Beauty of Gray



Friday, March 01, 2002
 

Don't try this at home


An amazing sequence of photos here.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 11:31 AM


 
More lying reporters?


There was an interesting analysis by Howard Kurtz on the existence of media bias and how it affects press coverage and people's opinions. Patrick Ruffini gives a long response, approvingly cited by Instapundit, which completely misses the point. He goes through references and proves, to his own satisfaction, that there is a left wing bias at the Washington Post and at the New York TImes. But Kurtz doesn't deny this. If you actually read his article, he's not claiming that the mainstream media is unbiased. What he's claiming is that the media in toto is not biased in a way that benefits liberals.

I don't know if it's true or not, but his claim is that the mainstream media has a liberal bias but mutes it (to a greater or lesser degree) in an attempt to be unbiased. In contrast, right wing media outlets like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal OpEd page, and various talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, are much more openly partisan. So that these voices, although not as widely distributed or heard, balance out the weaker bias of the mainstream media in public perception and influence, because there is no liberal counterpart to them. You've got a strong voice saying weakly liberal things, and a weaker voice saying strongly conservative things, so the net effect is a wash.

I don't know if I believe this analysis, although it's intriguing. But turning around and showing that there is a bias at the New York Times is not a refutation of what Kurtz is saying. (Although actually, Kurtz is presenting the argument of a third party, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris, so he is the one who should be getting the credit or blame for the argument, not Kurtz.) I mean, did they even read the article before they decided to attack it? Here is the thesis again, since they seemed to have missed it the first time around:

Yes, there is a certain amount of liberal bias in the mainstream press. But on balance, the big national papers and broadcast networks take seriously the traditional journalistic strictures of fairness, accuracy, and independence of judgement.

The conservative press, by and large, does not labor under these constraints. It does not pretend to be in the business of presenting all sides fairly, but of promoting its side successfully.


There, now have at it. Try to ignore the scarecrows scattered in the vicinity of this argument during your next critique.

Update: Just noticed this Mark Byron response to the article. Heactaually addresses the point, but I don't think really refutes it. Instead, he comes close to conceding it, but claims that the reason conservative outlets are more partisan is because they need to be to balance out the mainstream media bias. Could be, but again it doesn't really challenge the thesis that the media bias does not provide a net benefit to liberal politicians.


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:04 AM


 
Lies, damn lies, and reporters


Kinsley has an excellent column in the Washington Post today about the widespread innumeracy of the population, and how it, combined with sensationalistic journalism and other societal forces, combines to make people think society is much worse off than it is. I'd add another factor, which is that a sizable chunk of conservatives spend a lot of time pontificating on how the country is going to hell in a handbasket. It makes the nostalgic conservatism look much more appealing, if you can convince everyone that things today are far worse than they were at some point in the past.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:47 AM



Thursday, February 28, 2002
 
Anti-idiowhat?


I usually avoid checking out the Libertarian Samizdata site. It has the same hermetic, self-satisified ideological smugness that annoys me when I read Chomsky. But I recently went on a link there and before leaving ran across a couple of items that I couldn’t pass up a chance to comment on. First this item from Perry de Havilland:

The other is more topical, and concerns the fact that the Libertarian Party of Illinois have, it would appear, been spamming little old ladies with anti-gun-control propaganda.

You can take this complaint from a British media source two ways. One: the Libertarian Party of Illinois are making enemies needlessly among the normals with their bad netiquette. (This is Adriana's take on it.) Or two: the normals are by definition idiots about gun control who deserve (a) to be mugged every day and twice on Sunday, and (b) all the anti-gun-control propaganda our side can spam at them, and that these Illinois guys are damn good!


What a remarkably obnoxious sentiment. Perry is saying that he thinks most of the “normals” are idiots because they disagree with him and, what is more, because they disagree with him they deserve to be mugged. Frequently. Or, to put it another way, Perry is apparently calling for violence against those who have ideological differences from him, since by not supporting the party line on gun control they “deserve” to be mugged. This sort of shrill extremism is a big reason why most people view libertarians as a third party wacko fringe group, just on this side of the Larouchies on the respectability scale. The sneering condescension Perry displays probably won’t help their poll numbers any, either.

And as long as I’m feeling peevish, I’ll also point out this bit, excerpted from a larger, fairly interesting discussion about the classical and modern meanings of the word liberal, and whether libertarians shouldn’t try to “reclaim” the word for themselves. (Of course, given that conservative commentators have spent the last decade demonizing liberals, to where the word alone has become an insult in many circles, I’m not sure they should really want it. But that’s neither here nor there.)

It is very helpful indeed to be able to point out that liberal is just a synonym for socialist and that it is mostly because 'socialist' has such negative connotations in the USA that members of the Democratic party use the term liberal.

No, there is plenty of difference between socialists and modern liberals. You may be too far to one side to be able to notice these fine distinctions on the center and the left, but that’s your own failing. Or maybe I just missed the plank in Gore’s platform that called for a state seizure of the means of production and an abolition of private property? They do try to sneak things by you in the fine print, those scoundrels.

Now, what was that I was saying about hysterical libertarian pronouncements alienating the population of us normals?


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:14 PM


 
Occassional oddities


I don't know if it goes by the same name, but I'm sure similar publications can be found across the country. Around her, the local low price community classifieds magazine goes by the name of Penny Saver. usually, it goes right from my mailbox into the trash, but occassionally I'm bored or in the modd so I'll flip through it. I'm always amazed at some of the entries, and wonder at the stories behind them. There are the inevitable exercise machines, where reality has caught up to late night good intentions, plus the usual furniture odds and ends. But mixed in, there's always a few interesting ones.

One guy is offering a Jetta grill, wheel, and headlight. How do you end up with that? Was there a bad accident and that was all that was left? And who out there is looking for that strange collection of parts?

Someone else is selling an aquarium for $95. The only catch? It's one of the aquariums that's "not made for water." Am I missing something here, or does that not make any sense?

How about a beige satin wedding gown, never worn? Who wants to buy a single wedding gown, even if it's never been worn. It's not like you can wear it to work. Of course, it's a size 26, so maybe they're trying to seel it for the scrap material--that's a lot of satin.

If you want any of these, drop me a line and I'll send you the phone number. But I've got dibs on the aquarium. I always wanted one, but don't like fish. Who knew that this wouldn't be a problem?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:35 PM


 
If you have any interest in terrorism, read this link


Jihad in America

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:54 PM


 
More on Columbia


Two recent articles in the Washington Post. This one, from today, reports that the administration has decided against expanding the US involvement in the country, instead continuing our policy of indirect assistance. Basically, it's a move to maintain the engagement as part of the drug war rather than transferring it over to the war on terrorism. I think this is the right choice. As I argued previously, Columbia is a better candidate for a quagmire than Afghansitan. Also, while the guerillas are using terrorist tactics to try and overthrow the Columbian government, it's not clear how much of a threat, if any, they pose to the US. So at this point, I think it's best to stay in the background and provide encouragement and support to the government in its current offesnive against the guerillas.

As a side note, this move also shows that the administration is not simply in the pocket of the Pentagon hawks, but instead is tacking a path between them and the more diplomatic approach favored by Powell. Again, I think Bush and Rice are making all the right moves here.

The second article gives more details about the FARC's tactics.

"The FARC thinks war is good for them. It forces people to choose sides, and they believe many will choose theirs," said a diplomat who has sat with the FARC at peace talks over several years. "And they believe that the worse off the country gets, the stronger their position is."
...
"This is not a war where we will defend positions. It's one of small arms, quick strikes and explosives," said Faiber, who has spent five years in guerrilla ranks and is now 23. "The army will be here. But this is what we are used to. Before the zone existed, we lived here just like now."


This captures the essence of why Columbia is a more difficult environment for military action than Afghanistan. As Steven Den Beste argued persuasively during the war there, it is much easier to be a rebel and attempt to topple a government than it is to suppress a rebellion and sustain a government. In Afghanistan we benefitted from this fact, since we were fighting on the side of the rebels. In Columbia, we'd be fighting against a large, well funded guerilla army with a lot of experience and strong local support. Trying to suppress such an organization is terribly difficult, and I think the US is making the right choice by keeping the conflict at arms length.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 11:48 AM


 
Liberty and Utility


There’s an interesting post over at Will Wilkinson’s The Fly Bottle, in which he raises the possibility that a full libertarian rights theory should take into account not just limitations caused by regulation in the present, but also the potential harm caused to people in the future by those regulations.

Suppose the state forces pharmaceutical companies to sell AIDS drugs at cost. Since there's no profit in it, the companies put a halt to AIDS r & d. Now, suppose that if they'd continued r & d for one more year, a cure to AIDS would have been discovered. That year, millions die of AIDS.

Now, on the normal rights analysis, the state has harmed the drug companies by denying them the right to choose their price. And that's right. But, obviously, the millions of people who died but who wouldn't have are the one's who really got screwed. But we don't say that their rights were violated. Why not?

Well, if the victims had their rights violated, then that means that they had a right, in some sense, to the availability of the drug. But libertarians reject positive rights. I'm thinking that we may be sort of wrong to do this. One of the main lessons of the libertarian tradition is that of the seen and the unseen. The state screws us by making impossible nice things that would have otherwise developed. Aren't we entitled to at least the possibility of these nice things? Can't this be part of a libertarian rights theory?


I can see two possible objections to this approach. The first is the danger that is caused by bringing future benefits into a moral calculation. From a practical standpoint, it’s impossible to predict things exactly; and from a philosophical standpoint, the danger becomes that you can use future benefits to justify present abuses. The end justifying the means, which is one of the things that strict libertarians specifically reject.

The second argument is the one that Will points out—that the notion of positive rights is problematic for libertarians. Why? There are two points. The first is summarized in a wonderful esay by Isaiah Berlin, Two Conceptions of Liberty. He argues that a positive conception of liberty (which I’ll get back to in a moment) is a slippery slope that can be used to justify repressive government actions and can result in abominations like the Communist Regime in Russia, which claimed that it’s repressions were actually designed to maximize future opportunities for the people. Not good, from a libertarian standpoint.

At a less extreme example, I think a positive conception of liberty can lead to conclusions that most libertarians would reject. In fact, I made just such an argument in favor of equality of opportunity—saying that giving poor kids more help to realize their potential could result in a better society for all. If you buy into an idea of positive liberty—of not just removing obstacles from someone’s choices but actually giving them the power and preparation to expand their choices—this is a perfectly reasonable conclusion. But to most libertarians, such state intervention would be anathema.

I think this argument point out a central dichotomy in the arguments that libertarians use to support their positions. On the one hand, there is the idea of liberty as a fundamental human right. Any infringement of that liberty is an evil. In a few, select cases, it’s a necessary evil, but on the whole it must be avoided. On the other hand, there’s a utilitarian argument, whch is most often made in an economic context. And that is that an unfettered free market actually produces the most benefits for people—it maximizes their utility. Capitalism is superior to communism not just from a moral standpoint, but from a practical one as well.

This is certainly convenient from a libertarian standpoint. They are able, in a sense, to both have their cake and eat it too, argumentatively. It’s also nice since the transition between these two arguments allows the libertarian to make the jump from individual liberty concerns (usually a fundamental right argument) up to concerns about the “rights” of corporations (usually made from a utilitarian standpoint.) I’d bet you could mount an attack on the overall libertarian position by focusing at this crack, between the individual and the corporate, but that jump doesn’t really bother me.

Of course, it’s not completely an either-or proposition, and most people will mix the two lines of argument, just differing in the relative weighting. But it’s worth keeping this distinction in mind, because at heart they are fundamentally. While they agree across a wide range of situations, they can and do diverge. I think this explains why a lot of people hold views on many issues that are libertarian, but still aren’t or don’t consider themselves to be libertarian.

As my 100% match with Mill on the philosophy test showed. I come to such libertarian views as I have from a more utilitarian line of argument. As such, liberty is vitally important, but it is not the end-all and be-all of societal goods. (I believe that the inalienable rights of liberty are narrower than most libertarians would draw them. I don’t feel that taxation is a fundamental violation of liberty in the same way that slavery is.) And I believe that it is justified, in some cases, to limit liberty in order to maximize utility. My belief in equality of opportunity is such a position.

Getting back to Berlin’s objection, I think it is a bit overdone. I’m always leery of slippery slope arguments, since they are often an attempt to tar a moderate position with the sins of extremism. Regarding positive liberty, I think a rational case for it can be constructed without falling into a justification of state tyranny. The key is in keeping the proper weighting between utilitarian and basic rights concerns. Across the broad range of the middle they agree, but on the extremes, each serves as a break on the other. (So that it’s not acceptable to kill someone to harvest his organs and save 3 other people’s lives on the one hand, but on the other it is acceptable to tax someone to provide basic needs and education for others.)



Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:02 AM


 
Not a good sign


Japan has put forth a reform package that, according to analysts, is nothing new. Everything I've read indicates that Japan will continue sinking deeper unless serious and painful structural changes are made. This doesn't look like the answer.

Unlike others, I don't think Japan will turn into another Argentina. Japan still has a strong and high quality industrial base. It has a very highly educated and skilled workforce. And they have a huge pool of capital--one of their problems has been precisely that the people are saving too much money and not spending enough. So despite their problems, I think there's a huge slack there and a tremendous and explosive potential. It just needs some shock to boost the system from the current downward spiral back onto an upward spiral. When that happens, I think they could experience quick and phenomenal growth. How to make that switch is the trick, obviously, and I have no answers. But I hope and expect that in another 5 or 10 years, Japan will be back on track and will once again be a major international player and the dominant regional economy.


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 6:52 AM



Wednesday, February 27, 2002
 
Time for somebody to get a new job


What a silly exercise. OK, it might have, at one time, been a good PR tool, but now it's ridiculous. What's worse, the perpetrators of this vacuous fraud are passing themselves off as scientists. Maybe they are, in their day job, but the Doomsday clock has not the faintest thing to do with science. It hurts the credibility of all scientists when clowns like these chaps butt into political discussions *as scientists*, rather than as regualr old joes.

This bozo really thinks we're closer to armageddon than we were at the height of the Cold War? Please. And what's his solution? I can't poke fun at him any more efficaciously than by simply quoting his fuzzy-headed nonsense:

"The international community has hit the snooze button rather than respond to the full alarm," Lopez said, who added that the solution requires cooperation.

Rooting out poverty, he said, is key to making the world safer.

"Poverty and depression breed anger and desperation," Lopez said. "Success depends on eradicating the conditions that feed such terror."


Ah, if only bin Laden hadn't grown up so poor, this never would have happened!

And he spouts this silliness as if the West wanted other countries to stay poor. Like if we'd just wanted to, we could wave the magic prosperity wand and make it all go away. The West has spent billions of dollars in trying to develop the Third World, and continues investing in Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia, and elsewhere. They idea of free trade is to make both sides richer, remember? That's what those evil capitalists have been going on about, not trying to grind the poverty stricken masses under our iron heels like noodlehead here seems to think.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:47 PM



Tuesday, February 26, 2002
 
Perceptive China Analysis


Michael Ledeen at the Opinion Journal argues that China is best understood not as a society torn between communism and capitalism, but as an incipient fascist regime. The combination of tyranny, nationalism, militarism, and semi-state controlled capitalism is all there.

While this is an interesting prism to view China through, I don't think it really carries any implications for our foreign policy. Whether China is communist or fascist, it's still a tyranny. And our stance in both cases needs to be to encourage the growth of domestic democratic institutions and attitudes that could oppose and eventually overthrow the current gerontocracy running the country. The appropriateness of a more vigorous opposition will be dictated by Chinese policies.

The fascist label carries a lot of baggage with it, but it should be remembered that both Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy were able to coexist with their neighbors in Europe. The real problem in World War II was not fascism, strictly speaking, it was the expansionist, conquering form of fascism that dominated in Germany and Japan. But that expansionist element is not a necessary part of fascism, and it remains to be seen just what policy China will take regarding her neighbors. Her leaders clearly want China to be an influential power in the region and resent the US hegemony, but it's less clear what, if anything, they will do about it.


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:36 AM


 
Mine clearing?


It just occurred to me that one issue that I've heard almost nothing about is the widespread (?) problem of mines in Afghanistan. I remember reading reports that there were millions of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines left scattered all over Afghanistan from the war with the Soviet Union and the civil war. There were a few stories about this, and the Marines' efforts to clear the area around the airport, but other than that I haven't seen much. I don't remember hearing of any problems with Northern Alliance advance caused by mines.

So was the problem not that bad? Are there really not that many mines around, or not many anywhere that anyone cares about? Or is it a serious problem that is being addressed, but simply isn't sexy enough to make the nightly news? Or is it a serious problem that's being ignored for lack of funds?

It seemed to me before the war that this was an area where the US/UN could really do a lot of good and build up a lot of goodwill among the people there. If mines really were a persistent threat, then a real large-scale effort at mine clearing (which would need western money and technology) would really benefit the people in a very visible and direct way. Plus, it would be obvious that the effort was being done by the US or UN, so gratitude would flow their way, in addition to going to the central government and the peace they had brokered which allowed the mine clearing to go forward.

So has anyone heard or seen anything about this story? I'd be very interested in any links.


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:47 AM


 
Great stuff at the Fly Bottle


I just discovered a great new blog, which most of you were probably aware of. Anyway, The Fly Bottle has now been added to the links section. There's a lot of great stuff there right now, but I was particularly struck by this post, in which he brings the concept of an evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) to the realm of politics. An ESS is a stable mixture of different strategies among a population, such that a deviation from the norm is less likely to succeed than its continuation. Basically, it's an equilibrium that is not vulnerable to an invader. He uses the classic example of hawks and doves:

As an example, imagine that two populations, one of them aggressive (hawks) and one passive (doves). Hawks will always battle their neighbors over any resource. Doves won't fight under any circumstances. A population made up entirely of doves would be unstable; that is, if a mutation caused the introduction of a single hawk, it would have an immediate advantage, and the hawkish behavior would bully the doves out of existence.

But a hawks-only population would also be unstable. A single dove introduced by mutation would have a long-term advantage. That's because the hawks' constantly aggressive behavior leads to frequent injury, while the dove, refusing to fight, escapes that risk.

Through application of game theory, Smith showed that there is a particular ratio of hawks to doves that forms what he called an "evolutionary stable strategy" for the species. Thus, selection actually works to maintain a balance of different characteristics in the population.


Another example is the ratio of sexes in a population. Then, in an idea I wish I'd thought of, he extends the concept to politics:

Might there be some optimal distribution of liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and so forth in a population, each stymieing the others to just the right degree -- a system of ideological checks and balances? The analogy is quite loose, but are there politically stable strategies?

I think this is an astute observation. Political purists of all stripes play an important function, but each one (in my opinion) brings costs as well as benefits. The function of politics is to strike a functioning balance between these differing views, a stable strategy, if you will.

I would add a couple of things to Will's analysis. First, he mainly considers the example of striking a balance between individuals each with strong ideological positions; but it is also possible to try and bring these positions into some balance within a single individual. Hence the existence of moderates, like myself. (I'll be writing more on the topic of centrism and moderation soon.) Second, while his conception appeals to me as a moderate, it should be recognized that a politically stable strategy, as he defines it, might not be the best or ideal case. Just because it exists, doesn't make it right.

A final thought on the subject is that there is dynamic feedback in the system in a democracy, so that there is no fixed stable long term solution as there is in a simple hawks vs. doves game as analyzed by Maynard Smith. The selective pressure in this case is the votes and opinions of the population, and these change in time and are in fact affected by the governments chosen. If there really was *a* solution, then you wouldn't see the difference between the government policies in the US and Europe, which are significant even if they are sometimes exaggerated.


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:22 AM



Monday, February 25, 2002
 
Quote of the day


"It is possible to believe that they too, while recognizing the inevitability of violence, nevertheless admitted to themselves that it is unjustifiable. Necessary and inexcusable--that is how murder appeared to them. Mediocre minds, confronted with this terrible problem, can take refuge by ignoring one of the terms of the dilemma. they are content, in the name of formal principles, to find all direct violence inexcusable and then to sanction that diffuse form of violence which takes place on the scale of world history. Or they will console themselves, in the name of history, with the thought that violence is necessary, and will add murder to murder, to the point of making of history nothing but a continuous violation of everything in man which protests against injustice. This defines the two aspects of contemporary nihilism, the bourgeois and the revolutionary."
-----Camus, the Rebel

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:14 PM


 
Hockey, basketball, and patriotism


Jim Henley has a very good article on Olympic history, focusing on the hockey games in the recent games. He contrasts the relish and interest that NHL hockey players have for playing in the Olympics with the disinterest of basketball players, without really going into why this is.

While NBA players seem decreasingly interested in playing for the Olympic team, NHL players seem to relish playing for their countries. If the NHL forbids it, they have unhappy players and maybe something more. Someone might try to start a viable European league; some players may sit out Olympic years altogether. (Or worse, given the habits of European hockey players, they might obey the league and just whine all year.)

As he points out, both NHL and NBA players are rich professional athletes, so why should they care about playing in the Olympics. Patriotism and love of the game are his answers, which I agree with. And I think it's the patriotism that differes between the NBA and the NHL. No, I don't think NBA players are less patriotic. Rather, their patriotism is less stimulated by playing in the Olympics because the US is so dominant. There are really no countries even in the same league as the US in basketball. Sure, there are an increasing number of foreign born players in the NBA, and some of them are even all stars. But most of the players in the NBA, and most of the all stars, are from the US.

Patriotism is a fairly dormant emotion at most times, and only rouses when challenged. This is equally true on the international level (as September 11 showed) and on the more trivial sporting level. I think if the US ever lost the gold medal or was seriously challenged, then you would see many more star players lining up to play for USA basketball. Instead, you have a situation where USA basketball takes the results for granted and uses the olympics to promote new stars, and the best players go and play once to win a gold and then never return.

This is why basketball players are ambivalent or disinterested in playing in the Olympics, while NHL players and professional soccer players view the international tournaments as the highest realm of competition, and are so willing to go play. The outcome is in doubt, so their effort matters.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:34 PM


 
Where do I sign up?


I don't know why, but I actually clicked on one of the spam e-mails I'm regularly peppered with, and found the unintentional comedy level quite high.

Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities based on your present knowledge and life experience.

"Prestigious non-accredited universities," eh? That's an oxymoron if I've ever seen one. On the other hand, if I take advantage of the offer, I will "Obtain a prosperous future, money earning power, and the admiration of all." Apparently I just went to the wrong schools, since my degrees have sadly failed to win me universal admiration. My parents will also be disturbed to find out they wasted all that money sending me to school, when a diploma was just a click away the whole time. Live and learn, I guess...


Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:18 PM


 
Afghanistan and Iran


A couple of interesting articles in the Post about the situation in Afghanistan. Here's one that reports that the US is thinking of upping its military presence or the numbers of peacekeepers in the region. Karzai has requested this, since I think he recognizes the point I made previously, that US or UN military forces are his best bet for keeping regional warlords in line. Of course, the danger here is that over-reliance on the US might make him look like apuppet, but hopefully he can avoid that. And at this point, the main goal is going to be just to keep the country together until the loya jirga, which hopefully will put together a ruling government that will have clear claims to legitimacy and will bring enough of the country into the fold that they can take care of rebels on thier own.

The second article reports on a Karzai speech to Iran, in which he was very conciliatory, towards them. This reflects a couple of things. First, Iran, despite all its problems, is very important to Afghanistan. The long border there makes Iran valuable as an ally and dangerous as an enemy. So it's important to Karzai to be on good terms, with them, if possible. It also shows a second potential advantage to the use of US force to bring regional warlords to heel. Doing this can allow Karzai to play the "good cop" to the US's "bad cop." Groups such as the rebels in the west that might be backed by Iran can be attacked by the US, but if Karzai manages it right, the backlash from these attacks might not hit him very strongly. So he can woo the regional warlords, while the US hangs around with a big stick and whacks any of them that makes too much trouble.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:11 PM


 
Precision weapons


Good front page story in the Sunday Washington Post about the need for the US to rebuild its stockpile of precision guided bombs before attempting any attack on Iraq. I knew in a general way that this was a problem--I remembered seeing reports that the fairly limited war in Kosovo really drained the US stockpile of precision weapons, and that was much smaller than any conflict in Iraq would be--but this article actually has some numbers. They report that the US can produce 1500 JDAMs per month (the JDAM being an inexpensive kit that attaches to "dumb" iron bombs and gives them GPS guiidance) and will soon be ramping this up to 2000 per month. This sounds like a lot of bombs, but it isn't.

For comparison, the relatively low level bombing campaing in Afghanistan peaked at 80 dropped per day, around 2400 per month. And during the air war in Desert Storm, the US was flying over 1000 sorties per day. On the one hand, the use of precision weapons can lower the number of sorties required to achieve your objective, but on the other hand, the air war did not have to directly support troops on the ground. If there is serious fighting on the ground, then the demand for airstrikes greatly increases.

Steven Den Beste has some good comments on why the stockpiles are low. First, it doesn't make sense to stockpile too many weapons, because they do go bad after a while and the technology is rapidly advancing and getting cheaper. Second, these sorts of support and logistics functions aren't sexy and high profile like buying a new tank or bomber, so Congress doesn't fund it.

I partially agree with him here. On point 1, I think it's less a matter of not wanting to waste weapons in storage than it is a corollary to point 2--the military has not made the effort and put forth the money to increase production levels, and so they haven't had a chance to stockpile precision weapons because they use them as fast as they're making them. If they had a chance, though, they would stockpile them. The Navy, at least, bases (or used to) its target inventory levels on anticipated usage of weapons as determined by simulations and wargames, for a major conflict. I'd bet the current low levels are a combination of lack of production and a low estimation of how many precision weapons would actually be used in a conflict. (That is, they might have guessed that only 50% of the bombs dropped would be precision, when it's closer to 75+%.)

For point 2, I'd lay blame for this as much at the military's door as at Congress's. The military brass also puts emphasis on sexy sytstems, rather than the dull but vital logistics that's necessary to make everything work. Almost nobody from logistics ever gets a star--the highest ranks go to warfighters--pilots, commanders of combat ships and subs, tankers, infantrymen, etc. Log-dogs are lucky to make colonel, and forget about making flag. This attitude of taking support functions for granted is pervasive, and not new. (As Admiral King put it in WWII, "I don’t know what … this ‘logistics’ is all about that Marshall is talking about, but I want some of it.")

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:00 PM







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