every single other country in the world combined isn’t worth the trouble. I find Schlesinger’s assertion that Iran and North Korea are immune to deterrence particularly puzzling, especially in the context of his claim that nuclear deterrence is operative every single day. Seriously, does the old man think that the Russians are about to invade Poland?

Here’s something else I don’t get; Schlesinger suggests that one of the dangers of a reduced US nuclear posture is that more countries around the world will decide to go nuclear. One of his solutions to this problem is that the United States ought to try to convince Japan to develop nuclear weapons. This “idea” has also been proposed by Charles Krauthammer and a few others on the right. Setting aside the basic contempt for international non-proliferation institutions (which Japan continues to strongly support), I find this logic befuddling. I suppose that it’s logically possible that selective early proliferation could prevent even more widespread proliferation, but I’m not sure how it works in practice. Japan isn’t the leader (or even a major player) in a multilateral alliance system; while you could argue that French, British, and US possession of nuclear weapons obviated the need for, say, German and Italian nukes, it’s unclear to me exactly who the Japanese would prevent from going nuclear. All of Japan’s neighbors except for South Korea already have nukes, and the South Koreans are probably MORE likely to acquire them if the Japanese proliferate. It’s an idea that doesn’t make the faintest amount of sense to me, except perhaps in that it undercuts aforementioned Japanese support for the global non-proliferation regime.

Schlesinger’s discussion of RRW is just silly, but then most such discussion verge on the absurd. I doubt very much that the Russians are actually modernizing their warhead stockpile at any reasonable speed, and in any case nuclear weapons don’t fight one another. Assuming any reasonably sized nuclear force, concerns about the reliability of US warheads (which are in any case overblown) disappear in a cloud of atomic dust. It’s revealing that the “reliability” advocates never really bother to construct any hypotheticals about why warhead reliability might matter; they would all sound something like this. Maintaining some research-oriented capability to build new nuclear warheads is probably necessary if you don’t envision complete nuclear abolition, but I suspect that the core capability can be kept at a pretty low level, far below what’s envisioned by most RRW advocates. That said, I would certainly trade RRW for a dramatically reduced nuclear stockpile, and a guarantee that warhead design would concentrate on long term reliability, rather than on operational and tactical versatility.

I should say that I’m broadly sympathetic with Schlesinger’s suggestion that we will never be rid of nuclear weapons. I can’t get past the problem of verification; any scheme to reduce the number of nuclear weapons to zero runs up against major incentives to deceive and defect. Were I Russia or China, I would never trust the United States to eliminate all of its nuclear weapons, and given US conventional superiority, Russia and China have even more incentive to deceive than we. I don’t see a way around this; while we have monitoring institutions that can fix the number of nuclear warheads within a particular range, I don’t see how any set of inspections could be intrusive enough to assure complete security. And while I would concede that the threat of retaliation isn’t the only, or even the most important, reason that nations have refrained from using nuclear weapons since 1945, I’m convinced that it’s part of the explanation. The best I could hope for in terms of a nuclear future is for the major powers to adopt a standard of minimal safe deterrence (the details of which can vary), and substantially reduce their nuclear stockpiles. I also think that there’s an outside possibility that the United Kingdom may give up its nuclear weapons in our lifetime, but that depends on the particular international position of the UK and on its relationship to France and the United States.

That said, there’s certainly a huge distance between a minimal safe deterrent posture and where we are now. Moreover, there’s probably some value to nuclear abolition as rhetorical aspiration; the Chinese have been calling for abolition for a long time, even as they pursue moderate increases in their own nuclear arsenal. Most importantly, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which holds nuclear abolition as an aspiration) has been remarkably successful; it has provided the means through which nuclear proliferation can be monitored, and has at least contributed to the decision of most nuclear capable countries not to go through with weapon development.

In my day we didn’t have meaningless All-Star games

[ 0 ] July 13, 2009 |

We had meaningless All-Star games that featured career-ending injuries.


One of the things I’ve dreaded about getting older is turning into one of those cranky middle-aged guys who is always going on about how much better sports were 35 years ago, when the players still cared and it wasn’t all about money.

You know what was great about the All-Star game 35 years ago? The players still cared and it wasn’t all about money.


[ 0 ] July 13, 2009 |