When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

January 31, 2005

Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?

Bravo Romeo Delta

So how racist are you, exactly?  Harvard thinks they have a way of figuring that out, via the Harvard Implicit Association Test (Courtesy Tim Blair.)

This test purports to discover what hidden biases you might have on race, gender, sexuality or any one of a number of things.  The methodology the test seems to use is based largely on what appears to be the Freudian Slip methodology.  Take it and you'll see what I mean.

The part that I found supremely interesting was that I took the test to determine whether or not I was biased in favor of Kerry or Bush.  Now, I am going to wait a minute for you all to look back through my posting history and form your own judgment on where I stand.  Don't worry, go ahead - I'll wait.

Back?  Good.  The Harvard folks told me that I have somewhere from a slight to moderate bias in favor of ...  Kerry.


So, all I can figure is that the test is a good mechanism for telling you what word associations have been seared, seared in your memory by a mind-numbingly relentless media assault.  In other words, after hearing the 4.9 million assertions that Bush = Hitler, it seems that the word association game gets weighted a bit to go along with whatever the dominant saturation message of the day happens to be.

Now, just for a flight of fancy, suppose that we assume that Harvard is a bastion of the leftist liberal elite intelligentsia, and that the media establishment is heavily biased towards the left, wouldn't this then make the Harvard test a measure of how effective the media is in telling us what we think?

Personally, I think that argument is a bit tin-foil hattish.  Nonetheless, I still stand by the assertion that the test is a better measure of what reflexive word associations have been impressed upon us by our environment, rather than any latent bias.

And I was kind of hoping that anything of this magnitude that Harvard chose to roll out wouldn't have produced such contrary results so very easily.

But then again, I'm not an Ivy Leaguer.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Sun-Times, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 10:44 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (3)

But, but, but... (Update)


Today, during a discussion on Fox News about the Iraq Election Moira Liasson objected to Brit Hume's contention that many people had been habitually skeptical about the odds of establishing a legitimate democracy in Iraq. Moira allowed that this just wasn't so, and that although many people had expressed skepticism about the details of the Bush plan nearly everyone had always had faith in the "will of all people to be free." Well, I can't speak for Liasson, nor do I know what she thought back then, but it seems to me her memory may be a bit "selective." Frankly, I don't know anyone who has more credibility with political sociologists on the topic of democratization than Amitai Etzioni, and over a year ago, back in November, 2003, I posted a comment to his blog post A Sociologist's Iraqi Exit Strategy. For documentation purposes you can find the original here, along with his response, but it's reproduced below for the sake of convenience:

I find your observations on this topic useful, but primarily as a way of motivating 'progressives' to reflect a bit on their positions. As a practical matter it is far too early to label the reconstruction effort a failure, nor is it particularly accurate to label it an 'afterthought.' One would think that had it been much more than that, that they'd have come in with a better plan, but I personally think it's more a matter of Republican naiveté about social legitimacy than the notion that the reconstruction wasn't important. In fact, for many of us the entry into the Middle East to establish a beachhead for liberal open society is at least as important as the WMD issue. I also have little confidence in the UN's ability and resolve when it comes to establishing such a beachhead, both because of the 'Euro-cocoon,' that many of the European members of the Security Council believe they are in and because the UN has no legitimacy as a democratic body.

My problem is that we appear to have a Republican administration that's willing to do the right thing, but doesn't quite know how... and a Democratic opposition that could probably muster the know-how, but doesn't want to for partisan reasons. The Democrats seem preoccupied with what I call 'little democracy,' and insist on training a microscope on those liberal societies that have already proven to be stable... just because they can. However, they neglect 'big democracy' at our peril. As for the UN and NATO, I honestly think they're not exactly the wave of the future, although the UN will survive as a kind of international debating society. What we need in their stead is some sort of deliberative body composed exclusively of democratic nations, since they together represent a cohesive 'meta-tribe' with common interests that, as a community, can probably begin to set the stage for a world absent totalitarian regimes like Iraq, Korea and Burma. They would represent a sufficiently dominant majority that those nations left outside the alliance would be compelled to liberalize in order to join the club. They'd be motivated by both pressure and attraction, or stick and carrot.

Amitai just couldn't see it:

Thanks for the very thought-provoking comments. As I see it, there is no way on earth that Iraq can be turned into anything that resembles a democracy in the immediate future (unless it is “defined down” so it does not mean a thing). It took the Brits (and us) generations; and the Iraqis are less prepared. It is not so much that the Republicans don’t how to do it – it cannot be done. Just look at our track record in third world countries.

"No way on earth." A year ago that was the standard wisdom, not only in academe, but in the derivative press establishment... so if Liasson thought differently at the time her memory is unreliable about her peers and about the "experts." But what's important isn't so much that I was right, but that Iraqis rose to the challenge that justified the faith some of us had in them... and that courageous Americans and Iraqis have paid a worthy price so that citizens of what was once the cradle of civilization could walk triumphantly to the polls today, to fulfill that ancient promise.

It would be well to remember, just for the sake of precision, that there are those whose vision fell short of their learning, and who are still inappropriately dismissive about hope that was expressed today by a people with the dragon still nipping at their heels. And it appears that Republicans have, in fact, finally been able to get the knack of the thing, shouldering a task that most Democrats seem to eschew out of some overly cultivated sense of sophistication about democracy in the small.

Update: Protein Wisdom has some observations about the impossible-but-easy nature of the problem

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 03:30 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (2)

January 29, 2005

Iraq and Terrorism

Bravo Romeo Delta

Is it just me, or have the bad guys in Iraq quit making an effort to kill off troops from other countries?

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 12:18 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (1)

January 28, 2005


Bravo Romeo Delta

No, seriously. I see a lot fairly baffling stuff on the internet, but this one I just don't get.

Watch it and tell me.

Although, now that I think of it, if I can just manage to get it broadcast on Al-Jazeera without that little note at the bottom, it might cut pretty heavily into the pro-Bin Laden demographic.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:10 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (3)

January 26, 2005


Bravo Romeo Delta

From time to time, a foreign national will walk into a US embassy and start divulging sensitive information.  In some circles these people are known as walk-ins.  And today, the comments section of Winds of Change had, what can be considered an inadvertent walk-in of sorts.

Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about the validity of the notion of "activistism."  Activistists tend to define themselves by their apparent desire for protest for it's own sake, rather than as a tool to achieve specific political ends.  Much of this discussion has been carried on in posts by Marc Cooper, Michael Totten, myself, and most recently Joe Katzman at Winds of Change.  The current debate deals with, in part, about the role of activistism in today's left, and the ideological nature of those who seem to be calling the shots in the Democratic Party.  Closely related to this subject is the notion that the activist left is completely tone deaf on national security, due to the apparent allergy that the far left has to the field of strategic studies.

In the comments section of Joe Katzman's roundup of discussion about activistism, a certain T.J. Madison manages, in his comment, to provide a glaring illustration of this allergy to strategic thinking in just under 100 words.

In the context of discussion about prevailing trends in the Democratic Left, T.J. Madison has become an unintentional walk-in in the debate about the intellectual proclivities of the activistist left and the role of activistism in the Democratic weakness on security.

T.J.'s comment and my analysis follow:

That's why they don't offer alternative strategies for avoiding a nuclear 9/11: they just don't care.

I've offered my strategy. Here it is again:

As you'll see below, his strategy is about a nuclear 9/11. Which, in terms of utility via applicability is wonderfully useless. It's not to say that a nuclear 9/11 is a trivial possibility, but it is worthwhile pointing out that the phrase "nuclear 9/11" is used as a short-hand to describe the entire vocabulary of threats related to the use of WMD in a terrorist attack. In creating a strategy so neatly focused on the nuclear threat, one runs a very real risk of simply making chemical and biological weapons more attractive. And if you are familiar with exercises like Dark Winter, one quickly notes that the any WMD terrorist attack is of great significance. So, in essence, T.J. has opted to focus on one microscopic element of national security in order (as you may gather later on) to provide a vehicle for his preconceptions about the military and national security.

Step 1: Secure the Russian nuclear arsenal and upgrade their early warning system.

The first statement, securing the Russian nuclear arsenal, is breathtaking in its oversimplification of complex issues. One gets the feeling that there is some desire to believe that a sitting President can magically snap his fingers and by so doing, secure thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons belonging to a sovereign state. This is something we can safely call a non-trivial difficulty.

"There are vague Russian claims that the stockpile [of non-strategic nuclear weapons] has been reduced, but many questions remain about what “reduced” means. How many weapons are there really? Where are they located? What is their level of readiness, their viability? Are they secure from theft? Why does Russia still need so many of these weapons? On none of these issues has Russia been forthcoming. All are unanswered questions that lessen confidence in the fidelity of Russian claims. The ambiguity represented by Russia’s stated willingness to reduce these nuclear weapons while refusing to engage in meaningful discussion on any of these questions is indeed troubling."

Moreover, one of the most significant problems with the effort to secure fissionable material arises from peculiarities of management in the Soviet economy. Since production was mandated by quota, many managers would hoard surpluses off the books so that if a production shortfall arose, the hidden cache of surplus product could be used to overcome production shortfall. And yes, this was a very common practice among those responsible for producing weapons-grade fissionable material.

The second element (which seems to be added as an afterthought to the afternoon's work of securing a stockpile of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons) is that we should upgrade the Russian early warning system. First off, no argument supporting the concept that this would enhance our security is presented. If we were to hazard a guess about the rationale, we might suppose that T.J. is under the impression that anything done to make another state secure will make us safer. Except that this approach is far from accepted gospel truth in the strategic community. It may have merits, and it may not, but it is certainly an argument that cannot be presented without support. One could, arguably, make the assertion that enhancing Russian strategic nuclear warfighting capability is akin to buying North Korea billions of dollars in conventional weapons to reduce their inclination to produce nuclear weapons.

The other element that tickles me about this assertion that the US should spend a significant amount of money on Russian capabilities is T.J.'s later commentary about military bureaucracy.

Step 2: Offer to buy up stray nuclear material for a fixed (high) price, no questions asked. Send the CIA guys with suitcases full of cash out there to buy up all the nukage.

Going back to basic economics, what happens when demand for a product is set artificially high? That's right, supply increase to meet that demand and market inefficiencies result. In other words, if you start paying for nukes, there becomes absolutely no reason not to manufacture them. Imagine a situation in which the US will pay $100 million dollars for every nuke they can get their hands on. Then guess how long it's going to be before the Iranian, Pakistani, North Korean, and Indian intelligence agencies set up front operations to cash in on this new export line. With this image in place, one might significant difficulties in continuing with non-proliferation efforts, as the US would have just turned fissionable material into highly concentrated cash. The proposition that we would start bailing out big suitcases full of money to unsavory people with no questions asked is tantamount to an engraved invitation for abuse.

The next problem is how, exactly, we can do things like convince others to limit the size of their nuclear arsenals when we will have, in effect, paid huge amounts of money to increase our nuclear stockpile.

Additionally, I would also be quite interested if this program would cover only completed weapons, all weapons-grade fissionable material, or all fissionable materials. Would any quantity of material be fair game, or only amount sufficient to be used to make weapons? Does T.J. intend to extend this to all radiological materials that could be used in a dirty bomb?

And finally, just because we start throwing money around doesn't mean that a group that obtains, by hook or crook, a functioning device is going to sell us their bomb. If Al Qaeda steals a nuke, they probably aren't going just decide to pawn it because we've artificially inflated the market price for "nukage."

Neither of these things are being done, likely because they would be too cheap and too effective to justify the existence of the current military bureaucracy.

And this statement is the gem that compelled me to write this post.

"Too cheap" except for the rebuilding of Russian strategic nuclear warfighting capabilities. And the whole business about men in trench coats wandering around throwing vast sums of cash to people with parcels that set off Geiger counters. Not to mention the continually expanding size of the program that will occur once we've made violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a viable investment strategy.

"Too effective" except for the economic, and logistical shortcomings mentioned above. Too effective except for the fact that this kind of effort would demand someone waving the magic cooperation wand at Moscow. And too effective, except for the other significant elements of the WMD triad that this effort would, presumably, leave unchecked.

But fortunately, T.J. has a scapegoat - justification of the current military bureacracy. Breathtaking, isn't it? How incisive, how insightful. How truly, fundamentally stupid.

One arrives at the conclusion that T.J. is under the impression that we field things like aircraft carriers (the sort providing Tsunami relief right now) because Admirals stalk the halls of Congress yammering about loose nukes. That we spend money on things like rebuilding Iraq and training the Iraqi military because we just don't like to play nice with Russians.

I just can't helped but be amazed that, evidently, our entire defense budget would be slashed if only intelligent people absorbed the deep lessons contained in T.J.'s 100-word nugget of brilliance.

Additionally, I like the concept that spending money on American defence capabilities is perpetuating the current military bureacracy, but spending money on Russian defence isn't. Yes - we'll increase the nuclear warfighting capability of the only country on the planet to be a rival in the strategic nuclear arena, because, as T.J. seems to believe, it will make us all safe and snuggly warm.

No, much like T.J. I can't possible imagine how blowing the bottom out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime by, effectively, paying people signficant cash to violate it, could possible do anything other than help cut the bloated military bureacracy down to size.

Furthermore, I can't possibly see how (as implied) curbing our military capability wouldn't do a thing to get other countries to believe that we were now less capable of defending our interests in places like northeast Asia. Nope - no chance that our security assurances that keep the peace in numerous places across the globe wouldn't just become worthless paper once we've shown those rascals in the Pentagon what's what. Heck, and once those security agreements have been devalued, there's no chance that conflict might erupt because people think we're a paper tiger. Nope, nothing like that happened at all, eventually leading to the 1991 Gulf War.

That, and the notion that, given current troop rotation levels in Iraq, that it would also be, somehow, better if we just spent less money and had fewer troops altogether. Or the inevitable impact that a slashed military budget would have on our peacekeeping capabilities.

No, you see, T.J. has got it all sussed out, because evidently threats to our security are all monocausal and easily discovered by those of keen insight. Because T.J. understands that there aren't any bad people out there, only bogeymen conjured up by those evil capitalist guys at the Pentagon.

If people wonder why the activistist left has destroyed the credibility of the Democratic Party on national security, just remember T.J. - the accidental walk-in.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Mercury, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 11:21 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 21, 2005

Aurora Alert! (Yeah, it's off topic.)


I posted a few days ago about an unprecedented series of sunspot and solar flare events that would lead to some electromagnetic pyrotechnics in the atmosphere, and it looks like it's coming to pass. For those in the mid-lattitudes who have never seen an aurora this may be your chance-in-a-lifetime. According to an astrophysicist friend of mine:

There is a distnct possibility of auroral activity in the mid latitudes for the next few days. If you happen to be outside, look up, you "might" get a show.

The latest event was another X-level, but it was 7.1 vice 3.8 (bigger numbers are much more powerful).

And he updated recently with this:

WOW! Mid-latitudes are experiencing one right now and did those numbers climb in the last couple of hours.

Do check tonite....... you might actually see one this time. Reports areindicating that those who are currently in darkness are experiencing an aurora in the mid latitudes. Dang.... and it's daylight here!

He lives in Arizona, but since there have been flares within the last few hours one would not expect this event to be over very soon. Once it gets dark, take a look outside, weather permitting.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 06:23 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (1)

January 20, 2005

Inaugural Notes: Congratulations Culver BHT


My high school alma mater has a unit marching 17th in today's Inaugural Parade, and I just want to congratulate the kids from the Culver Black Horse Troop and Equestriennes who will be in the event. It's the 19th time for the cadets and the 5th time for the equestriennes. I was a member of this contingent in LBJ's 1965 Inaugural, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We took the train from Indiana along with the horses, and (at the time "little") Stevie Wonder was on the same train. I barely slept, and it could fairly be called the first "adult" experience of my life. My horse was approriately named "Jughead" and he managed to canter backwards in front of the Presidential Reviewing Stand without any input from me at all. It was quite a circus trick, but really represented a lack of skill rather than any great proficiency. I'm afraid old Jughead was the boss. Still, I did stand out enough as a result of that nonsense to be readily identifiable to my family who were watching on TV.

The parade today starts at 2:30PM EST and the best place to view it is CSPAN.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 07:18 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 19, 2005


Bravo Romeo Delta

One of the sheer beauties of the bloggosphere is that all ideas simmer once posted. Kind of like brainstorming that leaves latent impressions. I put together three past posts in the past, and it seems that Michael Totten's most recent post is the Grand Slam that sent all the runners home. So, a introduction to the posts is in order, and then some attempt at explaining how it is that Mr. Totten tied these things together so very effectively.

Chronologically speaking, this post is the first one, and takes a look at the forces that have been shaping the Democratic Party since 1968 and yields this quote:

The third development is the birth of the modern protest movement. While public protest has had a long and fruitful history in the United States, the Vietnam War era protests have a different tone and culture. The protests of the late 60’s and early 70’s have been mythologized and given a place of primacy among activists. Unfortunately, quite often protests don’t actually convert the unconverted any more than a campaign rally woos supporters of other candidates. They are, by and large, means to assemble choirs to be preached to. This leads to something called “Incestuous Amplification” in military circles, defined by Jane’s Defense Weekly as “a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.” Furthermore, this dichotomy has the effect of (at least in the short run) heightening the divide between the true believer and the rest of the populace – or the divide between the political fanatic and the more cynical centrist.

What makes modern protest even more problematic is that protests over the last few years have all but lost any sense of ideological consensus – or even coherency. One would not be terribly surprised to see a “Free Mumia” placard at an anti-WTO protest although the two subjects have absolutely no relation to each other. Today’s protests have made their tent so large that the only thing they have in common with each other (other than an innate dislike for the current President) is their fondness for chants, slogans and indignation. This embrace of dissonance means that it makes all the sense in the world to associate a whole raft of extremist causes. This has had the effect of creating some very odd cross-branding mechanisms. It’s been seen at any one of a number of mass rallies – protesters arguing about trade policy, environmental problems, human-rights, war, oil, unions without a single cohesive understanding of why they are out there, what they hope to achieve and where they think their going with all the chants, banners, street-performers and “Bush=Hitler” signs.

My second post touches on the notion that liberal and conservative are, essentially, worthless ways of identifying party affiliation in the American system.  Both parties contain strains of liberalism as well as conservatism.  Finally, the post posits that, currently, the Republican Party has become more liberal than the Democratic Party, and as such, is a driving force behind the impending sea change on the left.

The third bit draws comparisons between protests and political conventions, and the ways that they provide almost identical roles in the hearts and minds of the faithful.
Now that you've become all wise and whatnot from these ramblings, and have read Mike's piece, you'll start to see how the notion of activistism is really the lynchpin that ties it all together.

The activistist folk, following Vietnam, were embraced by the left - this was made most evident by McGovern's nomination in 1972 - since then they have been the hand holding the whip in the Democratic Party.  Since then, activistism has gained in influence (particularly with the increasing age of the heart of activistism - the boomers) in the Democratic Party, such that much of the Democratic Party ideology is now driven by an interest in anger, protest, and complaint for its own sake.  As a result, the Democratic Party has become a host organism for the malevolent influence of the true believers who now 'don't march because they believe in the cause, but believe in the cause because they march.'

Consequently, this explains why much of the intellectual vibrancy of the Democratic Party has fallen on hard times - positions can only be taken, in so far as they are the dry reflection of the activistist mentality.  Ideas about actually fixing problems and creating solutions can, by their very nature, be something to be despised.  This is the reason that there are so few functional think tanks that are considered distinctly left-leaning.  It is not because of funding or any other such nonsense (ask Soros about that), but rather that what was once the American left has simply become an echo chamber dominated by those who would go deaf by screaming themselves hoarse.

On some level, I believe moderates and some Republicans to be more concrete in pragmatic in their demands of their world.  For example, poverty might be a bad thing - but, by definition, it is also an inexcusable thing - just ask how the poorest student at Sidwell Friends feels about her status, compared to Chelsea Clinton's.  As such, moderates and some Republicans will attempt to do something reasonably effective about mitigating it.  But since real world solutions are always open to further improvement and can thus be found wanting, real world solutions are manifestly not the stock in trade of the activistist.
Moreover, this is the reason that the many on the left will assume that a person is a "Republican" because of their stance on one or two specific issues - they have deviated from the perfect moral purity of unadulterated complaint that is the hallmark of the activistist.  I very seldom find Republicans who will spit the term "Democrat" at someone as a vile epithet simply and solely because they might be, let's say, pro-choice or otherwise at variance from the party line.  Now, to be fair, I have heard the term "liberal" used in such a fashion once in a blue moon, but very seldom is liberal used as shorthand for evil with the same relish that activistists use "Republican".  But getting back to the core point, a non-activistist can understand that not all intelligent, well-meaning people will see eye-to-eye on every issue.  Those of the activistist stripe, however, see any variance from the ideal of elevating protest tactics for the sake of tactical protest, and strictly upholding the party dogma as being a fundamental rejection of the activistist viewpoint - which it is.  Since the activistists have, effectively, overrun the Democratic Party, however, the party will continue to evaporate leaving behind a bitter residue of hatred, antipathy, and a violently negative reaction to all the foibles and imperfection that is human.

I wish, I do wish, that the Democratic Party would expel this particular kidney stone - I prefer living in a two party system.  Not a system of one party and one rabble of the outraged.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

UPDATE the First:  As two of the commenters to the posting of this entry at Demosophia have noted, McGovern ran in 1972, Humphrey was the 1968 candidate.  I stand, gratefully, corrected.  Changes have been made as appropriate.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 10:41 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (4)
» Michael J. Totten Retaliates with: “We Can’t Get Bogged Down in Analysis”
» Demosophia Retaliates with: Walk-Ins
» Anticipatory Retaliation Retaliates with: Walk-Ins
» The Jawa Report Retaliates with: Walk-Ins

January 18, 2005

Of What Use?

Bravo Romeo Delta

In a recent post on the landing of the Huygens probe on the surface of Titan, a lamentable, if predictable response was left in the comments, about how this provides value for the taxpayer. I guess the thing of note that this was posted on a blog, which is directly made possible by basic research done by the then Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which led to the creation of the Internet. It is, of course, debatable whether or not the internet would have arisen without the aid of ARPA, but it is undeniable that, in the history that has unfolded, ARPA has played a significant role.

And this, in particular, was an irony that I just couldn't pass up.

Just about every time mankind reaches a new pinnacle of achievement, there is a member of the peanut gallery who chimes in with something along the line of "Is this worth taxpayer dollars?" or "Why spend money on this when there is XYZ that needs funding?"

This begs the immediate question of why it is worth the taxpayer dollar to conduct fundamental research on science and technology. The first problem that we encounter in determining the future value of research is that it is often unpredictable to the point of being a complete guessing game.

Sometimes, the application is evident only once certain other, heretofore unknown enabling technologies rise to the fore. For instance, the binary counting system (apologies for lack of reference here), was referred to in a very early 20th century mathematical dictionary as being a curiosity devoid of practical application. And, outside of some Boolean logical exercises, it had no use, until its utility in computation was later discovered.

Similarly, sometimes a technology may exist without being useful until a larger infrastructure exists to successfully exploit that technology. Many of you are familiar with the DVD and its earlier predecessor, the VHS and BETA tapes. Some of you may even remember the earlier attempt at DVDs, known as the Laserdisc. But before that, was the RCA SelectaVision Video Disc system, marketed during the early 80's, which captured color video and sound on a grooved vinyl disc. But long, long before that were the Phonovison discs produced during the late 20's and early 30's, which likewise recording moving images and sound on a grooved disc.

In all of these cases, at which point would one be able to effectively predicted that this particular iteration of an idea would be successful and how long after development the concept would become useful. And if this specific attempt was foredoomed to failure, when would the idea catch on? The next attempt? The third? Tenth? When? In retrospect there has never been a completely reliable way to forecast in all cases, without fail, when the next next thing would arrive. The killer app, quite often, is apparent only in hindsight.

I hope that these examples have illustrated that the concept that any given bit of research or exploration today will yield unknown dividends. But, along with that is the notion that the vast, vast majority of discoveries and technological advances are not lost, but become part of the technological genome of the species as a whole.

How does this all tie back to the question of whether or not it is worth it? Well, one has to ask why should the government do anything at all? When does a government effort become a good use of taxpayer dollars? The answer lies in organization. If you require widespread, neat, and organized theft - have a government do it (they call it taxes). If you want a whole lot of people killed and things broken - ask the government in (they call it warfare). Looking for a massive strong-arm protection racket - the government's your guy (also known as law enforcement).

There are simply some ways to increase the net total of human knowledge that can be accomplished most quickly (not necessarily most efficiently) through the application of organized, centralized effort of the kind in which governments specialize.

Why is this a more worthy pursuit than any other organized undertaking? Simply because research and scientific advancement, on average produce a higher, more reliable rate of return for mankind over the long run. Moreover, technological development often benefits the first, wide-scale adopter the most. While, as we've seen above, not all early development equals early profitable adoption, it's is universally understood to be hard to play catch up when someone else is the lead dog. So, if you want to maximize your odds of being the front runner, be willing to accept that occasionally the cutting edge of technology is the bleeding edge.

To compare, look at one of the most common suggestions about where money should be spent, if not on science: social programs. I think that social programs are, on average, of dubious value on a pure accounting basis. But this still doesn't address the broader moral good of looking out for the weakest in your society. While looking out for the weak few does have an unquestionable moral benefit, I would also submit that propelling mankind ahead as a whole also has a strong moral component, a benefit that won't expire in a lifetime.

Or, to look at it another way, I would say that the broader benefit to be derived from expanding human knowledge is a general benefit that must be weighed against the transitory benefit of money spent on late-night basketball or social programs of questionable value targeted at those who may or may not benefit from such efforts.

Not unlike, I suppose, the opposite proposition of how much we will rely on the few (the rich) to bear the burden, through taxation, for the funding of programs to produce benefits for the greater society.

Except that research is tangible and has a long shelf life. Warm and fuzzy feelings about shaking down Bill Gates to put new computers in an inner-city school with horrific dropout rates really don’t have much shelf life at all.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Mercury, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 07:59 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (1)
» The Jawa Report Retaliates with: Walk-Ins

January 17, 2005

Quakes, Waves and Spiritual Awakenings


A recent installment of The Belmont Club on a "colonial corps" had a reference to Sam Huntington's speech on a "great awakening" in the US, and his thesis that the greatest ideological force in the world today is God. This, from a Harvard professor. His perspective, however, isn't as a religionist but as a sociologist and political scientist. I wrote a piece several years ago, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attack, about a "tidal wave" of totalitarianism in the Middle East traveling, mostly unnoticed, toward landfall. It's somewhat ironic to think about that wave analogy now. The term "tidal wave" is slightly misleading, because it really has nothing to do with the lunar tides, but is "tidal" in the sense of being a sudden change in sea level as a result of a shift in the earth itself. One might call it an "earth tide," or a "quake wave." I therefore reasoned that it was a good analogy to what had happened to the Middle East where subterranean pressures had built up over centuries and had finally resulted in a paradigmatic shift in the culture. And I reasoned that the only way to deal with the consequences of that shift, analogous to the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s, was to create a "counter-wave." In terms of the jihadist movement a liberal/democratic vanguard to counter their Qutbist vanguard.

The issue isn't WMD, it's ideology and "political paranoia" in the Middle East. That has far more potential for harm than physical weapons, though the weapons are certainly a "force multiplier." (Most people think it's the other way around.)

The thesis of Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations was that any counter-wave we generate will clash with the wave of belief and sentiment in the Middle East, resulting in an ongoing and massively destructive conflict. The way I see it is that the special characteristics of the counter-wave are all-important and that those could be adjusted to largely cancel the wave of Totalitarianism rather than add to it. That's the hope, anyway. It optimistically argues for smaller localized wars and a political transformation to forestall a larger, and otherwise almost inevitable, general clash. So I'm seeing a somewhat different phenomenon than Huntington. But this interview, which outlines a thesis he raises in a new book, Who Are We?, appears to demonstrate an evolution on the part of Huntington's thinking (in spite of the title of the article): the gradual realization of the possibility of a cancellation rather than a monstrous clash. Anyway, here's an excerpt:

In an interview with Kyodo News on postelection America and the world, Huntington, a professor at Harvard University, said the United States is now going through a period of religious "Great Awakening." ... We have gone through several religious revivals. They are called "Great Awakenings." We had one before the (American) revolution, which many historians say created the basis for the revolution, another in the early 19th century, which generated all sorts of reforms, including the abolitionist movement to abolish slavery. I think we are going through such a period of Great Awakening now. The movement is in a way meeting a great concern of the American people about the decline of morality and traditional values.

The first Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s coincided with the intensification of the wars between the British and the French, which were fought in part here in North America. It certainly played a major role in promoting the development of an American sense of nationality. ... The current (Great Awakening), with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the U.S. as the only superpower, it seems to me, has reinforced the sense of confidence in ability to go out and change the world in ways in which we think it should be changed. That is very notable in the policies of the Bush administration.

The model of a spiritual "awakening," as used by Huntington to describe a response to an epochal social challenge implies that such a phenomenon has some measure of utility enabling and conditioning the society to meet that challenge. I think Huntington would agree that it's not simply a matter of building empty confidence, but of conditioning certain capabilities, skills, and resolve. Although we know the nature of past "awakenings" that fit this model we don't yet know the precise nature of this one, or what it could prepare us to accomplish. But concerning what some have called "the dirty job of changing the world:" If not us, who? If not now, when?

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 04:12 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 14, 2005


Bravo Romeo Delta

First pictures should be back at 11:45 am PST (2:45 pm EST).

So far, of the two redundant and independent data channels, one of them is operating perfectly, the other is creating some sort of problem, but hey, that's why you have redundancy. Besides which, Cassini will replay the data eight times to ensure we get all of it.


Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 05:33 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (4)
» The Jawa Report Retaliates with: Of What Use?

We got DATA!!!

Bravo Romeo Delta

We've gotten something back from the probe. Don't know what yet, but hey - good news, eh?

Ok, now I'm being spoiled - I want to see pictures.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 04:22 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)


Bravo Romeo Delta

Ok, from what I gather, radio astronomers have determined that the probe has landed on the surface of Titan (as of about 35 minutes ago). Cassini is turning towards Earth, and data is on the way. Data should arrive someime between 25 and 40 minutes from now. (11:15-11:30 EST).

And, as it happens, the Huygens news briefing is scheduled to run between 11:15 and 12:00 EST, which, I am guessing, is going to be the unveiling of the data.

Judging from the 10:15 (EST) landing, and the 1 hr, 7 min time lag, we should be seeing stuff very, very soon (5 min or so).

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:51 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)


Bravo Romeo Delta

NASA TV Coverage (ESA Feed)

ESA Huygens Page (The ESA runs Huygens, NASA runs Cassini)

NASA's main Cassini/Huygens page

Ok, the Europeans don't think there will be any data for at least another half hour. It seems I may have messed up my time calculations, but at any rate, it's on the way.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:35 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)


Bravo Romeo Delta

As it happens, in about 5 minutes, we will get our first chance to see if we're getting actual data back from the decent module. We have established that Huygens is transmitting a carrier signal, and is therefore "alive." Although the carrier signal contains no data, the probe started transmitting after several steps in the decent process had occured.

More as it develops.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:23 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

Excuses, Excuses

Bravo Romeo Delta

Well, I'm not going to be "live blogging", per se, but most of my time today will be wrapped around waiting for data to come back from the Huygens probe which has already entered the atmosphere of Titan, a large Saturnian moon. Among other things, this body may be the only body in the solar system, aside from Earth, to have bodies of free-standing liquid on its surface - oceans and lakes of liquid ethane. Titan is also the only moon in the solar system to have an atmosphere - which is a fair chunk denser than Earth.

For more information on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn as well as developing information and brilliant images and background info, go here.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:17 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 13, 2005


Bravo Romeo Delta

You know, one of the biggest differences (aside from the whole psycho, murdering clown thing) between Stephen Glass and John Wayne Gacy can be summed up in the word craftsmanship.

Gacy, as inhuman and odious as he was, at least had some basic recognition that if he was going to continue the business of abducting, drugging, raping, and killing young men, he had to at least make some sort of effort to conceal his crimes. He wasn't spectacularly good at - as he was eventually caught, but he made a reasonable effort at avoiding detection. On some level, he was psychologically incapable of refraining from his truly evil acts, but on the other hand, the efforts he made at trying to avoid detection at least spoke, on some basic level, to his understanding that the acts he had committed were, at the least, frowned upon.

Stephen Glass on the other hand, although involved in far, far less grievous crimes, seemed to be operating under the impression that what he was doing wasn't really bad, or that somehow it served a greater good, or that he was not subject to the same rules that govern social behavior. This is evidenced in his utter lack of thoroughness, unwillingness to engage in simple precautions to pull off his subterfuge, or his seemingly insatiable desire to keep fabricating more stories.

The similarities and differences between the two is instructive. In both cases, the people exhibited anti-social (perhaps even sociopath) behavior, and in both cases, they were compelled to keep engaging in their activities. In fact, both seemed to return to bad behavior with ever increasing frequency as the cumulative tension arising from their behaviors continued to mount. But the difference is also quite revealing.

In Gacy's case, once he had been discovered he confessed to his brutal string of abduction/rape/murders. Or, to put it another way, he not only recognized that what he was doing was unmistakably evil, but once the gig was up, there was no further talking one's way out of it. On some level, in his twisted, dark, little mind, he knew what he had done was evil, and had, consequently, taken measures to at least avoid being caught while he could, and confessed when it all fell apart.

Glass, on the other hand, never quite seemed to recognize the immorality of his actions. Much like Jayson Blair, Mary Mapes, and others later on, he just didn't seem to understand that his profession was about reporting the truth, rather than spinning yarns to entertain. The lack of significant effort he made to cover his tracks, or the incredibly ineffectual efforts he made in fabricating stories speaks to a different set of problems than those experience by Gacy. I would submit that his lack of effort indicated that Glass really didn't, on a fundamental level, think what he was doing was wrong.

There is a statement that goes something to the effect that 'A fascist inspires fear, while an incompetent fascist inspires only contempt.' In the case of Gacy, he inspired fear, while Glass elicits only contempt. For a truly competent fascist understands that what he is doing is evil, and plans accordingly. An incompetent fascist isn't sufficiently engaged in the horror of his acts to even bother to execute them competently. The split between fear and contempt follows from this. A competent evil man knows what he is doing is evil, and not only continues to be evil, but plans so that the evil can be carried out indefinitely. On the other hand, the incompetent evil man hasn't really even made an attempt to understand the true nature of what they are doing, and continues to delude himself, and make excuses for his behavior.

Of the two, the competent evil man is clearly more dangerous because they recognize the core nature of that which they engage in. Those elements of the media, such as Rather, Mapes, Blair, and Glass arouse only pity because they continue to do immoral things out of a sense of righteous self-delusion.

And of the two, you can rely on the self-delusional to make errors of judgment and calculation that expose them for what they are. The cold-blooded killer, however, in their self-awareness, often go much longer without being caught.

To put it another way, if Gacy killed 33 young men before being caught, how the hell is it that Stephen Glass couldn't manage to falsify 27 articles without coming unglued? Because one (the crazier of the two) was at least sufficiently self-aware to try to cover his tracks. Glass' actions speak only of self-delusion, poor judgment and an overweening arrogance.

And for all those who believe in redemption and reconciliation, it is possible for Gacy to atone for his sins, because he at least recognized them as such. Glass, on the other hand, never seemed to quite understand that he was immoral, and as such, cannot redeem himself.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 04:47 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 12, 2005

Not The Last Samurai


The issue of Hiroshima/Nagasaki comes up whenever the left or the Islamofascists get around to listing the "crimes of the US." In the past I've tended to agree with the critics, because by and large I was as uninformed as they about what was actually going on within the Japanese High Command in those last days. Well, we now know that using nuclear weapons was probably the only way to get Japan to surrender, and even that almost didn't work. From John Hawkins' interview of Victor Davis Hanson:

John Hawkins: A couple of historical questions; One thing I seem to hear a little more these days is people questioning whether the U. S. was right to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and whether they would have surrendered without it. What’s your view on that issue?

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, they wouldn’t have surrendered after the first one; we know that. They almost had a coup after the second one; there was a plot to kidnap the emperor during the peace signing ceremony. [Note: There was a History Channel episode on this plot, and had not an enterprising Japanese officer hidden a copy of the Emperor's surrender speech so that it could be played at the proper time, the plot might well have succeeded.]

I think the answer to that question is for a person to go back very carefully and look at the campaign in Okinawa which was started on April 1st and actually the United States military didn’t declare the island secure until July 2nd which was just about 70 days before the surrender. If they would go back and look at that they would see that was the costliest campaign for the U. S. Marines.

It was also the costliest campaign for the Japanese, 100,000 Japanese killed, 100,000 Okinawans killed, 50,000 American casualties and wounded, missing and killed --- and that was just a foretaste of what was going to come with an invasion. If some people say, “Well, maybe we didn’t have to invade,” then they should look at what Curtis Lemay had as an alternate solution; bringing B-17’s and 24’s, Lancasters and B-29’s and putting them on Okinawa to continue the incendiary raids of Japan. That would have been a bloodbath. So any calculus you have for achieving a non-conditional surrender would have cost more lives.

If you take the third alternative and say, “Well, we didn’t have to have an unconditional surrender,” then critics should look and see what the Japanese army was doing in places like the Philippines, Korea and China up until the last days of the war. They were continuing a pattern of systematic butchery and execution. That’s really not been commented on, but they were just as bad in some ways as the Nazis and the Soviets were. So they were just a barbaric military and the only thing that put them out of business was the U. S.

I recently saw The Last Samurai and felt it one of a long line of fundamentally anti-American films eminating from the left coast, essentially siding with a totalitarian movement and ideology against the US. I don't know if the movie is historically accurate or not, but sincerely doubt it. In the early 20th Century there was an effort to reform the Japanese culture by turning the lowest class of nobility, the Samurai, into businessmen. It was partly successful, but the culture was still vulnerable to fascism and the Samurai/Warrior cult later had a resurgence leading to Japan's involvement in WWII as allies of the Nazis. The Last Samurai is an utterly foolish movie, with almost no redeeming social value. It could easily have been produced by the Japanese Fascists in the High Command as a propaganda film during WWII, except that censorship would have prevented it from being shown here.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 09:02 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 11, 2005

They Wouldn't Dare!


Characteristic of both the interrogation/torture issue and the issue of massive offensive operations the left's primary strategy has been to voice their objections loudly and persistently, believing that by so doing they'll sew the conviction that any brazen repudiation of their preference will, at the very least, result in a public relations windfall for their side. It's not only a dangerous strategy to cultivate timid expectations during a war, but it's very likely to backfire.

Although traditional strategies of negotiation and reciprocity may have some merit with secular or tactical terrorists they have absolutely no value when dealing with apocalyptic terrorists. Moreover, even with tactical secular terrorists negotiation and reciprocity must take place as part of a diminishing use of terrorist tactics, rather than an escalation, else the negotiation will simply be seen as irresolve in the face of strength.

Both Syria and Iran are counting on the left's strategy to stay the hand of the US, but it may be wishful thinking as Wretchard observes:

The US was clearly content to stay on the defensive while it attained its strategic goal of creating a new Iraqi State. Now that achievement is in sight the US is faced with the choice of whether to remain on the defensive or go over to the attack. As long as Damascus can persuade the new Iraqi government it will not directly threaten it, Syria and the Ba'athist holdouts can hope to eventually pry the incoming government in Baghdad away from the Americans. One way the US can neutralize that potential danger is to pre-emptively transform the new Iraq into a direct threat to Syria. It is possible that US planners are examining offensive options that do not necessarily involve a conventional invasion of Syria. What seems certain is that US leaders are rapidly approaching a new decision point.

The overall strategy is to think big, rather than small, due to the nature of the enemy. Therefore you can expect responses to terrorism to be breathtaking, rather than mundane or defensive. This administration is not intimidated by small/moderate expectations. The left fools only itself.

Update: Lots of "transitional talk" in the blogosphere, but the most coherent may be this interview of Victor Davis Hanson by John Hawkins at Right Wing News.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 02:15 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 08, 2005

War Reporting


This practice, and it's justification, recounted by The Bullpen just disgusts me:

An Associated Press photographer sat by while terrorists threw grenades at a car carrying Iraqi election officials and then executed them. Sure, the AP photographer would not be able to stop the attack nor should they, however they should not be in bed with the terrorists operating to defeat Democracy in Iraq.

The Associated Press has helped pave the way in calling those that commit terrorist attacks militants, rebels or insurgents. While terrorists behead innocents, strap explosives to their waists and attack innocent Iraqis or target Coallition soldiers with IEDs, the AP only refers to them as a pest. The AP has tried to explain this by saying their reporters could be placed in harm’s way while they interviewed terrorists if they called them terrorists.

So, apparently all the child molesters need to do to get more sympathetic coverage is to start making credible threats to kill a few journalists. What'll they be called I wonder, the "alternatively age preferenced?" Does anyone besides terrorists and sociopaths really need a press like this? (Hat tip: Chad )

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 02:09 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 07, 2005

Wretchard's "Grand Inquisitor" Dilemma


The Belmont Club has the the second in a series of incisive and informative posts about the real dilemmas imposed by the superficial idealism of the torture debate. But he offers no real suggestions for how to exorcise these dilemmas, concluding:

Donald Sensing has a long post on the recent destruction of a 36-ton Bradley in Iraq resulting in the death of all 7 occupants. If a suspect is found, what technique should be be used to discover where the other mines are planted? The ridiculous "16 approaches" method reviled by Heather MacDonald's interviewees, even now watered down? Or the rapes and crucifixion system which by common consent is torture? Is there is nothing in between? How did we get to where the only choices are between the impractical and the inadmissible? Possibly by the route of partisan politics; at hearings where you may either recite the Boy Scout Pledge or the Green Lantern Oath; where the failure to supply answers never got in the way of uttering a good platitude; where votive candles burn and still burn before the letter of Geneva and the practice of rendition; and people weep at a grave alone.

I'm not sure how to derail the partisan hyper-idealism and pandering that's going on, but I do have a suggestion regarding a theoretically useful approach to the moral dilemma itself. Unfortunately this approach embodies the same kind of steep ethical demands that would have stymied my suggested strategy for dealing with Saddam's obfuscation during the UNSCOM inspections pursuant to 1441, and especially the U2 flights that were supposed to monitor any efforts to hide or conceal WMD sites. My "idea/recommendation/suggestion/whatever" was to deploy volunteer pilots for the unscheduled flights that Saddam was threatening to shoot down, thereby ensuring that if there was really something to hide Saddam would be compelled to fire the first shot in the resulting war. The problem was that the UN lacked the institutional backbone to follow through courageously on its own dictums and ask that anyone undertake such a mission. They instead followed the cowardly course of "negotiating" with the quasi-defendent/mass-murderer.

The, at least theoretical, resolution to the torture dilemma involves a similar measure: requesting volunteers from our own services to undergo any distress imposed on suspected terrorists during prisoner interrogation. There may be some practical problems with such an approach to be sure, and the process of obtaining volunteers would have to be subject to intense accountability, but one would think that a demand for information, if it were important, would have enough appeal that someone on the side of the good guys would be willing to make a sacrifice scaled to the gravity and urgency of the need. Such a practice would also have other benefits, for instance disabusing the terrorists of their mistaken notion that Americans are weak-willed and, well... frenchish because we're squeamish about interrogation.

At the very least, such an approach suggests some middle ground on interrogation practices that goes beyond the merely abstract or legalistic rationalizations that characterize the debate so far. It is at least, in other words, a way to start thinking about the problem without the tedious posturing, the theory being that what we're willing to do to ourselves in the gravest extreme ought to be ethical to impose on an enemy bent on our destruction.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has a "best of" email that he represents as the voice of reason, rather than just another middling windmill joust. I have my doubts. It just seems that no one can easily make sense of this issue. Time to start thinking out of the box...?

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 05:19 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 05, 2005

Lordy, Lordy

Bravo Romeo Delta

Well after a whole four posting days, I am going to experience some hiccoughs.

Firstly, my computer resources have kind of been arbitrarily restricted briefly, thus limiting access.

Second, I am helping out on a simulation exercise that is chewing up my time.

So, there will be posts, just not as many or as long - but that should be quite temporary.


Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 11:36 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 04, 2005

Zarqawi Captured?

Bravo Romeo Delta

In a somewhat funny twist of fate, I have received unconfirmed reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have been captured in a raid in the Baghdad area.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Daily News, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 05:36 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

Costner v. Cruise

Bravo Romeo Delta

Ok, I admit it, Waterworld is garbage. Not appalling garbage. Not screaming, gouge out my eyes bad. Just regular bad.

I watched all but the last 15 minutes or so of it, and am actually quite eager to see the ending. I mean not enough to like, rent it, or look on the internet to see how it turned out, or anything, but you know, if it's on cable, and I'm awake, yet vegetative, I would tune in for the last half hour or so. Maybe even the first few minutes, to see how it started.



But, I am halfway through the Last Samurai, which, I might note, I haven't actually been watching, so much as it's been on TV while I've been on my computer. Oh, I forgot to mention, the sound to the movie has been turned off, so I can listen to independent Swedish radio stations streaming music over the internet.

And by all that is proper and holy, by Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and at least a good baker's dozen of saints, in the name of all that does not suck, this movie is bad. Like, I'm talking Syrup of Ipecac bad. Or even worse, it's an entire case of do not even induce vomiting, contact Poison Control immediately.

Wait - what the hell am I talking about? It's not that bad.


Much worse.

I'm thinking hemorrhagic fever or pulmonary anthrax. Neutron bomb bad?

I'm sorry for that bout of poetic exaggeration. The movie really isn't as bad as nuclear war.

It's much worse. It's Ishtar bad.

Oddly, on an actually humorous note, I had building up to Ishtar bad, in anticipation of the battle scenes, which I was hoping would provide some measure of redemption to the movie. You know, explosions, tough guys, swords, you know the schtick.

Nope. No such luck.

I mean , yeah, the movie actually had all that stuff, but it too was executed poorly, sloppily, and just really didn’t provide any redemption. And battle scenes have to be pretty stupid to be better with the sound off.

I mean that's a pretty bad movie that manages to be so bad that you actually turn out to be right on target with hyperbole.

And this is coming from a guy who didn't think that Waterworld was the worst thing to every show up on celluloid.

On the bright side, however, it was the genisis of a new word: crapticity. As in the Last Samurai was breathtaking in the scope of its utter crapticity.

And before anyone starts with the wiseacre comments, Bernadelli gave LS 3.5/4 versus 3/4 for Waterworld. So this is within standard deviation for crapticity.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 06:37 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (6)


Bravo Romeo Delta

Remember all that business about Sandy Berger and the "Pants-Full-Of-Secret-Stuff"™?  Remember how there was a great deal of shoulder-shrugging and generalized throwing up of hands?

Consider how long this crack bunch of foreign policy folks managed to keep their Kofi Klatch secret?

Just sayin'...

I don't particularly care whether or not the Kofi thing was an intentional leak or not, but it does provide a bit of insight into how different groups of folks do secret differently.  And that's why it is that I didn't really take the Berger thing in stride.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 01:27 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 03, 2005

Blog Growth

Bravo Romeo Delta

A new study by the folks at Pew Internet & American Life Project have just released a study on growth in blog usage over the last year. There were a few interesting subtleties in growth in blog readership.

Without getting too deeply into the tea-reading leaves, there are a couple stats worth noting:

Blog readership increased from 17% of Internet users to 27% in just 9 months - an increase of some 58%.  Meanwhile, the number of blog authors increased from 3% in July 2002 to 5% at the beginning of 2004 to 7% by late November of 2004.  Over the same time period that readership increased by 58%, the number of bloggers increased by 40%.

I find it intensely interesting that the number of readers grew 18% faster than the number of authors.  I imagine that there are more than a few of the MSM outlets that would be quite happy to have such increases in circulation.

Another interesting point is that the number of people who have left comments was at 12%.  If we assume that those who blog also comment (not an entirely unreasonable simplification), then we find that more people write blogs and comment than only comment.  But, it does lend some credence to the notion that comments are a way to boost readership to some extent.

Another study (cited in this article) from November 2004 estimated that by the end of 2004, there would be some 10 million blogs created, the vast majority of which are dead.  Others note that only about 1 million blogs are updated regularly.  Or, in other words, just about one percent of Internet users keep regularly updated blogs.

Compare the conclusions drawn in the last two paragraphs with points number 4 and 5 in this post.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Herald Sun, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 07:26 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)
» Flight Pundit Retaliates with: Bravo Romeo Delta has some comments on Blog growth

Who Is Afraid of the UN?

Bravo Romeo Delta

So, what's with this whole UN thing anyways?

The newly found heft given to the UN's opinions has a number of Americans well and truly puzzled, and for good reason, too.

The UN has no army, save what it can rent from the stellar powers like Bangladesh and Argentina.  It has no power, therefore, to actually enforce any of its dictates, save asking pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top.  No revenue collecting authority, except the charity of nation states.  And at this point, transparency at the UN would involve actually codifying a price list and giving better invoicing documentation when vetoes are bought and sold.

How can an organization that has "approved" only two wars - the Korean and Gulf Wars - decide that their imprimatur is the definition of just war?  How can the organization that provided the audience for genocides in the Balkans, decide that the United States lacks the moral authority to give aid to tsunami victims?

Simply put, for the prior 60 years, there was a pretty simple equation.  If the Soviet Union went on a tear, the US and NATO could take them down to size.  Conversely, if the US decided to go off its rocker, the weight of Soviet arms would put paid to that in short order.  The problem being, is that with the end of the Cold War, there is no counterweight to US military might.

The rest of the world is slowly coming to grips with the notion that the third most populous nation in the world, accounting for more than 20% of the world's GDP, and by some counts, more than half the world's military expenditures, cannot be stopped or curbed without a most extraordinary effort.

Now, to put this in context, imagine that it were any country, other than the US, that had such a dominant position.  Let's say France or China for example.  Would you feel comfortable with the idea that they would have no effective check, save the checks they choose to impose on themselves?

A reasonable response might be to acquire a sufficient amount of power to provide a counterweight of one's own.  But the problem is that, compared to other "peer" competitors, the US is so far ahead in so many respects that it would be virtually impossible to match the US on any short-term time scale.  Consider the fact that European nations, with the possible exceptions of France and Britain would have to double their defense expenditures simply to keep from lagging any further behind.  Add to this the notion that one of the entire (possible) reasons behind the effort to "transform" the military is to develop our capabilities to such an extent that it will be all but impossible to compete symmetrically with the US in the defense arena.

So, what to do then, what higher power can one appeal to?  Anyone?

That's right, for many people, the last best hope is that the UN, acting as a proxy for the world as a whole, can be some sort of regulator or counterbalance to American power.

The problem is, however, twofold.  Not only is the UN a catastrophically inept paperwork sink rife with corruption and virtually unparalleled in incompetence.  And the other problem is that nations, powerful or not, are not in the habit of acting against their own interests.  Regardless of how much persuasion is applied, talking can't be relied to drown out the clash of blood and iron.  For if it could, the UN would be actually able to make their demands stick.

Which wouldn't be the first batch of wishful thinking to rise out of the that Manhattan monument to self-importance.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Tribune, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:59 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

January 02, 2005

Murder and Warfare, Redux

Bravo Romeo Delta

Ok, in a bid to try to retackle the long-ago post on Murder and Warfare, let me, um... tackle it again. Or something...

"There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men. We're trying to teach you to be dangerous - to the enemy. Dangerous even without a knife. Deadly as long as you still have one hand or one foot and are still alive." -- Starship Troopers

There are three classes of people, as far as warfare is concerned: non-combatants, combatants, and prisoners.

Non-combatants have tacitly agreed to follow the dictates of whoever has the guns and is in control. Essentially, non-combatants have agreed not to be "dangerous", at least as far as combatants are concerned.

Combatants are the folks with the guns. They have two roles. The first role is to impose their will (or more accurately, the political will of their leadership) on the non-combatants in a war zone. Or, to put it another way, they are they guys with the guns to whom the non-combatants listen. The second role of a combatant is to resist the guys on the other side with guns and prevent them from imposing their will on the non-combatants. The primary distinguishing feature of combatants is that they are "dangerous" men.

Prisoners are people who have made the transition from combatant to non-combatant. The important thing to note about being a prisoner is that it is nothing other than a state of mind. Prisoners are disarmed, but not all who are disarmed are necessarily prisoners. To return to the terminology of Starship Troopers, prisoners are those who were formerly "dangerous" into non-dangerous people.

But getting back to the business of combatants, combatants have at their disposal, a tool to compel people to obey them - force. The thing that works rather well about such a scheme is that it provides a rather simple binary choice for those on the receiving end: surrender or die. Either cease being dangerous, or you will be rendered incapable of being dangerous through the use of controlled, organized violence.

The interaction of these two parties is governed, at a most basic level, by two constraints: the limits of capability and the fear of reprisal. The first, limits of capability, reflect the inability to apply perfect force anywhere, anytime, in any amount desired with absolute unerring aim and intelligence. If there were no limits on capability, it is entirely possible that there would be no war whatsoever, since any warlike act would be subject to instant fatal response.

The other limiting factor, reprisal, is essentially the choice of one combatant to be deterred from some action. From a certain point of view, it's kind of another version of the Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Sometime this fear of retaliation limits action, such as the non use of chemical weapons during World War II. Other times, it doesn't, as can be shown with either the use of chemical weapons during World War I, or the use of nuclear weapons in World War II. So, sometimes, the mechanics of deterrence is a tricky business.

Now, in the long-ago case of the Fallujah Marine who put paid to a jihadi in a headline-grabbing case of misfortune highlights these two basic features of warfare - the three classes of actors and the two limiting factors of warfare.

The jihadis are severely constrained in their ability to wage warfare by the first constraint - limitation of capability. For reasons that hardly bear elaboration, they cannot successfully compete against the American military on a "conventional" warfighting basis. So they seek to explore other ways of enhancing their capabilities. In this case, the avenue they have chosen to pursue is taking advantage of certain traditions that have arisen and have been widely adopted by many warfighting parties. In particular, they have sought to exploit some of the ways that armies have sought to identify the three classes of actors.

Historically, long before the Geneva Convention arose, leaders sought to prevent the active, intentional slaughter of non-combatants (genocidal wars are a special case). Killing non-combatants kind of runs counter to the whole business of trying to exert one's will on those same non-combatants. Or, to put it another way, it's far more profitable to co-opt a conquered people than kill them.

To that end, two conventions were adopted - uniforms and surrender. Uniforms provided a very simple way for combatants to assess whether or not a person is a combatant or not, even if they are not actively resisting or exerting force. Surrender traditions, such as the raised white flag, are used to indicate that a person is making the transition between combatant and prisoner.

In the case of uniforms, that is something that the jihadis can, and do, violate freely. First of all, they have the capability to do so, and second there is no reasonable way to retaliate. Short of killing all people in civilian dress, we cannot effectively retaliate against such actions. Destroying a village to save it is one thing. Nuking Iraq into barren wasteland would be taking it a bit too far.

The second arena in which the jihadis have sought to compete is through violation of the traditions of surrender. A specific problem area in this respect is not that the jihadis violate such a tradition, but that they lack sufficient coherence, command, and consistency to be reliable in their violation of such conventions. If all jihadis surrendered peacefully, then there would be no problem. If all jihadis faked surrender, then there would be no problem either, since it would be widely acknowledged that any surrender-like activities did not represent a genuine decision to become non-dangerous prisoners.

Unfortunately, sometimes the jihadis really surrender and sometimes they don't. This is the problem we found ourselves in with the Fallujah incident. By exploiting a well recognized set of traditions to mark the willing transition from combatant to prisoner, a great deal of uncertainty has been introduced into the situation. Hence, the young Marine in question was forced to assess a jihadi's state of mind - was the jihadi a dangerous man, or had this formerly dangerous man truly made the shift to becoming a non-dangerous man? For my money, the guy made the correct choice, since any uncertainty cedes the local initiative to the would-be attacker - a mistake that is quite often fatal, especially if the would-be prisoner is still truly a dangerous man.

So where does that leave us now? When it gets down to cases, I don't recall many Americans being taken prisoner in combat in Iraq. I don't know if this is due to an inability to take prisoners or a jihadi unwillingness to take live prisoners. In any case, it doesn't really matter, because it means that the Iraqis can't retaliate in kind by refusing to take prisoners.

Some have asked about whether or not this will effect treatment of prisoners or hostages taken by the jihadis. As it turns out, this business of beheading prisoners renders the point moot.

As we continue to go through the other retaliatory options available to the jihadis, we discover that they really have no retaliatory options open to them. Simply put, they have pretty much tapped out their entire repertoire of capabilities, so there's not a whole lot that they can do in Iraq to up the ante.

We, on the other hand, have a vast range of retaliatory capabilities. The difficulty is proving to be the controlled application of violence in a fashion which provides coalition forces with the sufficient effect to deter or shape the actions of the jihadis, while being sufficiently surgical to avoid unwanted problems that would sap the political will necessary to see the conflict through.

The Marine in Fallujah hasn't been so indiscriminant to effectively alter political will, while on the other hand, it has shown that there is a limited utility in playing possum. In other words, he has taken something that couldn't be effectively deterred through fear of retaliation, and simply reduced the means available to the jihadis to continue to wage war.

(Simultaneously launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Demosophia, The Jawa Sun Sentinel, & Anticipatory Retaliation)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 02:43 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (2)

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