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Don’t Forget the Mashed Potato!

[ 0 ] July 7, 2008 |

Avert your eyes!

Give Helms this: his embrace of the worst elements of wingnuttery was nothing if not comprehensive. Since it’s easier to laugh at than his more typical race- and gay- baiting and support for bloodthristy dictators, I also like this quote:

“The nation has been hypnotized by the swaying and the gesturing of the Watusi and the Frug.”

I, for one, would have been terrified.

Tito’s Players Home Cookin’ Aren’t Talent Evaluators

[ 0 ] July 7, 2008 |

I don’t mind the defending World Series manager favoring his own players in marginal cases, but seriously, Jason Varitek? What a disgrace. I mean, he was a fine player for a long time, but he’s turned into Brad Ausmus without the arm. Well, maybe he’ll hit a feeble popup in a key spot like he did Saturday, and the NL will get home field advantage for once…

UPDATE: Whoops–Varitek was actually voted on by the players. I remember Bill James once running down the history of awards voted on by players with frequently ludicrous results, and this fits right in. And yet I’m sure we’ll hear more broadcasters talk about taking the vote away from the fans and giving it to the players every year…

Politics is the Art of the Possible

[ 32 ] July 7, 2008 |

Is a truism that everyone remembers some of the time, and everyone seems to forget some of the time. Yglesias on cock fighting bans:

But should cockfighting really be banned? This doesn’t seem like a very nice way to treat animals, I’m skeptical that this is meaningfully worse than the way we treat the chickens we raise for meat and eggs.

That’s true, of course. However, the lifes of victims ofvarious forms of animal abuse which are currently illegal (and uncontroversially so) are nowhere near as bad as the lifes of animals in modern factory farming. The law isn’t consistent on animal treatment because we as a society haven’t acheived any logically consistent consensus on how animals should be treated. To insist for consistency in the law before our social norms have reached anything approaching consistency is to put the cart before the horse. Furthermore, if one is convinced that factory farming is a wrong that should not be legally condoned, better to have them inconsistently tolerated in the law, providing a nice rhetorical opening to remind us all of the hypocricy of our toleration of factory farming.

On the other hand, the existing legal consensus isn’t quite as illogical as it might seem. We may not have anything approaching a social consensus that the cruel treatment of animals is always and forever wrong, but we are moving closer to a consensus that unnecessary cruelty to animals is pretty problematic. One needn’t endorse a strong or even weak version of animal rights to come to this conclusion. Whether–and how–we ought to reform the treatment of animals raised for food and dairy is an important question, but we’re not there yet.

Matt also speculatively comments on the cultural politics of this issue, about which I know nothing and have no commentary to add.

Update: Several commenters and Dylan Matthews object to my suggestion that raising meat for animals, particularly in the modern industrual manner, is in some sense necessary. I agree, it’s almost certain not necessary. However, given the centrality of meat consumption to our diet and our culture for so long, it’s not surprising, and perfectly understandable, for such practices to be widely perceived as necessary.


[ 0 ] July 6, 2008 |

This was well earned. Congrats to Nadal.

Holy Land Trivia of the Day

[ 13 ] July 6, 2008 |

Which biblical figures “got their game” at this Jerusalem locale?

Sunday Maritime Book Review: The Tsar’s Last Armada

[ 15 ] July 6, 2008 |

The Tsar’s Last Armada, by Constantine Pleshakov, tells the story of the transit of the Russian Baltic Fleet to the Straits of Tsushima, where it was destroyed by Admiral Togo Heihachiro’s battle squadron. The Baltic Fleet was dispatched in response to the successful Japanese blockade of Port Arthur, and to the Japanese victory over the Russian Pacific Fleet at the Battle of Yellow Sea. The Fleet, commanded by Admiral Zinovy Rozhesvensky, would circle Europe, Africa, and most of Asia on its way to Port Arthur, where it would break the Japanese siege and destroy Togo’s fleet. With the Japanese Navy destroyed, the Russians would presumably be able to cut contact between Japanese forces on the mainland and supply bases in the homeland.

It was not to be, but the trip, after all, is half the fun. Russian battleships (which were understood to be competitive with foreign contemporaries) were not built for a journey through the tropics, or really for any long range expedition. Similarly, Russian sailors were not prepared for the sort of journey that the Tsar ordered them to undertake. Among the more mundane problems the fleet faced was a lack of charts, a lack of suitable food, a lack of refrigeration, and a lack of appropriate medicines and medical treatment facilities. The less mundane problems included serial confrontations with the Royal Navy, which did not look kindly on the transit of a major fleet through areas it viewed as its playground. In an imagined confrontation near Denmark, the Russian fleet opened fire on a group of fishing vessels with fatal results. Near Gibraltar, the commanding Royal Navy officer mused about using the Mediterranean squadron to destroy the Baltic Fleet at anchor. The Russians also experienced friction with their French allies, who saw no reason to antagonize Japan and chafed at the presence of the Russians in their colonial waters.

The Russian fleet consisted of four modern battleships, four older battleships, three coast defense battleships, and various assorted support craft. This was a hodgepodge of several different squadrons, resulting from the somewhat confused instructions of Nicholas II. This had the positive effect of concentrating as much power as possible in the fleet, but the negative effects of creating a slow battleline (the line could only move as fast as its slowest ship), and producing a divided and confused command situation. Many of the Russian ships were obsolescent, incapable of doing serious damage to Togo’s battleships (although they certainly could have hurt his armored cruisers).

The bulk of the squadron left in October 1904. Port Arthur fell in January 1905, while the fleet was off the coast of Madagascar. The new Russian objective was Vladivostok; assuming that the Russian fleet would not be in condition to confront Togo right away, it would refit in the Far East Russian naval base and destroy Togo later. To get to Vladivostok, Admiral Rozhesvensky decided to take the Straits of Tsushima, rather than the longer route to the east of Japan. The Russian fleet, in poor mechanical condition and with low morale, sought to avoid battle with Togo’s fleet. Togo, on the other hand, decided that this was the time to destroy the Russians.

This was a riskier choice than Pleshakov (or many other commentators) let on. The Russian fleet, after all, was much larger than the Japanese. It was at a low ebb in terms of combat effectiveness, and the Japanese were at their maximum efficiency, but the presence of so many more guns weighed in the Russians favor. Moreover, Togo was at a significant strategic advantage. Since the fall of Port Arthur, the strategic rationale of the deployment of the Baltic Fleet had been lost. Vladivostok is roughly five hundred miles from the routes used to supply the Japanese armies on mainland Asia, and Admiral Rozhesvensky’s fleet could not have maintained itself on station long enough to significantly disrupt Japanese logistics. Any division of the fleet would leave it easy prey for Togo’s faster, more agile squadron. As such, all Togo needed to do to win was not to lose; the only result that could have transformed the situation would have been a Russian annihilation of the Japanese.

Pleshakov concentrates on the Russian experience, and so doesn’t have a lot of insight into Togo’s choice. Instead, he discusses the course of the battle, which is quick, devastating Japanese rout. Moreover, the story is told without much detail in terms of the tactical decisions undertaken during the battle. The Russian battleships catch fire, explode, and capsize one by one; little damage is inflicted on the Japanese. Admiral Rozhesvensky is knocked out early in the battle by a shell fragment, and is captured by the Japanese after his deputy, Admiral Nebogatov, surrenders his squadron without firing a shot.

Seven Russian battleships, including three of the most modern, were sunk. Four others were captured. Three of the thirty-seven ships in the Russian squadron made it to Vladivostok. Japanese losses amounted to three torpedo boats. Rozhesvensky, Nebogatov, and a couple of thousand other prisoners spent several months as guests of the Emperor, in conditions that were quite hospitable. Upon return to Russia after the peace treaty, Admiral Rozhesvensky, Admiral Nebogatov, and several captains faced courts-martial. Rozhesvensky took all responsibility for the defeat, probably saving some of his captains from the firing squad. Nebogatov, who certainly should have been shot, was sentenced to 16 years, commuted to two.

Pleshakov’s book is useful enough for the lay reader; it has an excellent description of the journey and a non-technical description of the battle. His discussion of the political situation of the war (and the greater strategic significance for the combatants) is quite weak, and anyone looking for an account of the course of the battle, or for details about the combatants, will be disappointed.

On the Radio

[ 1 ] July 6, 2008 |

I did a Supreme Court roundup with Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis, which is available in convenient MP3, XML, and ITunes formats.

Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 0 ] July 6, 2008 |

William McKinley, calling for a day of thanksgiving and prayer, 6 July 1898:

With the nation’s thanks let there be mingled the nation’s prayers that our gallant sons may be shielded from harm alike on the battlefield and in the clash of fleets, and be spared the scourge of suffering and disease while they are striving to uphold their country’s honor; and withal let the nation’s heart be stilled with holy awe at the thought of the noble men who have perished as heroes die, and be filled with compassionate sympathy for all those who suffer bereavement or endure sickness, wounds, and bonds by reason of the awful struggle. And above all, let us pray with earnest fervor that He, the Dispenser of All good, may speedily remove from us the untold afflictions of war and bring to our dear land the blessings of restored peace and to all the domain now ravaged by the cruel strife the priceless boon of security and tranquillity.


[ 0 ] July 5, 2008 |

Hmm, bases loaded, none out, one run down, maybe Rivera will finally blow one, and…oh, Gawd, Crisp is up. One should take the hint and just turn the game off. The puzzling thing is how that stiff even hits his empty .260; combining the bat speed of the beyond-washed-up current version of Varitek’s with Alfredo Griffin’s plate discipline makes for unwatchable atbats. I guess there is a lot of bad pitching around.

Anyway, the outcome of the game can hardly be surprising. Given the chance to deal a serious blow to the Yankees’ playoff chances in recent years, we’ve established conclusively that the BoSox will inevitably extend a hand, help them of the canvas, and stitch up their eyes. At least today didn’t involve getting shut down for several innings by Kei Igawa…

Holy Land Trivia of the Day

[ 19 ] July 5, 2008 |

When was this temple complex constructed?


[ 6 ] July 5, 2008 |


One fascinating thing about the death of Jesse Helms is the conservative reaction…But instead conservatives are taking a line that I might have regarded as an unfair smear just a week ago, and saying that Helms is a brilliant exemplar of the American conservative movement.

And if that’s what the Heritage Foundation and National Review and the other key pillars of American conservatism want me to believe, then I’m happy to believe it. But it reflects just absolutely horribly on them and their movement that this is how they want to be seen — as best exemplified by bigotry, lunatic notions about foreign policy, and tobacco subsidies.

Reading the Corner’s unabashed celebrations has been especially remarkable.

Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 0 ] July 5, 2008 |

Gerald Ford, toasting Indonesian President Suharto during his visit to the US, 5 July 1975:

I recognize, as all of us do here from the United States, that you have achieved a great deal for your country in the period during your Presidency. The Indonesian people, we recognize, have developed a solid foundation to deal with your nation’s very complex challenges and the very difficult road, but in the process of development, great progress has been made. . . .

We do attach, in the United States, a great deal of importance to our relations with you. You have been a source of strength in Southeast Asia and in Asia as a whole, and we respect you for this part that you have played in the area, as well as the leadership that you have given to your own country in the process of development in the last 5 to 10 years.

We look forward to the opportunity of working with you in the future. The fact that we had a recent tragedy in Indochina actually should redouble, and does, our interest in the stability of Southeast Asia.