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August 30, 2005

F-You, F-You, F-You, F-You - How many is that?

Well, at least this nonsense is taking place in the UK, but will California be far behind?

A secondary school is to allow pupils to swear at teachers - as long as they don't do so more than five times in a lesson. A running tally of how many times the f-word has been used will be kept on the board. If a class goes over the limit, they will be 'spoken' to at the end of the lesson.

Welcome to "The real world of public education".

Posted by Brian at 6:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

(Not) Losing My Religion

Good news! The idiot ruling in an Indiana divorce decree that kept Tom Jones and Tammy Bristol from exposing their child to Wicca (which they both practice and which restriction neither parent wanted in the decree) has been overturned. The decision is apparently online, but I have not been able to read it on the connection I have right now.

Posted by jeff at 8:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 28, 2005

Gates of Fire

Were there any justice in the world, Michael Yon's Gates of Fire would win the Pulitzer Prize. The piece is about a recent combat action in Mosul, where the 1-24th Infantry became involved in close quarters combat. How close? At one point a SGT and a terrorist (who had been recently released from prison after having been captured months ago!) were wrestling on the ground. This is the best combat photojournalism and writing I have seen since pieces published during WWII.

If the rest of the media were reporting the war this well, I would have zero complaints about the reporting of the war. (And I suspect that public support would be much higher, since Michael Yon shows the good we do, along with the bad and the ugly that is done to us.) Sadly, this piece about a related action, or this piece about the same action are both far more representative of most mainstream war reporting, and far more likely to be recognized for journalism awards. In fact that latter piece was a report about Michael Yon's reporting, omitting basically all of the useful information, but at least linking to Yon's blog.

(LT Col Kurilla is recovering in the US.)

Posted by jeff at 10:44 AM | TrackBack

August 26, 2005

Fantasy Football Rankings - RB's

Ah, running back, usually the most critical position in fantasy football due to the large demand and relatively small supply of really good ones.

1. Priest Holmes - His eight games last year were good enough to be a top 12 RB. If healthy, he's #1.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson - Most people rank him number one with very good reason.
3. Shaun Alexander - The guy is consistent and scores a lot of TD's.
4. Tiki Barber - Too high? Over last three years has averaged 1900+ total yards with 9 TD's.
5. Domanick Davis - Not only a good runner, but a major factor in passing game.
6. Curtis Martin - Extremely consistent and coming off best season.
7. Edgerrin James - Knee injury seems well behind him
8. Corey Dillon - Move to Patriots was a godsend for him.
9. Rudi Johnson - Proved himself last year.
10. Ahman Green - Coming off a down year by his standards.
11. Clinton Portis - 1300 yards considered a disappointing season because of only 5 TD's.
12. Deuce McAllister
13. Jamal Lewis - should improve this year without suspension and with better WR's on the team
14. Julius Jones - a little high to put him, but he sure looks like the real deal
15. Willis McGahee - teams will key on him until Losman proves he can throw
16. Brian Westbrook - hard guy to rank because of his low rushing stats, but is best receiver at RB
17. Chris Brown - if he stays healthy and beats Travis Henry for starting job. That's a big if.
18. Steven Jackson - all the tools to be elite, but Faulk will steal some carries and catches
19. Fred Taylor - Lack of TD's a big concern
20. Warrick Dunn - career year last season. Fits Falcon system perfectly, but will lose TD's to Duckett
21. Tatum Bell - if he wins starting job. If Mike Anderson wins it, put him here.
22. Cedric Benson - drop him several spots from here after holdout. he'll have a slow start to season
23. Ronnie Brown - has not shone in preseason and Ricky Williams lurks - be wary
24. Reuben Droughns - this ain't Denver and Suggs lurks if healthy, so another one to be wary of
25. Kevin Jones - should go much higher than this. has a lot of talent, but only 5 TD's last year
26. Cadillac Williams - perfect fit for Gruden's system
27. Kevan Barlow
28. LaMont Jordan - has looked good in preseason, bump him up, but remember he's still unproven
29. Ricky Williams - hard to rate! Might be worth a late pick. Watch R. Brown to see Ricky's potential
30. J.J. Arrington - assuming he starts
31. Larry Johnson - best backup in league. If Priest goes down, Johnson will explode
32. Marshall Faulk - still some gas in the tank. Will get some carries and factor in the passing game
33. Travis Henry - if he wins starting job move him up about ten spots
34. Jerome Bettis - value increases with Staley hurt and you know he'll carry it at the goal line
35. Michael Pittman - coming off a good season, but likely the backup this year
36. Duce Staley - health and low TD totals a concern
37. Stephen Davis - depends entirely on health and if he starts, be wary
38. Derrick Blaylock - showed talent last year, but ask L. Jordan how much C. Martin gives up carries
39. Thomas Jones - move him up after Benson's holdout. He'll start early and is coming off good year
40. DeShaun Foster - plenty of talent but can't stay healthy. Move him up if he starts, but be wary
41. Michael Bennett - inside track to start, but will still be part of a committee
42. T.J. Duckett - will score TD's but is a yardage liability
43. Marcel Shipp - injury prone
44. Lee Suggs - if healthy, has talent to start.
45. Mewelde Moore - may be best Viking RB right now, but will be part of a rotation
46. Quentin Griffin - With Mike Anderson returning to RB, Griffin not worth drafting
47. Antowain Smith - coming off a solid stint with Titans. Will back up Deuce McAllister
48. Anthony Thomas
49. Kevin Faulk
50. Nick Goings - good year last year, worth consideration if S. Davis and D. Foster falter

Posted by Brian at 2:34 AM | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

Fantasy Football Rankings

I have been playing fantasy football for several years now. Mostly I've done pretty well. Sadly I've never won a title, but have finished second or third many a time. So with that in mind I present some initial fantasy rankings. This list will change a bit before my draft day in the two leagues I'll be in this year, but usually it doesn't change much. So if you haven't had your draft yet and want another man's opinion, here you go.

Up first, the QB's:

1. Peyton Manning - You expected someone else?
2. Daunte Culpepper - More #1A than #2
3. Donovan McNabb - T.O. situation could hurt him, but he's still good.
4. Brett Favre - You know he'll start every game and be consistent.
5. Trent Green - Consistent in an explosive offense
6. Tom Brady - Fantasy value overlooked by many
7. Aaron Brooks - Much better fantasy QB than real one
8. Jake Delhomme
9. Marc Bulger - Needs to stay healthy
10. Jake Plummer - Too many INT's, but still puts up big fantasy numbers
11. Matt Hasselbeck
12. Drew Brees - I thought San Diego was giving up on him way too soon.
13. Kerry Collins - Randy Moss will not make this guy great! Way overrated.
14. Brian Griese - Played well as a starter last year. Another guy given up on too soon.
15. Chad Pennington
16. Carson Palmer - Should be much improved
17. Steve McNair - Health a major concern
18. Michael Vick - He's a great runner, but you need a passer to win. Very inconsistent.
19. Byron Leftwich
20. Ben Roethlisberger - Running focus of team dampens fantasy value
21. Drew Bledsoe
22. David Carr - Needs better protection and more TD's
23. Jeff Garcia - If he wins starting job. Best years were with Mariucci.
24. Joey Harrington - If he wins starting job. Great candidate for Brees-like season.
25. Gus Frerotte - If he wins starting job
26. Billy Volek - Jump on him quick if McNair goes down
27. Kelly Holcomb - Only because I know what he can do, but don't know about Losman.
28. Patrick Ramsey
29. Tim Rattay - Good news: he's the starter. Bad news: it's for the 49ers.
30. Brad Johnson - If Culpepper goes down, grab him quick.

Posted by Brian at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

Oh yeah, the blog!

I'm back from a long absence from the blogosphere. So many things I wanted to post about and haven't. So to sum up without links or much explanation:

In the last month at work I had the cool experience of a brief encounter with Newt Gingrich. I wish I had time to actually talk to him; the guy is truly brilliant whether you agree with his politics or not. I also had a brief encounter with syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher. Gallagher is far too bombastic for my tastes, but it was still pretty cool.

I went to see local band Better Off Dad at a coffee shop a few weeks back and had a good time. Go to their website and listen to some of their stuff. They are mostly a folk/country/adult contemporary band with some pop/alternative country/alternative rock stuff. Essentially they are pretty hard to pidgeon-hole. Jeff, you and Steph might particularly enjoy "STS-107". Kansas band Distance to Empty was playing when I arrived and they were pretty good as well.

I've avoided commenting on Cindy Sheehan 'til now. But it's becoming clear that she's not just a grieving mother being used by the lunatic fringe of the left, but is a member of that fringe herself. I have no problem with what she has been doing (though I whole-heartedly disagree with her), but when I heard that earlier this year she was a speaker at a rally defending Lynne Stewart, that raised serious concerns. I can't avoid links on this story, I guess. Lynne Stewart, if you don't know, has been convicted of providing material support to terrorists, specifically using her postion as Omar Abdel Rahman's lawyer to facilitate the passing of information to Abdel Rahman's terrorist organization in Egypt. Abdel Rahman is serving life in prison for plotting to bomb several high profile targets around New York City. Often we've heard the saying "A man can be judged by the company he keeps." Well, here was Cindy Sheehan and the company she kept at the Lynne Stewart rally.

I'm sure there was more, but that's all I can remember.

Posted by Brian at 9:42 PM | TrackBack

August 22, 2005


I spent the weekend driving from Dallas to Detroit, so no heavy posts for the moment. I made really good time on Saturday, so I got to spend Sunday on Chicago's lakeshore - and it was fantastic. By complete coincidence, this was the weekend that they have the big air show each year. I walked out of the parking garage to see a MiG-17 flying over. Excellent. I got to sail out on the tall ship Windy (and got to help raise the sails), and got to eat at some of my favorite restaurants.

Most importantly, I also got to meet the wonderful Dave Schuler and his lovely and charming wife, Janice. (Sorry for the short notice, guys.) All in all, a pretty perfect day, despite the sunburn.

I have got to move to Chicago.

Posted by jeff at 10:59 AM | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

Too Far From Texas

Song: Too Far From Texas
Artist: Stevie Nicks
Album: Trouble in Shangri-La
Year: 2001

This is the song that stays with me when I leave my family in Dallas to go work somewhere else. Fortunately, I am not going as far as London, but the song still speaks of the sadness of separation and the ties that bind us to people and the places where we know them. It's one of my favorite Stevie Nicks songs (and I'm a huge Stevie Nicks fan).

Lyrically, it has Nicks' familiar touch, telling a story of love and separation. The style is similar to How Still My Love in that way. Musically, this has one of the best guitar lines of any of Nicks' music, with a very expressive performances from Waddy Wachtel and Mike Campbell. Steve Ferrone's drumming and Sheryl Crow's bass playing provide a solid rhythmic foundation that is strongly felt, but subtle enough not to overpower Nicks' voice (this is not a song to be belted out). Benmont Tench adds wonderful keyboard accents that complement the guitar to create a sound that is at once resolute and tearful, a perfect complement to the lyrics.

There's a plane, it's headed for London
Twenty-four hours more and he'll be on it
And I can't show my love, and I can't stop it
Ooh, I can't stop it

There's a house there, somebody's waiting
Somebody else's arms will wrap around him
And in that moment what will he think then...
When I can't touch him

Maybe my love could fly over the ocean
Maybe my heart should try to leave him alone
All that I really know is that he's goin'
Too far from Texas
Too close to home

In a room just outside of Houston
That's where I spend my nights trying to get through to him
He says he's comin' back in every letter...
But he might never
No he might never


Does he know how long
I've waited for this love to come
Does he know I'm holdin' on
And that won't change no matter where he's gone


Couldn't I, couldn't I wait
Couldn't he, couldn't he stay one more day

Posted by jeff at 8:16 AM | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Military Service and Blogging

Rusty Shackleford of My Pet Jawa has done something quite interesting: he has posted a survey of top bloggers, left and right, on their military service.

There are a couple of things that I find interesting about this. The first is, the general level of service in the population is 8% (24,000,000 population with current or prior service from a population total of 294,500,000). This means that both conservative and liberal bloggers serve at a substantially higher rate than the general population (note: this assumes a statistically valid sample, which I realize Rusty has not yet achieved).

The second thing is that of military connections. While I have no service record, for example, my parents were both Marines (and my Dad was later in the Air Force as well), my wife's father was in the Air Force, and both of my older brothers were in the Navy. It would be interesting to see bloggers connections to the military in a statistical form. The reason why is that I feel pretty comfortable writing about the military because of long familiarity, though I have not served. (CPT 4ever, of course, is a National Guardsman currently on active duty, and Brian (my younger brother) has no military service record.) I have many friends and relatives in the military, or prior military, and grew up on and around military bases. I am curious to what extent this experience relates to political inclination, and an expanded version of Rusty's survey would certainly be a step towards understanding that.

Posted by jeff at 4:08 PM | TrackBack

Spain's French Government

Presented without comment.

Posted by jeff at 3:31 PM | TrackBack

The de Menezes Killing and Police Responsibility

The Times of London has a timeline of events in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in late July. This was the case where the victim was being tailed by police as a terror suspect, and was reported as wearing a heavy coat (in summer), vaulting a barrier to enter the Tube station, running from pursuing police onto a train car, and then being hauled to the ground and shot in the head. At the time, I defended the police because, while the shooting was of an innocent, the police had no way of knowing that at the time, and his behavior did not appear innocent. Given the reported circumstances, the police acted correctly.

The key word is "reported". Apparently, those reports were wildly inaccurate. Mr. de Menezes apparently was wearing a light jacket, not a heavy coat. He apparently entered the Tube station normally, and walked casually towards the train. After entering the train, Mr. de Menezes apparently sat down. Police then entered the car and identified themselves, whereupon Mr. de Menezes got up and walked towards them. He was grabbed by an officer and pulled down, and was then killed.

If this sequence of events proves accurate, the event becomes much more troubling. In a case where there are clear signs of threatening intent, or of flight, the police would have been correct in their actions. Their killing of Mr. de Menezes would have been a tragic accident, but an unavoidable one if larger losses from terrorist bombings are to be prevented. But where there are no signs of flight, and the only signs of trouble are a vague match of body type and coloration plus leaving from a building under vague suspicion of housing terrorists, as seems to be the case here, it appears now that the Metropolitan Police acted irresponsibly. I don't have a problem with the shoot to kill policy, where there are strong suspicions that an attack is underway. But where the suspicions are vague and no threatening behavior is evident, the police have a positive obligation to act with caution, even if that means that their own lives are in danger.

If the police expect to be defended when they make a mistake, they need to only make such mistakes when there is clear evidence to guide them. Otherwise, public support for strong action to prevent terrorism will rapidly evaporate, and the police will have a much harder time preventing attacks in future.

As it is, it appears that the officer who shot first might well have committed murder (the officers shooting after that had reason to believe, by the mere fact that shooting was happening) that something untoward was going on that required a rapid intervention. I won't prejudge that - the investigation into the incident is not yet complete - but if that is the case, the police have acted unacceptably and should be accordingly punished. If events are other than the Times has reported them, whomever leaked the timeline has acted unacceptably and should be accordingly punished.

UPDATE: What he said.

Posted by jeff at 3:14 PM | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

The Problem of Iran

Wretchard has an interesting post, containing a translation of an Iranian nuclear official's take on their negotiations with the EU. Short form: it bought them time. In other words, just as the center-right has been arguing, Iran is using the negotiations to further their nuclear program, in much the same way that North Korea did. OK, fair enough, but what do we do about it? The Bush administration has utterly failed to prepare the US for a large-scale war, both domestically and (critically) militarily. We simply don't have an army large enough to occupy both Iraq and Iran without breaking the army completely within 2-3 years. And since that's not acceptable - it's not like the terrorists are going to give us a holiday - and since we are running out of time to deal with Iran before they obtain nuclear capability, we are left with quite the conundrum. Wretchard ends with this:

[V]irtually no Western politician can ever use force again to prevent a regime, even one openly dedicated to terrorism, from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The subject is verboten because the Left has declared it so.

Not so. We have repeatedly seen that the voices telling us this or that is impossible or cannot be done politically are constant, and appear around every problem. The voices whisper despair, while shouting courage; they whisper failure, while shouting progress. But their only power comes from being listened to. When a politician does not listen to the voices, and George Bush has repeatedly demonstrated his deafness to the counsels of despair and failure, he is free to take action, and is generally supported by the public.

Wretchard's commenter wildmonk said:

[A] preemptive invasion of Iran to deny it nuclear weapons is fraught with great philosophical peril. It can be justified in one and only one way: America would have to overtly arrogate unto itself the right to be the final arbiter of other nations' actions. This would represent an unprecedented seizure of the international agenda and discard any remaining pretenses that we live in the age of Liberal Internationalism. Indeed, our entire postwar order - including the moral authority of the UN - would have to be discarded.

I don't think an invasion is possible, because we would need an army the size of the one we had in 1991 to pull it off while still occupying Iraq. But that does not mean action is impossible. While regime change in Iran is an eventual requirement, it is not an immediate requirement. We could bomb the Iranian nuclear program into oblivion - or near oblivion - despite the buried facilities, and in the process destroy much of Iran's military and shared-purpose infrastructure. The Navy and Air Force could do this with some difficulty and time required - and losses almost certain.

Iran would react, most likely by attacking Arab states (particularly the Gulf states) that support the US with missile bombardment, but this reaction would be dwarfed by the American force that could be applied to Iran. On top of that, Iran is constrained from using its ground forces to attack us overtly in Iraq because that would bring a US invasion (sadly, requiring a complete mobilization of the Guard and Reserves, but we'd do it under those circumstances). So whether we would simply neuter Iran, or whether the regime's opponents would rise up in reaction to the attack and take down the Mullahs, either way we can push the problem down the road, until we have the capacity to solve it permanently.

UPDATES: See also Time Magazine and IMRA. Hat tips for both to Colt at Winds of Change.

Posted by jeff at 9:26 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005


I am continuously searching for center-left blogs to read. I like to read people that are sane, whether or not I tend to agree with them, and dislike reading people who are rampant partisans or simply insane, again whether or not I agree with them. I know quite a few libertarian and center-right blogs, but finding sane lefty blogs is a chore indeed (perhaps because of Jane's Law). Here is a short summary of the last few posts from Pennywit, which I have come to really enjoy over the last few weeks.

A comparison of the UN to a horse with a broken leg (needs to be put down) and Kofi Annan as Secretary General Clouseau. Yes, it's about the oil for food scandal and the UN's "investigations" into the matter.

An examination of the effect of incentives, in this case, tax holidays.

An interesting anomaly in the NL. I'm a sucker for baseball factoids, and this is a really odd one.

A sensible point about no-fly lists. The obvious conclusion is not mentioned though: the reason that babies and grandmothers get stopped for having names similar to people on the no-fly list is that stopping people based on common sense is profiling, and that gets the ACLU and CAIR and other brainless groups up in arms. (Note: I think the ACLU could be the most useful group in America, if it simply had a smidgen of brains. Even the most hardened criminal needs to be treated with the full array of rights available to citizens, because government makes mistakes, and allowing people we "know" are guilty to be railroaded is the fast track to a government of men, not of laws. But as it is, the ACLU is just too dumb to be taken seriously.)

A suggestion that the GOP buy Howard Dean all the air time he wants. Stephanie notes emphatically that she would give money to that campaign.

Good stuff. Really good stuff.

Posted by jeff at 7:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

I'm in Charge

I was reading a book about the Solar System to Griffin (4), and he was quite heartbroken to see a graphic where Uranus orbited the Sun, rather than the Earth. After a while of trying to console him, my wife asked him, "Who should we talk to about that, Griffin? Who's in charge?"

From the other room came the small voice of Lachlan (3): "I'm in charge!"

Posted by jeff at 11:21 AM | TrackBack

Victory or Exit

Joe Katzman found a gem: an opinion piece by CPO Jeff Edwards (ret) on exit strategies as opposed to victory. It's so good I could not even quote it without simply including the whole article.

Posted by jeff at 9:05 AM | TrackBack

August 15, 2005


Jay Tea at Wizbang justifies calling the illegal immigrant problem an invasion, by citing the following:

  • "large groups of foreign nationals crossing the border without permission or documention"
  • "portions of the country essentially "occupied" by those who speak a foreign language, to the point where that language has supplanted English for all official business"
  • "portions of the country that have, in essence, declared federal laws null and void within their boundaries and chosen to side with the invaders"
  • "invaders illegally getting wealth and sending it home, much like the pillaging Vikings"
  • "invaders proudly hoist the flags of their native lands"
  • "invaders commit acts of violence against Americans"
  • "Is there a nation or nations that are openly threatening us? No. But let's take a look at Mexico. They publish and give away books showing the best ways to illegally enter the United States. They give out "Matricula Consular" IDs to virtually anyone for the asking, conveniently overlooking that the only people who would need such an ID are illegal aliens -- legal immigrants already have some form of ID issued by the United States government."
  • "Do they pose a threat to average Americans? I think they do."

Jay Tea ends with this:
It's a war, folks. Just because the invaders don't wear scary uniforms and no nation or nations is announcing "we will bury you" doesn't make it any less of a threat.

While I suppose one could list a number of assonances between the immigration problem and the effects of a military invasion, that no more makes the immigration problem a war than the fact that there are similarities between taxation and slavery make taxation the same as slavery. But Jay Tea is correct that this is an invasion, just not in the sense that he means it.

The original meaning of invasion did not necessarily have a military context. The Latin root (in + vadere) means simply "to go towards" or "to go into", and it generally denoted what we would now consider migrations into new territory. (Take, for example, the invasions of Ireland.) In fact, the current meaning of the word invasion comes from the similarities of effect between military invasion and population invasion. In that original, classic sense, the immigration problem is an invasion, and there's no need to resort to extended use of assonance to justify the use of the term.

Posted by jeff at 3:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 14, 2005

State Sanity II

Dave Schuler and Mark Safranski have written on the State Department reforms I noted last week. Both are worth reading.

I think it's fair to say that we need to significantly alter the State Department's institutional biases, or reassess the role of the State Department. For example, letting the State Department handle only relations with nations that are already free, while creating a new agency or international body designed to work with non-free countries. As it is, State simply doesn't have the mentality to deal with reality in really tough places, without simply accepting those conditions as "the way it is". State careers between rampant realism and rampant idealism, without ever looking at how the US is or is not served in the long run by how State implements US foreign policy.

And that's a shame, and I'm glad to see the administration addressing it. I hope the reforms work.

Posted by jeff at 5:25 PM | TrackBack

August 13, 2005

Governors and Immigration

OK, here's what I don't get: why are our governors such weenies? They see the problems caused by our Federal government's utter failure to fix our immigration mess, yet they do nothing. The governors are executives. They are military commanders, and have actual armed forces reporting to them, and the authority to mobilize those forces. Why are the governors waiting for Washington?

Looking at the states bordering Mexico, you see the following:

Texas: 36th Infantry Division (of which CPT4ever is a member); Texas State Guard including six brigades (all MP) and an air wing (that currently seems to be strictly ground support for the National Guard's aviation units)
New Mexico: seems to be just about nothing - an MP company and an ADA (anti-aircraft) unit
Arizona: engineering, signals and logistics units; significant air assets including an attack helicopter BN and an attack helicopter RGT; artillery
California: 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized), plus an assortment of units, including engineers, signals, intelligence, aviation and logistics units

For Texas and California, there is significant strength on the ground. In addition, each of these states' governors could organize additional militia units at will (within budget constraints, of course). So if the governors see a real problem with immigration, why are they not doing their duty to fix the problem within their areas of responsibility?

Posted by jeff at 11:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


But for [the author Mark] Helprin, the divide remains. "The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don't have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal."
That's just too snarky to not reproduce. From an otherwise forgettable article in the Washington Post. Posted by jeff at 12:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Iraqi Constitution Appears to be on Track

The Iraqi constitution appears as if it will be ready by the target date, which is this coming Monday. The leaked drafts of bits and pieces of the constitution have had both good and bad points, and I am very curious to see how it will come out. Being somewhat of a constitution buff, I'll try to make time to analyze it when it appears in its full form.

Posted by jeff at 12:08 PM | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

Two Thousand Tragedies

Stalin famously said that single death is a tragedy, while a million deaths is a statistic. To my mind, there is no more clear and unambiguous measure of how well we are fighting the war than that every story of every death, and every life story of that person, and even the internal family tragedies and political leanings of a few of the dead soldiers' families are known to us. Within a year after Pearl Harbor, US forces were losing so many men that discussion was only possible about statistics, unless it was your relative who died - that had been true for many years, by that point, in Europe and Asia and the western part of the Pacific Rim. We lost more men in three days on Iwo Jima than we have in the last three years fighting this war.

It's a manifestation of two factors that are different now from WWII: the first is that we are so overwhelmingly dominant against any conceivable enemy that our major limitations in combat are not enemy actions, but our own rules designed to keep enemy civilians (and sometimes even enemy soldiers) from getting killed; and the second is that we have chosen not to defeat the enemy per se, but to co-opt the enemy's society away from them. We have chosen to fight a slow war, giving time for representative governance and rule of law to develop, rather than a fast war, leaving behind us only a smoking ruin.

In a way, I'm very glad that we are still able to see our combat dead in tragic terms, rather than as part of a panorama. I'm very glad that it's still possible for Nightline to read off the names of all of the US combat dead in years of fighting in Iraq, that it's still possible to care about Cindy Sheehan's political views, and that it's still possible to know the names of every brave soldier, sailor, airman and marine we have lost. The alternative, while seemingly less painful, is not better.

Posted by jeff at 6:56 PM | TrackBack

A Dreadful Magic

Grim at the Fourth Rail has a very perceptive essay on beating insurgencies:

Can we defeat state sponsors of terrorism, if we cannot sustain the long-term, low-level losses of a guerrilla war? If that proves politically impossible for a democracy -- just as the Medieval state could not raise an army large or strong enough to sustain the losses needed to take a castle -- we will find that we are at last in the opposite position. Defense will again be stronger than attack. We will not dare...

...what, precisely?

Why, we will not dare to be drawn into a guerrilla war. And that is what our enemies hope, and it is what many critics of America hope: that America will thereby be restrained, that American power will thereby evaporate.

Yet if it proves that technology is not up to the task, there remains strategy, and grand strategy. We are not so easily defeated. One trick will not do it. There remains, as Clausewitz warned, escalation.

If artillery will not batter down the walls of the castle, burn the countryside until the knights ride out to their doom.

We have another option of that type ourselves. It is fully developed; it has advocates in the Pentagon, particularly among the Air Force. It is called "Network Centric Warfare," and it is built to avoid the problems of Fourth Generation fighting.

It cannot escape the realities of such a war. In the Fourth Generation, lines between military and civilian are blurred even to the point of vanishing. The terrorist hides among the civilian; teh guerrilla can blend so fully that there really is no clear line at all. Consider Yon's bomber's mother, who praises her son to the skies even in the face of American fighters. The bomber is a combatant. The mother is... not? Is she?

If 4G war fails to find a way to win by transformation of such a society, we will not therefore choose to lose all future conflicts. America will not choose to simply yield on every point, to any enemy, regardless of how deadly the consequences or how vital the interest. We will choose to fight according to another strategy: we will attack the problem in another way.

Network centric war seeks to identify the webs that support a system of warfare, and collapse them. Against a traditional army, it destroys their logistics, their communications, it renders them blind and finally starving, and then their fighting capability withers like leaves in a sandstorm. It was used against a conventional military target, to great effect, during the fighting against dug-in Iraqi military units outside of urban centers. The few survivors of the Republican Guard, which suffered casualty levels approaching fifty and seventy-five percent before they even made contact with the Marines, know all too well how terrible this method of war can be.

It can be deployed against terrorists, too. It can apply to 4G conflicts as well as conventional ones.

But the network one seeks to take down, when the battlespace is an entire society, is the whole society.

(That's a fragment from the middle; the whole thing needs to be read to get the full idea set.)

Either we will raise Arab/Muslim societies into free nations, or we will raze them to the ground. A failure to defeat the terrorists by fighting gently and discriminately, as we now are, does not mean loss, it means fighting fiercely and indiscriminately. It means a return to the urban fighting of WWII: level the city, block by block, and bounce the rubble into dust. Or it means ignoring conventional fighting altogether and simply annihilating every major population center in the Arab/Muslim world. The US will not accept nuclear terrorism, and nuclear terrorism is an inevitable outcome if the terrorists and their state sponsors are not defeated, because we will not surrender to the jihadis, which is the only end they will seemingly accept.

Grim is correct: we either defeat the terrorists now, or we annihilate their entire societies later.

Posted by jeff at 10:26 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

Conflicts of Interest

When it became known that Jamie Gorelick, the Clinton administration official responsible for the "wall of separation" between intelligence and law enforcement that was a key to the failure to detect the 9/11 plot, was herself on the 9/11 intelligence review commission, I made a comment on another blog (can't remember which) that regardless of what the commission discovered, or what it recommended, the result would be deeply flawed by the conflict of interest. Whadda ya know?

Posted by jeff at 10:48 PM | TrackBack

Nice IED. Wouldn't Want There to be an ... Accident

Wretchard writes about the IED war/counterwar in Iraq. One thing that really interested me was a new countermeasure he described:

The JIN neutralizer, now being test fielded to Iraq is an interesting application of directed energy weaponry. It works by using lasers to create a momentary pathway through which an electrical charge can travel and sending a literal bolt of lightning along the channel. A link to a Fox News video report on the manufacturer's website shows a vehicle equipped with a strange-looking rod detonating hidden charges at varying distances, some out to quite a ways.
The first thing to occur to me after reading the description and watching the video is what a fine preemptive weapon this would be. At some point in the construction of a bomb, and before it is placed, it has to be hooked up to the triggering mechanism. I assume that the LIPC countermeasure wouldn't set off explosives that were not hooked up to a detonator and probably some kind of wire circuit for the triggering mechanism (that is, I assume that the device works by inducing a current in that circuit, as if the triggering mechanism had fired).

But what if we were to mount this on helicopters or surplus M113s, then drive down the street (or fly over) in insurgent-friendly areas, simply pointing it at each building in turn? I suspect that there would be a sudden large increase in "work accidents" until the enemy figured out to not wire the detonators until they were emplaced. Of course, car bombs would be utterly useless anywhere these were around, since you could just point it at each approaching vehicle and see which ones blow up. (That would reduce accidental shootings of civilians as well.) And the enemy would have to take a longer time emplacing IEDs, which increases the chances of being detected.

Sounds like a good idea to me, if it works.

Posted by jeff at 6:32 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

The Psychology of Suicide Terrorism

Glittering Eye has a great pointer two two articles by a British psychotherapist, describing the necessary attributes of cultures producing and consuming suicide bombers. It is really, really a fascinating look at the problem from an unexpected point of view, and well worth reading both linked articles in Dave's post.

Posted by jeff at 11:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Towards a New Understanding of National Sovereignty, and the Utility of the UN

Pakistan does not control its northwestern provinces. Mexico does not control Nuevo Laredo or most of the rest of the US border area, nor does Mexico control Chiapas. In what sense can Pakistan or Mexico be said to be sovereign over these areas? Well, in a legal sense, but that only. The modern definition of sovereignty dates from after the Renaissance, and was more or less formalized in the Treaty of Westphalia. I don't believe that the issue has been addressed in formal international law since the Montivideo Convention in the 1930's.

This definition and its implications has been taken as a given for centuries, but since the end of the Cold War has been under challenge, particularly in Europe. As Daniel Philpott wrote (prior to 9/11):

We still take it for granted that virtually all of the earth's land is parceled by invisible lines that we call borders. Within borders, supreme political authority typically lies in a single source--a liberal constitution, a military dictatorship, a theocracy. This is sovereignty.
Hobbes and Bodin and Grotius first wrote of the modern version of the principle in the 16th and 17th centuries; a generation ago, the sovereign state captured nearly the entire land surface of the globe when European colonies achieved independence. Sovereignty has come closer than any other political principle in history to enjoying universal, explicit assent.
Or take John Roberts' view:
National sovereignty - the claim of a state (that is to say by its government) to be judge and jury in its own cause - has been an assumed right in Europe for over 350 years. It was for centuries the bedrock of accepted international law and text-books explained how its workings established the system of relations between different countries. Upon its theoretical inviolability the states of Europe, with one or two exceptions like Poland, had a continuous history of independent existence. It was considered to be the natural basis for international order and diplomats, politicians and others were usually ready to defend it as God-given or at least unchallengeable as the sole way of organizing that order.

Yet its whole basis was the ability of a state to maintain itself by its own power or, if that was lacking, by the tacit consent or written agreement of its neighbours and perhaps of the other states. When this was lacking, permanently or temporarily, as in the cases of Catalonia or Poland, the state disappeared; and other groups, such as gypsies, that were insufficiently powerful, never had a state. In those countries where a state existed, the claim to national sovereignty was usually made, although some formerly independent territories, like Wales and Ireland, were conquered.

While most of the challenges to sovereignty come in the form of transnationalism - that is, most of the challenges have been attempts to tear down nation-state structures and replace them with broader and generally less representative structures. The ultimate end goal of this would be a single government encompassing the entirety of humanity - there is no requirement that sovereignty be understood in that light. It is equally plausible (and far more sane in view of the various horrors visited upon humans throughout history in the name of centralization of power) to devolve sovereignty onto each individual person, and have governments obtain their sovereignty explicitly from the individuals who form them.

But more urgently than such philosophical musings is the nature of sovereignty in current, practical terms and how it should be understood and acted upon. That answer will be somewhere between the radical individualists and the radical global statists, but I think it is clear that the current understanding of sovereignty has to change. In particular, areas in which a de jure sovereign country is not de facto sovereign need to be considered anarchic, and thus open to all comers without prejudice.

It has always been the case that areas without strong government tend to bring out warlords, pirates, terrorists and the like - people need social organization, and in the absence of it, or where it is weak, strongmen inevitably arise. The reach given these miscreants by modern technology, which they could not produce, but can use to destroy, makes such groups more of a threat then they ever were before, even during the heyday of the Barbary Coast pirates. Because of this new capacity for destruction, married to the ancient will to destroy, it is no longer possible for target states - that is, any modern state - to tolerate these areas.

Yet under the current system, were the US to go into Nuevo Laredo and the other border areas to roust out the bandits, this would be seen as an invasion, even though when the Mexican federal agents go into Nuevo Laredo, they are attacked and killed as invaders themselves into territory de facto controlled by drug lords and coyotes - often one and the same people, actually. But why should it be? In what way is Mexico other than nominally in control of the border area? The same situation exists in Pakistan's NorthWest Frontier, where Osama bin Laden apparently is holed up in quite the fortress, and where Pakistan's army dare not venture. Yet were the US to intervene in the area - even if it were to do so to restore de facto sovereignty to Pakistan - this would be considered an invasion.

I believe that it is time to redefine sovereignty specifically to de facto sovereignty, unless all sides in a particular dispute agree to accept de jure sovereignty in defiance of reality (for example, this might be a possible compromise with China and Taiwan), at least as regards international conventions on where the use of force from another state constitutes a violation of sovereignty, and thus (theoretically) requires the approval of the UN or some other international body. But I do not think that such a definition would be agreed to by current states or international bodies - all of which are founded on the current understanding of sovereignty. For example, the UN is entirely concerned with de jure sovereignty - de facto sovereignty has no place in any UN undertaking. This is why the UN is incapable of dealing with truly failed states: it needs a state structure within which to work, and the agreement of the very "states" that it seeks to reform.

I do not know if the UN, for example, could be reformed so as to create the conditions necessary for approaching the world as it is today. I suspect it cannot, as it is too bureaucratically, organizationally and philosophically embedded in a dead world order. I believe that, instead, it will be necessary to create a parallel organization, a conference of free states, whose membership is based on requirements for representative government, relatively open economies (particularly, alienable private property with minimal limitations), and true respect for human rights. This would probably not cover 50 countries today, while the UN contains something like 190. But in such an organization, it would be possible to work towards bringing all countries into the organization by reforming them, in the process making them free and prosperous, or to control the threats of those who can't or won't be reformed by actively intervening where necessary.

The best thing about such an organization is that it would allow multiple axes of attack on a given problem. For example, in Darfur, it might be necessary for the US to intervene, but then countries like France and Canada could transition in to do the nation building necessary to reform the Sudan for the long-term. This arrangement would make use of the best capabilities of each of the member countries, avoid overtaxing any of them, and dramatically improve the world situation both in terms of security of the member states, and in terms of the lives of those in the areas being freed.

The UN would, for at least some time, continue as a forum for all of the world's unfree and de jure states, as well as the free states, but I believe that over time it would fade. This would be better than the likely alternative, which is that a crisis will arise that will shatter the UN as the Italian invasion of Ethiopia shattered the League of Nations.

UPDATE: Mark Safranski has extensive and insightful comments.

Posted by jeff at 9:30 AM | TrackBack

August 9, 2005

Winning the Propaganda War

Rusty Shackleford has some intriguing thoughts on the propaganda war and how to win it.

I would add to his suggestions that actively enlisting Western media and entertainment figures, as we did in WWII, would be a good idea. This means two things: we would have to trust them enough to bring them into the process, so that they know they are not being lied to, and we would have to make it worth their while economically and philosophically.

Posted by jeff at 7:44 PM | TrackBack

Juan Cole, Rat Bastard

Is it just me, or is Juan Cole not only the most consistently wrong analyst on events in Iraq, but also among the most offensive?

Was American journalist Steve Vincent killed in Basra as part of an honor killing? He was romantically involved with his Iraqi interpreter, who was shot 4 times. If her clan thought she was shaming them by appearing to be having an affair outside wedlock with an American male, they might well have decided to end it. In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas. Vincent did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface, and if he was behaving in the way the Telegraph article describes, he was acting in an extremely dangerous manner.

(hat tip: Michael Totten at InstaPundit)

UPDATE: Here are Steven Vincent's widow's thoughts.

Posted by jeff at 5:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A True Doctrine of Democracy

Steph asked for my thoughts on a passage on governance from Nock's The Theory of Education in the United States. I'll quote the precursor and successor material as well, because it's necessary to understanding what Nock meant:

[O]ur system is professedly democratic. Let us see what this means. Here we find something more than a popular perversion of a philosophically sound doctrine, which is what we found in our examination of the idea of equality. Here we find something even stranger and more interesting, a perversion upon a perversion. Political theory of the eighteenth century was based upon the right of individual self-expression in politics; its essence was that those who vote, rule. Its chosen machinery was that of a republic, as affording the best power or purchase for the free expression of this right. As a mater of logic, when everybody votes, you have a democracy; the registration of democratic judgement is a mere matter of counting ballots. Thus a confusion of terms set in; a republic in which everybody voted was accepted as a democracy and was so styled, as it still is. This confusion persists, and the evidence of it is on every other page of many, I think the great majority, of serious writers. In fact, we may say that the terms republican and democratic have come to be regarded as synonymous. This is not greatly to be wondered at, because it is only lately that anything like a general sense of the unsoundness of eighteenth-century political theory has begun to prevail. The iron force of circumstance has finally made us aware that it is not, never was and never will be, those who vote that rule, but those who own; that you may extend the suffrage in a republic as far as you please without making any significant change in the actual rulership of the country. Republicanism does not, therefore, of itself even imply democracy. At the present time it is a matter of open and notorious knowledge that some monarchies are much more forward in democracy than some republics, even republics in which suffrage is universal. The antithesis of republicanism is monarchy, if you like, but monarchy is not the antithesis of democracy. The antithesis of democracy is absolutism; and absolutism may, and notoriously does, prevail under a republican régime as freely as under any other. Thus democracy is not a matter of an extension of the franchise, not a matter of the individual citizen's right of self-expression in politics, as the political philosophy of the eighteenth century regarded it. It is a matter of the diffusion of ownership; a true doctrine of democracy is a doctrine of public property.

(I typed this in from the book's text, so any typos are mine, not Nock's. The bold text is what Stephanie specifically wanted addressed.)

There are three key ideas in Nock's analysis: republic, democracy and rulership. There are three lesser ideas: monarchy, property/ownership and franchise.

A democracy, in its classical sense (which is the sense Nock is using), is a governing arrangement where all decisions are made by a vote of the whole body of citizens. A republic is a governing arrangement where some people act as agents for others, voting the interests of those they represent. As Nock notes, the current common use of "democracy" denotes any form of government in which everybody votes. (This has led to many of our fumbles in nation building abroad, as we attempt to set up voting before setting up governing institutions and other institutions necessary for a free society.)

The key around which Nock's point revolves is that of rulership: who makes the decisions in a society. In a republic, who will act as the agents, and how will they act? In general, one chooses an agent who both holds similar opinions to one's own, but can also represent those opinions well, so that they will hold sway. For that reason, the agent is generally better-educated, and thus generally more wealthy, than the average person. As the number of people represented by a particular agent rises, that agent must be relatively more educated, persuasive, capable and thus, because our economy is a free market where such merit is rewarded, more wealthy than an agent representing fewer people. Paupers do not generally get elected.

The paradox, of course, is that this means that the agents often represent their constituents in a titular sense, but have nothing particular in common with their constituents, except perhaps in broad philosophy. But the agent assumes that his acts are de facto in the interest of his constituents, and that frees the agent to act according to his own interests, which he does not see as differentiated from the interest of his constituents. (And since those agents are almost exclusively drawn from the most wealthy tier of society, Nock is correct that it is those who own who govern, because it is only those who own who are truly represented by their agents. Lobbyists and interest groups and the like merely reinforce the trend; even "grass roots" groups are controlled, at least eventually, by the wealthiest - because most capable - among the group, and further a wealth interest.) Thus the agents become a kind of non-hereditary meritocratic aristocracy, and an ossified republic can greatly resemble a constitutional monarchy. But still they are different, because even then the body of rulers in a republic is drawn from and disposed of by the people, and so the opposite of republic is not monarchy, but tyranny (which non-constitutional monarchies generally are).

By contrast, in a democracy, the people at large make all the decisions by vote or consensus. But this introduces its own problems. Of course the Founders feared both partisanship (which also plagues republics) and the tyranny of the majority (which also plagues republics whose agents represent the whole, rather than particular interests or sets of interests), and so were deeply suspicious of democracy, which has never been a long-successful system of government in any place. But there are other problems, too, in a democracy. For a democracy which allows its citizens to be judged by their merits develops a property-centric tendency as well. Those who are the best educated are also those who are generally the best at convincing others to a particular point of view: the shallow thinkers with passionate voices may lead some to a cause, but it is not their cause, but the cause of a deeper thinker who first led the shallow thinker. Thus those who have influence over the society are the ones who are capable of developing persuasive ideas, and communicating them effectively, whether directly or through surrogates. In a society where merit is allowed to produce differences, this inevitably leads to those who are influential also becoming wealthy, either due to their influence or because they also have merit in other useful areas. Since the wealthy are the influencers, the power in such a democracy concentrates in the hands of the propertied, leading to the situation of rulership by ownership.

In this sense, the communist critique of democracy and republic was correct, as Nock notes a little later in Theory of Education, and it really is true that power and wealth accrue together. But true democracy cannot exist where merit is allowed to differentiate members of society, because, as noted above, this produces a situation where decisions are made not by the whole, but by the moneyed elite which can educate themselves better, and can pay the costs associated with spreading their ideas through society. Thus a democracy where merit is allowed quickly devolves into an oligarchy, which itself may devolve into monarchy. To prevent this, a democracy must create equalities of outcome, rather than equalities of opportunity. If I am allowed to rise no higher, to do no more, to have no more than you, then my vote is of truly equal weight with yours. Thus a true democracy is indistinguishable from a true communism: as Nock notes, "a true doctrine of democracy is a doctrine of public property." In other words, true democracy and true communism are identical.

But it goes beyond this, because not only must wealth be equally distributed, so must talent and ability in a broad range of areas; otherwise, an elite will still form. True democracy is thus impossible, because it is self-evidently plain that people are not inherently equal in all ways, even if compelled to be as close to equal as possible. Harrison Bergeron demonstrated that principle quite dramatically: you must hobble the good and intelligent and graceful so that they are as base and unthinking and clumsy as the worst of us, because you cannot always elevate, but you can always destroy.

The antithesis of democracy is not absolutism, but individualism. To allow individuals to distinguish themselves is to extinguish democracy. Thus statism and communism are inherent to democracy, because overwhelming force is necessary in order to attain equality as nearly as possible. The wealthy must be taxed into poverty; the intelligent must be taught to be incurious and unthinking; the talented must be denigrated and the untalented praised. And it is the attempt to achieve these goals that is embodied in our educational system, and in our cultural assumptions of what is good as handed down by progressive opinion leaders, who have were ascendent from late in the nineteenth century to late in the twentieth. I suspect that the new ascendency of conservative thinkers, should it last, will be shown in the adoption of school choice plans, easing of restrictive homeschooling laws and a re-imposition of "traditional" schooling techniques like expecting kids to know the material, and failing those who don't.

I think that the incompatibility between democracy and individualism also leads to the main difference between today's conservatives (who are really liberals in a classic sense, and are distinguished from the classical conservatives, found on the extremes of both the Left and the Right these days) and progressives: individual responsibility. The progressives labor against process and for arbitrariness, against the individual and for the collective, against merit and for equality, against liberty and for consensus, against personal responsibility and for group identity and blame sharing - all of these things the progressives stand for because they feel that true democracy (or true communism, which term some of them still prefer) leads to the best societal outcome: equality. By contrast, conservatives take the opposite positions, because they feel that that leads to the best societal outcome: empowered individuals. Progressives tend to discount the harm done to those whose talents and abilities are suppressed, as well as the harm done to society from being unable to draw on those talents and abilities. Conservatives tend to discount the harm done to those who cannot thrive in a highly-competitive meritocratic society, as well as the harm done to society from the loss of those who have something to contribute, but not the family or wealth or connections to get them past their childhoods.

Posted by jeff at 4:52 PM | TrackBack

How To Marginalize the Left

There's one easy way to do it. Step aside and let them speak.

(hat tip: Drudge)

This kind of thing used to make me angry, but now it's so hysterical (and almost funny, too) that I actually feel sad for these people. I can't imagine living with so much rage and hatred in my heart. Do these people ever crack a smile or lighten up?

Posted by Brian at 12:25 AM | TrackBack

August 8, 2005

A Few Americans you Should Know

It is unfortunate that the media tends not to cover the heroes America has produced during this war. (Even while they wonder why no one seems to know about the heroes!) Here are some brief bits on some Americans you should know about. You Big Mouth, You! has more.

Thanks to Wizbang for the link.

Posted by jeff at 12:04 PM | TrackBack

State Sanity?

Winds of Change delivers good news: the State Department is going to be reorganized.

“Today, protecting America from weapons of mass destruction requires more than deterrence and arms control treaties,” said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in brief remarks at the State Department on Friday when the announcement was made.

“We must also go on the offensive against outlaw scientists, black market arms dealers, and rogue state proliferators. Securing America from terrorist attack is more than a matter of law enforcement. We must also confront the ideology of hatred in foreign societies by supporting the universal hope of liberty and the inherent appeal of democracy,” she said.

To that end, the department said that pending congressional approval it would merge two existing departments to create a bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation that would focus exclusively on the threat posed by terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Officials said the State Department also intended to bolster the capacity of the Bureau of Political Military Affairs and increase the mandate of the Verification and Compliance Bureau, which provides oversight relating to international arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament agreements and commitments, to include implementation.

There are two parts of the US government that desperately need to be deeply reformed: State and the CIA. The CIA is a subject for a different time. The State Department suffers from a number of problems. In particular, the career diplomats - functionaries, really, for the most part - come over time to identify with the group of people they are around all the time: international diplomats from other countries. And the result of this is that State concerns itself overly much with explaining the world to the American government in a finger-wagging way, and attempting to force American policy to be more friendly to their friends, who are often the representatives of other countries with whom we have vast differences. Lost in all of this is carrying out the American foreign policy, except when an internationalist president like Clinton is in office.

This is bad on a number of levels. First, it tends to undercut US foreign policy, particularly in those areas where a strong stance must be taken. Second, it increasingly separates our representatives to other countries from our own country, meaning that increasingly as their careers progress and these diplomats become more senior, they are also increasingly unable to explain America and American positions. Third, and in some ways most disastrous, it is not uncommon for senior diplomats to work diligently to undercut American policy, either by leaking damaging information, or by giving advice tailored to the conclusion they hope to see enacted into policy, or by not supporting the policy while in contact with foreign representatives. The end result is that State is often an obstacle to implementing American foreign policy, rather than an asset.

The reforms as laid out in the ISN article will be useful, but they don't go far enough (well, neither did the intelligence reforms go far enough; it seems to be a failing of conservative governments that they are not willing to radically overhaul failing government agencies). In particular, they don't address the fact that we need diplomats who are a part of the nation's mainstream in the same way that we need an Army that is part of the nation's mainstream. I would like to see civil service procedures reformed to prevent diplomats from becoming a permanent fixture. This would likely involve a return to a patronage system, with turnover at each administration. This causes problems of novice mistakes and lack of institutional, which is one reason that it was abolished in the first place, but I think that this could be overcome by separating the State Department employees into two categories: country and regional and policy experts, who are under the current civil service rules and have only an advisory role, and diplomats and others in contact with foreign governments on a regular basis, who would have a policy implementation role and would be changed out with each administration. In other words, turnover at each administration needs to reach deeper into the State Department, in order to keep the State Department representative of the nation it represents.

Posted by jeff at 9:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 6, 2005

The Greatest Scientific Gamble in History

Zenpundit has posted President Truman's announcement of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, along with a number of links on the 60th anniversary of the event. One of the most interesting things about the Little Boy bomb that destroyed Hiroshima is that it was never tested before it was used: it was considered so simple that testing was redundant. (The Trinity test was of Fat Man, the bomb used to destroy Nagasaki three days later.) Those three weapons, the two bombs used on Japan and the one for the Trinity test, were the entire US stockpile, and it is my understanding that it would have been six months before another weapon was ready to be used. Had Japan not surrendered, Operation Olympic - the invasion of mainland Japan - would have been necessary, and very probably more people would have died than were killed in the two atomic bombings.

Posted by jeff at 9:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Quick Shots

General McCaffrey has evaluated the situation in Iraq and released a very thorough report. It is not that long - at least the meat of it is not - and is not laden with military terminology that would be inaccessible to those unfamiliar with military details. I consider this report required reading for anyone interested in the situation in Iraq, and the prospects for both victory and defeat there. Most interesting to me was this series of observations:

January thru September 2006 will be the peak period of the insurgency —and the bottom rung of the new Iraq.


4. Top CENTCOM Vulnerabilities:

1st - Premature drawdown of U.S. ground forces driven by dwindling U.S. domestic political support and the progressive deterioration of Army and Marine manpower. (In particular, the expected melt-down of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in the coming 36 months)

There it is, guys, what those of us who support the war effort must do to ensure success: we have to work to solidify public opinion during the upcoming election cycle, which will largely correspond with the peak of the fight in Iraq, and the collapse of the lousy reserve/Guard system that was put in place after Viet Nam. (That system is a whole series of posts in itself. Let's just say, for the moment, that our reserve/Guard strategy is severely flawed for anything except preventing a long war without full mobilization, which is in fact what it was designed to do.)

On another and unrelated note, it's remarkable to me how many otherwise intelligent and reasonable people (no links because I don't want to alienate anyone in particular, or leave out anyone, either) cannot grasp a simple fact: even if the Intelligent Design idea is true, it is not science. ID is at best philosophy or religion, at worst an attempt to undermine science. Here's the rub: to be a scientific theory, it must be possible for the theory to be disproved. That is, if I state that the Universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure, that is only a scientific conclusion if, in addition to having evidence to support it, I can articulate a set of facts that would show it to be false.

Let's try it with gravitation: if I can show that two bodies in space do not attract each other so as to create a specific acceleration towards each other, based on their masses and locations and the masses and locations of other objects "nearby", I have disproved our current belief in gravity. Let's try it with one that has been disproved: if I can show that no colorless, odorless, massless fluid exists in a particular system, and yet that system can still transfer heat internally, the phlogiston theory is out the window. I can do that.

However, this doesn't work with intelligent design. Let's say that I prove that it is possible for one phylum to undergo such changes that it becomes another phylum. Let's also say that I can show that there is no such thing as "irreducible complexity", that the laws of chance are such that, with proper preconditions, the development of a single-celled organism of requisite complexity is an eventual certainty, somewhere in the Universe. Even if those two things are conclusively demonstrated, there could still be an "intelligent designer" - or, as those of us who are not blinkered by trying to take a conclusion for a premise might say it, a god - who kicked the whole thing off. To disprove that, I would have to prove that there is no possibility for a god to exist outside of nature. But I cannot disprove that, because I am within nature, as are most of us. So it is not possible to disprove an intelligent designer without ourselves being outside of nature - gods each of us, and not just any gods, but transcendent gods not subject to the whims of time, space or physics (essentially, that pretty much leaves the Abrahamic god among major religions, and not many gods among minor or extinct religions). That is not science. It is philosophy or religion, perhaps, but not science.

In fact, it is a fundamental premise of science that science can only discover what can be known within the natural framework. There is no "supernatural" in science. Indeed, if the existence of ghosts can be shown, they become, inherently, natural. Supernatural is, within the scientific framework, superstition. This does not mean that the "supernatural" does not exist, merely that science is intentionally blind to it. Science is not intended as a belief system (despite the aspirations of Carl Sagan and many like him), but as a toolkit for understanding how the world works.

What is depressing is that, in a society supposedly founded on reason, educated to a high degree, and slavishly devoted to "science" (or at least following the latest studies as if they were carved in stone), so few people seem to understand this.

Posted by jeff at 9:52 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 4, 2005

The Next to Last Way to Win the War

The last, and very final, way to win the war is to simply destroy every Arab/Muslim city with a population greater than a few thousand people, then kill any remaining Arab/Muslim people who are still fighting, if any. Not the way we want to go, and not the way that we are likely to go, unless the terrorists manage to get nuclear or chemical or biological weapons and use them against a Western target.

I was thinking: what would be the next to last way to win? How could we absolutely win, without genocide. It occurs to me that the next most drastic scenario would be to take over all of the oil fields in the Arab/Muslim world, and to expel all non-citizen Muslims from the West into the remaining areas. Then seal all the borders, by land, sea and air, of where the Muslims are confined. This would condemn more than a billion people to poverty, disease and isolation from the rest of the world, but it would be better than genocide (though more time-consuming and more expensive).

But it occurred to me that we Westerners could probably countenance the quick genocide better than the long-term destruction of impoverishment. Odd, that. But true, I think: where would we get the will to sustain something far worse than the sanctions against Iraq, for a far longer time? I just don't think we could do it.

I'm not sure what's third from the worst way to win.

Posted by jeff at 6:51 PM | TrackBack

August 2, 2005

Defending ABC

I almost hate to do it, but I have to defend ABC, which has been banned in Russia for interviewing the head of the Chechen terrorist/insurgent movement, Shamil Basayev. I don't like that ABC or other media outlets tend to interview monsters like Hussein or Basayev (responsible for the massacre of children at Beslan, among other things) more respectfully than they interview our own leaders or those of our allies. I don't like media organizations reporting enemy propaganda in exchange for access either, and here are the horns of our dilemma.

On the one horn, ABC is doing something vile: interviewing a terrorist and treating his claims with undeserved respect. On the other horn, the government of Russia is doing something even more vile: using the power of the state to silence criticism by the media. If this were not a pattern of Russian behavior, I would probably tend to lean in their favor. But it's becoming clear that Putin is a tyrant, of the "one man, one vote, one time" kind. And let's face it: a free society can tolerate a badly behaved press to some degree, but no society can tolerate a tyrannical government, and the silencing of criticism of a tyrannical government is simply unacceptable.

UPDATE: Ron Coleman takes the other side. (via InstaPundit)

Posted by jeff at 4:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Fools and Charlatans

Isn't it sad that I'm reduced to supporting fools and charlatans in public office, to avoid frauds and incompetents?

Posted by jeff at 4:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Scope of Jihadi Terrorism

Michael Totten has a memory aid for those who might tend to underestimate the enemy.

Posted by jeff at 11:46 AM | TrackBack

Space Exploration Questions

Brian had some questions about space exploration, and as I am trained as a rocket scientist (though I have never practiced as such), and since space exploration is one of my big interests, here you go:

Where should we be going in regards to privatizing space exploration? Should we be talking about eliminating government's role entirely or any at all?

There is something I heard once that really stuck with me: the Apollo program was our competition with the Soviets to see who could run a better socialist space program. The government is capable of doing great deeds when called upon: witness Mercury, Gemini and Apollo in the space program. The problem is that the government doesn't see space exploration as fundamentally different from corn subsidies: each represents an expenditure of money whose return is a certain amount of votes for the supporters of the program, coupled with an occasional big payoff in prestige (in the case of the space program, just having a manned space program is a sign of being a major power). Texas is a beef state, and NASA competes with ranchers for the favors of our representatives. NASA does worse in places where NASA isn't as obvious as it is in Texas or Florida.

So in the end, the government is simply not capable of doing great things over a long period of time: there's no sustained motivation for it. Government is good for stunts and policy, but not action. It's really amazing that our military functions as well as it does, given that it is almost as bureaucratically overrun as the civilian parts of the government; I guess dying if you mess up does impart a certain degree of reality control that working on, say, Indian affairs doesn't.

If we should be looking to a much greater role for private industry, is it realistic to expect it to happen anytime soon?

If not the government, then whom? Part of the problem with answering that for the last 50 years has been that "then nobody" is the best answer. It is so expensive to get into space and to do anything in space that only government expenditures were capable of doing it. Except that lately we've been learning that the government model is fundamentally unsound: it does big events, but they're not repeatable; we've spent the last 25 years puttering about in low Earth orbit, learning almost nothing that we didn't already know by 1979 (big exception: construction techniques in space were worked out). But Space Ship One cost less for the entire program than does a Shuttle's landing gear! Admittedly, the programs aren't comparable, but NASA could not have done SS1: they have an expensive mindset that doesn't allow for failure, and thus doesn't allow for learning. (Failure doesn't look good to the taxpayer.)

So now we see that it is possible for private individuals to finance low-energy suborbital space flight. Within the next few years, a corporation will finance high-energy suborbital space flight, and within perhaps a decade, private industry will finance orbital flight. The difference will be that each of these goals will be cheaply repeatable: they will be run closer to airlines than to NASA. And this has a huge impact, because it means that commercial services can be established. Reliability, repeatability and low cost mean that it is possible to build a business model, and if the market is large enough, to make a profit.

It's not likely that SS1 could have made a profit. It's possible SS2 will be able to, with Virgin Galactic offering suborbital flights for something like $200000 per ride. It is very likely that the first reliable private orbiter will be capable of turning a profit. While the systems get more expensive as they increase in requirements, and orbital is hard, the systems get less expensive with lessons learned and with repeated flights. But none of this is exploration; this is just getting private space flight to the point that it is practical and sustainable.

It will be a long time before private space exploration will be possible - perhaps 20 years to get a good start on it - but once begun the process will be inexorable, and the rate of progress will increase continually once profits are demonstrated. The biggest problem with private exploration is, believe it or not, legal. There is a treaty (colloquially called the Moon treaty) that prohibits claims of ownership on extraterrestrial bodies. This means that you could not exercise true private property rights on an extraterrestrial body, because legally such rights don't exist. Of course, once people begin to build functioning and self-sufficient colonies on the Moon and Mars and other places - even in orbit - my bet is that the legal problems go away fast, either because no one will enforce the limitations or because those colonies will declare themselves independent and not bound by terrestrial law.

Once that happens, space exploration will progress rapidly through the usable areas of the solar system. It would not surprise me if there were people born on the Moon within the next 50 years, and Mars in a similar timeframe. It would not surprise me if there were people living more or less permanently off Earth in the next 30 years. But it won't be because of the government.

If it's not realistic or if government is still to
play a significant role for a while, what role should NASA play? What should our focus be? What should we be doing more of? Less of?

The best thing that the government could do would be to turn back the clock, and have NASA become once more a purely research organization, with no operational responsibilities at all. That way, NASA could develop technology and share it with all comers, as NACA did before it became NASA. That way, we'd spend less tax money on the program, for similar spin-off technologies and a greater return of useful information. I would not be saying this if I thought NASA capable of doing real exploration over a long time frame, and opening it up to private individuals.
Is orbital flight, vis-a-vis the Space Shuttle and eventually the CEV, and what comes of it scientifically, worth the cost incurred? How much of that should we be doing compared with both manned and unmanned missions to other celestial bodies?

One of the problems that we have is that we keep looking at space as a scientific endeavor. And in that light, the manned program has assuredly not been worth the investment. The robotic program has done a lot of good science, and the manned program has done a bit (particularly on the latter Moon landings), but that has paled in comparison to the money we've spent tooling around in LEO. The exploration of space is not a scientific endeavor - the science comes later or alongside - but a human endeavor. Mankind is meant to explore, to reach beyond itself, to go to new places and expand our minds thereby. That is why space exploration is so wonderful and engaging, and why the NASA channel generally puts people to sleep (and for that matter, why the news media doesn't much cover NASA except for launches and problems).

We've still got a lot to learn in space, but we aren't going to learn it efficiently by sitting parked in low orbit, spending most of our time just feeding ourselves or launching satellites. I fully support the manned exploration of the Moon and Mars by the government, and of the outer planets and other solar system bodies by robotic means. I don't think that NASA is very good at it, but while I'm waiting for private enterprise to get to the point that such exploration is practical, NASA is the best we've got.

But I'll tell you what NASA could have done that would have been worthwhile. If NASA had maintained Saturn V as a heavy lift vehicle, and built a small craft specifically for getting men into orbit, it could have been a fraction the size and cost of Shuttle, with a much more rapid turnaround, and gotten the needed information on reusable vehicles and flown re-entry. And it could have done this with much higher flight rates. That would have made a real space station practical: lift big parts on Saturn V or evolved vehicles, and lift the people on little space planes. And a good-sized space station capable of holding enough people to do more than just keep themselves fed and the place clean would be a useful stepping stone to anywhere else in the solar system, in a sustainable way (ie, not just putting flags and footprints out there). NASA grabbed for too much with Shuttle, and had so much invested that they couldn't back off and try again. Bureaucratic mentality again.

What should our goal be in regards to the moon in the near term?

That very question illustrates the massive failure of our space vision caused by Apollo: why should we have only one goal? The assumptions built in about cost and focus and control are huge, and rarely examined. I have a better question: what's your goal? What are everyone's goals who want to go into space? Me? I'd like to go to Mars. You don't have to bring me back; just keep sending supplies so I don't starve or run out of what I can't get locally.

This is, in the end, why private enterprise - not the government - will truly open up space. Private enterprise doesn't have a monolithic mind set, and the government does.

Posted by jeff at 7:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 1, 2005

What Would We Do Without Howard Dean?

Does anyone know how Howard Dean gets from the parallel universe in which he lives into ours? It's a mighty neat trick!

[Dean] also said the president was partly responsible for a recent Supreme Court decision involving eminent domain.

"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is," Dean said, not mentioning that until he nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court this week, Bush had not appointed anyone to the high court.

Howard, Howard, Howard. That stuff you smoke must be really good!

How Bush is in any way responsible I have no idea, and Dean doesn't say. I can only assume it's because everything is Bush's fault.

As for the "right-wing Supreme Court", I know I don't need to remind anyone that the Court's three conservative members opposed the Kelo decision, the four liberals supported it, and the two moderates split.

Sadly, the MSM is totally ignoring the story. So only those of us who read blogs will ever know of this, and that's a shame. I think all Americans should be able to enjoy the comedic pronouncements of the head of the DNC.

Posted by Brian at 9:48 PM | TrackBack

History's Greatest Monster

VodkaPundit summarizes Jimmy Carter.

(The quote I used for the title comes from Futurama.)

Posted by jeff at 3:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

That's Rich

Kevin Drum makes an interesting comparison:

Republicans lined up to denounce the IRS as "Gestapo-like" and a law was quickly passed that handcuffed agents and slashed the budget for audits and enforcement, especially against high-income taxpayers. It was a boon for the rich in the same way that it would be a boon for drug dealers and street criminals if Congress slashed the budgets of local police departments.

Am I to infer that to Kevin, the rich are like drug dealers and street criminals in that they will absolutely commit crimes unless forced not to by the overwhelming force of the government? Ummm... I don't think so.

I am all in favor of having IRS auditors, lots of them. But not as the situation now stands. The tax code is so complex that it is not possible for an ordinary person to follow it. As a sole proprietor (that is, I own my own business, but am not shielded from liability and my income is not differentiated from the company's income), the taxes are terribly difficult to do. And I get to do them four times per year, followed by sending a big check to the government. Get it wrong in any way - miss an instruction in the tens of thousands of pages of IRS rules and regulations, misunderstand a rule that is contradicted or modified in a completely different place, get bad advice from the IRS itself - any of these things could result in massive fines, on top of the payments of taxes. Complying fully with the tax code is simply impossible unless you have one employer, no dependents, and virtually no deductions. Otherwise, your options are to claim as little as possible to ensure that you don't get it wrong, and thus pay higher taxes than you owe under the law, or face ruination if you mess up.

Now, if the tax code were to be simple, like Forbes' proposed flat tax ($x consolidated deduction per adult and $y per child, z% of all money over that is what you owe in taxes), I'd be happy to let the IRS audit as many people as they wanted whenever they wanted. But in the meantime, it's simply wrong for the government to abuse citizens under an assumption of guilt, which (contrary to Kevin's apparent belief) is precisely what the IRS was doing before the Roth hearings and their aftermath.

Just as an example, assume that Forbes' flat tax comes with a $15000 deduction per adult and a $2000 deduction per child, and a tax rate of 15%. (You'd have to manipulate those numbers to get a revenue neutral system.) This means that a single, childless person pays no tax unless their income exceeds $15000, and a couple with two children would pay no taxes unless their income exceeded $34000.

Let's say a couple with 2 children make an income of $50000, and another couple with two children make an income of $250000. For the first couple (lower middle class), their taxes would be $2400. For the second family (upper middle class), their taxes would be $32400.

There's no reason taxes couldn't be that simple to figure.

Well, there is: such a simple tax makes it very difficult to manipulate people's behavior and votes using the tax system. Also, it puts social security and medicare back into normal government spending, which further reduces their power as manipulative institutions.

So make that, there's no good reason taxes couldn't be that simple.

Posted by jeff at 2:26 PM | TrackBack

Of Course You Know, This Means War

Apparently the drug cartels operating out of Mexico have turned to using Mexican deserters (trained as counter-narcotics special forces, ironically) to safeguard their wares in the US. This involves, among other things, placing high prices on the heads of US law enforcement officers, such as, say, my father in law or one of my best friends (CPT4ever is, in addition to being an officer in the National Guard, a law enforcement officer).

Let me be very clear, here: the US is not currently fighting a drug war, despite all of the rhetoric. We are in fact trying to put on the appearance to the public of fighting a drug war, but the resources we are committing to such a struggle are miniscule. Making it take me 30 minutes to buy sudafed (can be used to make meth) pisses me off, but barely impacts the meth makers at all, who can always add a couple of extra steps (like growing their own ephedra) to get around the problem, and enjoy the higher prices. If we want to fight a drug war, we have to go after it much more thoroughly than we are.

And I don't think that we should: drug criminalization is unconstitutional by any reasonable reading of the Constitution (that is to say, not using the reading that activity undertaken entirely in one state and without any value exchange constitutes interstate commerce!), is counterproductive (in that it encourages drug use by making drugs "forbidden" but easy to obtain) and is unnecessary (in the same way that prohibition of alcohol was unnecessary, and for the same reasons).

But - and this is a big but - even though I think that the "drug war" is wrong, that does not mean that I or most Americans would tolerate the drug cartels attempting to undermine our law enforcement. Mexico is essentially a failed state in the southern and northern extremities, and we will not go that way. We have gone to great lengths to help Mexico, but eventually we will help ourselves. If the Mexican government does not take over the border area effectively, it will eventually become necessary for the US to intervene militarily in the area to stop the escalating attacks on American law enforcement personnel (and inevitably, eventually civilians). This might be 5-10 years out, but it is inevitable if the violence keeps escalating and the Mexican government cannot regain control. And the anti-immigration lobby in the US would be right on board with such actions.

So it would be a really, really good idea for the Mexican government to regain sovereignty before there is a second Mexican war.

(hat tip: QandO)

UPDATE: Mark in Mexico is thinking along the same lines.

Posted by jeff at 11:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Critical Success Factors and Terrorism

Dave Schuler asks:

So here's what I propose: let's see if we can come up with the critical success factors for a terrorist attack on the United States. The level of abstraction we're seeking is something between the level that Vanderleun went after (quantities of explosives, maps of the subway, etc.) and the level that the root causes discussions have taken (poverty, human nature, the will of God). We're only looking for real critical success factors—factors that are really necessary.

Why bother? If you consider the notion of a critical success factor there are two reasons. First, in order to eliminate the threat of terrorism (or at least substantially reduce the threat), we must interfere with or intercept one or more of the critical success factors. Second, no plan that does not interfere with or intercept one or more of the critical success factors can really succeed.

The first thing that has to be said is that "attack" is a very broad term, especially in the context of 5GW warfare. Attacking a subway is much easier, for example, than flying airliners into office buildings. That said, there are commonalities between the two acts. In either case, the enemy must:
  • determine to attack
  • plan the attack
  • carry out reconnaissance of the targets, both to aid in the planning and to check its feasibility
  • train for and practice, to the extent practicable, the attacks
  • obtain any necessary materials, such as explosives
  • construct any needed devices
  • convey themselves to the point of attack
  • evade security
  • carry out the attack
  • have the resources (physical, human and financial) for all of the above
  • friendly media exposure to achieve the intended political effect (in general, weakening our will to resist)

There are some things we can do to make this process harder, like better control of explosives or increasing point security, but in the end these are limited. (That doesn't make them not worthwhile; I just mean that there are better things we can do.) The key to disrupting attacks is to look at that next to last point: resources. What a terrorist attack requires in the way of resources is:
  • money, and the associated financiers
  • leadership
  • specialists (like bomb makers)
  • willing attackers, recon and other intelligence gatherers, etc. - foot soldiers
  • a safe haven
  • time
  • secrecy
  • access to matériel

Money is first because it is the biggest enabler: money allows you to get what you need and keep your people fed and housed. Money is fungible, and therefore hard to track: what goes to an Islamic charity to help Darfur can (and often does) end up instead in the hands of HAMAS or other jihadist organizations, financing terror. Indeed, many terror groups (including HAMAS) directly operate charities for this purpose. (They also do charitable work. The personal is political, indeed.)

Leadership and specialists are critical: they are the core that survives even suicide attacks, learns from them, and creates the next attack plan. As the Israelis learned, killing the terror leaders and the bomb makers dramatically reduces future terrorism, both in amount and quality. We have applied the same lessons in Iraq with much success: the vast majority of attacks on defended targets in Iraq are failures. That's why the terrorists in Iraq go after the civilians, people waiting in line to join the Iraqi military and police, and so on: it's the only place they have a good chance of success. The failures seldom get reported in the Western media, so they don't effect our will to fight; only the successes (from the terrorist point of view) generally get reported.

The foot soldiers are easy to come by - there are always people looking for work or who hate the West, America and/or Israel. The key for the enemy is to get foot soldiers willing to carry out dangerous assignments, up to and including killing themselves in the act of the attack. This requires ideology and motivation, and it is very difficult to do. But it is also very difficult to prevent, and there is a wide enough pool of would-be jihadis that some can be indoctrinated to the proper point necessary for any given attack. It should be noted that the need for people capable of penetrating security and successfully carrying out the attack generally means that you need intelligent, determined, and resourceful people. It should be noted that such traits tend to be helpful in ordinary life as well, and tend to raise one's standard of living. As a result, it's far more likely that attackers will continue to be from the middle and upper classes than from the poor and oppressed that form the vast population of most Arab countries. That also means that capable attackers, where indoctrination succeeds, are more available in the West than in Arab nations (although the indoctrination process is much harder here).

Safe havens can be anything from large training camps in failed states to an apartment in Leeds that the government doesn't know about. A place to plan, train and indoctrinate can be gained physically, through controlling areas of failed states or buying a large place in the country; morally, through psychological intimidation of the target population (us) not to look at who the attackers are or what they are doing (hence all the work of CAIR, etc); by corruption, bribing officials to look the other way (see the Beslan attack for a good example); or by deception, simply remaining invisible in the vast population of innocents that resemble the attackers. Each of these methods can and should be attacked, but it is very hard for a free country to do so, because of the moral component: we don't want to limit our own rights, nor to infringe the liberties of innocents, in order to get to the attackers. "I have rights", yelled the London bomber as he was pulled from his safe haven.

Time is an interesting resource. It, like money, can be fungible. You can spend your time doing recon, planning, constructing bombs or what have you. You could also spend it going to the movies or having a picnic by the lake. But time is fleeting for terrorists, because the longer their OODA cycle, the more likely that they will be discovered and interdicted. So it is necessary for the terrorists to act quickly, at least for what needs to be done in the target country. From the moment that the attack switches from indoctrination of the foot soldiers to active planning, the cell is in danger: in that period, if they are discovered they will not be released (while they would be if they were just out on the corner preaching hatred, for example, or just in their homes being quite, quite religious). The attacks are easier to disrupt than to carry out, because anything that raises a threat to the cell or to the possible success of the attack needs to be avoided. Simply raising the terror threat level on a target can deter the attack, if the attackers feel that this jeopardizes the operation.

Secrecy is useful to extend the time the cell has to operate, to help in obtaining safe havens in the target area, and so forth. If secrecy is breached, not only is the attack thwarted, but the entire cell is often destroyed by our security forces.

Access to matériel is obvious, but not always simple. Explosives have to be made from commonly available ingredients, or they have to be purchased. A car that cannot be tracked back to the cell is preferable, but not necessarily easy to obtain. And so on. Again, we can make this more difficult, but the reality is that all that we are doing thereby is lengthening the time that the cell is exposed for. This is generally a positive good in itself, but it's probably not possible to completely take away enemy access to what they need to carry out an attack.

It should be noted that these are all tactical considerations, really: what does it take to carry out an attack. It doesn't address the strategic issue.

UPDATE: fixed link on The Glittering Eye, as technical difficulties have intervened.

Posted by jeff at 8:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Dick Cheney, Please Run for President

Courtesy of Drudge:

White House press doyenne Helen Thomas is plenty peeved at her longtime friend Albert Eisele, editor of THE HILL newspaper in Washington, D.C.

In a column this week headlined "Reporter: Cheney's Not Presidential Material," Eisele quoted Thomas as saying "The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I'll kill myself. All we need is one more liar."

Promises, promises, Helen.

In a related noted, surprisingly unreported by Drudge and leaving her last sentence above lacking its true context, Helen's next words were "And that's why I'll be voting for another Clinton! Eeeeeyahhh!"

But Thomas said yesterday at the White House that her comments to Eisele were for his ears only. "I'll never talk to a reporter again!" Thomas was overheard saying.

Again with the promises Helen.

I've never wanted Cheney to run for president more. Of course, maybe if Karl Rove runs, Helen will never talk to anyone again! Ah, we can dream...

Posted by Brian at 1:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack