Stardate 20011124.2156 (On Screen): Somewhere out there is a company which publishes an "official" listing of names for stars, and if you want you can send them money and get a star named for you or someone else. Then, after you've paid for your own personal star, they'll offer to sell you a copy of their registry, so that you can show other people your name in the book. Only problem is that they don't have any official standing, and their book is not used by professional astronomers. All official naming is done by the IAU, and it doesn't accept money for the process. So these "registries" are a scam.
Registrations of URLs are damned near to being the same thing; the only difference being that essentially everyone who runs DNSs obeys the official registries. (Not everyone, though.) But it's also the case that ICANN has a direct official grant of power from certain governments. So that is quasi-legal, and as a result I really do "own" the url denbeste.nu.
But what of online nicknames; handles used in games or in bulletin board systems or online discussion forums? "Wait a minute: why is that guy calling himself TheToad? I am TheToad, the original TheToad, and there can be no other!" (There can be only one!) And so on; it's a totally bogus idea. But never let it be said that someone will pass up an opportunity to take money from others who have more money than brains.
Some people got together and started an organization with the pompous title International Internet Username Registration Organization. If they've got any kind of charter from anyone I sure see no evidence of it. It's really little more than an advocacy group with a big name. But somehow or other, a for-profit company has gotten blessed by the IIURO and has started an "official" registration for handles. And now you, too, can get LIFETIME!!! exclusive rights to your very own Nick Name for the low, low price of just $5.99 -- but only if you're the first one to register for it, so line up now and toss your money down this rathole, because you may never get another chance.
Legally Own Your NikName/Username: Once you have been accepted as a member of I.I.U.R.O, you will be the only person to have the right to use your NikName™, followed by the trademarked NIK, on the Internet.
Sez who? I see no indication that these guys have any more right to run this register than I would. They're sanctioned by the IIURO, but the IIURO is a vapor organization with no legal charter. How exactly does this legally become yours? Will the courts enforce it? Fat chance. (discuss)
Wait a minute -- this sounds just like "Passport". Hmmm....
Stardate 20011124.1620 (Crew, this is the Captain): Matt Welch writes an excellent blog, and I owe him a great deal (like, about half my traffic at this point because of his multiple links to me). He's a pro, unlike me, and he writes today saying that my characterization of the press was too harsh. I tried to make clear that not all reporters are the way I described; perhaps even most are not. But it doesn't take many who are like that who are privy to confidential information and blab it to ruin the soup for all reporters.
There's a classic story about that from World War II. Just after Pearl Harbor, about the only force the US had in the Pacific to project power back against the Japanese was its force of submarines. For the first 18 months of the war, the subs were much less effective than anyone had hoped, because of a combination of completely bogus tactics learned before the war, poor commanders in submarines (much too timid) and faulty torpedoes. All that got straightened out by about the summer of 1943 and the submarines proceeded to lay waste to the Japanese merchant marine -- and a not inconsiderable part of the Japanese Navy. Representing less than 5% of the personnel of the US Navy serving in the Pacific, the submarines were responsible for 55% of the Japanese sinkings in the war and their contribution to the defeat of Japan cannot be underestimated. It was critical.
And at a certain point it became much more dangerous for the American submariners, because of a newspaper reporter who didn't have the sense to keep his mouth shut. At the beginning of the war, Japanese intelligence underestimated how deep American submarines could dive, so Japanese destroyers were setting their depth charges to go off too high. American subs could dive underneath them and pretty much be invulnerable to depth charging. This was quite the story, as you might imagine, and the submariners told their friends in the Navy, and it spread from man to man, and a reporter working for a Chicago newspaper picked it up -- and published it. Then a member of Congress talked about it in a speech in front of Congress. With all that publicity, the Japanese found out about it, and started setting their depth charges to go deeper -- and American submariners started dying.
After that, the submariners realized that they couldn't really trust anyone outside their service. They became known as the "silent service", not because of "run silent, run deep" but because they didn't talk to anyone else about what they did. Submarine officers who went to the O-club would remove their dolphins before doing so. That was the insignia worn on one collar which indicated that they were submariners. Ordinarily dolphins were worthy of respect; submariners recruited from the rest of the Navy and were generally regarded as picked men, the best of the best. But these officers didn't want it known. But if you watched closely and paid attention, you could pick them out. They were friendly and would talk to people, but only about unimportant things. They'd be the only ones there who never talked about what they themselves did. They'd talk shop, but never specifically about their own shop.
It wasn't just the press that the submariners didn't trust, it was even the rest of the Navy. It wasn't that they thought the press and regular Navy were out to get them; they weren't seen as enemies, merely as foolish. This is far from being the only time in history or the only military group that adopts such confidentiality. (For instance, the Special Forces are also like that.) It doesn't take many ambitious, unscrupulous or even simply overeager and careless reporters to ruin the soup for all of them. If the military wants to conceal what it is doing from reporters, it's because of long and bitter experience with how the press collectively misuses information. (discuss)
I lost all respect for Dan Rather during the Gulf War when he committed an on-air faux pas which almost gave away the game on the "left hook". Ironically, it happened when he was bitching about not being given enough access.
Update: CC sends in this link to an article discussing how the decision was made on the tactics used in Afghanistan, and providing details on Special Forces operations there. This article is a good example of what I'm talking about, because it was irresponsible to publish it. Much of what it discusses is still ongoing, and if it is indeed true and if it is accessed by the Taliban, it could endanger our special forces units still operating in Afghanistan.
Stardate 20011124.1345 (On Screen): According to this report, there's good reason to believe that with the release of the 1.05GHz UltraSparc III, that to gain the title of "fastest" it's taken to cooking one of the SPEC benchmarks. It's happened before.
Back in the day, when Sun was trying to make Java the primary language for, well, everything there was a legendary tussle with Microsoft. It was not the Java language Microsoft objected to, it was "write once, run anywhere". The big advantage Microsoft worked hard to get and keep was the huge base of software written specifically for Microsoft operating systems. Microsoft was deliberately trying to leverage the "network effect" to add perceived value to their OSs. But if software could be written to be OS-portable, then there would no longer be an app-advantage to running a Microsoft operating system versus one of its competitors. This was a profound danger to Microsoft's business model -- and Sun knew it; it was the main reason they were pushing it. So Microsoft got big into Java for a while and its goal was to make it so that the version of Java running on Windows was better -- and also specialized, with extra and useful capabilities which were only available on the Windows platform. By doing this, their goal was to destroy WORA. And a combination of Microsoft's efforts and Sun incompetence did in fact fail to make WORA a fact of life on the desktop.
But the other thing that happened pretty consistently is that Microsoft's JVM for Windows was consistently much faster than Sun's own JVM for Windows, which earned Sun numerous horselaughs. (They invented Java, after all.) One of the most popular benchmarks for Java was CaffeineMark 2.5. And some frustrated Sun programmer put in a special section on Sun's JIT compiler to recognize one of the specific tests in CM2.5, and made it optimize down to virtually nothing, thus completing in jig time. CM2.5 used an arithmetic mean on all the scores to calculate the overall score, so making one particular test have an immense score made the overall score go way up, even though all the other results were lackluster. It's never been clear just how many people were involved in this, but after the that version of Sun's Java was released, Sun's marketdroids started to trumpet how Sun now had the fastest JVM out there. But it didn't take too much time for others to spot the anomaly, and Pendragon investigated, found what had been done, and then published a scathing denunciation of Sun on their web site. Then they released a new version of CM (CM3.0) and the single most important change they made was to use a geometric average instead of an arithmetic mean, because a geometric average substantially reduces the extent to which one seriously anomalous score can affect the result. Also, they slightly recoded all the tests, and as a result, the Sun JIT didn't recognize the test anymore and did an honest job compiling it -- and Sun's score dropped down to the "second-rate" tier, where it had always been.
It's hardly surprising to learn that the same thing may have happened again. The real problem is that Sun's engineering is competent but not really industry-leading in every regard. You won't go wrong with Sun products, but often there's something else somewhere else which would be cheaper and more powerful. ( (discuss)
Stardate 20011124.1222 (On Screen): I probably won't be posting much over the next day or so. I just bought a new toy. It's most impressive, especially considering the price. With a 1.06 GHz PIII, a DVD/CD-RW drive, a 30 GB HD, and 512MB of RAM plus a 1400*1050 display, they still managed to bring it at $2000. This is actually the second one; I got the first last Wednesday but it had a pixel stuck on, which wasn't acceptable. So I returned it this morning and got another, and the second one seems to be fine. So there is much to be installed to bring it up to snuff; things like Encarta and Thumbs Plus and ImageFox and RTVReco and PhotoMagic and other things I cannot live without. I also bought a wireless networking rig, and I need to make the new computer ("Spica") work on my LAN. New toys, new toys... (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011124.0750 (On Screen via life form detectors): One of those wonderful mush-words that people with an agenda like to use is "illiteracy. Usually it's used with regard to our education system by someone lamenting that students aren't getting enough exposure to some specific subject, e.g. economic illiteracy (by people thinking that a basic course in economics should be a requirement) or mathematical illiteracy (also dubbed "innumeracy"). This article discusses the fact that college students have only a very vague understanding of Western Civilization and wants that to become a standard course.
The only problem with this concept is that a college student's time is a finite quantity. The more time he is forced to spend getting a broad education, the less time he'll have to specialize and pick a detailed knowledge of one subject around which he'll presumably make his career. There was a time when a college education did not involve specialization; every student took a broad range of subjects but ended up with no specialized concentration. This was most common in the UK and it was normal for the offspring of the aristocracy, who because of inherited power and wealth didn't actually need to specialize or make a career.
Gradually a different point of view appeared: that a college education was an investment intended to qualify someone for a career, and that meant it needed to concentrate, which meant that necessarily a broad education would suffer as it was displaced. That's the norm now at most American universities.
Between 1972 and 1976 I attended Oregon State University. At the time, the university only had two course requirements: the infamous Writing 121 and a requirement to take three terms of Physical Education. Writing 121 was ostensibly supposed to teach us how to express ourselves on paper. (It didn't work for me; I learned to write on my own much later.) But the course instructor took that opportunity to expose the heathen to as much culture as he could, so in addition to practicing writing, it turned out to be a concentrated course in Lit. (That failed, too; I haven't got the slightest interest in reading Lit.) My college, the School of Science, had much stronger requirements: a one-year sequence in a physical science (chemistry or physics), a one year sequence in a biological science (biology or zoology), and a stiff requirement to take humanities courses without specifying which ones to take. I think that was all to the good, and I'm glad I did those things. The Zoology and Physics courses that I took turned out to be immensely useful to me in my life as an engineer, since Zoology gave me the theoretical background for ergonomics, and Physics let me understand what the EE's were doing.
It's interesting that the School of Humanities did not in turn have a requirement to take any science, so far as I know. I later came to the conclusion that this was because they knew that if Humanities students had to pass a Science course to graduate, they would generate very few Humanities graduates. The School of Science, on the other hand, had no trouble graduating people even with a requirement for something like 50 hours of humanities -- which should tell you something about the quality of the students in each department. (It was an open secret that most humanities students were the ones who couldn't hack the hard subjects.)
In turn, the Department of Computer Science had additional requirements. In addition to (quite naturally) requiring a large number of CS courses, we were all required to take Calculus. Which was fun; I had a good teacher. But I don't use it and I've forgotten nearly all of it. On the other hand, Mathematics teaches you something deeper because it is exact, rigorous, and doesn't admit half measures. You either get the right answer or you don't; mathematics doesn't pay off on good tries. (If we really want to slay multiculturalism and fuzzy thinking from the universities, we should require every student to take and pass a basic course in Mathematics. Heh, of course that means you'd never see another graduate in American Lit again...)
But to listen to some academics, every student should take mathematics, physics, biology, economics, history, lit, a foreign language, psychology, philosophy, logic... and once you're through with all that, you've completely filled a four year curriculum and there's no time remaining to actually specialize in anything.
Moira is right: this isn't the University's job; it should have been taken care of in high school. College isn't about making someone a better citizen and a better person; it's an expensive and utilitarian investment in a better future for the student. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011124.0648 (On Screen): In Kunduz: "They're going to surrender!" "No, they'e going to fight to the death." "There are surrender talks going on!" "But they're also attacking." It's been very confusing watching the reports coming out of Kunduz, which currently holds the last remaining concentration of Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan. I think I'm beginning to understand what's going on in there: Taliban command has broken down. The confusing reports are coming from different factions inside Kunduz, who are themselves arguing about what should be done.
What I think is going to actually happen is that a large number of the Taliban soldiers in Kunduz will surrender (possibly even most of them) but that a hard core will refuse to do so and the Northern Alliance will be forced to go in after them. (discuss)
Stardate 20011124.0617 (On Screen): There are still men in Pakistan who want to volunteer to serve a soldiers for the Taliban. But the Taliban is, remarkably, turning them down. Quite right, too, because at this point the limiting factor on the ability of the Taliban to operate is supplies, not warm bodies. They no longer have access to a significant source of supply, so now they're using up stockpiles. The more warm bodies they have, the less time their supplies will last. (discuss)
It's also not obvious how the volunteers would actually get to Taliban-controlled territory at this point.
Stardate 20011123.1802 (On Screen): The biggest problem in Afghanistan is figuring out what the new government there should be. The danger to that process is that all the warlords who have regained power over areas they controlled before the Taliban took power may be unwilling to again cede power to the new government. And chief among those who might have caused trouble was Rabbani, the former President of Afghanistan during the period of 1993-1996. So it's very encouraging to hear that Rabbani has announced that he will not try to hold onto power and will let the meeting next week in Bonn decide who should run the nation. Let's hope the other warlords follow his example. This is an indication that a great deal of behind-the-scenes diplomacy is going on in preparation for next week's meeting. I'm beginning to become optimistic about it. (discuss)
This web site was intended as a place to gather and focus the opinions of American who believe that going to war with Afghanistan, in an action like Desert Storm, is not the way for the United States to respond to the destruction of the World Trade Center and the other terrorists acts of September 11, 2001.
"The situation changed significantly by November 14", that being the day that Kabul fell. "Events have seemed to render the purpose of this web site moot." I like that -- no sign or indication that events have render the web site wrong, mind. Say, by acknowledging that the collapse of the Taliban will make Afghanistan a much better place for its people to live. (discuss)
Not to mention the fact that the operation in Afghanistan hasn't been even remotely like Desert Storm.
Stardate 20011123.1715 (On Screen via long range sensors): There are a lot of reporters out there and limited bandwidth to fill. Just as with web loggers, reporters want to actually produce material and have it consumed by the public. They're not just there to take home a paycheck; they want to create. For one thing, reporters who write more can then get promoted to more prestigious positions, which may involve more pay. For Television the holy grail is to anchor a news program on a major network, an opportunity which may only come up once per decade. Anchoring a news program on a lesser network or a local TV station is a lesser prize but still worth having. Among reporters (no matter the medium) there is a situation sort of like Baseball's farm-club system; you go into a lower level team and if you do well you get to move up, with the prize being to be permitted to play in the majors. That's what all players strive for. Equally, reporters want to move up to bigger, more important positions with more exposure.
Now it's a truism that negatives are more newsworthy than positives; no-one wants to read a news story that starts "There hasn't been an airline crash now for more than 18 months, isn't that cool?" That's non-news; but a new crash is an event. So by their natures, reporters look at the world through anti-rose-colored-glasses, trying to find anything that's going wrong, because that's newsworthy and gives them an opportunity to play the game and maybe get noticed and promoted. It's inherent in the system, but with the success of Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate scandal, ever since reporters have been looking for knock-it-out-of-the-park stories, their chance to get into the big leagues. I remember noticing the change in how reporters operated after Watergate, and thinking it a bad trend. I still do, and it hasn't stopped. I no longer think of most name-reporters as being unbiased; I always consider them to be doing their best to make things look as bad as possible. Any news article with a by-line is automatically slanted. News articles without bylines from the wire services don't tend to have as much of this, though there's still some. But the ones published under a by-line always have a hidden agenda of trying to boost the career of the reporter -- and sometimes they give in to the temptation to make news where there isn't any, or to make a big story out of something that is, or should be, small.
The best example of that is to compare the Watergate story against Clinton's Lewinsky scandal. Watergate was a serious constitutional crisis; in my opinion it was the biggest danger to our system since the Civil War. We had a President who was actively scheming to subvert the democratic system. In that sense, Woodward and Bernstein contributed quite a lot to saving the Union. They did deserve their Pulitzer prizes.
But I honestly think that much more was made of the Lewinsky scandal than it deserved. Was Clinton a philanderer? You betcha. Was that a constitutional crisis? Not even slightly. He was far from the first President to be one and won't be the last. It certainly didn't prevent FDR from doing a good job, for instance, or JFK. But the story cascaded and grew because the reporters wouldn't let go of it, and pretty soon it attained a life of its own. Finally there was a grand jury investigation about it -- even though I never figured out just what laws they thought might have been broken. Clinton then made the mistake of lying about it, for which he was impeached. None of that should have happened; it was not that serious. It was a firestorm raised by a new generation of reporters who all wanted to be the next Woodward/Bernstein, the next reporter who helped to topple a President. (Looks mighty good on the ol' resumé.)
The point being that reporters are not really anyone's friends except themselves. They wrap themselves in the flag and try to portray themselves as the "fourth estate", and it's true that a free press is important to monitor what the government does. But unlike the other three estates (Congress, Executive, Judiciary) the press is unelected and answerable to no-one for what they do, and that means that they can descend into tyranny -- and have, on a frightening number of occasions, in order to push their own sordid agenda.
This article laments that the military is trying to keep the press relatively distant from day-to-day operations. You bet your sweet ass they are, and rightfully so. That's because ultimately there's too much chance that any given reporter will be more interested in advancing his career than in actually trying to report honestly what he's seen. Not every reporter does this, nor even the majority of them, but it doesn't take too many doing that to really drastically harm the public's support for a military operation, or to reveal information which should have been kept secret "because the public has a right to know". No, the public doesn't, if the price is too high: sometimes revealing information can cause our soldiers to die. Doing so may advance a reporter's career, but sacrificing soldiers for that is not acceptable. While this became a big-time problem after Watergate, on some level it's been with us for a long time, and according to this article:
A government censor, asked in 1943 what he thought the American public should be told about the war, replied: "I’d tell them nothing till it’s over and then I’d tell them who won."
I don't think that the censor was completely serious about that; I think he was expressing frustration for the way that reporters were constantly trying to impede the progress of the war with their reports. Some reporters weren't like that, most famously Ernie Pyle. Pyle didn't shy away from describing the horror of war, but he didn't dwell on officer incompetence or try to embarrass anyone; his goal was to tell the folks back home what the war was like for the men at the lowest levels. As a result, where many other reporters spent most of their time in various headquarters units, where they not only had more access to more information but also had better food and more comfortable quarters, Pyle spent most of his time with low level units living with the privates and sergeants; he lived like they did, went where they went, and saw what they did. And eventually he died the way they did, hit and killed by Japanese machine gun fire.
Pyle didn't have trouble with the censors, but I'm not surprised that others were constantly trying to get information past that shouldn't have been revealed. "The public has a right to know" -- arguable. But it's absolutely certain that the enemy doesn't. All military operations require secrecy; if your enemy knows what you have, where it is, and how you're moving it, he has a good chance of figuring out your intent and countering it. Secrecy can be the difference between success and failure, and it is invariably the difference between high and low casualty rates.
That is critically important in war. Is the public willing to accept a 20% higher death and wound rate among its soldiers as the price for its "right to know"? When put in those terms, nearly everyone will say that they're not willing to pay that price, and that the safety of soldiers is more important. So the press obfuscates and dances around the issue; it complains about infringement of the First Amendment (although the First Amendment doesn't guarantee a right of access to the press, only the right of publishing), and never seems to bother talking about the military value of secrecy.
If there were a way for all 280 million of us to learn the details of what our military was doing without anyone else in the world learning it, I'd be all for it. But speaking as an engineer I don't see any way to accomplish that. Anything that the American public learns, our enemies will also learn. So the general principle that the military has adopted is to only announce military events after they're quite certain that the enemy has already learned of them in other ways. For example, the Normandy Invasion was only announced by the British and American press after announcements about it were intercepted from Berlin radio.
This article dances around all the reasons why secrecy about military operations is a bad thing but never directly faces the one reason it's vital: it saves soldier's lives. In the face of that fact, all their arguments melt like snow in July. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011123.1619 (On Screen via long range sensors): According to this report, many of our special forces guys who have been on the ground have been engaging in active operations against Taliban soldiers, and have been given a free hand. They don't have to report back and get permission; they just plan an operation on the spot and carry it out.
I should hope so; sometimes in such a situation if you delay fifteen minutes you lose your opportunity. If we didn't trust those men, then they damned well shouldn't be in there. This ain't no ping-pong game; they're there to destroy our enemy. I'm happy to learn that they're being permitted to do so -- and I have no doubt that it's severely affecting Taliban morale.
If they spot a group of Taliban soldiers (say, loitering around the entrance to a cave) then one of the preferred weapons is the Barret M82A1 sniper rifle. With a published range of 1.5 kilometers (and probably more than that) it's a semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle firing a slug which weighs 43 grams. It's actually designed to take out armored vehicles; it can't harm a tank but it can definitely take out an APC or a truck when used by a well-trained man. He'll have studied all the equipment he's likely to face and will know ahead of time where to shoot for maximum effect. It's really designed to take out equipment. Needless to say, it's quite capable of killing a man.
It's the ground-unit equivalent of bombing: it kills without presenting a target for retaliation. What the Taliban have been hoping for all along was a general ground engagement with US forces where both sides were within range of the other side's weapons. Then they'd show us, or so they thought. So finally we are fighting on the ground, and again we're using weapons and tactics against which the Taliban have no defense and no ability to retaliate. To constantly lose men and not be able to shoot back is terribly demoralizing, even for soldiers. For warriors it must be hell. (discuss)
Stardate 20011122.2341 (On Screen via long range sensors): This article discusses the (fully justified) fear in Bagdad that after we take out the Taliban, that we're going to go after Iraq next. They're making "concessions" (i.e. demands) regarding weapons inspections (lift the sanctions and you can put in inspectors -- wrong answer). Then the article has the following amazing statement:
A senior Saudi prince, the former intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal, has issued a strong warning that it would be a mistake to make Iraq the next military target.
I've got a hot flash for Prince Faisal: having a bunch of Saudis bomb American cities damages relations between the Arabs and the West. Financing schools throughout the Arab nations which teach their Arab students to hate America damages relations. Paying danegeld to al Qaeda damages relations. Using state-controlled press to denounce the US damages relations. Refusing to cooperate with the criminal investigation after the attack damages relations. Refusing to help in the war damages relations. Telling your people that Israel was actually behind the attack on New York damages relations. An unwillingness to admit your complicity in the crimes damages relations: Saudi Arabia is involved up to its neck.
"Relations" is a two way street, and Saudi Arabia has been screwing up its side of it for years. And since the war began it's only gotten worse. If Prince Faisal wants us to be concerned that what we do may offend his tender sensibilities, then he'd better start working on cleaning up his own act first. (And that means a lot more is required than just issuing orders to Muslim preachers telling them to stop slandering the US in their sermons.) A heck of a lot of Americans are fed up with the corrupt and incompetent regime in Saudi Arabia and would be quite happy to see it toppled. And why should we worry about damaging a relationship which is nearly dead anyway because of Saudi misbehavior? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011122.2311 (On Screen via long range sensors): This article contends that it's possible to learn things about grand strategy from the lessons of history. There's some truth to that, but what you mainly learn from a study of history is that each war is different. His attitude is something of an occupational hazard for top generals, who are legendary for preparing their army to refight the last war. It is true that there are lessons to be learned; in World War II the US confirmed its belief that it is always desirable to at least have air superiority, if not outright air supremacy. On the other hand, Korea proved that this was not sufficient to win a war.
Of course, Hanson might do better considering the lessons of history if he actually was studying history the way it really happened, instead of the way that he imagines it to have happened. For example, he discusses the delay in closing the Falaise Gap. To review, after the Allies invaded Normandy, and spent weeks fighting their way through the hedgerows, a plan was developed to use the single most concentrated bombing attack of the war to blow a major hole in the German lines in front of the Americans. The Americans would then move two infantry divisions into that hole to stabilize the sides, and then push several armored divisions through to exploit it. The hope (which was amply fulfilled) was that it could break the war wide open, put the Germans on the run, and start things moving towards Germany. Part of that effort was to curl around towards the left to try to cut off a large part of the German forces who had been opposing the US and British forces. But this would involve American and British forces fighting directly towards each other, and when that happens there's always a dramatic danger that the two will meet and keep fighting. This can be terrible for morale; once it happens it can make your troops tentative in the future. So a plan was made, a point selected, and both sides would fight their way to that point. This area was known as the Falaise Gap, and while it was open the possibility existed for the Germans to pull their troops out of the pocket and save them. It was, of course, hoped that as many Germans as possible could be trapped and captured.
Hanson describes the event as follows:
At the Falaise gap in August, 1944, he begged his superiors to close the salient and exterminate the tens of thousands of trapped Panzers. A confused Omar Bradley (purportedly preferring a "soft shoulder to a broken neck"), fearful of German pressure, let entire enemy divisions escape the tightening noose — some of them Nazis who would go east, be reequipped on the other side of the Rhine, and reappear at the Battle of the Bulge to help kill thousands of Americans.
Well, not exactly. What had happened is that the Americans had reached that assigned point but the British were behind schedule and hadn't closed it. What Patton wanted was to keep moving. But there actually was some danger in going forward. To review the positions, Patton commanded Third Army which had been given responsibility for exploiting the breakthrough. To his left was Hodges commanding First Army, which was responsible for holding the shoulder and most of the line on the German pocket, both on the north and south flanks. Patton's forces were the tip of the push to close the gap, but their left was being held by Hodges, and Patton was already in a salient. It may well have been the case that Hodges couldn't hold and that Patton's push might have been attacked in flank. But that wasn't the real danger: the real danger was the possibility of running head on into the British push and having combat with friendly forces. That would have been very bad. We think now of that force as being allied, but in fact such a close cooperation between the armies of two nations was unprecedented in history; and there was a real possibility of it breaking down into suspicion and distrust.
On the other hand, while it's true that a lot of Germans did escape before the gap was closed, some 50,000 prisoners were taken. Furthermore, it is completely wrong to say that "tens of thousands of panzers escaped." If the Germans had had that many tanks in there, they would have pushed the landing back into the sea. The Germans never had that many tanks total at one time during the war; at most there were a few hundred operational tanks left in the pocket. But virtually none escaped; they had long since run out of fuel, and their crews simply abandoned them and fled. What escaped was soldiers, on foot; they abandoned their equipment and beat feet. Virtually nothing heavy got out of there. It was a major victory for the Allies; two entire German armies ceased to exist. It's always possible to look back and say "If only they'd done this they could have gotten an even greater victory" but that's the wrong way to look at it. Because of the success in the breakout and surrounding the Falaise pocket, Germany rapidly pulled out of nearly all of France. That's the right way to look at it.
It is true that Bradley's decision to hold up Patton for a while is controversial. But it's nothing like as straightforward as Hanson would like us to believe. It has to be remembered that there is such a thing as fog of war; Bradley was there but didn't have as much information about the situation as we do looking back. What is obvious to us now was not at all obvious at the time. (For one thing, Bradley had a reasonable expectation that the British would push forward faster than they actually did.)
Hanson has also been watching the movies too much. It's true that Patton (again) wanted to keep moving east at the end of the war, but it is not true that he was "at the head of the largest and most lethal army in American history". In actuality, the United States was nearly fought out; the citizens were sick of the war and wanted it to end. You cannot fight a war unless it's supported at home. Again, on retrospect it's easy to see how it might have changed the course of the Cold War had he continued to move forward, but it wasn't politically possible. For another thing, it's not correct that his army was "the most powerful" in the theater. It was more powerful than the Germans, but not necessarily more powerful than the Red Army. Among other things, the Red Army was more numerous, had more tanks, and their tanks were better. The Americans, on the other hand, had more and better artillery and had more and better aircraft. But on balance, it's likely that a head-on confrontation between the two at that point would have gone to the Russians. (Let's give credit where credit is due: the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht. We helped, but they did most of it.) And had the Americans moved beyond the agreed-to finish line (like at Falaise) there was a possibility of such combat either accidentally or deliberately.
Taking a different mistake in WWII, Hanson is to some extent correct but takes his second-guessing much too far. In this case he's talking about the attack on Pearl Harbor and criticizes Japanese Admiral Nagumo (and indirectly Admiral Yamamoto) for not sticking around for a couple of weeks to finish the job. Again, it's not quite that straightforward. To review, the Japanese made two airstrikes on Pearl Harbor. The first went off textbook perfect, with negligible losses for the Japanese. But the second attack, a couple of hours later, was not as good; the Americans were alerted and their anti-aircraft fire was not totally ineffective. Also, a few American fighters managed to get up to oppose the second attack and did shoot down a few Japanese planes. The big mistake was to not attack the tank farm which contained the fuel needed to support the fleet; had they taken that out, it would have forced the US to pull its fleet back to San Diego. So I believe that Nagumo should have ordered a third strike and then pulled out. (Nagumo was a bumbler, but not in the way that Hanson says.)
But Hanson goes much further than that:
After December 7, 1941, had Admiral Nagumo's Japanese fleet steamed for another two weeks off Hawaii, all the while repeatedly bombing Pearl Harbor, destroying critical fuel depots, hunting down the two sole aircraft carriers in the Pacific, and incinerating the port facilities — before moving on to the West Coast to attack San Francisco and Los Angeles — America may have been on the defensive well into 1944.
That's sheer fantasy. For one thing, it wasn't a matter of "hunting down the three (!) remaining carriers"; it may well have been the American carriers hunting Nagumo. Remember, this was the very first major carrier battle of the war and no-one yet knew what carriers were really capable of -- theirs or ours. It took a few months before either side became sufficiently experienced in carrier operations before a full-out carrier-versus-carrier operation would take place at the Coral Sea. Nonetheless, had Nagumo remained in the area, Halsey would definitely have brought his two carriers back into the area and begun to hunt for Nagumo, and it might well have gone very badly. Moreover, the airfields near Pearl Harbor were worked over, but the Hawaiian Islands were lousy with air fields and it wasn't practical for the Japanese to take them out. New warplanes could have been rushed into the theater in a couple of days (by air), especially B-17 heavy bombers. And there was always the threat of US submarines, which would certainly have been out in force looking for the Japanese. (It should be pointed out that over the course of the war that American submarines destroyed many Japanese carriers. At the battle of the Philippine Sea, two of the three Japanese carriers which were lost were destroyed by American subs.)
The idea of moving past Hawaii and attacking the American West Coast is a classic mistake of an armchair strategist. (I, too, am such but I'm a bit more realistic than Hanson...) That's because it ignores the logistical problem: Nagumo didn't have the fuel and supplies and cargo ships to do anything like that. Surely Hanson wouldn't suggest a one-way trip after which the Japanese fleet (including all six of their big-deck carriers) should be abandoned from lack of fuel? But that's what would have happened. It's easy to move little markers around on a map fifty years after the war, ignoring such minor details as fuel consumption; it's much more difficult to move real units around on the ocean (or land).
But the most important objection to this is that Hanson has lost sight of the strategic goals of Japan. Japan never intended to defeat the US, and it absolutely required capturing the oil fields of Indonesia; they couldn't send their carriers east against the US because they were desperately needed to push south against the Dutch in Java. (Not to mention to nullify Wake Island, and to support the attack on Guam and the Philippines and... If the Japanese had moved their carriers east against the coast of the US, they might not have captured those critical oil fields -- and the war would probably have ended in the Pacific in 18 months (that being all the oil they had stored up). Hanson demonstrates again and again a concentration on the grand tactical with no vision at all of the strategic and logistical.
He complains about President Bush Sr's decision to not press on to Baghdad in the Gulf War. That's another case of 20-20 hindsight. The decision was not so straight forward. For one thing, at the time Iran loomed much larger as a danger. Iraq and Iran were seen as both being enemies of the US, but as enemies of each other they tended to neutralize themselves. It was not at the time seen as desirable to eliminate Iraq for fear of overly strengthening Iran, with the possibility of the Iranian-style Islamic Revolution cascading out into ther neighboring Arab nations and causing a political catastrophe. The intent of the war was to cripple Iraq for 10 years, while leaving it sufficiently strong to continue to neutralize Iran -- and that was accomplished. (To a great extent, Iraq is still crippled, but Iran never did threaten its neighbors.)
Second, the war to liberate Kuwait could not have been fought without substantial political support from Arab nations. They committed ground forces (and lots of them) but the real point was that this made it an Arab-versus-Arab war (with one side being helped by the Americans) instead of an Americans-versus-Arab war, in the eyes of the people of the Arab world. Had it been an American-versus-Arab war, there might have been political unrest and revolutions. So we had to have the cooperation of nations like Syria and Egypt and of course Saudi Arabia. But their price for that cooperation was that we would not take Iraq out. Had Bush ordered American troops Northwest to Baghdad, it's difficult to say what the Arab forces who had been involved up to that point might have done, let alone the Saudi government which controlled the territory through which the necessary supplies would have had to have flowed (not to mention supplying the vast amounts of water our armies needed). Finally, there's that piddling detail of supply again: the US forces didn't have enough on hand to continue the war the way Hanson wanted us to. He is yet again moving markers around on a map rather than real divisions around in an enemy country.
I happen to agree with his conclusion: after we've finished in Afghanistan, Iraq must be next. But I think he hasn't made a convincing case for it; his argument from historical experience is deeply flawed. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011122.1712 (On Screen): Imagine a country where a religion rules. There are varied opinions about that religion among the people who live there, but some of them are extremists and think not only that they themselves should live by the most stringent interpretation of holy law but that everyone else should, too, whether they themselves believe in it or not. So the extremists begin to use the power of law and government to enforce their own interpretation of right practices on everyone around them. Sounds like the Taliban, doesn't it?
Seems as if we're fighting now partially to stop that sort of thing. But what I'm describing is in Israel, where Orthodox Jews in a certain town are trying to use the city government to ban dancing in discos and driving of cars on the Sabbath, and in particular are trying to put a butcher shop out of business because it sells pork products. That violates the "holy Torah" and can't be permitted. Never mind that not everyone who lives in Israel is Jewish (many are Muslim, many are Christian) nor that even among Jews there is disagreement about how to interpret the "holy Torah"; the Orthodox Jews know they are right and aren't willing to let other people make up their minds. The rest damned well will be forced to live the right way whether they want to or not -- or we'll toss the bastards in jail.
The rhetoric some people spew on why we're supposed to be supporting Israel often includes statements like the fact that Israel is the bastion of European Civilization in the Mid-East; that it's the only liberal democracy there, and yada yada. Well, it seems that there's one principle of liberal democracy they don't even give lip service to: separation of Church and State, and religious tolerance. I don't like any nation that has a state religion and uses the power of the state to enforce religious practice. (discussion in progress)
What next? Forcing all the men to grow their beards long?
Stardate 20011122.1602 (On Screen): There is nothing so dangerous as a bureaucrat who thinks that you're horning in on his territory; a turf war can achieve a frightful degree of viciousness. It's sad to see it happening among charities, but not really surprising. The charities have, for a long time now, been resentful of the US program to drop individual packets of food from the sky each of which contained enough food to feed one person for one day. At this point we've dropped well in excess of a million of them.
But we made the packets bright yellow, to make them visible. Unfortunately, unexploded cluster bomblets are also yellow, albeit a different shade. And from the beginning such groups as varied as Unicef and Doctors Without Borders condemned the US for the food drops for reasons that never really survived scrutiny, because the real reason was that they objected in principle to the US Military "doing good". That's their turf, you see; you military people are not supposed to cast yourselves as good guys; you're supposed to be vile killers and let us wear the halos.
Now, it seems, there have indeed been a few people who may have been confused. The US intends to change the packaging for the food to a different color, but in the mean time a handful of people (two or three) have been killed by unexploded cluster bomblets that they may have thought were meal packets. So the charities are renewing their call for an end to the food drops. Let's see: a million meals dropped, possibly thousands of lives saved by them, and a couple people killed and a dozen or two wounded as a result. Sounds like a bad idea to me; evidently we should have let all those people starve. (discussion in progress)
Of course, if we hadn't been dropping food, then those agencies would still have been all over us for all the evil starvation we were causing -- which they were anyway. Remember that these are the same groups who were demanding a bombing halt right up until the bombing caused the Taliban to collapse. Their real agenda, besides defending their turf, is to oppose the war irrespective of the secondary harm that stopping the war would cause (like, say, more attacks on US cities).
Stardate 20011122.1258 (On Screen): In 1998, People magazine decided to run an online poll to allow people to select the most beautiful people in the world. They promised to put the winner on the cover of their magazine. They should have known better. Internet culture jammers seized on this and began to push people to write-in Hank, the Angry Drunken Dwarf, and in short order he garnered some two hundred thousand votes (compared to ten thousand for Leonardo DiCaprio).
Well, those who will not learn from the past are bound to repeat it, and Entertainment Weekly is doing exactly that. They've got an unrestricted poll for "Entertainer of the year" and the culture jammers are at it again. Alas, Hank died and cannot be used for a protest vote, but there seem to be plenty of other choices. Fark and MetaFilter, among others, are pushing Wil Wheaton (which is also the officially-approved USS Clueless vote); but someone else is making a strong push for "www.goatse.cx" and "Goatse Man". If you haven't been there, you should know that it is a single page site which contains a bit of prose and a thoroughly rude picture which I won't describe. It's been a favorite of culture jammers for a long time, who try to con people into visiting it by putting links to it into legitimate postings to discussion systems with non-sequiter link text, viz. "How about them New York Yankees, eh?" This is a particular favorite among Slashdot trolls. (Case in point.) I haven't looked, but I bet that there's a slashdot thread pushing goatse.cx as a vote -- perhaps even involuntarily. (Stranger things have happened on Slashdot.) In the meantime, as I look just now, it looks as if most of the top vote-getters are protest votes. (discuss)
Who the heck is pushing Steve Gibson?
Update: I might have known that the Something Awful crowd would get involved; they've pushed Lowtax into the lead.
Stardate 20011122.0738 (On Screen): One of the nice things about having my own server is that I have complete access to the referer log for the web server. I watch it; it's interesting to see who has been linking to me. I also maintain a list of all the sites who link to me and I try to maintain it on an ongoing basis. It's fun to see what other people say when they link to me (and, of course, there's some egoboo). Dawson Jackson (my latest linker) laments that this log entry was all Greek to him; I guess I should have realized that many people wouldn't know what some of those terms were. So I'm here to explain one of them to you: ECL. That stands for "Emitter Coupled Logic", and it's an obsolete approach to getting high speed out of semiconductors.
So let's start with some basic physics, in the form of Ohm's Laws: E=IR P=I˛R "E" is voltage (in volts), "I" is current (in amperes), "R" is resistance (in ohms) and "P" is power (in watts). With respect to semiconductors, this describes (among other things) the generation of parasitic heat in the junction. A bipolar transistor is a device for switching current; you turn it on by pushing a lot of charge into the base and turn it off by pulling the charge back out again. There's also a principle which says how fast current can move into a capacitor, and I think it's I=E/C where "C" is capacitance. So the more capacitance, the slower; the higher the voltage, the faster.
When a bipolar transistor is used for logic, then it's usually saturated. "On" means that the base is fully charged, which means that the resistance between the emitter and collector is negligible. By controlling R, you're controlling I, because E is fixed. Current can flow easily from emitter to collector, but because the resistance is tiny, then I˛R is small, so there is no important power dissipation in the junction. When the transistor is "off", the base is fully drained. Resistance between the emitter and collector is immense, so no current flows. So again I˛R is very small and no power is dissipated. So you're able to turn current flow on and off, but in both states there's no important power dissipation. Nice, huh? But when it's changing states you have a slew condition where the resistance is non-trivial and current is also flowing, and during that time I˛R is non-zero and the junction heats up.
However, because of the physical principles governing capacitance, that transition takes time; and it's a constant for a given transistor. E=I/C and voltage is fixed and capacitance is fixed and the amount of current needed to change state is fixed. So the amount of time needed to change states is fixed -- and pretty large (relatively speaking). To speed it up you can decrease the capacitance, which is difficult, or increase the voltage, which has its own set of problems. ECL solves the problem a different way: what ECL does is to operate the transistor in the mid region all the time. Instead of switching from all-the-way-off to all-the-way-on, it switches from partially-on to somewhat-more-on. Typically the voltage swing on the base is a fraction of a volt. As a result, I˛R is always non-zero, and ECL chews power constantly and in huge amounts. No single transistor uses much, but the millions of transistors in the computer collectively will use quite a lot. (So use of substantial amounts of ECL always implies a dramatic cooling problem, and some Crays actually circulated freon from a refrigeration unit through the computer to keep it cool.) On the other hand, it means that much less charge is being put into or pulled out of the base of the transistor, so it can switch much faster. In the 1980's, ECL was the fastest logic there was. Then it was surpassed by FETs (Field Effect Transistors), which never looked back.
ECL gets the maximum speed out of bipolar transistors by maximizing power consumption. Ironically, modern MOS technology gets the maximum speed out of FETs by minimizing power consumption. A FET differs from a bipolar transistor because it switches voltage instead of current. A simplistic statement, of course; both of them do both. But MOSFETs don't generally flow much current even when they are on. (On the other hand, JFETs can switch thousands of amps.) In a MOSFET the three leads are called the "source", the "drain" and the "gate". There's a channel between source and drain, and the gate sits nearby but doesn't make electrical connection. The electric field from the gate changes the characteristics of the channel and controls whether it is high or low resistance. But the capacitance of the gate is extremely small -- which means that it can be charged or uncharged very rapidly, because very little current must flow into or out of it to make it change state. No matter what they're doing, very little current flows through a MOSFET, so even when they change state they generate very little heat. I˛R is always low because I is always low.
The improvements in speed of MOSFETs come from decreasing their size; whenever a MOSFET shrinks, the size of the gate gets smaller and therefore it has less capacitance (which was already tiny compared to the capacitance of the base on a bipolar transistor). That means it requires less charge to change state, so it can be changed more rapidly. (It also means that they can reduce the operating voltage, which has other benefits.) And that's what the industry has been doing for the last ten years: they've been improving their technology for fabrication of MOSFETs to make them progressively smaller and smaller. That's one of the reasons why everyone is so interested in smaller and smaller IC processes. (Right now the industry is moving from 180 nanometers to 130 nanometers, with smaller processes in store.) There's a limit to this, however, because at a certain point the junction is so small that quantum tunneling means it will leak even when it's "off" -- and the more of that which happens, the less practical difference there is between "on" and "off".
Anyway, that Cray which was advertised was probably built out of ECL. My 1.4 GHz Athlon Thunderbird is built from 180 nanometer MOSFETs, and I suspect it is faster. We all clear on that now? (heh) (discuss)
Stardate 20011122.0614 (On Screen): In the negotiations for the surrender of Kunduz, it now appears that one of the terms that the Taliban are asking for is the ability to move at least some of the foreigners to Kandahar to aid the fighting there. They can't be serious!
But they are. And who? Well, officers, actually. In addition to the Afghans fighting there, who will be permitted to go home, and the "foreign guests', who mostly will be tried and imprisoned, the idea is that a handful of Taliban VIPs would be freed to go to Kandahar. This is another sign of the unprofessionalism of the Taliban army; the willingness to sacrifice the file for the sake of the rank is nearly guaranteed to sap morale -- and I'm inclined to let them do it. I can't think of a better thing (for us) to do to the forces in Kandahar, especially if we make sure to let the defenders of Kandahar know how the newly-arrived leaders from Kunduz sold out their forces to save their own skins. (discuss)
It's interesting how these "warriors", who are so concerned about honor, are willing to do something that no American officer would do unless directly ordered. McArthur did it in the Philippines in 1942 (when he was evacuated by submarine from Corregidor), but it took a direct order from President Roosevelt. McArthur wanted to stay and suffer the same fate as his men. In the Zulu war, an officer on horseback escaped a trap but left his men on foot behind -- and was court-martialed for it. (He's lucky he wasn't hanged.) I'm hard pressed to think of any other comparable case in the last 150 years in a western army. But I can think of numerous examples where high officers did stay with their men in the face of disaster: Wake Island, Singapore, Stalingrad after Kursk, Dien Bien Phu...
Stardate 20011122.0544 (On Screen): "Doctor, it hurts when I do that." "Well, don't do that." A well run army learns from its mistakes and its triumphs. One essential aspect of any operation is to analyze the results to see what can be learned from it. Did something work? Figure out why, and see if it can be made better and used elsewhere. Did something fail? If so, figure out why and don't do it again. Information from one part of the war will be sent to other parts of the theater, and slowly your effectiveness against the enemy will grow.
A good example of that is that "Thach Weave". Thach was the commander of a fighter group on a US Carrier who was among the first to face the legendary Zero fighter with his F4F Wildcats. The Zero was an uneven design, with strengths and weaknesses. It was extremely maneuverable and at low speeds could dogfight better than any other plane of the war. But it was a fragile plane and didn't have any armor or self-sealing fuel tanks, so it was a firetrap. Likewise, it was not heavily armed, with four .303 caliber machine guns and one 20 mm cannon. Relatively speaking, the F4F could not turn as well at low speeds, but it could dive faster. It was much better armed, with six .50 caliber machine guns, and the cabin and engine were armored. Its airframe was much stronger and could sustain damage much better, and it did have self-sealing fuel tanks, so hits on the tanks didn't automatically start a fire, or condemn the plane to landing in the ocean when all its fuel leaked away. What Thach realized was that the most advantageous situation for the Wildcat against the Zero was a head-on shoot-out, with the planes flying directly towards each other with guns blazing. Usually in such a case the Wildcat would win. (Being on the Zero's "six" would have been better but that didn't appear to be possible except by luck.)
Wildcats flew in pairs, and the Thach Weave meant that if either fighter realized that it or its partner was about to be tailed by a Zero, he'd say "Break" into his radio. The two planes were flying somewhat apart, and they'd turn towards each other and start circling in opposite directions. While this wouldn't shake the Zero, it meant that the Zero couldn't line up for a shot, and it meant that it would eventually face the other Wildcat face-on, usually to the detriment of the Zero. If the first pass didn't work, they'd keep circling and try again. Eventually they'd either kill the Zero or the Zero pilot would give up and pull out.
It was a brilliant maneuver and quite successful at letting the Wildcat fight the Zero on advantageous terms, even though in most regards the Zero was a superior plane. It maximized the advantages of the Wildcat and minimized the advantages of the Zero.
And once it was proved in combat, knowledge of it was spread to the entire theater, and things stopped going quite as well for the Zero. (It wasn't always possible to use it, of course, and the Zero continued to be dangerous.)
That Taliban don't seem to be doing that. They don't seem to be learning from their mistakes. The US used accurate close air attacks controlled by Forward Air Controllers at Mazar-e Sharif, and entire sections of the Taliban front line were obliterated, by carpet bombing or cluster bombs or daisy-cutters. So what did they learn? Apparently little, because they're using exactly the same kind of deployments now at Kandahar and we're doing the same thing to them there.
Or caves: After six weeks of bombing, it should be apparent now to anyone on the ground there that a cave is no longer a safe place to hide; if the US finds it, we'll use GBU-28 "Bunker Buster" bombs on them, among other things. So for weeks, cave complexes have been getting destroyed. Meanwhile, in the collapse, the defenders of Jalalabad pulled out of the city and moved into the mountains, to a cave complex there from which they're going to start a guerrilla war. Apparently the location is known; I don't think it's going to exist for much longer.
It's becoming clear that individual Taliban soldiers (especially the "foreign guests") can be quite deadly, but the Taliban army is completely inept and its failure of command is emasculating the power of its soldiers. They aren't really an army; they're a loosely disciplined armed mob. Their hope in this war was that we would commit huge numbers of ground forces and try to fight them infantry-style. If that had happened, it would have maximized the Taliban strengths and minimized their weaknesses. Since we haven't done that (because we're not stupid) that means that they're meat on the table. We can't write them off yet, but we need to proceed about like we have been for a while yet, and continue to use attrition bombing to weaken them. (discuss)
Stardate 20011121.2141 (On Screen): Every diplomatic conference ends with a success -- but sometimes they have to look pretty hard to find something they can declare to be a success. In the case of this one, the success was that they agreed to meet again. (Hooray!) So what are they trying to figure out? What the terms should be of an international treaty about terrorism. That's the UN for you.
It is, of course, completely hopeless because there is no possible way they're going to get an international consensus on what, exactly, "terrorism" even is. For example, the representative from Syria contends, first, that people defending their own territory cannot be terrorists, but that occupying armies always are. In other words, Israel is terrorist but the Palestinians are not. Yeah, right. (discuss)
Stardate 20011121.1631 (On Screen): The Taliban are praying to Almighty God to smite the US. Meanwhile, the US motto in this war has been "In bombs we trust." Guess who is doing better? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011121.1619 (On Screen): The war continues to go well. CNN reports that the Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Kunduz will surrender without a fight. While it was blatantly obvious that they had no hope, there was still the chance that they'd decide to go out in a burst of glory. Fortunately, that appears not to be the case. The Afghan Taliban in the city will probably change sides and join the Northern Alliance. It remains to be seen just what will happen to the "foreign guests" who are in there; the one thing that is certain is that they're not going to go free. (We'll see to that.) (discuss)
Update 20011122: It is now reported that negotiations have broken down.
Stardate 20011121.1512 (On Screen via long range sensors): Wanna buy a Cray? It's rated 266 MFlops. It originally sold for several million dollars; it's immense and chews the power like it's going out of style. (It's probably all built out of ECL, with all that implies.)
What's scary about this is that the desktop computer I'm running now (1.4 GHz Athlon Thunderbird) can probably out-compute that beast, and the one I'm about to build (dual 1.6 GHz Athlon MP [Palomino]) will leave it in the dust. We've come a very long way. (discuss)
Stardate 20011121.0906 (On Screen): No-one as taken me up on my challenge to debate the war. (Imagine my surprise.) Originally it was a challenge to MetaFilter's anti-war left, but I'd like to broaden it now, and maybe turn y'all into detectives for me. If anyone knows of a good anti-war blog whose arguments are cogent, let them know about it and see if they might be willing to engage in a blog-debate with me.
I wanted to clarify what I meant by not abiding by "Berkeley rules". That doesn't mean I intend to be sarcastic and slashing. In some of my dissections of anti-war editorials written by pros I have done that, but I'll desist in the blog debate. Rather, what I meant is that according to Berkeley rules, everyone is entitled to have an opinion but no-one is permitted to criticize anyone else's opinions, because doing so is disrespectful. We're supposed to respect each other, and to grant validity to other opinions solely because others hold them.
That's what I won't accept. The point of debate is to try to construct arguments for your position that are logically consistent and convincing on their merits. Your opinion should be respected if and only if it makes sense, not merely because you hold it. The opinion itself is what matters, not the fact that you are the opinion holder. And the fact that I or someone else don't accept or respect your opinion doesn't mean that we don't accept or respect you. It's possible to respect an opponent while disagreeing with them.
Anyway, I'm still ready to take this on. Up to two of them, and the basic rules I set down still stand, with the following addendum: I intend to archive unmodified copies of my opponent's arguments here on my server. They're welcome to do the same with mine. Other changes in the format can be negotiated, as long as it doesn't gut the debate format. Spread the word, folks. (discuss)
By the way, this is straight out of Mill. He advocated that we should seek out those whose opinions on some subject was different and engage them in debate. As a result one of two things would happen and they were both good: either you discover that your opinion was wrong, and change it, or you discover that it was right, but understand better why. The point was that this prevents knowledge from becoming dogma.
Stardate 20011121.0655 (On Screen): The Taliban continue to demonstrate their diplomatic ineptitude and their desperation. Their representative in the eastern town of Spinboldak held a news conference, and said that the Taliban have no idea where bin Laden is. I think I believe that.
All together now: We're not fighting to capture bin Laden; we're fighting to eliminate al Qaeda so they can't attack us again. (discuss)
Maybe the Taliban should be asking themselves why we hate them so much.
Stardate 20011121.0642 (On Screen): "Barefoot and pregnant, I say." No, I don't. One of the remarkable and wonderful aspects of the Afghan war has been the way it's turned out to be about women, both theirs and ours. American women have been working as reporters and interviewing Northern Alliance leaders. Our ambassador to Pakistan is a woman. And what's best is that we're willing to compromise about details but not about the main issues.
For example, our ambassador to Pakistan is abiding by the fasting rules of Ramadan. That is a superb gesture by her -- nor is it trivial; hunger hurts. But it's a show of respect for Muslim traditions at a time when Muslim doubt about US intentions is rising. Equally, the UN will use women on the ground in Afghanistan, and they'll cover their heads with scarves, but they won't have to wear burqas. And that, too, is good. The scarves won't hurt them, and it will be a sign of good faith that we're not there to destroy Afghan traditions. But western women will operate in Afghanistan as professionals carrying out their duties; that was non-negotiable.
The Afghan women, too, are suddenly coming out of the woodwork. In the western city of Herat, near the Iranian border, the Northern Alliance warlord who is now running the place met with 80 local women and asked them what they thought he should do, and they had plenty of suggestions; so many, in fact, that he was a bit swamped by it all and asked them to put together a concrete proposal. They want education for their girls, and they want to be able to work again (in many cases as teachers). Some may wear the burqa and some may keep their faces bare; the real issue isn't clothing but freedom of movement and freedom of choice. (Any doubt that the women of Afghanistan hated the Taliban should long since be dispelled. The rapidity with which they've been organizing is stunning.)
The US is fighting this war for its own partisan reasons (because we were attacked and are threatened with future attacks) but the big winner of this war will be the women of the world. (discuss)
Stardate 20011121.0610 (On Screen): Mullah Omar had a dream that he'd rule Kandahar forever, and now the Taliban have announced that there will be no further retreats and that they're going to fight to the death to defend what they still have. It's not clear that Omar is actually in a position to enforce that decision in Kunduz, since I don't think that the Taliban forces there are still taking orders from Kandahar. Also, I'm not sure I credit this "dream" story; I think that Omar is trying to stop all the defections of Afghan Taliban. But despite that, I have to say that, all things considered, I'm glad of this decision.
It does mean more hard fighting ahead, and that a lot of it is going to be city fighting -- and that is bad. It may force us to start bombing those cities directly, and to accept a huge civilian casualty toll -- and that would be worse. (Fortunately, I think that is unlikely.) It probably means that the US will have to use substantial ground forces. But it also solves a number of political and propaganda problems, if it's true. It means that there won't be the problem between the US and Northern Alliance if the NA made a deal with the Taliban to let them go so as to evacuate a city or area. The US and NA are not allies; rather it happens to be the case that for the moment their interests and ours are congruent and both sides benefit from cooperation. But those interests could diverge again, which would complicate the situation. This Taliban announcement postpones that. It also means that the US won't have to face world opinion who says "They're trying to give up -- why not let them escape? Give Peace a chance!" We're not there to let them escape; the forces we're discussing are primarily al Qaeda, not "Taliban" in the traditional sense, and the primary reason we're fighting this war is to eliminate al Qaeda. If the result of this war is to shift al Qaeda from Afghanistan to somewhere else, it may be good for the NA but it's useless to the United States. Now that won't happen.
The US is fighting al Qaeda. The Northern Alliance is fighting the Taliban. As long as al Qaeda cooperates with the Taliban, it will continue to make sense for for us to cooperate with the NA -- and that is good. (discuss)
We're not fighting to get peace; we're fighting to eliminate a sworn enemy. Peace is a reward, not a goal; if peace were the goal, we'd surrender.
Stardate 20011121.0540 (On Screen): US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill has met with the government there and has now announced that the US will work with India to root out terrorism in that nation. Code words, code words -- what they're talking about is Muslim extremists crossing from Pakistan into Kashmir. The problem is that the close cooperation between the US and Pakistan with respect to Afghanistan is worrying the government of India. Traditionally, the US has kept an even hand with regards to the struggle between India and Pakistan, and there was likely some nervousness in India about the idea that the US might lean towards Pakistan in the future. While I think that this announcement is genuine and I think that the US will indeed work with India on the Kashmir terrorism problem, the real purpose of this is to reassure the government of India that the US still intends to maintain an even hand. (discuss)
Stardate 20011120.2300 (On Screen): I think it's important to note that even if bin Laden does get killed in this war, we may never know it. One of the things that our guys on the ground in Afghanistan have been doing is to locate caves and to call in airstrikes to destroy them. No-one is going in to dig out all the bodies; that isn't practical -- and in any case, some of the people in those caves will be disintegrated by the bombs, leaving nothing. I think that most people are assuming that the Special Forces or Marines will bring back either a corpse or a prisoner, but we can't rely on that. It's entirely possible that bin Laden is already dead, in fact. But the fact that we never do locate him won't necessarily mean he escaped.
Which may mean he becomes a creature of legend. There have been many. Marshall Michel Ney was one of Napoleon's top generals; after the Waterloo defeat he was tried for treason in Paris and shot. But there were rumors that he had actually escaped to America and lived out his life. John Dillinger was one of the smartest and craftiest of the gangsters, responsible for a jailbreak where he used a gun carved from wood to fake out the guards. He also at one point had a plastic surgeon change his face and fingerprints. Nonetheless, he was betrayed to the FBI by the legendary "woman in the red dress", and they shot and killed him. But many think that he set someone else up and that he himself was not actually the one shot -- and that he, too, lived out his life and died of old age. And then there's Elvis.
So we may be hearing about bin Laden sightings for the next fifty years, if no real proof of his fate is ever found. That's just the way it is; war is messy and there are always MIAs. There's a decent chance that bin Laden will turn out to be one of them. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011120.2246 (On Screen and On Sensors): Now let me get this straight: Microsoft wants me to give them my credit card number and all relevant validation information, and it wants to hold all my passwords for accessing every other secure site on the web. Sun wants the same thing. Both of them would hold the keys to all the money I keep in my checking account (quite a lot, as it happens). But given that companies out there are botching up that kind of thing all the time and having huge amounts of it get stolen, why would I want to do something so blatantly stupid? Cancelling my credit card and getting a new one would be a royal hassle, because all my monthly bills are paid automatically using it. I have a better plan: I think I won't use Passport or the superduper Liberty Initiative (or whatever the heck it was that Sun called their equivalent) at all. How's that sound? (discuss)
Stardate 20011120.2233 (On Screen): Well, in addition to a massive antitrust suit filed by the US Government, there were also a series of class action lawsuits filed on behalf of individual users of Microsoft operating systems which were combined into a single suit. Now that appears to have been settled. One of the problems with the settlement was that the quantity of money which would have been involved would have been less than what would have to have been spent in order to find all the parties in the class -- which means they'd get nothing at all. Rather than waste the money that way, someone came up with the idea of making Microsoft give the money to schools.
Which sounds good, until you take a look at the details. Actually, it is good, but it hurts Microsoft very little. Part of what they'll be giving away is software, but their contribution will be rated based on sales value rather than on manufacturing cost, and for Microsoft the value-to-cost ratio is particularly high. (All software costs less than $25 to manufacture, irrespective of its commercial price.) So right there that devalues the burden. Much of the rest of what they'll be giving is used computers, which they've already depreciated; they've already gotten their money's worth from that hardware and would have junked it anyway, so the effective cost to them for that is negligible. (Corporations like Microsoft routinely replace desktop computers every couple of years.) And all of this will be tax deductible as a charitable contribution. Once you work it all out, this "$500 million" ain't gonna cost Microsoft even remotely that much money. It's not obvious it's even going to cost them $50 million, when all's said and done; the rest will be funny money and tax subsidies.
And what better place to send it all than to schools? It will displace Apple and perhaps finally kill the influence of the Mac there; it will expose more students to Microsoft products and get them comfortable with Windows and Office and PCs, which will make them be more likely to buy and use such products later. My opinion is that in the long run, Microsoft is actually going to make a profit off this. I can just see Microsoft's lawyers pleading, "Please, don't throw us into the school briar-patch!" (discuss)
Stardate 20011120.2003 (On Screen): It's interesting to see the toy ads each year, to try to spot the innovation and to see if I can pick out winners and losers. I must say that toys now are a lot cooler than they were when I was a kid. (Anyone up for "walking through the snow to school" stories?)
But I also see toys which seem terribly ill-conceived, or perhaps fiendishly conceived. These are the Perfect Toys For Kids Whose Parents You Hate and I sometimes wonder whether they're deliberately designed for that, in hopes of cashing in on the spite market.
Case in point: "Jammin' Draw" by Fisher-Price. The concept is straightforward: it's a drawing tablet with a primitive touch-pad underneath, and there's a computer and some audio electronics and a speaker and some push buttons. When you draw, the computer senses what you're doing and makes (loud) music that supposedly tracks what you're doing. I can see how kids would love this; and I can see how it's going to drive parents bonkers. (Let's see, now; who do I hate this year?) (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011120.1955 (On Screen): Another company which has been on the USS Clueless deathwatch for a while now is Palm, and it's continuing to sink. There are probably going to be mass layoffs there in the next few weeks. While it's true that they're competing now against Microsoft, the consensus was that this was Palm's battle to lose, not Microsoft's to win. Given that at one point it had a 90% market share in PDAs, its fall from grace and stunning mistakes cannot really be blamed on anything except its own incompetence and missteps. It's a shame; it had an opportunity for greatness. (discuss)
Stardate 20011120.1939 (On Screen): VA Linux has reported its results for the first quarter of fiscal 2002, and it's yet another wipeout. It's no longer in the server business, of course, and the company is a shadow of its former self. To see a longer term pattern, check out page 54 of the 10-K for fiscal 2001. It provides the last 8 quarterly results. It's most illuminating. Over the course of the last six quarters, sales was (millions) $50.7, $56.1, $42.5, $20.3, $16 and in this quarter just $5.6 million.
As usual, the most important thing to look at is assets, and they're still plummeting like a stone. One of the standard line items is "total current assets", which basically means everything that can be converted into real money to offset losses. When that runs out, you're bankrupt. At the end of July 2000, it was $211 million. At the end of July 2001, it was $97 million. Now it's $75 million and it's expected to continue dropping in upcoming quarters. A company which has $6 million per quarter revenue and $20 million per quarter cash bleed is not long for this world; that kind of deficit is not easy to make up. I have been skeptical about VA Linux for a very long time, and I still see nothing to change my mind: this company is doomed. (And it's not going to be acquired, because there's nothing there worth owning.) Which means that speculation about the future of SourceForge now more than academic. (discuss)
The only reason I can think of that anyone would acquire VA Linux would indeed be to acquire SourceForge so that they could continue to run it at a loss. It's not that the SourceForge software is worth anything (it probably is negligible) but rather that some sugar-daddy corporation wants to keep subsidizing the open source movement. I still think that the best bet for that happening is IBM.
Stardate 20011120.1838 (On Screen): Sometimes the Israeli sense of timing is just impeccable. So there's a world war on terrorism; you're locked in mortal combat with an indigenous enemy who has been fighting you for 50 years and shows no sign of giving up; your friends in Washington announce a new effort to find a peaceful solution, so what do you do?
Build more settlements in the West Bank. That's just great. Every rational solution for the situation that anyone's proposed involves pulling all the existing settlements out of the West Bank, and here they are making that as difficult as they possibly can.
Last week a US diplomat who was trying to mediate a problem in one of the African nations finally told both sides that if they didn't accept his latest offer, he would decide that nothing further could be done, and would pack up and go home and leave them to their own devices. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we were to tell both Israel and the Palestinians something along these lines: If you have not signed a peace agreement by December 31, 2001, the United States will pull all diplomatic personnel out of the region, suspend all economic aid to both of you, and wash it's hands of the whole thing. Ultimately you guys have to solve this; we can't do it for you. Each of you has been appealing to us for solution to this in hopes that we'd pressure the other side to give in; well, we're not going to, so you better start negotiating in good faith for a change. You've got six weeks; I suggest you use them.
Satisfying though that might be, it's not realistic. First, there are just too many voters in the US who feel strongly about the state of Israel; no elected President would risk angering them all. Second, the result would not be a settlement; it would be conflagration. With both sides hardening their positions, no settlement would be forthcoming and the result would be all out war. (discussion in progress)
"Oh, and by the way: if you haven't signed a peace agreement by July 31, 2002, we're going to nuke Jerusalem." I do believe that would motivate them -- but it's not possible.
Update 20011121: Here's an example of what I'm talking about: both sides want the US to solve this because both sides want the US to bully the other side into making concessions. Screw that.
I'm glad to see that Samurai Jack had gotten such good ratings; it completely deserves it and I'm glad that word is spreading about it.
Given that they're doing it for the big screen, I'm glad that they're letting Genndy Tartakovsky do the script(s). It's the dual aspect of it that bothers me. They're claiming two movies, one animated and one live-action. The animated one could be very good, especially if they're released from the "no blood" stricture they're following because of prime-time broadcast. Right now they're in the top control-bracket that Cartoon Network will allow (TVY7-FV), which ain't much. So when he wants to use blood to make a dramatic statement, he's been using machine oil instead. If they let him have PG for the theaters, he can do much more. And if they let him direct, and give him a bigger budget and more time, then he can do much more with the animation than he's been permitted to do on the small screen, where budgets are tight and time is always short.
But I simply can't see a live-action adaptation. It just wouldn't translate. Part of what makes the series work is the highly stylized art and animation they're using; it's part of the piece. By necessity a live action film would be much more realistic, and I think it may suffer because of that.
The history of live action adaptations of cartoons and comics is not particularly encouraging. For evern TMNT or Superman there's been a Tank Girl. I don't think there's any chance that a lousy movie will harm the TV show, which would be my main concern, but it just seems as if it's a disaster waiting to happen. I hope I'm wrong, though, and Tartakovsky may pull another miracle with his script(s). (discuss)
Stardate 20011120.0728 (On Screen): There are many, many people who will ultimately benefit from the war in Afghanistan, but primary among those are the women who live there. Their treatment by the Taliban was beastly. It's entirely possible that there are some who will continue to wear the burqa, but it appears that as soon as it became possible to do so, most shed their burqas and exposed their faces. And they are already organizing politically; they attempted to hold a march in Kabul yesterday. (It's been postponed a week.) And what do they want? Nothing important, just equal rights, education for their daughters, jobs, the ability to move about freely. Little things like that, things that would have gotten them beaten or shot by the Taliban. Some of that they'll get immediately; some may take decades. (It took a hundred years in the US.) But they have that opportunity now, because of the bombing. (discussion in progress)
I predict celebratory demonstrations on campuses all over the US praising the bombing for liberating the women of Afghanistan. No, I don't.
Stardate 20011120.0652 (On Screen): Some software businesses are fundmentally non-viable because they're based on chain-letter concepts. This article describes one: it's a program which you buy for $50 which you run on your computer which has a DVD drive. If you're concerned about excessive violence or nudity or profanity in a movie for your children, you play it on your computer with this program, and it's modified visually and aurally on the fly to change it. Bad words are muffled, and the graphics are modified (to cover naked breasts, for instance). Obviously this can't be done algorithmically (not on a home computer with a $50 program, anyway) and indeed what you do is to go to their web site and download a file for each DVD which contains all the instructions needed for the program to perform its bowdlerization. But preparation of those files isn't going to be easy, and the value of this program is that they'll continue to create new ones as new movies come out. But since they give those files away for free, then who pays to make them?
And that's why this is unsustainable; money from new sales of the program is used to create these data files which are then available for free to all users of the program. So this can only continue as long as more and more people buy the program, because existing users don't represent a continuing revenue source for the company. There may well be quite a lot of demand for it (sigh) but the market isn't infinite, and when it saturates then the whole business model collapses. Which means that there are really only three ultimate possibilities here: the company will die and new datafiles will no longer become available, or they'll try to introduce new versions of the program and get repeat sales, or they'll start charging for the data files. (discuss)
Kate Winslet was topless in Titanic? Why doesn't anybody tell me these things? (Who's Kate Winslet?)
Stardate 20011120.0639 (On Screen): Open Source is officially dead. C/Net says so. Well, actually, not quite. What they're saying is what anyone with half a brain knew all along: Profit matters. The problem isn't Open Source, it's Open-Source-As-Business-Model. That concept, that you could somehow create a sustainable business model by giving away your product, has been disproved quite thoroughly now and the few remaining companies who tried it and haven't already gone under are now switching to (gasp!) proprietary software to be sold as a means of generating revenue and becoming profitable.
When asked to make a viable business case for the Open Source model, the only proposal any of its fans could come up with was "You give away the software but sell services." That, too, has now been completely discredited; Red Hat may yet just barely survive with that model but no other company I know of has made it work.
It remains to be seen just how viable the open source movement itself is, let along as a business model. That's because it's surviving on charity now; essential and expensive services it really requires are being subsidized by money-losing businesses (particularly SourceForge) and that can't go on for much longer. "Open Source" is free only because someone else is paying the bills. How will open source continue if there are no big free high-bandwidth FTP servers out there? It won't die, but without that, progress will slow to a crawl. The real successes of the open source movement are based on the fact that there are places on the web where the distributed collaborators could meet and efficiently exchange their data. Originally they used FTP servers provided by universities, and later by companies. But the days of "information wants to be free" are now obviously gone; it may be that information wants to be free, but bandwidth and storage want to be paid for. In the mean time, profit is back in vogue. (What a strange concept: employees want to be paid.) (discuss)
When VA Linux finally bites the big one, it seems to me that the best hope for the open source movement would be for IBM to pick up SourceForge and continue to operate it (at a loss).
Stardate 20011120.0547 (On Screen): "Send in the Marines!" The worst dream of the Taliban realized: it looks like we are going to commit the Marines from USS Bataan and USS Peleliu to the search for bin Laden in southern Afghanistan. They'll be available to add muscle to the Special Forces units already operating in that area, in case assaults are needed. They'll operate in larger formations and presumably will be more aggressive. I wish them well. Kick some ass and come home safe, men. (discuss)
Stardate 20011120.0524 (On Screen): It's fun to watch the antics of companies like Gartner and IDC. They're sort of economic whores; they've never seen a future market they didn't like, and their job is to grant credence to proposed business segments by writing reports predicting vast success. They loomed large during the dot-com bubble; at the time there didn't seem to be anything that they wouldn't predict would become a $5 billion per year market within five years. (Gartner was certain that thin-client home computing would be a $5 billion market by now, for example. Actually, every product in that segment has been a flop and none are being sold anymore.) Seems as if their sights have been lowered, now the de rigueur number is about a billion and a half.
Of course, no-one keeps score, or we would discover just how empty their predictions were. It turned out that they never say "The business our customer is about to enter into is going to be a complete failure." So why does anyone believe them when they predict success? They always predict success.
Now they're predicting success for online sales of digital music. I think they're wrong about this one, too. They're saying that online digital sales of music will be a $1.6 billion per year business by 2005. I don't believe it, as long as the record companies continue their current policies. The only way that will happen is if the intellectual rights management crypto is cracked, so that people can freely use the music. But if that happens, the record companies will lament the fact that their $1.6 billion could have been $5 billion if only they were getting paid for all the copies being made -- and will miss the fact that if the crypto had not been cracked, their market would actually be more like $200 million as the customers stayed away in droves. (discuss)
Stardate 20011119.1934 (Crew, this is the Captain): One of the reasons I never got into video games was that the controls sucked. A rocker pad and a bunch of buttons on a box in your hand, and with that you're supposed to fly a jet, or slay a dragon, or drive a car?
So there was only one video game on a cartridge system I ever liked, and it goes back a long way. One of the early systems, in addition to the silly gamepad, had a pistol attachment and a game for it which had a skeet-shoot mode. And that was a lot of fun, because a pistol was a reasonable way to play that game.
Finally, finally, the video game industry has awakened to the opportunity here. After fifteen years of making players do everything imaginable by pushing buttons, they're finally starting to create realistic controls. Steering wheels for driving sims and joysticks for flight sims are passé, but they're starting to get more creative. For example, there's an arcade game now, a fighting game, which has sensors and the player stands on a platform. To fight, you actually have to make fighting moves; the computer detects what you do, makes your avatar do the same thing, and then simulates the outcome. Wanna kick? You kick. Wanna punch? You punch. But that's not cheap, and we won't be seeing those in the home just yet.
Someone has created a boxing game where the controls are actually boxing gloves with sensors inside. You swing your fist (at air, not at the other player) and a little plastic guy you control does the same thing to the other player's little plastic guy. There's also a ski-board game now where the control is actually a board that you stand on. Wanna turn? Tilt the board with your feet. Lose your balance and fall off? Your avatar takes a spill.
Nor is this confined to single player games. There's a baseball game now for which the primary controls are a ball and a baseball bat. Each one has a wire and presumably they've got accelerometers inside. If you're the defending team, you pitch by flipping your hand holding the ball. (You don't let go.) To bat, you actually swing the bat.
Now that's more like it. Screw better graphics, give me better controls any day. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011119.1820 (On Screen): If I had to pick the best designed airplane of all time, there wouldn't be any contest: it would be the DC-3. It was developed in the mid 1930's and was already the most successful airliner in the world when WWII broke out. Then it helped fight the war in a militarized version as the C-47 (for the US) or the Dakota (as the British called it). The only major difference between the two was a redesigned cargo door; the militarized version was larger. It may well have had more effect on the progress of World War II than any other aircraft. There were theaters in the war which would flatly have been impossible without it, such as Burma. It hauled in cargo and men, it hauled out wounded; it carried anything. It was a truck with wings. There were never enough aircraft of any kind to satisfy theater commanders, and there were always arguments about allocations, but none more agitated than the arguments about how the latest batches of C-47's should be divided.
But the real reason I think it deserves this title is sheer longevity, because there are are still several hundred of them flying today -- not in air shows, but out there in the real world, doing work. They're being flown commercially, nearly fifty years after the last one was manufactured. No modern designer has ever managed to come up with a new aircraft which can compete on performance, durability, reliability and price with a leaky old Goonie Bird.
Well, how about the best warplane (discounting that the C-47 was such)? Again, there really can't be any question: it's the B-52, and again the proof is in longevity. Airplanes get names and sometimes the official ones stick and sometimes they don't. The superb A-10 "Thunderbolt" is universally known as the "Warthog" and that has nearly become an official name for them. (They're great jets, but they're ugly as all get-out.)
Equally, the official but never used name for the B-52 is "Stratofortress", which is an evolutionary name deriving from the B-17 "Flying Fortress" and B-29 "SuperFortress". (Equally, the Navy had the F4F "WildCat", the F6F "HellCat", the F8F "BearCat" and the F-14 "TomCat".)
But no-one uses that name for the B-52, and the universal name for them is BUFF, which stands for Big Ugly Fat Fuckers. Which no more betrays contempt than does "Warthog" for the A-10, because in fact the B-52 is very highly regarded in boththe Air Force and in the other services.
The "grey ladies" fight on, though the last ones were built in the 1960's. They've been instrumental in the war in Afghanistan, and this report says that they're conducting the bombing of Kunduz right now. Which leads me to ask the question: What of the B1 and B2?
We'll take the B2 first; it's easy to talk about because it's useless. They are too damned expensive and require too expensive and complicated of ground support to be practical. They have made a few attacks in this war, but they're flying from Missouri because they can't be deployed forward. So their missions are ungodly long and they have to refuel several times on the way. In practice their contribution has been negligible; they've been used mainly to give their pilots live-ammo training. If they didn't exist the war effort would not be notably different, for everything they've done could have been done just as well, and more cheaply, with other aircraft or weapons. The original plan was to built over 90 of these bastards, at a staggering cost of more than $1.3 billion each, but only about 20 were built and I doubt there will be many more. It was a mistake; it's a plane which came online just as its primary mission became obsolete, and there's nothing it can do for us now that justifies its price. Anything that a B2 can do which we're actually going to need done, a Tomahawk can also do, and for the cost of each B2 we can buy more than a thousand Tomahawks. If the B-52 is the greatest warplane ever deployed, the B2 vies for title of the worst.
Then there's the B1, and this one is more tricky. The B1 was originally cancelled by President Carter because he believed what the Pentagon told him about the B2. Reagan revived the program, and now we have about 70 of them. At a paltry $200 million each, they're more affordable (cough). But after they were built, they rapidly became hanger queens. They couldn't be flown safely; it took years of retrofit and redesign to make them usable. As a result, in the Gulf War, the B1 and B2 were the only major aircraft we had which were not involved in the war. Everything else we had was used and served well; the B1 and B2 stayed at home and collected dust.
But the B1 did get fixed, and some of them are deployed in the Indian Ocean theater now and have been involved in the bombing of Afghanistan, especially in the early days. On paper it should be a superb replacement for the B-52 (ignoring cost, of course). So why the heck is Kunduz being bombed by B-52's? Well, because the B1 actually isn't a good replacement.
Or at least, that's what the Air Force admits to. All these numbers are probably low, and I know for a fact that during the Viet Nam war, the B-52 routinely carried 120,000 pound bomb loads. It also flies higher than the B1, and it's possible it has a slightly longer range. What it doesn't have is stealth and supersonic speed. (The B1 isn't as stealthy as the B2, but it is far more difficult to detect than the B-52.) But in this war, neither of those are necessary; the goal is to carry as many bombs as possible and to drop them where they're needed -- and that's liable to be the primary need for the wars we're going to be fighting for the next 30 years. The B1 was designed for the Cold War; it was intended for bombing Moscow. (So was the B2; it's just about all it's good for.) But we aren't likely to need to do that. Meanwhile, the B-52 keeps on flying; it's the Battery Bunny of the bomber fleet.
The BUFFs flying in Afghanistan are older than most of the men flying them, and yet they fight on, and are expected to be with us for decades more. By the time they're decommissioned, most of their original pilots will be dead of old age. But if the Air Force designs a new bomber, they're going to try for a B-3 which will be even more expensive and complicated and unusable. (discussion in progress)
If there's any commercial plane to compare to the DC-3, it's the 747; In its own way, it is also an elegant design which will have a very long commercial life. Like the DC-3 there's nothing radical about it; it's just that they got everything right. Some people have suggested quite seriously that the Air Force should consider making a bomber version of the 747; it would have a range of something like 12,000 miles (note that "range" is one-way, not round trip) and could carry a 200,000 pound bomb load. With a ceiling of 45,000 feet and speed comparable to the B-52 it would make a superb bomber for missions such as those that the B-52 is currently carrying out. (It could easily bomb Afghanistan from Diego Garcia without refueling.) And it would be cheap and reliable and easy to maintain and repair, and a dream to fly. It just wouldn't be very glamorous.
Update 20011120: Jim Dunnigan, whose opinion I respect, provides the following numbers for the B-52 versus the B1: Normal combat radius, B1=5800 km, B-52=16000 km; max speed, B1=2530 kph, B-52=1035 kph; bomb load, B1=51 metric tons, B-52=27 metric tons. So the B1 carries more faster but not as far. No wonder the B-52 is doing the bombing of Kunduz instead of B1's; they'd have to refuel the B1's but the B-52's can carry out the mission without that. I think that the reason that the B-52's are carrying less now is that they're trying to spare stress on the air frames to make them last longer.
Stardate 20011119.1721 (On Screen):
In the cockpit [of the AWACS] sits Chuck, guiding the airborne radar center through the skies. He's Canadian. Behind him, in the windowless cabin, Rosario, the weapons controller, is talking to the crew of a fighter jet. He's from Naples. Bernd, a German major and the mission's tactical director, stares at his radar screen, which displays nearby planes as flashing green dots. And Markos, who is Greek, makes sure all communications systems are operating smoothly.
Someone's trying for a feel-good piece about NATO AWACS patrolling the skies over the US. But there's a lot they aren't telling us, or only just hinting at, in this piece. For instance, does the US actually not have enough AWACS to protect US airspace? No, actually we have plenty. But a lot of ours are overseas. First, quite a few are involved in monitoring the airspace over Iraq to enforce the no-fly zones there. Also, there are several involved in controlling the skies over Afghanistan.
The Airborne Warning and Control System is an essential part of modern western air operations. It's an American design, and each one has the ability to detect hostile aircraft and to control friendly aircraft in a very wide area. Right now over Afghanistan there are no hostiles, but there are many friendlies, and the AWACS working there are among the many invisible men who are serving to make others effective. If we were not fighting a war and patrolling Iraq, we'd have plenty of AWACS available to cover our own skies. But we are doing that, so what the NATO AWACS are doing is to fill in here, comfortably away from the zone of conflict, so that our own AWACS can go where they're really needed.
It isn't quite accurate to say that the NATO AWACS are "protecting America." What they're doing is to free up American AWACS so that they can do the protecting. (discussion in progress)
The obvious question which isn't asked in this article is: why aren't the NATO AWACS serving at Iraq or Afghanistan?
Stardate 20011119.1654 (On Screen): The struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians has been going on for more than fifty years, and I think it will be with us for at least another twenty. It's unfortunate, it's sad, it's terrible -- and it isn't urgent.
But the situation in Afghanistan is extremely fluid, and diplomatically it's one where days matter. There is a unique opportunity here to straighten out that mess, but it's one that could slip away and leave us with the diplomatic equivalent of a festering wound. (It's equivalent to the opportunity which passed us by in Israel in 1948.) So why is Colin Powell spending his time on Israel and not concentrating on Afghanistan? Can't Israel wait another month or so? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011119.1647 (On Screen): American Airlines has checked the tail fins on all the 34 remaining A-300's which they still have flying (down from 35). They say that they found nothing wrong. My first reaction to this was skepticism. It's not that I think there are necessarily systemic flaws in the jet, as much as that at this point I think that American Airlines has too much of a vested interest in reassuring the US flying public of the safety of its fleet for me to believe anything they say. I'd have felt more confident if AA had permitted inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration to do the inspecting, and if the announcement had come from the FAA. (discussion in progress)
If I were something like BBSpot or The Onion, I would have written a spoof article where American Airlines announced that it hadn't actually had a jet crash last week after all. Alas, I'm not that clever.
Stardate 20011119.1640 (On Screen): It appears that Germany may be about to make a significant contribution to the war. (Relief!) Plans for a conference in Europe by representatives of the various Afghan faction to sort out a new government appear to be maturing, and the most likely venue for it now is Berlin. I think that would be an excellent choice.
Even more promising is that members of the Northern Alliance have asked the UN to find and include representatives "from the ethnic group most closely linked to the Taliban" (i.e. the Pashtun) to participate. That request suggests that they're getting serious about this and looking for a long term solution. Any solution that doesn't include the Pashtun and protect their interests is guaranteed to fail.
What we don't need is civil unrest while this is going on. Let's see if the anti-globalization people (recently converted to "anti-war" people) can get it through their heads that this conference is about peace and take their demonstrations elsewhere. (discuss)
Stardate 20011119.1634 (On Screen): There's a long list of logical fallacies; they go back a long ways. They are sometimes honest mistakes, sometimes deliberate debating tactics, and often they're the result of the way we think, because our intuition isn't always correct.
One mistake is referred to as "Misleading Vividness". In general terms, it means "My next door neighbor just got mugged, so there must be a crime wave." It comes from the fact that we are conceptually myopic and tend to concentrate more on what we see than on what we know. A horrible crime next door is perceived as being more important than one which takes place across the country or on the other side of the world. It is natural, actually; it's an example of how our natural intuition steers us wrong. But it's unfortunate when the press falls for it, and it's happened twice now in the Afghan war. Both times what happened is that members of the press went where they shouldn't and got killed.
That's not good. But are the deaths of four reporters really more important than the deaths of a hundred Northern Alliance troops, or a thousand Taliban soldiers? Why is it that reporter deaths are getting so much press?
Two reasons, I think. First, they're westerners, which makes them seem closer to home than people who were already in Afghanistan. But more important is that they were reporters, and to the reporters who are writing the news for us, this subconsciously looms particularly large. Just as I'm more concerned when my next door neighbor gets mugged than when someone I don't know gets mugged, to reporters the death of a reporter (perhaps even of a friend) must loom larger than the death of a faceless nameless Afghan. So both cases have gotten more coverage than I think they really justify. I'm certainly not saying they should be ignored, but I'm not sure that they're remotely as important as things like whether and when Kunduz will fall. And they've been getting about the same amount of press time. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011119.1404 (On Screen): When the original concept for Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) was originally proposed, the idea was that you would implement a relatively small set of instructions. That would mean the instructions would be smaller and thus could be retrieved faster from memory, but also meant that the CPU would be simpler and thus could run at a higher clock rate. So you would partake something of the virtues of microcode; you'd use a lot of instructions instead of a few, but you'd still execute faster.
All well and good. So why is it that all the major RISC designs are still struggling to reach 1 GHz, a clock rate that AMD and Intel left in the dust more than a year ago with their ultra-complex instruction set x86's? Intel is shipping a 2 GHz P4, and AMD has produced a 1.6 GHz Palomino and will probably hit 2 GHz with the Thoroughbred sometime early next year. I'm aware that clock rate is not everything, God knows, but it still seems strange to me that all of the major RISC designs (ARM, Itanium, PPC, SPARC) are still stuck under 1 GHz. Wasn't the whole point of RISC that the simpler design would permit higher clock rates? (discussion in progress)
Some points about this. First, ARM hasn't actually been trying to be fast; their market doesn't need it. What's important for ARM is that it be small, cheap, and low power. Second, there hasn't been an honest RISC or CISC chip for at least ten years. The P4 and the Athlon are both implemented with internal microcode engines, and the ostensible big RISC chips like PPC and Itanium have long since abandoned the original principles of the Reduced Instruction Set. Originally, for instance, there wasn't even going to be a divide, let along floating point or SIMD.
Stardate 20011119.1354 (On Screen): Know how sometimes in magazines you see several ads on several successive pages which are all related? Or how over the course of one TV show you'll see a sequence of ads for one product? (Or a continuing series of ads over a period of weeks?) That's the new plan for online advertising, and I suspect it's just as doomed as all the others. The idea is that when you visit some web site, then when you hit a series of pages there, they will serve you a sequence of banner ads which all relate to each other as part of a single advertising campaign. They still don't get it; they're still trying to treat the medium like an electronic version of something else. If they're looking for some other model to try to adapt to the web, how about Burma Shave? (discuss)
I grew up in Portland OR, and my grandparents lived in Salem. In the 1960's before I-5 was built, we used to drive down to visit them on US 99E. At one point on the way about 10 miles north of Salem there was a sequence of those signs. It was one of the landmarks we kids always used to look for on the way. Are we there yet? Oh -- there's the Burma Shave signs; we're getting close. And then we kids would all read them out loud in unison as they went by. Darned if I can remember what they said, though. (1962 was a long time ago.)
Myth: Families of the victims are not receiving Red Cross financial assistance.
(Emphasis theirs.) What they don't bother mentioning is that this represents less than a quarter of the money which was contributed for that purpose, and that they tried to redirect more than three quarters of the money for other things, without the knowledge or permission of the donors.
Myth: Money donated to the Liberty Fund is being diverted from its intended purpose or placed into the "general fund."
Yes, that's true now. But it wasn't true until certain reporters and then Congress raised a ruckus; it was going to be the case that most of the money was redirected. It's only true now because the Red Cross was forced to change its policy. So why is the Red Cross trying to take credit for something that they only grudgingly did because they were embarrassed into it?
If this page proves anything, it demonstrates that the Red Cross is finally waking up to what a debacle this has been. But there are two ways they can respond to this: covering up, or actually changing the policy and honoring donor intent. Let's hope they do the right thing in the future. (discuss)
Stardate 20011119.1203 (On Screen): Rumsfeld has announced that the US opposes any deal with the Taliban either at Kunduz or at Kandahar to let them walk out safely. Damned straight, too.
The critical issue here is not the native Afghans holding out in those cities, but the "guests", the foreigners, the Arabs and Pakistanis and Chechens and Uzbeks. Those are al Qaeda; they're the guys we went to war to annihilate. They're the ones who are responsible for attacking us, and they're the ones who want to keep attacking us. We aren't fighting to remove them from Afghanistan, we're fighting to remove them from the world.
The US doesn't have the ability to enforce a surrender, but does has the ability to prevent an escape. What this means is that even if the locals make a deal to allow the Taliban to march out of one of those city, the US will bomb them as they retreat. (And there's nothing anyone on the ground there can do to prevent it.) That is exactly right. This is our best chance to take them out; if they get away they can scatter and we'll be fighting them for years, all over the world. Capture is fine; escape is not. They are not going to live to fight another day. (discuss)
Stardate 20011119.0927 (On Screen): Here is an unbelievable boondoggle: a group in Switzerland is trying to solicit funds through their web site to finance recreation of the two Buddha statues in Afghanistan which were destroyed by the Taliban with artillery (as "graven images"). They figure it might cost on the order of $1.5 million. I can think of a lot more important things that kind of money could be used for in Afghanistan, like building roads and schools and hospitals. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011119.0601 (On Screen): BMG released a copy-protected CD with music from someone named Natalie Imbruglia in Europe. The disks can be played on regular CD players but cannot be played on a PC. It's not just that they can't be ripped; they can't even be played at all. For a lot of music fans now, their PC is their CD player; it's quite common now especially for younger people. And inevitably there have been customer complaints and returns, and the stores have also been bitching. (Stores don't like returns.) The CDs were not labeled to indicate that they could not be used in PCs (though word had spread) and now BMG has backed down. They'll reissue the CD without copy protection, and replace the copy-protected CD of any customer who mails it in.
Did they really expect anything else? I simply don't understand the psychology of the record company here. Did they really think that the buying public would stand for crippled products? They are so blinded by the looming image of Napster that it has made them start to think of all their customers as criminals. You can't run a business where you hate or fear your customers. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20011119.0546 (On Screen): With the recent scandal about the Red Cross's "Liberty Fund" for NYC victims (where the majority of the funds actually went to other things), it now develops that the Red Cross has been doing this kind of bait-and-switch for years. A disaster will happen, and the Red Cross will hit the airwaves with ads about it and talking about how the Red Cross will help but only if people pitch in with donations. And then they'll raise a lot of money and use most of it for other things, and not for what the contributors actually thought they were giving the money for.
This is completely wrong. It doesn't matter whether the officials running the Red Cross think there are other activities which are also important; the primary factor should be donor intent. It seems that the Red Cross has been using fine print on their contribution forms to say that the money would be used for "this disaster or similar disasters". Not acceptable. That is dishonest, and even though it's motivated by the best and most charitable motives it is still dishonest. It shows utter contempt for the donors; it treats them as cattle to be milked instead of as people to be listened to. It may well be fraud. And the Red Cross isn't going to get another dime from me until they publicly change that policy. (discuss)
A lot of people don't know that the Red Cross doesn't pay for broadcast of those TV ads. The law requires TV stations to run a certain number of free public service advertisements per day; the Red Cross is a major beneficiary of that policy.
Stardate 20011118.1827 (On Screen and On Sensors): The Scientific Method is the single greatest triumph of western thought. And the key to it is the concept of criticism. The idea is that if someone proposes an idea, they should present that theory and all the evidence that supports it. Then others will consider that theory and the evidence, and try to reproduce or extend it if they can, and in particular will search for other evidence that disproves it or mistakes in its logic. If, after a period of time, the theory stands on its own in the face of this, and if it results in further good theories and explanations, then it is added to the cumulative knowledge base of science as a whole. The longer that a theory is part of that base, the more highly it is trusted. And the foundation of it all is criticism, the fact that people do their best to disprove it.
Science is in that sense conservative: new ideas are guilty until proven innocent. But radical theories can completely overturn previous orthodoxy, sometimes in quite short periods of time. There were two attempts at this in the 1980's, and one succeeded while the other failed. It's interesting to compare and contrast them.
In about 1980, a team lead by Luis and Walter Alvarez proposed that the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous was caused by a very large metorite or comet striking the earth. This was radical and even close to heretical by the standards of the day, since for the previous hundred years catastrophism was a dirty word in the earth sciences. The orthodoxy since Lyell had been that everything happened gradually. So initially there was massive disbelief and dismissal. But other geologists and paleontologists took the idea and ran with it, testing different aspects of it, and the more they looked, the more it explained. It is now generally accepted, and as a result they've started looking for meteor strikes to explain some of the other mass extinctions in the paleontological record (and have started finding evidence of them).
On the other hand, we have the now notorious Cold Fusion. In 1989, two electrochemists named Pons and Fleishman claimed that they had proved that when palladium electrodes were placed in solutions of deuterium oxide and a current was run between them, that more energy was released than had been fed in, with the excess coming from fusion of the deuterium inside the crystalline structure of the palladium. Given the slow pace of work on plasma fusion and the apparent failure of the laser-implosion approach, and given that this could be done at a very low level and involved quite simple equipment, it was quite an exciting prospect. The international physics community exploded into action, with attempts in major universities all over the world to duplicate the process and enormous discussion of possible theories behind it. (I remember reading the traffic in sci.physics at the time. People were very excited about the idea.) And almost all of the attempts failed, and in general the ones which were reported to have succeeded were the ones run with the worst controls by the least experienced groups. The ultimate consensus was that it was an example of experimental error, though there remains a core group of true believers who continue to work on it. And they may yet be proved correct, but the burden of proof is on them, and so far they have not satisfied that. The case for Cold Fusion did not survive the the critical process, and was not adopted by science.
The difference between the two was the criticism. The Alvarez theory was strong enough to survive even in the face of the best its critics could throw at it; whereas Cold Fusion collapsed when it was critically evaluated. Without the criticism, they might both have been rejected or they might both have been accepted, and in either case Science would have gone wrong. Scientists understand the importance of this process, and accept -- even eagerly seek out -- criticism for their theories. The strength of the Scientific Method is that it keeps the wheat but discards the chaff, because of the power of criticismi. And that is the pattern that all thought should follow; it is criticism which makes the difference between deception and truth.
Which is why it is so disturbing that those subscribing to certain political beliefs (you know who you are) refuse to accept criticism itself as valid, and assault it as being wrong. Without criticism there is no way to differentiate the foolish from the valid. (discuss)
Stardate 20011118.1655 (On Screen): What used to be referred to as "Siamese Twins" (after the most famous ones, Chang and Eng) are more properly called "conjoined twins". It refers to twins (invariably identical) who are attached at one point or another. Sometimes they share body parts. In nearly every case, it's necessary to surgically separate them, because they'll usually die otherwise. Sometimes the connection is minor and the operation is not very involved. But sometimes they are fantastically complex.
There was a case last year where a pair of conjoined twins were separate in London (over the objections of their parents) and in this case there were not sufficient organs between the two of them for both to survive. The surgeons decided that it was necessary to do the operation anyway, condemning one of the twins to immediate death, because it was clear that both would die otherwise. There was one fateful incision which the two surgeons made simultaneously, because it was the one which guaranteed that the one child would die. The other did survive it and has now returned home.
There was another such operation two years ago in the US where a pair of girls had three legs between them, and shared a pelvis. The operation was exceedingly difficult because not only did they have to be separated but it was necessary to produce complete pelvis's for each, among many other problems. This was handled by several teams of surgeons who worked tag-team style. There were neurosurgeons who worked on creating separate spinal columns for both. The whole thing was planned out ahead of time, with each team working out the details of their part of the operation. Again, it happened to be girls and one of them got two legs while the other got only one.
These kinds of operations can be horribly difficult and quite commonly they fail. But there has never been such an operation more difficult than one which took place in Singapore in April. Two girls (again) were born in Nepal connected at the top of the head. This is called