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11/26/2003

TBM: Work safe

There is a relatively well-honored tradition about labeling links "work safe" or "not work safe," giving folks a bit of heads up about racy content, so they can choose appropriately. While I strongly admire this, I think, perhaps, that it's about high time we sort of evolved the system just a little bit more.

See, while the whole notion of giving people a heads up is worthwhile, the term obscures the distinction between not work safe in a good way, and not work safe in a bad way. I think we can all pretty much guess as to the salient characteristics that make a link good or bad (sort of like a binary rating system).

Aside from the obvious reasons that one might want to know something, once in a while playing the not-work-safe roulette, one runs across something really freakin' twisted, that, to paraphrase a friend of mine, "gave me another mental scar I neither needed or wanted."

I ran across such a critter a few days ago, and it took a good three beers to get that the taste one particular link out of my mind. Originally, out of a twisted sense of humor I was going to post a link to the site in question, and put up the some warnings about this being pretty incompatible with keeping food down, so for those dieting on Thanksgiving, etc, etc. However, people being people might be overcome with curiosity if I just put the link one measly click away. And I have certain reservations about linking directly to anything that nasty.

On the other hand, right to know and all that...

Screw it. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. If you're really dying to see what it is, I'll tell you via e-mail, but elsewise go forth and enjoy your holidays and don't mind the nagging little doubt.

11/24/2003

EBS: Go forth and write long things

Well, having found out that I've got a readership all the way up into the single digits that can tolerate my inane ramblings, I'm pounding mightily on a longer piece that will be done whenever it's finished. As interesting tidbits float to the surface, I'll skim them out of the scum and mount them here for your perusal.

Elsewise, the writing that I'm currently wrenching on has been intensely interesting, as it has not been all sequential. The length of the thing grows, but I keep adding bits to the front and middle as well as the back. I guess that means that it really is sort of a document of fundamentals. I think what I'll do in the long run is extrude chunks of worthwhile size and then chop them off to post as separate chapters. Elsewise, I'll be stuck with one endlessly metatastizing chapter that will be months before eruption.

I can worry about a good, well-organized and clearly written draft when I sign my book deal. Right after I win an Oscar. And Nobel Prize. So, at any rate, I've not forgotten what I'm here for.

Elsewise, greetings to the Denizens of Drezner who've arrived, as well as the folks who were kind and gracious enough to drop me a link or two over the last few days. When I get some more time for actual upkeep, I'll be linking you directly and giving credit as appropriate.

Cheerio and so on!

11/21/2003

TBM: Everybody's Got Salam Pox

[NB: Having taken your comments to heart on the post below, I'll get to working on some stuff, in the meantime, I wanted to toss in my 2 cents on the blogging brouhaha d'jour]

The Guardian recently ran a segment with 60 letters from various Britons regarding President Bush's visit to the United Kingdom. One of the letters is from Salam Pax, in which he criticises the US for the reconstruction, in a particularly condescending and juvenile way. Many people took umbrage at the letter. I think, once the dust settles, that the irritation derives less from the existence of dissent and more from the tone and assumptions underlying the nature of the specific criticism leveled. In particular, Lileks thoroughly voiced his disgust in no uncertain terms. Roger Simon saw the article and picked up on the theme as well. Daniel Drezner, however, disagrees emphatically with Lileks' take on the letter.

Among other things, Drezner states the following as one of the reasons he disagrees with Lileks:

"...Salam and his buddies would never have taken up arms to overthrow Saddam. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that back in 1991, when President Bush encouraged ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the results weren't so good.

Bush's call worked perfectly. Seventeen out of eighteen provinces were in open revolt. Hussein was at his weakest. And what did the United States do after our call was answered by the Iraqi common man? Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 1991? Nope. We looked the other way while Hussein violated the no-fly zones to put down the Shi'ites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, etc. We did it for realpolitik reasons, many of which the current Bush administration, to its credit, seems ready to reject. But we, the United States, did it. Why, on God's green earth, would anyone ever choose to rise up after that Mongolian cluster-fuck of U.S. foreign policy? "


I'm not really that interested in sharing my opinions on who's the asshat today, but Prof. Drezner's statement contains some, um, historical misinterpretations that I wanted to clear up. I wrote the bulk of this material in a comment on his site, but wanted to actually proofread and polish the text, so this is why I've revisited the issue here.

The US never permitted use of the no-fly zones for suppression of the rebellion or anything else. What Prof. Drezner might be referring to was the use of armed helicopters, particularly in the south of the country. However, use of the helicopters was permitted under the Safwan (Cease-Fire) Agreement, negotiated by Gen. Schwarzkopf. During the cease-fire negotiations, the Iraqis asked if the no-fly zone restrictions would apply to helicopters as well. [NB: I don't remember if the no-fly zone in the north applied to helicopters or if it was universal] The Iraqis indicated that they would need helicopters as interim transport, since many of the bridges had been blown, and Schwarzkopf assented. Unfortunately, that was merely a ploy to use helicopter gunships in counter-insurgency operations.

Secondly, contrary to what some may remember of the history of the US in Iraq since 1991, the establishment of the no-fly zones did, in fact, allow the Kurdish insurrection to succeed, and they were an essentially autonomous part of Iraq, not at all beholden to Baghdad. In fact, the Kurdish areas are now among the most prosperous areas in Iraq, despite 12 years of sanctions, simply because they have avoided the most deleterious effects of mismanagement during the interregnum.

Third, although Prof. Drezner may claim that the reasons behind the refusal to intervene in Iraq were all realpolitik one must remember a few key facts. The best recap of the reasons that we didn't go to Baghdad in '91 are, ironically enough, the very same objections we heard about going to Baghdad in '03. In other words, we weren't going to go because we didn't have a UN mandate, we listened to the council of the Arabs and Europeans, we were afraid that the Arab street would rise up, we thought that it would result in a civil war and would destabilize the region, and finally, we were afraid of another Vietnam. So, for some commenters, an internal consistency check might be in order.

Fourth, Prof. Drezner raises the question "Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein? Nope." Umm... sir, are you being deliberately obtuse here, or am I just reading this wrong? I think the US did a great deal to help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, such as destroying his armed forces, humiliating him in front of the world, energizing the people to revolt, making Iraq an international pariah, and imposing a strong sanctions and inspection regime. I was rather under the impression that the '91 uprising would have never occurred had it not been for the Gulf War. So, yes, we did help.

Furthermore, many may not be aware of the coveactivitiesves that occurred in mid-90s. Among other things, in 1995, a CIA Operations Officer in Kurdish Iraq had been in contact with three separate movements to unseat Hussein. A general approached the gentleman and indicated that a military coup was in the offing, should some visible sign of support be given. Chalabi was also working in Iraq at the time to orchestrate an uprising, although the amount that he would have actually been able to bring to the table was unknown. Finally, the Kurds were planning a major offensive to the south and were looking for material support. It was entirely within the realm of reason to push all three efforts simultaneously. President Clinton, for whatever reason, declined to support any of the movements and pulled the CIA out of Iraq.

Perhaps Prof. Drezner are right in an apparently unintentional sense. The US, in 1991, supported an uprising that ultimately failed, because we, among other things, were unwilling to launch a war of aggression without any legal pretext (like the violation of 16 UN Resolutions). We did, however, fail to encourage several uprising that had the chance to succeed in 1995.

Or, if one looks at it another way, is that yes, many Iraqis had the courage to rise up, even after 1991. Granted, these attempts at freedom all failed miserably and fell on deaf ears throughout the west, but the simple fact is that we saw fit to let them die without lifting a finger, despite our willingness to claim Human Rights as a causus belli in Kuwait under George H. W. Bush, Kosovo under William J. Clinton, and Iraq under George W. Bush.

So back to the fundamental question of who should have laid whose life on the line and whether or not this willingness (or past history) has some bearing on the right to voice opinions (no matter how ill-mannered or badly phrased), is simply that Iraqis did rise up during the nineties. I'll leave the discussion of who is or isn't an asshole as an exercise to the reader.

So, in closing, I quote the comment I left on Drezner's blog: "Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi, I'm not interested in telling people "Fuck You" or pointing out who is and who isn't an asshole. I just thought that some of the darker recesses of this discussion needed some illumination. Perhaps not unlike Baghdad."

UDPATE 16:00 21NOV03: In Prof. Drezner's comments, SWO guy notes that the Coalition that liberated Kuwait and had the power to go for Baghdad included such luminaries as Syria, Egypt, and France, in addition to the US and UK, but magically this "failure of will" is the fault of the U.S. So much for multilaterialism.

UDPATE 16:26 21NOV03: James Joyner of Outside the Beltway gives his input. Interestingly, he cites the Colonel Jessop character from the movie "A Few Good Men" as follows: "[M]y existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you" and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand at post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."

11/20/2003

EBS: What's Up With All That Not Posting And Stuff

Ok, here's the deal, folks. I've been noodling for an enormous amount of time about putting together a magnum opus, so to speak, on warfare. The poll I've been running at right has a fair amount to do with that (but what that is exactly, is, a secret. I've also been meaning to respond to a whole variety of posts about war (like the one you'll see tomorrow or so about a recent post from the Belmont Club about airstrikes and artillery in air defense suppression.

The problem is that either the posts I would be writing out of the blue, or the responses to other articles presume a great deal of background stuff, like, for example, the exact nature of the relationship of tradeoffs between improvements in guidance, improvements in number of submunitions, and explosive yield. So, essentially, I start noodling on something that should be a 500 word response, which turns into a 5,000 word explanation with a 50,000 backstory. And then I decide I'm not up to writing a 555,000 word response to an off-hand comment.

It's not necessarily that I proclaim myself to be a genius (because I ain't) or that I'm just so much better informed about things, but it would kind of like be trying to explain a cricket player's decision to make a hook shot against a spin bowler if he's the fourth batter after 70 overs. To your spouse.

I've been noodling around with the subject of war for what seems like an eon, and while, of course, I'm still a neophyte and lackwit, there are some fundamentals things which make all manner of sense to me but which seem to cause some manner of consternation to other observers with lives and much healthier sets of interests. I keep wishing to expound on things, but in order to explain the here and now to a level I felt was acceptable, would take a lot of background essays.

At one point in the not too distant past, I was planning on waiting for an unveiling on Movable Type (or at least something less crappy than Clogspot) to crank out a series of essays that would do for warfare what Bill Whittle has done for what ever Bill Whittle has done stuff for.

Unfortunately, I am a fair to middling author unless I devote significant time to editing. And I'm lazy. There might be, however, a plus side. Since I've come to recognize that I'm too anal to make a move to a new website unless it's really snazzy, but too damn lazy to do anything about such a move in the short term, I've decided I might just try unpacking the long string of essays on warfighting-topics without waiting for migration.

What does that mean too you, my dear reader? Well, here's the scoop - I have no more interest in writing jargon-laden gibberish than you do in writing it. I hope to write things in a fairly clear and concise manner, simply because it helps me explore my understanding of things more clearly. I also would like to note that "warfighting" (at least as I'm using it here) is a much broader beast than Rambo, but includes strategy (broadly defined) and all manner of non-sports, and non-Dr. Phil/Oprah-related conflict.

It also means that I'll probably get away from link-posting of newsworthy items for it's own sake, and probably start writing longer essays (God Forbid!).

Or at least that's the thought. I would appreciate it if my loyal reader gave a shout (either by e-mail, or through comments, below) about their thoughts on the matter. Should I go hold forth at great length or keep the quantity up, the subject matter varied, and the length short?

11/16/2003

TBM: Michael Moore - Big Ugly Fat Fella

Demosophia's review of Bowling for Columbine notes the following (regarding the movie) "...Oskoda, Michigan where 'the planes that dropped 20% of all the bombs dropped in the Gulf War took off from.'"

Guess what! Fact check time!

In terms of raw numbers of bombs dropped, the B-52s "dropped 31 percent of all U.S. bombs and 41 percent of all Air Force bombs". (Source)

During the Gulf War, B-52s were deployed from 4 locations:


  1. 93rd Bombardment Wing; Castle AFB, CA (has 3 Squadrons)

  2. 42nd Bombardment Wing; Loring AFB, ME (has 3 Squadrons)

  3. 379th Bombardment Wing; Wurtsmith AFB, MI (has 4 Squadrons)

  4. 97th Bombardment Wing; Eaker AFB, AR (has 3 Squardons)


Wurtsmith AFB is, indeed located near Oscoda, Michigan and was home to the 379th Bombardment Wing, which did, in fact, participate in the Gulf War:

"18 January 1991, 0425 zulu, the 379th went to war by flying the longest employ-deploy strike mission in history, up to this time. 10 bombers participated in the mission which recovered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they joined the 1708th Bombardment Wing (Provisional) and flew more missions."


Elements of the 97th Bombardment Wing were attached to the 379th at Wurtsmith, which were, as the paragraph above indicates, then operating out of Saudi Arabia as part of the 1708th Bombardment Wing (Provisional) for the duration of the Gulf War. The remainder of the 97th was deployed to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, forming the 806th Bombardment Wing (Provisional).

Generally, a squadron will have 6 planes each, and a total of 68 B-52Gs were used during the Gulf War (this includes only the ones stationed overseas - planes such as those from Barksdale AFB, LA are not counted). The four units above contributed a total of 13 squadrons. At any rate, the 4 squardons from the 379th gives approximately 24 planes (Roughly 35.3% of the B-52s outside of CONUS) .

So, if we take the leap of faith to assume that tonnage was distributed evenly among the bombers, we get 35% of the planes that dropped a total of 35% of the bombs dropped, means that the 379th could be guessed to have contributed about 10.9% of the total number of bombs used. The 379th, according to this same model, would have only accounted for 14.5% of the Air Force bombs.

If, for sake of argument, Michael Moore simply meant tonnage of munitions (and just happened to use the completely wrong term to make his point), we get the following number: a total of 60,624 tons of munitions were dropped and B-52's as a whole, accounted for 25,700 tons of munitions (42.4% of total tonnage). Following the same calculations, we get all the way up to 15.0% of the total tonnage dropped.

So, in other words, Michael overstates the case by anywhere from 133% to 200%. Much in the same way, I suspect, he overstates his IQ.

More significantly, his statement also implies that the bombing missions were run from Wurtsmith. As noted above, they staged their first combat mission out of Wurtsmith, but spent the remainder of the war as part of the 1708th Bombardment Wing (Provisional), stationed in Saudi Arabia.

For the planes to have managed the sobering feat of trying to prove Michael Moore's assertions correct, the 24 planes of the 379th would have to have carried, in aggregate, 12,124.8 tons of bombs, or 1,010,400 lbs of bombs per plane. Given that the maximum payload for the B-52G is about 70,000 pounds, while a still respectable amount, this is evidently not even enough to support the weight of Mr. Moore's claims. I would rather think that trying to put more than 14 times the maximum payload would be quite a feat of engineering and might have deleterious effects on airframe fatigue.

Not unlike pretty much everything else, even that venerable workhorse, the B-52 just isn't quite big enough to carry the weight of Mr. Moore's lies or lunch. Or even the irony of the fact that the plane that seems to bear the brunt of Mr. Moore's greasy attentions is popularly called the "BUFF" - Big Ugly Fat Fella (some maintain the second "f" stands for something else entirely).

B-52: Big Ugly Fat Fucker

11/13/2003

TBM: Ted, Tim? Twits & Nitwits.

IN a nice counterpoint to Tom Tomorrow's bit of bluster and blather regarding the chickenhawk-slur, Ted Rall (bio here) has managed to distinguish himself as a being very nearly below contempt with this appalling abortion of a column. (Courtesy Mr. Michael J. Totten.)

Now among some of the obvious reactions, aside from anger and disgust, is that surely this must be cynicism or irony. But based on earlier Rall comments such as:

On July 5 a bomb killed seven recruits for a U.S.-trained Iraqi police force in Ramadi. U.S. occupation administrator Paul Bremer deplored the murder of "innocent Iraqis." Cops who work for a foreign army of occupation are not innocent. They are collaborators. Traitors. They had it coming.
Link courtesy Michael Totten

And this Totten-fisked article, demonstrates that his sympathies are, at best, questionable.

This little gem here:

We find ourselves facing the paradox of the "good German" of the '30s. We're ruled by an evil, non-elected warlord who ignores both domestic opposition and international condemnation. We don't want the soldiers fighting his unjustified wars of expansion to win--but we don't want them to lose either.


I could sit around and dig up his crap endlessly, but really, why bother?

If nothing else, his previous statements give lie to the notion that the column mentioned at the top of this post was in any way at all intended to be ironic or sarcastic, simply because there comes a point after which, if everything one says points in the same direction, reason would have to dictate that perhaps the person in question actually believed those things that they spent the vast majority of their time trying to pass off in such a serious manner.

The problem with this particular rant, as compared to Moore or Coulter, is that both Moore and Coulter are generally recognized as being extremist firebrands, who, in a charitable interpretation (loaded with, perhaps, artificial equanimity) are roughly equal folks who only seek to energize debate by attacking the sacred cows of their opponents in a bid to stir up the status quo. The problem with Rall is doesn't (didn't?) have such a reputation (at least to my mind). I had rather considered his political cartoons to be more or less a poorly drawn Doonsbury, or at least something in line with this description of his work.

I guess, foolishly enough, I had assumed that the only people who made a living by (again, the charitable interpretation) stoking the flames of debate, were, in fact, well known for doing so. Evidently, not all who, simply seek to drive debate (again, the charitable interpretation -ATCI, in future), are actually good at doing this. It seems that some who choose this as their mechanism are simply feeding echo-chambers and helping people towards incestuous amplifications.

This is problematic for me, insofar as it makes avoiding 'fringebaiting' quite difficult. Rather than having a lunatic fringe that is recognized as such by folks on both sides of the aisle, I am now reduced to picking and choosing among the lunatic fringe to determine which of those folks are legitimately fringe elements, and which are mainstream elements that can be used as a guide to common views.

One factor exacerbating this is the growing heated left-on-left action. Before the left started developing this double-humped distribution, it was fairly safe to assume that anything that sounded wacky was, indeed, a fringe element. The growing split in the left means that there it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine if a given wingnut is representative or a relative fringe when compared to any given self-described 'leftist'. To a Tbogg or a Hesiod, Rall might seem to be (on whole) close enough to the mark to merit consideration. ON the other hand, painting Michael Totten with that same brush would be silly.

But... but... evidently there is some Rall enthusiasm for Dean, but not for other candidates. And this guy, who is ranked maybe #10 among left-leaning bloggers, puts up this post stating, "Unfortunately for this Bush Fedayeen character assassin, he has a comment link for this post. You know what to do." for the simple crime of noting a correlation between the sites of various Democratic candidates and links originating from those sites. As you dive into the comments, one can see a whole lot of odd and baffling nonsense.

Hell with it, I'll finish this later.

SRBM: Tom Tomorrow v. Chicken Hawks

For those of who have not heard, Tom Tomorrow, at best, engages in a cheap shot with his most recent cartoon. Vaguely amusing, but a bit disturbing coming from the corner (presumably) where people feel that their dissent has been "suppressed." Well, at least one sharp wit has put together a parody of the cartoon (I meta-parody, I suppose). (Courtesy Roger L. Simon - hop on over to check out the commentary)

At any rate, the whole tempestuous teacup alludes to the notion that only those with military service have any moral weight when arguing for war -- those in favor who have not opted for military service are, in this parlance, Chickenhawks. Essentially, the crux of the argument is that only those who have themselves, been put at risk for their country have the moral credibility to argue that others should be exposed to mortal risks. I suppose one could parse that a bit further, and state that only those in combat MOSs or those who served in combat theaters should be able to make that case -- but I've only seen that line of gibberish show up when people were comparing the service records of G.W. Bush and Al Gore.

The problem with the chickenhawk argument is that it is, to put it politely, specious nonsense. The problem, however, lies in the fact that it is craptacular in so many ways, that it makes arguing against it honestly a bit difficult. I'm going to try to see if can generate a few for instances (including some of the pedantic ones.) For starters responding to an argument by calling someone a name is, as we know, an ad hominem attack and doesn't count for much. But on to more substance.

Now some will say that since those who argued for war supported a course of action that would require that people risk their lives, puts a heavier moral burden on those advocating such an action to the extent that those who have not served do not have the moral authority to make such a claim and would be hypocritical if they argued for war.

But, since the result of not going to war would result in Saddam remaining in power, would the same logic indicate that the only people with the moral authority to argue against the war would be the Iraqis themselves. Aside from the fact that those who were against the war didn't often volunteer to become Iraqi citizens, it also places the authority to restrain ourselves from the use of force in the hands of foreign nationals. Expanding that principle, leads to the odd problem that opposition to the Viet Nam War would have been immoral unless, of course, the protester were in South Viet Nam.

On a broader level, however, the chickenhawk thing skirts dangerously close to the problem of civilian control of the military. By restricting the decision to go to war only to those who have served, then does that not give the military supreme control over deciding when they go to war, and not the civilian controllers. One can easily imagine that given the large amount of time that the military has to cultivate certain outlooks, that they could become the proverbial dog-wagging tail, deciding for themselves, which wars to enter and which to avoid.

Furthermore, application of this standard, aside from the obvious constitutional problems, also gives rise to the fact that, as it stands, service in the American military is a privilege, not a right. Thus, is someone is born with flat feet, they would, therefore, sacrifice any say in the nation's warmaking behavior. We've seen eugenics adopted before by some very unsavory people. I would hope the human race never revisits that chapter again.

Now if we take this example of decision-making authority only to those who are 'eligible' be virtue of experience, then would it also make sense that the only people who would be able to to vote on abortion issues would be women? Or extending this further, the only people eligible to, let's say, voice their opinion on jail conditions would be current and former inmates? Or the only people who would be able to stand behind legislation caring for the severely retarded would be those who either are or were severely retarded?

Taking this to the other extreme, one ends up with the question of why it is that people who don't live in, let's say, Alaska, have any say about whether or not there's drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Well, this is an interesting conundrum. Recognizing that one of the significant drivers behind the American Civil War was the question of State's Rights v. Federal Rights, there is clearly some danger in going too far with this. Suffice it to say, one of the significant developments of the Civil War was the death of the idea of regional or local superiority vis a vis the central government. Clearly, at some point or another, it was recognized that the American future was a shared future. It was the birth of the notion that all have a say in the nation's direction, but all are subject to such decisions. Perhaps an inelegant solution, but a livable one.

Another odd permutation that arises with the cry "Chickenhawk!" is the fact that the Democratic Party has a much bigger tent, filled with many mutually exclusive, yet, incompatible demands from various interest groups. The notion that there are Democrats who argue that one group of people should have, due to their experiences or some other attribute, a special say in policy-making isn't altogether that surprising. The notion that this has extended, in a negative sense, to those who haven't served in the military, isn't that shocking, either. Think of it kind of like the Democrats engaging in race-baiting politics.

I'm also a bit curious about how this squares with pro-Choice points of view. An argument in favor of pro-choice that states that it would be wrong for people who aren't directly affected (read: men) to have a say in whether or not women are permitted the option of abortion kind of sits at cross-purposes to the whole way of thinking behind being a 'chickenhawk'. To put the shoe on the other foot, wouldn't applying the logic behind the 'chickenhawk' calumny, would be to state that the only way for a person to get a right to have an opinion on abortion would be, in fact, to have an abortion. Extended that further, if those who had had abortions got it into their heads to do something crazy, like make abortions mandatory, the only way such a measure could be repealed would be for a sufficient number of women who didn't want an abortion to be forced to undergo the procedure, until their numbers outweighed those who had supported the original number. [NB: This is essentially what you get when you combine the chickenhawk logic with the argument for a universal draft.]

Finally, it should be noted that the tendency of the military to trend Republican, especially at higher ranks, should make a party that is historically aggressive about cutting defense spending a bit weary about allocating that authority to go to war with a bunch of people who could be quite unsympathetic indeed.

11/11/2003

TBM - The Final Offer Deconstructed

Ok, folks, I've got to run - I've got a lukewarm date tonight, but this is something worth reading, by the Hitch. I'm not a big fan of bing just a linky blogger, but it'll have to do for today.

11/10/2003

TBM: Presidential Height Index

For those of you previously unaware, yes, there is such a thing as the Presidential Height Index, which is tells us "... since the advent of television, the taller candidate has gotten more [electoral] votes in every election except one, when in 1976, 5'9" Jimmy Carter took down the tower of power, 6'2" Gerald Ford. The Electoral College is seemingly unimpressed by height, though, as in the last election George W. Bush, listed at 5'11" beat a 6'1" Al Gore."

Just for your reference, my data show Lieberman at 5'8", Wesley Wes Clark at 5'10", Howard Dean at 5'9", John Kerry a monster at 6'4", Edwards at about 6'0", Sharpton at 5'10", Gephardt at 6'1", Kucinich at 5'7", and Moseley-Braun at about 5'4". As far as Bush's height, other reports show him at 6'0"or in one case, 6'2".

At any rate, the casual observer will note the rather interesting phenomenon that none of the guys who are front runners in the Primaries, with the possible exception of Kerry, have a significant edge in height. This, if anything, means that the whole business about nominating someone unelectable rings true in 3-D.

The other interesting bit, is what effect this will have on the race for the first woman president. It seems possible that neither candidate will field a female against a male, because the height advantage might be difficult to overcome. I don't have numbers for how women fare in this, but if height really does play a role, then it'll be interesting to see how tall the first female president is.

11/08/2003

EBS: A Greeting, A Thank You, and Some Reading

First - a hearty welcome to the Three Pines Blogging Company, which, IMHO, is a brilliant idea. Start linking Nuclear War Blogging to Beer Blogging, and you've got Dr. Strangelove all over! Sweet!

Secondly, a shout out to Demosophia for the reply post to my post about Asymmetries and Terrorism. Very thoughtful stuff and well worth the read.

Finally, go check out the Economist this week. They have a brilliant survey on American Exceptionalism. Long, but the entire series is worth the read.

11/05/2003

SRBM: The Future of Human Performance Enhancements

This little tidbit is quite interesting. (Courtesy Asymmetrical Information) Not only because of what it says - that there are new and amazing ways to increase muscle mass quickly with genetic drugs - but also that there are so many competing methods in development. Clearly this stuff could have implications for the PBIs of the future, but brings up the more obvious question of why we aren't doping up soldiers right now with steroids and the like.

Well, I guess the tendency of steroids to cause mental instability, along with all their other health problems make them pretty problematic for use in the long-term (which would cut down on their military utility). However, given the rumored use of steroids by the Nazis to increase aggression and the ongoing use of stimulants by the US military, it's not a real surprise that more serious efforts are ongoing.

Now, far as I can tell, the blue-sky stuff they talk were on about in the Army's Biotech 2020 conference sure as heck won't happen in anything like the time frames mentioned. However, it is interesting to note that in the descriptions of Biotech 2020, there wasn't as much emphasis on actual soldier enhancement as I think there is today.

This is due, I believe, in part, nascent ethical objections to the use of such techniques, but much like the ethical objections to in vitro fertilization or the artificial heart, these objections will fade in time as the technology comes closer to hand. This will also be driven by attempts to address the increasingly large asymmetries confronted by US forces in areas like urban combat.

One thing I am unclear on is how this ties in with the now-quiet non-lethal weaponry programs that were so popular for so many years. On some levels, biotech offers a lot of potential advantages on that front, but then again, there is some significant doubt about the utility of such systems in general.

At any rate, there are four areas that the military seems to be looking into right now for human performance enhancement:


  1. Continuous Assisted Performance (or CAP)

  2. Metabolic Dominance

  3. Persistence in Combat (or PIC)

  4. Metabolic Engineering for Cellular Stasis (or ME)


The CAP Program is about four main elements:


  • Preventing changes seen in the brain that are caused by sleep deprivation;

  • Expanding or optimizing available memory space within the brain to extend performance;

  • Rapidly reversing adverse changes in the brain caused by sleep deprivation; and

  • Developing problem solving circuits within the brain that are sleep resistant.


  • Far as I understand, their objective is to keep a soldier fully operational and functional in the field and completely awake for seven days at a stretch.

    The Metabolic Dominance program realizes that in so doing, your guys are going to go through a lot of chow. A whole lot. Without getting into details, essentially they're looking at increasing the efficiency with which food is processed and ways to avoid common problems like hypoglycemia and cramping.

    The Persistence in Combat program examines ways to improve medical care on the battlefield, which are all fairly self-explanatory:


  • Enhance healing, including retinal damage from lasers;

  • Control hemorrhaging;

  • Stabilize the warfighter before the onset of shock; and

  • Control pain, so mobility, cognition, and attention will not be impaired.


  • Finally, the Metabollic Engineering (ME) program looks at the following:


  • Improving our ability to transport blood products into combat situations;

  • Selectively moderating our body's oxygen utilization;

  • Understanding the physiology of hypo-metabolic states; and

  • Developing methods for enhancing healing.


  • These are a bit less self-explanatory. One of significant note is the moderation of oxygen use. That really has a lot less to do with holding one's breath more effectively, than inducing hypometabolic states (similar to the 20 or 30 minutes of hypoxia seen occasionally in children that fall into ice water). That has immediate implications for something like stabilizing a patient during medivac. The long-term implication is the ability to put soldiers in cold-storage. And I'll leave exploration of that exercise to the reader. The other less self-evident point is the transport of blood products. These folks are talking about ways to desiccate blood such that it can be reused. This, I imagine, would allow future soldier suites, like Objective Force Warrior, to do things like allow a soldier to carry a couple of pint-equivalents of blood with him on the battlefield that could be reconstituted and made available instantly.

    [Ed: Information about the four DARPA efforts is drawn from this document.]

    The big thing to note is that these are all "soft" applications. Sleep, food, healing, medical logistics. The careful observer will note that there's little here about strengthening the soldier, or improving reflexes. Sure, there is some exploratory work on exoskeletons and on brain-machine interfaces, but little on the ambitious use of biotechnology to enhance the raw, unequipped strength and reflexes of the soldiers themselves.

    Couple of possible answers. Exoskeletons make it possible for soldiers to move at higher speeds, allowing them to keep up with armored vehicles, and not having your tanks leave behind your infantry has been a hard limit on the effectiveness of armor for eons. Furthermore, it's much easier to make sure that a soldier doesn't go AWOL with a big honking piece of hardware than it is to make sure he doesn't leave with his own body. There are also potential recruitment problems, what with Frankenstein and all that nonsense, although I would have no objection to growing a lot of muscles if that came standard with the sign-up.

    Still, all in all, I think that this must be the preference that American military culture has, particularly since the end of World War II, of expending money and effort on kit (and using machines) rather than on expending people. But still, in this case, an exoskeleton increases the drain on logistics and increases the number of support soldiers for each fighting soldier. If you go with straight-up vat-grown badasses, then you cut down on that significantly. On the other, other hand, it might just go against the grain of the culture of the citizen-soldier when you start significantly modifying soldiers on a longer-term basis.

    11/03/2003

    TBM: The South African Nuclear Program

    In sort of an oblique response to a comment to an earlier post, I was going to get buckwild (in an internet-y, geeky way) and dig up some real meat and potatoes stuff on the South African nuclear program (as opposed to the one that gets a passing mention in Robocop 3 MT Neutron bomb my silly ass. Then I got some sense, and have opted for the short summary version. South Africa developed nuclear weapons (fission devices) and had originally planned to build 7, but ended up only making 6 crude gun-type devices. The decision had been made in 1973, and was spurred on by Soviet Silliness in Angola. They developed nukes and were getting ready for testing in about 1979. There is a possibility that a flash seen in the Indian Ocean by monitoring satellites in 1979 was a South African (or joint SA-Israeli) test, but the jury's still out on that.

    At any rate, during the sunset years of Apartheid, the South African Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk, shucked the entire program. I suspect it's because, racial integration aside, they didn't trust the ANC with nukes. So they killed the program, scrapped the nukes, signed the NPT, and joined that really small group of nations to have undergone complete nuclear disarmament. After the end of apartheid, the South African government has continued to swear off nuclear weapons and has been fairly good about non-proliferation, especially considering the size of their civil nuclear program.

    The End.

    Q&A:

    1) Why 6, what's with that? First of all, South Africa guessed that the only people they would be trading nukes with would be the Soviets, so it made no sense to pursue a deterrent capability that a) couldn't reach the Soviet Union, and b) would be completely outclassed by a few missile boats. Above and beyond that, pursuing a larger capability would have required testing and that leads to another whole set of problems.

    2) I still don't get it. What's this limited deterrence nonsense all about? Well, basically, the South Africans, having had a particularly nasty turn of events in their Angolan adventure, decided they'd need an Ace in the Hole. But - if they tested a device and had become a "known" nuclear weapons state, they would have been in extraordinarily dire straits, diplomacy-wise. You have to remember these folks were awfully isolated and had been watching what had happened to Rhodesia when the world turns its back on you. So any kind of well-known program could have been political suicide.

    3) But if you won't use the nukes, why bother? This is the bit that's instructive right now with North Korea. The South African plan was not so much to use the nukes on Luanda or Maputo, or whatnot, but rather, in the event of a sufficiently dire situation, to escalate by, 1) sending a quiet diplomatic note to the US and others, 2) by making it generally known that they had a nuke, and 3) by testing the nuke. This three tiered-response was basically designed to draw attention to any potential plight serious enough to merit using a nuke. Since the South Africans figured that any conflict serious enough to pose an existential threat would have Soviet fingerprints all over it, so they had to have a way to bring the US into line, either diplomatically or as backers in a proxy war.

    4) Proxy war, you say? Yep, basically, when the Cold War was big into its Third World Hellhole Proxy War phase, the US encouraged the South Africans to go forth into Angola to intervene in that civil war in 1975. The ruling government MPLA invited in 13,000 Cubans. Shortly thereafter (largely in a sort of post-Vietnam spasm), the US Congress pulled its support and it was Katy-Bar-the-Door back to Namibia at that point. My guess is that experiencing the fickleness of US support, combined with the vivid spectacle of the ongoing strangulation of Rhodesia, they decide that should their isolation increase, they could find themselves stranded alone. Nukes were a way of putting themselves back on the map.

    5) Isn't that contradictory? I mean if nukes put you back on the map, but isolate you diplomatically, what's up with that? Well, that's basically what drove the odd design of their program. Why they went for really crude designs (didn't want to test), but wanted reliability. So they overdesigned everything. They didn't worry as much about sophisticated implosion-type devices, because if South Africa can't pull off a simple nuke delivery to Angola or Mozambique, you've got bigger problems. That's why they built several, but didn't announce them [ed: Compare and contrast with the Israeli program.]

    6) Who helped them build their nuclear program? Well, by and large, it was a pretty homegrown program. They started their civil program an eon ago, and had developed much of their own technology, including a complete fuel cycle (it helps that they have uranium deposits). Much of the weaponizing technology came from Israel. Look up "NEW INFROMATION ON SOUTH AFIRCA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM AND SOUTH AFRICAN-ISRAELI NUC" on the CIA's FOIA website for a good read.