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

July 30, 2005

Confronting Cultural Duplicity in the Ummah


I've never been convinced that the problem we confront with Totalitarianism 3.x is Islam, though there are certainly one or two mountains that need climbing for the people of the Ummah. There are, for instance, cultural reasons why most Muslims have a habit of avoiding statements that might put them at odds with other believers, even when there's deep disagreement. Tarek Heggy, a courageous Egyptian Muslim, satirizes this cultural duplicity by adopting an obvious artifice: "It is not I who criticizes and raises uncomfortable questions about the Ummah and it's people, but my eccentric friend." Although an "inside joke," the purpose is far from humorous. If you haven't yet read Heggy's excellent series on Winds of Change that oversight can be easily corrected:

Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (1/5): Dreams of the Arabs
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (2/5): A Word in the Palestinian Ear
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (3/5): Rejecting Progress
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (4/5): MI-6's Intelligence Failure
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (5/5): What's in a Name?

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

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» hiking gear Retaliates with: lightweight climbing gear

July 25, 2005

Blogging and Knowledge

Bravo Romeo Delta

As my astute remaining reader my have noticed, I've not been at the top of my blogging game recently. Or at the middle of my game. Or really, when it comes down to it, even been demonstrating much a measurable pulse.

Now, I suppose I could just be honest with y'all (and myself) and just fess up about being burnt out. But, as you may all know, I am virtually incapable of recognizing when to fold them and when to hold them, vis a vis my undying interest in holding forth at great length and flapping my gums.

So, this got me all to thinking about the whole business of blogging. Why is it, exactly, do so many spend so much time writing so much for so little benefit? Undoubtedly some have a yen to express themselves. For others, it's a chance to talk seriously about things they are otherwise denied the chance to talk about in daily life. Still others are just absolute fools who don't have the good judgment to realize just how stupid they are, and instead, do their best to broadcast their sorely lacking grasp of the world.

Instead of marching off to the navel-gazing plantation to figure out why it is that I write (or wrote?), I opted for a different tack - why is it that I stopped?

What, exactly, was the big hold-up?

Well, I think that there might be a couple of causative mechanisms. In the interests of avoiding making myself look intelligence or diligent, let's start with the least flattering reasons and then deftly slip off into weightier realms.

For starters, writing is easy - well, writing garbage is easy, writing well is hard. More specifically, crafting ideas into a cogent, coherent, concise structure takes some time. How much do I want to spend my free time doing something that's actually difficult work?

Trick question. The amount of work becomes trivial if the amount of enjoyment is commensurate with the amount of effort expended.

So then, why the lack of enjoyment? Let us just start out by discarding the obvious (perhaps trivial items) - I've been busy, overstressed, under-relaxed, and wrestling with a plethora of regular life issues. No refuge here - that's just another set of terminology for me to procrastinate. No, let's look more seriously about the whys.

It seems that the first point is the prospect of valiantly pissing into the wind. For each and every ill-informed, poorly conceived point I run across, do I want to spend my time and effort correcting that, simply to have a feces-throwing monkey sort of response? Secondly, there is an open question of sweeping away the tide. Third, one begins to feel like a Sisyphus of the keyboard.

But doesn't all this simply go back to the core nature of blogging - one essentially writes for one's self? It provides far too little reward and recognition for it to be anything other than essentially self-reflection.

But what's the point of self-reflection? At a first guess, I might say knowledge. But how does the business of public self reflection for personal self-knowledge really work? And what does it all have to do with blogging?

Beats me.

After a fair bit of thinking about this, I can only guess that blogging really does reflect the miniscule creeping forward progress that occurs with the growth of human knowledge? Does this remind me of watching grass grow and pain dry because it really is a snapshot into the actual growth of the human body of knowledge?

I am beginning to think that it is. When people think about the business of expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, they tend to imagine scientific breakthroughs, and scientists in lab coats.

But one must remember that science isn't a thing, but a process. People synthesize theory and observation, using the combination for the empirical combination of both to verify and test theories, and discard those explanations which are unsatisfying. Moreover the vast majority of scientific research is done in painstaking data collection and experimentation. The archetypical scientist with the breakthroughs is simply one who is able to reliably and regularly combine this incoming data, and do so in such a way as to generate continuing support for research.

So, by way of analogy, the vast rank and file of bloggers are the unsung legions of experimenters and doodlers trying to understand their world. The Instapundits, den Bestes, Wretchards and so on (be they linkers or thinkers) occupy the role of the published PhDs or in some cases, the DaVincis, Euclids, Edisons, and Twains of this new era of collective dialog and discussion.

Now, before I sign off with this, the other thing I do think is worth mentioning, is the nature of the exchange of knowledge - first through asexual reproduction, then through the sexual exchange of genetic information, and so on, through the development of the written language and the development of mass media and rapid cultural cross-pollinating behavior. This has been better described here and here by the incomparable Steven den Beste. But the significant thing I've been driving at is that we may look at the internet as being an epochal change in the way that information is exchanged. With each new epoch we do end up with a few new brilliant developments catalyzed by this new mechanism for the exchange of knowledge.

To be fair, for every Plato writing the Republic, we have countless bits of graffiti, shopping lists, and other ephemera. But we also have the slips of data, observation and tidbits of information about the world around us. And much like the relationship between Edison and his lab assistants, the role of bloggers may simply to function as the supporting actors and extras without whom the epic stories resonant throughout time would be impossible to tell.

With one minor difference, with blogging we are no longer cooperating to tell a specific story, but rather the story of learning to tell stories. And that is where the unique, and often frustrating, nature of blogging resides. Once in a while, we have to be grunts in the field if the brilliant generals are to lead the way – even if we never get a medal, or have a chance to exhibit uncommon gallantry, we just have to soldier on through the muck. And in so doing our duty and carrying the banner forward, derive satisfaction from knowing that we’re doing our best to do what’s right.

(Cross-posted to Demosophia)

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 04:02 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (2) | Missile Tracks

July 19, 2005

"Yellow-cake Joe" Mystery Solved (Sort Of)


There are still lots of mysteries associated with this so-called issue, including why there's an investigation without a crime in the first place, but the thing that has always stumped me was why the Bush Administration just didn't undermine "Yellow-cake Joe's" authenticity by pointing out that his report said just about the opposite of what he was claiming in his NYT Op-ed, and on CNN. Well, it turns out the Administration couldn't have taken that direct route to clarity by referring to what was in his report, because he didn't write one.

How he got away with conducting a well-endowed national security assignment, without a written "deliverable" requirement is another matter that deserves explanation, because I doubt that I'd be able to pull than one off and I don't know anyone else who could, either. If you're paid for researching a topic, you write a report documenting that research... period. But the implication of the following paragraph from Mark Levin is that the CIA apparently held Wilson to about the same standard they'd have held Agent Cody Banks:

When Wilson returned from Niger, he never got around to filing a written report. After all, why produce a written report that would be circulated to real professionals and policymakers, who would subject it to serious scrutiny. However, Wilson was debriefed by the CIA and his debriefers did take notes. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the debriefers’ didn’t share Wilson’s information with, among others, the White House because they concluded Wilson didn't come up with much.

So that resolves the dilemma. The White House had no idea what Wilson had found, because the CIA didn't consider it significant enough to warrant distribution. Basically they handled it with the same degree of importance they'd have reserved for a Boy Scout Merit Badge. But that didn't prevent Wilson (with the complicity of his wife, as Levin points out) from touting what he claimed he'd found (a claim not substantiated by the belated committee report) as the equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant.

Calling Wilson a "liar" isn't the half of it. He's a boy pretending to be a man. Which explains why he fits in so well with what these mostly leftist authors from Unite Against Terror have appropriately tagged the "pseudo-Left." (Hat tip: Belmont Club) Turns out the great political divide, at least as related to the "War on Terror," isn't between Right and Left after all. It's between mature and immature.

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

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» A Goy and his Blog Retaliates with: ASS-U-ME

July 08, 2005

Afghanistan Daze


Larry Johnson frets:

Beyond the tragedy of the deaths of US 16 military personnel, this incident raises some disturbing issues. The ability of the Taliban to communicate with the outside world about activities in a remote area of Afghanistan is equal to if not better than that of the United States. War is not simply engagements on the ground, it also involves information flow. The Taliban are showing a very sophisticated capability in this regard.

Well, two points:

First, it's not likely that the communication by the Taliban was accurate regarding the bare facts. Wretchard calls the questions "interesting" rather than disturbing, and unlike Larry, admits that all we have to go on at this point is speculation. The claim the Taliban makes about "spies" is probably correct, at least in the sense that the original recon team was stealthily looking for information about "high value targets." However, it's not clear that any of the "spies" were actually captured by the Taliban, as they claimed. Again, according to Wretchard, that seems unlikely, not so much because such a capture is physically unlikely, but because their own communication suggests they're lying. Not only is the sort of "all-points" contact between the field forces and their spokesman, that so impresses Larry, probably more tenuous than they've represented, but their claim to have a "high ranking" Navy SEAL belies the fact that a high ranking officer probably would not have been on such a recon mission in the first place. Moreover, the information that such a prisoner is being held specifically in Kunar "in good health" is not something that a guerilla force hiding out in the mountains is likely to have communicated for public consumption.

So, there's probably no intentional information content in the centralized Taliban "communication," and it's difficult to tell how the capability to communicate only readily exposed disinformation is "superior" to saying nothing. In fact, in this case the Taliban would have been better off had they said nothing. By talking too much they've revealed more than they intended, which isn't what I'd call "sophistication," exactly.

Second, US forces actually have vastly superior decentralized communication networks between the public and men on the ground in remote places. They're called "milblogs." It's just that the Western and Arab press pay them no heed.

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

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July 07, 2005

Updated Thoughts on the Madrid Strategy (Updated)


In the comment section of a previous post GeoBandy chides:

I think, based on the information available, you may be overestimating the sophistication level required [for the London transit attacks].

It might be more appropriate to say that the method I'm using to account "sophistication" may not be 100% valid. I readily admit that, and it is a concern. But then no method of accounting an abstract idea like "sophistication" is 100% valid. The issue is what do we mean by the term, and why is it of interest to us? We use empirical measures to account for a quality that is far more complex than the method or test used not because we need 100% validity, but because we want enough validity to get a handle on the situation. So the appropriate question might be, "is my method valid enough?"

Well, if you look at the universe of jihadist terrorist attacks, whether they involve suicide bombings or not, only a very small minority exhibit this sort of coordination, either of multiple attacks at the same time and day, or attacks scheduled to coincide with other events, or both. (Whether or not the attacks were coordinated with the IOC announcement is certainly in some doubt, although it could have been scheduled to opportunistically shoot for a "twofer," and they just got lucky.)

Put another way, jihadist terrorist attacks are 99% "little" and 1% "big" in this sense, which means that by definition big attacks are signicant (atypical). And this attack was definitely "big." Sophistication is also relative, and perhaps a better term would be "orchestrated." The Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis, has noted that one of the primary failings of the Muslim Ummah since the Siege of Vienna, which turned back the Ottoman advance, has been the absence of a conception of "orchestration," both in terms of politics as well as music. He makes the point that when the Ottoman ruler wanted to create a musical orchestra he was compelled to hire a western director, and to populate the orchestra with western musicians. Orchestration is a capacity that the West developed a long time ago, and ironically we acquired that sort of "sophistication" at almost the precise point in history that Islam seems to have lost it. (The turning point was actually earlier than the Siege of Vienna. That was just the event where the disparity became decisive.)

So the concept of orchestration is relevant not only in the sense of a threat represented by groups like Al Qaeda, but ironically it's also germain to the ability of the Islamic world to mature beyond a compulsion for terrorism and totalitarianism. The irony is that the ability to orchestrate terrorist attacks in this way could be symptomatic of a healthy shift within Islam that, if cultivated, might eventually eliminate the impulse to terrorism, especially if transferred to business or production, or even representative politics.

Returning to the initial question about whether this attack was "sophisticated," I think the fact that so few terrorist attacks demonstrate such orchestration suggests that there is only a smallish group of "extremists" who are so capable, so at least in a relative sense it's appropriate to call it "sophisticated." But ultimately the question must be:

Is the "Islamic World" (exclusive of the jihadists, who aren't going to change) sophisticated enough to turn swords into plowshares?


Update: The Belmont Club agrees that the London transit attacks were at a high level of "sophistication,"... even higher than the Madrid attacks, in fact, and for precisely the same reason that I've discussed: orchestration:

These coordinated attacks are, technically speaking, at far higher level of sophistication than the Madrid attacks of 3/11 which involved a single train. The attack on London was a "time on target" attack which required simultaneity so that one incident did not compromise the subsequent. By implication the personnel involved received some degree of training and planned the operation in sufficient secrecy to prevent British security services from getting wind of it. The six attacks probably mean that a minimum of forty persons were involved, if those in support roles are included. The attackers must have an egress plan or access to safe houses where they can weather the inevitable crackdown.

He also notes, however, that the increased sophistication doesn't necessarily reflect increased strenghth:

The first and most important hard fact to grasp is that this Al Qaeda strike, their first against an Anglosphere city since 9/11, has caused much less damage than that on New York. This despite the fact that Al Qaeda has had nearly four years to brood on its humiliations and losses and to plot its revenge. The reasons for this are simple: the enemy is now operating in a much more hostile environment.

Nonetheless, George Galloway and the anti-war left continue to argue that this attack proves their point that Iraqi Freedom has not made us safer. For those Americans and Brits cognizant of "sophisticated" notions like counterfactual analysis (what would have happened had we not done what we did) this simple-minded claim, in light of Wretchard's analysis, seems less than convincing.

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

Launched by Demosophist at 09:17 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0) | Missile Tracks

The Madrid Strategy


As I write this there's some confusion about whether there were four, or up to seven separate attacks on the London mass transit system. Early reports were confused by the fact that some explosions took place between metro stops and generated reports of attacks at the stops on either end. But it's not clear whether the current high estimate of seven was influenced by this misjudgment. Some sources are still saying only four attacks.

Even at that, however, the coordination required for simultaneous attacks coordinated to coincide with other events (the G8 summit and the announcement by the IOC of London as the site for the 2012 Olympics) is impressive and ominous. If the perpetrators were only loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda that suggests a level of pervasive sophistication, especially in the European cells, that goes beyond what was previously considered probable. However, it is not yet clear whether this is true, or whether the attacks were perpetrated by a central Al Qaeda cell. My guess is the latter, for what it's worth, but it's just a guess (and perhaps a hope).

The mother country is being tested by the "Madrid strategy," and I'm reasonably confident that the response will be greater unity and moral clarity rather than less, reflecting yet another miscalculation by the Salafists who consistently underestimate the capacity of their infidel opposition for moral clarity in the face of totalitarian method. England is not new to this game, and has already won a struggle of this sort.

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

Launched by Demosophist at 02:13 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0) | Missile Tracks

Funnel of Death, in Perspective


Bloody Angle

The Bloody Angle: Photo by Demosophist, September 2003

The next day, I stood in a tiny rut, a small bend in a shallow, grassy berm, where for sixteen hours men cursed and killed each other at point-blank range, where musket balls flew so furiously that they cut down a foot-thick oak tree. Here, at the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania, the fighting was hand-to-hand from the break of dawn to almost midnight; uninterrupted horror that to this day remains for me the most appalling single acre in human history. There, on that unassuming, peaceful, empty field – it might as well have been the back of a high school -- men had become so agitated that they climbed the muddy, blood-slick trenches, clawed their way to the parapets to shoot at a man a foot or two away, then hurled their bayoneted muskets like a javelin into the crowd before being shot down and replaced by other half-mad, raving automatons.

What trick of time and memory, what charm or spell does history possess, that can turn such fields of unremitting violence and terror into places of religious awe and wonder? Why are some people called to these places, in America and around the world, to stand in wonder – not only at the brutality of war, but at the transcendental, ennobling power of them? How does slaughter and death turn into nobility and sacrifice? Why can we recite the names of places like Roanoke, Harrisburg, Phoenixville, Marseille, Kiev, Vanuatu and Johannesburg with no more passion than we muster while reading the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, while names like Antietam, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Verdun, Stalingrad, Guadalcanal and Rorke’s Drift thunder through time as if the earth itself were being rung like a bell? -- (from Bill Whittle's History)

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

Launched by Demosophist at 02:59 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (1) | Missile Tracks

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