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Why Can’t All Our Children Swim?

[ 50 ] August 10, 2010 |

We might well ask ourselves this question as a society.

According to Slate, in some respects it is a socio-economic issue:

“A child’s ability to swim is also strongly correlated with his parents’ income. Sixty-seven percent of poor swimmers have a household income less than $49,999. Only 29 percent of skilled swimmers fall below that income level. In the second phase of the University of Memphis study (referenced above), researchers looked more closely at income and found that 12 percent of children who participate in a reduced-cost school lunch program — an easier piece of data for a child to report than household income — said they don’t even feel comfortable in the shallow end of a pool, compared with just 6 percent of wealthier children.”

But a study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation found the key factor affecting whether a child could swim is whether their parents could swim. What would it take to change this?

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Laughing at the Expense of the Laffer Curve

[ 49 ] August 9, 2010 |

This set of answers is remarkably revealing of the quality of intellectual firepower in support of supply side economics…

Managerial Responsibility

[ 14 ] August 9, 2010 |

Or, what can Don Wakamatsu and Martin O’Neill possibly have in common, besides either newfound unemployment or having managed teams that I give a damn about (the Mariners and Celtic, respectively)?

Aston Villa manager O’Neill shockingly resigned with immediate effect only days before the season is to commence.  Rumor has it that transfer policy this off-season sent him over the edge.  Specifically, it looked as though Villa were about to lose two of their top players, James Milner (late of the England World Cup debacle) and Ashley Young, while O’Neill was not allowed to re-invest 100% of the proceeds from the sale, nor did ownership sanction the contract demands of Stephen Ireland, coming in part trade from Manchester City in the proposed / rumored Milner move to Manchester.  O’Neill, perhaps correctly, interpreted this as a surrender of ambition, and walked away.  O’Neill is highly regarded, and considered a hero by Celtic faithful.

His timing is crap for not only Villa, but also his own; walk out a couple weeks ago, and the Liverpool job is his.

Less surprisingly, the Seattle Mariners just fired their manager, Don Wakamatsu, and several members of his coaching staff.

Wakamatsu did not deserve this.  Last year, he was regarded for his brilliance, if not for every tactical decision he made on the field, for his ability to actually manage the cast of highly paid athletes / egos under his supervision.  This year, a 42-70 could have had the effect of attenuating the perceived brilliance, and his correctly showing Ken Griffey Jr. the exit door to his career made him close to universally unpopular.  These are superficial, anecdotal pieces of evidence; the sabermetric literature (that I am familiar with, I am now a couple years behind I’m afraid, although there is some interesting stuff here) has had a difficult time establishing that the field manager of a ball club has much measurable effect at all, and is negligible at best.

If baseball managers do not have any (as of yet) measurable effect on the probability of team success, is the same true for soccer managers?  Typically, soccer managers have a dual role from an American perspective: GM and field manager.  Player acquisition / disposal, the starting lineups, and on field tactics are wholly under his (or her) control.  This is not so in baseball, but also not the entire point.  While analysis on this question is highly limited, my non-rigorous, unsystematic hunch informed by anecdotal evidence perhaps hobbled by some subconscious selection bias tells me that the manager has a measurable effect on the probability of success.  Note, I’m not suggesting that the manager is the sole determinant of success, but that it is measurable.  (That study does not quite get at my question, but it’s the most rigorous I’m aware of).

I suspect that a “name” baseball manager would have also walked if presented with the situation O’Neill faced: the classic ‘fire sale’ followed by a clear lack of ambition, because his reputation is on the line.  However, the difference in the two cases is that the reputation of O’Neil is deserved, while the reputation of Wakamatsu, be it his brilliant 2009 or his miserable 2010, is not.

The Countermobilization Myth: Perry Edition

[ 6 ] August 9, 2010 |

You knew this was coming. One of the strangest moves of people who say that you should hope to lose in the courts because of the backlash is that people cite Roe as definitive evidence for this position that the public does not tolerate judicial intervention into controversial issues, when in fact Roe remains overwhelmingly popular.  This isn’t to say that a decision nationally legalizing same-sex marriage would be similarly popular, but that’s just because the underlying substantive position is less popular.

And, yes, this is especially amusing coming from a publication that is likely to spend the next several years urging various courts to nullify the ACA on grounds that would make the entire New Deal unconstitutional.

Setting the Money on Fire Would Be More Fun

[ 14 ] August 9, 2010 |

I’m not going to say that this is the most vapid column MoDo has ever written — the competition is way too steep.   But it’s always worth remembering that our most prominent newpaper thinks it’s worth spending oodles of money to receive utterly incoherent non-thoughts about trivia twice a week on its op-ed page, in a context in which (as her one rational and knowledgale colleague reminds us)  we have some actual problems worthy of discussion.

Only Kidding!

[ 1 ] August 9, 2010 |

In one of the funniest law review articles ever written, Nelson Lund was not only one of a tiny handful of law professors to argue that Bush v. Gore was defensible on its own terms, he argued that it was a straightforward application of the Court’s equal protection precedents. Apparently, the equal protection clause could be read expansively enough to prohibit different voting standards in different counties (and yet narrow enough not to apply to any of the countless other cases in which this occurs, including the process that gave Florida’s electoral votes in 2000 to Bush, for reasons neither Lund nor the Court has ever bothered to articulate.)

You’ll be shocked to find out that since same-sex marriage is the current question of interest Lund is back to arguing the more traditional conservative position that the equal protection clause has essentially no content*, and that past discriminatory practices are self-justifying. What a surprise!

I’m also not sure why he thinks it’s so devastating to point out that Obama and Clinton share his position about same-sex marriage.   Here’s my easy answer — they’re wrong!   And Obama’s position is transparently irrational and incoherent! Arguments from personality cults may work for Republicans and Reagan but to those of us who prefer to think it’s pretty weak sauce.

*Unless it can be used to prevent local school boards from integrating or to protect white prospective college students, of course.

Sad, But True

[ 10 ] August 9, 2010 |

A Yankees fan friend (to the extent to such a thing is possible) comments:

Definition of a masochist: Mets’ fan who watches his team lose a one-run game to the hated Phillies, then hopes the Red Sox will beat the Yankees to make up for it.

Although I suppose one could just stop with “Mets fan.”

Waiting For Godot A Coherent Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage

[ 4 ] August 9, 2010 |

Not surprisingly, Douthat tries and fails. In this case, the Times seems to be paying for the classic Maggie Gallagher feeble, undefended tautology in somewhat more flowery prose. Another point for Judge Walker…

see also.

Ted Olson Is Making Sense

[ 14 ] August 9, 2010 |

Yeah, I would have never have dreamed that this title could be anything but cheap sarcasm, but here we are.

Meaningful AL East/Wild Card Race

[ 10 ] August 9, 2010 |

R.I.P. Dustin Moseley wins the Kei Igawa memorial award as the replacement-level pitcher who looks like Pete Alexander in a crucial game against Boston. And yet — I may have more than this when I revisit my pre-season picks this week, but while the Red Sox offense was the biggest concern going into the year, as it turns out the biggest issue has been that Lackey and Beckett haven’t done the job.

Chinese ASBMs

[ 21 ] August 8, 2010 |

I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails asking for reaction to this story. For my own previous writings, see here. Information Dissemination has done a lot of work on this topic; see especially here, here, and here. For a good NWCR article on the subject by Andrew Erickson and David Yang, see here.

As for my thoughts:

First, yes, if the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) can be made to work it poses a very serious threat to USN carriers. The USN is very concerned about this, which is one reason it’s working so hard on ship-borne anti-ballistic missile (ABM) technology.   The USN is also working on other countermeasures, including strikes on DF-21 launch sites at the onset of war (potentially delivered from SSGNs), and electronic warfare. The latter is particularly important. A carrier-killing ASBM requires terminal guidance; it must revise its flight path after re-entering the atmosphere. From launch to strike, the flight of an ASBM can take fifteen or so minutes, at which time the carrier in question will have moved eight miles. The missile thus needs to be adjusted remotely (presumably from China) or needs to have the capacity to identify the carrier on its own. Both of these processes are subject to electronic disruption. At this point, we really haven’t the faintest idea what would happen if the Chinese launched a salvo of DF-21s (once they become available in sufficient numbers) at a US carrier battle group. Depending on reliability, some percentage would invariably go astray on their own. Some other percentage (and no one is quite sure how big) would be shot down by US escorts. EW would cause some to plunge harmlessly into the ocean. And finally, some might hit a carrier.

Second, it’s important to remember that Chinese carrier-killing capabilities are a system of systems, rather than any one particular weapon. In addition to ASBMs, the Chinese maintain a large submarine fleet, as well as air and surface launched cruise missile capabilities. In sufficient numbers, all of these can threaten to kill a carrier. In a shooting war the Chinese could use all of these systems, or graduate their use depending on political and military developments. Some of these are more easily countered than others, just as some pose greater costs to the Chinese than others. For example, surface-to-surface cruise missiles are great, but any ship launching one at a US carrier battle group will likely suffer destruction in short order. Similarly, both aircraft and submarines would face a high rate of attrition while making attacks on US carrier groups. ASBMs have obvious advantages over these other systems.

Third, just because the Chinese have ASBMs doesn’t mean that they’ll use them, even in a shooting war. The DF-21 will suffer from the same problem as the variety of global strike weapons that the Pentagon has considered over the years. It’s awesome to be able to kill a US carrier at range, but no one has any idea what will happen when the Chinese first let loose with a few salvos of DF-21s. Any MRBM launched could carry a nuclear warhead, targeted either at a carrier or some other target. The Chinese will have to count on very cool heads in Washington for the fifteen minutes between launch and impact. Launching at a US carrier represents an enormous risk, because it could start a decision-process that would bring full nuclear retaliation from the United States. That would be bad for the Chinese. That the Chinese probably lack secure second strike capability against the US makes things less stable, because the Americans might think that the Chinese were engaging in “use it or lose it” thinking, and so forth. It’s a bad scene, and the prospect of MRBM flying across the Pacific make it even twitchier. Best case scenario, you’d hope for some kind of hotline between Beijing and Washington that would specify what kinds of warheads were flying where, but even that poses problems.

Fourth, the point of developing this “system of systems” is not to use it. Rather, it’s to deter the US from going to war, and failing that to deter the USN from advance deploying its carrier battlegroups in times of war. Sinking a carrier could kill 6000 Americans in a few minutes, the prospect of which might be enough to make an American President reconsider intervention in a cross-Straits war. In case of intervention, the ASBMs and the other assorted systems would make the USN very leery about sailing its primary assets into danger. Aircraft carriers don’t simply represent national power, they ARE national power, and when you lose two or three you lose a large percentage of your ability to project power anywhere. Consequently, admirals tend to be very careful about the circumstances under which they risk their prize possessions. Prying the German and British capital ships out of their respective ports in World War I was like pulling teeth on a rabid walrus; the commanders were extremely reluctant to dispatch their fleets in any but the most advantageous circumstances.  The same is likely to be the case with US admirals in case of war with China.

Does this mean that the supercarrier is obsolete? While it depends on what you mean by the term, the answer is probably no. That the Chinese are willing to spend vast amounts of time and money figuring out how to kill US carriers indicates that they take CV capabilities seriously. Moreover, the number of countries with both the interest and technical capability to develop such a “system of systems” is probably limited to two for the foreseeable future, and there’s little indication that the Russians are working in such a direction. That said, if you’re looking for platforms capable of delivering ordnance in a cross-straits war and living to tell about it, the SSGN is probably a better bet. If you’re looking for a platform capable of the various “influence” missions that the USN performs, from disaster relief to low-intensity expeditionary warfare, the big flat deck amphibs can do a pretty good job.

Finally, the ASBM is essentially a sea denial/anti-access weapon, not a sea control weapon. The USN already has multiple ways of killing any PLAN ship it sees fit to sink. ASBMs do not magically grant the Chinese world dominance, or prevent the USN, the JMSDF, or any other navy from carrying out its various peacetime tasks. The only context in which the ASBMs would appear to have use is a war between the US and China over control of Taiwan. It’s difficult to imagine anything else of sufficient value the the Americans and Chinese might both consider worth fighting for. I am not, thus, convinced that the development of a DF-21 ASBM variant represents an event of world-historic import. Important for a particular facet of the US-China military relationship, yes. Harbinger of some fundamental shift in world military, political, and economic power, not so much.

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Prop H8 and 9CA

[ 9 ] August 8, 2010 |

Vikram Amar has a good piece about the recent holding that Propoistion 8 is unconstitutional and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The most important point, I think, is that if the 9th Circuit decides to reverse the Supreme Court will probably decline to hear the case. In addition to the more legalistic reasons cited by Amar, I’d add that neither of the Court’s distinguishable 4-vote blocs (charitably assuming that the Court’s four more liberal members would actually vote to uphold Walker’s opinion, and remembering that if you think that Roberts is anything but an orthodox conservative you are the sucker) could be confident enough in Kennedy’s vote to risk going all-in. On the other hand, I think if anything he understates the likelihood of an opinion upholding Walker’s ruling being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Not only would this create a right to same-sex marriage throughout the nine states of the ninth circuit but it would lead immediately to federal lawsuits in every other state where same-sex marriage is illegal. It’s inevitable that the Court would want to step in immediately, as in that scenario the 4 doctrinaire reactionaries on the Court would have no reason not to grant cert unless it was certain that Kennedy would vote to strike down Prop 8 (and there’s no way it would be certain.) Because of all this, the forthcoming 9th Circuit decision will indeed be one of substantial historical importance.