Cheerful or not

Apr 15

Introducing the Ballistic Missile Defense Ship || Ares -

Among the many striking displays at the recent Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition was this marvel — an amphibious warfare ship adapted for Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), with three times the radar size and missile capacity of current BMD vessels, as well an electromagnetic rail gun that can launch shells to the edge of space….

Forward of the superstructure, you see what looks like a standard five inch gun, the kind one finds on the Ticos and Burkes. But an engineer responsible for this design explains that’s not what it represents. In fact, it’s an electromagnetic rail gun.

At least two other companies at the Expo exhibited their work on rail guns. The contractors speak of equipping surface combatants with 30+ mega joule (MJ) systems sometime in the 2020s. Elevated for maximum range, those barrels can throw shells a hundred miles away. Elevated higher, they can shoot projectiles to the edge of the atmosphere and possibly beyond.

That capability has caught the attention of missile defense thinkers because the shells might be able to intercept incoming warheads from ballistic missiles. With muzzle velocities of Mach 7, shells accelerated by 30MJ weapons would retain enough speed to engage re-entry vehicles as they fall back into the atmosphere, and possibly enough to chase maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRVs) trying to dodge them.

They’re also relatively cheap. Part of the difficulty of missile defense is economic. BMD interceptors like SM-3 often cost several times more than the missiles against which they defend. Using rail guns for BMD could flip that ratio, allowing multiple rounds to be economically expended on a single target. Even if a MaRV has greater kinetic energy than each round – which would confer a maneuvering advantage – it would face difficulty avoiding multiple interceptors while maintaining a course that ends at its target. This is particularly true if when the rounds approach they explode into clouds of hypersonic shards, which is what Boeing has in mind….

Unfortunately, there’s not enough money in the budget right now even for a handful. Too bad. It’s a fascinating concept, but in today’s fiscal environment, that’s probably all it’ll ever be … that, and the world’s coolest key chain.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Europe has misread Putin for years and now must push back || Wall Street Journal -

Now that vision of Europe is imperiled once more. “I see Ukraine and Crimea in a bigger context,” Mr. Rasmussen says. “I see this as an element in a pattern, and it’s driven by President Putin’s strong desire to restore Russian greatness by re-establishing a sphere of influence in the former Soviet space.”

Destabilizing Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus is a pillar of the Kremlin’s strategy. “It’s in Russia’s interest to see frozen, protracted conflicts in the region, such as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and Crimea,” Mr. Rasmussen says of regions where Moscow has asserted control. “If you look at a map, you will see why it’s of strategic importance for Russia.”…

The Kremlin needs modern weapons systems and well-trained forces to realize its vision, and Mr. Rasmussen is alarmed by the improvements he has seen in the Russian military during the past few years. Contrasting Russia’s military action against Georgia in 2008 with its invasion of Crimea this year, he says, “we have seen an incredible development of the Russian ability to act determinedly and rapidly. We have seen better preparation, better organization and more rapid action. They have also invested in more modern capabilities. We shouldn’t underestimate the strength of the Russian armed forces.” Now 40,000 of those troops are massed on the border of eastern Ukraine.

Moscow boosted military spending by 79% in the past decade, according to a Brookings Institution estimate, and military spending amounted to 4.5% of Russian gross domestic product in 2012, according to the World Bank. Most Western European states, by contrast, began cutting defense long before the recession and have kept doing so even as their economies have stabilized. France spent 1.9% of its GDP on defense in 2013; Denmark spent 1.4%; Germany, 1.3%; and Spain, 0.9%.

"We in Europe have disarmed too much, for too long," Mr. Rasmussen says. "We can’t continue to cut defense budgets deeply while Russia is increasing her defense budget… . It has created a growing gap across the Atlantic between the U.S. and Europe. Today the U.S. spends around 75% of the overall NATO defense investment. I’m concerned that in the long run it will weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance if this trend continues."

Then there is Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Diversity and Dishonesty || Ross Douthat (New York Times) -

Earlier this year, a column by a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y. L. Korn briefly achieved escape velocity from the Ivy League bubble, thanks to its daring view of how universities should approach academic freedom.

Korn proposed that such freedom was dated and destructive, and that a doctrine of “academic justice” should prevail instead. No more, she wrote, should Harvard permit its faculty to engage in “research promoting or justifying oppression” or produce work tainted by “racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Instead, academic culture should conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true, and decline as a matter of principle “to put up with research that counters our goals.”

No higher-up at Harvard endorsed her argument, of course. But its honesty of purpose made an instructive contrast to the institutional statements put out in the immediate aftermath of two recent controversies — the resignation of the Mozilla Foundation’s C.E.O., Brendan Eich, and the withdrawal, by Brandeis University, of the honorary degree it had promised to the human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In both cases, Mozilla and Brandeis, there was a striking difference between the clarity of what had actually happened and the evasiveness of the official responses to the events. Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage; Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture. But neither the phrase “marriage” nor the word “Islam” appeared in the initial statements Mozilla and Brandeis released…..

What both cases illustrate, with their fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure, is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America.

The defect, crucially, is not this culture’s bias against social conservatives, or its discomfort with stinging attacks on non-Western religions. Rather, it’s the refusal to admit — to others, and to itself — that these biases fundamentally trump the commitment to “free expression” or “diversity” affirmed in mission statements and news releases.

This refusal, this self-deception, means that we have far too many powerful communities (corporate, academic, journalistic) that are simultaneously dogmatic and dishonest about it — that promise diversity but only as the left defines it, that fill their ranks with ideologues and then claim to stand athwart bias and misinformation, that speak the language of pluralism while presiding over communities that resemble the beau ideal of Sandra Y. L. Korn.

Leviathan of last resort || Economist -

Ever since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008 a common assumption has been that the crisis happened because the state surrendered control of finance to the market. The answer, it follows, must be more rules. The latest target is American housing, the source of the dodgy loans that brought down Lehman. Plans are afoot to set up a permanent public backstop to mortgage markets, with the government insuring 90% of losses in a crisis. Which might be comforting, except for two things. First, it is hard to see how entrenching state support will prevent excessive risk-taking. And, second, whatever was wrong with the American housing market, it was not lack of government: far from a free market, it was one of the most regulated industries in the world, funded by taxpayer subsidies and with lending decisions taken by the state.

Back in 1856 one of this newspaper’s editors, Walter Bagehot, blamed crashes on what he called “blind capital”—periods when credulous cash, ignoring risk, flooded into unwise investments. Given not only the inevitability of such moments of panic but also finance’s systemic role in the economy, a government had to devise some special rules to make finance safer. Bagehot invented one: the need for central banks to rescue banks during crises. But Bagehot’s rule had a sting in the tail: the bail-out charges should be punitive. That toughness rested on the view that governments should as far as they could treat financiers like any other industry, forcing bankers and investors to take as much of the risk as possible themselves. The more the state protected the system, the more likely it was that people in it would take risks with impunity….

In many cases the rationale for the rules and the rescues has been to protect ordinary investors from the evils of finance. Yet the overall effect is to add ever more layers of state padding and distort risk-taking.

This fits an historical pattern. As our essay this week shows, regulation has responded to each crisis by protecting ever more of finance. Five disasters, from 1792 to 1929, explain the origins of the modern financial system. This includes hugely successful innovations, from joint-stock banks to the Federal Reserve and the New York Stock Exchange. But it has also meant a corrosive trend: a gradual increase in state involvement.

Circa 1911,  from the panoramic series “Washington from Washington Monument.” Landmarks include the State, War & Navy Building at left; the White House and Ellipse; and U.S. Treasury. (8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company; via Shorpy)

Circa 1911,  from the panoramic series “Washington from Washington Monument.” Landmarks include the State, War & Navy Building at left; the White House and Ellipse; and U.S. Treasury. (8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company; via Shorpy)

Apr 11

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Apr 08

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Apr 07

(via Cato @ Liberty)

(via Cato @ Liberty)

“[O]f course Mozilla has the right to purge a CEO because of his incorrect political views. Of course Eich was not stripped of his First Amendment rights. I’d fight till my last breath for Mozilla to retain that right. What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him. When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.” — Andrew Sullivan, who I rarely agree with these days, but definitely do on this point.

Apr 06

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by Philip Govedare (via butdoesitfloat)

by Philip Govedare (via butdoesitfloat)

Apr 04

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The Gray Lady Falls For the Malthus Trap || Via Meadia -

In 1798, Thomas Malthus famously predicted that inexorable population growth would eventually surpass our planet’s ability to sustain humanity, leading to widespread famine, disease, and privation. He was wrong then, and he’s still wrong now, though there is no shortage of latter-day Malthus acolytes. Yesterday the New York Times wondered, “Might Thomas Malthus be vindicated in the end?” as it covered a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)…

[T]he Gray Lady gives the Reverend Malthus entirely too much credit—and humanity too little—when she says that “Malthus’s prediction was based on an eminently sensible premise: that the earth’s carrying capacity has a limit.” But this limit is not fixed; it’s elastic. And recent data suggest that this carrying capacity is not strictly a function of natural confines, but rather is dependent on humanity’s ability to innovate.

Malthusianism is one of the most persistent delusions out there. It fails to grasp that people don’t just add cost—they add creativity and ingenuity. Population Bomb adherents think of people as bacteria on a petri dish that only eat their food supply, reproduce, and die. But people don’t just consume; they create. That creativity can never be predicted or measured in advance, which is why many projections into the future look like Malthusian doom scenarios. But thanks to adaptability and creativity, the human race always finds another way to thrive.

We aren’t prepared to say that human creativity is infinite, but there aren’t many signs that we’ve yet glimpsed its limit….  Malthusianism is what you get when intellectuals lose touch with humanism, and forget just how creative and remarkable human beings are.