Stardate 20011027.1912 (Crew, this is the Captain): The Captain is taking shore leave on planet Luxor in the Vegas system; gonna check out the Dabo tables and get a bit of R&R. I expect to return late on Stardate 20011103. (discuss)
Stardate 20011027.1418 (On Screen): The Cuban government is still grousing about the fact that Russia has decided to close a listening post in Cuba which was left over from the Cold War. But stranger is that it is complaining that Russia is seeking to become a capitalist nation. Apparently it's taken Cuba 10 years to notice this. (discuss)
Stardate 20011027.1408 (On Screen): Now that they're looking, they're finding anthrax all over in the mail system. I predict what they're discovering in most cases is natural anthrax not related to any kind of attack. Anthrax is actually quite common, and people come down with the subcutaneous version of it quite commonly when they work in close vicinity of sheep and cattle. In most cases, it is entirely possible that products or letters or other objects can be "infected" with anthrax but at such a low level as to represent no health risk whatever. But once the authorities start looking for it using biometric assays as sensitive as the ones they're using, it's hardly suprising that it's showing up all over the place. The problem is gonig to be to determine how much of this is actually the normal background level of anthrax which is basically harmless and how much of it might actually be related to bio-warfare terrorist attacks. Generic analysis is going to show that, but that's slow and in the meantime the effect is going to be to vastly amplify the actual terror caused by the real and deadly attacks, which I suspect are actually far fewer than many people realize.
For instance, in the wake of the death in Florida, authorities in Argentina stated that a vacation flyer received by someone there which was mailed from Atlanta was infected with anthrax. It turned out that it actually was, but it was a wild version not related to the one used in the letters to American Media, Brokaw and Senator Daschle. It's extremely likely that it was in fact natural contamination and totally harmless. Equally, subcutaneous anthrax is actually more common than most people realize, and it is rarely fatal. It just makes someone sick as a dog for a couple of weeks; it's sort of like a very severe case of flu. Some of the cases of anthrax which are being found now are almost certainly completely unrelated to deliberately contaminated letters; they are, rather, normally-occurring cases which probably would not have been noticed were it not for the heightened attention being paid.
The thing to watch for is not simply anthrax infections, but inhaled anthrax; that is extremely rare naturally, and we can assume that those cases will all be the result of deliberate contamination. (discuss)
Stardate 20011027.1356 (On Screen): You know, one fixture of Taliban propaganda (and some of the unrest elsewhere in the Muslim world) has been claims that this is some sort of fight to the finish between Islam and Christianity. They better hope that the US doesn't decide that, because if we were really angry, and really vengeful, and really the monsters that they're portraying us to be, then Islam would be gone in about two weeks.
The Trident submarine is the most advanced attack platform ever built. It is nuclear powered, and when an Ohio-class submarine leaves on patrol it submerges shortly after leaving port and never comes to the surface again until shortly before returning to port. Each submarine has two crews which alternate; the boat spends a short time (a couple of weeks) in port after each patrol having maintenance done, and then the second crew goes to sea. The limit on patrol length turns out to be the crew; the boat itself is capable of staying at sea for two years, and it can carry enough supplies for much longer than two months. But under normal circumstances, crew dissatisfaction (and retention rates) drop precipitously when the patrols are longer. But that's in peacetime; in time of war, a Trident can stay at sea much longer than two months if need be, if the crew is willing to live on less satisfactory food.
Trident subs carry 24 Trident II D-5 missiles, each of which carries 8 warheads with an explosive yield of 300-450 kilotons. The warheads are "independently targetable" but only within certain limits; all the targets have to be within a certain distance of each other (exact distance classified, but on the order of 400 kilometers). Fortunately (?) most potential targets of such an attack tend to have worthwhile targets clustered that way, so few warheads would go to waste.
If the US really had blood in its eye, and was really "fighting a war against Islam," Islam wouldn't last very long. One Trident is capable of killing the majority of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. One would suffice to eliminate Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and all the other Muslim nations of SE Asia. One could take out Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt. The fourth could take out Libya, Algeria and all the other Muslim nations of Africa. They might even have missiles left over, and that would leave 14 other Tridents for reserve and followup attacks -- not to mention all the other nuclear munitions we have, such as ones which can be carried by Tomahawk cruise missiles.
This won't happen, of course. There isn't any way that the US would do such a thing. Even if a US city were nuked, we would not go to such great lengths. But we could; and people who are accusing us of being mad dogs had better realize just how much restraint we've actually shown so far. Y'all wouldn't like it if we were really angry. (discuss)
Stardate 20011027.1258 (On Screen via long range sensors): The Berkeley city council voted a resolution expressing displeasure with the US war against the Taliban; the original proposal was much more strongly worded than what passed. The result has been a massive outcry of horror, disbelief and condemntation from both within and outside of the city, and in particular there is a massive and seemingly spontaneous boycott of the city and its businesses. The City Counciler responsible for the resolution says:
"I never expected to be so misconstrued."
She doesn't get away that easily. The respons is not to what passed, but to what she had originally asked for: an immediate end to the bombing irrespective of whether the war had been won, and a condemnation of US policies. That's what she was thinking when she proposed the measure, and everyone knows it. (There isn't any secret about this.) She didn't ask for "as soon as possible", those words were added in debate. The boycotters are right here, and Spring is trying to cover her ass.
It should be understood that Spring has a perfect right to make any political statement she wants as a private citizen. In her own person she can grant interviews, issue press releases, or march down the road with a sign. The problem here is that she and her four accomplices on the city council hijacked the political structure of the city of Berkeley and misused it as a platform to give support to their position. That was completely inappropriate. If she'd stuck to issuing these kinds of statements on her own, there would have been no backlash. But by forcing a government body to take a position counter to the best interests of the nation, and by using it as a platform for things which are none of its business, her city deserves everything that is happening to it. City councils should have no involvement in foreign affairs; the Constitution reserves that power to the US government. I hope that the damage to Berkeley is deep and long lasting; with any luck this will convince the voters of Berkeley that Ms. Spring is a luxury they cannot afford. Then she can go back to being a private citizen, where she can express her repugnant opinions in an appropriate way. (discuss)
Stardate 20011027.1232 (On Screen): The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a body which is monitoring, and attempting to fight, the decay of free speech rights on campuses in the US. When you read their list of responses, it's interesting to see that campus thought-police have been censoring both extreme left-wing and right-wing opinions. It turns out that they're not trying to censor any particular viewpoint; it becomes obvious that what they're trying to do is to avoid controversy no matter what its cause. This is gutlessness of the first order, and ironically by attempting to avoid controversy they create an even deeper controversy. By suppressing extreme viewpoints, they assault the most important value we all hold: the idea that people should be free to express their opinions no matter what they are.
Somehow the commitment to sensitivity has been taken to an extreme; anything that could conceivably offend anyone is attacked. When people put up stickers on their cubicles that said "Proud to be an American" they were ordered to take them down for fear of offending foreign students. But why should that offend people from outside the country? What, exactly, is wrong with being proud of what you are?
I think the problem is that there is a false dichotomy here: the assumption is that if someone is proud to be American, then they necessarily must be contemptuous of anything non-American. But that doesn't follow. I am proud to be an American, but I'm not contemptuous of Canadians or Brits (unless they deserve it); I'm not even contemptuous of Arabs -- unless they deserve it. I'm not contemptuous of those people simply because they're non-American; when I am contemptuous of them it's because of specific things they've done or said that I think are worthy of contempt.
The act of flying an American flag has been treated in some instances as "hate speech" -- which takes the concept well over the line of rationality. There's a difference between making a speech advocating lynching anyone wearing a turban, and simply flying a flag. The flag doesn't hate, and loving the flag doesn't indicate hatred for anyone.
And even if it did express contempt, what of it? Where, exactly, did this idea come from that no-one should ever hear anything they don't like? When did it become canon that no-one should ever be exposed to ideas they find offensive? Free expression must include the ability to express unpopular, even offensive, ideas or it is a mirage. If I'm only free to say things which my neighbors approve of, then I am not free at all. It's time for the Universities to cease teaching "sensitivity", and to start teaching "insensitivity". One of the things students need to learn is how to not get offended by things they don't like, because once they leave the womb of the university system, they will surely be exposed to a great deal of it. (discuss)
Stardate 20011027.0607 (On Screen): I'm not sure there's a web site more different from mine than Wanker County, and yet it's one of my daily reads. It's a collaborative effort by six high school dudes (except that Jon seems to have gotten grounded by his parents, but it also seems that he's coming back). Most of them are in Michigan but one of them, Jord, lives in Arizona. Jord's a good looking young man; I suspect he has no trouble at all getting babes. But he happens to have rather darker skin than his fellows (and his icon on the header reflects that fact). One reason I enjoy reading this page is because they have such a different view of the world than I do; they're smart and sassy and creative and 30 years younger than I am. They're interested in girls and rock music and video games and girls and the world around them and girls (which is as it should be), but they're not fools and they don't have their heads wedged, the way it seems as if a lot of kids that age do. They're part of the cam-page culture on the web, which I'm not. I'm glad guys like them exist.
But they won't if security guards have their way. Jord was trying to take pictures of a building in Phoenix and he got surrounded by guards who seized his camera and grilled him, demanding ID and so on. It's almost certain that this happened because his skin is darker. (The irony is that Jordan is Jewish.) It's important that we not give in to the temptation to foster a rebirth of racial suspicion and prejudice in this country. He treated the incident with some humor, but there's clearly some bitterness there, too -- and rightfully so. Jord is no criminal; he's just a high school student. Unfortunately, he's run into this more than once; it seems to be a fact of his life simply because his skin is a bit dark. (Of course, living in Arizona and looking vaguely Mexican probably doesn't help any.) (discussion in progress)
Update: Wanker County has been promising a site redesign for months; it appears that no sooner did I link to them then they decided to do it and pulled their site down. Oh, well.
Stardate 20011026.1817 (On Screen): The conference on Racism which was held in South Africa ultimately fell apart because it wasn't possible to get consensus on what "racism" is. Everyone wanted to make sure that their enemies were declared as racists, but no-one wanted to admit to being a racist. Now another UN converence has failed for exactly the same reason: no-one can agree what a "terrorist" is. It's hardly surprising; it's almost a foregone conclusion that such a conference would fail; I hardly understand why they even bothered. (discuss)
Stardate 20011026.1733 (On Screen): Sean writes to ask my opinion about the new defense budget. First, it's loaded with pork. Some of the programs are in there to funnel defense dollars into key districts, not so much because they are really important for defense. But that always happens.
I'm a little apalled by the emphasis on captital acquisition. Experience shows that training makes much more difference, and yet most of what's listed here is things they're going to buy. They do say that they fully funded training and spare parts; that said, I'm a little concerned over "spare parts" because traditionally the Pentagon has not spent enough on that. Unlike Sean, I think the Osprey is a complete waste of money and I think they should cancel the program; it's an example of one which has hung on not because the military really needs it, but because of where it will be built and who will get paid. I'm not sure I understand the logic behind adding one extra destroyer to the Navy; that looks to me more like a payoff for someone whose district includes a shipyard. I also note no mention whatever of base closings, despite the fact that the Pentagon has been pleading for that for a long time.
It mentions just in passing full funding for the Crusader, without mentioning what it is. The Crusader is a new generation self-propelled artillery system. There's been a crying need for a new artillery piece for years. In the Gulf War, our artillery was out-ranged by the Iraqi artillery; that's not acceptable. So I'm glad to see that they're proceeding with this system.
What I'm most scandalized by is that they are buying 13 F-22's for a staggering $200 million each. The Air Force has got to stop making their jets out of platinum. That price is preposterous; I don't care how good those things are, they're not worth that much money. There comes a time the Air Force is no longer going to be permitted to pack every single toy they can think of into each jet; when they are that expensive you simply can't afford to buy enough of them. Which would be better to have? 1 F-22 or 6 F-16's? The F-16's would cost less (since they cost $30 million each). The Joint Strike Fighter project was just approved and will be given to Lockheed-Martin; they are expected to cost about $40 million each, and the reason they'll be in that price ballpark even though having about the same features as the F-22 is because of economy of scale. The Air Force and Navy are both going to use it, and so will several European nations. As a result they'll be able to build enough of them to get the per-unit cost down. The reason those F-22's are going to cost so much is because they're going to be built by hand, because the quantities are so small. It is not practical to deploy such a small number of a given kind of jet because it will require its own supply chain. The work involved in supporting 200 jets of a given kind in combat is only perhaps three times what would be needed to support 20 of them, just because of the supply problems. And that's another place where the F-16 has it all over the F-22: it uses the same engine as the F-15 and has many other parts in common, and with the number of them we already have the supply chain is already in place. I think that this F-22 acquisition is another political deal; some congressman was going to get massacred if none at all were bought. But $2.6 billion is quite a consolation prize, you must admit. (discuss)
Stardate 20011026.1255 (On Screen): Thomas Greene misses the point about Steve Gibson's concern regarding Win XP. He installed Win XP on his system and let Gibson's Nanoprobe attack it, and Gibson's system failed to even see that it was there. Greene then asks If ShieldsUP is a crap toy, and XP really is a weapon broadcasting its deadly raw sockets to the dark side, then Steve is a fraud. But if the XP firewall really offers 'full stealth' right out of the box, then Steve is a fraud. So which is it? The answer is that Gibson doesn't think that these XP systems will be infected by direct attack. He thinks they'll be coopted by email worms or infected download files, which XP's firewall won't help. Once the system is compromised, it will bypass the firewall and make itself known (usually on an ICQ channel or something like that) and permit a script kiddy to take the system over.
However, Gibson's hysteria is misplaced; it isn't necessary to have the ability to do raw IP operations for such a zombie (as they're called) to become dangerous, and it's always been possible for those kinds of infections to IP-spoof; it's just that it was more difficult. XP doesn't change anything important one way or the other. (discuss)
Stardate 20011026.1250 (On Screen): Today is the official launch for Win XP -- and already cracks are said to be available to bypass its registration system. During the betas there were times when I thought the hackers out there were too smart for their own good; they'd find a crack and distribute it, thus giving Microsoft time to fix the problems. It appears that a lot of them were "less" smart; they found the cracks but kept them secret until Microsoft had already committed to the final version. Microsoft can still fight a rearguard action, though; it can make it so that service packs upgrade the registration system. (discuss)
Stardate 20011026.1155 (On Screen via long range sensors): The Guardian has emerged as a strident anti-war voice in the UK. In virtually all of their coverage of the war, they've done their best to cast it in the worst light possible. This editorial tries to make a case that the voters are being deceived and lied to.
The war in Afghanistan and the broader "war on terrorism" are being fought in the name of democray, which flourishes where there is popular consultation and consent. But consultation is only worthwhile if it is candid, open-minded, and continuous. Consent is only legitimate if it is informed. Thus Mr Blair is right to warn of the risk of British casualties, as he did yesterday, if he believes that to be a likely result of his policy. But he is wrong if he believes that by admitting this possibility, he is absolved from an ongoing responsibility to explain why such sacrifices are necessary and why, in his view, there is no alternative now or in the forseeable future.
Nothing is ever absolute. It is true that a liberal democracy runs best when the voters are informed about what the government is doing. However, there are times when the voters have to trust the government to do the right thing, because revealing what they are doing would be even more harmful than keeping it secret. War is such a time.
It is essential in war that your opponent not know what you intend. Surprise is a force multiplier because it permits you to achieve local preponderance of force. It is nearly always the case that if your opponent knows what you intend that he can either prevent you from achieving it or at least blunt the attack. If the government was forced to reveal its full knowledge to its voters, it would be impossible to prevent that information from reaching the enemy, and then it would be as if you were playing cards with your hand exposed (and your enemy's hand hidden). At the very least this would result in a drastic increase in casualties on your own side, at the worst it could be the difference between victory and defeat. Democracy is an imperfect situation and this is one of the places where imperfection shows itself.
That said, The Guardian presents a series of rhetorical questions which they seem to think demonstrate things which are being concealed. The only problem with them is that I know the answers to all of the questions. I won't go into them all (for fear of belaboring the point, and also because all of them have been dealt with here in the past couple of weeks) so I'll simply take the first five.
The primary objective (and justification) of military action is said to be the capture of Osama bin Laden. Mr Bush has ordered the CIA to kill him if it can. Mr Blair does not envisage putting him on trial. Donald Rumsfeld now suggests he may never be found. After all that has occurred, are the US and Britain any closer to catching Bin Laden? Do they have any better an idea where he really is? And do they really want to catch him? Is killing him the best way of ensuring justice for the September 11 victims and of upholding international law?
The Guardian starts out with a false statement and goes downhill from there. The capture and punishment of bin Laden was never the primary goal of this war. While it is intended that he be killed or captured, the primary purpose of this operation is to defang al Qaeda by killing their members, destroying their training camps and seizing their assets. Because the Taliban protect them, the Taliban must be removed. Moreover, this isn't about justice, nor is it about international law. We are not attacking al Qaeda to retaliate for the September 11 bombing, we are attacking them so as to prevent them from launching any further attacks, or to make any such attacks as rare and undestructive as possible. On that basis, it isn't necessarily important that we kill or capture bin Laden. If he escapes but is not capable of any further mischief against us, that is sufficient. And obsessing over bin Laden directly could seriously jeopardize the larger goal of neutralizing al Qaeda.
If Bin Laden is the objective, why has military action so far focused on the Taliban, whose overthrow is not a stated war aim? Despite their alliance with al-Qaida, is it sensible to persist in widening the war into a possibly unwinnable campaign of national conquest?
Since bin Laden isn't the objective, this question is meaningless. We are attacking the Taliban because they are allied with and provide political and physical protection for al Qaeda, and attempts at diplomacy with the Taliban have been utter failures. They won't negotiate in good faith, and there is no longer any point in trying. So there is no choice but to widen the conflict to include the Taliban because no narrower objective can remove the danger of al Qaeda.
It is not disputed that high-altitude bombing and missiles have caused many civilian casualties. But it is not forgotten that precise and proportionate attacks were promised. Three weeks into a supposedly "new kind of war", is it still appropriate to be using such tactics?
Yes, unless you had the unreasonable expectation that this war was going to be won in 10 days. Bombing is a long term process which progressively weakens an opponent, but it takes time. During that time it will inflict civilian casualties, especially if your opponent is deliberately hiding military assets in the middle of civilian concentrations. But to leave such targets alone simply because of the presence of civilians is to grant your opponent the ability to protect his assets, which means that our ground forces will have to face them when the time comes resulting in far more casualties among our own soldiers. And it is the cold logic of war that casualties among our soldiers are more important than casualties among our enemy's civilians. It would be nice if they could be spared, but it isn't possible while still winning the war. Nonetheless, it has to be put into historical perspective, and the number of civilian casualties during this bombing has been extremely light by historical standards. We are indeed doing our best to minimize them, but we cannot sacrifice victory on that altar. It isn't possible to win this war without killing some Afghan civilians, much as we wish it were otherwise.
The MoD estimates that in Kosovo 60% of cluster bombs missed their target or remained unaccounted for. The Red Cross has asked for them to be banned. Is their present use justifiable?
Absolutely. They have to be used because they are efficient and effective and achieving the same effect without them would require dropping far more traditional bombs, increasing the risk to our pilots and to the civilians on the ground. The Red Cross has asked for them to be banned, but the Red Cross isn't responsible for winning this war. Cluster bombs and other improved munitions are important because they permit attacking enemy infantry which is entrenched. Conventional munitions are extremely ineffective against men in foxholes and trenches; they only kill or incapacitate those in the immediate vicinity of the blast. A cluster bomb bursts in mid-air and spreads bomblets over a wide area; the bomblets then fall all over and detonate when they hit the ground. A substantial number of them will fall into the foxholes and trenches. To achieve the same effect with conventional bombs you'd have to drop fifty times as much. Dud warheads are a fact of life; there's nothing that can be done about it. It is true that some of the bomblets don't detonate; it is equally true that a certain number of larger bombs also won't do so. It amounts to the same danger in the long run; the only way to prevent it entirely is to not bomb at all. But that isn't possible unless we are willing to accept thousands of casualties among our own soldiers when and if we end up invading. That's not a price I'm willing to pay.
Why, when it is agreed that the war will ultimately be won on the ground and air superiority has been attained, have special forces still not been deployed in any effective numbers?
There's a time for everything. To rush into ground combat before sufficient intelligence has been gathered and the enemy has been sufficiently weakened by bombing is to risk more casualties among our own soldiers, and to risk defeat. We owe it to our special forces to not commit them too soon or to ask them to take more risks than necessary. In addition, it would be foolhardy to begin a major ground operation now because winter is coming and the winters in Afghanistan are particularly brutal. It isn't likely that a ground operation could be completed in three weeks, which is about all we have left. In addition, special forces aren't used en masse; the point of special forces is to operate in small groups to scout, harry the enemy, and to designate targets for the bombers. Finally, how dio you know that we haven't already deployed them in "effective numbers"? I suppose it depends on what you mean by "effect"; it is unreasonable to say that if this war can't be won in three weeks then it should not be fought at all. Wars take time; very fast wars only happen in the movies. (The "Hundred hour war" was only won because it was preceded by six months of buildup and six weeks of intense air preparation.)When the time comes for major ground operations, it isn't going to be the special forces that do it; it's going to be the Marines and the 10th and the 101st and the 82nd, and maybe 1st Armored, plus whatever allied forces have been offered to us to participate.
And I want to skip ahead and answer two more, because they are critical:
What are the military arguments against pausing the bombing while stepping up humanitarian aid?
It would permit the Taliban to reorganize. It would give them time to disperse their assets. It would permit them free reign to reinforce their units in critical areas. It would permit them to move supplies to their frontline units. The effect of all of those things would be to make the ultimate ground campaign (which I now expect next spring) to be much more expensive in terms of casualties among our own soldiers. I'm not willing to sacrifice an extra 500 American dead for that.
Not nearly enough food is being trucked into Afghanistan ahead of the winter. How can food deliveries be increased in the next four weeks? Given Pakistan's reluctance to open its borders or agree to UN camps, how can the plight of those trying to flee the war be eased?
It can't be. It's unfortunate, but there isn't any way to ameliorate this. Or rather, the Taliban are capable of doing so, but we are not. But the Taliban don't really care about the Afghan civilians, so there isn't anything that can be done. We don't want huge numbers of Afghans to die in this war, but that can't be our primary concern. It sounds hard-hearted to say this, but in the long run we have to be more concerned about our own people than about those who live in our enemy's country. In this case, the people we're concerned about is our own soldiers, and even more to the point those living in US and European cities who might be the target of a much more serious al Qaeda attack in future; is it worth losing 20,000 Brits in London to save 20,000 Afghans in Kabul? I don't think so. And I'm not willing to trade the lives of Americans in Philadelphia or Atlanta to save the lives of Afghans, either. I'm also not willing to trade the lives of our soldiers for that. If the Taliban really care about their own people, they can surrender and prevent all this.
I'm just a civilian; I read the news and I read books and I can answer all of The Guardian's questions. In some cases the answers are ones they don't like, but I think they know the answers, too. Their article is an exercise in rhetoric; I don't consider it a strong argument for their position, which quite frankly is unrealistic. They're saying that the war is going to cause a lot of death and suffering; violent wars always do, but that doesn't mean they're wrong to fight. They seem to think that it should be possible to deploy Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone and five extras with targets painted on their chests and to win this war in a lightning raid that takes an hour. Sorry, that only happens in the movies.
War takes time. War requires secrecy. Wars kill lots of people, and a lot of those are civilians. A lot of civilians have already died in this one -- 5,000 of them in NYC and DC, for example. This war will be just the same in those regards as alll other wars in history. Our new high-tech weapons don't change any of those facts, and though we all wish it were possible to avoid those kinds of consequences, it can't be done. War is evil, but we didn't start this one. (discuss)
Stardate 20011026.0602 (On Screen): There was a chance, maybe 1 in 4, that it would be possible to engineer wholesale defections of the warlords in the Taliban coalition, but it appears that it has largely failed. That's unfortunate; it means that there won't be a quick end to this war. It was a long shot, but it had to be tried. At this point, I see two possibilities for the future, both of which involve more direct military action. In both cases air assaults against Taliban troops will increase in frequency and lethality. To begin with, I suspect we'll see more concerted military action by special forces, possibly through the winter. The Afghans themselves generally don't campaign in the winter there because it's too bitterly cold, but it may be possible for our special forces and/or the 10th Division to do some operations during those intervals, and it is certainly possible for our air forces to continue attacking, so as to keep the Taliban's forces weakened and off balance. If that doesn't manage to pull off a victory, then there will be a build up of ground forces leading to a more general ground assault next spring. At this point I think there's less than one chance in ten of this ending before the onset of winter. (discuss)
Stardate 20011026.0552 (On Screen): War is as much about money as it is about men. Any war, even a terrorist war, involves a great deal of funding, and a military force starved of supply is defanged. One of the key elements of the upcoming struggle will be to locate and seize assets belonging to the organizations which oppose us. This is not trivial; the chains and connections can be extremely abstruse and not every country will cooperate. Still, the potential is high to seriously damage their capability to wage war, and it is well worth doing. This is one of the more critical efforts in this war. (It ain't all about bombing.) (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.2155 (On Screen): This is the kind of story that makes me shake my head and mutter, "Only in California." Last January, a woman in San Francisco was attacked and killed by two bull mastiffs in the hallway of her apartment building. The dogs belonged to a man serving time in the state penitentiary, and they were being cared for by his attorneys. One of the two was there at the time. Both of them have been charged with manslaughter and the one who was present is also up for second degree murder. One of the two dogs was euthanized immediately, but the other one has been held all this time because of a court challenge that this dog wasn't really vicious and shouldn't really be killed. It actually required a hearing in front of a state appeals court before permission would be granted to kill the second animal, too. Only in California would the appeals court even agreed to hear the case.
I think I know what's going on: the dog doesn't matter. What's happening is that the defense attorney was trying to lay groundwork for a claim that at least one of the dogs wasn't dangerous and thus that there wasn't any reason for the two attorneys to know that the other one would be. On that basis he hoped to get them off. (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.1326 (On Screen): (This entry may inadvertantly contain some spoilers) The new season of Junkyard Wars is on, and this one is in America. Teams from all over the US are competing in the classic competition to create devices to solve certain problems using ingenuity and whatever they can scavenge from a multi-acre pile of junk. Does it strike anyone that the challenges are a lot harder this time?
For example, in the original series during the six-challenge playoff, one time the teams had to create powered boats capable of ferrying two people across a quiet lake. Last night's episode had two teams creating powered boats capable of going up and down in a white-water river. In the UK they've done artillery twice; once to hit a target with any projectile at all, and once to hit the target with pumpkins. This year one of the challenges for Americans was not just to hit a target piled up out of concrete cinder blocks, but actually to knock it down; the score was the number of blocks they dislodged in three shots. When the Brits did it, one of the cannons didn't work; both American cannons did substantial damage to the targets. British teams have had to make powered vehicles a couple of times, but they've never had to make any which had to be able to drive over other cars. In one of the earlier British contests, the teams had to create gliders; the winning one stayed in the air for about four seconds. I'm looking forward to next week's show; they have to make powered hang gliders and actually fly a course with it.
I'm a little afraid they're taking this too far. I hope no-one gets hurt. They're asking the teams to use more power in their devices. Last night one of the teams had a power linkage connected to an engine break on them. No-one was harmed, but someone might have been; pieces from the linkage might have flown off and hit someone. (And someone actually did get seriously cut in another episode and had to go to the hospital for stitches.) While I assume that the powered hang-glider competition came off without problems, at that point you're dealing with something which is inherently dangerous. The people on the boats last night wore life preservers and there were boats on the river ready to come to their aid, but if someone cracks up a hang glider or if something fails (i.e. a wing spar breaks) the pilot could be badly injured. This is supposed to be both fun and challenging, but I don't want to see anyone seriously hurt. (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.1253 (On Screen via long range sensors): Dihyrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a noxious chemical; it is the primary component of toxic wastes issued by chemical processing facilities and equally makes up the majority of untreated sewage. An overdose of DHMO can interfere with our ability to breath, and tens of thousands of people around the world (and thousands here in the US) die from DHMO overdose every year. It is a component of acid rain and is used heavily in nuclear power plants and nuclear submarines, especially the ones which carry ICBMs such as the US Ohio class SSBNs. It's a major component of injected Heroin, which is responsible for destroying lives all over the world. It is required to activate Sulfuric Acid; without it Sulfuric Acid is harmless; mixed with DHMO it becomes a deadly corrosive agent.
The Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division is one of the best hoax sites on the web. If you keep a straight face and pretend you don't know what they're talking about, they actually make a pretty darned good case for how dangerous the stuff is, and why it should be banned (or perhaps only issued with a doctor's prescription). It's actually a take on how research and scientific innuendo is used by some anti-technology activists; for instance, it bears a striking resemblance to the kinds of arguments some people use to try to prove that cell phones are dangerous (and that a cell tower shouldn't be put up in their neighborhood because it will give all their children leukemia). Once in a while someone gets taken in by the DHMO hoax, though. It's always sweet when this happens.
A man named Phil Gully sent mail to the Green Party in New Zealand describing to them this horrible chemical and asking for their support in banning it. Sue Kedgley's office replied, saying it was sure the Greens would support such a ban. Which of course asks the question: why are these people trying to set environmental and industrial policy when it is clear they have no clue at all? (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.1230 (On Screen): In response to an editorial written by John Balzar criticizing the lack of access to military operational information by the press, Matt Welch posts a letter written by Pat Phillips, disagreeing. Balzar's opinion is that one of the main problems in Viet Nam was because generals and politicians lied to the public, with the strong implication that the only solution to this would have been more access by the press.
Phillips contends that access by the press, and incorrect information fed to the US public, were not really issues. He is right, but he doesn't really explain why we did lose the Viet Nam war. Given the obvious similarities between the war in Afghanistan and the Viet Nam conflict, I felt it might be important to explain just why we did lose in Viet Nam. Phillips summarizes it as the fact that "cost of winning was more than we were willing pay."
That's true. War is an activity where politicians decide that a political goal cannot be accomplished by diplomacy; the politicians then assign generals and their troops to use other means. The proper division of labor is then for politicians to set objectives and for generals to figure out how to achieve them (and for lesser ranks and soldiers to carry out the resulting operations). Ideally, the generals will be given goals that they are capable of achieving without cooperation of the other side. In other words, they will be goals which the generals can accomplish despite the best efforts of the other side to resist. That's exactly what wasn't done in Viet Nam; we weren't fighting to win, we were fighting to maintain a stalemate. The war could only be "won" by our side if the other side tired and gave up; as long as that didn't happen, as long as they didn't cooperate, then the war would continue. Eventually we tired and gave up, pulled out with a face-saving diplomatic solution that North Vietnam proceeded to ignore, and the war was lost.
The stalemate was that we were trying to preserve the status quo. We wanted to keep South Vietnam in existence. We did bomb North Vietnam quite extensively, but the purpose of that bombing was entirely to convince the North that the price of continuing the war was too high, so that they would give up and stop attacking the South. What our generals didn't have was any kind of achievable objective which would win even if the North didn't give up. For example, they were forbidden to invade North Vietnam. If they'd been permitted to do that, they may well have won, and united Vietnam under a friendly government based in Saigon.
And by so doing, they might have set off World War III. That was the problem. There was a certain degree of violence in that region which the USSR would tolerate, but an invasion of North Vietnam might have caused Soviet troops to get directly involved. Equally, North Vietnam was allied with China, and the memory of Korea was only too fresh in the mind. After Inchon, when the Americans (and allies) had broken out of the Pusan pocket and pushed the North Korean forces into a pocket of their own in the North, China intervened and reinforced the North with huge numbers of Chinese troops. North Vietnam also bordered China and there was definitely a threat of the same thing happening there if the US were to invade North Vietnam.
Vietnam was not actually a separate war. It was part of the Cold War, and both sides in the Cold War recognized that the danger was too great if forces from both sides actually engaged in direct combat with each other. The combat in the Cold War was fought as a series of proxy wars, where one side or the other (or sometimes both) were represented by local troops in the zone of conflict. There was only one case in the Cold War where the US and USSR directly faced each other (the Cuba missile crisis) and it nearly did result in a nuclear exchange. All of the USSR, US and China recognized that direct field combat between them could result in catastrophe. So no-one was willing to take the chance of that happening. An invasion of the North by US forces would have been too risky; it could have set off a nuclear exchange.
And if that was too risky, certainly direct attacks with nukes would have been far worse. If we had nuked Hanoi, that probably would have set off a nuclear exhange with the USSR.
The only goal that US politicians could set to win in Vietnam was to outlast the North. Once it became clear that this was not possible, then it was only a matter of time before we gave up. The turning point was the Tet Offensive, a brilliant move by Ho Chi Minh which unquestionably won the war. Interestingly, on a tactical level it was a complete failure. All the objectives it took were recaptured by our side within a month, and they lost far more casualties than we did. But the generals and politicians had been saying that there was "light at the end of the tunnel" and the voters in the US had been believing that it would be possible to eventually cause the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese to give up. After Tet, Johnson announced that he would not run again, and Nixon was elected on the platform of "Peace with Honor", which amounted to a signal to the North that the US was tired of the war and wanted out.
In a sense, it's not clear that the US could have won in Vietnam. In a different sense, it turns out that it didn't really matter. Vietnam wasn't actually a war; it was a grand battle which was part of the Cold War. We lost that battle but won the Cold War anyway, and Viet Nam now wants to be our friend; they want diplomatic recognition and they want open trade.
The situation in Afghanistan is different in certain critical ways. First, there actually is a victory condition: to depose the Taliban and establish a new government there more friendly to us that won't tolerate al Qaeda. We can accomplish that without cooperation from our enemy. There is no Cold War tension to restrain us. And the Taliban are not clients of anyone we fear; the closest they come to that is their attempts to mobilize Islamic resistance around the world. That is not comparable to the direct threat which was posed by North Vietnam's alliances with China and Russia. We probably couldn't realistically have won in Vietnam. We can win in Afghanistan. (That doesn't guarantee that we will, of course.) (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.1133 (On Screen via long range sensors): This editorial was just published in India and basically accuses its government of acting servile to the Western powers. It presents a view of the situation which bears little resemblance to what I had come to understand about it. For example, it describes Tony Blair's visit to Pakistan as being primarily intended to plead for the protection and release of the missionaries being held by the Taliban. In actual fact, Blair's main purpose in being there was to convince the Pakistanis to let the US and UK use their air space and air bases for attacks on the Taliban, and to reassure Musharraf that any post-Taliban government in Afghanistan would not be polarized against Pakistan.
Equally, it accurately describes how India offered air bases and cooperation to the US, but it characterizes that as "old habits" of bowing before white-skinned foreigners. I didn't view it that way at all; I saw it as India's attempt to try to ingratiate itself to the US so as to try to polarize us regarding India's decades long struggle with Pakistan. Until now, the US has tried to stay neutral in that struggle and to remain friends with both sides; I saw that offer by India as an attempt to try to make the US favor it over Pakistan. It was a political move, not an act of servility.
On the other hand, it says that India's offer (though not rejected) was not really utilized, which is true. It explains that as being the result of contempt by the West, which is not true. The real problem is that those airbases would have been useless without permission from Pakistan to use Pakistani air space. There's also the fact that with three aircraft carriers sitting in the Sea of Arabia, as well as existing airbases in Oman, Turkey, Qatar and Diego Garcia, bases in India didn't actually provide any capability which we didn't already have. (And the existing airbases already have the facilities we need in place, especially in the form of operating supply systems.) We didn't snub India, it's just that the offer was largely useless and had strings attached. (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.1022 (On Screen): Tamim provides a link to an article published in Japan which claims that both Mullah Omar and bin Laden were murdered on October 16. This is completely unsubstantiated and until there is further information about it then it has to be treated as no better than a rumor. The report is that both were murdered at close range by someone using an assault rifle. This is not totally inconceivable. About a month ago the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated by Taliban operatives. It's barely possible that someone from the Northern Alliance decided to return the favor.
A couple of days ago Ambassador Zaeef made a claim that bin Laden was still alive. That struck me as odd, since he seemed to be answering a question no-one had asked. No-one had claimed that he was dead. I took it at the time as a feeble attempt to claim that the bombing had been a failure (with the unspoken assumption that the purpose of the bombing was to kill bin Laden). Now I'm no longer certain. (discuss)
National Review picks up the story; no further confirmation but some interesting back details. He points out that the hundred arrests might have been related to a power struggle.
Stardate 20011025.1005 (On Screen and On Sensors): It's too easy, and a bit dangerous, to make facile judgements about how a given legislator will behave based solely on his party affiliation. The "anti-terrorism" act just passed the House, but before it did a provision was added to it requiring judicial overview of the Carnivore email-interception system. It was inserted by a Democrat, right? Nope, it was inserted by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Republican from Texas. On the other hand, a top Represenative on the House Appropriations Committee has come out with a call for President Bush to substantially raise defense spending. A Republican, right? Nope; it was Norm Dicks, a Democrat from Washington. Perhaps "bipartisanship" isn't dead. Or perhaps this crisis has suddenly made our Representatives realize that their primary duty is to serve the nation, not to serve their parties. One can hope. (discuss)
Stardate 20011025.0626 (On Screen): One of the most important things that the US has done in the war with Afghanistan has been to drop large amounts of food to Afghan refugees even as it was bombing Taliban military targets. The quantity of food involved has not been sufficient to alleviate the entire starvation threat, but it was never really intended to be. It was a frankly political act, whose purpose was to undermine claims made by the Taliban that we were trying to fight against the Afghan people and Islam overall. (If that were true, why would we spend huge amounts of money and risk our planes and men to try to feed them?) The Pentagon now says that the Taliban may be planning to poison food, give it to Afghans to eat so that they sicken and die, and then blame it on us.
It's possible that this is a fabrication by our side to try to make the Taliban look worse, but I don't think so. The Taliban already look sufficiently evil that they are getting little sympathy in the West, and this story won't make any difference in the Arab nations. I think it more likely that this is an attempt to forestall such acts by the Taliban. If it happens now, our leaders will be able to say "See? We warned you!" Ideally, this would prevent the Taliban from carrying out any such plans, but even if they do the result would be to turn the resulting publicity against them. The only positive outcome it might have in the West would be to convince the residue that the Taliban truly are evil and that there is no moral equivalence between the sides in this war. (discuss)
Probably not, though; the people who still cling to that notion of moral equivalence are more likely to believe that the US really was responsible for the poisoning.
Stardate 20011025.0558 (On Screen): British Prime Minister Tony Blair predicts that bin Laden will eventually be killed in the fighting. On the other hand, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he might get away. In fact, no-one really knows. There are certain people who are fixated on bin Laden and don't see the larger picture. He's been a convenient symbol to use for this because of his extreme positions and because to the western eye the man is physically repulsive; it's always useful to have a single face to use in a war to symbolize the opposition, but in this case that may backfire. Too many people are still convinced that this is some sort of glorified law enforcement operation, to "punish" those responsible for the attacks on 9/11; and excessive attention paid to bin Laden may convince such people that the war will end when he's dead.
That was never really the goal; the purpose was to try, as much as possible, to prevent future attacks: to eviscerate al Qaeda, to cripple its ability to train men and to launch future attacks. (And even that was only the first stage; al Qaeda is only one of several such dangers which must be removed.) If bin Laden does get away, he'll be found and assassinated eventually, but that doesn't really make any difference. If he does get away but no longer has any ability to organize future attacks against us, one of the purposes of this war will have been satisfied. (discussion in progress
Stardate 20011024.1549 (On Screen): A famous aphorism in science is the Rule of 48: "Scientists can't count." When the chromosomes were first discovered, someone inevitably counted those from human cells and announced that there were 48 of them. That became the number which appeared in reference books and encyclopedias and school texts. Then someone noticed that the proper number was really 46.
The point being that scientists can make mistakes, just like everyone else can. So when one study makes some spectacular claim, it's always necessary to think to yourself "Did they screw it up?" Case in point: Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE, "Mad Cow Disease") seems to be caused by a prion and a variant on it can infect people who eat the beef from infected cattle. In anything between ten and twenty years it will kill them by destroying their brains. One question which became obvious about ten years ago was whether it could be communicated to sheep; was lamb safe to eat, or could it too be infected? A large study was started to examine the brains of 2867 sheep to determine if any of them had been infected with BSE. Years of work on brains taken from slaughter houses between 1990 and 1992 determined that many of the sheep from which they had been taken were indeed positive for BSE.
Only now it comes out that by some unbelievable screwup, all the brains they were testing had come from cattle. Somehow or other they had received the wrong brains. The entire study was a complete waste; it didn't prove anything useful. Ten years and more than ₤200,000 are down the drain. (discussion in progress)
They think they know how the mistake was made.
Stardate 20011024.1506 (On Screen): Accounts vary on the extent of it, but a substantial part of the population of Kandahar has fled, probably well over half. The remaining people are now being terrorized by the Taliban. They just rounded up a hundred suspected collaborators and may well shoot most of them after summary trials. This is not the kind of thing that leaders have to do when their people are solidly behind them; it's the sign of a despotic regime losing its grip.
On the other hand, they're ordering everyone who remains in Kandahar to report to the armory to be issued a weapon. One has to wonder how many of those weapons might end up being turned on the Taliban themselves. Will this result in a well-organized militia banded together to defend Kandahar against the hated Americans, or a descent into anarchy and civil war? (discuss)
Stardate 20011024.1412 (On Screen): One of the biggest victims of the September attacks in the US has been the tourist industry world wide. This article describes how American and Japanese tourist visits to Paris have dropped off considerably. The damage which has been done to the airlines is well known. Disney is being hurt badly; visits to Disney World in Florida are badly off.
I'm going to be going on vacation next week. It's my first vacation since last February and I figure I'm due. I'll be driving to Las Vegas and spending a week there. I'm not avoiding the airlines; I always drive. It's a straight shot up I-15 and it only takes about six hours, and this way I have my car. Also, there are places along the way that I like stopping. I heard that occupancy in Vegas was also badly down, but I also hear that it's rebounded. I'll let you know when I get back what it was like there. I'm not doing this out of some misplaced sense of patriotism, I'm doing it because I need a vacation. I can certainly understand why other people are cancelling travel plans; and it doesn't help that the airlines are still having trouble with their security. Still, I hope that fear doesn't paralyze us unnecessarily. In the mean time, this is going to ripple out and a lot of people around the world are going to discover that they, too, were victims of the NYC attack when the flow of American tourist dollars dries up. (discuss)
Stardate 20011024.0955 (On Screen): One of the great mysteries is how a processor with the ridiculously slow clock rate of only 2 KHz is capable of making such complex decisions in such a short time. The answer had to have something to do with the extreme parallelism of the human brain, and it appears that what happens is that when you're trying to decide what to do, various mechanisms in the brain operate in parallel formulating alternatives. All of them are fed to a decision circuit which, at the last moment, rejects nearly all of them. The reason that we get uninhibited and more active in the early stages of inebriation with alcohol, a depressant drug, is because in the early stages of inebriation it works selectively on this decision circuit and as a result things get through which ordinarily would not.
Whether that's true or not, large organizations and especially military organizations do the same thing. During times of peace they seriously create plans to do things which are seemingly unthinkable, just so that if the worst happens and they're needed, the plans can be taken out of storage and updated rapidly. I've mentioned before that I have no doubt that somewhere, in a file cabinet in the Pentagon, there is a plan for the invasion of Canada. I think there is no chance it will ever be carried out, but I am quite sure it exists.
That's because war, as demonstrated by Clausewitz, is politics by other means. It's the use of coercion to gain from another nation or group that which they would not otherwise give you. Terms like "economic war" are literally true; war doesn't have to involve guns and shells and ships. "Information war" and "Psychological war" are equally true. This is not a new concept; Sun Tzu observed that supreme excellence in war lies in causing your opponent to surrender without a fight.
Sean writes to me to ask my opinion of this article which describes how the People's Liberation Army is trying to develop new doctrine to leverage non-traditional forms of warfare against the US, given that they have no chance of matching us in high tech field war. My reaction is that I'm hardly surprised at it. The observation in this article that “The first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden” is true; in unrestricted warfare only utilitarianism restricts your behavior. You avoid doing things only because they would not be helpful. Note that most warfare is not "unrestricted"; a government has to make a conscious decision to engage in that, but once having decided that the stakes are high enough to do so, it has to go for broke. But this is really rare; in the last hundred years I know of only one example of it, which is the war fought by the US, UK and USSR against Japan and Germany. And just as the US has plans for invading Canada, equally there will be plans for waging unrestricted warfare against other nations -- and they, in turn, will have plans in place for such warfare against us. This brings up the difference between capabilities and intentions.
We are capable of a lot of things that we'll never do. We often talk informally about "turning that nation into a parking lot" and the US really does have the ability to saturation-bomb with thermonuclear weapons. If the US wanted to do so, it is fully capable of exterminating every single human in Afghanistan. We have the ability to make the place not only completely uninhabited now, but uninhabitable for the next thousand years (sort of a high-tech version of "sowing the fields with salt", only this would be done with "dirty" nuclear weapons that saturated the place with long-lived radioactive fallout). It would require a decision by us to engage in unrestricted warfare to bring about such a horror and I don't expect it to happen. But plans for that are in a file cabinet, or they better damned well be. That's because the military planners need to be able to present to the politicians a series of options. The military planners are doing that first-stage evaluation of every possible alternative no matter how horrible. It is then the politicians who do the second stage of rejecting nearly every one of the choices. Each option evaluation written by the military planners would describe what would be done, how long it would take, how much it would cost (in bucks and blood) and what the direct and indirect political and military results (and any other results which might be important, such as ecological damage) of it would be. It is not for the military planners to decide that a given choice is too horrible to contemplate; that's the job of the politicians. Part of the reason for evaluating extreme possibilities is so that the side effects can be fully evaluated ahead of time so as to show how terrible a given alternative might be. In other words, you make the plan precisely so as to prove that it is an option you should not take. But you can't really know that for sure without fully evaluating it.
But there are lesser forms of warfare, such as economic war or psych-war, which may actually be preferable to normal field combat, and indeed both of those are used constantly. (The US and EU have been waging a low-grade economic war for about 20 years about issues like protectionism and tariffs; every once in a while one side or the other imposes punitive tariffs on some product from the other. Right now certain French cheeses such as my all-time favorite Boursin can't be gotten here because of that.)
If we can win a war by destabilizing the currency of another nation or by causing its stock market to crash, that may be better than nuking their cities; not only is it more merciful but it may also be more effective. The fact that this kind of planning is going on all over the world doesn't really surprise a student of military science. I have no doubt that somewhere in a file cabinet in Ottawa there's a plan for the invasion of the United States. (discuss)
Stardate 20011024.0834 (Crew, this is the Captain): Yet more people have suddenly discovered that their opponents are terrorists. For instance, Janalyn Holt (head of Utah's Women for Decency) has declared that pornographers are terrorists. And the American Life League has suddenly discovered that abortion is a form of terrorism. It's amazing that suddenly terrorists are sprouting up under every rock and behind every tree; who would have suspected there were so many? (discuss)
Of course, no-one has discovered more terrorists than Falwell and Robertson, who determined that believers in civil rights, gays, lesbians, supporters of abortion rights, Federal Judges, the ACLU, People for the American Way, people who oppose prayer in the schools, pagans, and anyone who tries to "secularize" American. I figure that's about three quarters of us, all told.
Stardate 20011024.0653 (On Screen): And now each side faces the biggest test. The Taliban have failed it. In recent announcements, the Taliban have demonstrated an extreme concern for the safety of civilians in Afghanistan, showing foreign reporters evidence of US bombs striking and killing civilians, and bewailing their fates -- all, of course, to demonize the Americans and bring political pressure to bear. Now, it seems, they've been sheltering military assets in schools and mosques and civilian houses, and it appears that they don't actually care in the slightest for civilian safety, because they are now endangering their civilians by these acts.
In a response which is sure to become immensely controversial, the US is not letting them get away with it. Any target which contains military equipment or soldiers is a military target, no matter what it is or what is nearby. We cannot allow our enemy to have safe havens where they can be immune to attack.
This is an ugly point in a war; when one side starts using civilians as human shields it is always ugly. A lot of those civilians are going to die needlessly. The real question that has to be asked is who has responsibility for their deaths. In my opinion, the Taliban do. If they truly care about civilian casualties, then they will clear their combatants out of the cities. If they hide among civilians and as a result of that civilians are hurt or killed, it is their responsibility. We are not actively targeting civilians, but we must attack military targets even when they are surrounded by civilians. To do otherwise would be to risk losing the war -- and that is much more important than the risk of inflicting civilian casualties. (discuss)
Stardate 20011024.0633 (On Screen): It is inherent in warfare that people's human rights get violated. After all, people get shot and and even some of them die; property also gets destroyed in bombings or may catch stray bullets or shells during ground combat. While this may or may not be intentional in any given case, it is definitely unavoidable. Some people in Serbia are attempting to bring suit in the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that a specific bombing raid during the attacks which were made in Belgrade during the conflict over Kosovo was a violation of the Europe's Human Rights Charter. If it is found that it was, then the Charter is going to have to be amended to exempt some acts of war; it's preposterous to expect a war to be fought according to peacetime rules. While it might be nice if we never ever had to fight a war, sometimes it still seems to be necessary. This will be a test of the Court, which is holding hearings to decide if it has jurisdiction. Clearly it should rule that it does not.
Unfortunately, it's probably going to make that ruling but for the wrong reason: rather than deciding it has no jurisdiction over acts of war, it will decide that the Serbians were not signatories to the charter at the time. If that's the decision, it will be doubly wrong: it will indicate that wars might have to be fought according to peacetime rules (which is impossible) and it would also indicate that human rights are only reserved for Europeans living in nations which have signed the Charter, which would be a travesty. (discuss)
Unforeseen developments inside Afghanistan have derailed the projections made by the United States and Pakistani military strategists that Mulla Omar-led Taliban regime may be crushed under a political and military rebellion within first few days of US aerial strikes over Afghanistan.
It proceeds to state that attempts to convince the warlords to change side have failed. Whenever I see a report like this, my first question is "What is the bias of the news source, if any?" So I switched to the front page and checked out some other articles. All the stories I read did present both points of view, i.e. the Taliban and the US sides, but the Taliban side was presented first and in greater length, and in a fashion which suggested that they had greater credibility. For example, there were the Taliban claims to have shot down a US helicopter last weekend during the armed raid made by our Rangers. Here's their coverage of that. Now it has to be kept in mind that the Taliban have been caught lying repeatedly, and it's happened again. They let a crew from CNN film the wreckage. Someone on Plastic noticed an inconsistency in the details; the only two helicopters which could have created that wreckage, if it was genuine, were heavy lift helicopters which would not have been used in an operation like that. The most likely conclusion is that the wreckage came from two different helicopters and was put in place by the Taliban as a fake-job; it's difficult to say where it did actually come from, but it wasn't where they said it was. But you see no sign of that in the coverage on New International. Reading that you come away with the impression that the Taliban really did shoot one down and the US is covering up. All the other articles I read had a similar slant.
So I come back to this specific article, and I have to conclude that what we see is a half-empty cup being declared "full" as opposed to "empty" (or "half full"). This particular author seems to give every benefit of the doubt to the Taliban. I don't think it is conscious distortion. This reporter is in Pakistan, and naturally he's looking at the war from the point of view of his nation, which until just recently was the major backer of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, it was Pakistan itself which fostered the Taliban as a means of removing what is now known as the "Northern Alliance" from power in Afghanistan in the mid 90's, and it is still Pakistani government policy that whatever the future may hold for Afghanistan, it's not going to be a government primarily made up of the Northern Alliance. I think it's natural that a Pakistani journalist in that situation would tend to see the Taliban as being strong; perhaps even as being stronger than it really is. (Here's an example of how another newspaper in Pakistan views the situation in general.) As with some other people who have declared that this campaign has already failed, I think this guy is jumping to conclusions a bit too soon. (discussion in progress)
Of course, my point of view is biased, too, and in the other direction.
Stardate 20011023.1431 (On Screen): What a great business idea! Michael Robertson, fresh from his triumph at MP3.COM, has created a company which will package Linux and WINE and, they claim, some proprietary improvements and sell it for $99. The advantage? You don't have to pay Microsoft in order to run Microsoft products. (Of course, if your computer comes with Windows preinstalled, then this argument doesn't seem to be too relevant.) And you can take your copy of "Lindows" and install it on as many computers as you want! Isn't that cool? Isn't this neat? Isn't this business model something we've seen before? (discuss)
Stardate 20011023.1421 (On Screen): Steve Jobs' hyperbole is getting tiresome, and people seem to no longer be falling for it. Could it be that the reality distortion field™ is actually beginning to fail? Jobs promised that today he'd unveil a product which was "revolutionary"; and now the bright light of day has hit it and it's little more than a me-too Nomad, smaller and lighter but also far more expensive (and differing in a few other unimportant details). It's certainly evolutionary but not revolutionary. Want to see "revolutionary"? This is revolutionary. (I think that Jobs needs to lay off the refined sugar for a while.) (discuss)
Or maybe he needs to lay off the organic vegetarian diet for a while.
Stardate 20011023.1406 (On Screen): Every time there's a notable success or a notable catastrophe, the whatever-it-was becomes a meme and suddenly everyone wants to play with it. If it's a success, they'll try to find a way to paint their own product or cause with the same brush. If it's a catastrophe or an atrocity then they try to paint their opponents with it. Sometimes it approaches the ludicrous.
You saw it happen during the dot-com boom; for a while there nearly every startup company tried to figure out how to call themselves eSomething or iSomething or Something.com to catch the wave. Equally, after the dot-com bust, suddenly even successful online companies tried to find ways to distance themselves from that fact.
The latest meme of this kind is "terrorist". It's obviously a negative, and people are now using it as a generic epithet. Some of those who oppose the bombing of Afghanistan have taken to call it "the terrorist bombing" so as to make it morally indistinguishable from the NYC attack. And now Microsoft, the company everyone loves to hate, has gotten onto the bandwagon and declared that virus writers are terrorists. Let's try to keep a sense of proportion here, shall we? (Fat chance.) (discuss)
Stardate 20011023.1205 (On Screen): Sony is going to release a version of the PlayStation 2 which can run Linux. They're committing economic suicide by doing this. Their economic model is to sell the consoles at a considerable loss, and to make the money on royalties from sales of games. But if the PS2 can run Linux, then it actually becomes a respectable and very cheap small server, not too dissimilar to the Qube I'm using to host USS Clueless except that it would be vastly cheaper. Thus there will be an incentive for people to purchase PS2's, install Linux on them, and use them as disk servers or web servers or for any of the other things that Linux would be good for. What they won't be doing is buying games for them; who wants to bring their web server down to play Super Mario Brothers? Every user who buys a console from Sony for the primary purpose of running Linux on it will cost Sony money. This will increase the installed base of the PS2 but not increase the sales of royalty-bearing games.
I expect something like this to happen with the xBox, too; as configured it will actually make a very decent small server with the proper software. In fact, in nearly every way its hardware is vastly superior to my Qube. Microsoft surely won't be the ones to do it, but someone will manage to adapt Linux to run on it directly from a CD drive. But that's because beneath the plastic the xBox is a PC, so it should not be too difficult to adapt one of the existing distributions to run on it. The PS2, however, has a radically different architecture; its CPU is a MIPS and its display subsystem is quite unique. Adapting Linux to it is probably beyond what outsiders could do. Sony itself did it because the PS2 acts as its own development system. But to distribute that widely is to undermine their business model. (discuss)
Stardate 20011023.1046 (On Screen): Italy has come forward with an offer of assistance for the war in Afghanistan, but it's token. They've offered an armored regiment, a small number of aircraft, and a couple of ships. Possibly they'll deploy an aircraft carrier.
This is a political gesture; it has little military significance. Their carrier, if they decide to deploy it, would be used either for helicopters or for Harriers. Their carrier is not large enough to carry full sized jets (such as the F/A-18 Hornet) and it doesn't carry many aircraft in any case. That would be MM Garibaldi, which at 14,000 tons displacement is about a third the size of a US Wasp-class amphibious assault ship such as USS Bataan at 40,500 tons. (They carry about the same number of aircraft because Wasp-class ships are primarily oriented towards launching landing craft.) MM Garibaldi can carry 18 helicoptors or 16 AV-8B Harriers or a mix of the two. The Harrier has a range of 1700 miles, which means it has an effective combat range of about 700 miles without mid-air refueling. It's what they have, but it's not clear it's very important. USS Enterprise is about to leave the area now that USS Roosevelt has arrived, but between them the three US carriers remaining (Roosevelt, Vinson, and Kittyhawk) will deploy about 150 jets capable of launching attacks.
Their offer of ground troops is equally token. Their "armored regiment" consists of 390 men; in the US military a formation that size would be a battalion. If indeed we begin ground operations in Afghanistan, we're going to be needing somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 men on the ground minimum, and in any case deployments like that won't happen until next year if at all. (With any luck that won't be needed.) Moreover, this would not be an armored war; it's going to be a war fought primarily by light infantry. If we do fight on the ground, it will probably be the 82nd, the 101st and the 10th divisions doing most of the work.
Still, politically this is indeed an important move, though it's not clear who it's most important for. I do rather wish the offer had been more substantial, though. (discuss)
The UK is probably going to offer about a thousand men to help in a ground assault, but these will be Marines and Special forces.
Stardate 20011023.0939 (On Screen and On Sensors): I think a lot of people are confused by what is happening in Afghanistan. There doesn't seem to be any progress made. In the era of the half-hour TV sit-com and the music video, people have come to expect rapid and visible progress. Not every problem is susceptible to such solutions.
Progress is being made, but it's not visible. The first stage of the campaign took about three days; its purpose was to nullify the Taliban air defenses. This consisted of destroying airfields and jets (such as there were of them) but most importantly of destroying SAM batteries and the radars which aimed them and the control centers which ordered them to be fired.
The second stage of the campaign was a general assault on Taliban centralized resources; it consisted of attacking caves where the Taliban were suspected to be keeping either command and control facilities or large concentrations of ammunition. In addition, ammunition and fuel dumps and large concentrations of artillery and armor were attacked. As well, during this phase every known al Qaeda installation, even abandoned ones, was attacked and destroyed. That phase, too, is now complete.
Once those things had been done, it was possible for our Special Forces to operate. We can be certain that many such operations have taken place and that we will never learn of most of them. Our air forces are now engaged in three main missions. First, they are patrolling to look for smaller Taliban assets on an opportunistic basis. Specifically, they're hunting for moving supplies, moving troop columns, moving tanks, and any artillery they can find. Second, they are bombing static concentrations of Taliban forces. Third, they are providing close support for any Special Forces operations on the ground which require it, either offensively or defensively.
The tactics in a war have to be tailored to the specific situation. The goal of this campaign is to try to get Taliban forces to defect in large numbers. That's always a goal in any war, and depending on circumstances it varies in effectiveness. Against the Japanese in WWII it was nearly useless. Against the Taliban, there's good reason to believe that it will be extremely effective. Wars in Afghanistan are not like wars elsewhere. They do not have large armies there; what they have is groups of small armies which cooperate -- at least for a while. Those small armies (anywhere from 50 to 1000 men, with most being on the smaller side) tend to change sides readily, and always have. Actual combat is more rare, and when it does happen it tends to involve little actual bloodshed; it's more of a show of force to try to intimidate the other side by demonstrating what you could have done to him; often the point is to convince him to abandon his losing team and join your winning one. The commanders of these small armies don't have the kind of control over their own forces that we ordinarily think of in an army; a commander who tends to fight bloody battles with large numbers of casualties among his own men will find all his troops deserting him to join forces run by more reasonable guys. This is the "soldier versus warrior" thing again; these people don't really want to die. They want to be brave and they want to come home as winners; they're doing this for glory and honor. And you can't enjoy any of that if you die. So this is actually more like a sporting event which involves weapons than it is like what we think of as a war.
Our strategy is keyed into this, because most of the Taliban's military capability is composed of such small armies. The purpose of the current campaign is to erode support amongst the various warlords who currently support the Taliban, to try to get them to either become neutral or to actively join the opposition. Special Forces units have been visiting these warlords to talk it over. (That's another tradition; these warlords tend to have and expect excellent communications with the other side, because they're constantly talking with each other about one or the other defecting.) Some of what we've been doing with the bombing has been to try to convince these warlords that the Taliban are losers and have no hope of prevailing. That's why Mullah Omar's compound was bombed, for example; it demonstrated that he himself had no defense. Equally, the empty al Qaeda installations were annihilated; partly that was to make sure that they never were used again, but even more important was that this was an opportunity to use very large and effective weapons while causing negligible casualties, so as to demonstrate what we could be doing elsewhere if need be.
That's completely in line with how the Afghans tend to fight their own wars. When they order a major artillery barrage it doesn't always fall where it would do the most damage; its point isn't to kill the enemy so much as to impress him, so that he learns what could have happened. When Afghans actually get slaughtered in large numbers they tend to retaliate in kind and become extremely vicious (because the other side was cheating), but when they are given a convincing demonstration of frightfulness they tend to switch sides.
The only part of the Taliban's forces which will not play by these rules is the "Arabs" (as the Afghans call them, even thought the majority of them are not actually Arab), the corps of foreigners who are loyal to bin Laden (not to the Taliban). Their numbers are open to debate but most estimates land in the range of five to ten thousand of them. They are generally despised by the Afghans, especially recently as they have gotten more thuggish and brutal, and they're actually going to have to be defeated by more traditional military means. If they are concentrated and their location is known, we will use the kind of bombing that actually kills huge numbers all at once. If they are spread out, and if we have successfully converted nearly all Afghans over to oppose them, it will probably be the Afghans themselves to eliminate most of them in a series of small operations.
For indeed the primary goal here is not only to win, but to let Afghans themselves do most of the fighting which is necessary. We will deploy substantial ground forces if this strategy fails, but if this can win it will have numerous advantages.
By far the most important advantage will be that it will mean that a Muslim force defeated another Muslim force, thus removing any taint of this being a Christian Crusade Against Islam, as the Taliban have been trying to portray it. Another advantage is that this offers the possibility that the war will end relatively soon, possibly in just a few weeks. It will also lend itself to more successful creation of a stable government afterwards. This kind of operation has a tendency, once it succeeds, to succeed big time, apparently all at a sudden. Each time a warlord defects it raises the possibility that others will, too -- or they may talk it over with each other and a bunch of them go over at once. It can begin to cascade, and a trickle can become a flood. It may not be necessary to actually defeat the Taliban forces on much of the front with the Northern Alliance because the Taliban forces may dissolve.
If this does fail, then next Spring we'll have to move in several divisions and engage in a more normal ground operation. This is undesirable for numerous reasons, which is why they're trying to subvert support first. But by its nature this kind of subversion operation can seem to be pointless while it is going on, if you are not privy to the details of how it is being carried out. (discuss)
Update: Here's an example of how a trickle can become a flood. Depopulating Kandahar was probably not a deliberate goal of this campaign, but it shows how that kind of demoralization can take place. The more people who leave a city, the more those who remain will want to leave.
Stardate 20011022.1614 (Crew, this is the Captain): Netiquette be damned. The email exchange I just had is too priceless to ignore, since it is an absolutely perfect example of the kind of reasoning (sic) coming from the Postmodern Left. In response to my essay on why pacifism cannot work, I received the following email:
I'm darned if I can even understand the point of that quote, but that's as may be; must be my narrow Western mind. The subject on the letter was "Do you really hate peace?" That was confusing, because no-where in that essay did I say anything of the kind. It was not a condemnation of the idea of universal peace, rather it was an analysis of it using Game Theory, demonstrating that it was fragile and would fall apart eventually. I responded as follows:
I believe you misunderstood me.
Here is the response from my correspondent:
It's an Anthropocentric folly that you believe in. Before YOUR western mind of greed and conquer destroyed the world's unique cultures---> there were plenty of cultural examples of how one could cooperatively maintain societies free from violence or harm from one another.
Is this what passes for reasoned discussion now on the left? Truly they will fail in the marketplace of ideas. For one thing, the idea that any tribe has ever lived completely free of violence is romantic nostalgia, based on the now discredited cult of the "noble savage". But even if some groups were capable of doing so, creating a world peace would require that everyone do so, all six billion of us. Even one person refusing to play makes the whole system collapse.
Oddly enough, he proves my case. Even if the peaceful cultures he posits did exist in America or in the Amazon, they were indeed conquered by warlike cultures from elsewhere. Even if at one time every culture was peaceful, a warlike culture did eventually appear one place, and that spread to consume the world. That was precisely my point: in the competition between peaceful and warlike cultures, the warlike cultures will win and will annihilate the peaceful ones. As long as any warlike culture exists, peaceful cultures cannot survive. And yet he never seems to realize the inherent contradiction of his position. He demonstrates that the transition from peace to war that I described actually did happen, within his worldview.
Note the accusation of "anthropocentrism" and his mention of "YOUR western mind"; he's not saying that my analysis based on game theory is wrong, he's saying that it's not universally applicable; it's local. While my argument was not rigorously presented (though I thought I made a convincing case), game theory is in fact a branch of mathematics, and the Prisoner's Dilemma, on which I base my analysis, has been amply explored and long since validated, as has the "Tragedy of the Commons" (which is a derivative of the Prisoner's Dilemma). There's every reason to believe that these things are universal. Von Neumann's proposal of the Prisoner's Dilemma was as important an advance in Economics as Russell's Paradox was to Set Theory, or Arrow's Theory was to Political Science, or Gödel's Theorem was to mathematics as a whole. Each of them proved that the prior philosophy of the field was wrong and would have to be revised. Russell showed that Set Theory as practiced at the time was internally inconsistent. Arrow proved that a perfect democratic voting system was impossible. Gödel proved that no mathematical system could be complete. Von Neuman's point was that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" (the collective result of individuals all making decisions based on optimizing their individual situations) would sometimes lead to systemic failure; it wasn't guaranteed to lead to an optimal system. In order for the totality to be optimal, it was sometimes necessary for individuals in the system to choose sub-optimal alternatives.
Each of these was a profound insight, and they are universal in scope. You can't deny them simply by labelling them the anthropocentric beliefs of a western mind of greed and conquest. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011022.1507 (On Screen): The key phrase from the SSSCA is as follows:
It is unlawful to manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide or otherwise traffic in any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies."
Of course, writing a law is one thing, implementing it is another. Suppose, just suppose, that this were to pass, and that hardware copy protection were actually implemented on all new hardware. This would do nothing about the tens of millions of computers and other digital devices already in circulation, of course, but I think it's worse than that. There isn't any way that this can directly prevent piracy, even with hardware.
We take as our model a portable player for digitally-encoded music. The assumption is that you would purchase music over the internet, download that information into your desktop computer, and then crossload it into your portable device. So let's design as secure a system as we possibly can, shall we? The portable device contains a unique serial number, which its processor knows. When you purchase music, you have to provide the device's serial number. The server at the other end then creates a file for you specifically coded so that it would only run on the device which has that serial number. It's possible that the encryption on that file uses a one-time throw away session key, used for that particular file. Further, the device is designed so that it will refuse to play any file which is not properly protected, or files which are protected but not encoded for its own serial number.
But the portable device operates independently. Once you disconnect it from your desktop computer, it no longer has any connection to the Internet or any ability to access a certifying authority. The player has its data file and has the ability to play it, which means that all the information necessary to remove copy protection from the file is present in the player. And here we have the key observation: No matter what it is that the player is doing, it can be simulated in software on a desktop computer, yielding an unprotected data stream. Also, whatever it was that the server did to create the file in the first place can also be simulated on a desktop computer. Therefore, once sufficient information about the process was known, a program could be written which removed the copy protection from the file. The raw data could be passed around, via Napster-clones. The users receiving this data could then run programs which reencapsulated the data so that it was encoded for their particular players, and would be able to play them for free.
This would also apply to desktop computers themselves. If copy protection for sound files was implemented directly in the sound cards, so that decryption did not take place in the CPU of the computer, it remains the case that the process just described could be done to recode a file purchased for one system to make it play on another. Equally, a video file on a future replacement for DVD which had strong protection could not rely on being decrypted in the display card. Whatever it was that the display card was doing could be simulated by software to yield an unencrypted video stream, which could then be encrypted for some other display card.
It is theoretically impossible to create a perfect content protection mechanism as long as it has to run on any player which is not able to access a certifying authority at the time it plays the file. (discussion in progress)
Actually, this is wrong. It will always be possible to decrypt, but it isn't necessarily possible for the computer to encrypt; to do that it might need to know a secret key. So it wouldn't be possible to recode for a standalone player. However, it would always be possible to play on a desktop computer, because that must necessarily be able to play unencrypted data streams.
Stardate 20011022.1444 (On Screen via long range sensors): Disney produces a kids cartoon show called "The Proud Family" about an urban black family named "The Prouds". (Yeesh.) They're producing an episode of the show which shows how a little girl who gets hooked on downloading free music from the internet leads to the destruction of the music business. (Double yeesh.) Disney is, of course, a major producer of copyrighted material and is one of the sponsors of the insidious SSSCA, now before Congress (which would mandate that all devices capable of handling copyrighted digital material have hardware rights management built in). I question the ethics of this move by Disney; don't they see the inherent conflict of interest involved in preaching their corporate line in a syndicated entertainment program, especially one targeted at children? It doesn't matter whether their message is valid or invalid, the point is that this is not the correct platform to use to deliver their message. (discuss)
Stardate 20011022.1026 (On Screen):
Saudi Arabia's defense minister cast doubts in remarks published Monday on whether Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Quaeda network could have single-handedly carried out last month's attacks on U.S. cities.
Who, exactly, did he have in mind? The only obvious candidate would be Iraq, but Saudi Arabia has already said that they'd stand with any Arab nation if the US attacks, which presumably would include Iraq. If he's proposing that Israel is behind it, I can think of no more improbable alliance than between bin Laden and the Mossad.
This was actually a fairly low-tech attack. It did indeed take a long time to organize and plan, and it required the assets of a major industrialized nation. But the assets were American; the men who flew those planes into their targets learned to fly in the US. What it mainly required was the ability to recruit zealots willing to die for the cause, and the ruthlessness to carry out the attack. The monetary resources involved were not immense; the total operation probably cost less than half a million dollars in outright cash. It was easily within the capability of al Qaeda, given that al Qaeda had training centers on the ground in Afghanistan. It seems as if the Saudi Defense Minister has someone else in mind, but I can't imagine who. One very strange possibility is that it's the Taliban that he has in mind, and he's trying to build up to justifying our attacks on Afghanistan to the people of Saudi Arabia. (discuss)
Stardate 20011022.0816 (On Screen): At the end of World War I, after Germany had been defeated, one of the most misbegotten treaties in history was negotiated, the Treaty of Versailles. Among many, many other horrible aspects of that treaty, one in particular was that Germany was obligated to pay reparations to France for the damage done by the war. Germany's economy was in shambles, and the reparations lead to further damage which ultimately caused hyper-inflation, destroying the value of the Mark. This lead to a fertile breeding ground for nationalists and extremists, and the National Socialist Party, led by one Adolph Hitler, was elected -- and ultimately it was necessary to fight another major war in Europe. President Roosevelt led the US during most of that war. He was an amazing man, but one of the things which stands out about him was that he had a genius for picking subordinates. Out of a sterling group, one stands out: General George Marshall. He was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it was originally intended that he would lead Operation Overlord. But Roosevelt decided he couldn't spare him from Washington, so Eisenhower got the job. After Roosevelt's death, Truman became President, and after Marshall left his position as the head of the JCS, Truman made Marshall his Secretary of State, possibly the finest one of the 20th century. Marshall recognized that it was vital to avoid the mistakes which had been made after WWI; it was necessary to make sure that there would not be a third war in Europe caused by the recovery from the second. So he proposed something novel: the US, one of the victors (and the only major nation whose industrial base was undamaged in the war) would offer aid to all nations involved in the war, friend and enemy alike, to rebuild their economies. This was the famous Marshall Plan, and it succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
World War II is notable for another totally unrelated event. In New Guinea and the Solomon islands, there was brutal fighting between the allied forces (primarily Australian and American) and the Japanese. This was one of many theaters where the importance of the C-47 air transport plane became paramount; as the allies advanced, they'd build airfields and bring supplies in with the Goonie Birds. The allies had a policy of trying to treat the natives well, so some of what came in by plane was distributed to them. The natives didn't understand where this wealth came from but they liked it. To them, it seemed as if the foreigners were performing some sort of elaborate ritual that made cargo appear; this seemed to involve the creation of mystic places called "air fields" and the performance of magic rituals by people called "air traffic controllers". After the war, all that ended (obviously) but some of the natives wanted it to continue. So they built what they thought looked like air fields and did all the things they had seen the soldiers do, in hopes of making planes full of cargo descend from the heavens. The problem was that they got cause-and-effect backwards: the air fields were created because the planes needed somewhere to land -- but the natives thought that creation of an airfield summoned the planes. These were the cargo cults. Somehow or other, it never seemed to work. No matter how well they built their air fields, no matter how they tried to simulate the behavior of the ground crews, the C-47's never seemed to arrive.
The nations of Africa, having failed to extort aid from the West by accusing them of being racist slavers, have decided to create a cargo-cult version of the Marshall Plan. They will organize themselves into a group of recipient nations, and then wait for the nations of the west to shower them with aid. I think they don't understand the concept here: the Marshall Plan was organized by the donor, not by the recipients. (discuss)
Stardate 20011022.0402 (On Screen): The Taliban claim that the US has targeted a hospital. They're also claiming that we're using chemical weapons. To hear the Taliban tell it, I bet that after the US has finished bombing all the hospitals, we'll start destroying orphanages.
By the way, if we start using chemical weapons you'll know. You won't see "a state of poisonousness" on the wounded, what you'll see is mountains of corpses. The chemical agents we have the ability to deploy are immensely lethal.
Mullah Omar has issued an announcement that predicted victory by the Taliban over the US. It was issued from an unknown hiding place where Omar and his fellows are cowering in fear of American bombing (and rightfully so, too). This all reminds me of the announcements that the Japanese issued after every major battle in the Pacific during World War II. Every time there was a battle, the newpapers in Japan would herald the tremendous defeat which had been handed to the Americans, along with a huge list of American ships that had been sunk and a description of the utter ruin which had been visited on American forces. To read the reports, the Japanese badly defeated the US at Guadalcanal, and again at New Guinea, and again at Guam; at the Battle of Leyte Gulf and at Iwo and at Okinawa. And yet, somehow the battles seemed to be getting closer and closer to the Japanese home islands. It seemed as if Japan was winning every battle but losing the war. In actuality, their claims were complete fabrications. One American carrier was reported to have been sunk over a dozen times over the course of the war -- and somehow managed to survive the war intact. (discuss)
Stardate 20011021.1703 (On Screen): Cross-blog debates are interesting; I've had a couple before. This is going to be another entry in one I'm having with Atlee Parks about the use of the Social Security number as a de-facto universal key for databases. (If you want to follow along from the beginning: me, her, me, her -- and then this entry.)
Much of her discussion amounts to a description of what a mess it would be for companies I deal with if they didn't have an easy way to cross-correlate their databases with each other. She's right about that -- and that is the point. I want it to be difficult. It's true, as she says, that I'm in at least fifty databases out there. The problem is that the majority of them don't serve me. Had I a choice, those database entries would be deleted. Since that isn't possible, I'll settle for them being difficult to find by others outside the organizations that own them. I can't think of any reason why my bank would need to know what videotapes I've been renting, or have the ability to access my medical records.
There does seem to be some fundamental differences in assumptions between us. She makes the following comment:
I think Steven and I are really at odds regarding the nature of privacy. It's my impression that he thinks it's a right, while I believe it to be an economic function. Even assuming that the above scenario might qualify as a reductio ad absurdum, it's clear that instituting a strict privacy protection scheme would impose a large cost burden across the entire structure of the credit-based economy, which would then be distributed to the end users in the form of higher interest rates and higher barriers to obtaining credit.
I do indeed think that privacy is a right, and it happens to be one I value enormously. Once it's been given away, there will be no way to retrieve it, and I'm surely not going to sell it for a small reduction in the prices I pay for goods. But it's not just me that thinks privacy is a right; the courts do, too. (The right of privacy was the fundamental basis for the Roe-v.-Wade decision legalizing abortions, for example.) In private email exchanges with Atlee, I learn that she is much younger than I am. She asked, somewhat rhetorically, why that made any difference. Actually, there are two reasons.
She's young enough so that computer databases have been with her during her entire adult life; she thinks of them as being "of course" how things are done. Actually, they're a recent creation, and the ability to cross-correlate them in the way I object to only has developed within the last 20 years. Many of the things she describes about how difficult it would be to do credit checks describe how things were actually done in the 1970's -- and yet the economy seemed to survive it. The fact is that the negative consequences she postulates for the situation where no universal unambiguous access key was permitted are not serious.
She's also young enough so that she didn't live through the Nixon presidency, which was as close as the US has come to being converted into a police state. We had a president who deliberately tried to subvert the election process, who authorized illegal acts, who was guilty of obstruction of justice and of lying to law enforcement officials, and who quite literally thought of himself as being above the law. He and his people maintained an "enemies list" and used the power of government, such as the IRS, to harass the people on it. We survived it, fortunately, because there were good men in Congress and elsewhere who refused to ignore it and refused to let it happen.
Those of us who lived through that learned very vividly that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. There are many who would try to take away our rights, for numerous reasons: to increase security, to improve efficiency, or anything else. We must always be aware of what we gain and what we lose in those transactions. If we do lose our freedom it won't be all at once, it will be eaten away by ants. The use of the SSN in the way I object to is one of the ants, but if we ignore the ants then the foundation of our liberty will surely crumble. (discuss)
And no, I don't think I'm being overly dramatic.
Stardate 20011021.1615 (On Screen): I fear we're about to get our second fatal anthrax case. A postal worker in Washington is "gravely ill" with inhalation anthrax; the prospects for his survival are poor. The problem with anthrax isn't that the bacteria themselves are harmful, but rather that they secrete a toxin. Doctors will be treating this man with heavy doses of antibiotics and may even eradicate the bacteria from his body, but the toxin will remain and will probably kill him.
There's a group which has developed a direct treatment for the toxin. It's still highly experimental, and under normal processes probably wouldn't be ready to become a drug for at least ten years. But we have a man dying; perhaps it's time to take a chance and throw the dice? Give it to him; maybe it will save his life. Unfortunately, I think that won't happen. (discuss)
Stardate 20011021.1549 (On Screen): This news report describes an interview with a Taliban soldier who was captured by Northern Alliance forces. There are two noteworthy things about it. First, he had only been inside the country for 15 days, having arrived from Pakistan. Raw recruits like that thrown into a front line position are nearly always completely useless in real battle; it takes a long time to acclimate to the rigors of combat. When serious shooting starts, they nearly always either cower or flee or do something stupid and get themselves killed.
More important is that he was lied to by the recruiter. He was told he would be fighting Russians. This leads to interesting speculation: why wasn't he told a different lie that he'd be fighting Americans? Obviously there are negative feelings about the Russians from way back; could it be that the Taliban are not as successful in raising anti-American feelings among their recruits? And as useless as raw recruits ordinarily are, how will they react when they discover they were lied to when recruited? Will they still have any will to fight? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011021.1136 (On Screen): The families of the victims of the Columbine massacre are suing Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc. Seems one of the two kids who made the attack was taking the anti-depressant Luvox at the time, and they blame the drug for his violence. Earlier this year they filed suit against id Games and other manufacturers of video games because the two kids in question had been playing Quake before the attacks, and obviously the violence of the game made them decide to be violent in real life. (In that case they're seeking $5 billion in punitive damages.)
The law provides that a judge can force a plaintiff to pay the defendant's legal expenses when the judge decides that the case was totally frivolous. I think it is time for the Columbine families to start getting hit with such penalties. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011021.1050 (On Screen): Arundhati Roy laments the horrors of war and wrings her hands about how ill-advised everything is that the US is doing. But as seems to be the pattern with such articles, she offers no alternative. The closes she comes is the following:
There is no easy way out of the spiraling morass of terror and brutality that confronts the world today. It is time now for the human race to hold still, to delve into its wells of collective wisdom, both ancient and modern. What happened on Sept. 11th changed the world forever. Freedom, progress, wealth, technology, war — these words have taken on new meaning. Governments have to acknowledge this transformation, and approach their new tasks with a modicum of honesty and humility. Unfortunately, up to now, there has been no sign of any introspection from the leaders of the International Coalition. Or the Taliban.
In other words, "wouldn't it be so much nicer if everyone just got along?" Well, I can agree with that. Problem is, al Qaeda won't, and if we simply collapse into self-contemplation, they'll attack us again and kill more thousands of our people.
Her arguments against our current policy don't ring true, in any case; they're loaded with pious aphorisms and terribly short on specificity.
After conferring, they announced that it didn’t matter whether or not the “evidence” would stand up in a court of law. Thus, in an instant, were centuries of jurisprudence carelessly trashed. This is both false and irrelevant; the nations that saw the evidence (such as Pakistan) announced that it was sufficient to indict, and in any case this is war, not law enforcement. A war is not fought to punish an enemy for something they've already done, it's fought to prevent them from doing something in future. We are not attacking the Taliban and al Qaeda to revenge the thousands of dead in New York, we're attacking them to make sure they don't attack again, and kill more thousands in Miami or Philadelpha or London or Paris. It isn't necessary to prove complicity in the previous attack to justify this, what is necessary is the conviction that they are both willing and able to launch such an attack -- and that is undeniable. "Centuries of jurisprudence" have nothing to do with this.
She deliberately distorts history: Between the Soviet Union and America, over 20 years, about $45 billion worth of arms and ammunition was poured into Afghanistan. This is true, but she is using that to condemn the US. Almost all of that money was spent by the USSR; the US was responsible for about 2% of it -- and our 2% was welcomed by the Afghan people.
She lies about current policy: As a gesture of humanitarian support, the US government air-dropped 37,000 packets of emergency rations into Afghanistan. It says it plans to drop a total of 500,000 packets. Actually, we have dropped 643,000 packages so far, and intend to continue dropping them indefinitely as long as there is a need. We began the process with two million of the food packages stockpiled, and I have no doubt that the factory in Texas which produced them is gearing up to produce even more.
She begs the question:
This is not to suggest that the terrorists who perpetrated the outrage on Sept. 11th should not be hunted down and brought to book. They must be. But is war the best way to track them down? Will burning the haystack find you the needle? Or will it escalate the anger and make the world a living hell for all of us?
But what alternative is there? bin Laden was indicted years ago for his involvement in previous attacks; for several years the US and other nations have tried to use diplomatic and non-violent means to stop this. Afghanistan has been under economic sanctions imposed by the UN. It hasn't done any good. al Qaeda made a previous attack on the World Trade Center, was responsible for the embassy bombing in Kenya, and was responsible for attacking USS Cole. Then they brought down both WTC towers, killing thousands in the most destructive peace-time attack in history. All this happened during an interval in which the US attempted to use non-violent diplomatic means to prevent it. War now appears to be the only way to destroy al Qaeda's ability to launch attacks; everything else has already been tried and has failed. Unless Roy can suggest a convincing alternative, her article is nothing more than empty rhetoric. (discuss)
Stardate 20011021.1027 (On Screen): Having air supremacy provides a substantial advantage in any war. This was recognized almost as soon as aircraft started to be used in war. When your enemy has air supremacy, you have three problems, all horrible.
First, your enemy has the ability to interdict movement of supplies. This rarely means that he can cut the flow to zero, but it means he can substantially reduce it, leaving the front line units low on ammunition and fuel and potentially starving for lack of food. In addition to the obvious primary effects of such shortages (you can't fire artillery shells if you don't have any) it also can have a severe effect on morale. Second, it means that you will be much less successful mounting an attack. When your enemy controls the skies, he can overfly your positions and keep track of what you're doing. To launch an attack, you have to create a local superiority of force of at least 2:1, and depending on circumstances you may need as much as 5:1. To do that, you have to move reinforcements into place prior to the attack. If your enemy sees you doing this, he can reinforce the same part of the front, preventing you from achieving the necessary preponderance of force.
Third, and perhaps most important of all, it presents you with a horrible dilemma: what do you do with your forces? If you concentrate them for strength on the ground, they become a reasonable target for air power. But if you spread them out sufficiently to defend against concentrated air strikes, then you won't have sufficient strength to defend your positions, let alone launch an attack.
It's no accident that the only major offensive that the Germans launched on the western front in WWII after the invasion of Normandy was launched in the middle of horrible weather in the winter, during an interval when American and British air units were grounded. It's equally no accident that the Battle of the Bulge started going really badly against the Germans once the weather cleared and allied air units were able to fly again.
It has been American doctrine to achieve air supremacy in any theater where it expects to fight ground operations, and it has done so in every war since 1935. That is very expensive; a modern and formidable air force costs an enormous amount of money. (Of course, there's a saying that "the most expensive thing in the world is the second best air force.") With the development of precision guided munitions and "improved munitions" (i.e. cluster bombs) the advantage conferred by air supremacy has only grown. This is a "rich man's war", but the US has always been willing to expend equipment and money to save lives -- that, too, is standard doctrine. (For instance, no nation in WWII consumed as much artillery ammunition proportionally as the US did, if for no other reason than because no-one else could afford to.)
One possibility for the progress of the war in Afghanistan is for the US to start providing close air support for Northern Alliance troops. This would require us to attach forward air controllers to Northern Alliance formations, to coordinate air strikes with precision. That would mean deploying perhaps 50 controller teams (3-5 men each). That would serve as a force multiplier, permitting the Northern Alliance to win against Taliban formations with comparable numbers of men.
In the face of that, the Taliban would not be able to hold their ground. This article states that their long term strategy is probably to fight a guerrilla war, which in essence means to give up control of the cities and go into hiding. There are problems with this; the analogy to history is imperfect.
Like all war, guerrilla war requires supply. It doesn't use as much as a standard field formation in battle, but the supply needs are non-trivial. All successful guerrilla wars require either a sympathetic civilian population or support from an outside country willing and able to smuggle supplies into the nation. The easiest way to do that is from a sympathetic neighbor; the second easiest is by ship over an uncontrolled coast line. The hardest way is for the sympathetic nation to drop supplies by air; that's expensive and requires that your enemy not have air supremacy. The Mujahideen were able to maintain a guerrilla war against the USSR because Pakistan was sympathetic, and supplies flowed over the border. The Viet Cong maintained a guerrilla action against the US using a flow of supplies from North Vietnam. If the population is sympathetic then they will supply food and clothing to the guerrillas, which means that only ammunition and weaponry will need to be smuggled from outside, a tremendous advantage which was also enjoyed by both the Mujahideen and the Viet Cong.
This does not, in itself, guarantee victory; what it does is to largely mitigate the possibility of defeat. The Mujahideen held a stalemate against the USSR until the US got actively involved and began to supply them with weapons capable of nullifying Soviet air supremacy. Once that happened, they were able to begin counter-offensive operations. Equally, the Viet Cong maintained a stalemate against the US but never really won. (The war was won, by not by the Viet Cong.)
The Taliban strategy is thus fatally flawed; there's every reason to believe that they will get little support from the people of Afghanistan, and there will be no foreign benefactor to provide them with arms. Every nation with a border on Afghanistan hates the Taliban; Afghanistan has no coastline, and no nation will airdrop supplies to them. At best they could maintain force-in-being, but they would eventually wither away through lack of supply. They wouldn't be an army, they'd be bandits. That's not to say that this is a threat which could be ignored, but it is not as formidable a threat as this article makes it seem. (discuss)
Update: The best modern model for what would happen to the Taliban if they adopted this strategy is what happened to the Khmer Rouge after they lost power in Cambodia. If anything, it would be worse for the Taliban, because it is much easier to hide and move in a jungle.