Stardate 20011013.1955 (On Screen): bin Laden's family has left Afghanistan and gone to Islamabad in Pakistan. They don't seem to be in hiding; his son gave a newspaper interview.
He says that his father is out in the hills in a cave (which agrees with the background scenery from his videotape last weekend. The son also says that his father took several trucks full of satellite equipment with him. If he's got satellite dishes set up somewhere, they can be spotted from the air or via satellite reconnaissance. If he's hiding in a cave, it can be collapsed with bombs. If he's got 300 bodyguards, they'll die with him. bin Laden's son is a fool to have said those things. (discuss)
Stardate 20011013.1528 (On Screen): I have been seeing hints and bits of something happening behind the scenes between the US and the continental European nations in NATO. It's just a suspicion; it's nothing I can point to in a single place for justification. I might be right or wrong, but the suspicion is growing stronger as time goes on, and I wanted to write about it.
"I know that a number of NATO countries don't simply want to back all of the Americans -- they want to be there on the front line with the United States in this campaign against terrorism, which is after all, an affliction that could as easily happen to them or damage them," said [NATO Secretary General George] Robertson.
And why aren't they? Because the US didn't ask them, and hasn't taken them up very enthusiastically on any offers. That's what I suspect, and here's what I suspect is the reason why. From what I've read, the crisis happened because of Kosovo. (Throughout what follows, "European" means the continental European military members, i.e. everyone except the UK.) The US wanted active military involvement against Serbia to break the power of Milosevic, and the Europeans dragged their feet. There's long been tension in NATO about Yugoslavia, with the US pushing for military action and the Europeans being reticent, and it came to a head over Kosovo where the US made an ultimatum and forced the Europeans into action, kicking and screaming. And their involvement was minimal and half-hearted, and most of the attack was made by the US -- and nearly all of the rest by the UK. While Italian air bases were used for much of the attacks, actual sorties by anyone except the US and UK were negligible. And the US came out of that experience realizing that the only NATO partner it could really rely on was the UK. The Europeans were focused on their short term qualms over Kosovo and didn't realize the long term consequences of their behavior.
So when the US was brutally attacked, we asked the UK for help, which they freely provided. The UK stepped up and acted like an ally should; it didn't criticize the US, rather it said "We're on your side in this. We care about this and we're going to put our asses on the line with you because that's what friends do, and we're your friends." The continental European nations, on the other hand, dithered and wrung their hands, and talked about "measured response" and tried to point out historical US foreign policy mistakes -- and basically made it clear that they were not in favor of a major military response. And the US didn't ask them to get involved in one, either. Instead, the US began to mobilize its own forces, which are formidable, and went into action anyway. It didn't ask NATO for permission or even for help. NATO passed its Article 5 declaration, and the US said "Thanks; we'll let you know." NATO offered ships, which are useless, and one French frigate joined the US fleet, so that its sailors can get a sun-tan in the Arabian Sea. The UK, on the other hand, provided a substantial naval presence and more important it actually helped in the first day's attacks. Militarily, the UK contribution was small, but politically it's been invaluable. Tony Blair has been making speeches and travelling to talk to people and helping to make deals. Has any major head of state from continental Europe done even a fifth as much? No, and I suspect they haven't even been asked to because the US doesn't trust their motives.
British submarines fired some of the Tomahawks which hit Afghanistan last Sunday. For the moment, that was all that Britain was militarily capable of doing; the importance of it was that it made the UK a protagonist. The UK chose sides and stuck its ass on the line, and now it's just as much of a target for al Qaeda as the US is, and it may well eventually be the target for a terrorist attack because of that. That took guts; and it was exactly what the US expected, which is why the US trusts the UK and considers it the closest ally in Europe it has. In a crisis, a friend proves friendship by actions and not words, and the UK is the only one to act like a friend.
I think what's happened is that it's beginning to dawn on the continental European NATO members just how badly they've fucked up. By not asking for help, the US showed its true attitude towards the Europeans -- and I think they're not happy with that. But they can't really blame the US for it; the US hasn't issued any recriminations or condemnations or in any way tried to embarrass them; it's just ignored them. Actually, that's the most humiliating thing the US could have done. If we'd denounced them in public, they could have denounced us back and gotten righteously indignant and saved their pride. But how do you denounce someone who ignores you? American silence is becoming exceedingly embarrassing, both internationally and at home. They've been involved in intelligence and law enforcement operations, but Kosovo proved to the US that they can't be trusted militarily or politically in a crisis, and the US isn't interested in trying again. So their newly stated willingness, even eagerness, to get involved in the actual battle is partly an attempt to redeem themselves with the US government and to atone for how acted during the Kosovo operation. It's not clear it will work; the simple fact is that the US doesn't really need them and isn't really interested in taking a chance on them. So far, their only actual military involvement has been to send AWACS to the US so that the US can send its own AWACS to the zone of combat. Even that was a snub; why weren't the European AWACS themselves sent to the zone of combat? Because the US doesn't want them there.
And, as Robertson himself points out, the next major terrorist act could happen anywhere, including in continental Europe. Indeed, it's known that there were plans for attacks there. The US and UK are fighting to try to stop or at least minimize future terrorist actions everywhere, which in a sense protects Europe, and the Europeans aren't even welcome to help. That is an even worse humiliation, I think. It's not that they are not considered to be militarily up to it; French and German forces are as good as any in the world. It's that they're not trusted politically. That is galling.
The British were welcome. Likely eventually British jets will be involved in the air strikes. If there's ground action, British forces will unquestionably be involved. (They probably already have been.) The British naval base on Diego Garcia has been essential and probably their permission to use it has been the single most valuable military move they've made. Any help offered by the rest of the NATO powers is going to be eyed suspiciously by the US, which is going to ask "And what is it going to cost us?" For example, if the price for 20 French jets and a frigate and a couple of battalions of special forces is that France will have veto power over the strategy and tactics and potential theatres of the war, then the US will think back to what happened in Kosovo and answer will probably be "Don't call us, we'll call you." (France did offer military assistance on those terms, and it was turned down.)
And eventually French and German and Italian voters are going to start asking why their governments aren't helping their ally out the way the UK is, and there isn't going to be any good answer for that. The answer is, "They didn't ask us because they don't trust us," but they won't be able to say that publicly. I can't prove any of this. But I'm as certain as I can be that this is what is happening in the back channels. The United States is going to accept non-symbolic military assistance from the continental NATO powers only if it is offered unconditionally. (discussion in progress)
Update: And the UK is indeed now a formally-declared target of al Qaeda. Notable by their absence were any threats made against Germany or Italy or France.
Update: A friend from continental Europe informs me that I have misjudged the political feelings of voters there, and that their lack of participation is not an issue.
Stardate 20011013.1427 (On Screen): Saudi Prince Bin Talal was confused by the refusal of his gift of $10 million to the city of New York -- but he apparently has figured out why it happened: it was the Jews. Evidently, as soon as Mayor Giuliani got back to his office, he telephoned his masters at the Jewish International Bankers Conspiracy and asked them what he should do. And they ordered him to refuse it, since it came from an Arab.
Or at least that's what he's announced. I can't figure out whether this is actually what he believes, or whether it's what he's saying back home in order to mitigate the embarassment caused by the refusal. This, at least, makes him look like a victim. The truth -- that he was acting like a boor -- isn't something he really wants to admit, to others and maybe even to himself. It wasn't the message he was delivering that was rejected, it was the time and place and method he used to deliver it. (discussion in progress)
You know, if the Jews didn't exist, we'd have to invent them.
Stardate 20011013.1418 (On Screen): In numerous contexts, one claim that has been made by anti-war participants is "How can this be a war without a formal Declaration of War having been passed by Congress?" The answer is that Congress passed what amounted to a declaration of war a couple of days after the attacks in NYC and DC. "'What amounts to' isn't the same as a real Declaration of War." Well, actually, it is. This article explains the legal background behind it. When Congress authorized military activity as part of a supplemental appropriations bill, it was working within the context of the War Powers Act, which itself was passed within the legal framework of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. All that section says is that Congress has the power to declare war; it doesn't say that war requires a formally labeled "declaration" as such. Congress itself gets to decide what a declaration of war (or nearly anything else it does) looks like, and it made that decision with the War Powers Act. The War Powers Act has been tested in court and found to be constitutional. We are legally at war, and have been since September 14. (discuss)
Stardate 20011013.1045 (On Screen): You know, as a weapon, a letter contaminated with anthrax spores is absurdly inefficient. Strictly speaking, if whoever had sent the letter in Florida had wanted to create more dead bodies, a letter bomb would have been more effective. But as an instrument of terror it was brilliantly conceived. Now anyone who has an envelope, a piece of paper and a box of corn starch can scare the wits out of anyone they don't like. The lone case of anthrax in NYC wasn't caused by a letter; it was tested and came up negative. And given that her case is sub-cutaneous, it's rather hard to see how it could have been the result of criminal action. So for the moment, the only confirmed criminal use of anthrax spores we know of is the one in Florida, which definitely was contaminated and definitely did infect three people (and kill one of them). But you're getting reports now of those kinds of letters arriving all over the place, and every time it happens, someone totally freaks out. While I don't want anyone else to die of anthrax, I think it might be useful if reporters would stop reporting "potential cases"; how about only reporting them after they've actually been confirmed by lab tests? Let's not give headlines to every creep who puts some talcum powder in an envelope, OK? (discussion in progress)
Update: It turns out that there were two suspicious letters sent to NBC, and the other one has tested positive for anthrax. None of which changes what I said.
Update: A suspicious letter in Nevada now seems to have tested positive.
Stardate 20011013.1037 (On Screen): Somehow it's not getting through to the antiwar protesters that no-one is going to pay attention to them until they offer a credible alternative. Their message is "War is icky; people get hurt." Yes, that's true. They say they want peace. I like peace, too. But they assume that it is unilaterally within our power to make the war stop and to bring peace -- and that is false; it takes two to make a peace, but only one to make a war. "We think very strongly that this bombing action ... might well encourage further terrorist acts." But that assumes that without the bombing there would be no further terror attacks. The WTC attack happened without any bombing by us; do they think that's the last attack al Qaeda would ever make if we were to leave them alone?
Their message is that "War is not the answer." But until they can provide another answer that's better, then they're whistling in the wind. Their implied answer is that if we stop bombing then everyone will go back to living in peace and harmony and loving brotherhood. That's very difficult to believe. (discuss)
This, for instance, was apparently delivered straight -- but it reads like parody. I swear, I could have believed it to have been written by The Onion. And it's blatantly slanted; point 4, for instance, doesn't bother mentioning the possibility that violence now might prevent violence later. And point 8 is right out of the touchy-feelie manual. Apparently no-one ever starts a war; they just happen.
Stardate 20011013.0949 (On Screen): It's not just Larry Ellison; now Scott McNealy also is pushing the idea of a national ID card system. But while Ellison thinks that it would be just peachy if it were all based on Oracle databases, McNealy thinks Java is just the ticket to solve the problem. "We need a thumbprint Java card in the hand of everybody in the country." Be still, my heart. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011013.0736 (On Screen via long range sensors): I suppose that there's nothing tasteful about memes, God knows. One of the internet hoaxes going around for a while was a purported picture taken on top of one of the WTC towers showing a tourist in the foreground and a jet in the background just prior to impact. The claim was that it had been recovered from the wreckage of the tower, but it falls apart from inconsistencies under examination (things like the fact that the observation deck wasn't open at the time of the attack). Since then, the guy in the picture has probably been identified (he seems to be named "James") and the source of the picture of the jet itself has also been found.
But in the spirit of the now removed "Bert is Evil", the Tourist of Death has become the subject of numerous doctored pictures. Like all memes, this one will fall by the wayside eventually. In the mean time, I feel sorry for the guy whose picture it actually is; he's probably getting a lot of ribbing about it from people who know him. (Of course, if he was responsible for the original hoax, then he deserves everything he's getting.) (discuss)
Stardate 20011013.0715 (On Screen): Iain asks why we have troops in Saudi Arabia. He describes them as "sitting duck targets". Actually, that is precisely why they are there. The point is that if Iraq were to attack Saudi territory, our people would try to fight, maybe not succeed, and possibly suffer great casualties. This then would give the government an excuse to reinforce the place with further American troops. They're there for the same reason our forces are in Korea: so that an attack in that location can't not involve the US. If North Korea attacks the South, they necessarily must fight the Second Armored Division -- who may win or may not, but will certainly then be reinforced.
But the troops in Saudi Arabia (and in Kuwait) are doing other things. We have prepositioned a great deal of materiel, especially tanks and IFVs, in those areas. The troops who are there are, among other things, guarding them and also doing the routine maintenance on them which is necessary to keep them ready for use. Equpment like that degrades with time and even when it's sitting unused it requires routine maintenance. The reason that stuff is there is so that the next time we have to fight (if there is one) it won't take as long to get back up to fighting strength. Men can be brought in by air, but that kind of materiel has to come by ship if you need it in quantity. Last time it took six months to build up; next time it will be much quicker because much of what we need is already in place. (discuss)
Stardate 20011013.0704 (On Screen): It's no surprise that the Taliban have rejected President Bush's "second chance" offer; it was framed in terms such as to be an offer they could not accept. I think Bush never expected anything else. In a sense, it was an attempt to catch the Taliban in the web of its own lies.
The Taliban have been claiming all along that bin Laden and al Qaeda were not associated with the Taliban in any important way. In actuality, the two are closely intertwined. bin Laden has been giving the Taliban huge amounts of money, and the core of the Taliban army are foreigners (mostly Arabs) who are loyal not to the Taliban but rather to bin Laden himself. Bush's offer would only make sense for the Taliban if reality were as the Taliban had been representing it to be; given that the reality is that bin Laden owns the Taliban, they don't actually have the ability to accept the offer even if they had the desire to do so. But the offer also forced them to cleave to bin Laden even as most of the world acknowledges him as a blood-soaked monster. They continue to try to ameliorate that with lame excuses of "not being given evidence of his guilt" but that is getting less and less effective as time goes on, in most of the world.
Where the propaganda war is really being played out is in the Muslim nations themselves. The Taliban have no chance whatever of convincing the vast majority of people in the US or Europe of their claims, but they've done somewhat better with the populaces of nations like Indonesia and Pakistan. They've been trying to cast this war as being between Christianity and Islam; we have been trying to cast it in terms of Civilization versus Terrorism. So far it's been a draw with maybe a slight edge to us; there have been numerous demonstrations and even some riots in the Muslim nations, but not to the point of being politically significant (i.e. to the point of forcing the governments of those nations to change their foreign policy). It's lead to empty gestures, though, such as the VP of Indonesia publicly asking the US to stop the bombing. That was an easy way for him to show solidarity with the Muslim radicals in his nation, since he knows there is no chance whatever of his request being honored. It has the potential for somewhat defusing their wrath without actually representing a substantive move by the Indonesian government. (discuss)
Stardate 20011013.0607 (On Screen): In any war there are unsung heroes, and sometimes they aren't obvious. I have a nomination for one: the Pakistani lawyer who is in Kabul now to defend the western missionaries. Kabul is not a nice place to be right now anyway, and in fact it is distinctly dangerous. The place may be overrun by the Northern Alliance at any moment, and in street fighting there are a lot of unintended casualties of civilians. He also has the thankless job of trying to represent his clients in front of "hanging judges". He presented his first arguments today in the trial, and he wrote them in Arabic. The trial was dismissed and he was ordered to rewrite them in a local language. That's ironic: his legal argments were presented in the same language and script as the Quran, and the learned theocratic judges couldn't read or understand them? (discuss)
Stardate 20011013.0559 (On Screen): One of the reasons there is such great urgency in trying to get large quantities of food into Afghanistan is that when winter starts movement over the roads there will become difficult. They hope not just to get enough food in to feed people now, but also enough to build up stockpiles in warehouses to be used later. They have to try, but I'm afraid there's a good chance that it will be a useless gesture. As the Taliban's grasp on power continues to weaken, lower level groups ostensibly part of the organization will break free and start to work as bandits. This is already happening, such as with the local group in the west which tried to demand a "road tax" from a food convoy. If there is a lot of food in warehouses in Kabul, eventually some local warlord will raid and steal it. (Or the Northern Alliance might seize it when they take the city.) The food agencies surely won't be permitted armed guards for their warehouses, and nothing short of that could prevent this from happening. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.2046 (Crew, this is the Captain): Grumble. Do you think they have started singing "God Bless America" during seventh inning stretch at Bluejays or Expos games? Well, the season is almost over; maybe by next year they'll be over it and we can go back to singing "Take me out to the ballgame" like we should be. "Buy me some Pea-nuts and CRAAAckerjack..." (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011012.1800 (On Screen): Atlee comments on my article about the use of Social Security Numbers as access keys for databases. Unfortunately, most of the problems she describes I think are virtues. There's no reason why any given database cannot issue to me a unique number, randomly chosen or sequentially assigned or created by hashing my name. If I go to a doctor or a pharmacy to use my health plan, I give them a card and it has an identification number on it. There's no reason that has to be my SSN; it could just as easily be anything else. The only requirement is that it be locally unique within that particular database; there's no benefit to me for using the same number for everything. Equally, if a credit rating bureau wants to keep records on me, they can tell me so and tell me what access key they're using. If I want a bank loan, I give that key to the bank and they access my record. Equally when I want a credit card. But there's no benefit for me for that number being the same one as is used by my health plan, or by the state for my driver's license, or by the Federal government for my taxes, or for any of the other 500 databases I'm in.
But for people who want to create an effective police state or to otherwise seriously invade my privacy, having a single number is priceless. If someone now wants to know all about me, all they need is my SSN. They can access my health records, my credit record, they can trace me back to all the places I've lived in my life, find everything out about me. If they were doing those things with my permission and knowledge, then I could give them all the access keys they needed to do it; it's only when they're doing it without my permission that a single number becomes useful.
The use of a unique number created by the database is not a new concept; it's what they used to do. In many cases they still do: my credit card doesn't have my SSN on it; rather, it's a number issued to me by my bank. No-one needs to know that number except when doing something I want done, and in that case I can give them that number. The bank can probably access my database entry using my SSN, but they don't do so routinely, and if they ceased to have that ability it wouldn't noticeably affect their day-to-day operations. (They have to have my SSN in the database but it doesn't have to be an access key.) And the same thing goes for all the other databases. There is no problem finding my records if I'm cooperating with them -- and if I'm not, then I want it to be as difficult as possible. Even more to the point, if I'm in a database without knowing it, then I want access to that database to be difficult and error prone.
As to the ambiguity of names and the difficulty of using them for access keys -- that is precisely the point. What that means is that if I am in several databases which don't use the SSN for access keys (and don't actually contain the SSN at all), then cross-correlating those databases becomes prohibitively difficult. This is a virtue, not a fault. It's precisely the reason I don't want the SSN used. I recognize that sometimes this will cause me grief -- and that is a price I'm willing to pay to protect my privacy. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011012.1738 (On Screen and On Sensors): Do pacifists have young children? Perhaps eventually, but I bet not many have. I look at the news reports of the people carrying "Give Peace a Chance" signs, and I look at the interviews, and I've come to the conclusion that they're nearly all either 18-24-something college students (or recent graduates) or they're 40-55 year old Viet Nam Era retreads. And most of the young ones look as if they're unmarried or only recently married. I bet there's not a baby among them -- because having a child changes your perspective on life. It changes what's important.
Both of these, written independently and probably without knowing of the other, write the same thing: about how they love their kids and about how they'd feel if they were to die in a biowarfare attack -- and about how they'd be quite willing to do anything, anything at all, to prevent that. If we're attacked big-time with bio-weapons, we are going to start using nukes. (discussion in progress)
How's this for a "modest proposal": Pass a law that if any bio-attack on the US results in 1000 or more confirmed cases, that both Mecca and Medina would be multiply-nuked? Think that would deter Muslim extremists?
Stardate 20011012.1410 (On Screen): This story reports the possibility that al Qaeda has the ability to manufacture poison gases "like chlorine and phosgene". I don't know how to make phosgene, but anyone can make chlorine with ingredients purchased at any grocery store. Chlorine was the first poison gas used in WWI, but it's not a one-whiff-and-you-die gas, and it was soon abandoned in favor of much more lethal gases like mustard and cyanogen. Not to minimize the risk from chlorine, but this announcement about chlorine is less than impressive. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.1233 (On Screen): Polaroid has filed for Chapter 11 bankrupcy. This is hardly a surprise; it's been obvious that this was coming for months. It was done in by the creation of the digital camera; after that there was no hope. Clinging to an obsolete technology it got run over the by the future, and now it's roadkill. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.1114 (On Screen): The Taliban are trying to play the victim card, by claiming huge numbers of civilian deaths and bombings of civilian targets like villages and mosques. It's important to keep in mind that they have a vested interest in making this seem as bad as possible, and that they do not have a record of veracity. Since there's no independent confirmation of these claims, they should be taken with a generous supply of salt. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.1057 (On Screen): There will be a lightening of the bombing in honor of a Muslim holy day, or so they're saying. Well, not exactly. I think it's more coincidence than anything. USS Carl Vinson is standing down for a day so that it can reprovision. This had to happen anyway, so why not do it on the holy day? As soon as it's done, USS Enterprise will probably do the same thing. Neither carrier is out of jet fuel or ordance or food. It's standard policy to resupply when there's still significant stocks left, and in an emergency (i.e. a Taliban attack on Uzbekistan) they could start launching jets within an hour at most. Also, they will never have both carriers stand down at once. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.0957 (On Screen): During the last day there has been a substantial amount of bombing of military targets in the vicinity of Kabul. Reports indicate that an ammunition dump was hit, and it's likely that they've also been bombing artillery positions. Having done that, our jets are now bombing Taliban troop positions just north of Kabul, to weaken and demoralize them. Once that's complete, there will likely be an assault by Northern Alliance forces. I expect Kabul to fall, possibly within as little as three days.
One thing to watch for is a collapse of the Taliban. The political and psychological result of losing the nation's largest city may undermine confidence and support for the Taliban elsewhere in the country. There are already reports of wholesale defections and of loss of local control; it's apparent that the forces commanded by the Taliban were not quite as loyal and motivated as they would like us to believe. Moreover, there will probably be a lot of outright desertions among young men forcibly impressed into service. The wild card in the deck is the core of Arab (i.e. foreign) soldiers who are mainly loyal to bin Laden; they're likely to continue to resist. With any luck, they'll be somewhere that can be attacked by air. Their bravery and discipline will do them little good against cluster bombs. (discuss)
Update: I think the chance of a Taliban attack on Uzbekistan is now nil. The supply lines to that area are extreme long and uncertain, and any movement towards the border would make that area absolutely top priority for bombing.
Stardate 20011012.0939 (On Screen): United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson wants the US to stop making airstrikes for the four weeks to permit aid agencies to move enough food into Afghanistan to prevent wholesale starvation. There is no chance whatever of that happening. Once you begin an attack, you cannot stop and let your enemy recover. The Taliban are being hit with weapons they've never encountered before and for the moment surprise is enhancing the effectiveness of those weapons. If they have a month to evaluate them and work out countermeasures (and there are countermeasures for every weapon short of a nuke) then our ability to fight and win this war could be severely harmed, possibly leading to a much higher casualty rate for American and allied troops if ground action begins. Also, they could use that time to reorganize and regain the control that they seem to be losing. Another point is that if we stop now and wait until the snows come, then there is no longer any chance of winning this until next summer. If we continue, it's possible this may all be finished within the next 4 weeks. It's a small chance but a real one. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.0850 (On Screen via long range sensors): According to this report, after Mayor Giuliani declined to accept a contribution of $10 million from Saudi Prince bin Talal, evidently the Prince returned to his hotel suite and hurredly packed and left New York. Which makes me wonder: how could he make such an incredibly inept faux pas? Does he understand us so little? I think maybe he does, and he may not be alone. There's a tendency in the world to think of the people of the US as being effete, wordy and perhaps a bit corrupt, willing to do or accept anything for money. In times of peace there is a lot of truth to that, but the flaw is to assume that we cannot be any different. That's merely what we're like when we're relaxed. It's been two generations since the last time that the United States was truly angered, and few left alive recall what that was like. The assumption, I think, was that this was what the US used to be like but no longer is -- which is not true. It is very difficult to anger the people of the US, but once that happens we have always had a steel resolve, and once again that has happened. We can be bought, but only in unimportant ways. There isn't enough money in all of Saudi Arabia to buy the things we think are truly important. Prince bin Talal thought that with a check for $10 million he could purchase a platform to deliver a political statement. I think he was completely surprised when he got told to get stuffed. But a lot of people are going to learn the true character of the United States now. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.0839 (On Screen via long range sensors): It seems a surprising number of people don't understand what the First Amendment actually means, or the more general principle of "Freedom of Expression". The basic concept is that in a vigorous marketplace of ideas, that the majority of voters will discern the truth. The reason is that different people with different points of view will express their opinions and that other people will then listen to those points of view and criticize them. Then the authors will rebut, and so on. Criticism is an essential step in this process; it provides the opportunity for the voters to hear about mistakes and flaws in the argument. If the original speaker has made a good case for his point of view, then the criticisms will come up as weak and ineffectual. If, on the other hand, the original speaker made a flawed argument then the criticisms will be devastating.
That's the point: freedom of expression does not include freedom to be free of being criticized. What the First Amendment prevents is any laws which punish free speech. But that's all that it prevents. It does not, for example, guarantee a platform. People who are used to having a channel whereby their political speech is spread widely do not have that by right. In the marketplace of ideas, there are enough different channels so that all the important ideas will get out. So, for example, it is completely legal for a newspaper to fire a reporter because of what he writes, or for a magazine to stop carrying a syndicated column because the author says things the magazine's publisher doesn't care for. Neither the reporter nor the syndicated columnist have a right to have their work published.
While a teacher in front of a class is entitled to a certain level of decorum when teaching their assigned subject, they are not entitled to be free of criticism if they use that position to express political opinions. As soon as they do so they cease to be professors and start to be citizens, equal to the citizens who sit in their classes. They have a freedom to express themselves but so do the students. And the students have the right to criticize the professor if they disagree with what he's said. If he truly believes what he is saying is important and valuable, he will not let that stop him or dissuade him. If, on the other hand, he is somehow intimidated by this then it suggests that he isn't truly certain of what he's saying -- for part of freedom of expression is the responsibility to take the consequences for your expression. Freedom of expression extends only as far as preventing criminal penalties for speech, but it does not prevent, in any regard whatever, other people from deciding that they do not wish to associate with you because of what you say. That is their right. If your message is important to you, you'll accept that -- and many people have. Some very brave people have accepted social ostracism so as to deliver messages they think are important. Cowards, on the other hand, will bow to social pressure.
I happen to think that Chomsky is an ass, for example, but in this regard at least he has it right. He's been roundly criticized for what he's been saying lately, but I have seen nothing to suggest that he's complained about that fact. He seems to understand how important the free flow of criticism is in the marketplace of ideas. He delivers his ideas, and others deliver theirs, and all of us listen and decide who is right. And that is how it should be.
If any one person has the freedom to express themself without being criticized or having anyone express a dissenting opinion, then no-one else is free at all. Freedom of expression must include freedom to criticise and disagree. The proper response to criticism is not to complain, but to step up to and answer the criticism and to try to prevail based on the issues. (discuss)
Stardate 20011012.0320 (On Screen): There are gestures which are useful, and those which are empty. In the wake of the WTC bombing, a lot of people are eager to show how patriotic they are, and to "support" the war effort and our nation. That part's fine, but some actions are more useless than others. Playing "God Bless America" during seventh inning stretch at a baseball game is pretty much useless. And a plan by employees of two airlines to run a relay race to carry an American flag from Boston to Los Angeles is equally useless, if not completely bizarre. What, exactly, is it supposed to prove? What possible good does it do, except to make those who participate feel as if they've participated? It's a crass publicity stunt; what it's really trying to say is "Flying on a jet is a patriotic duty" -- so to prove that, they're going to run? (Maybe by showing how much longer it will take compared to a jet flight?) (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011012.0313 (On Screen): I think we've started using fuel-air bombs in Afghanistan. This report says:
About four hours later, U.S. planes struck again. A fireball was seen from the direction of Rishkore, an al-Qaida training base near Kabul. The camp has been empty for months, but buildings, training facilities and offices remain.
If the camp really was abandoned, then there wouldn't be anything on the ground to create a fireball (i.e. a cache of gasoline or ammunition). Conventional HE munitions don't make a fireball; they go off in a very bright flash. Either the camp wasn't actually abandoned, or we've started using the most effective non-nuclear area affect weapon in our arsenal. That would also explain some of the "nothing left standing" before-and-after pictures showing bombing effects which have been released by the Pentagon. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.2130 (On Screen): According to this, heavy offensive bombing is now in progress. It mentions that
Unlike Iraqi and Yugoslav troops, which tried to scatter when targeted by American air campaigns over the past decade, the Taliban forces have appeared to hunker down and remain concentrated in their encampments, the officials said.
I wonder if it may be because they don't really know what they're up against. Their experience with defending against bombardment will have been from Russian bombing and more recently with artillery and mortar fire. I suspect that the Russians were primarily using high explosives, and that's certainly what their artillery and mortars are firing. What you get is small number of concentrated explosions which have a wide area of lethality if you are out in the open. But if you're dug in, in a trench or deep foxhole, then your best chance of survival is to stay down. If you get up and run, you'll be caught by shrapnel. Stay in your hole and it will go over your head unless you take a direct hit. But that's not the case with cluster bombs.
A cluster bomb is a large package which falls to a certain height, and then bursts and scatters a huge number of bomblets over a wide area. Each of those is sort of like a super-duper hand grenade. Men in trenches and foxholes are not protected, because the bomblets scatter all over the place and are likely to fall in with them. Pretty much the only way to survive a cluster bomb is either to be underground or in an armored vehicle, or to not be within the scatter zone. If you don't have a bunker or a tank, therefore, the best thing to do is to run and hope you can clear the area of effect before the bomb goes off. I suspect the reason that the Taliban's forces are not scattering is that they truly don't know any better. (And at the rate they're going, they're not going to get the opportunity to learn, either.) (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.2017 (On Screen via long range sensors): Market segments go through a life cycle. In the earliest stage, you see lots of small companies all trying to compete, with products which are radically different. The market grows and the companies grow with it, but some grow faster than others, and soon you have a few large companies and a lot of small ones. Then the market saturates and the growth rate of the overall segment slows dramatically. At that point, the only way companies can continue to grow is at the expense of each other. At this point you begin to see shakeout, with weaker participants being consumed by larger healthier competitors, or simply going out of business entirely. And it isn't always obvious what makes winners and losers: Dell is healthy and Gateway is desperately sick, but they sell essentially identical products. During the shakeout phase, the number of radically different choices declines precipitously, as losing companies begin to change their products to imitate those of the more successful companies. Absent government involvement, the ultimate result is one single company which controls the complete supply. Had the government not stepped in, the US would only have a single car company now (GM) and we do only have one large aerospace company (Boeing). This situation is then stable as long as the market segment exists.
In markets like computers or cars or motorcycles, where at least some customers become partisans of their products and come to identify with them, this shakeout can seem like some sort of plot or tragedy. It isn't, though; it's simply the normal life cycle of a market. The early diverse experimental stage is unstable. People can come to love that and feel nostalgic about it, but it can't persist. It never has.
This is particularly true for products which are susceptible to the "network effect" (which doesn't mean they're networked together). The value of such products increase as a function of the number of people who use them. Sometimes this is because they are literally networked together (such as telephones) and in some cases it's because it improves the support structure. In many cases it is aided by economy of scale. A car is more valuable to me with more than a hundred million of them in the country than it would be if there were only a thousand, because a hundred million can economically support a large number of gas stations and a mature road system. The network effect promotes concentration and shakeout, because the value it adds isn't represented in the product price. The classic example of this in recent years was the video-tape format wars. Betamax partisans will claim up and down that it was always superior to VHS, but videotapes are very subject to network effect and VHS crushed Betamax through simple numbers. Betamax is now dead and there is only a single standard. There is an advantage in buying the most popular choice irrespective of any other merits it or its competitors may have, and at a certain point that merit may outweigh all other criteria, at which point all the other choices are doomed. That's what happened to Betamax; when VHS achieved 75% marketshare, the only way for Betamax to go was down.
But minority platforms can start nearly at parity and watch their support decline as they lose ground to another competitor as it grows, and if the other competitor is viewed as being inferior then this can be an ego-bruising experience. That is what Betamax partisans observed. This explains the "computer wars"; Windows has won because quantity has a quality all its own, and that quality happens to be more important than any other: broad support by third party hardware and software vendors. At this point in the state of the market, that factor is more important than any other, so the Amiga and Atari ST vanished, OS/2 is nearly gone, and the Mac is on the critical list but hanging on, just barely. And the cry goes up: "But it just isn't fair!" True, it may not seem to be. But that is how markets work, and they don't really have anything to do with "fair".
And that same thing happens in the marketplace of ideas. Memes and philosophies compete in exactly the same way. Successful ones spread, unsuccessful ones fall by the wayside and die or are absorbed by more successful ones. Many of them are subject to network effect, which strengthens the winners and weakens the losers. Take languages, for instance: once there were thousands in common use, but as the centuries have gone by, a few large ones have spread and become more and more common. The value of a language is extremely enhanced by network effect: the more people who speak it, the more useful it is to each person who is fluent in it. While it's possible to be multilingual, as time goes on less popular languages will decline and vanish because there becomes less and less reason for new speakers to pick them up and older speakers die. Gaelic as a language probably won't survive another century, for example. Many languages are already gone. And a few languages now dominate the world: English, Russian, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese. One sign that a language is endangered is when the majority of its speakers are multilingual. At that point, its days as a useful language are numbered.
Eventually one language will dominate because its value through network effect will overwhelm all others. That doesn't mean no other language will be spoken, but nearly everyone will speak it either as a first or second language. Right now the odds-on bet for that language is English; it already dominates certain important areas such as science and engineering. English is the most common second-language on Earth. It doesn't matter how this happened; the point is that the direction of the future is clear. There is now a very strong incentive for people all over the world to learn English because there is so much important information available in it. Many smaller languages may be preserved essentially by putting them in zoos; there is an active effort, for example, by some American Indian tribes to work to preserve their languages. But while that may work, there will exist no mono-lingual speakers of those languages; they'll be museum pieces, not living languages.
The same thing happens with cultures and economic systems. There is a network affect for those, though some gain more advantage from that than others do. Capitalism gains more from network effect than does any other economic system, because of the gains possible through trade and because of economy of scale. The more people there are in capitalist systems, the more opportunity there is to take advantage of economy of scale to produce more goods at a lower price per unit, because the markets exist to absorb them. As a result, overall more goods are created per participant and the standard of living rises, to the benefit of most of the people in the capitalist cultures. And political systems also compete in this way.
If you study the history of Europe beginning shortly after the death of Charlemagne, what you find is thousands of petty tribes and city states all of which were independent. For much of Europe the only uniting factor was the Church and its control was limited (though it darned well tried). As time goes on you find more and more of them banding together or being conquered by others, and larger and larger nations being created. There was a time when Normandy and Burgundy were separate nations, for example; now they're part of France. There was a time when Venice and Genoa fought wars. The most recent examples of this were the combination of the German city states into a single nation, and the creation of the USSR. The latter didn't hold together, but Germany is united (after a temporary setback during the Cold War). Europe is in the process of making another step in that direction with the creation of the EU. It's going to be a difficult road but the end result is certain -- and it's also necessary. The adoption of a unified currency is one example of where this will create great benefit, because currencies are also subject to network effect. The Euro will ultimately be stronger than any other currency on the planet except the US Dollar.
Fundamental political philosophies go through this, too, and unsuccessful ones also fall by the wayside and die. Monarchy is now essentially dead. There do still exist kings but most of those are symbolic; the few hereditary rulers remaining control second-rate nations or worse and are only peripherally important in the world. The only monarchies in the world which remain even somewhat important are those of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and that is only due to an accident of natural resources.
Ralph Peters makes a good case that the most profound cultural change in history was the invention of the information society. It begins with the development of movable type printing, goes into high gear with the telegraph and matured with the creation of the Internet; it is exceedingly subject to network effect, and it is taking over the world. This quote is particularly apropos:
Today, collisions between cultures infect weaker cultures with self-doubt (loud assertions of superiority are the symptom indicating that the disease has entered a critical phase). We live in a world where the success stories are increasingly evident to all, while the fear of failure haunts the majority of the world's population. That fear may manifest itself as rabid pride and spur aggression, but we must not mistake the terrorist's or tyrant's desperation for anything other than what it is: fundamental, inarticulate terror. Spite, hatred, and fitful violence are hallmarks of decline. They are the responses of frightened men who cannot bear the image in the mirror held up by the globalization of information.
Many liberals have been asking (nay, screaming) the question "We need to know why they hate us!" The real answer is there: their cultures are doomed because they can't compete, and they're holding on with all their strength to the past. bin Laden hates us because we are the future, and he doesn't like it. He is nostalgic for a golden era 800 years gone, but that is just as pointless as people being nostalgic for horse-drawn buggies. His demands amount to a requirement that Western culture and values not pollute the Muslim nations; his demand for removal and disassociation of all western people from those nations is because whereever we go, our culture goes with us and outcompetes what's already there. Regardless of inherent merit, the other cultures will ultimately lose in the marketplace of ideas, because the overwhelming advantage that liberal democracy has due to network effect has become so strong as to make all other systems obsolete. Mutterings of "quality of life" or "traditional values" or "cultural imperialism" are pointless; the competition isn't based on those things, and just as in products the technical merits don't necessarily determine the winners in commercial markets. One culture may be stronger in one thing and another in something else, but there can be and inevitably will be only one winner -- and it's going to be ours. Peters makes a convincing case that widespread access to information serves as an economic and cultural "force multiplier", making each citizen more powerful than those in societies where information is tightly controlled. The problem for those cultures is that if they open up access to information, their other values will fall. But if they don't, then they can't compete and they'll fall anyway. It's not that we're actively trying to stamp out their cultures, it's just that in the marketplace of ideas, their cultures will lose. That is the dilemma that nations as diverse as China, India, and Saudi Arabia are facing, and they're all approaching it in different ways. Ultimately only full embracement will succeed; of the nations just listed, India has the best chance for that reason.
Yes, the losers hate us. No, that doesn't prove that we're wrong or that we must necessarily change. It may well be that some of our policies will need to be reexamined, but there will be no wholesale pullback. The future cannot be stopped, not by Muslim reactionaries and not by bleeding heart American liberals. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011011.1702 (On Screen): Some men show their true worth in a crisis. Mayor Giuliani is turning out to be truly astounding. It's difficult to conceive of how anyone could have done a better job in a crisis of this magnitude, and his instincts continue to be correct. This morning I read an article about yet another VIP disrupting the efforts at the WTC site for a tour. This one was a Saudi prince (there are hundreds of them, but this one is particularly rich) and after his tour he made a contribution of $10 million to the city and released a statement which said "You brought this on yourselves because of your foreign policy." (Not in so many words.) I read that and muttered, "You can stick your money up your ass. We don't need it that badly." (I almost posted that, in fact.)
Mayor Giuliani agrees, and more power to him. He's rejected the check. They're not going to cash it. Whether you agree with Prince bin Talal's opinion or not, that was entirely the wrong place and time to deliver it. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1644 (On Screen): "Tears don't float the same in space." There are three men currently on the International Space Station, and only one of them, Frank Culbertson, is American. He and his fellows watched the aftermath of the bombing from space and could see the smoke plumes. As he says, he was the only American not on the planet when the attack happened; he wanted to be down here with the rest of us. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1635 (On Screen): I've been watching for years as the Social Security Number (i.e. taxpayer identification number) has become an ubiquitous personal identification number for nearly every kind of database. It's not the result of any kind of conspiracy; it's just that it was such a convenient number for health plans and insurance companies and banks and nearly every one else to use for database access keys. Everyone has one and no-one has two and everyone knows their own number. Even some states use them for driver's license numbers.
The problem with that is that it makes it much, much too easy to cross-reference all those databases with each other. The threat to privacy is obvious, and where it's been showing up the most lately is in identity theft. So it's good to see that the State of California has outlawed the use of the SSN for most of those purposes. Health Plans will no longer be able to use the SSN, banks will no longer be able to print the SSN on bank statements, and credit reporting bureaus won't be permitted to key on the SSN. It's about damned time. This doesn't apply to the rest of the US, but since California has over 15% of the population of the nation, a change like this will inevitably affect everyone else -- and once the new systems are in place to serve California it will that much easier for other states to pass similar laws. (However, expect lawsuits trying to overturn this law.) (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011011.1543 (On Screen): One of the reasons it's important to not personalize this too much ("we're fighting to kill bin Laden") is that he's not really the point; even if he dies, al Qaeda still needs to be neutralized. And with the kinds of attacks we're making now, even if we do kill him we may never know for sure. Right now our B-52's and B-1's are involved in major air strikes against ground installations, including underground complexes and caves. If we collapse a cave system, how will we ever find out who was in it? If we take out an underground complex which had a big supply in ammunition in it (which apparently has already happened) we have the same problem. So if, as this article speculates might happen, bin Laden decides to bail and get away across one of the borders, the best we can hope for in future is to pick up his activity if he ever becomes active again, or to rely on informers. (If he doesn't become active again, then he's not a threat.) Right now, I see four points to this campaign:
Stardate 20011011.1510 (On Screen): President Bush made a speech in which he said that we would fight with "every weapon". That seems to imply the possibility of using nukes and nerve gas. But the statement is ambiguous; taken in context it can be interpreted a different way.
In the missions ahead for the military, you will have everything you need -- every resource, every weapon, every means to assure full victory for the United States and the cause of freedom.
That sounds more like a statement that we're not going to let budget constraints keep us from fully supplying our troops with all the equipment they need in combat, which is a much different thing. I believe that this statement was not meant by Bush to imply that we were considering the use of nuclear weapons; I think it's being taken out of context by reporters.
Which is not to say that we are not considering the use of nuclear weapons. But it has to be understood that military planning is not the same as military intent. A great deal of planning goes into doomsday scenarios. Somewhere in the Pentagon, there are plans for how the US would invade Canada if that nation were to be taken over by forces inimical to the US. It won't happen, of course, but I have no doubt whatever that the plans exist, just in case. The reason is that planning is extremely time consuming; the result isn't five pages long and done in a week. (More like 5,000 pages, actually, taking six months or a year.) Most of the plans have to be made ahead of time so that they can be updated rapidly when needed. Equally, while a war is going on, there will be lots of lower level plans being made primarily so as to give options to the top commanders and the President; most of those plans also won't be used, but the main reason to do the planning is simply to work out feasibility and to estimate results, so that they can be evaluated for political and military effectiveness. I have no doubt whatever that there are planners in the Pentagon working out various ways in which nukes could be used in Afghanistan and elsewhere, so that if Bush asks "What would happen if we were to nuke Kandahar?" they'd be able to give him an answer. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1457 (On Screen): Much is being made of the fact that military units from Europe are being deployed in the US for active duty. While this is in fact an important step, it's primarily political, not practical. They're operating AWACS jets in American air space so as to free up US AWACS to operate in the Middle East if they're needed there. The only case in which the European AWACS would actually see combat were in case of an invasion of the US, which is a rather remote possibility right now. The primary reason they're here is as a gesture of solidarity and support, for the benefit of voters both in the US and in Europe. In other words, they're here so that US voters don't start asking each other, "Why are we in NATO, anyway? What good does it do us?"
And I think there may also be some political pressure in Europe to get involved. With the US being hurt and going into a war, the fact that Britain stood right up and got involved too makes the tepid response from such nations as Germany, France, Spain and Italy look bad, especially in light of the invocation of NATO Article 5. Which may be why they're beginning to think in terms of actually getting into the real combat, in the air and on the ground (if that time comes). (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1145 (On Screen): Am I the only one who thinks that it's really strange for Arafat to all of a sudden be waving the anti-terrorist flag? He used to be a terrorist. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011011.1139 (On Screen): A column of trucks carrying food into Afghanistan was stopped by a local Taliban boss who, with his armed men, demanded a "road tax" to let them pass. Of course, this is despicable, but it has a deeper meaning. There is no way that this was ordered or otherwise authorized by the top Taliban leadership. The amount of money involved is much too small to be worth the political damage this will do. It means that anarchy is setting in, that the Taliban leadership are losing control (if they ever had it). (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1051 (On Screen via long range sensors): So the idea is to create a bank of searchlights where the WTC towers used to stand, pointing upwards, which could be seen at night. It would be profound and simple symbol of strength, hope and resiliency; a reclamation of New York City's skyline and identity; and a mnemonic for loss of life and a whole lot of other pretty words like that. My problem with it is that the only reason it would work is because of air pollution. Why should NYC be proud of its smog problem? (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1030 (On Screen): The world's fastest obsolete computer just began running in Pittsburgh. It cranks 6 teraflops and is beautiful to behold. It's based on the Alpha, which Compaq just sold to Intel, who will now cram it onto a dusty shelf. It's such a shame. The Alpha is one of the best examples there is in the computer industry of outstanding engineering combined with inept marketing, and like all the others it was not a commercial success. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1022 (On Screen): They want to create "Govnet", a parallel network to the Internet for purposes of letting government agencies communicate to each other. The theory is that it would have no connections to the Internet, thus being secure. But the problem is that security on a network is like leaks on a submarine: it only takes one to sink the boat. Your going to have millions of computers on this new network, and if any one of them becomes compromised so that outsiders can get into it, then they've got access to the whole thing. All it takes is one fool putting an 802.11b base station on his PC, or having a dual-connection to the Internet, or making any of fifty other simple mistakes, and the bad guys are in. While Govnet may serve a purpose in providing more reliable bandwidth, in every other way it is no better than using a VPN over the existing internet, which would be vastly cheaper. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.1003 (On Screen): Several of my favorite web logs have gone silent for a couple of days, then reappeared with a sudden burst of backlog activity and a sheepish apology. Apparently the problem was that the Blogger server got wedged. This betrays the biggest disadvantage of Blogger as a tool: irrespective of how nice it might be to use (I don't know; I've never looked at it) it represents what we engineers call a single point of failure. By contrast, people using Graymatter or certain other systems continued without problem. In the case of USS Clueless everything is self contained. For me, Graymatter runs locally on the same server as Apache, and the only external system I rely on is my name server. It is probably a bit more crude than Blogger, but it is much more reliable.
The flip side of this is that Graymatter requires certainservices and server privileges to run, and not everyone has those available. Blogger will work with any place on the web that provides storage; everything else is remote. But if Evan ever decides he's tired of paying his own money to provide a free service to other people, and throws in the towel and shuts Blogger down, there are going to be a lot of people dead in the water. I guess you pays (or don't) your money and takes your choice. I paid about $1500 for my own server so that I wouldn't be vulnerable that way, but not everyone has that kind of pocket change to toss around for a hobby, let alone easy access to broadband. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011011.0948 (On Screen): The antiaircraft artillery in Kabul continues to fire at our planes as they come in to bomb. This is good; they cannot hit our planes and they're using up their ammunition. Unfortunately, the gunners in Kandahar have figured it out and are no longer shooting. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.0928 (On Screen): The Constitution of the US is a remarkable document. But it isn't perfect, and those who wrote it knew that it might be necessary to make changes to it. As a result, they created an amendment process, designed so that amendments were possible but difficult.
Many, many amendments have been proposed over the years, and most of those have been stupid or misguided. But the barriers for amendment are sufficiently high so that there's only really been one amendment which did pass and shouldn't have (Prohibition, later repealed). In recent years, we've seen proposals for amendments to ban school busing, or to prevent people from burning the flag, or numerous other things of that kind. That is not what the amendment process should be about.
So it's refreshing to read about a proposed amendment that actually makes sense. In wake of the WTC and Pentagon attacks, Representative Brian Baird of Washington has proposed an amendment that would permit the governors of the states to appoint replacement Representatives in case one quarter or more of the members of the House die or are incapacitated in an attack. It answers a question which wasn't ever considered before: What if Washington DC got nuked? Certainly all of us hope we never find out, but it is a possibility that can't be ignored, and if it happens there must be a way for the government to go on. The Constitution currently permits governors to appoint replacements for Senators, and there's a large body of law and constitutional principles for rapidly replacing the President, but the only way now to replace Representatives is to hold emergency elections, which in time of war would be both too difficult and too slow. This amendment corrects that; I think it is an excellent proposal and I expect it to pass and be ratified easily. (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.0605 (On Screen): The Taliban are claiming that the US is now targeting civilians, and claims that 100 of them died in yesterday's bombings. This claim is false on its face: if we were really targeting civilians, the death toll would be a hell of a lot higher. If we were to carpet-bomb Kandahar, for example, we could easily kill upwards of 10,000 people in a single night. One B-52 can drop 140 500-pound bombs on a city, and a 500-pound bomb makes a very big crater. Why would we target civilians with a single bomb? What possible military goal would that accomplish? (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.0555 (On Screen): This news report more clearly justifies Clausewitz's great insight than anything else I've seen so far. Clausewitz was the one to realize that you could not analyze the strategy and tactics of a war without understanding the politics behind it, and clearly that's the case here. The military has made a decision to deliberately not try to attack the Taliban forces currently holding positions just north of Kabul, for if they do so then the Northern Alliance will be able to take Kabul and there is no political solution in place yet to handle that when it happens. So until the political planning for a post-Taliban government is completed, Kabul will remain in Taliban hands.
If you were looking at this war from a strictly military standpoint, without regard to the political situation behind it, you'd probably strike when the iron is hot. Now that we control the air over Afghanistan, we'd go after Taliban troop concentrations and artillery installations and try to roll over them as fast as possible. But that would win the battle but maybe lose the war, by exchanging a bad situation for one which perhaps would be worst. The "Northern Alliance" is less than allied; it's more like they're temporarily cooperating to prevent them all from being annihilated by the Taliban. But once the threat of the Taliban was removed, there's every reason to believe that the four factions in the Northern Alliance would begin to fight each other, again, as they were doing before the Taliban showed up. So until that problem has been solved, we can't take out the one thing which is keeping them from fighting each other: the Taliban's army. Ironic, is it not? (discuss)
Stardate 20011011.0541 (On Screen): Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is considering a reorganization of the top military command structure. This may not be a good idea.
In 1980, there was an attempt to use the military to rescue the American hostages being held in Tehran, which ended in disaster. Two aircraft collided in the desert in Iran, killing a large number of men. As with any military operation, there was analysis afterwards to find out what had gone right and what had gone wrong. At that time, world military operations were planned in the Pentagon through the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this case, when the operation was planned, the one thing which stood out on analysis was that in the planning, everyone had to play. The only way that the Joint Chiefs could come up with an agreement on the plan was for there to be members of all four branches of the military involved in the operation, whether it made sense or not. In particular, the pilots of the helicopters were Marines even though they were Navy helicopters with which they were not familiar This may have contributed to the collision. There were other problems, too, which lead back to a command failure.
Senator Barry Goldwater led an effort in Congress to pass a bill reorganizing the military command structure. Instead of military operations being planned in Washington via the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a series of regional commands would be set up, placing one man in charge of all forces from all branches in a given zone. When military operations in a given area were needed, the specific regional command would be responsible, and regardless of which branch he was from, every US military asset in the area would work for him. He was then tasked with solving a problem, not with trying to make sure everyone got a chance to play.
The first use of the new command structure was Operation Desert Storm, the war to retake Kuwait. Army General Schwarzkopf was the regional commander, but he used his resources as he should, and didn't favor the Army. When it made sense for an operation to be handled by Navy jets, the Navy did it and the Air Force kept its mouth shut, for example. And as we all know, the result was one of the most lopsided military victories in the history of the US.
There were many reasons for that, not least of which was that Schwarzkopf himself was a truly superb commander. But the localized unified command structure was another piece of the puzzle. There wasn't the kind of inter-service wrangling involved which loused up the Tehran rescue. My fear is that the reorganization that Rumsfeld is contemplating will take us back to the bad old days of centralized planning-by-committee, which was such a failure. Ultimately, every military operation has to have one single officer in charge, who can make decisions and issue orders and have them followed without argument. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.2130 (On Screen): Next on the menu is hardened targets, like bunkers and tunnel systems. The weapon of choice is the GBU-28. It's a rather remarkable bomb weighing 4400 pounds but having only 670 pounds of explosives (which is still quite a lot, but a much lower proportion than usual). Most of the rest is high quality steel. The first ones were, in fact, made out of surplus barrels from 8" bore artillery pieces. It's 14" wide and more than 12 feet long, and it's laser-guided. This report says that at least one has already been used. If I were to make a guess, I'd say it was dropped by an F/A-18 Hornet, probably a D or an F (depending on what Enterprise is carrying). Those are 2-man jets, so the guy-in-back (as he's known) can handle the targeting laser. It's capable of penetrating 20 feet of concrete or a hundred feet of soil. We have upwards of a hundred of them in stock, and more can be made relatively rapidly if need be. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.2008 (Crew, this is the Captain): The baseball game continues, and it's seventh-inning stretch time. Used to be they'd sing "Take me out to the ballgame" and we television viewers would get an extended ad-break. Now they invariably sing "God Bless America" (a song I really despise) and we all get to watch (with the sound muted). So there they were, panning cameras around showing all sorts of people in the stands singing along with the music, with soft fades and other artistic editing moves to enhance the empty patriotism of the moment, and there are a couple of guys holding a flag which looked like it was a good three meters wide.
A flag with 48 stars.
Don't Hawaii and Alaska count? The flag has had 50 stars since 1959. Where did they find that thing? (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1917 (On Screen): We're not talking about the same thing. The United States claims that the first phase of the air assault has succeeded; Ambassador Zaeef says it failed. The United States claims that it now has air supremacy over Afghanistan and can fly anywhere any time that it wishes; Ambassador Zaeef says that the Taliban's anti-aircraft defenses have not been destroyed.
They're both right about that latter, actually. But Ambassador Zaeef is not correct that phase 1 failed. It was never the goal to totally destroy anti-aircraft defenses. The point was to destroy all the anti-aircraft defenses capable of reaching jets at 10,000 feet or higher i.e. their SAMs and the radars that guide them. The guns don't matter; there was no point in attacking those, and since many of them are in the middle of densely populated areas there was considerably political risk involved in attacking them because of the danger of causing excessive civilian casualties. So phase 1 didn't fail because of it not knocking out the guns, because it was never intended to knock out the guns. It succeeded in gaining air supremacy, as proved by the fact that we are now making attacks during the day. And Ambassador Zaeef as much as admits that in the press conference. He's in the position of having to try to put the best face on events that he can, but it's a thankless and hopeless task, and his performance so far has been pitiful (and it's going to get worse as things progressively deteriorate for the Taliban).
It may eventually be necessary to go after some guns, if we finally start using helicopters in a big way, because they'll operate low enough for guns to reach. But helicopters aren't going to be operating anywhere near the cities, and any guns in the countryside can be attacked later if need be. The only case I can think of in which it might be necessary to take out guns in the cities would be if we were moving ground forces into the area, because anti-aircraft guns are also rather good anti-tank guns. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1859 (Crew, this is the Captain): I'm watching a baseball game. One of the ads was a teaser for tonight's news on a local TV station; I've got the sound muted. But the video was disturbing enough: it was film of peace protesters, with a subtitle "The enemy within?"
No. They are not an enemy. They may be wrong, they may even be fools, but they are Americans exercising their civil right to have and publicly express an opinion about the political decisions being made by this country. Free speech must protect unpopular speech or it is an illusion. That is part of what we're fighting this war to preserve, so let's not ourselves destroy what our enemies cannot. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1744 (On Screen): Larry Ellison really seems to have been serious about his proposal to create a single national database to hold all government information about citizens in one place, along with digitally encoded ID cards which would key that data. He claims that part of the reason that the WTC attack was able to happen was because authorities couldn't find the data on them in time. The single thing that we could do to make life tougher for terrorists would be to ensure that all the information in myriad government databases was integrated into a single national file. In other words, if we were just living in a police state, we'd be safe. Thanks, Larry, but no thanks. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1732 (On Screen): Only Microsoft could conceive of doing something as arrogant as selling the dictionary retail, word by word. For $50, you too can own a word, as long as someone else hasn't gotten to it first. (I bet "sex" is already taken.) (discussion in progress)
There was a piece on NPR this morning about Internet security and how hard it's going to be to do because software is designed for efficiency and then the security issues are plugged when they occur and that leaves lots of holes open for cyberterrorists and the only way to fix it is to get designers to build in security from the start.
Security issues are a subset of the more general problem of finding bugs. It sounds as if NPR reached someone who knew what they were talking about: in fact the best way to prevent bugs is to work from a clean design. It is virtually impossible to take an existing unclean design and really find and fix all the bugs. For one thing, it's impractical to actually thoroughly test any non-trivial software package. The number of test cases becomes astronomical; it would literally take until the Sun explodes to try them all.
For another, as a general rule, for every two bugs you fix, you create one new one -- and it may be more serious than the ones you just fixed. During the final stages of a project, the testing staff will report bugs as they're found, and what we usually do is to evaluate each bug on the basis of risk and reward: how serious a bug is it and what is the chance that fixing it will create something new? If it's not serious but the risk is high, we usually make the decision to deliberately not fix it. Any bug with low risk (i.e. fixing a mispelling in some text) will usually get fixed if time allows. When you have a bug which is important and also risky, then you have to search your soul and make a call. (That's when software managers earn their pay.)
None of this has anything to do with who is actually doing it (hackers or hired people); it's simply a mathematical fact that full testing can't be done in any reasonable amount of time.
It is, however, possible to create highly reliable programs, but doing so requires using rigorous design procedures and maintaining a lot of discipline. Far and away the most important thing to do if you want true reliability is to freeze the performance specification. "Feature creep" is easily the biggest source of problems; it makes it almost impossible to create and stick to a clean design. The second most important thing to do is to not start coding too soon. On a well run project, you won't write a single line of production code until at least half the project duration has passed. But these things are rarely done; they're expensive and they make management extremely nervous. (The third most important thing is to not try to be clever. "Straightforward" is better than "nifty", because "nifty" is usually fragile.)
As to applying hackers to the problem, I think that would be worse than useless. The kind of discipline which is needed to really do it well is almost diametrically opposite to the hacker approach to life and code, which is almost totally undisciplined. When was the last time that hackers wrote the user manual before they started writing code? But that's what you really need to do, because the "user manual" is the detailed performance specification. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1419 (On Screen): Mullah Omar has broadcast another announcement to the people of Afghanistan asking Muslims of the world to support Afghanistan against the predations of the evil Americans and British. "America is using its most modern weapons, but we have the best weapon to defeat them, our Muslim faith." More blather, of course.
But this event is truly remarkable, not for what was said, but for how it was delivered. Ordinarily these announcements would have been broadcast by the Voice of Shariat, a radio station in Afghanistan. However, it's been destroyed in the bombing. So a tape of this speech was delivered to Voice of America and to the BBC. (And they broadcast it. Both of them did.) (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1116 (On Screen): Condoleezza Rice asks the networks to consider the possibility that there may be secret messages in the video tapes being released by bin Laden. She didn't use the term, but what she's saying is that they may contain open codes. That's a definite possibility, but I don't think it's really something to be concerned about. There are numerous ways for al Qaeda to communicate to operatives already in place; if this one ceases to work they'll use another (like a telephone call). I don't see this as a reasonable excuse for suppression of information flow. I would prefer for our people to see bin Laden and hear his words, because he is doing a much better job of demonizing himself than we could ever do. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.1021 (On Screen via long range sensors): This is an extremely profound and prophetic essay (published in 1998). It perfectly defines the difference between us and our enemies in this war. Ordinarily my log entries can be read without following the link, but this time you really should go read it before proceeding, for what Peters says is much more important than anything I'll be able to add. His seven signs of failure are extremely well chosen; when I think of nations in the world and think about how successful they are, I can see right off a strong correlation between how many of these factors apply and how badly they've done. The nations in the world which have done the worst, representing total economic and social breakdown, suffer from nearly all of them.
One thing that is interesting is that the so-called "Religious Right" in the US, epitomized by Jerry Falwell, seeks to reimpose four of these seven on us: Domination by a restrictive religion (obviously), family or clan as basic unit of social organization (i.e. "Family values", neighborhood schools [i.e. apartheid], etc.), Restrictions on free flow of information (suppression of science and "secular humanism", other forms of censorship), and arguably also the subjugation of women.
The American far-left actually also suffers from four of them: restrictions on information (in the name of "political correctness", suppression of everything which could conceivably offend anyone else's sensibilities), inability to accept responsibility for failure (the cult of the victim), domination by a restrictive religion (actually, a restrictive belief system of political correctness and cultural relativism), and low prestige assigned to work (anti-capitalism).
When the United States passed the First Amendment, it clearly ended two of these (restriction of information, domination by religion). It already had a valuation for education and a work ethic and has never been susceptible to the cult of victimhood (which is a modern invention). The Industrial Revolution and the rise of the cities ended the power of families and clans. And it's interesting that the rise of the US to status of a world economic and military power coincides almost exactly with the process of emancipation of women, ending the seventh and last one. The US began to be a world power at the same time as the Suffrage movement, and arrived just as the 19th amendment (vote for women) was ratified. The US became the world power in the 1950's and 1960's as its women began to be a major and important part of its workforce. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.0649 (On Screen via long range sensors): I don't know anything about the Far Eastern Economic Review so I can't say how reliable this report is. But if it's correct, it appears that the strategy is working and the Taliban may fall apart soon. The increasingly shrill announcements being made by the Taliban about how they'll resist to the last man and how strong they are now appear to have been intended for local ears, to shore up popular support. If this article is correct, it's not working.
There are reports of wholesale defections of Taliban troops in the north. These are from the Northern Alliance, who have a vested interest in making it seem like the Taliban are falling apart, so they may be exaggerated or even fictional. But I think that there's a lot of truth in these reports; I think that the Taliban really are weakening. Let's hope it's true. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011010.0632 (On Screen via long range sensors): Some people know the answers even when they're not completely certain what the questions are. A student protesting against war seems to have forgotten the fact that there was a major attack against the US. Where has he been for the last month? Of course, it's Berkeley, so I guess I shouldn't have expected anything else. (discuss)
Update: Regarding Berkeley, case in point.
Stardate 20011010.0539 (On Screen): Like many sites, CNN has a "mail this story" mechanism -- and it had a bug (since fixed) which permitted it to be used to mail links from off site, while disguising the fact that they were from offsite. A guy in Michigan decided to try an experiment to see how fast disinformation moves on the net. He made a hoax page which looked like a CNN report claiming that Britney Spears had been killed in a car accident. (She's fine, by the way. There was no accident.) He then seeded the hoax by giving it to just three people in a chat room, and in 12 hours it had been loaded 150,000 times. The Internet is the most efficient mechanism known for distributing information, and apparently also for distributing disinformation. This could be militarily significant (as a means of distribution of propaganda), and it points out the danger of relying on a small number of sources for your information. The fact that you read something online doesn't mean that it's true.
It reinforces the need to always keep in mind the three questions that Ted Nelson recommends we ask whenever we read any statement anywhere: Who says? Who's he? How's he know? What person is the source of the information? How did that person find out? These are important things. "Independent confirmation" may not actually be independent, for instance. These days the news-gathering organizations constantly snoop on each other, and if one of them reports something incorrectly, many others will echo it, with or without attribution. The fact that both CNN and Reuters report something doesn't mean it's true, since one may be quoting the other and the other may have blown it. This has been happening quite a lot. One example were the reports of release of a hazardous liquid in a DC subway station yesterday; it turned out to be some sort of kitchen cleaner.
Hoaxes work because they tell us things we already want, or fear, to be true. Britney Spears will die someday (everybody does) and with as many celebrities as there are, statistically speaking there's a chance that someone famous will die suddenly and unexpectedly every few months. So this was a plausible hoax. The kinds of stories about further terrorist attacks which have been going around are the same way. The September 11 attack was so completely unexpected and so terrible in its consequences that it suddenly seems as if there is no attack mechanism which might not also be possible. Since then, every time there is any kind of problem with a jet (especially a crash) the first thing every one of us will think is "Oh, no, not again!" To many people it now seems as if terrorist attack is the explanation-of-choice for any air disaster. The initial misreport about the DC subway probably was not a hoax so much as a simple error by an overeager reporter; but it spread like wildfire because a chemical attack on a concentration of Americans by a terrorist is something we're all fearing we will see soon. (And it may yet happen.) And there was nerve gas released in a Tokyo subway. We need to take a deep breath and turn the skepticism filter up a couple of notches. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011010.0501 (On Screen): The Taliban claim that their air defenses are still intact. If that's so, then they should prove it by clearing their skies. It turns out that what they're claiming is that their anti-aircraft artillery still exists -- which is true. But that's only because it wasn't necessary to destroy it. The Taliban itself claims that US jets flying in daytime are flying high enough to be out of range of their AAA. He claims that this is some sort of victory for the Taliban. It's hardly that.
In fact, this entire press conference was ludicrous. Nearly everything Ambassador Zaeef says is a lie -- and he knows it. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.0412 (On Screen): It looks like Ukraine is pulling back from its claims that it was not responsible for shooting down a Russian jetliner. They still haven't admitted culpability, but they will "accept Russian investigators' findings", which amounts to an admission of guilt. The findings are pretty damning: the Russians found in both corpses and in wreckage many small steel balls, 7-8 mm in diameter. That's what the warhead of an SA-5 fires at whatever it's trying to destroy. It's really rather difficult to come up with any other plausible explanation for their presence. A terrorist bomb, for example, wouldn't have included such things because it would have massively increased the size and weight of the bomb (and therefore the difficulty of smuggling it onto the jet) without increasing its effectiveness in bringing the jet down. That, combined with the fact that US intelligence monitored an SA-5 launch minutes before the jet exploded, looks an awful lot like a smoking gun. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.0357 (On Screen): When your hand is weak, I guess you have to play every card you have. But it can leave you looking even worse; As propaganda it can actually work against you. The Taliban has "lifted all controls" on al Qaeda -- as if anyone ever believed there were any in the first place. (The Taliban have never had any control over al Qaeda.) The Taliban also called on Muslims world wide to attack the US -- and are mostly being ignored. I think these things are intended to scare the US. Actually, all they're doing is to show just how impotent the Taliban actually are. (discuss)
Stardate 20011010.0344 (On Screen): The US Supreme Court is unique in many ways, but one way in particular: It can accomplish more by refusing to work on something than any other institution I've ever heard of. The Supreme Court decides for itself what cases it will examine, and that decision is final and need not be justified for any reason. While the Court was in recess, numerous appeals built up, and yesterday it started rejecting cases for review -- and made a great deal of law by doing so.
For instance, it refused to review a California case and thus established an important principle in "patient's rights". It refused to hear a case about lawsuits against gun manufacturers, ending a whole series of attempts to use product liability law to put gun manufacturers out of business. It refused to hear Microsoft's appeal of the Circuit Court's antitrust decision. It refused to hear a First Amendment case about nudism.
But the two most important refusals yesterday were about much more weighty subjects. It refused to hear a death penalty appeal which contended that the penalty should be changed based on the assumption that more competent defense could have prevented it -- and I think that was a valid decision. If it had been permitted, it would have led to endless second-guessing on appeals about whether a defendant's lawyers had done as good a job as they possibly could have -- even if it was competent. It would never be possible to settle anything in court.
And it established new copyright law by refusing to hear the National Geographic case. This will affect the web as we know it. National Geographic issued a CDROM collection which reprinted its entire run of magazines. One of the photographers whose pictures appeared in that collection sued on the basis of it being a new work, which wasn't authorized under the contract he had signed when he sold them his photographs. He claimed that they owed him new royalties. National Geographic claimed that current copyright law permitted them to sell old material in new forms. A circuit court disagreed, because the new collection had different advertising and was thus a "new work". By refusing to hear this case, the Court reaffirms an active decision made last June that authors do have rights to new payment for web publishing. Going forward, it means that contracts that writers and photographers sign will simply have more verbiage in them. But going backward, it means that a lot of older information available now may not be soon. (I'm still waiting for someone to sue Google for the Deja News archive, not to mention for all the cached web pages they serve up.) It's amazing how much work you can get done by sitting on your hands, isn't it? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011009.2055 (On Screen): Well, that's it for Egghead. The retailer once was a major presence in the US, a chain of stores concentrating on software and manuals, with a bit of hardware for spice. That fell through, and they tried again as an online retailer. Now their attempt to sell themselves to Fry's (for a measly $10 million) has also fallen through, because Fry's would rather own Cyberian Outpost (and I can understand why). That leaves Egghead within days of death, with only half a million dollars left for operating funds. (discuss)
Stardate 20011009.1953 (On Screen): Well, Motorola turned in another great quarter, and as usual its semiconductor division was one of the stars of the show. Gross sales of the division dropped by 48% (nearly a billion dollars) from a year ago, and it lost a whopping $480 million, more than one third of the overall loss of $1.4 billion. Yup, another sterling performance. (discuss)
Stardate 20011009.1448 (On Screen): The next phase in the war will be psychological operations, or "psyops". Now that antiaircraft capabilities are destroyed, the US will be able to operate radio-broadcasting aircraft over Afghanistan to beam propaganda (i.e. in this case, the truth) to Afghans on frequencies they would ordinarily have expected to receive Taliban broadcasts on. (That's why the radio tower in Kabul was hit, in the attack which killed the 4 UN employees.) I think they will also patrol and take targets of opportunity. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011009.1414 (On Screen): The future is here, and Intel is second-best again. AMD has finally released the desktop version of the Palomino under the brandname "Athlon XP" (ugh) and it is faster in most regards than the 2 GHz P4 (the new one, with more cache and more pins). Start saving up those nickels, boys and girls! (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011009.1336 (On Screen): The goal of the first phase of the air assault seems to have been achieved, with the Taliban's anti-aircraft (and their jets and airfields) neutralized. It was mainly a question of destroying jets on the ground, air facilities, radars, command-and-control, and SAM batteries. Antiaircraft guns are unimportant because they can't reach the altitudes that our jets will be flying.
This is probably the end of the three days of activity that was originally planned. In the next phase, I don't think that operations will cease. Instead, I suspect we'll start flying routine patrols over Afghanistan at all hours, and attack concentrations of tanks and artillery where they're found, possibly also attacking certain infantry concentrations when it is strategically important to do so. It won't be the kind of (sort of) full-scale preplanned missions, though, which they've been flying so far but more of a search-and-destroy type mission. Jets will spot targets of opportunity, radio for permission to attack, and then take them out. (discuss)
Stardate 20011009.1117 (On Screen): A soldier refused an order, was convicted in a court martial, and was given a dishonorable discharge. He has appealed to the Supreme Court who refused to hear the case -- and rightfully so.
His contention was that the order was illegal. He was ordered to wear UN insignia and to serve as part of a UN peacekeeping force. It is true that a soldier is supposed to refuse to follow an illegal order, but that's supposed to be for things like violations of the Geneva Convention. In other words, you can't get away with working in a death camp just because you were following orders. It doesn't apply to things like this, which amounted to a disagreement about policy. Policy isn't a soldier's business. He's lucky he isn't serving time. (discuss)
Stardate 20011009.1047 (On Screen): Microsoft seems to have lost a couple of big ones today. The Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal, and it was forced to move its new pricing plan back to next July. But I don't think they really expected the Supreme Court to hear their case, and the change in the pricing plan is only a temporary setback.
I'm far from being an "Anyone But Microsoft" person; I use what works and I've been using Microsoft products for a long time. While they are not necessarily the absolute best products of their kind that one could conceive of, I stopped looking for ultimates a long time ago. Their stuff works and it gets the job done -- and that's all I ask from anything. I have thought for a long time that arguments against Microsoft bundling things into their operating systems were incorrect. So I don't think they should have been prosecuted for putting Netscape out of business. That was just competition, and I don't consider it to have been "unfair" competition
What they should have been prosecuted for was unfair and exclusionary licensing. That was what resulted in the first consent decree, and it should have been the subject of the antitrust suit. And Microsoft's current attempt to switch to a subscription basis is a blatant use of market monopoly to raise prices. It would only be legal if it was revenue-neutral, but Microsoft itself says that's not the case and fully expects revenue to rise because of it. There's no two ways about this: for all the double-talk about "simplification", the reason for making this change is to create a guaranteed and larger revenue stream for Microsoft, and the only reason they'll be able to get away with it is because there are no real alternatives for their customers. (Sorry, Mac and Linux fans, I stand by that statement.)
It is not illegal to be a monopoly. (A lot of people don't realize that.) There's no question that Microsoft is a monopoly within the definition given by the law. A monopoly doesn't have to have 100% market share; rather, it has to have enough of a market share so that it has the ability to unilaterally raise prices outside of market forces. If it then does so, it is in violation of the law -- and that's precisely what Microsoft is trying to do with this new "software as service" concept. Putting it off for a few months is no victory; the only victory will be if the old and new licensing plans coexist, permitting their customers to decide for themselves which to use.
Which is why I think that these two news events are actually cause-and-effect. The licensing plan wasn't postponed because of customer complaints (despite what this article says). Microsoft no longer needs to care what its customers think (another good definition of "monopoly"). It was postponed because of the antitrust suit. Microsoft is now committed to a new phase of their antitrust trial which will include a new examination of behavior, and their new licensing plan is a blatant violation of antitrust law and would surely have come up in court had it been in effect when the trial resumed. A delay until next July may put it beyond the scope of the court hearings -- or at least, I think that's what Microsoft is hoping. The Feds should not be fooled; the details of the plan should become an issue in the trial. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011009.0733 (On Screen): Dean sends in this link to an article that claims that two researchers have shown a correlation between violence on TV and violence in the world, along with a claim that the story is being suppressed. I'm not sympathetic. Yet again it needs to be said: "Correlation does not demonstrate causation." It's Post Hoc fallacy, yet again. (This keeps popping up in these kinds of studies.)
"What we are finding is that when people watch a program with violence or sex, they think about violence and sex," said Bushman. "The sex and violence registers much more strongly than the messages the advertisers are hoping to deliver."
Or that when people are thinking about violence and sex they decide to watch TV shows about it as a safe outlet for those feelings. (By the way, why did "sex" creep into there?) They claim that their correlation shows that more TV violence begets more violence in the real world, despite such things as the fact that violent crime in the US has declined for the last few years. Suppose, just suppose, that for some unidentified reason there is more of a tendency for Americans now to get violent feelings -- but that most of them are watching violent television shows as a vicarious way of getting rid of those feelings. In that case, decreasing television violence would increase real-world violence as those people no longer had a safe outlet for those feelings. It's not that I consider this likely, it's that they haven't disproved this with their study. Their conclusion may be true, it's just that their evidence doesn't prove it. (discuss)
Stardate 20011009.0717 (On Screen): American self-revulsion is alive and well on the web. It sometimes can seem as if the characterizations of the extreme left approach caricature -- and then I encounter a page like "Ethel the Blog". Just perusing the front page of that site, I find a condemnation of the air-drop of food on Afghanistan (which also claims that the Taliban should not be attacked because it "has not been directly linked to the Sep. 11 attacks"), a condemnation of the Afghan Northern Alliance, a condemnation of a big oil company, a condemnation of Saudi Arabia, a couple of condemnations of Pakistan, and a condemnation of the US for "bombing the hell out of the cities" (which we haven't actually done). There are numerous other condemnations, nearly all of which come down to trying to prove that the United States is scum. Who is this guy? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011009.0659 (On Screen): Bill posts an editorial he says came from a Romanian newspaper; it makes good reading. It has some interesting factual errors: "Cassius Clay" (instead of Muhammed Ali; perhaps he was trying to dodge the fact that Ali is Muslim), and his description of a "Hockey" player (it was Rugby).
But to me, what stood out was this: I watched the live broadcast and the rerun of its rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was. I looked at that, and thought about it, because my first reaction was "Of course! What else would he do?" It's possible that the story is exaggerated (a hundred floors?) but the point is made: someone saw someone else in distress and helped them. Yes, we do that. I can't conceive of not doing that. (Does anyone have a reference for that story? I hadn't heard of it before.) It's not so much that I don't consider that praiseworthy, as that I would consider anything else to be contemptible. I'm simply mystified: what else would the Romanian author have expected?
I took Red Cross first-aid training. It's an interesting course. One of the things they say, and I believe it to be true, is that when someone gets hurt, people will rush to them. They want to help, but they don't know what to do. The Red Cross tells you that you should start giving orders: point to someone and tell them to do something if you need it -- and they will. And they'll be glad to have been given the opportunity to do something constructive.If you read a history of the Normandy invasion, one of the things which stands out was the extreme bravery and selflessness of American medics at Omaha beach. While they had red crosses painted on their helmets, artillery shells and mortars and machine guns don't respect such things. And yet, when everyone else was taking cover against the machine gun fire, the medics would run back into harm's way to try to retrieve a wounded man. The medics were universally praised by veterans of that battle as being the bravest of the brave. This is who we are; this is what we do. For all our divisions and internal squabbling, when it really comes down to it, we're there for each other. (discuss)
Update: Mathew sends me this link which describes the men with the handicapped woman. It wasn't a hundred floors, but it was 68. Close enough for government work.
Update: Iain sends these two links which say that the woman got away safely. I am glad to hear that. He also mentions that until these men helped her, others had run past her without doing so. That isn't surprising. But she did get saved; that's the point.
Update 20011012: It was probably a hoax. (I don't get taken in very often; I probably should have noticed "Cassius Clay"; that's not something a Romanian would know since Muhummad Ali hasn't used that name for more than 35 years.)
Stardate 20011009.0600 (On Screen): The actual number of deaths reported as a result of the bombing campaign has been remarkably low. Not just non-combatant deaths on the ground, total deaths. There have been few misses; our precision munitions appear to have been very precise indeed. But nothing is perfect, and if anyone thought it was going to be possible to fight this war without anyone getting hurt, disabuse yourself of that notion right now.
Four UN workers were killed when the building they were in was hit, prompting an appeal from their boss in Pakistan that "People need to distinguish between combatants and those innocent civilians who do not bear arms." That's all well and good, but a bomber is not a pair of tweasers. Satellite cameras are not microscopes. Combatants don't have red targets painted on them to make them easier to pick out. The Taliban have not painted all official targets dayglo orange in order to make them easier to find and attack.
Our intelligence people seem to have done an excellent job so far, in fact, in identifying targets and our front line people have been doing an equally good job in hitting them. But there will always be targets which are identified incorrectly and there will always be misses. It's the nature of the beast. It's to be regretted, but it can't entirely be avoided. The only way to prevent it completely is not to fight and thus to give our enemies free hand to keep attacking us. That's not acceptable. (discuss)
Update: The four UN employees who were killed were near a radio tower which was a legitimate target.
Stardate 20011009.0547 (On Screen): "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Unfortunately, it isn't always true. Sometimes in a circumstance like that you may cooperate, but your interests may not be congruent and the cooperation could fall apart at any time. And there can be ongoing tension.
The Afghan Northern Alliance is happy (ecstatic, even) that the US and UK are bombing the Taliban. But so far the bombing has been concentrated on eliminating Taliban air power and anti-aircraft capabilities, especially radars and control centers. This is SOP for Americans in a war during the last fifty years; we always try to attain air supremacy before doing anything else. But that, as such, is of little use to the Northern Alliance, who had visions of their forces on the ground being supported directly by US air strikes against Taliban forces. It's not completely clear that this will happen. "Support for the Northern Alliance" has been one of the stated goals of this air campaign, at least publicly. But it's not that simple.
The problem is that Pakistan, an essential part of our effort, strongly dislikes the Northern Alliance and doesn't want it in power in Afghanistan. Further, the Northern "Alliance" isn't really much of an alliance; they've banded together for the moment, but before the rise of the Taliban they used to fight each other. If the Taliban are defeated, there's good reason to believe that they will start fighting each other again. So the US doesn't necessarily want to hand the country to them instantly; a more controlled transition is in our best interests. Their interest in the defeat of the Taliban is congruent with ours, but there is little else we have in common. We are not on their side, we're on our own side. (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.2137 (On Screen): Samurai Jack, the new cartoon series by Genndy Tartakovsky, continues to amaze. I just finished watching the fifth episode and it was superb. The first three episodes were outstanding, but alas the fourth episode stunk. With the first three I was on the edge of my seat throughout and never knew what was coming next. The fourth episode fell back on stale stereotypes and it telegraphed its ending. But with the fifth episode they were back in prime form; again I had no idea what was coming and no idea what the ending would be. It will be shown again this coming Friday and Sunday; I urge you all to watch it if you possibly can. It is truly stunning. If they can stay at this level consistently, this series is guaranteed to get a Hugo, and quite possibly an Emmy. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011008.2129 (On Screen): I appear to have been wrong about how long the bombing would continue. It looks like there will be one more day, and then a break for evaluation of the results. I suspect what that means is to see whether the psychological damage will weaken the political hold of the Taliban. (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.2004 (On Screen): There is so much yet that we do not know. Good science asks two new questions for every question it answers. I imagine a conversation with a creationist: he says, "But your science is incomplete." I answer, "Yes, isn't that wonderful?"
Each time we create a new instrument which is more sensitive than those which came before it, more is revealed to us and it never fails to puzzle. I have been watching the public announcements from the Very Large Telescope project in La Silla, one of the finest pieces of engineering on the planet. It will be the most sensitive telescope in existence when it is completed, but in the mean time they are already discovering amazing things with it. They have located a double star whose plane of rotation in in line with us, so that they eclipse each other. This permits extremely precise calculations of the diameters of the two stars and of their orbital period, and that combined with spectroscopic analysis has permitted a very precise characterization of them. They are both very young, less than ten million years old, and their orbital period is only three days; they are calculated to be only 8 million km apart, one seventh of the distance from Mercury to the Sun. Which is puzzling: how could two stars form so close together? Or if not that, how could they come to be in such a close orbit so soon after formation? How did they shed their kinetic energy to come into such close orbit?
One possibility is that they are in retrograde orbits, so that they both spin clockwise but orbit around each other counter-clockwise. If so, then tidal bulges on each would try to fight rotational energy; and they would approach each other more and more closely as they rotated less and less rapidly; the process would end either in collision or with the two bodies being tide-locked to each other, with their rotational periods and orbital periods identical. There's no way yet to tell whether that's happened. The energy involved would manifest as heat in the two stars (from turbulence), added to the heat of collapse.
Up to about 25 years ago, enormous work was done trying to explain planetery formation based on our knowledge of our own system, and a plausible mechanism was described. But most of the external stellar systems with planets which have now been discovered don't make sense within that model. They're in strange orbits: gas giants closer than Mercury, or with orbits almost like comets. There is so much yet to learn. Isn't it wonderful? (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.1611 (On Screen): Medecins Sans Frontieres condemn the US food drops as "propaganda". Yes, it's being done partly for propaganda reasons. That doesn't mean that it's a bad thing, though, or that it does harm. It's hard to see how it could be anything less than morally neutral, and it could do good. Do they want us to stop dropping food?
I suspect they want us to stop dropping the bombs. Sorry, that part isn't negotiable. (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.1543 (On Screen): Someone tried to force their way into the cockpit on a flight to Chicago today, and two things happened: Air Force fighters scrambled and accompanied the jet until it safely landed at O'Hare, and passengers restrained the man. It turns out he was not a hijacker, simply someone who is deeply disturbed. But the point is that the passengers got involved. The lesson of flight 93 has sunk in: we're all in this now; no-one is a spectator anymore. Expect to see more of this. (discuss)
Update: Here's a more complete report.
Update 20011009: Eye witness report from the jet: The stewardess yelled, "Get that guy!" And I want to tell you, people just reacted so incredibly quickly. You know Americans will never be led to slaughter again on an airplane. They just won't be. Everybody was used to just sitting down and being quiet and doing what people said. And you know what, they're just going to fight to the death now, truly.
Update 20011009: Here's an extended account.
Stardate 20011008.1254 (On Screen): As such things go, the air assault against Afghanistan is actually pretty light. To hit an entire nation, even one as primitive as Afghanistan, with only 25 jets at a time isn't much. This reports that in one particular attack, there seem to have been three bombs hitting the Kabul area. That's hardly anything. (One B-52 can carry 70,000 pounds of bombs. That's about fifty bombs the size of a Tomahawk warhead.) While I have no doubt that there are strategic reasons for all the targets which are being hit, I have to wonder whether this may be more of a political effort than a military one. When we were really start trying to soften them up for a major ground offensive, we'll be hitting them a lot harder than we are.
Of course, with only three weeks to mobilize, this may be all we are capable of doing. It takes a while to get supplies flowing; you have to prime a ship-based pipeline of fuel and spare parts and ordnance. (You have to figure between one and two hundred tons of cargo per sortie by a heavy bomber.) Another limiting factor may be jet tankers for mid-air refueling. One possible outline for the upcoming war is that we continue bombing with gradually rising intensity for a while (a few weeks), and hope that the Northern Alliance can defeat the Taliban or that the Taliban will crumble and abdicate; then we engage in diplomacy and nation building afterwards. If that fails, then we would build up both air and ground assets in the area and come spring begin a much more intensive air assault in preparation for a real ground attack by multiple divisions and/or special forces.
For the moment we're concentrating on capital assets: guns, jets, radars, control centers, supply dumps, Mullah Omar's estate in Kandahar (heh). They're trying to destroy strategic assets, as well as to gain air supremacy. That can be done with a minimum of casualties on both sides. A transition to watch for will be when the bombing switches emphasis to human assets, i.e. Taliban troop formations. Casualties (on their side) will stairstep when that happens. Initially the point of it will be to try to break the morale of Taliban forces. But if we're really serious about it (trying to kill rather than trying to frighten) we'll be carpet-bombing, and then it's going to get really ugly. This is most likely to first happen just north of Kabul, to weaken the forces which are preventing the Northern Alliance from taking Kabul. If Kabul falls, that may cause the Taliban's support to crumble and end this phase of the war. There's good reason to believe that their grip is loosening already. (discuss)
Update: Actually, it was only fifteen jets, not twenty five. Five were heavy bombers, the other ten were F/A-18 Hornets flying from our carriers. And they only launched fifteen Tomahawks. This is not what you'd call a massive attack.
Update 20011009: Another possibility for how few jets have been used is that there simply isn't all that much in the way of capital assets to attack.
Stardate 20011008.0829 (On Screen): There is a difference in my mind between someone who is killed while going about their daily routine, and someone who actively seeks out an extremely perilous situation (no matter why) and gets into trouble while doing so. If that latter person does get into trouble we are right to be concerned about her, but we should be less than sympathetic. She is no victim. Someone who plays with fire, and so on.
Yvonne Ridley is a British reporter who illegally crossed the border into Afghanistan in disguise, and was caught and detained by the Taliban. She played a high stakes game with her own life and got caught. Regardless of what we may think of the Taliban, Ridley was breaking the law. Had someone from Afghanistan done the same thing to Great Britain, they would have been imprisoned, too. And it is arguable that Ridley was acting as a spy (her purpose was to get in, find out what was going on, get out and report on that), and if so she could have been shot. So she was unreasonably lucky when the Taliban decided to release her (for propaganda purposes). Unfortunately, the timing was a bit wrong, and she was still in Afghanistan when the bombing started. Now they claim they have released her anyway.
Her mother has been extremely worried, and rightly so. She was elated when she discovered her daughter was going to be released, and then again worried once she heard that the bombing started. She said the following to reporters:
I last heard from the Foreign Office last night and they were doubtful that the hand-over would take place at the border. The Taleban said they were going to release Yvonne yesterday. She was coming home. My daughter Yvonne was a free woman. The British Government said she was coming home. Why then could they not delay the bombing for a few hours? I just cannot accept that.
She can not be serious! For crying out loud! Did she really think that they were going to delay the attack just so that her daughter could be extracted from a problem that she had gotten herself into? It's a good thing that she's free, but her safety could not be an issue in the timing of this attack.
The father of one of the American missionaries being held in Afghanistan, who have not been freed, is in Pakistan right now. He is remaining out of the public eye and refusing to talk to reporters, and that is the correct thing to do. While he cares about his daughter, it's clear that he understands that she is not what this war is about. I respect him much more for his silence than I do Ridley's mother. (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.0703 (On Screen): The Taliban, and especially their ambassador in Pakistan, have been lying for weeks. We know that because they've been contradicting themselves. First they said that bin Laden had left the country; then they said they had him under what amounted to house arrest. They claimed he had no ability to contact anyone outside of Afghanistan, but he's been doing a fine job of issuing press releases and even a video tape. They claimed to have 300,000 troops, then they said they had 40,000. They can't even tell a consistent story. So when their ambassador claims that there were widespread civilian casualties in the attack yesterday, I consider the source. (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.0653 (On Screen): A second man has been found who was exposed in Florida to anthrax. He is a coworker of the man who died, and they're both employed by a large publisher. It may well be that he got exposed by being around the first man; but it's difficult to say. Health authorities will be chasing this down until they have clearly identified the source; in the mean time, the publisher has shut down and all its employees are being advised to seek profilactic adminstration of antibiotics just in case they, too, have been exposed. I seriously doubt that this is the result of any kind of terrorist activity. If they wanted to attack a publisher, why would they take on the one which publishes The Sun, The Globe, and The National Enquirer? It's not as if the US would be harmed by losing access to their thorough coverage of Elvis and Bigfoot stories. (discuss)
Stardate 20011008.0640 (<long range sensors>On Screen): Inevitably, within hours after the first bombs began dropping yesterday, there was a peace protest. It happened in Seattle, and there were also certain counter-protesters. The peace protesters absolutely have a right to do what they did, and I would never dream of trying to suppress them. Their right to make asses of themselves in public is indeed part of what we're fighting for.
But they have a responsibility to themselves, their cause, and to all of us to try to make a rational and convincing argument for their point of view, which sure as heck doesn't seem to have happened yesterday. "I don't want to see more Americans die because of a militarist cowboy, or be dragged into a war, a long land conflict. That's where I think Bush is taking us." I'm sure not too thrilled about war, myself. But I also don't want to see thousands more Americans die in terrorist attacks on our cities. How does he suggest we stop that? Actually, he didn't even mention the possibility of further attacks on us; it doesn't appear to be an issue. Everyone here condemns what happened, but people feel that there must be an alternative policy, that war cannot be the only answer. But until you can tell us what that alternative is, then your argument is empty. The mere fact that you don't like the answer doesn't mean the answer is wrong. Sometimes there are no good choices. That's how things are in the real world. Asked about alternatives to war, she said: "We have international standards. We don't need to attack the Afghani people." That's not an answer, that's doubletalk. The question is not whether we need to attack Afghanistan, the question is how we prevent al Qaeda from attacking us in future.
In fact, there's a consistent theme all through these reactions: they're very short sighted. They're looking only at the immediate events and not taking a broader view and considering secondary consequences, especially the consequences of inaction. They look at deaths which happened yesterday and are horrified, and that's legitimate. (War is a horrible thing. Robert E. Lee said, "It is good that war is so terrible, else we should come to love it too much.") But is a hundred deaths tomorrow more important than ten thousand deaths in six months, merely because it's sooner and more immediate? Or are a hundred deaths inflicted by our side more important than ten thousand killed by our enemies simply because the blood is on our hands? We're not fighting to avenge the deaths in NYC; we're fighting to prevent deaths in Philadelphia, and Miami, and Seattle. (discuss)
And do they not see the fundamental inconsistency in the fact that they were able to make their protests against war yesterday because American men had died in previous wars to preserve and protect the protester's rights of free speech and free assembly?
Update: Joel Achenbach sez: We understand that there are people in the world who vociferously protest the expansion of American culture and Western-style corporate capitalism, who see the spread of McDonald's and Coca-Cola as a vile toxin amid the indigenous cultures of the planet. These people are known as "American college kids."
Stardate 20011008.0559 (On Screen): Great Britain had a lot of oddball geniuses during World War II. A lot of strange proposals were made for weird weapons, and many were turned down. Of course, it's sometimes hard to distinguish a genius from a crackpot, and a lot of the proposals really were crackpot. But there was one boffin who kept telling them they were using the bombers wrong. They wouldn't listen to him. But then they decided they needed to destroy the dams on the Rhine river, and couldn't figure out how to do it. Torpedos would have been perfect, except that the Germans had placed torpedo nets in the lakes behind the dams to prevent exactly that. Our hero came up with an elegant design for a special bomb which did the job, and specially equipped British bombers then proceeded to demolish all the dams in about two weeks. After that, high command realized he knew what he was talking about, and listened more closely.
His thesis was that bombs which went off when the struck the surface were inherently inefficient. Most of the concussion from the blast made a really big bang and was dissipated into the atmosphere. While impressive as all get out, it actually wasted most of the power of the blast. His contention was that the bombs should be designed to be ultrastrong and to have a delayed fuse, so that they penetrated the ground a good distance and then exploded. Furthermore, he believed that in this design bigger was better. The result was the legendary "Tall Boy", (and its successor "Grand Slam", an 11-ton behemoth which was the largest conventional bomb used in the war). These were known as "earthquake bombs", for they would penetrate several hundred feet into the ground and then go off. All of their explosive force was then transmitted into the ground, creating a local earthquake which would shatter structures on the surface (and under the surface) for a wide area. But what they were really good for was destroying railroad tunnels.
By that point in the war it had been realized that attacking transportation, especially rail, was an exellent way to disrupt German industry. Tunnels were an obvious target; a bridge can be replaced but tunnels are much more difficult. But conventional bombing had to target tunnel entrances, and the resulting damage could be cleared away. With the earthquake bombs, the attack would target the middle of the tunnel, and a long stretch of it would be collapsed. That removed that tunnel from the transportation net for the duration. It turned out that the earthquake bomb was superb for attacking many kinds of structures. For example, to bring down buildings, instead of blasting the structure directly an earthquake bomb would destabilize its foundation. The effect was the same, except that an earthquake bomb was better at it. And nothing is better at attacking underground bunkers.
According to this article, the US has a modern equivalent which uses a tactical nuke. Instead of weighing 11 tons, it weighs about half a ton. It's held within an extremely strong steel casing, and like Tall Boy it's designed to penetrate the ground and detonate well beneath it. If so, and if the US decides to take the step of going nuclear, then this may be another answer for taking out underground tunnel complexes, for the result of a detonation like this would collapse underground structures for a very wide area around the blast. It's speculated that al Qaeda actually have nukes and have them stored in such a tunnel complex; if so, that may justify use of weapons like this. Far better to set off a nuke in the boonies in Afghanistan's mountains than to set one off in Manhattan to finish the job begun on September 11. But of course intelligence on that would have to be extremely good to justify such an attack; it's not something we would do simply on speculation. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011007.2049 (On Screen): It will be instructive to compare and contrast the behaviors of the two sides, for by your acts are you judged. After September 11, there were a few assaults by Americans against Arabs and Afghanis living in this nation (and a couple of murders), but far more people who reached out their hands in friendship and support. If there were any violent protests, here or abroad, against those who had launched the attacks, I never heard of them. Now the US and Great Britain have launched a counter-attack against those responsible for the 9/11 attack, and Muslims in Indonesia are mobilizing to attack any foreigners they can find, and planning to lay siege to the US embassy. (discuss)
Update 20011008: It looks as if the threatened violent protests in Indonesia were actually a wet firecracker.
Stardate 20011007.2029 (On Screen): Immediately after the first waves of bombing lifted, two American C-17 transports dropped 37,500 rations into an area known to have refugees. Each ration contains enough food for one person for one day. These won't by any means be the last. This is completely unprecedented in the history of war. I have never heard of a case where a nation simultaneously attacked the government and military of another nation and also unilaterally provided supplies to the citizens of that nation. (discuss)
Update: In a poll of Americans, 77% approved of the use $320 million in US tax dollars to send supplies to Afghani refugees.
Stardate 20011007.2022 (On Screen): The United States and Britain on Sunday unleashed a firestorm of bombing and missile strikes on Afghanistan... I really wish they hadn't used the word "firestorm". There really have been true firestorms created by bombing, but what we did today in Afghanistan wasn't remotely like that. The most famous firestorm in history happened at Dresden, but the most devastating firestorm happened in Tokyo in March of 1945. Over 500 B-29 bombers flew in at low altitude and dropped incendiary bombs on the city. Tokyo was built of wood; it was a vast tinderbox waiting for a flame. The B-29's obliged with thousands of them, each of which was started with jellied gasoline. The fires grew, spread, and merged into one immense fire which burned out several square miles of the city, incinerating everything within and killing nearly a hundred thousand people. Some were cooked; some were suffocated, some were caught in the flames and destroyed by the heat. Some died of burns later. It was the single most lethal bombing attack in the history of the world.
That's a firestorm There hasn't been one in a city anywhere in the world since 1945. What we did today was to carefully bomb military targets. The Taliban claim that civilians were killed; that's very likely true. They were not deliberately targeted, but it is impossible to avoid killing at least some of them if we are to win this war. But if we actually do set off a "firestorm", you'll know it. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.1832 (On Screen): The Stinger is a shoulder-fired SAM. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the turning point in that war was when the US gave several hundred of them to the Mujahedin. This was something which was debated heavily at the time, because of the concern that they could fall into the hands of terrorists and could be used to attack civilian jet liners. The Stinger is a short-range IR-homing missile, and after they were given to the Afghani forces, the USSR lost an average of one aircraft per week for the next six months. This largely prevented the USSR from using helicopters in support of its infantry, and eventually led to them giving up and leaving. The solution was to program them with a timeout. The Mujahedin were told that they needed to use them within a short period of time (I believe it was 18 months), after which they would cease to work, "and if you need more we'll give them to you."
Now I'm seeing reports in various places talking about the possibility that the Taliban may have upwards of a hundred operational Stingers.I don't believe it. If they were still working, Al Qaeda would have used some of them by now. A jetliner is a piece of cake for these missiles; they're slow (subsonic), they don't dodge, and they don't drop flares. They're also huge and have multiple engines to hit. Anywhere within ten miles of an airport along a flight path the Stinger would be deadly. I don't believe that if those Stingers were still working that they wouldn't have been used in this way by now, somewhere in the world. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011007.1654 (On Screen): Among other targets being hit are certain airports. Reportedly the airport at Herat is being struck; it is home to some of the Taliban's air force, such as it is. Given that they would have had minimal access to supplies of spare parts, it's likely that few of their jets are still airworthy. Still, they are a potential threat, especially if we're sending unarmed cargo planes in to drop food, so they have to be neutralized. Air fields have been recognized for a long time as a strategic asset; indeed that was what most of the initial bombing by the Germans targeted in the Battle of Britain. We have weapons specially designed for attacking such targets, and they can be carried by cruise missiles. They're sort of like cluster bombs. The difference is that a cluster bomb bursts and scatters its bomblets in a circular area. For these special weapons, the bomblets are released in a stream. The cruise missile is programmed to fly along the airstrip (yup, they're that accurate) and trigger its weapon starting at one end, spreading bomblets along the length of the air strip. There are at least two kinds of bomblets which are released. The first kind penetrate the strip and then detonate, cratering the surface. The second kind don't go off immediately; they're mines and they are very sensitive once they arm themselves. Their purpose is to prevent the enemy from repairing the airfield; before that can even begin, they have to clear all the mines out of the way. It doesn't permanently ruin the strip, but of course it can be reattacked this way if need be. There's a larger version of this which can be used from a jet, which is much more effective; however, because the jet has to fly quite low, it's risky to use if there's active AAA in the vicinity. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.1532 (On Screen): French Defense Minister Alain Richard said on Sunday that French participation in U.S. attacks on Afghanistan was "a question of days." I wonder what he means by "participation." I hope he doesn't mean that France is going to send a second frigate. Bombers would be far more useful, under the circumstances. (discuss)
Update: President Chirac says that French troops will get involved. As to how much information they were given, they were informed of the attack about an hour before it began, which clearly means they were not in the loop for planning it.
I'm afraid for our pilots. On every flight, they put it on the line. Equipment malfunction or a lucky hit by Afghani AAA or a missile may bring them down. They could be killed, or even worse they could be captured. I shudder to think of what might be done to them if they're taken alive.
I'm afraid for the American people. I'm afraid of the counterattacks which will surely come. I'm afraid of how much damage we may take. The continental US hasn't been seriously attacked since the war of 1812; our people are used to thinking of war as something that happens somewhere else. This is the first war in our lives where the US itself is going to suffer. There will be more dead bodies in the streets.
I'm afraid for the Constitution. This kind of crisis brings out the best and the worst in people; in the name of security some will try to take our rights from us. This cannot be permitted; it's what we are fighting for. If we destroy ourselves in the process of defeating an enemy, we have not won.
I'm afraid for our allies. Terrorist counterattacks will surely not be limited to the US. There will be attacks elsewhere in the world. They may be directed at US citizens or interests, our embassies or our people or companies we own, but there will be many others who will be hurt in those attacks, as there were many people from elsewhere in the world who died in the WTC bombing.
And I'm afraid for Afghanistan. The people there have already suffered so much; their nation is a shambles after 25 years of war. Their civilians will cluster in ramshackle refugee camps and starve or freeze or die from disease; they'll be caught in bombings or used as human shelds, and their sons will be kidnapped at gunpoint and taken away to fight. And once the fighting ends they'll come back to find a nation destroyed.
But I'm not uncertain. What we're doing is right and it is necessary. Awful things are going to happen, and we're going to do some of them. But worse things would have happened if we had not done this, and that's all that matters. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.1129 (On Screen): It appears that the first round of bombing was carried out with cruise missiles. This is hardly a surprise. I would guess that yesterday's fly-over was one last look to make sure nothing important had moved, prior to the attack. It would have been launched primarily by US surface ships in the Indian Ocean, along with assistance from certain British ships including their submarines.
Power is off in Kabul, but whether that's because the power system was knocked out or because of civil defense procedures is unknown. As a civil defense procedure it's completely useless. Cruise missiles don't depend on that. They use GPS and terrain mapping radar. Our bombers have inertial guidance systems and GPS and likely also terrain mapping radar if they feel the need to switch it on; they know where they are at all times. They also have FLIR.
Any bombing we do for the immediate future is probably going to be from very high altitude from heavy bombers, especially B1's. They will be out of range of Taliban AAA, and will have countermeasures against any SAMs that may be launched. SAMs are guided either by radar, which can be defeated by ECM, or by IR homers, which can be decoyed with flares. Whatever they have (which won't be much) it's old, and certainly something that the US knows all about and will have prepared for. So it's unlikely that we will lose many bombers, if any. (discuss)
Update: Power has been restored; it appears that it was intended as a civil defense measure. The bombing was concentrated on the airport.
Stardate 20011007.1122 (On Screen): It's been said that Viet Nam was the first television war, when people in the US could see what was happening in the war within 24 hours. If so, the war we have embarked on is the first satellite phone war. People everywhere will be in instant contact; all they need is a box the size of a small book.
Of course, the fact that we can communicate with people instantly doesn't mean that they'll tell us the truth when they talk to us. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.1114 (On Screen): Reporters from a New York newspaper smuggled forbidden weapons onto ten different airline flights in the US, to make a point. This was a phenomenally stupid thing to do. It was also a felony. There is no question that airline security still needs to be tightened, but this was the wrong way to prove it. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.1038 (On Screen): Let's be brutally honest here: there will be reprisals against us. There will be a counterattack against the US. It may happen here or it may happen overseas. Our intelligence people and law enforcement people will do their best to prevent such attacks, but our enemies are resourceful and ruthless and are now thoroughly motivated, and it is not possible to prevent all future attacks. The next one may be less serious than September 11, or it may be worse. But it will happen, and American civilians will die. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.0937 (On Screen): The US has asked for NATO forces to be deployed into the continental US. Specifically, it has asked for deployment of NATO AWACS jets. I think that the reason for this is to free up US AWACS jets so that they can be deployed to the middle east, but it's still an unexpected move. It's entirely possible that it's being done primarily for political reasons, so that the offer of Article 5 assistance wasn't totally turned down. (discuss)
Stardate 20011007.0913 (On Screen): I believe I understand now what's going on with the Taliban, and why they're doing what they're doing. Their leadership is not deluded and fully understands their peril, and are searching desperately for a way out. They have the world's most powerful military mobilizing against them. They have no allies or friends at all. They are completely surrounded by hostile nations, and have an active military force inside their own country already fighting them. The combination of bellicose claims of their military potency combined with pitiable pleas for mercy and attempts to find some way out diplomatically are all consistent with this point of view.
The Taliban's leadership is between a rock and a hard place: they are not capable of giving the US what the US demands, and nothing less will prevent the US from attacking. They cannot give bin Laden up and shut down Al Qaeda. A quarter of their military might (and in fact the best, most disciplined part) is directly loyal to bin Laden rather than to the Taliban directly, and if the Taliban turns on bin Laden those forces will at the very least stop fighting (opening up the Taliban to an attack by the Northern Alliance) and very likely begin directly attacking the Taliban itself. In addition, Al Qaeda is actually responsible for a large part of the funding that is keeping the Taliban itself going; without them, the Taliban's government would be financially unsound. They would no longer be able to pay or supply much of the rest of their army, with all that implies. Morale among the civilians in their area of control is terrible, and at least 20% have decamped and headed for relative safety in refugee camps at or across the border. That has crippled the economy, which was none too healthy anyway. The Taliban are not self sufficient in any important regard: the nation doesn't have an armaments industry and isn't even self-sufficient in food. Prolonged isolation alone represents a deadly danger to their power, but that is far from the most urgent thing they face.
So they are reduced now to trying forlorn attempts at diplomacy. They begged bin Laden to leave Afghanistan and take his war with the US somewhere else, and he ignored them. They have been trying everything they can think of to try to engage the US in conversation, which is difficult because the US won't even talk to them. There was their attempt to trade the 8 missionaries for relief from the military pressure, and now their offer to try bin Laden in their own courts under Islamic law. That offer is, of course, a sham; perhaps a tr