March 31, 2003


You know, I'm really tired of hearing about how sad it is that we have strained relations with Germany and France, after 50 years of cooperation and close relations in the Cold War. OK, let's get this straight: 1/3 of what is now Germany was on the other side in the Cold War. And France, while nominally a member of NATO, was not a part of the military alliance, just the political alliance, because they withdrew from NATO because it was too closely aligned with America.

Posted by Jeff at 10:34 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Cubs Win!

Cubs win big! 15-2 over the Mets.

Posted by Jeff at 04:19 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Reasons why I'm Proud of our Military

First, from this article about the battle at Hindiya

At one point, U.S. soldiers spotted an elderly woman in a black chador lying wounded in the middle of the bridge. Using his Bradley fighting vehicle for cover, company commander Capt. Chris Carter of Watkinsville, Ga., ran to center of the bridge, saw that she needed urgent help and called for an armored ambulance to take her to an aid station.

He used his M-16 rifle to provide cover while the medics put her on a stretcher. Carter then returned to the U.S. side of the bridge.

Next some pictures of soldiers caring for kids from around the warzone. (hat tip: Sgt Stryker)

Posted by Jeff at 01:32 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Funny Boy

So, here's the conversation Aidan (5) and I had this morning:

(After determining that he wants cream cheese and bread for breakfast.)

Aidan: But, Mom, I'm too tired to stand up.

Me: Well then, why don't you go lie down on the couch?

Aidan: But I'm not allowed to eat in the living room.

Me: Hmmm. Well, I'll let you take your bread in there just this one time.

Aidan: (On his way out the door) Okay, but just this one time. If I ever catch you doing it again, you'll be in big trouble!

Posted by Steph at 09:57 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Not Getting It

I am deeply concerned about a current aspect of American politics. This problem was driven home to me when I watched an interview with an anti-war British MP on American TV. This MP had worked tirelessly to prevent PM Blair from deciding to go to war, and had voted against doing so. Yet once the vote was taken, this MP said (and I am paraphrasing here): "The decision has been taken, and it is in the nature of democratic governance that the decision taken is taken for all."

This is not the case in America lately. From the Right, during the Clinton presidency, came bumperstickers that asserted "Charlton Heston is my President." Now from the Left comes the call that this President's administration is illegitimate, and that all decisions made are therefore wrong, and if only it had been President Any Democrat, we would be all for going to war in Iraq, or whatever the issue of the day is.

I feel that we have to heal this rift, and soon, or it will destroy our ability to live as anything other than a tyranny with frequent changes of tyrant.

UPDATE (4/2): edited for clarity

Posted by Jeff at 12:32 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

To Give All Rather Than Give Up


Posted by Jeff at 12:24 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 30, 2003


I used to think of the BBC as a great way of getting news that American sources didn't cover. Now, though, I just wonder how reliable they are. Here is an only slightly off version of a story I heard on the BBC World Service while driving around tonight:

Anchor: Today near Basra, British soldiers fought against fierce resistance for twenty hours. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers fought valiantly against the supposedly-superior Coalition forces. Hundreds of Iraqi troops were captured, and the bodies of their comrades littered the battlefield. One British soldier was injured when he fell off his armored vehicle in a fit of giggles. And now we go to our correspondent on the scene 850 miles away from Basra, Priscilla Upton-Stuckly. Priscilla, how long until the inevitable defeat of the Coalition, and more importantly, until the cowboy Bush gets his?

Posted by Jeff at 10:42 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 28, 2003

NGO's Want Theirs

Apparently, the various NGO's, which have largely been shut out of postwar aid operations, are not above criticising the aid we're providing (hat tip: the Agonist), in what looks like an attempt to discredit it. Of course, if our aid programs were discredited, it would be these very same NGO's which would get the money (from the US) and the PR credit.

Posted by Jeff at 06:22 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 27, 2003

Common Human Decency

I frequently hear anti-war Americans (and Brits, for that matter) claim "We support the troops, but not the war." My take has been, how? Are you arguing that showing common human decency, by not spitting on soldiers or throwing rocks at them constitutes "support?" Actually, though, I guess I'd prefer that to this.

And by the way, if you do disagree, you should read this. It's not an attempt to convince you on the merits of the war, per se, and is written by a classical and political liberal whose opinions I greatly respect.

Posted by Jeff at 06:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

Scratch a Fedayeen...

There are numerous reports of Iraqi exiles returning to fight for the regime now that the US is there. I don't buy it. First, why would they return after 12 years running from Saddam to fight for him? Wouldn't they fear the same things they feared when they left?

Some of the tactics the Saddam Fedayeen are using are interesting, too. They hide amongst assumed civilians who are waving at the helicopters passing overhead, then stand up from under the tarp that covered them and fire at the helicopter's tail section. They apparently kidnap children in order to compel their parents to fight the coalition forces. They put women and children between them and us.

This all reminds me of the way the Al Qaeda-trained Somali militia fought - right down to the "technicals" (pickups armed with machine guns, rockets or similar). It reminds me of the way that the Taliban fought, and of the way that the Hezbollah fight.

Coupled with the unlikelyhood that the "returning Iraqis" are really returning Iraqis, I wonder if we won't find, when all this is over, that the Saddam Fedayeen is largely staffed by Al Qaeda fighters having escaped from Afghanistan.

Posted by Jeff at 01:08 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

It had to be Bunnies

I think that Frank J has been reading Anna Bunny. Ah, synergy!

Posted by Jeff at 12:17 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 26, 2003

Send for Blix

The AP reported yesterday that Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa Miro of Syria, who voted for UNSCR 1441 and then demanded an essentially infinite amount of time for inspectors to verify that Iraq had "immediately and unconditionally" disarmed, is now calling for "the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. and British invading troops from Iraqi territory."

I know I speak for the President when I say that we in the US are certainly respectful of the international community and the rule of law, and we are prepared to immediately and unconditionally begin discussions on the process of deciding who will decide how to define who will inspect our units in Iraq to ensure that they have withdrawn. You can call me any time.

Posted by Jeff at 01:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Theft? Uh, No

Steven Den Beste is apparently having problems with images hosted on his site being linked to by other sites, rather than copied and hosted from the other sites. In response, he set up his server so that people getting images from his site via a referral not from within his site will instead get this image:

(and yes, I'm aware of the irony of referring you to his site for the image).

I take issue with the image. The word "theft" is much over-used these days, but I expected more from Den Beste, who generally thinks things through fairly well. (OK, except about computers, and maybe this is where the cognitive dissonance comes from.) If I call you on the phone, I am theoretically depriving you of the use of your phone line for other purposes for the time you are talking to me. But it's not theft, because in reality you have the opportunity to not answer. In effect, what Steven is doing is telling his server not to answer the line if a request comes in for a big image. Fair enough. But it's rudeness, not theft, to link to another person's large images when they don't want you to do so.

Posted by Jeff at 01:05 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (10)

Palestine in Iraq?

Reading things like this:

Jordanian-Iraqi border :: Martin Asser :: 1152GMT

We've just spoken to two Iraqi young men who've come to the border - just in an ordinary Jordanian taxi - who say they're going to Basra to take part in the war.

(from the BBC's embedded reporters journal) makes me wonder if Saddam's strategy might be to poison the well. He has to know he will be defeated, and captured or killed. It is natural that he would resist with every means available to him, but reports like the above are disturbing.

It appears that soldiers and irregulars are switching into civilian clothes, moving around in civilian vehicles, then switching back into uniform at their destination. In many cases, they are fighting in civilian clothes, and among civilians (in one instance at least, putting women and children in front of them). This will make the coalition troops very wary of Iraqi civilians, leading to frequent stops, searches and interrogations. Each of these tiny humiliations will, as the Israelis found out in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, push the civilian population a little closer to riots and resistance, which pushes our military to be even more suspicious of the civilians, which escalates to suicide bombings and the like.

I used to think that we had to be very careful to not take out civilian targets, and to not kill civilians even if it meant we had to take more casualties. I am changing my mind, though, and slowly coming around to a Machiavellian principle: perhaps we should not regard civilians, hospitals, mosques and the like as sacrosanct in the war itself. Afterwards, when resistance has been crushed, we can be magnanimous in victory. However, if we allow resistance to fester, we could truly become bogged down in an endless repeat of the Israeli situation. And as the Israelis found out in Lebanon, you can't withdraw; that just makes you look weak and emboldens the enemy.

I'm not yet convinced that we should be brutal and remorseless during the phase of putting down the enemy, but I'm moving that way.

Posted by Jeff at 11:11 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The Media Picture

Instapundit blogs about how difficult it is at this point to determine what's going on from the media reports, how many tiny slices of information confuse, rather than clarify, the big picture. He hints that this is the point of the program, to give much information and little knowledge.

He's probably right, but there are other angles to this as well. For one thing, we have reporters on the spot to dispell the kind of myths that arose around the Israeli fighting in Jenin. We have a fantastic set of slices to fill out the story, once the war is over and the outline is known, which will make the history of this war much easier to capture, at least from our side. And finally, we have lessened the most dangerous enemy the US can face: Western media hysteria.

Obviously, we haven't eliminated the last, and won't as long as the BBC is around. Oh, and the French. And colleges in general (hat tip: LGF). And the New York Times. Oh, hell, it would be easier to list the media institutions that are generally on the side of Western Enlightenment culture!

Posted by Jeff at 10:44 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Why do we Homeschool?

Oh, just read.

Posted by Jeff at 12:42 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Corporate IT and Outsourcing

It's worse than this makes it out to be. First, my credentials, because I don't have sources to cite: I've worked in IT for 12 years, almost the entire time in enterprise-level jobs. I've worked as a consultant, a manager, and an admin in various for-profit companies.

OK, that said, the state of IT is worse than Bigwig's article makes out, because he only considers outsourcing as it compares to internal IT departments. Internal IT departments are themselves very inefficient. For example, I worked on a project once which spent a year and millions of dollars to build a production environment that was ill-conceived to begin with. When it was finally working and doing what it was supposed to do (for more money and in more time than was actually necessary, but at least it worked), it was immediately taken out of production because the new VP decided to do things differently. This is more typical than not. It has been said that 90% of IT projects fail, and as far as I can tell, that is true.

So why do big IT projects fail? Generally, they are political, which means that cancelling them is also a political, rather than a business decision. They tend to be thought of by the corporate sponsors in business terms without regard to technical considerations, and by the implementors in technical terms without regards to business considerations. There is a strong desire to shave short term pennies by spending long term dollars.

Another example: I once worked on a call and problem management system for doing technical support of software products. The support contracts were fiendishly complicated. Within a few seconds, the person on the phone had to be able to tell the caller if he could or could not place a support call as that person from that company for that product on that computer. This was in the mid-to-late '90s, so the computing power of the enterprise-class machines we had then is somewhat less than the laptop I'm typing this on. But the product we developed for internal use worked, worldwide and for many products and fast enough. Because it worked so well, we were asked to expand it out into the other software support lines within the company. Well, one group had a problem-management system from the time when buying a computer meant that you had lifetime support for free, and it ran on mainframes and cost some $40M every year to run. It was so heavily invested, and had so many applications written against it, that it was deemed too important to get rid of. But their application couldn't do the entitlement piece of support (are you contractually entitled to get support?), so it was decided that their mainframe-based problem management system would be used with our UNIX-based client server entitlement system (the problem management part of our product was to be left to wither and die). To do this, a client had to be developed, taking a year and a half, to talk to both systems. From a user-interface standpoint, the mainframe-based call management system was so bad (and the graphical client basically was a screen scraper for that app) that the support personnel had to increase in order to field the same number of calls. The entire app slowed down, because of the delay of going to two systems instead of one. With the amount of money it took to run that system for one year, we could have finished development of our system (it was rewritten from scratch to work for the whole company, and to eliminate accumulated cruft) and supported it for a decade with constant development. This is common, though: use the more expensive system in worse ways, because we already have it, rather than replacing it with something better. Note: this was considered a great success for the IT group of which we had by then become a part.

To put this in non-IT terms, imagine if you had a car which carried 2 people, got 8 miles to the gallon, and cost $40000 per year in maintenance. Imagine further that you could replace this with a car costing $20000, which carried 6 people comfortably and got 35 miles to the gallon. No-brainer, right? Not if you are in corporate IT, because maintenance comes from a different budget than acquisitions, and it is almost impossible to repurpose funds. (I feel for government heads of department; I really do.)

So what works? Generally, the products I've seen developed by corporate IT which work are those which are developed under a single management chain, generally by a small group of really good people using no formal development methodology, where they are trying to solve real user problems, as opposed to big-picture problems (like, optimize our supply-chain management). These products can grow over time to encompass a larger number of problems for more groups. They tend to go astray when they get big enough and important enough to become politically useful to other management chains. The fight for control is done over requirements, and it results in the biggest fish in the fight getting bigger, and the product getting more expensive and less useful over time.

It's not just me who sees it this way. Most of the IT people I've ever known (and I know a lot of them) see it similarly. (Two programmers at a company I know of were experts in a product. They were transferred to a group with a bigger-fish manager, and put to work on something completely outside of their expertise. The new manager didn't need their skills; he just wanted the headcounts to increase his importance.)

So why don't companies work this way, in general? Well, for two reasons. First, most people in charge of most companies have no clue of how to tie IT projects to business needs. Second, even when they do know how to do this, there is a tendency for projects which are efficient, useful and well-managed to become so important that the power-seeking managers with pointy hair and no clue end up taking them over to stroke their egos, then making bad decisions (if the takeover process was not itself fatal).

Not that I'm bitter, or anything. Time to go catch up on Dilbert.

Posted by Jeff at 12:33 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 25, 2003


What should we call this war? Well, first let's realize that it's not a war per se, but a campaign within the wider War on Terrorism. Afghanistan was the same thing: not so much a separate war as a campaign in the larger war. So I nominate we call this action the Iraq Campaign, and the Afghanistan conflict the Afghanistan Campaign.

By the way, I think that we need to get a broad declaration of war from Congress defining the War on Terrorism, and turning loose the President and armed forces within that context. We will not be able to keep up a consistent effort if we have to go through six-month public relations campaigns every time we need to make a new move.

Posted by Jeff at 11:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The Eyes Have It

Yep, here we go. I took Aidan in for a checkup today, and guess what? He can read all the little pictures on the eye chart with his *right* eye, but not with his *left* eye. Well, I was waiting for this. Maybe he will like playing pirate with a patch on his eye. Ha ha.

All else is fine, though. And the Incredible Spotted Baby is back to normal, with no clue as to what made the spots. Maybe I should have connected them to see if they revealed a secret message ...

Posted by Steph at 06:13 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Shocking and Awesome

I believe I have figured out the basic operational maneuver plan of the Coalition in Iraq. It appears that we are attempting to win the war without actually engaging the enemy.

In the 1930's, in the aftermath of WWI and its horrible slaughter, generals in many nations began to come to grips with what would be necessary for an attacking army to overcome the defenses which technology had made impregnable to the methods of warfare developed in the 19th Century. BH Liddell Hart and Heinz Guderian, in particular, began to see an offensive in terms of not just its weight in manpower (and later in firepower), but also its agility. It was Guderian who invented "Lightning War" - or Blitzkrieg - though it was the Allies who coined the term, after its employment in Poland and France. Hart and Guderian saw that equipping each tank with a radio, massing the tanks in armored formations (contrary to the conventional usage in England and France, which was to spread them among the infantry units still considered the backbone of the armies of the time), motorizing their supply lines, and combining their assaults with artillery and airpower, with infantry to hold the land taken or to help out in constricted terrain, would allow the armored formations to advance rapidly, and bring pressure to bear on the enemy at a time and place of the attackers choosing.

The Blitzkrieg was remarkably effective. In Poland, France and the USSR during the initial stages of Barbarossa, the Allied armies were rapidly unhinged by advancing German armored formations. The German armor would break through the front line Allied formations, then maneuver deep into the rear by exploiting the seams between adjacent Allied units. The Allies would then be faced with a German armored formation in their rear, and would have to either reorient to face the threat, or withdraw to protect their supplies. If they reoriented to face the threat, then they would be hit in the back by the German followon forces and destroyed. If they attempted to orient forces in two directions at once, they did not have enough firepower to hold against the attack. So they retreated, and the Germans did it again. Eventually, this would turn into a rout.

The problem, for the Germans, was that their speed of advance was limited. First, their transport was largely horsedrawn, which limited the speed of advance of the armor. Second, the infantry was largely on foot, which in practice meant that they were able to move at the same speed as their supplies. The combination meant that deep exploitation was possible tactically, but not strategically. The Wehrmacht was forced to advance broadly across the USSR, rather than having three or four narrow corridors of advance. The narrower corridors, policed with airpower and follow-on infantry at the flanks, would have allowed the Germans to outrun their adversary, which would have meant that the core of the Soviet Army would not have survived the first year. As it was, they almost didn't, and it was only the massive amounts of reinforcements that a nation of that size could train, and their ruthless willingness to sacrifice young men by the tens of thousands, which allowed the USSR to get to the Winter, when deep advances were impossible due to weather. In the Winter, they were able to increase their KV and SU tank production, and get the T-34 into mass production. This turned the tide, and made it increasingly more difficult for Germany's technically superior army to exploit against the numerically superior Soviets. After the second year of Barbarossa, Germany lived on borrowed time.

Looking at the US Army's AirLand battle doctrine, we see a lot of borrowing from Hart and Guderian. We now have fully motorized transport, and infantry that is universally moved in vehicles, most of which are armored and have powerful weaponry of their own. Our armor (US and British) is the best in the world, and our crews are among the best trained, and are possibly the best trained. We have an army which is built on NCOs and the delegation of command authority downwards, and we have unlimited ability to control the air and see the entire battlefield. In other words, we have a virtually perfect theater and force for operational maneuver warfare as conceived by Hart and Guderian.

In contrast, our enemy has inferior equipment, ill-maintained. He has minimal communications to ill-trained and ill-supplied troops. He has troops which are of questionable loyalty and morale, part of whose job is to maintain order over the civilian population in the areas where they are stationed. The only advantages he has are ruthlessness and interior lines. We are equipped to handle his CBW capabilities, mooting that aspect of his ruthlessness. We are willing to take additional casualties rather than kill civilians, which makes the irregulars he is currently deploying against our rear nothing more than an annoyance. This means that his only remaining advantage is interior lines: he can move troops and supplies from place to place within his sphere of control more easily than we can, because he doesn't have to go as far.

Let me amplify a bit: Saddam wants us to kill civilians, so as to turn the already anti-war Leftists to real action, and the easily-panicked Western press into an incoherent and angry (at us) beast on the rampage. This is his only hope: that we lose the will to prosecute the war against him. The only way we as a culture could really do so is to give in to our fears that we are really as bad as the anti-Enlightenment, postmodernist, transnationalist Left tells us we are. If our troops lose their cool, and start killing civilians to get at the irregulars, we will be sickened and disgusted, and many would indeed put pressure on the US and UK to do something stupid, like hand control of the reconstruction to the UN. (The outcome of the war itself is not in doubt. The aftermath still is.)

But back to the main point. Since Saddam's army is basically incapable of sustained maneuver, he has adopted a basically static defense, with regular army troops in the far South and North, and Republican Guards around Saddam's power centers in Baghdad and Tikrit. The question for General Franks was: how do you take down a still-large army, given its advantages and disadvantages, with minimal casualties amongst Iraqi civilians, our troops and the regular Iraqi troops? I believe that his answer was to neutralize the advantage of interior lines enjoyed by the Iraqis, and maneuver the remainder of the Iraqi army into dissolution with minimal fighting.

Part of the method for doing this has been with PsyOps: dropping leaflets and sending emails and in general negotiating with Iraqi troops and officers for their surrender. Part of it has been to ensure that supplies can come in to the Iraqi people by taking Um Qasr. Part of it has been to drive a wedge between the regular Iraqi army and the Republican Guards by attacking North of Basra and using Kurds and special forces to isolate the Iraqi units NE of Baghdad. These efforts leave the only really organized opposition capable of engaging our main thrust as the Republican Guards.

The Republican Guards have a problem. They can stand in place, and get killed from the air and artillery, or they can move, and lose cohesion. There are indications that as the Medina division pulled back from an Nasariyah, it was unable to arrive at Karbala in good order, and as a result has not taken up good defensive positions. This is making the fighting for Karbala easier for 3rd Infantry than it otherwise would have been. On top of this, Medina cannot retreat further without running into Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar divisions. Adnan is pretty much fixed near the Tigris, because the Marines are driving up that way. The only way out for the Republican Guards, assuming that they wanted to abandon their static defense in order to have a fighting chance of survival, would be to go West along the Jordan to Baghdad highway. However, the 101st Airborne is currently moving to cut that route, and it is likely that the Republican Guard will therefore be unable to maneuver.

This means that the Iraqi army can maneuver, and become unhinged, or stay in place, and be destroyed more slowly by air and artillery strikes. My guess is that we'll see the US engage in round the clock combined arms attacks on the Republican Guard beginning in the next 24 hours, in which we hit and then back up. We will repeat this for a few days, making the RG's situation increasingly more desperate. This will eventually either cause the troops to give up and melt into the population, or it will cause the RG to attempt to maneuver in order to defeat the 3rd Infantry in the SW of Baghdad, and the 1st Marines in the SE of Baghdad, rather than be bled to death in place. At the point that they begin to maneuver, we will likely retreat, staying in contact. This will hopefully cause the RG commanders' fangs to grow too long, and the RG will attempt to fight us in the field. At that point, we switch back to the attack, but on his flanks, and the RG will become unhinged and will basically dissolve.

Of course, I could be very, very wrong about this. General Franks has been nothing if not unconventional, both in the Afghanistan campaign and in the Iraqi campaign to date. However, he could easily decide to simply attack the RG divisions in place, counting on our superior troop and equipment quality, and superior artillery and air support, to be sufficient to reduce the RG divisions without massive casualites to ourselves and the Iraqi civilians.

UPDATE (3/26): Or they could be suicidal and attack right into us!

Posted by Jeff at 04:18 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Summation of the Left

Here is perhaps the most concise summation of the anti-Enlightenment Left ever made:

We are mapless, we are lost, and we are distracted by gusts of wishful thinking.

It's actually funnier, taken in context. It is from Nicholas von Hoffman, talking about the war in Afghanistan (hat tip: Instapundit) just before we completely routed the Taliban. Of course, he was attempting to describe the US war effort, but he somehow more aptly described his own ideological tribe. And this is worth noting, in a context when the anti-Enlightenment intellectuals are braying about our impending defeat in Iraq.

Posted by Jeff at 01:30 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 21, 2003

Journalists and the War

Eric Burns, at the Fox News website, has a good essay on why journalists should remain unbiased when reporting the news, particularly news of such import as a war. Money quote:

Ultimately, journalists should care less about measuring the war’s outcomes than they do about providing information so that Americans can take their own measurements. They should add up the casualties and costs, calculate the time involved to achieve the stated goals, provide a variety of viewpoints about the eventual political consequences — and then turn the facts and figures and informed opinions over to their audiences.

As Glenn Reynolds would put it: indeed.

Posted by Jeff at 09:59 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)


Here is an image sent to me in email, that I hope you enjoy. It shows the attitude of the American warrior pretty well, I think. The ship, by the way, is the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (click on the pic for the 1300x860 pixel full-size image)

Sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) spelling out Fuck Iraq by standing in formation

Posted by Jeff at 09:42 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Casualty Counts

It appears that a US Marine was lost in combat near Umm Qasr, the Iraqi port near the Kuwait border. In other news, a war protester was killed when he fell off a bridge where he was hanging a banner. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

What if they gave a war, and the casualties among the protesters outnumbered the military casualties?

Posted by Jeff at 08:48 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 19, 2003

A Weasel of One

Fox News has an article about Hans Blix and his feelings about Iraq. The Clueless One apparently believes a number of implausible things.

Iraq won't use their chemical/biological weapons, because Saddam Hussein cares about public opinion:

And even on the brink of defeat, when using such weapons might be a last resort, Saddam's government would still care about public opinion, Blix said. "Some people care about their reputation even after death," he said.

The UN, UNMOVIC and Blix himself are still relevant:

Blix gave a news conference ... Wednesday ... to discuss his list of key remaining disarmament tasks for Iraq and what the United Nations can do to provide humanitarian relief when war begins.

The real problem is not Saddam's intransigence, nor France's unwillingness to back up UNSC resolutions with meaningful action, but rather the Coalition's willingness to back up UNSC resolutions with meaningful action:

Blix expressed disappointment that the United States, Britain and Spain had decided so quickly that inspections weren't working. In the face of strong council opposition, the three countries on Monday abandoned efforts to seek Security Council backing for war.

When Resolution 1441 was adopted Nov. 8 giving Iraq a final opportunity to disarm, Blix said he believed all council members were serious about strengthening inspections and giving them a chance.

"But then some didn't have the patience a little earlier than others have done, and I think that's a pity," he said.

Perhaps, oh perhaps, we were serious about disarming Iraq, rather than going through another inspections charade? Not in Blix world. Blix also believes that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, because:

During 3 months of inspections, Blix said, his teams found no evidence of chemical or biological weapons.

But no matter what happens, it has nothing to do with Blix:

Asked whether he believed Saddam would use such weapons, if he has them, Blix said: "I think they would be able if the weapons were there -- and I'm not saying they are. And I'm not saying that they have means of delivery -- but they could have it. ... But I doubt that they would have the will to do it."

Posted by Jeff at 09:27 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 14, 2003

It's Polite to Act Surprised

Libertarian - You believe that the main use for
government is for some people to lord it over
others at their expense. You maintain that the
government should be as small as possible, and
that civil liberties, "victimless
crimes", and gun ownership should be basic
rights. You probably are OK with capitalism.
Your historical role model is Thomas Jefferson.

Which political sterotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by Jeff at 09:40 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 13, 2003

Troop Deployments and Their Implications

I've been watching the diplomatic maneuvering at the UN and in Turkey and the buildup of troops around Iraq, and I have been wondering what is going on. From a standpoint of what we say we are attempting to achieve, the US government's actions raise all kinds of questions.

We claim that we are going to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and that no amount of inspections will be able to do that, unless Hussein is willing to let it happen. He's not, and I don't see him changing his mind. More importantly, I don't see us trying to change his mind. We also claim that we are doing this in order to remove a major supporter of terrorism, to bring democracy to Iraq and hopefully by extension to its neighbors, and to get ourselves in position to tackle Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Actually, we don't publicly claim the last motivation, but it's really obvious given our long-term goals in destroying terrorism that we have to have a base to launch attacks which is not dependent on the charity of other nations.

We claim that we are going to go with or without the UN's approval, but we are continuing to dither with the UN long past the time when it's become obvious that the UN is unwilling to act to enforce its past resolutions, and many nations in the UN would prefer to hurt the US diplomatically than to have the US remove Hussein from power. Further, any motivation of helping Prime Minister Blair has quite obviously run past its uses. Any help or harm to the good Sir has been done, and so any delay for that reason is worse than useless, as it not only provides assistance to an ally, but also allows our enemies time to act against us.

We claim that we have more than enough troops already in place to invade and occupy Iraq with relative ease, and enough troops to have reserves in case of untoward happenings. We further claim that we will have a northern attack with or without Turkey's blessing (well, the blessing of their Parliament, at least). Yet we are only now deploying heavy units like 1st Armored and 3rd Cavalry, which won't be in place until after the window of reasonable action (that is, before the Summer starts in the desert) has passed.


  • We claim we will occupy Iraq in order to: disarm Iraq, particularly of weapons of mass destruction; stop Iraqi material and logistical help to terrorists; and bring democracy to an Arab state, both for its own good and as an example to its autocratic or theocratic neighbors.
  • We have a long-term interest in establishing a large base of operations in the middle of the states supporting terrorism, which base is not subject to the political whims of states who frequently support terrorism themselves, albeit less directly than, say, Iraq or Iran do.
  • We claim that we will do this with or without UN support.
  • France has made absolutely clear, and other nations have made somewhat clear, that the UN will not even declare that Saddam has not lived up to Resolution 1441, which stated four months ago that Saddam had to disarm "immediately."
  • We keep going back to the UN over and over and over again, to no avail.

  • We claim to have sufficient forces available to conquer and occupy Iraq, with or without the British or the Turks (should either government be constrained by Parliamentary maneuvering).
  • We claim to be able to have a northern invasion option regardless of the actions of the Turkish Parliament.
  • We are still moving large numbers of heavy ground units, at great cost, from their long-term bases in the US and Europe (Germany, in particular) into the theater.
  • Our window of easy operations closes in less than six weeks, particularly since we expect chemical and biological agents to be used on the battlefield by the Iraqis, which means our troops will be wearing MOPP suits. Wearing MOPP suits in combat in the desert in the Summer is going to cause additional casualties from heat exhaustion, fatigue and impaired judgement.
  • It will take longer than six weeks to get the recently-deployed heavy units into position, so they are useless in terms of an attack on Iraq.

Given all of these things, why is our government seemingly standing still? Why have we not already attacked? If we set a timeline based on UN negotiations, this should still end by the President's declared deadline of Monday, yet the government is apparently willing to let events continue on past that without committing to the attack. Why? Where are the additional heavy units we are deploying going, and what is their mission?

I have come up with three basic scenarios which fit the facts as I know them. It could be that we are going to use the newly-deploying units for occupation duty in Iraq, so that we can refit and rearm the units which fight the war, and give them a rest before their next major commitment. The second option that I see is that we intend to roll straight through Iraq, using the combat units for occupation duty, and the followon units to attack into Syria or Iran or even Saudi Arabia (much less likely than the first two), or, as a variant, they could be used for a serious northern option by invading through Syria into Iraq. It could also be that we are going to send the newly-deploying units to some other theater. Either Korea or Zimbabwe stand out as fine places to go. Each of these scenarios has different implications for what US action in the UN means, as well as what our long-term strategy might be.

Basically, our maneuver elements in theater are:

  • 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne
  • 3rd ACR
  • 3rd Mech Infantry
  • 101st Airborne
  • elements of 10th Mountain
  • 1st Marines
  • 1 (UK) Armored
  • 16 (UK) Air Assault Bde
  • a Royal Marine Commando
  • 4th Infantry (waiting on permission to deploy through Turkey)

And in transit or on notice, we have:

  • 1st Armored
  • 1st Cavalry
  • 1st Infantry
  • 173rd Airborne Bde
  • 2nd ACR
  • 26th MEU

Note that we have as much combat power in transit or alerted to move as we actually have in theater. So let's look at scenarios.

The first scenario is that most commonly discussed in the news media and blogs, and seems to be the assumed wisdom: the additional troops are to act as reserves, or even as part of the attack if we wait long enough, and we'll garrison these units in Iraq (moving them out of Europe, mostly), and refit the units who did the brunt of the fighting.

If this is the intent, the implication is that the military expects the war and occupation to be more difficult than military officials are publicly saying. After all, it's pretty amazing to use more troops for the occupation of Iraq than for its conquest! This also implies that there will be no real ability to wage regional wars faster than every 18 months, since the amount of time it would take to refit, retrain and redeploy this amount of force out of area is large. Once the units are tied down with occupation duties, it will be difficult to turn them back into an offensive force.

It seems to me more likely that we will use a small force for occupation - down to a few brigades after the first year - and a locally-derived army and police force trained, equipped and possibly even led by the US. Not only is this more cost-effective, it also begins the process of US withdrawal, which is almost certain to happen within 5 years after the war ends. Moreover, that approach would free up the limited number of heavy units the US maintains for combat in other places, and would make it easier to rapidly return reservists and guardsmen to their civilian lives.

The problem with the logic of using the currently-deploying forces to occupy Iraq is that it doesn't fit with the other events now occurring. How does this explain the dithering in the UN? While it does allow us an easy way to get our major units out of Germany, which is certainly nice in the long run since Europe is no longer the central theater in which our force will likely be exercised, there are other ways to do this that wouldn't strain our transport units at the same time we're trying to support a war in Iraq. In fact, we could use this same excuse after the war is over, using the ships in a three-legged pattern: troops from Iraq home, empty to Europe, troops from Europe to Iraq. Given the logistical strain of moving the units, it is fair to say that we are going to use those units for something that can't be done otherwise, and soon.

It is certainly true that we might want to have a large force in Iraq, but the real reason for that force is to put pressure on the surrounding states to reform. Iran, of course, is part of the Axis of Evil for its support of terrorism and militant Islamic revolution combined with its active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Syria is equally complicit in terrorism with Iran - particularly in its support of Hezbollah and Hamas - and is occupying Lebanon, exercising effective control over the entire country. Saudi Arabia is one of the key states in funding terrorist groups, supplying terrorist cadres, and propagandizing for militant Islamic Fundamentalism in general. Each of these states needs to reform or fall to our control. This leads to the second possible scenario, which I happen to think is fairly likely.

This would actually account for the US/UK time spent in the UN in two ways. First, the delay gives us a way to get forces in position to achieve real strategic surprise by effectively not pausing between taking down Iraq and taking down one of its more troublesome neighbors. Second, by constantly reinforcing in the public mind the fecklessness of the UN - even the threat that the UN could pose to US and British citizens by preventing action to remove threats against them - it becomes easier for the US and UK to jointly withdraw from the UN, which would be a necessary prerequisite for further action that doesn't take years to get approved.

Overall, this makes some sense, although it leaves the US in an odd position. It would mean that the President would be exceeding his mandate from Congress to only fight Iraq, and could lead to a serious Constitutional crisis. However, there is one way in which a Constitutional crisis need not arise: an unexpected northern option.

Stick with me here, because this is a pretty brittle line of reasoning. In fact, it is almost certainly not what the US and UK have in mind. Still....

OK, let's say that the US is actually trying to use Turkey's internal politics as well as the UN's politics in order to delay the attack on Iraq. With the combat units for the Iraq attack basically in place and supplied, the sealift exists to move the deploying heavy units listed above. What if the US had decided to go to northern Iraq through Syria? I have been unable to find out what Marine units are afloat in the Mediterranean Sea, but I suspect that there are at least two MEUs. This would be enough to create a friendly beachhead to unload and form up the heavier units which would exploit that beachhead.

This could be justified as covered under the war declaration passed last year in the same way that the Allies attacked Morocco in WWII to get at the Germans in N. Africa. These units would quickly end up in pretty heavy combat with the Syrian army, because that army would resist a US invasion. This would almost certainly result in the US doing to Syria what it is going to do to Iraq. In other words, we would solve the longer-term problem of Syria without having to go back to Congress and to convince the Congress and the US public of the need to fight Syria. It would also be a powerful lesson to Iran and Saudi Arabia, which I think are the two most important state targets in the region in terms of actually ending terrorism permanently, and preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

OK, so that's not very realistic. President Bush would almost certainly not take that kind of liberty with acts of Congress. But it does at least give a plausible reason for delaying and delaying the attack while getting shredded in the UN.

The third option, that the troops are intended for another theater, is actually fairly likely. It would make sense to reinforce American troops in Korea, given the tense situation there, but it is odd to think of us doing that at the same time as Donald Rumsfeld is saying that we could withdraw our troops from Korea altogether (especially with the S. Korean hostility to the US troops right now). It is unlikely that we'd spend the effort to move this much force anywhere except the Mideast or the Koreas, although Africa cries out for democratization.

In the end, though, this still does not explain what we are doing in the UN. There is something that does, though: perhaps the reality is that we have been preparing the US and British populations for a simultaneous US/UK pullout from the UN. This would free the US and UK for action elsewhere with a much faster turnaround than would be the case otherwise. I don't think, though, that this action would come anywhere other than in the Mideast. We certainly don't want to fight a nuclear-armed N. Korea, and any country not in the Mideast would be difficult (politically) to attack without first going to Congress. Given that we don't need the troops for Iraq in the short term, my best guess is that we'll be at war in either Syria or Iran next, and soon.

UPDATE (3/16): I understand from three different sources now that some units are being issued desert camoflage, and others the green (European 1?) scheme. This indicates to me that we do not plan on attacking Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya or in the horn of Africa with these units; or on using them for Iraqi occupation duty. Syria/Lebanon is a possibility still, given their terrain, as is N. Korea.

Posted by Jeff at 11:59 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

More Wisdom From Connor

More wisdom from Connor, age 7. After watching Battlestar Galactica, Connor noted:

"Dad, if I were leader of some country, and I was under threat of attack, I'd at least put my forces on alert."

Posted by Jeff at 08:22 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 12, 2003

American Values are not Just Theoretical

From Joanne Jacobs, we have another example of why the US is the greatest country on Earth:

Immediately everyone in the place rushed to her side to make sure she was all right. A few random women sat with her until the paramedics came, holding her hand and rubbing her forehead with a damp towel. . . (The paramedic/firefighters) were wearing shirts that said "Menlo Park Fire" on the back, but on the sleeves was written "FDNY." When I saw that I remembered that the Menlo Park fire department had been one of the first groups clamoring to go to New York to help the rescue effort at the World Trade Center. Then I started to cry.

When they finally wheeled the fainting woman off on a stretcher, one of the women who had happened to be sitting nearby offered to go with her to the hospital. Another two said they would drive her car home for her.

Sometimes I forget what all this is for. Sometimes I forget what Bush means when he says we're going to war to protect American freedoms and American values. But then I see something like this and it all comes back to me. I don't understand how anyone sitting in that coffee shop with me tonight and who saw what I saw could say that America is an inherently selfish country, filled with people only looking out for their own interests. In a random night that involved little destruction and no big speeches, I remembered everything I love about living here.

Posted by Jeff at 12:39 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 11, 2003

They're French!

Connor (age 7) was watching Kevin Branaugh's movie of Shakespeare's Henry V today, for the first time. During the scene at Agincourt, in the midst of the battle, Connor said: "They're not going to win. They're French!"

I guess I'm rubbing off on him...

Posted by Jeff at 05:03 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

On the Eve of War

There was a post at Scrappleface which was not a humorous take on current events, but a place for people to post messages in support of our troops. I wrote a poem rather spontaneously in the comments:

On the Eve of War

Then sleep tonight, my precious sons,
for hard men stand upon the wall
and watch while you lay sleeping.

Dream your dreams of simple things -
of games and balls and riding on shoulders,
of Mother's lap and Father's homecoming -
for far away our Nation's best,
our sons and our daughters,
husbands and fathers,
wives and mothers,
all watch over.

Wake to the dawn,
your PJs on,
and come happy to your breakfast.
Somewhere in the cold desert,
those who would die for you
are waiting.

Live, my sons,
not knowing
what your few years cannot yet tell you:
that somewhere in the darkness
stand those who keep you

Posted by Jeff at 04:59 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 09, 2003


Current domestic and international politics are in a great state of flux in this post-Cold War world. Just as the 20th Century was dominated by the struggles of Collectivism (Nationalism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Unionism) against Individualism; so the next century will be dominated by the struggles now playing out in the world around us. In the 20th century, a series of political and economic collectivist movements were in turn marginalized by the will of the Individualists in, primarily, the United States and the United Kingdom. In contrast, this century will be a time in which the Western nations attempt to define themselves, while simultaneously fighting off an existential threat from the Arab/Muslim worlds, which are themselves engaged in a deep and long-term struggle to define themselves.

In this post, I will summarize the two schisms. There will be further articles delving into each schism in more detail, and describing how it will be possible to preserve the Enlightenment. The specific topics of these articles are listed at the end of this post. I am writing this because I care deeply that the Enlightenment values win over the pomo/tranzi values, and that the West win over the Arab/Muslim world. In either case, defeat means at best a new Dark Age, and at worst it means the destruction of classical liberalism in the world. It is my hope that I will be able to help both in framing the debate, and in winning over converts to the side of classical liberalism and Enlightenment values.

In the Western nations, the schism is over how to secure freedom. On one side are the Classical Liberals, who champion the Enlightenment values of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. On the other side are the Postmodernists and Transnationlists (henceforth Pomo/Tranzi), who champion the values (lifted from the French Revolution) of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Since each of these factions shares a history and culture, they frequently use each other's memes and mores to their own ends.

The Western Struggle is, in the end, nothing more than a refinement and extension of the conflicts of the 20th century. The primary difference is that, while the 20th century struggles were between nations which each espoused different political and economic principles, the 21st century struggles will be within nations, between global movements with like ideologies. The nations themselves will influence and be influenced by this struggle, but this is less of a struggle of nation on nation than was the case in the last century. Now, the struggle is between groups of differing ideological bases which, thanks largely to television and the Internet, spread across many nations. In other words, there is a large-scale ideological struggle, which is mirrored in the actions of nations, based on which group is strongest in any given nation at any given time.

This struggle is taking place within the Western cultures, which include the European nations, their former colonies which retained European values (including the Americas, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand and India) and those nations which adopted Western values (including Israel, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan - and possibly including China). Another struggle, similar in some ways, is taking place within the Arab and Muslim worlds. These worlds do not overlap completely. The Arab nations are those which have predominantly Arab or assimilated populations, stretching from the Atlantic coast of northern Africa along the southern rim of the Mediterranean and across to Iraq, Syria/Lebanon and the Gulf States. The Muslim world is composed of the Muslims within the Arab world; non-Arab Muslim countries such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia; and Muslims in non-Muslim societies such as Europe. Not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims. These worlds, too, are struggling with internal conflict.

In the Arab/Muslim worlds, the schism is over how best to restore and complete the Caliphate. One one side are the Arab Nationlists, who want to restore the Caliphate by uniting all Arabs into a single nation under the leadership of whichever Arab Nationalist is holding forth on the issue. Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and the Palestinians fall into this camp. On the other side are the Militant Muslim Fundamentalists, who want to restore the Caliphate by uniting all Muslims into a single community under Sharia Law as interpreted and guided by whichever Militant Muslim Fundamentalist is holding forth on the issue. On this side are the Ayatollahs of Iran (and Hezbollah, under Iranian influence), the Taliban, the Wahabbi sect in Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda and related groups (including Hamas - apparently the only significant Fundamentalist sect in the Palestinian conflict). As in the Western conflict, each side is deeply entwined in the history of the other, and often uses the memes and mores of the other side to their own ends.

The restoral of the Caliphate entails uniting all Arabs (for the Arab Nationalists) or Muslims (for the Militant Muslim Fundamentalists) into a single entity, then enlarging that entity to cover the world, either directly through control or indirectly through domination. For the Arab Nationalists, a resurgent Arab nation under their control would be sufficient, as long as it was a major power in the world. For the Fundamentalists, believing as they do that it is a religious obligation to convert every person in the world to either Islam or dhimmitude, there is no possibility of stopping with the unification of the Muslims.

Because it is generally forbidden for Muslims to kill Muslims, it is not possible for the Arab Nationalists and the Muslim Fundamentalists to directly fight each other. They could - it's not like there are not many, many, examples of Muslims killing each other in internecine conflicts - but in doing so they would alienate the vast majority of Muslims, who are more interested in trying to live a good and happy life than in being political. Since each movement needs the goodwill of the Muslim community generally, each has chosen to focus on the politically acceptable method of keeping score by who kills the most Infidels - with Jews counting for more than Gentiles as a general rule. (There is, after all, a religious component involved; though I believe that Militant Muslim Fundamentalism should be regarded as a political movement using religious memes for its source of legitimacy, rather than as a religious movement.) This goes a long way to explaining why each side calls Americans "Jews", even when it's a obviously meaningless thing to say. The goal of each of these movements is to boost their support within the Muslim community against the other movement, and killing Jews is a guaranteed way to get "street cred" in the Muslim world.

While each of these worlds is in internal conflict, the worlds are also in conflict with each other. This need not have been so; the West was content to navel gaze as long as we were allowed, and we'd happily go back to it if we thought that doing so wouldn't get us killed. September 11 woke the West to the fact that the Arab/Muslim struggle was using us as a scorecard. Well, at least, the Enlightened part of the West woke up; the pomo/tranzi crowd seems to be trying to slip back into a self-involved somnambulance. The story of this century - certainly of its first several decades - will be the story of how each of the two schisms is mended, and how the two cultures evolving out of those schisms interact and eventually fall into a stable relationship.

At the core of all of this is the inescapable conclusion that Osama bin Laden is correct in one important way: we are in the midst of a clash of civilizations, between the West and the Arab/Muslim worlds. Each of these cultures, though, is itself engaging in a struggle for internal definition. It is going to be a complicated and dangerous century. To quote Fezzik, in "The Princess Bride:" I hope we win.

This is the first of a series of planned posts. These posts will deal in much more depth with the issues raised here. Although this could change as I develop the ideas, right now I plan to write posts on the following topics:

  • The Enlightenment, Slavery as a disfigurement of the Enlightenment, and the struggles of the 19th century
  • Postmodernism and Transnationalism
  • The conservative/neo-conservative journey from reactionary preservation of the previous struggle to a real grasp of the Enlightenment and the (hopeful) liberal equivalent, from reactionary preservation of the collectivist struggle to a real grasp of the Enlightenment
  • The riddle and centrality of China - western (collectivist) in outlook, but becoming more and more Enlightened as they struggle to modernize
  • Why it's necessary for pomo/tranzi philosophy to be defeated and how to do it
  • Arab Nationalism, Militant Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernism in the Arab/Muslim worlds
  • Arab Nationalism
  • Muslim Fundamentalism
  • defeating the two enemies; including playing them off against each other
  • a summary of all that has gone before

UPDATE: Please note that I have decided not to continue this series per se. I'll write on these topics, but other writers are doing a better job of covering this than I can, and so this particular series would be not very useful, I think. Let me know if you disagree, and I'll revisit the idea.

Posted by Jeff at 02:03 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 06, 2003

The President's Press Conference

What impressed me most was that the press corps were serious and respectful. They asked good questions, occasionally even quite tough questions, without being rude or frivolous. I never really expect this from the press. The President's performance was also quite strong, which I expected, though the somber mood was surprising.

A lot of the followup, particularly from Senator Hart, struck me as frivolous and partisan. This is not really an appropriate approach to such serious matters as the defense of the Nation. But then again, I seldom expect the Democrats to act with any real decorum or forethought. It wasn't always this way - I would still vote for Senator Boren if he chose to return to politics and run for President.

The most telling moment was when the President was asked whether he would be making the decision soon to go to war. His answer was, in part:

That's what the United Nations Security Council has been talking about for 12 long years.

It's now time for this issue to come to a head at the Security Council, and it will.

As far as ultimatums and all of the speculation about what may or may not happen after next week, we'll just wait and see.

The way he stumbled over that past sentence, I believe indicates that he has decided that he will give the order next week, barring the very remote chance of Sadaam suddenly deciding to comply or abdicate.

Posted by Jeff at 08:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

No Oil for Greenpeace

I have been this week on a business trip to Chicago. Yesterday, I ran across a man wearing a "No War" button. Sadly, he turned out to be fairly intelligent, and broke off his conversation with me in less than five minutes.

This afternoon, walking back from work to the hotel, I saw three young men from Greenpeace on the sidewalk on my side of the street. I smiled at my inner thoughts ("And me without a baseball bat...") and I guess that one of the young men took this as a welcoming expression, and asked me to talk to him about energy policy.

Joe, as he turned out to be named, was actually a very nice guy. He explained that they were trying "to raise money to fight Bush's disastrous energy plan." He went on to give a little spiel about what they were trying to do, and asked if I were interested in joining.

I tried to give him an out: "I really don't agree with a lot of Greenpeace's policies, so that would not really be appropriate for me to do."

Joe didn't take the out: "Can you give me an example of something you don't agree with?"

Me: "Well, I can give you several, but I don't have the time to go on at that kind of length. I'll give you one, though. In California, there are windmills all over the hills, but they seldom run. The reason is that these tend to chop up birds in flight, including endangered migratory birds. Greenpeace fought hard to get California to pay for putting in the windmills, and Friends of the Earth, I think it was, fought hard to get California to shut them down. So in the end, all that ended up happening was that California taxpayers spent a lot of money to put a large number of metal poles on their hills. Not really a good use of public funds, I think."

Joe: [blink blink...thinking for a moment] "I see what you mean, but don't you think that we need a cleaner alternative?"

Me: "Alternative to what, exactly?"

Joe: "To fossil fuels, like oil, coal and natural gas. They pollute the environment when we burn them, and Bush's plan increases our dependence on oil, which means that there will be more oil spills like the Prestige, and more strip mining, which destroys the environment. I used to work for a company which made microturbines, but Bush cut funding for alternative energy research and our clients went elsewhere."

Me: "Wasn't the Prestige a Greek ship? And wasn't it taking oil from Russia or Latvia or something like that to Singapore? "

Joe: "ummm..."

Me: "I guess you were just using that as an example, though. I certainly think that it would be nice to have alternatives, but I don't see any, really. None of the clean 'alternative' sources work very well, when you think about it, nuclear isn't politically possible, and none of the really good-looking alternatives will be here for years yet."

Joe: "Well, if Bush hadn't cut funding for alternative..."

Me: "Oh, I don't really think that's a problem. In fact, it's really a good thing, because if the alternatives were feasible, they'd work without the government funding. Funding things through the government just leads people to make bad choices and it's really destructive, ultimately. I'd rather let people make their own choices of alternatives, then have the government choose for all of us."

Joe: "But is that really worth destroying ANWR and killing all that wildlife?"

Me: "Have you been to ANWR?"

Joe: "No, have you??!"

Me: "No, and you know what? We can see more people from where we're standing than have been to ANWR in the last decade or so. It's a wasteland, and if we're going to mess up the environment somewhere, better there or in the Arabian desert than, say, West Texas, which at least makes good farmland. Anyway, they're talking about so few wells over such a large area, the average Caribou - assuming it ever sees a well - will be displaced by a couple of hundred feet. I think I can live with drilling in ANWR, really."

Joe: "Wouldn't you rather have some clean source of energy that doesn't do any damage, like solar or wind power?"

Me: "Well, really, that's not viable. You can only get solar and wind in low densities, and in a few places. The cells are pretty inefficient, and you have to ship the energy a long distance - which is pretty inefficient - and store it - which is pretty inefficient. I'm not convinced that a solar plant would generate more usable energy than it consumes to build and maintain the plant and the storage and transmission infrastructure for it. Wind's got the same problem, plus the birds, and both solar and wind energy can't be easily shipped around to where they're needed. Oil you put in a truck and put it where you need it. "

Joe: [blink blink]

Me: "There are some alternatives I'd like to see, though."

Joe: [brightening up considerably] "Like..."

Me: "Well, like fusion. That's been 15 to 20 years off for a long time now, but maybe they'll get it soon. It's theoretically possible, but frankly I don't think that they'll be able to do it with the tokamak designs. They'll need something new. Microwave power satellites would be a good choice, if you could solve a few engineering problems first, like how to build and maintain a structure like that in space, and how to get the power to the ground without having fires catch if the beam goes off target. What I'd really like to see, that is practical and available now, is to reduce the economic and regulatory burdens on nuclear fission plants. France and Japan, for instance, generate most of their electrical power from this source and have done it safely for decades."

Joe: "What about the nuclear waste?"

Me: "In comparison to coal slag and oil spills? I'll take it. Besides, we can seal it in glass, put the glass in containers, and put those in deep salt mines where they'll be safe for tens of thousands of years. Or, we could take those containers, and drop them into subduction zones in the ocean and let the waste be recycled in the molten rock it came from. Well, that would probably require us to actually drill in the subduction zones to get through the silt, so it might not be economically viable. Besides, like I said, it's not really politically viable. I suppose there is one way I'd support getting rid of the fossil fuel economy now, though."

Joe: [brightening again] "What's that?"

Me: "The population of the world prior to the industrial era was, I think, about 250 million. If I could administer the tests to see who lives, I'd consider it."

Joe: [dispiritedly] "I think I'd better go talk to some more people now."

No voices were ever raised, and we parted with a handshake. Given the rate at which Joe's compatriots were stopping people, I figure I kept three or four people from talking to Joe. Since none of them seemed to be signing up, though, I probably didn't lose them any money. Shame, that.

Posted by Jeff at 05:05 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (6)