Beauty of Gray

Friday, February 15, 2002


There's an excellent discussion of the possible US and Iraqi strategies in case of a war between the two countries over at the USS Clueless. And his most recent post suggests the Iraqi strategy that I think would be the toughest for the US--concentrating the majority of Iraqi forces inside cities. I commented before how urban warfare removes most of the benefits that the US military has, by forcing the battle into infantry combat with relatively little supporting arms. It's tough, it's slow, and it's bloody, and the various technical advances of the last 50 years haven't done that much to change the nature of urban combat since Stalingrad or Hue City.

In fact, one reason why the US cut short it's assault on Hussein during Desert Storm was (at least according to some reports I've read) worry about urban combat in Kuwait City and Baghdad. If faced with this situation, the best US policy would probably be to essentially lay siege to the cities, rather than directly attacking them. If the US controls the countryside and the sealanes, we can completely blockade the cities. We can't simply starve the Iraqi military out, since that would first hurt the civilians in the cities, and it's not really feasible to evacuate hundreds of thousands of civilians to temporary refugee camps, even if they were will to go.

However, we could prevent anything other than food from getting into the cities. Specifically, gasoline and ammunition. It takes quite a lot of both to fight for very long. It would still result in a fair number of US casualties, but keeping a low level skirmish against the Iraqi forces would slowly bleed their supplies until the amount of resistance they could give to a real assault would be very limited.

Right now it looks like such a war is imminent, but I'm not convinced Hussein won't call the US's bluff and agree to our demands to allow weapons inspectos back in the country. If it's a clear case of doing so or suffering an all out US attack designed to topple him, Saddam very well might decide that discretion is the better part of evil and cave on this point. If he did so, it would throw a wrench in the apparent current US attempts to use the weapons inspections as a cause for war. And in his attempt to build weapons of mass destruction, the weapons that could be found are only a part of the effort. More important is the knowledge that scientists may have gained in the Iraqi efforts over the past decade. And that knowledge can't be found and destroyed by inspectors, which means that Saddam would remain a grave threat to the US.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:16 PM

Data and intelligence

Peter Beinert has a nice article in TNR about the need to hold the CIA responsible for its failure to detect the September 11 attack. It includes the following sentence:

Investigators might also bring to public attention the extraordinary recent revelation that as little as 7 percent of the data gathered by America's ultra-expensive satellites is ever analyzed.

This is one of the central problems facing military and intelligence organizations today. There are mountains and mountains of data that are collected, from all sorts of sources--electronic intercepts, HUMINT, satellite and reconnaissance, aircraft photos, etc. But this is raw data, and it is not useful until human effort has been put into it to process and analyze it. Only then does the data become intelligence, useful information. This problem is why it's almost always possible to find signs of attacks like Sept. 11 in retrospect, but much harder to predict them in advance. The data is usually there, but it's tough to fit all the pieces together.

This is also a very serious problem with military command. In the past, military commanders were often blinded by the "fog of war." Communications were so bad that a general a mile behind the lines might not have any real idea how the battle was going at the front. But now the challenge is the reverse. Instead of having too little information, commanders have too much. With UAV imagery, recon teams, reports from troops, satellite images, intel intercepts, and everything else, the trick is to distill what you have down into a useful and usable form.

This is also why apostles of UAVs are getting ahead of themselves. While having a couple in the air can be great and can provide good surveillance, there is a diminishing return to adding more and more. Each of them requires dedicated operators to watch and analyze their data. More importantly, their intelligence is being fed into the command chain at a fairly high level. Adding more and more inputs there can overwhelm the ability of commanders to react--there's a limit to amount of intelligence which can be usefully acted on.

This is the value of having initiative and independance at the junior officer levels (characteristics which are actually stressed in the military, despite stereotypes.) The commanders sketch out the plans in broad sweeps, but it requires smart decision making and intelligent reactions among the forces on the ground to carry out the mission and adapt to the exact situation they face on the ground. Communicatons channels and command chains can't hold up if every decision requires high level approval, and this approach doesn't provide the reaction speed necessary to be an effective combat force.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:33 PM

Jonathan Swift you're not

Both Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit linked to this Jonathan Rauch column on Paul Krugman and Enron, so I decided I should read it. I tried, I really did, but was unable to wade through the cutesy satirical crap to figure out what point the writer was trying to make (other than the fact that he doesn't like Krugman.) What is it with journalists who seem to think writing little fake scenarios like this makes for a good column? It's a gimmick, and one which rarely works. And when it doesn't it's a real stinker, sinking columns into an unreadable mire.

Here's a thought: if you've got a point to make, then make it. These weak attempts at humor and sarcasm are counterproductive. The only people that find them amusing are those who already agree with your position. But they're insufferably precious to those of us who might actually be convinced by a well written Op-Ed. This sort of thing seems to be more common among right wing columninsts; perhaps because of the influence of Rush Limbaugh they are more prone to this particular sort of preaching to the choir.

Whatever the reason, it's off-putting, not to mention being lazy writing. It gives the impression of a writer who is entirely too pleased with himself, cackling away in self-satisfied glee at the "skewering" they're administering, oblivious to the fact that their barbs are sailing well off the mark.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:07 PM

Barry "Great" White

No comment.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:39 PM

Climbing onto my moral high horse

A Padres outfielder was killed in a traffic accident early this morning. I'm not a big baseball fan and don't know the guy, so I'm only picking this story because it has an easily accessible link. The key is this:

Valenzuela said Darr and Johnson were not wearing seat belts and were ejected and killed while Howard was in the back seat and was wearing a seat belt.

It's that simple. If you're not wearing your seatbelt and you get into an accident, you will die. If you're wearing your seatbelt, there's a good chance you'll live. So don't be an idiot.

I'm torn on the issue of seatbelt regulations, since on the one hand they go against my more libertarian leanings, while on the other hand they can save lives while imposing essentially no regulatory burden. But the laws shouldn't even be an issue. There is absolutely no good reason in the universe to not wear a seatbelt when driving. And if you let your kids ride in the car without their seatbelts, you're a bad, dangerous, and irresponsible parent.

On a side note, the article also mentions that the vehicle rolled after the driver over-corrected a swerve into the median. It doesn't say, but I'd give 10-1 odds that the vehicle was an SUV. People buy them in part because they think they're safer than cars, which is true in a direct head on collision. But in any glancing collision or case like this, the higher center of gravity usually makes the SUV less safe, since they roll so easily.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:12 AM

Thursday, February 14, 2002
Perspective, Ken Layne style

Great article about the lack of just that over at Layne's blog. Knowing that he's able to casually dash off such a nicely written post (and this one is nothing unusual for him) makes my efforts here seem that much more feeble. I guess that's why he's a professional journalist and I'm not, eh?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:21 PM

Iran and Iraq

There have been several interesting articles and posts on the possibilities in any war with Iran and Iraq. Steven Dan Beste has a nice post about the possibility of Iran intervening in a US attack on Iraq, concluding it was unlikely. I generally agree with his analysis, although I'm not quite as sanguine as he is regarding the possible submarine and small surface craft threat. (Although the shallowness of the Persian Gulf provides less hiding spots for submarines, that same shallowness also interferes with sonar detection of submarines. And while the Iranian surface craft don't have any weapons of their own that could harm US warships, they could be used as suicide bombers, something US ships really aren't equipped to engage.)

One thing I would also add is that Iran is unlikely in the current situation to call up its army to engage US forces because that alone, regardless of US action, could destabilize the regime. In countries with unpopular regimes, the army can be a wildcard, which can equally well turn against the regime as support it. I don't know how secure the mullahs are in their command of the army in Iran, but even if the high command is strongly in their corner, ordering the troops to attack the US could very well cause a mutiny, in the same way that the rank and file rejected the attempted communist coup in the Soviet Union that was foiled by Yeltsin.

There was also an extremely optimistic article in the Washington Post two days ago about the US's chances against Iraq. The author assured his readers it would be a cakewalk. His argument, basically, was that the US kicked Saddam's butt in Desert Storm, and we're stronger and he's weaker than last time.Vodkapundit agrees, saying it should only take a couple of divisions of ground troops. Sgt. Stryker replied with a general rebuttal, explaining some of the special features of Desert Storm and some of the mistakes that Saddam made that he's unlikely to repeat, sparing me the trouble and doing a better job than I would have anyway, so I'll just add a few marginal notes.

One big advantage we had in Desert Storm was an essentially unlimited staging area in Saudi Arabia, combined with some convenient ports for the offload of equipment. Further, Saudi Arabia has a very long land border with Iraq, mostly desert, which enabled the wide US encircling maneuver. Our current potential allies which border Iraq--Turkey and Kuwait, do not have these advantages. The terrain is rougher up near the Turkish border, which can prevent the rapid movement of large numbers of troops, and limit our ability to concentrate them, while Kuwait has only a short border with Iraq, which would make an attack from there relatively easy to defend against.

From a logistics note, I think it would be tougher to mass troops and supplies in Turkey than it was in Saudi Arabia, because of the rougher terrain and longer supply lines, although I could be wrong about that. Also, there will probably need to be at least some pause for the US to build up its arsenal of precision weapons again. The situation has been improving, but just a few years ago the action in Kosovo used up a sizable fraction of the US inventory of smart bombs. I'm not sure there's as many lying around right now as US planners would want before starting on a large-scale war against Iraq. We have far from an infinite supply of TLAM cruise missiles, as well, although they take much longer to build than JDAMs and laser-guided bombs.

Finally, Saddam is also unlikely to repeat his gross tactical blunders of Desert Storm, both in leaving his troops exposed to the long allied bombing campaign and in leaving his flank uncovered. There are things he could do which would make a US assault much more difficult than it was in Desert Storm, when he seemed to almost be conniving with the US to insure a massive defeat of his forces. So what could he do to make things tough? Stay tuned for a later post on this subject.

(Note: I'm not saying the US couldn't defeat Saddam, just that I don't think it's a good idea to be too blase about the whole thing and assume that the US can waltz in and smash his regime in a few weeks. Luckily, I'm pretty sure that US planners realize this and are making sure that the military is ready and prepared for any eventuality before beginning any military action.)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:16 PM

As long as I was there...

Speaking of Shots across the Bow, I can't let this post of his go by without comment:

William Sulik contests the idea that the War Between the States was not fought over slavery.

[Sulk's comment: But that's not my immediate concern. My main point is I can never get over the number of so-called libertarians who will defend the confederacy and states rights, all of which were argued so that a government could maintain a system of laws whereby one man could enslave another man. Please, you can argue all that other stuff, just don't defend the right of the government to defend slavery and try to call yourself a libertarian. You don't love liberty.]

No sir. State sovereignty was an issue long before slavery became an issue. Remember, nullification was raised as an issue over tariffs, not the slave trade, and it was a very close fight. The Union chose to portray slavery as the issue driving secession, as it gave them a semblence of the moral high ground. As long as the fight was about slavery, Lincoln could keep support for the war. When the issue drifted to State sovereignty, the war lost support. Slavery was an issue, and an important one, but it was not the proximate cause

He's correct that State's Rights were an important issue for a long time, but that doesn't refute the point that *the* right that southern states were concerned with, and the issue that was the dominant one in the years and decades leading up to the Civil War, was slavery. And it most certainly was the proximate cause. That's why the states decided to secede when Lincoln, who had campaigned on a platform of preventing the expansion of slavery into new territories, was elected, and not before.

But don't take my word for it, just listen to what the Southerners were saying at the time. This site has some contemporary declarations of the causes of secession. From the official Georgia records, the first two sentences:

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.

It then goes on to discuss the slavery issue for several long paragraphs before any mention of other issues. When it finally gets to commercial disagreements, it uses them to spin a conspiracy theory, in which mercantile interests in the North supposedly whipped up anti-slavery sentiment to get their trade policies passed. It goes on to lay it out in clear terms:

The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its [The Republican Party] leaders and applauded by its followers.

With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.

The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.

For forty years this question has been considered and debated in the halls of Congress, before the people, by the press, and before the tribunals of justice. The majority of the people of the North in 1860 decided it in their own favor. We refuse to submit to that judgment, and in vindication of our refusal we offer the Constitution of our country and point to the total absence of any express power to exclude us.

Its pretty obvious here that the states rights argument was used as a justification, but that the primary ill that was felt by the Southern states was the attempt to limit slavery. And the Georgia resolution is not alone. The resolution from South Carolina on the Causes of Secession first goes through a long historical stage setting, attempting to lay out a state's right to seceded. Then, it finally comes to the point: why did South Carolina wish to exercise this right?

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the *forms* [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

So, the North and the party of Licoln were hostile to slavery, and their accession to power were a threat to the slaveholding states. The Texas document similarly points to the opposition of the North to slavery, consummated in the election of Lincoln, as the driving reason for secession. And in the very ordinances of secession passed by the states, the two that go beyond a simple legal statement dissolving their connection with the United States are Alabama and Texas, both of which reference Lincoln and/or slavery. Alabama:

Whereas, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of president and vice-president of the United States of America, by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the Northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security, therefore:


WHEREAS, The recent developments in Federal affairs make it evident that the power of the Federal Government is sought to be made a weapon with which to strike down the interests and property of the people of Texas, and her sister slave-holding States, instead of permitting it to be, as was intended, our shield against outrage and aggression; THEREFORE,

"Property" here is presumably largely a euphemism for slaves, which is also the "domestic institution" the Alabamians were worried about.

So yes, there may be a Constitutional case for a state's right to secede from the Union, but the Southern states did not secede just to show they could, to demonstrate the proof of the abstract principle of states rights. They seceded because they felt their pecific right to slavery was in danger from Lincoln and the North, and then used the argument of states rights as a justification. I really don't see how anyone can plausibly deny the primary role that slavery played in the decision of the Southern states to secede.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:52 PM

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy

Via Shots across the Bow: Scientists at JPL have discovered an anomolous small (~8 x 10 e-8 cm/s2) acceleration in the paths of Pioneer 10 and 11 and also in the Ulysses probe. A brief discussion of the work can be found in this Telegraph article. The actual results were previously published in Physical Review Letters (v. 81, no. 14, p. 2858-2861, 5 Oct 1998)

Doing a literature search, there wasn't much in the way of discussion of the findings, at least in the published literature. There was one proposed explanation from an IEEE conference in 1999, but it wasn't available online. Since the Telegraph article references an upcoming publication, I can only assume that the have done additional data analysis and modelling to more conclusively rule out some uninteresting causes of acceleration. If, after a couple of years with the idea out there, no-one has been able to come up with a really good explanation for the force, there's actually a reasonable chance something really interesting is going on here. If so, it would be the most important discovery in physics of the past 40 years, and could really throw a wrench in astrophyics and cosmology theories.

On the other hand, it could be something boring, like a drag force due to a slight concentration of interstellar gas or something.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:20 PM

Happy Valentine's Day

I hope everyone out there is enjoying their Valentine's Day today. I am constantly amazed at the bitterness and vituperation with which many greet this holiday. It seems that many single people are unable to accept the holiday as a time for others to celebrate their good fortune, without turning it into anger or self pity. Maybe it is an artificial holiday, designed to sell greeting cards, but so what? If it helps people to take a step back and appreciate their love more fully, then it's still a good thing.

And the day is certainly not a reason to be unhappy, although for many it provides an excuse to be. But Valentine's Day can't bother you unless you let it. It is petty and lacking in wisdom to begrudge others their happiness and let their good fortune make you angry.

1. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.


Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, "You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be." And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.


16. When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, "It's not the accident that distresses this person., because it doesn't distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes about it." As far as words go, however, don't reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.

17. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another's.

-----Epictetus, "Enchiridion"
Read it all here.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:33 AM

Traffic report on the 9's

Fritz Schrank of (There's good stuff there--head on over and read it. When you're done here, of course.) writes in with a few more wrinkles on the issue of roads and traffic. First, he notes that a big problem is that it takes much longer for road projects to be approved and built than it does for housing and business developments to be approved and built. So that in a high growth area, the roads always end up behind, trying to play catch-up. Here in Northern Virginia there are a couple of good examples of that. Two big road projects--fixing a nasty interstate interchange (called the mixing bowl) and widening the WIlson Bridge over the Potomac are both ideas which have been bouncing around for years, but only recently got underway. And both of them will take several years to complete, so the solutions are lagging the problems by 5-10 years or more.

His second point is that, although building roads often encourages development (and so does not solve traffic problems), the converse is not true. That is, not building roads doesn't prevent traffic and development. This is also true--although it might discourage it, it certainly doesn't halt it altogether. His example is Rehobeth Beach. Along the same lines is the Outer Banks in NC, where they have resisted the building of a second bridge onto the Banks. But this hasn't prevented the Banks from being fully developed and covered with vacation homes--it just makes the traffic getting on and off them that much worse, since it is all funnelled over a single bridge.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:39 AM

Horse dead, Sullivan continues beating

While Andrew Sullivan's site is still worth reading, for the occassional (but increasingly rare) interesting and novel take on events, one of his least attractive characteristics is his incessant riding of a few hobby horses. His latest is the "expose" of various pundits and opinionmakers who have taken money from corporations for a bit of light work. He started with Enron, which was a least mildly relevant to that ongoing scandal and so had some iintrinsic interest. But now he's reached a new low, posting a long and utterly pointless piece attempting to vaguely smear Robert Reich for accepting speaking fees from corporations.

Virginia Postrel has an excellent post on the whole topic, which you should go read if you're interested in the affair, in the process stating my position much more elegantly than I managed:

Substantively, these guys are missing the important difference between commentators, who traffic in opinions based on widely shared information, and reporters, who ask readers to trust their account of the facts. Opinions we can all evaluate on the basis of their lucidity. Facts require an added degree of trust and, hence, questions of biased reporting (for whatever reasons, and there are plenty that aren't financial) become more important.

But Sullivan's piece on Reich is especially bad, since there's not even an appearance of improprietry here. As Sullivan himself notes:

There's nothing wrong with what he [Reich] has done; and he has disclosed it all.

So why are you writing about it, then? The answer, of course, is that Reich was a prominent figure in the Clinton administration, and Sullivan is motivated above all by an incredible animus against Clinton and everything and everyone associated with him. Sullivan apparently thinks that, since Reich is running to the left in the Massuchussetts primaries, and was an important player in the founding of the leftist American Prospect, that somehow it's illegitimate or hypocritical for him to take money from companies to speak. (I wonder if Sullivan also finds himself hypocritical for praising Bush despite having been an editor of The New Republic?) But he never fills in why, since there is no actual case to be made here. And Reich is up front in his bemusement about the whole system:

"I do the speeches because it's very, very easy money,'' he told the Boston Herald. "I am utterly amazed the businesses are willing to pay so much for my economic expertise . . . but, if they want to pay that much, it's a free market, I'm delighted.''

So there's nothing at all here. But it ties together two of Sullivan's hobby-horses, so he couldn't resist to urge to write about it, even if it is a pointless and ill-thought out bit like this one.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:07 AM

Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Roads and traffic

There's a Washington Post story today bemoaning the fact that budget shortfalls in Virginia will limit or even eliminate any funding for new roads projects in Northern Virginia over the next two years. The article perpetuates the common misperception that building more roads will reduce congestion in urban areas. While this seems logical, it's not always (and most often isn't) true.

This view rests on the false assumption that the system is simple and static--that there's a fixed amount of traffic on the roads, so building more and wider roads will reduce the congestion. However, in real life it's far more complicated and there's important dynamic feedback in the system.

The amount of traffic is, obviously, determined by the number of people who decide to drive into work, compared to the number who carpool or take public transport. But the choice that people make between these options is influenced by the amount of congestion on the roads. Most people would prefer to drive a car rather than take public transport, and almost everyone would prefer taking their own car to carpooling. (Northern Virginia has HOV lanes on several important routes, which means that carpooling avoids a lot of the traffic jams.) So if the amount of traffic on the roads eases, more people will decide to drive instead, bringing the situation back almost to where it was before.

Even if the total number of commuters doesn't change, people can also change their driving habits--right now in northern Virginia "rush hour" lasts 2 full hours. The traffic is so bad that peoiple shift their schedules earlier or later to avoid the worst traffic. If the traffic improved, people would choose to drive at more normal hours, resulting in just as many delays, merely compressed to a shorter rush hour period.

But it's even worse than that, because in the long term, development pattern are strongly influenced by commuting conditions. If traffic on the roads eases, this makes houses in more distant suburbs more attractive. This, in turn, promotes more growth in far flung suburbs, until the point that the added commuter burden has once again clogged the roads. As a last point, businesses often choose thir sites now in part based on the availible roads, which also reacts to and compensates for any new road construction. So, while there are some situations where building more roads is a good solution to traffic problems, I don't think they're the answer in northern Virginia.

This isn't to say all road projects are worthless, though. Traffic jams are caused not just by an overburdening of a road network's carrying capacity, but also by choke points and disturbances. Almost every time a busy highway loses a lane, it's going to result in a traffic jam. Similarly, any busy on-ramp with an insufficient merge distance will usually cause daily back-ups. Anyone who lives in a city know of certain areas of the highway system that back up almost every day, not because of accidents, but because of poor road design. So the biggest "bang for the buck" in road improvements usually comes not from building more, wider highways, but from rationalizing the design and engineering of the roads that you've already got.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:41 PM

Say what?

Instapundit is claiming that tying the Enron scandal into campaign finance reform is illogical because "Enron didn't get anything for its money, as best anyone can tell." They didn't? Check this Washington Post article, which I previously linked. Their contributions bought regular access to congressmen, and they used it for intensive lobbying. Presumably they thought they were getting their money's worth since they kept giving donations. If the lobbying didn't work, it wouldn't have made sense to set up the elaborate cost-benefit "matrix" to determine which regulatory proposals they should fight and which they should support.

And check out this article, which documents that Cheney, in discussions with Indian leaders, tried to get their help in getting a big debt to Enron repaid. It might have been due to lobbying of the Administration by another corporation, but it's clear that some big donor was using their clout here to get direct action on the part of the Vice President and other high government officials. And what about the reported influence of Enron in getting Curtis Herbert axed as head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? I think we're long past the point when you can assert that Enron and others weren't getting quite a bit for their money, even if in one highly publicized incident they were rebuffed.

You can argue that campaign finanace reform won't solve the problem of money in politics, but it seems to me to be willful blindness to assert that big corporate donors aren't getting special returns and favors for their money. If they aren't, then this means that substantial numbers of large corporations are behaving in a completely illogical manner in giving money. This doesn't pass the laugh test. And if it were true it would also seem to call into question much of the foundation of economic theory, which depends on the assumption of rational actors. And finally, if it's true that corporations are wasting millions of dollars in campaign contributions, then banning said contributions would benefit society, not to mention the corporations themselves, by removing this costly inefficiency from the system.

Banning soft money donations is either a case where government would, in fact, know better than private industry what is in their best interests, or else it's true that corporations are getting special treatment and corrupting the democratic process with their big money donations. You can't have it both ways, and either case is an argument for reform.

Again, I'm not saying campagin finance reform will solve the problem--contributors may find ways to get around any regulations, but it stops one direct means of corruption. And wasn't this an argument used for missile defense--it doesn't completely solve the problem but it does eliminate one avenue of delivery, so it's part of a solution? Seems like the same logic applies here. With the significant difference that campaign finanace reform won't cost the government trillions of dollars.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:52 AM

Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Scary Link on Cyberwar

I'd mentioned before that a potential vulnerability of the US was to cyberattack. James Dunnigan has thought about the problem and outlines in more detail some specific vulnerabilities.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:07 PM

Monday, February 11, 2002
Quote of the day

"Whether war is a necessary factor in the evolution of mankind may be disputed, but a fact which cannot be questioned is that, from the earliest records of man to the present age, war has been his dominant preoccupation. There has never been a period in human history altogether free from war, and seldom one of more than a generation which has not witnessed a major conflict: great wars ebb and flow almost as regularly as the tides."
---JFC Fuller, preface to A Military History of the Western World, volume I

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:36 PM

The best rotisserie team in the NFL

Owner Daniel Snyder has done it again. Fresh off his hiring of Steve Spurrier to coach the Redskins, Snyder picked the perfect complement to him in hiring defensive mastermind Marvin Lewis away from the Baltimore Ravens. His first year, Snyder went the wrong way in signing a lot of famous, high priced, veteran free agents. As events have proved, this is exactly the wrong tack to take in the current NFL, where the salary cap is everything. As anyone who has ever been in a rotisserie league with a salary cap knows, the key isn't to sign the big stars at top dollar; anyone can do that. the trick is to find the best mid-level players and young turks that you can get at a bargain.

The past NFL season reinfoirced this new conventional wisdom. The Patriots won the Super Bowl with great coaching and a lot of solid, mid-level free agent bargains. The 49ers and Bears both crafted division winning teams built around young draftees and free agent bargains.

But coaches aren't covered under the salary cap, and Snyder has snagged one of the best in Lewis. In fact, the only criticism I might make of the signing is that Lewis might be too good. He came close to getting a head coaching job a year ago, and would have landed one this offseason if the Tampa Bay owners had 100 points of IQ between the family. He's almost certain to get a head coaching chance after this year, which will mean the Redskins only have him for a single year. And with Spurrier new to the NFL and without a QB to run his system, this next year might not be the one where the redskins can make a run.

Then again, maybe it will. The Skins have the personnel to have a dominant defense, and if Spurrier can manage even a little offensive magic, they could be a team to reckon with next year. Both the Pats and the Ravens won with great defense and marginal offense. The Skins should at the least be able to match that formula next year, and might do better depending on how quickly Spurrier is able to adat to the pro game.

But if not next year, the Skins will at least have a year to learn Lewis's system, and he is likely to bring over some assistants, so they could promote someone in house to the coordinator job and continue the schemes that Lewis brings.

He hasn't had success yet, but Dan Snyder sure makes it exciting to be a Redskin fan. There's never a dull moment with him at the helm. Which really, is all you can demand. You can hope for championships, but as long as there is hope and excitement, you're getting your money's worth as a fan.

Correction: William Quick of DailyPundit (who will have a link up here shortly) writes in to gently remind me that the 49ers were not divisional champions, that honor of course being taken by the Rams. My mistake.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 5:06 PM

Root causes and US action

One of the common complaints heard from critics of the US's war policy is that it didn't address the "root causes" of terrorists. When the critics use this phrase, they are usually referring to a variety of issues--Third World poverty, US support of Israel, US interventionist foreign policy, etc.

But it occurs to me that the US action is, after all, an assault on root causes, but causes understood in a different way. What are the causes of terrorism? What allows it to flourish? Terrorism requires money, and for the more aggresive international terrorism that targets the US it requires a base of operation as well. It also requires the support of some segment of the population, enough to form a recruiting base. It is these "causes" that the US approach is attacking.

And really, that is the only way to approach the problem, in my opinion, because the critics idea of root causes is misguided. None of their proposed reasons really explains what causes terrorism. Terrorism is better understood as being in line with the numerous revolutions that are almost always the reaction against the great upheavals caused by the impact of the modern world, capitalism, and industrialization on traditional societies. It really is a fundamental rejection of modern western culture, and the only way to avoid it would be to renounce that culture.

If I may be permitted an analogy, I would liken the situation to that of a farmer. He wants to grow soybeans, but to do so needs to keep his field free from weeds. The growth of the weeds is, by one way of thinking, caused by the clearing of the ground in order to plant. The farmer could, in fact, prevent the weeds by not trying to till the land in the first place. This approach is like the critics "root cause" idea. But the price is too high, and addressing the problem in this way is a solution worse than the problem. It is the farmer's basic concept of existence that creates the opportunity for the weed.

Bush's approach, in contrast, is like what farmers do now. Trying to create a hostile environment for the weed. Use herbicide in several applications, both to prevent the weeds from taking root and then to kill any weeds that do. Encourage insects and other parasites that might feed on the weed, and try to shepard the soybeans along until they are well enugh established that they can resist and choke off the weeds on their own.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 4:55 PM

Those crazy Europeans

Attacking the US for poor treatment of prisoners and worried about Camp X-Ray. Surely, the US would never do anything like that?

I'm curious to hear the other side of the story, if there is one. As this report paints it, it looks like there was mistreatment of some captives. Even more disconcerting is the possibility raised in the report that US forces might have executed a number of prisoners during the raid.

While their achievements in Afghanistan have been rightly celebrated, this shows one downside to the use of Special Forces. They are extremely vulnerable, operating in small groups deep in hostile territory. In order for them to survive, it is sometimes necessary to kill people who may be innocent. (As Sen. Kerry's statements in his public controversy tacitly admitted--while denying the specific allegations he admitted that such actions were standard procedure for SEAL teams in Vietnam.)

Any judgement of the case certainly depends on the nature of the mission, and whether the goal can be achieved and the safety of the force secured without any killings. But I'm not here to sit in judgement on the troops involved; on the whole I view it as the same sort of collateral damage as any bombing campaign inflicts. Because it is done face to face, there is a tendency to label it as an atrocity, while a bomb dropped from 10000 feet that kills civilians is an understandable mistake. But both are the tragic and regrettable casualties which are attendant on any attempt to wage war, innocents caught in the crossfire. Each form of warfare has its attendant costs, which shouldn't be forgotten while their achievements are celebrated.

"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." ---Lee
"War is cruelty. You cannot refine it." ---Sherman

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:26 AM

It keeps getting uglier

This Washington Post story digs out still more dirt on Enron and their lobbying operations. It really lays out the extent and sophistication of Enron's lobbying and campaign contribution strategy. As I argued before, these companies are not stupid--they're in the business of making money and must believe that they are getting a good return on the money that they shovel towards congressional (and presidential) candidates. The focus on the case of the last minute phone calls to administration officials, in which Enron was rebuffed, obscures the larger issue of the influence of money by narrowing the view to a single case where it didn't work. But in the broader picture painted by this article, it seems clear that Enron was getting a very good return for their donations.

The money gave them access which they use to press lawmakers on regulatory interests that affect their bottom line. Enron might (or might not) have been more sophisticated in analyzing the effect of regulations and lobbying to get them changed (or kept), but it's obvious that Enron is far from unique in their actions. They just happened to be corrupt in other ways and ended up spectacularly bankrupt, so they're getting a bit more scutiny than other big donors.

And Ken Lay strong-arming employees to donate money to the Bush campaign? How much lower can you go than that? Next thing you know we'll find out that Enron employees were breaking into Democratic campaign headquarters...

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:54 AM

New development or PR move?

According to this BBC report, Iran has moved to expel the leader of a regional Afghan rebel group who is hostile to both the US and the interim government.At first glance, this looks like a promising development, with Iran reacting to US pressure and Bush'd hardline rhetoric by backing away from their anti-US position in Afghanistan. But I'm not so sure.

First of all, if reports are true, Iran has been provviding direct assistance to rebel groups in western Afghanistan, a stance that is far more important than giving shelter to an exiled leader and his organization. It's not obvious from the report if Hezb-e-Islami and Hekmatyar are related to the other groups Iran has been aiding. Either way, it's also possible that Mr. Hekmatyar might want to get back into Afghanistan--it's possible that leaders on the ground there could be taking control of the resistance ion western Afghanistan and he could be in danger of being marginalized. If so, the "closing down" of his operations in Iran, while bothersome, might not be a serious hindrance to him. It could be more along the lines of Lenin being sent back to Russia. It's also not clear what impact, if any, he was making from Tehran. If he was not an important figure in the rebel groups, kicking him out is an irrelevant cosmetic move on the part of Iran.

We will see in the upcoming weeks whether this is a real shift in Iranian policy or not. My gues is that it isn't--Iran's leadership has too much invested in their anti-American stance to relax very far from it. To the extent that they have any popular support, it comes from stirring up the people against Israel and the US, so the mullah regime really can't cooperate with the US without greatly weakening its own legitimacy, such as it is.

The real issue to watch is whether IRan continues to provide support for rebel groups operating along their border. That is the real point of conflict with the US and the interim Afghan government. It will also be interesting to see waht role, if any, Mr. Hekmatyar assumes ion Afghanistan, if he is in fact expelled from Iran.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:36 AM

Sunday, February 10, 2002
More war talk

A few responses to my post on asymmetric warfare. Steven den Beste writes first, that he doesn't like the term assymmetric warfare, since seems to imply that it is something that our opponents can do but that we cannot. A better term would be "unconventional warfare", and one of the interesting results of the Afghan campaign is that the US is really quite good at it.

He then goes on with a good discussion of the various ways the US can both counter these unconventional forms of fighting and the ways the US can engage in them to our own benefit.

A reader goes even further, e-mailing that not only is there no such thing as asymmetric warfare, that even the term "unconventional warfare" is a misnomer since it implies some sort of convention, and people have been fighting in creative ways for as long as they have been fighting. War in 2002 might be different in detail, but it's not fundamentally different than war has ever been.

To some extent I agree with both their points. The basic idea of asymmetric warfare is simply to play to your own strengths and your enemy's weakness. This is a fundamental idea of war and has been understood for thousands of years. The asymmetric part of it looks at it from the side of a weaker army vs. a modern technological army, but there's nothing really new there. And as den Beste (Steven? I'm not sure what the proper etiquette is for these third person references in Blogland. They both sound wrong to me. Time to flee to the passive voice...) As I was saying, as is pointed out in the post at USS Clueless, the US is not forced to simply play the part of the big blundering opponent, using only the application of brute force and high technology to solve problems. I certainly didn't mean to give the impresion that the US is helpless in the face of unconventional assaults. I was merely trying to give a counterbalance to a feeling of overwhelming superiority that I thought a previous post of mine had projected.

Any military competition like this is a Red Queen race involving tactics and equipment. Each advance on one side is met by a counter on the other side, and constant innovation is necessary to hold your place and maintain an advantage. The current US shift to go after not only terrorist organizations but also governments that support and harbor them is just this sort of advance in tactics. With this expansion of scope, and with the international cooperation in law enforcement and banking, al Qaeda right now seems to be on the defensive. It remains to be seen what, if any, answer they will have. It's rare in military conflicts that there is any taactical move or advance that is a real checkmate. It has happened--machine guns and artillery rendered cavalry ineffective before meachanized units rendered them obsolete. So it's possible the Bush doctrine could be a winning innovation against international terrorism. But it's also possible al Qaeda, or some other group, will adapt and find new ways to attack the US. (Or it may turn out that the Bush doctrine will not be completely effective.)

On the purely military side, the US has learned from our own and others' past failures and has adapted. We didn't stick with the more conventional methods that had failed in Vietnam, and for the Russians in Afghanistan and Chechnya, but instead used a mix of conventional (B-52 bombing) and unconventional (special ops, psyops, backstage pressure, local proxy forces) means to achieve our goals there, and are continuing to pursue al Qaeda with both conventional and unconventional means, as appropriate.

Getting back to the subject of definitions and their use, I do think both terms (asymmetric and unconventional warfare) are useful. Like any categories, they can help give shape, organization, and economy to our thoughts, and point up important distinctions. The importance or profundity of such labels can certainly be over-estimated, but recognizing their limitations is not the same thing as the terms being worthless.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 4:05 PM

Enron and...Louis XIV?

Creative accounting and the attendant problems are nothing new. The following is from Braudel's The Perspective of the World, p. 330:

Samuel Bernard, the accredited moneylender to Louis XIV, virtually went bankrupt on the government's behalf over the payments due in April 1709. There is no lack of documents and testimony concerning this controversial affair. But much remains to be discovered about the true story behind a set of complicated manoeuvres leading from Lyon to the bankers of Geneva...In order to obtain funds payable outside France--in Germany, Italy, and also Spain, where Louis XIV's troops were fighting--Samuel Bernard had offered to the Genevans, as pledges against repayment, bank notes issued by the French government since 1701; the actual repayment would be made later at the Lyon fairs, on settlement days, thanks to bills of exchange which Samuel Bernard drew on Betrand Castan, his correspondant in Lyon. In order to supply the latter, 'he sent him drafts for payment, after the fairs.' The whole operation was a chain of confidence, in which nobody lost money as long as everything went smoothly, the moneylenders in Geneva and elsewhere being payed either in cash or in depreciated banknotes (the 'loss' being taken into account) while the bulk of the repayment undertaken by Samuel Bernard himself was deferred until a year later. The trick of the trade was to play for time, then for more time, until Bernard was finally repaid by the king himself--never the easiest part of the enterprise.

So far, so good. Basically this is sort of a shell game, with money being moved around and Bernard managing by staying one step ahead of his creditors. As long as they remained willing to play the game, things went well, but if they suddenly doubted, then the whole thing would collapse. It's an interesting illustration of the value of confidence in some economic affairs, and the self-fulfilling prophetic nature of such maneouvres. If everyone says its OK, then it really is. If people say there's a problem then, lo and behold, there is a problem.

Bernard would have been fine, except the French government, needing more cash, attempted to set up a national bank to provide it. Braudel goes on to describe said bank:

Its function would be to lend money to the king, who would immediately pass it on to the businessmen. The bank would issue interest bearing bills, which could be exchanged for royal bank notes--thus revaluing said bank notes.

I'm certainly no expert, but this is starting to look a little fishy to me. The Kingdom is setting up a bank which will exist solely to lend money to the king and issue notes to prop up the currency. This bears at least a passing resemblance to the subsidiary corporations that Enron set up which, through some creative accounting, were able to make Enron's bottom line look better. As long as Enron's bottom line looked good and all the investors were happy, then things went smoothly. But when people started to doubt, the rug was pulled and the Enron house of cards came down. Something similar happened in France, where

...the maneouvre failed and the situation rapidly deteriorated. Individuals took fright and the system began to collapse like a house of cards, especially when, during the first week of April 1709, Bertrand Castan, feeling some doubt, not without reason, about Samuel Bertrand's soundness, refused, on being called as usual to the Loge des Changes, to honour the drafts in his name, declaring that he could not 'settle his ccount.' Indescribable panic followed...

Certainly it's far from an exact parallel to the Enron situation, but it does demonstrate that some of the problems that Enron's fall showed have been around for a long time. While Enron may have added some levels of sophistication to the plot, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Oh, and what happened to Bernard? He would have gone bankrupt, but the Kingdom's controller Desmaretz granted him a three year grace to settle his accounts, saving him. Perhaps Bernard had been a big campaign contributor for Desmaretz?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 3:21 PM

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