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September 30, 2005

Combat Emergency Rescue Logistics

There have been some suggestions made — apparently seriously — suggesting that the US military should be given a primary role in disaster response. That is to say, the military should be given the job of being first on the scene in a disaster, without the requirement of acquiescence from state and local officials. As Planet Moron points out, this is perhaps not the best idea going.

My first thought on improving the logistical capacity of the Federal government's civil disaster response agencies (FEMA and other DHS agencies, primarily) was to estimate the cost of maintaining even more disaster response capacity than we already have at the Federal level. The long-term cost of maintaining those resources as opposed to the requirement for them, which is running about once every 25 years by my reckoning, would be pretty high. There's also a more immediate objection: having more resources at the Federal level would encourage states and localities to do less, on the presumption that the Federal government would bail them out. This would require even more Federal resources to ensure that the government could have first responders in any community the first day. It's hard to move resources from, say, Maryland to Louisiana, or California to N. Carolina, so you'd need regional duplicates of much of your capacity. Not only does that cost, it also makes response slower, because the larger bureaucracy required to manage that kind of infrastructure will inevitably move more slowly because of the weight of the overhead that has to be dragged along.

So, bad idea. But what about beefing up local response capabilities? There's some justification to that, in fact quite a bit of justification to that, but it's probably not a good idea to do that at the Federal level. In addition to the redistributionist aspect of such a scheme, there's also the simple fact that California will prepare better for earthquake response than the Federal government would, and Louisiana would similarly prepare better for hurricane response than the — — sorry, I forgot for a moment that we were talking about Louisiana. Remember the saying about getting the government you deserve? I bet if Louisiana had called an election in Baton Rouge for the day of the hurricane, they would have gotten those buses moving.

Anyway, it might be a good idea to have the Federal government set up to handle responses to events unlikely to hit anywhere, and equally likely to hit any given place when they do, like having chemical decontamination facilities and such. But other than that, there's not much wrong with the setup we have now, assuming the local and state officials do their jobs. And frankly, that's a job for the voters to manage: note that Texas' response was significantly different to not only Rita, but prior hurricanes as well. Compare last years' hurricane response to Ivan (NOLA dodged that bullet and the local and state governments muffed that one, too) with the prior years' response to Claudette (admittedly smaller).

But I was thinking about logistics, and how you could improve materiel stockpiling and delivery at any level, and it occurred to me that we don't need to beef up our logistics capacity at any level, really. All we have to do is take advantage of our wonderful economy, and get contracts out in advance from both state and local agencies to companies like Wal Mart (supplies, warehousing, and transportation), Federal Express and/or UPS (time-critical transportation), Safeway and other grocery chains (supplies), REI and other sporting goods chains (supply). Since these companies (and others) have the right supplies and the capacity to deliver them quickly to any area, we could contract to take over as much as necessary of their supply and logistics as we need, essentially redirecting what is already in the civilian economy.

The companies could price this based on their expectation of the risk of business loss and the cost of goods that would likely be consumed. They would have a guaranteed income stream for doing nothing, as long as nothing needed to be done, and the overall spending by government would be much lower than if government maintained all of this stuff on its own. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems sensible and win-win to me.

UPDATE: Tim Worstall notes another place where government use of the economy works. (Hat tip: QandO)

Posted by jeff at 5:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

Getting it Wrong

Jeff Jarvis, a blogger and journalist, completely misunderstands the utility of press freedom to a free society. (hat tip: Francis Porretto) A local New Orleans official gave a tear-filled interview on Meet the Press, which cannot be conveyed with a summary. When Broussard, the local official, blamed the Federal government for the problems in response to Hurricane Katrina, Meet the Press host Tim Russert asked whether local government should not bear some responsibility. Broussard answered:

Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.

[snip]

The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.


The problem with this story is that it is factually incorrect. The woman in question died the night of the hurricane, before the city even flooded, rather than a week later. Tim Russert did the right thing: he had Mr. Broussard back on the show to correct the record. When Broussard tried to dodge, Russert called him on it, and it is this that Jarvis objects to. In the process of that objection, though, Jeff Jarvis lets out the most astonishing statement on media responsibility and method since Rather's infamous "fake but accurate" remark:
Too much of journalism is turning this way today: If we nitpick the facts and follow some rules some committee wrote up, we'll be safe; we're doing our jobs. No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts. Anybody can get facts. Facts are the commodity. The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we're after.

Exactly, totally wrong.
  • "No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts."

    Nope. Reporters' jobs should be to collect and convey facts, so that everyone else can make up their mind on what story that conveys. Telling people the story, and selecting and arranging the facts that support your story, is called spin, and it's something that journalists tend to decry from politicians and other non-journalists. Taken to it's logical "fake but accurate" extreme, in fact, it's not spin so much as lying.

  • "Anybody can get facts."

    Anybody can get some of the facts local to them, and can report them on a blog or what have you, certainly. But I cannot get facts about things that are not local to me, or that I do not have the time to gather. Nor can I afford to sit at, say, every city council meeting in order to catch that one important moment that comes along after a decade of nothing interesting. Nor can I get, say, the world's foremost expert on levees to answer my call in the middle of a hurricane so that I can get my questions answered. Only an organization dedicated to the purpose of collecting those facts, willing and able to spend money to have hundreds or thousands of people actively collecting those facts, can get the facts in the non-local sense, or can get a significant amount of the facts on any given issue that is not geographically confined.

  • "Facts are the commodity."

    A commodity in great demand and short supply, in fact. Jarvis is right in that facts are a commodity that is used to form opinions. Where he is wrong is in the implication that we cannot form our own opinions, but must be handed them by a journalist.

  • "The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we're after."

    But the people will find the truth if given the facts. The people will fight for justice if they have the facts of justice denied. The people will learn lessons if they see everything about the events. And these will be more complete and generally more correct than if a particular person, organization, or trade decides that it should have complete control over matters of truth, justice and lessons. Indeed, the reason journalism is dying away in readership and viewership is that there are now alternatives, and we the people are beginning to realize how much information, how many facts, what kinds of justice, and what lessons we've been denied by the all-pervading monopoly media institutions.


Journalists decry political spin (particularly conservative political spin) all the time, but what they frequently do — what Jarvis is pretty much demanding they do — is to spin the information themselves to convey the story they desire to be perceived. I don't think journalism is worse in this respect today than 15 years ago, but I've become aware enough of it that I usually tune out journalists. The New Orleans story was different: so much detail was conveyed as if by people actually observing, that I gave the press the benefit of the doubt; in fact I did not doubt at all. My mistake. If reporters cannot confine themselves to the gathering and conveyance of facts, then reporters become not reporters but opinion shapers. And that's fine, but don't expect the rest of us to passively accept being shaped.

And if our refusal to accept the news at face value causes us to search for alternatives, and if finding those alternatives continues to deny resources (readers, viewers, advertisers, etc) to the current media empires, and if they find that cuts their budget for gathering facts and using them to form opinions for the rest of us, well, too bad so sad. At least they should be able to dig up where their decline came from. After all, they're journalists.

Posted by jeff at 5:53 PM | TrackBack

A Notable Difference

There is a notable difference between our enemy, which hides behind children in combat, and our troops, who do everything possible to save the life of a child. It's good to be on the side of the good guys.

Posted by jeff at 5:29 PM | TrackBack

Borderline

Song: Borderline
Artist: Chris DeBurgh
Album: The Getaway
Year: 1983

This song is such a sad, heartbreaking song of separation. Two people are caught on opposite sides of a war, and neither knows if they'll ever see each other again. This is a kind of music that has become much more rare since the end of the Cold War: a commentary on foreign affairs and their effect on ordinary people. Well, such songs do exist in country music, and I suppose that there are such commentaries in rock as well; it's just that the rock songs that provide such commentary seem to always be "progressive" and a little brain-dead. This is much more thoughtful, and it's obvious that, while DeBurgh is singing from an anti-war position, he's not trying to target any one person, but a part of human nature that he feels powerless to change. It's a very good song, from a stellar performer.


I'm standing in the station
I'm waiting for a train
To take me to the border
And my loved one far away
I watched a bunch of soldiers heading for the war
I could hardly even bear to see them go

Rolling through the countryside
Tears are in my eyes
We're coming to the borderline
I'm ready with my lies
And in the early morning rain
I see her there
And I know I'll have to say goodbye again

And it's breaking my heart
I know what I must do
I hear my country call me
But I want to be with you
I'm taking my side
One of us will lose
Don't let go, I want to know
That you will wait for me until the day ----
There's no borderline, no borderline

Walking past the border guards
Reaching for her hand
Showing no emotion
I want to break into a run
But these are only boys
And I will never know
How men can see the wisdom in a war

And it's breaking my heart
I know what I must do
I hear my country call me
But I want to be with you
I'm taking my side
One of us will lose
Don't let go, I want to know
That you will wait for me until the day ----
There's no borderline, no borderline

No borderline
No borderline

Posted by jeff at 5:06 PM | TrackBack

Borderlines

Curzon at coming anarchy is doing an interesting series on buffer states, so far including the China-India border, Afghanistan and Switzerland. Well worth reading.

UPDATE: Two more are up, completing the series: Thailand and Mongolia. Hmmm...shouldn't there be more, for say Namibia and Western Sahara?

Posted by jeff at 4:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 28, 2005

Planet Moron

Planet Moron is on a roll recently.

There's the post on disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina, which observes, among other things:

Member companies of the American Forest and Paper Association are also lining up for federal dollars. Why are losses by private interests the obligation of taxpayers nationwide? Because we all know that when that single mom in Oregon comes home from her second job to tuck her children in at night, the foremost concern on her mind is "what can I do to help the timber industry?"

There's the post on Bill Frist's troubles that notes how the trust was more "nearsighted" than "blind".

There's the post on the Communist (sorry, I believe the correct media term is "anti-war") rally in DC recently, which notes:

Over 100,000 people came to Washington DC this past Saturday to attend a protest against the Iraq war. Imagine their surprise when there wasn't one. In its place was a demonstration about worker's rights and global warming and racism and Palestinian rights and hanging chads and Halliburton and New Orleans and every now and then a brief something about a war, possibly Arab in nature.

[snip]

The socialist movement is typically populated by young men who think that if they wear a Che Guevara T-Shirt it might get them in bed with that cute liberal arts chick they met in the student union while waiting for White Stripes tickets, you know, the one with 42 different black tops in her closet. Fewer in number are the bitter old guys with gray hair and pony tails who still hold a serious grudge against Mikhail Gorbachev.

In addition to ANSWER and the Workers World Party (and many others), was the "Party for Socialism and Liberation" which had tables full of glossy magazines for purchase. Presumably they had to put up money to have these made in the hopes that they could then sell them to willing buyers in arms-length transactions so as to recoup their original investment with perhaps a little extra left over that could then be reinvested in additional inventory or fixed assets so as to further their venture. If only there were an economic system of some kind based on this basic principle of property rights and invested capital. But I digress.


Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Posted by jeff at 11:38 PM | TrackBack

Serenity

Serenity reviews are all over the place since the blogger screenings (still bummed I missed it), and they are overwhelmingly positive. It is apparently doing well with those who don't even care for sci-fi and/or haven't seen Firefly, so the real task is just getting people to try watching it. I'm too lazy to post links to reviews, but they're all over the place at Instapundit (and pretty much spoiler-free if you skip the comments). I'll be seeing it (probably several times), and I'll be wearing my Blue Sun shirt. I just wish I had a brown coat like Mal's.

In other news, I saw Corpse Bride yesterday. I liked it, but it seemed like there should have been more to the story. They could have had more, and better, songs as well. It's not nearly the classic that A Nightmare Before Christmas was, but it's worth seeing - though you could probably wait for a rental.

Posted by Brian at 10:35 PM | TrackBack

FCS and Elementary Logic

Well, I probably should not call it elementary logic, since our elementary schools don't teach it, but...

Defensetech has an article on how the FCS (Future Combat Systems, intended to develop a smaller, lighter, faster-deploying Army force) are getting more expensive and heavier. Lots of cynicism, little common sense. (On the other hand, the planners at the Pentagon seem to have lots of optimism, and little common sense.)

There are two ways to evolve anything, including combat systems: evolutionary and revolutionary. An evolutionary change improves what exists. A revolutionary change starts from scratch to create something new. In military generations, the M-60 was an evolution of the earlier M-48 tank design, and the M-1 was a revolutionary tank design (using a gas turbine engine, blow-out panels over the ammunition storage, layered ceramic armor, advanced fire control, a new track design and lots of other innovations).

The M-1 was part of a wave of modernization that brought a host of revolutionary changes to the Army, including its first real IFV (the Bradley) and a new light utility truck (the HMMWV, or Hummer). This was possible because, while fighting in Viet Nam, we had skipped a generation of procurement. We have not done that since the 1980's upgrade (the Reagan defense build-up) to the Army; we have been procuring steadily and improving upon existing systems. We have not let technology advance to the point that FCS made sense for most systems. The Air Force upgrades (the "smart bombs" and GPS) and the computerization of the Army combat units together constitute a pretty hefty shift in capabilities, but the underlying vehicles the Army is depending on for FCS simply aren't ready for a big jump yet.

Consider: an IFV, like the Bradley, has two key characteristics; it carries troops and it mounts weapons sufficient to give those troops firepower support against anything except a heavy armored force. This requires an IFV to have sufficient armor to stand up to enemy infantry, IFVs and mines (including the IEDs used in Iraq, and earlier Chechnya, to such great effect). It requires sufficient mobility to keep up with tanks. And it requires sufficient space to carry infantry and their supplies. The size necessary for both holding, say, six armed and armored troopers and mounting a turreted weapons system including mid-sized guns and possibly anti-tank missiles, means that only a lightly-armored system can fit into the FCS vehicle weight limit of 19 tons. Or, we can develop an entire new generation of armor that does in 19 tons what now takes 25-30 tons. Since that's not likely in the near future, we either sacrifice armor, or we create two different vehicles (a troop carrier and an assault vehicle mounting infantry support weapons) that both have to be transported to make up an efficient team. Or, final choice, we scrap the weight limit.

But having scrapped the weight limit, there are still two choices: continue to deploy the Army by sea (slow but effective) or build a large number of larger transport aircraft (fast but expensive). It appears that the Army has, pragmatically, taken the sea-deployment approach.

So it's not likely that many of the big FCS systems will see service: we really aren't ready for that kind of leap yet. But it is likely that evolutionary changes will continue, and we will eventually see a big leap that takes ideas from FCS (as M-1 took ideas from MBT-70) wedded to new technology to create a truly revolutionary system.

In the meantime, people should stop getting hysterical about theoretical costs that will never materialize, and the Army should consider buying the Navy a round of drinks and about a dozen fast transports.

Posted by jeff at 10:24 PM | TrackBack

Speaking Truth to Power

The Doctor is In deconstructs deconstruction, with a well-reasoned look at what "speaking truth to power" actually means. Just a small extract, to give you the flavor:

The Quakers used the term "truth" to speak of absolute, transcendent principles, given by God; the postmodernist view rejects all such absolutes, replacing them with "narratives" which are predicated and derived solely from language and culture, rather than any deity or transcendent supernatural being.

For the postmodernist, institutions such as religion, or the influences of law, morality or ethics, are merely expressions of the group in power exerting their control. Such vehicles serve as a means of enslavement, oppression, and victimization. The "narrative" — or story — of the powerful uses the tool of language to imprison thought. Hence, the postmodernist's task is to "deconstruct" — to uncover in the words and actions of such centers of authority their underlying oppression and will to power–which to their mind is always present. Postmoderinism is also group-oriented rather than individual-oriented. Groups define their own narrative, their own meanings for language, their own truths.

And so, when the postmodernist talks about speaking "truth", they are not speaking of transcendent absolutes, but rather about their particular narrative, their worldview, their convictions derived from social consensus among the peers of their group. It is "truth' in a sense that is emminently self-referential — something is True because I, and others of my group, accept it as True.


If we can teach our sons to reason and express themselves this well, the effort of homeschooling will have been richly repaid.

Posted by jeff at 4:34 PM | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Dead Men Train no Terrorists

The problem with the theory that the enemy is gaining experience in Iraq and that is why it's bad that we fight there, is that dead men take their experience with them, and lots of high-level enemy have been dying in Iraq lately. And as long as that keeps up, the net experience the enemy gains from Iraq continues to be much lower than our net experience (since our guys tend to survive their tours). Long term, that's not a way for the enemy to win. I give the enemy 12 months or less in Iraq — they appear to me to be on the verge of collapse, with the insurgency nearly non-existent and only the terrorists still fighting — and if they don't win the media war in that time, they are defeated.

Posted by jeff at 10:15 PM | TrackBack

Everything You Know is Wrong

Shame on me. Shame on me for believing anything that the media reports, even in the US, even when there are dozens or hundreds of purported witnesses and even when there are government officials saying the same thing. (And shame on me, too, for believing anything government officials say without checking up on it first.) What is the topic that inspired this thought? Well, it turns out that not only were most of the horrible conditions reported in New Orleans false, they were off by orders of magnitude. Large numbers of rapes, including children? Nope. Hundreds of dead in the Superdome? Nope. Murders and attacks on rescue workers by the boatload? Nope, just a few isolated incidents. Looting on a grand scale? Well, there was obviously some, but at this point I'm going to guess that the looting was far more confined than reported.

Why did I fall for this? Well, when you have the media and the politicians both reporting the same thing, over and over again, it sounds pretty plausible. They are, after all, on site or getting information from people on site (like police officers and rescue workers). That's pretty heavy evidence. I already discount any story with known poisoned sources (that is, sources with a known agenda whose purposes would be served by the story in question), or with only a single source, or with only unnamed source or only one named source. But these stories appeared to have dozens of sources behind them.

But here's what apparently actually happened to generate those news stories:

  • Something bad happened. A person died at the Superdome, or a person was raped, or looters fired at rescue workers in one place.
  • In the fragmented connectivity of the rescue community, with the police radio system underwater and the other services frequently not being able to talk directly to each other, tales of such an event spread by the telephone system, one person to another with some level of distortion (generally embellishment) at every stage, and many stages.
  • Eventually, a horrible rumor was to be heard in the lunch lines where the police or rescue workers were grabbing a bite and taking a break: 200 bodies were in the Superdome (there were 6, plus 4 more in the surrounding streets) or 40 bodies in the freezer at the Convention Center (there were 4, only one of which was murdered), or kids were being raped (unsubstantiated at this time), or rescue workers were getting shot at (wildly exaggerated).
  • Reporters passed the rumors on as established fact. I can remember at least one case, I think on CNN [UPDATE: Nope, Times-Picayune report], of a reporter saying he had seen the bodies in the freezer at the Convention Center. Again, the "reporters" were not filing reports, but telling stories, with their own embellishments added.
  • Government officials, unable to communicate with their own people with any speed or reliability or clarity, would ask them if the reports were true, and get something like, "I heard that from some of the Coast Guard guys." The politicians would then confirm the story to the press.
  • The press would then report the story as confirmed.

Like I said, shame on me for believing that our incompetent press could get a story right even in our own country.

UPDATE: Just to drive the point home, it's not just the stories, but the photographs, too. (And, certainly, the video.) Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for that link.

Posted by jeff at 3:38 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 26, 2005

No, No; It's Worse Than That

Francis Porretto talks about the necessity of supporting software after the product is released, and the concomitant effects on the programmers caused by managers' failure to understand that necessity beforehand — or often afterwards. But it's actually worse than that. Consider the proper way to design and release software, the Holy Grail of the software engineering movement (in contrast to programming, which is an art):

  1. Gather business requirements.

    This is the process of getting the information from the people making money for the company, or doing the organization's business, as to what their problem is and what would constitute a suitable solution to that problem. These requirements are ideally listed in a set form including several methods of organization (requirement type, originator, urgency, and so forth), and should include a concrete use case (that is, a statement of what a user would be doing to cause the requirement to come about, and how the software should react in that case). This is how you understand the organization's — your customer's — goal.

  2. Develop technical requirements.

    This is the process of determining how to meet the customer's business requirements. Technical requirements are the things that must be done to create a system that fulfills the customer's business requirements. In particular, this requires that each technical requirement note which business requirements caused it to come into existence, and whether the technical requirement is necessary, sufficient or both to meet that requirement. Each technical requirement must include a test case, that is, a list of instructions of things to do in the completed program, and what result should be found from doing so. This is your strategy for meeting the customer's needs. These should be reviewed by the customer and signed off as valid prior to beginning any development.

  3. Develop a project plan.

    This is your plan for implementing your strategy in code or system (usually some mix) form. It should include a detailed list of tasks, each of which notes which tasks must be complete before that task can be begun and/or completed, whether those tasks are milestones (significant events to be reported to the customer, usually triggering further review and approvals processes), what resources (including money, people, hardware, building space and so forth) are necessary to begin and/or complete that task, and the anticipated duration of the task. The development of the plan is what allows you to set a budget and an estimated completion date, along with known or estimated error probabilities so that projects contingent on the completion of this project can plan for contingencies. All of your time estimates should be very conservative, or you will be blindsided by events (like when an employee wins the lottery and the project gets set back because you have to find a replacement, or if a backup fails at a critical time).

  4. Develop the product

    This is the process of executing tasks to complete the plan. This process is managed by a project manager, usually the same one who developed the plan, whose job includes doing whatever is necessary to complete the project on time and on budget with the committed resources. This also includes, in any reasonably complex project, numerous project reviews and sometimes in-line changes to the business requirements, and the associated adaptation of the strategy and plan.

  5. Testing the product to requirements.

    This is the process of putting the product through each test case of each technical requirement, and then through each use case of each business requirement, to ensure that the project's goals have been met. There are different types of testing, but all of them come down to verification that the project is complete and correct.


This is how projects should work. All too often, this is how projects actually work:
  • The IT director has a budget set in advance of the current year, usually based on a vague notion of what projects will need to be done. Many of the projects only have a name, with no actual description beyond that.
  • The IT director talks to someone in the business, or sometimes just gets a notion into his head, and kicks off an IT project in response. The initial email and perhaps a few follow-up meetings between the IT directory and an IT manager constitute the "business requirements".
  • The IT manager goes to the project manager and architect, and tells them what technology base to implement on, what final date (and frequently intermediate dates) to hit, and what resources they have to use.
  • The project manager and architect scramble to fit a project into that schedule that meets the requirements, such as they are, as best they can manage. This usually involves cutting functionality, misunderstandings, shortcuts, bad programming practices, failure to document and many other problems.
  • The software is delivered, generally on time or close to it, and the business once again wonders what the point of an IT department is, after all. Outsourcing decisions are often made at this point.

If you find yourself on an IT project where the deadlines and budget were made before the project was designed, the odds are that the project is going to be a failure — often an expensive failure — even if it delivers on time and on budget, because the odds of such a project meeting the business requirements, performance expectations and being maintainable and having many reusable components are vanishingly small at that point.

Oh, and another tip, embrace the use of open source software, people, for infrastructural bits of code like logging, database access and so on. For that matter, embrace open source applications where they are useful and have large enough user communities to ensure their future development. It will save a lot of time and money spent reimplementing things that are already solved problems.

Posted by jeff at 11:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Naming Conventions

Jay Tea is trying to figure out, if the other side in the Western debate about what to do about terrorism is called "anti-war", what should the side that favors freedom be called? Jay Tea suggests that "pro-freedom is too vague" (and I concur), and that therefore "pro-victory" would be good. I have what I believe to be a better suggestion: how about "anti-tyranny"? After all, we aren't looking for victory over the enemy for the sake of victory over the enemy, but for the sake of advancing freedom and thereby ending tyranny in all its forms.

If you're trying to define the terms of the debate, make the "anti-war" guys explain why war is more horrible than tyranny, rather than anti-tyranny people having to explain why war is sometimes necessary.

There is an older term, much in use in the United States during the Revolution but since having become too politically overloaded to use (so overloaded, in fact, that I cannot myself take on the name): republican.

Posted by jeff at 12:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Perils of Not Reading History

Mark Safranski of ZenPundit notes a RAND analyst's testimony before Congress on Chinese asymmetrical warfare doctrine. Since I lived in Taiwan for four years, and remember it fondly, I've always taken an interest in the Chinese approach to Taiwan. (This is also an area that, it would be remiss to neglect, Brian J. Dunn covers extensively.)

China's current thinking is somewhat disturbing, in the same sense that watching an approaching trainwreck is somewhat disturbing. It's apparent that the Chinese have neglected some basic history:

If China waits for a militarily superior adversary to commence hostilities, it will be difficult for China to seize the initiative and the adversary will likely have the preponderance of forces as well. If, by contrast, China initiates a conflict before an adversary attacks, China can seize the initiative and may also enjoy an initial advantage in the local balance of forces. Finally, preemption greatly increases the chances of successfully achieving surprise. In the context of a conflict between the United States and China, the value accorded to preemption in Chinese military doctrinal writings suggests that, on the presumption that the United States will inevitability intervene in a conflict with Taiwan, China might initiate hostilities by first attacking U.S. forces in the region, even before it has attacked Taiwan.

Moreover:
At least some Chinese military analysts believe that the United States is sensitive to casualties and economic costs and that the sudden destruction of a significant portion of our forces would result in a severe psychological shock and a loss of will to continue the conflict. [This] suggests a belief that a preemptive surprise attack on U.S. forces in the Pacific theater could cause the United States to avoid further combat with China.

I was going to say something snarky here about remembering the past or being doomed to repeat it, but I'll let Roger Cliff (the RAND analyst) have the say on that:
It does not need to be pointed out to this panel that the last time such a strategy was attempted in the Pacific the ultimate results were not altogether favorable for the country that tried it, but the Chinese military doctrinal writings we examined in this study did not acknowledge the existence of such historical counterexamples.

But that's not the only counterexample. Consider, for example, the attack of 9/11. That attack was compared immediately to the Pearl Harbor attack, both in its destructiveness and in its effect upon the nation. Even in our current cultural daze, with the ex-hippies (and sometimes not so ex-) largely in charge of society, the 9/11 attack was enough to get the United States to overthrow not only the government most responsible for the 9/11 attack, but also another that was strategically convenient. It would be, um, unwise for the Chinese to think that a preemptive attack on the United States would be met with a collapse of American will. Indeed, I can think of nothing China could do that would more enrage the US than, say, sinking a carrier off of Japan; or destroying the airbase at Guam; or using submarines to block the entrances to Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka, and the Panama Canal; or attacking those bases outright to eliminate their logistical and communications utility. China would get less reaction from the US by just attacking Taiwan directly, which is something the US will not stand for. But if China attacked Taiwan directly, we would be likely to stop with throwing back the invasion/attack and bottling up China until it stops fighting. Were China to preemptively attack the Pacific Fleet, I believe that the United States would not stop until the rightful Chinese government was restored to rule over all of its rebellious mainland provinces. Or until the Chinese mainland was a smoking heap of largely-depopulated ash, should China wish to be particularly stupid and destructive.

Yet that appears to be what China is considering:

[A RAND] analysis of Chinese military doctrinal writings identified a number of specific tactics that could affect the ability of the United States to deploy and maintain forces in the Western Pacific in the event of a conflict with China. These tactics include attacks on air bases; aircraft carriers; command, communications, information, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and facilities; and logistics, transportation, and support facilities.

I really hope that the Chinese strategists read up on the history of American reaction to surprise attacks before attempting such a strategy. China has an old and often beautiful culture, and it would be a shame to have it survive only in American Chinatowns.

Posted by jeff at 12:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 24, 2005

Fantasy Football Week 2

Before week 3 begins, I should update week 2.

It was another good week for the Black Riders, defeating the Texas Twisters 148.3 to 110. My score was, again, second highest for the week trailing the Norsemen for the second week in a row. Add to that my bench scoring of 109, best of the week and 16 more than the second highest total. I had the highest potential score and highest total for the entire roster (32.3 more than the Norsemen). These are signs of a very strong roster. I am now 2-0, leading the Landry division. I also lead in the power rankings.

The Ring Wraiths did not fare as well, though, losing a heartbreaker 64-62. The powerful combination of Tiki Barber and Shaun Alexander proved too much to overcome. Alas, had I only used Carson Palmer over Tom Brady. I liked Palmer's matchup better, but I have learned over time that it's usually better to play the player, not the matchup. Not this time though. I am now 1-1 and in third place in the league. Next up, the 2-0 Heathens - highest scoring team in the league (I'm second).

Posted by Brian at 11:50 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Mister Schmuck, the Hero

Here is the story of an American hero.

Posted by jeff at 7:11 PM | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

"Nuance!!! I need nuance!!!"

Brian Dunn notices a contradiction: if driving the terrorists from Afghanistan is bad because they're harder to find, then why is drawing them to Iraq where they are concentrated bad, and vice versa?

Posted by jeff at 5:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Emergent Disease

OK, this is just cool. Apparently, a virus — in the disease sense — has unexpectedly broken out in the Worlds of Warcraft MMORPG. (hat tip:tdaxp) What a great demonstration of disease transmission and unintended consequences.

Posted by jeff at 5:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

On the Other Side

I suppose I should be reassured that the media are not utterly stupid, and actually know they are being manipulated, but are OK with that. I probably would be reassured, except that at least some, and likely almost all, of the reporters know that what they are doing is helping the enemy to win. If you don't believe me, read this excerpt of an interview with the author of one of Time's latest hit pieces against the war effort.

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Smart Publicity Move

OK, this is smart: the promoters of Serenity are offering free screenings to bloggers who sign up here. Karl has already seen a preview, IIRC, but Brian can't say now that he didn't know.

Posted by jeff at 3:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

Breaking Things

Jack Kelly at Irish Pennants thinks it's time for Rumsfeld to go:

Rummy must go chiefly because of his management style. He tends to treat subordinates -- including general officers -- as if they were small children. Some of Rumsfeld's "snowflakes" and dressings down were necessary in the beginning, to shock the military out of complacent old ways. But it is disrespectful.

Rumsfeld is smarter than almost anyone he encounters. The problem is he is too well aware of this. He is more interested in giving orders than in listening to advice. In this way he reminds me of Douglas MacArthur, a brilliant general so awed by his own brilliance he accomplished less than more modest generals Marshall and Eisenhower.

Rumsfeld shares another failing with MacArthur. MacArthur preferred a staff of sycophantish mediocrities. To the very limited extent he relies on anyone for advice, Rumsfeld relies on a coterie of intellectuals who military experience is zero, and whose management experience isn't much greater.

Rumsfeld manages from crisis to crisis. Subordinates are to drop what they're doing and respond immediately to whatever is his "snowflake" for the day. This is exhausting, bad for morale, and a poor way to develop long range plans.


Mark Safranski at ZenPundit notes something important about the senior military command structure:
Powell's generation of officers also became exceptionally risk-averse to expeditionary missions that smacked of nation-building or counterinsurgency, preferring to be prepared to fight only " Big wars" against Warsaw Pact opponents. Where the previous generation of general officers had presented a can-do face to presidential requests from JFK and LBJ, the new rising corps of generals and admirals struck the pose of Cassandra, warning of impending doom and searching to find the magic number of troops to request to kill any desire of the White House or Congress to intervene anywhere.

[snip]

Beyond the brass where the critical decisions are made by men whose formative experiences on the battlefield were almost two generations earlier are the civilian appointees at the DoD, in the White House and on Congressional staffs. Quick to micromanage but loathe to accept responsibility for the actions of field commanders following instructions from Washington, civilians need to accept their role of providing leadership by making( and standing behind) the tough political decisions, setting broad strategic goals and granting sufficient discretion to carry out the policy objectives.

Finally, most of all, civilian leadership must accept the responsibility when things sometimes go wrong, as they inevitably do in battle, instead of leaving low-ranking soldiers and officers twisting in the wind. Properly directed and supported, given realistic and specific objectives, the U.S. military will move heaven and earth to accomplish their mission.


I think Mark points out why it is that Rumsfeld has been — and continues to be — so important. The generals and staff officers that Franks called, in his autobiography, "Title X Motherfuckers" are the ones who are bitterly opposed to Rumsfeld. It is they who argue and complain when changes come, and determinedly resist any attempts to take a fresh look at the system as it is working now.

And it is that part of the system that Rumsfeld most needs to break apart. It is that part of the system that is fundamentally broken. In the long term, the reorganization of the Army into Brigade Units of Action, with divisions acting like corps used to, is less important than the efforts to change the procurement process so that decisions take less than two years to reach the field. This means, actually, cutting out whole layers and columns of bureaucrats — mostly bureaucrats in uniform — and that means that a lot of long-established ways of doing things need to be swept away. That the reasons for those ways of doing things are no longer applicable is not the kind of thinking that bureaucrats are known for doing well.

So I have to disagree with Jack, and say that Rumsfeld should stay. It's precisely because he is making people uncomfortable and shaking things up that he is so necessary. Rumsfeld would not be a good SecDef in an environment where things are working well. But things are not working well in several parts of the Pentagon that do not directly deal with combat in the field, because they are still stuck in a Cold War and static slogging mentality, and Rumsfeld is doing the right things to fix that.

Posted by jeff at 6:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Preparations

When Hurricane Rita comes ashore, it is likely to pass East of Dallas. That's still close enough, though, that even if Rita follows the expected track and falls off in strength as expected, we're going to get a lot of rain and some notable winds. That means that it's likely that we'll have power outages. (A transformer blew earlier today, and the electric company came out to replace it. Stephanie deemed it "practice failure" for TXU. They've been better lately, but in my experience they don't really need the practice.)

To be ready if the power does go out, we fueled the van and decided on two different evacuation routes going in different directions. We got extra water, batteries, flashlights (for the kids, so they won't drain the important one playing), food that can be eaten uncooked like fruit and pop tarts, and a camp stove and fuel (which we needed anyway, because the older kids just joined the Boy Scouts). When I was in the local supermarket getting some last bits of this, the checkout lady said that they were selling a lot of water, and you couldn't get D cell batteries in the store any more. I saw a lot of people out doing the same kinds of things I was doing, a good two days in advance of when the storm will likely get here.

I don't know how much of the preparations people are making around here have to do with watching the aftermath of Katrina, but it's a good thing nonetheless to see people preparing.

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Understanding Iraq

While Time Magazine asks if we've already lost in Iraq, Bill Roggio shows the intricate series of attacks we are mounting on the enemy in his centers of strength. Note where we are fighting now: not in the South-central part of Iraq, but deep in the terrorist and insurgent rear areas. And note the kind of fighting we are doing: no longer simple sweeps, but targeted strikes on leaders and key infrastructure, combined with clear and hold operations (that is to say, denial of territory to the enemy) in enemy strongholds.

Chester, meanwhile, demonstrates the disconnect between real events and the reporting of the events, and Belmont Club explains the disconnect more succinctly:

The news coverage of Iraq frequently fails to convey the cumulative linkage of military events in that country. Operations are often reported in a disconnected fashion, as if some operations officer got up in the morning and asked 'what are we going to attack today?', and then troops rush out to do whatever just occurred to them. Worse, definite types of military operations on both sides, whether car bombing, cordon and search, precision strike, etc. are often described according to some political theme -- 'standing up for freedom', 'deepening quagmire', 'the body bags mount', 'reduced to high altitude bombing' -- and the reader gets no sense of the logic behind the events. Both the US Armed Forces and the enemy are led by experienced professionals schooled in the operational art; and if we can be sure of nothing else, we can be certain that their acts have a specific military intent which often does not correspond to the themes articulated by some talking heads. Whether one is on the Left or the Right, it should be abundantly clear that we are watching the battle for the Syrian border and for the control of the Euphrates and Tigris river lines. No matter whose side you're on, you should know what game you are in.

I don't understand, really, why it is that the MSM is not learning from its mistakes. They should have realized after Afghanistan that the narrative being conveyed (aggressive and incompetent US bogged down in hopeless mountain war against hardened native defenders) did not match the reality. Instead, they found flaws and imperfections to nitpick. They should have realized after the Iraq invasion was completed that the narrative being conveyed (aggressive and incompetent US bogged down in hopeless desert war against hardened defending troops) did not match the reality. Instead, they found flaws and imperfections to nitpick. They should have realized by now that the battle to defeat the terrorists and Ba'athist remanants in Iraq does not match the narrative (aggressive and incompetent US bogged down in hopeless desert war against hardened insurgents fighting to defend their freedom [to kill the rest of the Iraqis, but that's never stated] aided by heroic foreign fighters [terrorists who slaughter women and children in houses of worship, but that's never stated]) does not match the reality. Instead, they focus on police blotter coverage and disconnected incidents while avoiding any systematic look at the big picture.

Eventually, reality overwhelms narrative, and the media has some huge narrative failures to account for.

Posted by jeff at 8:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

Bad Law is Bad Law

And some laws are bad enough they deserve to be fisked. The HoNDA law is most assuredly one of them: take an activity over which the Federal government is given no control (in this case, education of children by their own parents), and specify to the States how since the Federal government doesn't control it, the States have to. Oh, the government is here to protect us, so they claim. Yeah, right. Can't we just keep the government out of any new areas of regulation? And while we're at it, can't we get them out of some that they are in, so that there's a chance that those areas can also actually succeed?

As a wise man once said, the power to tax is the power to destroy. And the power to regulate is the core of the power to tax. HoNDA needs to die.

Posted by jeff at 6:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Back to the Future

Transterrestrial Musings has a link to pictures — big ones — of NASA's return to the Moon spacecraft. Wait a moment: where have I seen these before? It looks (not just from the pictures, but from what details have emerged of the plan) like this is going to be a pure rework of Apollo, but NEW! and DIFFERENT!. In other words, the marketing guys have taken over the planning.

In a sense, it's kind of inevitable that NASA should go this way, and it's not altogether bad, either. Inevitable because the chief determinant of the mission's structure is not technological, nor based on long-term planning, but political: this is just more flags and footprints. Admittedly, more footprints made over more days, but essentially the same idea. There is apparently some desire to work towards a long-range capability to sustain a lunar base, and to try out technologies for a manned mission to Mars, but Apollo had those too. Not altogether bad, because the primary new idea is combining Earth Orbit Rendezvous — now well-practiced, unlike in the Apollo days — with the rest of the Apollo structure; thus it is likely that this plan will work quite smoothly, assuming funding and focus are maintained.

On the other hand, it's not likely that this program will survive more landings than Apollo, and for much the same reasons, and it's exceedingly unlikely that this will lead to a permanent manned presence on the Moon or Mars, or at least, not such a presence that is available to ordinary (non-government employee) mortals. Nor will the cost structure be likely to approach the low numbers that will be necessary to make an outmigration possible.

So, pretty, and I'll be watching, but I'm still betting on the private space industry to be the ones to make human settlement of space possible.

UPDATE: Interesting and somewhat related discussion at Econbrowser. The comments are good, even with massive amounts of missing the point.

Posted by jeff at 6:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Why the Optimism?

Anyone believing a word of what North Korea says about anything is, as Scrappleface points out, deluded. So I cannot understand all the congratulations in conservative circles about the agreement signed by the North Koreans, which after all only promises the same things the North Koreans promised in 1994, the breaking of which promises got us into the current situation. Is it just the desire to proclaim a triumph for President Bush, at a time when his domestic political support is perceived to be weak? Bat One, writing at Pennywit, gets it exactly right.

Posted by jeff at 6:23 PM | TrackBack

Captain No More

CPT 4ever is, after some 9 years, no longer a Captain. He was officially promoted last week, and the ceremony to pin on his oak leaves was today. (He's not changing the name on the blog, though.) Sadly, the intensity of his training is such that, at present, the Major cannot post about his experiences right now. Hopefully, we'll get a brain dump when time permits.

Congratulations, Major B.

Posted by jeff at 5:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Constitution Day

I had forgotten about it being Constitution Day recently, until Steph noted it last night. I was going to rant a little about it, until I found Rusty Shackleford beat me to it. Actually, he didn't make one point quite strongly enough: a day to celebrate the Constitution is only as meaningful as the Constitution. Given the Supreme Court's rape of the Constitution over the last 70 years, combined with our willing accession to that process, the Constitution is meaningless, and so the day is meaningless.

Steph's take is funnier.

Posted by jeff at 12:57 PM | TrackBack

Dry Cleaner: INXS

OK, if you have been watching Rock Star: INXS, put down your drink and swallow before you take a look at this.

By the way, not that anyone needs to be told that reality shows suck, but Rock Star: INXS would have been much more interesting if they had dropped the whole "reality" thing, had the performers live in a hotel and do the clinics and what not, and just come out and sing. The extra time could have been used to be a bit more professional, like making all of the singers pick 5 songs and do a mini-concert, to see if they could (a) pick good songs that go together and (b) maintain their voices through more than a song or two.

Posted by jeff at 9:44 AM | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

A Kind of Surrender

So Burger King is changing the design of their ice cream cone lids because the design vaguely resembles an Arabic inscription for Allah. (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds) Better go get the breakfast biscuits with sausage now, if you like them, because it's only a matter of time that any serving of pork so offends some Muslims that further "sensitive and prompt action" will be needed.

Look, there are some things that we've forgotten in our haste to over-democratize everything. One of these is that the freedom to speak, to express an idea, is indeed a prerequisite for political freedom, but this does not imply that all ideas are equally worthy of respect once expressed. We have entire branches of knowledge designed to winnow the useful ideas from the crappy ideas. (Sadly, they often produce more bad ideas than they dismiss.) We must begin to defend our ideas, traditions and ways of thought against those who would tell us what we may and may not express, even if doing so offends them. Otherwise, we will find our range of "allowed" expression even more narrowed than it already has been from the decades of PC overreach. And eventually, newspeak won't even be necessary to ensure that we cannot express anything more complex than "nice weather today".

Posted by jeff at 8:07 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Cindy Sheehan - Uber Moonbat

Ah Cindy Sheehan, how we've missed your lunacy. Yes, a damn shame Katrina knocked your increasingly shrill ranting out of the news (even the NY Times). It's good to see you've found an outlet for hunting your white whale, though. Arianna's is a nice meeting place for all you poor, angry, loons.

For those looking for a laugh, or to be disgusted, depending on your usual reactions to idiot lefties check out Cindy's embarassing post here.

Be amazed by Cindy's seeming lack of understanding that a hurricane hit New Orleans:

"I was prepared to be shocked by what I saw in Louisiana, but I guess one can never really fully prepare for such devastation and tragedy. After living in a country your entire life it is so difficult to see such callous indifference on an immense scale." (Can a hurricane show callous indifference?)

"Tens of thousands of families in our country have been devastated because of the incompetence and callousness of our so-called leadership." (not from the hurricane, mind you)

"If George Bush truly listened to God and read the words of the Christ, Iraq and the devastation in New Orleans would have never happened." (Oh how I've missed you Cindy!)

Thrill to see Cindy tell numerous lies: (according to Cindy's own definition that any statement that may be inaccurate is a lie whether intenional or not, i.e. WMD)

"The people in LA who were displaced have nice, if modest homes that are perfectly fine." (please ignore all those scenes of destroyed homes; they are, in fact, perfectly fine)

"The government declared martial law..." (absolutely false! Martial law was never declared.)

"Sand bags were removed from private property to make machine gun nests." (While I don't know the truth of this, it sounds very dubious.)

"When our fellow citizens are told to "shoot to kill" other fellow citizens because they want to stay alive, that is military and governmental fascism gone out of control." (The government gave citizens "shoot to kill" orders? Riiiiight!)

"... we were helping Americans. Just because their government abandoned them, we shouldn't feed them and give them medicine and supplies?" (All the thousands of gov't employees in NO would be surprised to hear how they abandoned the people, especially from someone who just got there today.)

Be afraid of her confusing complaining:

"I wonder why the government made them leave at great expense and uproot families who have been living in their communities for generations."

"The stench and the destruction are unbelievable. I saw some hurricane zones in the panhandle of Florida last year that were pretty bad but that couldn't have prepared me for this."

"Even though Algiers came through Katrina relatively unscathed, our federal government tried to force (mostly successfully) the people out of the community."

"Malik said the lawlessness was rampant. People were running out of food and water and they were being forced to go to the Superdome."

"They didn't want to go to the Superdome, because their homes were pretty intact: they wanted to stay and have food and water brought to them."

"The die hards were rewarded last Wednesday when the VFP rolled into town with food and water. The Camp Casey III people were the first ones to bring any relief to Algiers. The people who were supposed to look after its citizens, our government, failed them."

Let me get this straight. Our gov't failed the die hards of a lawless town that was relatively unscathed, yet running out of food and water, by ordering them to a centralized location instead of providing them door-to-door delivery service. Damn you George Bush! How could you ignore the plight of a small number of people in a relatively unscathed town who were stubbornly refusing to leave, insisting instead that supplies be brought to them? You heartless bastard! It's not like there were stranded, ill, disabled, and/or elderly adults and children that were incapable of evacuating the New Orleans area that required more immediate attention, you jerk!

And finally, try to contain your laughter at these random Sheehan tidbits:

"One thing that truly troubled me about my visit to Louisiana was the level of the military presence there. I imagined before that if the military had to be used in a CONUS (Continental US) operations that they would be there to help the citizens: Clothe them, feed them, shelter them, and protect them. But what I saw was a city that is occupied. I saw soldiers walking around in patrols of 7 with their weapons slung on their backs. I wanted to ask one of them what it would take for one of them to shoot me." (Casey would be so proud of his mom, don't you think? But at least she supports the troops.)

"If I had a store with an inventory of insured belongings, and a tragedy happened, I would fling my doors open and tell everyone to take what they need..." (Nothing like advocating insurance fraud, huh, Cindy?)

"George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans..."

Cindy, please never leave us again.


Posted by Brian at 10:00 PM | TrackBack

September 13, 2005

Fantasy Football Week 1

Yeah, there are a lot of important things going on in the world, and here I am finding time only to blog about my fantasy teams. I can't even find time to blog about my OU Sooners. Oh well, you guys can handle all the important stuff; I'll stick to football.

So Week 1 in the MCFFL and my Black Riders have come away victorious defeating the always dangerous Marksmen. It's a good start for my team that finished in the cellar last year. We are having some kinks in the new league software but the final score looks like it will be 124-95. The 124 points is second only to the defending champion Norsemen's 134. My crucial plays were Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson and Randy McMichael. A good sign is that I also had the most bench points (97), 11 more than the next guy, and the most potential points (148). My hindsight play would have been Larry Fitzgerald over Donald Driver. The concerns I have - Javon Walker's injury. That will probably hurt Brett Favre's value. Donald Driver now becomes the number one receiver, but that means he'll also face better CB's and possibly some double coverage. Thankfully, I'm deep at receiver.

In my yahoo league, my Ring Wraiths dominated, winning our game 91-61. The 91 points was best in the league, 20 more than the next highest total. The key plays - Randy Moss, Rian Lindell (who woulda known?) and the Pittsburgh defense. My hindsight plays - Keenan McCardell and Larry Fitzgerald over Isaac Bruce and Eddie Kennison. My concerns - RB. Steven Jackson had a mediocre game. My backups are Mike Anderson (injured), Cedric Benson (being eased into offense), and Marshall Faulk (did next to nothing as a reserve). I need Jackson to perform until Benson becomes the number one guy so that I'll have options.

Posted by Brian at 5:53 PM | TrackBack

Interesting Idea

It seems that the South Koreans are going to dramatically shrink their military, on the theory that North Korea will collapse, and in the time between now and the collapse will be unable to attack the South:

The politicians, and most of the voters, believe it is inevitable that the communist government in North Korea will eventually collapse, and no longer be a threat. The reform plan, which has been in the works for years, will take fifteen years to complete. But by 2020 the army would have six corps instead of 13, twenty divisions instead of 47 and 26 percent fewer troops (500,000 instead of 680,000). The reserves would be reduced even more, from 3 million to 1.5 million. Conscription would not be eliminated, but it would be used less. The army would provide higher pay for the Special Forces (sort of like the U.S. Rangers), to encourage volunteers. Conscripts who wanted to make the army a career, would immediately receive much higher pay once they agreed to stay in, when their conscription service was over. Ultimately, an all-volunteer forces would be preferred.

At first blush, this looks a lot like what the US did in the aftermath of the Cold War (to our later regret, as we now have far fewer troops with which to take on our enemies, leaving us able to handle only one occupation at a time). But there is a significant difference: our main enemy was gone at the end of the Cold War, and North Korea still exists. It's an interesting idea to significantly reduce your forces in the face of a determined and nuclear armed enemy, and it may work, since North Korea is undeniably teetering on the brink of collapse, and their armed forces, though large, are increasingly incapable of normal operations, and increasingly outclassed in training and equipment.

There is one very good thing about this, though: clearly, we don't need to keep our troops in Korea, if the Koreans themselves think that there are too many troops there.

Posted by jeff at 7:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 11, 2005

9/11

Four years later, Joe Katzman provides a remembrance full of links and thoughts.

Posted by jeff at 8:01 AM | TrackBack

September 9, 2005

Distributed Responsibility

One of the things that is bad about traveling on contracts is that it's hard to blog when I'm doing so. There never seems to be enough time to fully form my thoughts. Fortunately, one of the posts I've been meaning to write, about how we should be decentralizing rather than centralizing our disaster preparedness, has been written. As Steph noted, depending entirely on the government is a bad idea.

Now, if anyone cares to observe upon how our fetish of blaming the President for any problem - as if he alone were the Prime Mover in the world - shows our affinity for Kings, that would save me some effort, as well.

Posted by jeff at 5:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 8, 2005

Tribes

It is remarkably rare for someone to pen an essay, making a deliberate point, only to have clear cut evidence in favor of their point arrive within days. Here is Bill Whittle on September 5:

Only a few minutes ago, I had the delightful opportunity to read the comment of a fellow who said he wished that white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself could have been herded into the Superdome Concentration Camp to see how much we like it. Absent, of course, was the fundamental truth of what he plainly does not have the eyes or the imagination to see, namely, that if the Superdome had been filled with white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself, it would not have been a refinery of horror, but rather a citadel of hope and order and restraint and compassion.

That has nothing to do with me being white. If the blacks and Hispanics and Jews and gays that I work with and associate with were there with me, it would have been that much better. That’s because the people I associate with – my Tribe – consists not of blacks and whites and gays and Hispanics and Asians, but of individuals who do not rape, murder, or steal. My Tribe consists of people who know that sometimes bad things happen, and that these are an opportunity to show ourselves what we are made of. My people go into burning buildings. My Tribe consists of organizers and self-starters, proud and self-reliant people who do not need to be told what to do in a crisis. My Tribe is not fearless; they are something better. They are courageous. My Tribe is honorable, and decent, and kind, and inventive. My Tribe knows how to give orders, and how to follow them. My Tribe knows enough about how the world works to figure out ways to boil water, ration food, repair structures, build and maintain makeshift latrines, and care for the wounded and the dead with respect and compassion.


And here, courtesy of InstaPundit, is The Baltimore Sun on September 7:
When their homes began to sink in Katrina's floodwaters, elders in the quarter here known as Uptown gathered their neighbors to seek refuge at the Samuel J. Green Charter School, the local toughs included.

But when the thugs started vandalizing the place - wielding guns and breaking into vending machines - Vance Anthion put them out, literally tossing them into the fetid waters. Anthion stayed awake at night after that, protecting the inhabitants of the school from looters or worse.

"They know me," he said. "If a man come up in here, we take care of him."

In the week after Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, Anthion and others created a society that defied the local gangs, the National Guard and even the flood.

Inside the school, it was quiet, cool and clean. They converted a classroom into a dining room and, when a reporter arrived Monday, were serving a lunch of spicy red beans and rice. A table nearby overflowed with supplies: canned spaghetti, paper towels, water and Gatorade, salt, hot sauce, pepper.

At its peak last Wednesday, 40 people called the second and third floors home. The bottom floor was under water. Most of those taking up residence at the school were family, friends and neighbors of the poor, forgotten niches of this community.

As the days passed, most chose to be evacuated by the Coast Guard who, they said, came every day to help ferry out the elderly and sick, and to leave water, food and clean clothes for whose who preferred to stay.

[snip]

In the week after Katrina devoured the Gulf Coast they ate, slept and bathed here, aided by the Coast Guard supplies. Men slept on the third floor, women on the second, using blankets and cots they brought from home.

It all worked out according to the plan of Allen Smith, 55, a Persian Gulf war veteran known to the group as "Sarge." Before Katrina pummeled the area, he advised neighbors to seek shelter in the school.

Sarge said he knew the school he had once attended would be safe and at least the third floor would remain dry. That's what happened when Hurricane Betsy devastated New Orleans in 1965. Sarge, who was 15 at the time, joined his family and about 200 other people who used the school for shelter.

"I just took the idea from them," said Sarge. "And it worked."

So as Katrina made its approach on New Orleans, they gathered blankets and canned food, bleach and cleaning supplies, a radio and a good supply of batteries, and began moving their stash to the school. They decided to rely on the building's supply of paper towels and toilet paper.

In the days after the storm, the Samuel J. Green school also served as their base for helping others in the neighborhood.

They waded through filthy water to bring elderly homebound neighbors bowls of soup, bread and drinks. They helped the old and the sick to the school rooftop, so the Coast Guard could pluck them to safety by helicopter - 18 people in all.


It's not about race or money or education. It's not about politics or religion or luck. The difference between mere survival - or not even that - and thriving in a place of chaos is about character and civilization and ideas. Those who have them thrive. Those who don't wait on the government, and cry at its absence and its faults, even while they are being carried on the backs of those stronger and better than themselves.

Do not get me wrong: there are a lot of innocent victims for whom I feel. I am not speaking of them. What I am speaking of is the deliberate victims, those whose only idea of help is from the outside, rather than from themselves, who dream of rescue instead of helping others even though they are not in the worst straits of those around them. There is a type of person that really wants to be ruled, and they will always be in great danger whenever they are required to govern themselves.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who, in the face of chaos and danger and loss, simply decide that they will be human today, and will help themselves today, and will help others today. And those people we must cherish, because it is they who provide the strength of will that sustains all of us.

Posted by jeff at 5:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 6, 2005

Fantasy Football Draft #2

So this year, I decided to have two teams. It's been a few years since I've had more than one. This one is just for fun, on Yahoo!

First thought ... wow! I've almost forgotten what it's like to have every player available to draft. Much different than my keeper league.

I am given the sixth pick (out of ten). Ok, let's roll. Well, first five picks have eliminated top two QB's and top three RB's. I take Randy Moss. Personally, I rank him behind Owens and Harrison, but it's one of those gut feelings.

Round two and RB's are flying off the board. I take Rudi Johnson.

Round three and I need another back before the best are all gone. Unbelievably to me, Steven Jackson is still available. I snatch him up fast!

Round four and I need WR's. Yahoo uses three starters at the postion! That's alot, so it's important to get good ones. But QB's are disappearing fast. I target Favre but he goes three picks before my turn. I settle for Tom Brady. I'm ok with that.

Round five and I still need WR's, but sometimes you just have to go with best player available, so I take Mike Anderson instead. Interestingly Tatum Bell went at the end of round four.

Round six, and damn but there has been a run on TE's. I abandon my plan for a WR and take Alge Crumpler to make sure I get a good one. That's too high for a TE.

Round seven and I can't pass on WR any longer. I luck out and get good value at this point with Isaac Bruce.

Round eight and I still need a third WR to start! I take Larry Fitzgerald. Funny how I seem to end up with a few common players when I have more than one team.

Round nine, and there is still a high value RB on the board, so I snatch him up - Cedric Benson. This may be a steal at this point.

Round ten and WR is still important for depth. I take Eddie Kennison. In a league where so many receivers get drafted I think this is a great value pick.

Round 11 and it's time for a backup QB - Carson Palmer.

Round 12 and as much as I like to wait on K and Def, supply and demand forces me to go defense and take Pittsburgh.

Round 13 and I need at least one more WR, preferably two. I zero in on Charles Rogers, but he goes three picks before me. I take Keenan McCardell. Boy do I need another WR, especially with Moss and Kennison sharing a bye week.

Round 14 and there are no worthy WR's in my eye. Oh well, maybe one will emerge before the bye week, or one will get cut, or a trade will be available, or McCardell with be worth a start. Regardless, I go RB instead and take Marshall Faulk. I seriously debate taking Ricky Williams, but at least Faulk will be available at the start of the season.

Round 15 and K is all that's left. I'm targeting Josh Brown, but he goes eight picks before I choose. I settle for Rian Lindell. Oh well, you never know with kickers anyway. Ricky Williams? He goes three picks later, next to last.

Posted by Brian at 11:40 PM | TrackBack

Fantasy Football Draft #1

So here is an account of the draft in the more important of two leagues in which I'm participating in this year.

First, it's important to know that this is a keeper league. We have a roster of 16 and we keep four, no more than two at any position. This league also starts a combined five RB's and WR's, at least one RB but no more than three. Since RB's accumulate more points (more consistantly) than WR's and you can start three, this position is in even more in demand than in many other leagues.

Also important is a rule that we may keep a player no more than three years in a row. This was the first year that rule applied. It caused me to be unable to keep Joe Horn.

During the offseason I had two sure keepers at RB - Rudi Johnson and Clinton Portis. However I was offered Curtis Martin for my second round pick. Well, I had the first pick in the draft and knowing Martin's owner wouldn't keep him, I could have had Martin without a trade ... in theory. But there were other teams that could use Martin, so he could have potentially traded Martin to them, leaving me with a missed opportunity. So I made the deal, meaning I would have three great RB's, but could keep only two. My reasoning was that I could drop Portis, draft him first overall, and restart the three year count. This was to be his third year, meaning I could not have kept him next year. It was a big price to pay and one I felt uneasy about, but truth be told, I ranked Martin above Johnson and Portis. I also kept Brett Favre. Unable to keep Joe Horn, I had to settle for keeping Donald Driver. I wish I could have kept Horn.

We had bad news leading up to the draft. Three owners (out of ten) bailed on us and we got one new owner. Now two rosters were dumped into the draft pool. The only significant developments were that Terrell Owens and Tony Gonzalez were now available when they wouldn't have been before.

I pick first. I would love to draft Owens. There are only about seven great WR's in the league in my opinion. I only have Donald Driver. But as I said, we can start three RB's, and having three great ones is a big boon. So I'll pass on Owens. Of course Portis is available, but so is Corey Dillon whose owner already had two other great RB's, so didn't keep him, and could not find someone to trade him to. Portis means a lot to me. The year I joined this league was his rookie year and I drafted him in the second round. That year he was often the only RB I had worthy of starting. But with him and a great receiving corps, I cobbled together the best record in the league in the regular season. But I rank Dillon higher, so I make the pick - Dillon.

I've given up my second round pick for Martin, but I pick first in round three. I have three great RB's, now it's time to go WR. Middle of round two and there are three I'm looking at: Horn, Reggie Wayne, and Javon Walker. Horn and Wayne go off the board in succession. Hmm, big dilemma facing me. Walker is the best WR on the board, but I already have Favre and Driver. I don't want another Packer here. Dilemma averted. Walker is chosen with the pick I traded away. So I settle on Darrell Jackson.

Rounds four and five are coming up. I still need WR's. On draft day, I get gut feelings. I look at my rankings and decide to pass on guys for various reasons. Lower rated prospects look more attractive all of a sudden. This happens more often that not at WR. This is such an occasion. I reach down my draft board, looking for upside. I take Larry Fitzgerald. I probably have him ranked too low anyway. Now I have to go TE. This is much too early for my liking, but there are only about nine who are significant options for their teams and six are already off the board after a mini run at the position. I take Randy McMichael.

Rounds six and seven. I have three RB's and three WR's. My goal is always to have 11 total, six of one, five of the other. I carry two QB's, one TE, one K, one Def. So I'm looking for the best available at those two main spots. Everyone I'm looking at makes it to me, so I go with Eddie Kennison and Reuben Droughns. Kennison was one of the guys I had above Fitzgerald.

Rounds eight and nine. I need a QB, K, Def, and three total RB's and WR's. Plenty of QB's left and I like to save K and Def for the last two picks. So I go for two WR's I have ranked highly, but have major question marks around them this year. I've passed them by for two others and here they are, still available. Derrick Mason and Muhsin Muhammad. I see them as great values at this point. Besides I took Muhammad in the 10th round last year, and it turned out well (despite my last place 4-9 finish).

Rounds 10 and 11. I need a RB and QB. I get what I set my eyes on. Jake Delhomme and Thomas Jones.

Round 12, two picks for me, a K and Def. With the pick I acquired in the Martin deal, I take the Philly defense. And Mr. Irrelevant in my draft - Ryan Longwell. These are much better options than I expected to get. I'm happy.

So the roster looks like this for now:

QB - B. Favre and J. Delhomme
RB - C. Martin, R. Johnson, C. Dillon, R. Droughns, and T. Jones
WR - D. Driver, D. Jackson, L. Fitzgerald, E. Kennison, D. Mason, and M. Muhammad
TE - R. McMichael
K - R. Longwell
Def - Philly

Posted by Brian at 10:49 PM | TrackBack

Three Worlds

PBS really ticked me off tonight. On The News Hour, there was some insipid commentary about New Orleans being like Haiti, some Third World hellhole. The insipid - no, the disgusting - part was that the commentator seems to think that we should embrace this! Um, no. No, no, NO!

Here's the thing: New Orleans looks like the Third World today because we had a fucking huge great storm blow through. Last week. And in six months, New Orleans will once again look like the First World. In fact, it will be one of the small pockets of the First World that remains in America.

Let's review: the First World was Europe, the Second World was America, and the Third World was everybody else. The First World is where the Enlightenment went wrong, towards "systems" and "the perfecting of man" and utopian dreams ending in Revolutionary or Communist or Fascist or Socialist nightmares. The Second World is where the Enlightenment went right, towards individual freedom. The Third World is where the Enlightenment never touched, unless it was brought by British and American soldiers and administrators. And where it took root, those countries are now in, or running towards, the Second World. The Second World isn't just America any more: it's America and Eastern Europe (Vaclav Havel is the most American man this age, if his speeches are anything to go by), and Israel and Taiwan and Japan and Australia and some people in Britain and probably India.

Now, the First World sits mostly in opulent memory of past glory, sinking ever further into irrelevance. Protected by the Second World, saved more than once by the steel spines of America and Britain, the First World takes such boons as only its right due, as befits such a noble and perfected type. New Orleans is the American version of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, or the American version of a provincial French town. New Orleans has always been the most European - the most First World - city in America. And before too long, we of the second world will put it back that way, and in a short period of time - shorter than the life of those who survived Katrina - the First Worlders of New Orleans will once again forget the world, and once again will revel in their opulence and decadence, and once again will think themselves immune to hurricanes, that by right the rest of America should protect them from.

And the First Worlders in Europe and along America's coasts will lounge around saying that New Orleans is charming and wonderful and so sophisticated. And the Third Worlders will go on thinking that, but for a little bad luck, America would be just like them, and the First Worlders will agree, oh yes.

And the rest of us? We'll go back, because New Orleans is so charmingly unreal, and has such great pubs, and is a great circus to watch for a weekend or a week. Damned shame about the mosquitos, though.

Posted by jeff at 10:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Katrina Response Timeline

I was going to put together a timeline on the government response (at all levels) to Hurricane Katrina, to sort out some of the crap that is obviously being put out by the media (CNN is particularly vile), from the less obvious crap, from the truth of what has been happening. Rightwing Nuthouse saved me the trouble. If you want to understand the magnitude of the actual response, fully sourced to media reports and statements from various involved agencies, this is your one-stop shop.

Posted by jeff at 11:39 AM | TrackBack

September 1, 2005

The End of All Flesh is Come Before Me

Genesis 7:23:

And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth

Every culture has a flood myth. The most famous in the West, of course, is that from Genesis 6-9, the story of Noah. I could not help thinking of this as I viewed photos of the aftermath of Katrina. I do not believe that there has ever been a worse natural disaster in the United States.

Comparison of New Orleans with and without floodwaters

New Orleans residents wade through the water attempting to get to higher ground

National Guard soldiers help family

Perhaps the promise of Genesis 9:11 - "And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth." - only applies to world-covering floods.

(The title quote is from Genesis 6:13)

Posted by jeff at 9:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Self-Destructive Behavior From Hugo Chavez

(But what's new about that, you may well ask.)

Brian Dunn notes some provocative behavior by Venezuela's tin-pot Leftist dictator: provoking the Dutch over their Caribbean islands close to Venezuela. Perhaps Chavez thinks that the Dutch are too weak to respond if he does decide to invade, as Argentina thought (wrongly) about the British.

In actual fact, he right: the Dutch have no expeditionary capability. But they do have a different asset: the Dutch are in fact a part of NATO, and those islands are not just nominal, but actual, Dutch territory, to the extent that the Dutch citizens of islands like Aruba have full representation in the Dutch parliament. One of the interesting parts of the NATO treaty is that an attack on one NATO member is, under Article V, an attack on all NATO members. The US is also a NATO member, with significant expeditionary military capability stationed within a few days of Venezuela. The US also has some grudges of its own against Chavez, who is one of the most destabilizing and anti-democratic leaders in the world, interfering throughout Central and South America with his buddy, Fidel Castro.

If I were Chavez, I'd think very, very carefully before picking on the Dutch.

Posted by jeff at 7:46 PM | TrackBack

Connections

James Burke, in his phenomenal Connections, began with the story of the 1965 blackout of the Northwestern US. He uses this to illustrate the web of technologies and ideas that hold our society together, and he asks what do we do when the web fails? Everyone is trying to get out of the "technology island" of the city, that can no longer sustain itself. Everyone. Can you get out? Suppose you do, can you defend yourself? Can you find where the food is grown? Is there already someone there? Will they share, and if not can you take it for yourself? Can you grow food, remembering that everything on a modern farm runs on gas or on power? Then, and only then, can you say you have survived.

And now in New Orleans and along the coast, we see the trap sprung shut: the web has collapsed, both its technologies and its ideas, and into the void have come anarchy, chaos, and death. What worries me most is not the collapse of the technology web: unlike in Burke's scenario, the disaster is geographically limited, and the richest nation on Earth is sending in every resource it has, limited only by physics in how fast it can get there, and how fast it can get people out.

No, what worries me is the collapse of the ideas that support our way of life. I don't mean the looting: while I cannot condone the taking of luxury goods that is happening, I cannot condemn those who are taking food and diapers and other supplies - survival in such a condition is more important than the minimal increase in property losses that the looting represents. Rather, I am talking about the sniping at rescue helicopters, boats and vehicles; the random drive-by shootings at refugees; the gangs running rampant with murder and rape. This is the part that makes me weep, because it is the part that is most preventable. If the rescue vehicles cannot get in because of sniper attacks, the loss is not on the rescue vehicle - very few of the sniper attacks have been directly deadly - but the possible hundreds or thousands who cannot be rescued, many of whom will die waiting.

And I worry about the news media, too. Here on the road, I only get CNN, and it is appalling: the biggest priority of CNN seems to be fixing blame on the Federal government, to the extent of ignoring the physics of the situation as well as the reality of spending priorities. Paula Zahn is particularly vile, and just moments ago actually asked Sen. Landrieu if the situation as described by the head of FEMA was "acceptable"! As if he could actually control the realities on the ground: you can only get people into the area so fast, with the infrastructure having collapsed, and it's not possible for anyone to know every detail of everything going on in the city.

Or consider CNN's carping about the 3000 or so people not yet rescued from the Convention Center, ignoring the fact that the scarce resources available for providing security and rescue are dedicated to the larger problem of the 40000-50000 not yet rescued from the stadium. As "jeffers" put it:

If you aren't capable of walking past ten dying people to save 100 dying people, then at the very least, stay out of the way of those who can.

In fact, read that entire post, which does such a fantastic job of describing the physics of the situation, and the reasons why the government doesn't just pour people in willy nilly and as fast as possible, regardless of logistics or capability. This is the best summary of the problem faced in New Orleans, and why we will never be able to be prepared for such a disaster to the extent that we wish, that I have yet seen.

And I worry also about the blame game that will be played in the aftermath. With perfect hindsight, people will be claiming that the Federal government should have known that New Orleans was going to be destroyed, and should have spent unlimited amounts of money to prevent or reduce the damage, and to have more Federal personnel in New Orleans the day after the hurricane came ashore than the Federal government actually has staffed for disaster recovery work. Indeed, it is inevitable that people who would have decried any increased funding of the National Guard last Friday will be the loudest to claim that on Monday the National Guard should have been several times larger and better equipped for this one particular contingency than it is. The reason I worry about the blame game is because of two things: the warping of priorities and the flight from true responsibility.

The warping of priorities will come because politicians' basest need in a crisis is to be seen as "doing something". As a result, no doubt massive additional resources will be poured into the kinds of people and technology and supplies necessary to recover from hurricanes, at the expense of what? Surely, other homeland security measures will suffer, notwithstanding that hurricanes this large in such an inhabited area are such rare events. Almost certainly, resources to cope with other disaster types will be starved to feed the hurricane recovery needs, not just now as understandable, but for the long term. And what else will suffer to the need of politicians to be seen as capable of fixing any problem?

The flight from responsibility is related to the warping of priorities: there will be people decrying the lack of response - no matter how large it is (remember the carping about the funds allocated to recovery from 9/11?) - while at the same time yelling about the inevitable cuts in other programs or increases in taxes. Perfection will be demanded, and reality deemed inconvenient to the "essential truths" of the desire to get benefit without cost.

Yes, these are the things that really worry me about the aftermath of the hurricane.

UPDATE: The National Debate also noticed CNN's vapid and offensive coverage, and has some excellent discussion on posse comitatus. (via Kevin Aylward)

UPDATE: I didn't know that: there apparently was a plan to help NO survive a cat 5 hurricane (rather than cat 3, which is what the current system was designed for), but the plan was scrapped in 1977 for environmental reasons.

Posted by jeff at 7:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack