Saturday, March 29, 2003

CURIOSITY: Here's a short story inspired by a display I saw during my recent camping trip: Curiosity. As always, if the direct link doesn't work just go to The Forge and look for the entry on March 29, 2003.
HOME AGAIN: I made it back home safely. The laundry is in the washer, the food is back in the fridge... everything is in its place. We all had a good time camping, but it's nice to be home. Originally we were planning to spend two nights out there, but for various reasons we had to come back early, and I'm glad we did. I need to take about four showers.

It appears that while I was gone the site got around 20 hits, thanks to a link from Emperor Misha. So, if anyone comes back here twice and sees this message, then I guess that means you read something interesting, which is nice. I'll post a bit more tonight once I check on the news.

I haven't seen anything since I left on Friday afternoon, but I'll betcha nothing's changed very much. I imagine there's been a huge story about a missile striking civilians that's turned out to be wrong or fake. I bet there have been more chemical weapon scares but nothing substantiated. And I bet I can find the word "quagmire" on the BBC's homepage.

Gotta wash off, be back soon.

Friday, March 28, 2003

GOIN' CAMPN': I'm going camping until Saturday night, so there won't be anything new until then.

As I was leaving work I heard a helicopter that sounded really close. I looked up, and... WHAT THE HECK? There's an Apache flying right towards me, about 20ft. off the ground. I was stunned for a second, but then realized that it was circling and coming in for a landing in the parking lot. I looked around some more and saw several tanks and a half-dozen helicopters of various flavors, all sitting within 100ft. of where I was standing. Apparently there's a Jr. ROTC event this weekend and they're using our parking lot to show off some of the military's nifty toys.

I have to admit, I was a little scared when I first saw that Apache barreling down on me. I'm glad it's on MY side.
DEATH AND ENVIROMENTALISM: Another pointer from Instapundit gives us an article debunking the threat of the new "super-pneumonia". That's fine... to tell the truth, I wasn't scared at all anyway. When the news reports an emergency, a crisis, or a disaster I just divide whatever danger they relate by 100 and take a nap.

I am reminded by the article of a real, and ongoing, health crisis: malaria. Sure, as an American it's not much of a threat to me, but malaria afflicts up to 500 million people per year, and kills more than 3 million people per year. It's not as glamorous as ebola (kills dozens per year, maybe), or the new super-pneumonia (which has killed around 200), but malaria is a real and present danger to millions of people in undeveloped parts of the world. Malaria is spread by mosquitoes... isn't there something we can do to eliminate it?

Good question. In 1955, the Eighth World Health Assembly adopted a Global Malaria Eradication Campaign, and by 1967 malaria had been eradicated from every developed country where the disease was endemic, and from large tropical areas of Asia and Latin America. The program was also used successfully in three countries in tropical Africa. How did it work?
"To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT... In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that otherwise would have been inevitable."
[National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. 1970. ...]

There are a lot of "reasons" that DDT use has been largely abandoned, but the vast majority of them are based on flawed science and the politics of the environmentalist movement. DDT was linked to everything from cancer, to shell-thickness among bald eagle eggs, but none of these claims are really substantiated or even supported by actual science. DDT can be dangerous when it is used improperly, as can all chemicals, but it can also be an incredibly powerful tool when used safely.

The history of DDT is just one example of how the environmental movement leads directly to human death on a massive scale. Of course, that may be part of the point.
Population control advocates blamed DDT for increasing third world population. In the 1960s, World Health Organization authorities believed there was no alternative to the overpopulation problem but to assure than up to 40 percent of the children in poor nations would die of malaria. As an official of the Agency for International Development stated, "Rather dead than alive and riotously reproducing."
[Desowitz, RS. 1992. Malaria Capers, W.W. Norton & Company]
THE JEWEL OF AFRICA: Via Instapundit, a very sad article on the recent history of Zimbabwe. Mugabe is as ruthless and terrible as Saddam Hussein, but far less organized and unable to even feed his own people. Before he "freed" Southern Rhodesia, the country was rich and prosperous and exported food to all its neighbors. Now, Zimbabwe is ruled by Mugabe's corrupt cronies who divert all the country's wealth into their own pockets.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

CHEMICAL THREAT: I'm watching Fox News Channel now, and Rick Leventhal who is embedded in the 1st Marine division, 3rd LAR, just said that he has witnessed Iraqi soldiers in chemical suits unloading steel drums from trucks. I hadn't heard this anywhere before, so I'm going to see if I can find any more info. I believe that the marines are near Nasiriyah. Remember, you heard it here first!
FRANCE'S ENEMY WITHIN 2: SDB writes along the same line that I did earlier. The key to understanding France's decision-making process is understanding their economy and their social welfare system; I don't think that can be understated.

Further proof of French perfidy. Say that five times fast.
DOCTRINAL PURITY: Tacitus has a post up that gives a little analysis of the current situation with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq. According to him, the 3ID has lost some operational flexibility because of their fast advance towards Baghdad. They're spread too thinly to maintain momentum, and he believes (as does a Washington Post article) that they'll have to delay until the 4ID arrives to back them up (some time in April). Interesting, if true.

I've read a lot of speculation about the current campaign, and there's widespread concern among pundits that we don't have enough boots in the sand to handle the "fierce" resistance the Iraqis are putting up.... Time will tell. We would have had many more strategic options open to us if the 4ID had been allowed to deploy from Turkey as we had originally intended. Or if we had known that Turkey would ultimately refuse we could have deployed them from Kuwait with 3ID. As it is, we have to wait several weeks for their equipment to arrive by boat and be offloaded. Thanks, France.
FROM THE TIP OF THE SPEAR: CNN has a report from the 3-7th Cav, the unit which served as the lead element of the 3rd Infantry Division thrusting towards Baghdad.
"It was sad," [Tank machine gunner Sgt. 1st Class Paul] Wheatley said Thursday. "They were forced to fight against odds they would never have a chance to overcome -- shooting rifles at tanks. They are driving Toyota pickup trucks at Bradleys and tanks. I couldn't even explain it." ...

Wheatley was handling a medium-size 7.62 mm machine gun.

Bullets ricocheted off the side of his tank. "It was almost like somebody was throwing rocks. But, against the side of a car when you kick up rocks."

"They were probably 150 meters away," he estimated. That far away, "their AK-47s won't do too much damage to a tank."

The RPGs couldn't have done much against the tank either, he said. "If you don't see it and just feel the percussion from it, not much is going to happen. ... But if you're hanging out of the hatch, it could mess you up pretty bad."

Wheatley said he didn't know how many Iraqis he took out. "I wouldn't even begin to guess. Probably 30-35. During that one stretch of road."
BUY A GUN FOR MICHAEL MOORE DAY: Via lots of sites, but particularly Emperor Misha, I have found the perfect way to express my [checking thesaurus for synonym of "loathing"] abhorrence for Michael Moore: BUY A GUN FOR (TO SPITE) MICHAEL MOORE DAY.

"AMERICAN" MEDIA?: StrategyPage has an excellent point about CNN and other "American" media sources. I'll just quote it:
It is apparent to many that when an American News network like CNN reports facts as, "the American military views Iraqis displaying POW's as a violation of the Geneva Convention." CNN is unwilling to take sides and views American corpses being lifted off the ground, their hair pulled back and the bullet holes in the foreheads shown to the audience, as possibly acceptable behavior.

CNN views the interrogation of American POW's for a TV audience, some badly wounded and forced before the camera by the interrogator to raise their heads, as open to interpretation as to whether it violates the Geneva Convention or the norms of civilized behavior. CNN is headquartered in Atlanta, though it sometimes appears they would prefer it was Baghdad.

It disgusts me that some American reporters find nobility in refusing to be patriotic. It disgusts me that they are "journalists" first, and Americans only second. It is certainly important to present factually true news, but it is morally offensive to remain neutral when one's own country is fighting against such evil. It is cowardly to hide anti-Americanism behind a cloak of "objectivity".
THINK OF THE CHILDREN: Dorothy Rabinowitz writes on the Wall Street Journal editorial page about the dangers of false accusations and witch-hunts, particularly as they relate to child abuse.
Shortly after a jury convicted Kelly Michaels in 1988, a Los Angeles Times reporter put a question to the victorious prosecutors, Glenn Goldberg and Sara McArdle. He was curious about certain of the charges, said the journalist--things like the accused inserting knives into childrens' ears and such. Did they, the prosecutors, actually believe that kind of story?

No, Glenn Goldberg answered.

Oh, absolutely, came the reply from prosecutor McArdle. Both had answered at the same instant--doubtless a moment of revelation for Sara McArdle.

How jurors could have believed child witnesses who had given clearly fantastic testimony--another question often asked--was easier to answer. ...
2ND AMENDMENT: New Mexico has become the 35th state to pass a "shall-issue" concealed weapon permit law. As opposed to "may-issue" laws, a "shall-issue" law requires the government to issue a permit to an adult who meets the objective qualifications, and does not leave it to the discretion of the issuing authority (usually a police chief). This is important, because in states like California that have "may-issue" laws, the police basically NEVER issue permits to anyone except their own friends and celebrities -- a gross abuse of power, in my opinion. This makes it impossible for normal people to get permits even if they meet the legal requirements.

This CNSNews article has a lot more information, and also has quotes by Dr. John Lott, an economist and senior research scholar at the Yale School of Law who's research statistically proves that violent crime decreases in counties that willingly issue concealed gun permits.
"When you're an academic, one of the reasons you do research is that you think you can do a better job than other people have done," he explained. "So I started looking at the gun issues more, and the one that stood out in terms of having any significant, real benefit on the crime rates was the 'right to carry' laws.

"The effect was fairly dramatic," Lott recalled, "and I was very surprised."

When ordinary citizens are allowed to carry weapons for their own defense, violent crime drops. Period. This means that the more people that carry guns, the less likely it is that anyone will have to actually use one in self-defense.
FRANCE'S ENEMY WITHIN: France is in trouble, and its recent surge of anti-Americanism is only a symptom of a far greater problem. If anti-Americanism is the cough and fever, the cancer that is eating the country from the inside is its untenable socialist economy that props up its population of 5 million unemployed, unassimilated, uneducated Arab Muslim immigrants. Read this CNSNews article for a taste, and particularly note:
With up to 90 percent of the population supporting President Jacques Chirac in his opposition to the war in Iraq, the French government has found itself for the first time sharing common ground with the country's largely disenfranchised Muslim youth, who often live in housing projects where drugs, violence and unemployment are rampant....

"What is extraordinary," said Jean-Louis Borloo, the minister for cities, "is that the whole immigrant community completely supports France's position. There has never been such national solidarity."

The problem is that France has been guided to this anti-American position by its leaders for precisely this reason: mere solidarity. Anti-Americanism is designed to appease these violent, angry immigrants -- anti-Americanism is the aspirin France is taking for its cancer, and although it may provide relief for a moment, it will not cure the disease.
THAT'S UNNATURAL!: Eugene Volokh has a good post about "unnaturalness" arguments. Hope that's not too awkward a phrase. Arguing that something is "unnatural" is purposely vague, and generally used to appeal to pseudo-religious or -emotional feelings that the speaker believes he shares with the listener. It allows them to agree on conclusions based on these feelings without having to actually deal with the details behind the feelings, on which they may disagree (different religious backgrounds, or whatever).

I think that similar arguments can be made in another realm: environmentalism. It's not "unnatural" to eat animals, or cut down trees, or dig oil and metal out of the ground. It may or may not be a good idea, and it may be wrong for other reasons, but it's not "unnatural".

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

NEW WORLD ORDER: Via Instapundit -- President Bush 41 used the phrase "new world order" when the USSR collapsed, but only now is that new order actually taking shape. So says Michael Ledeen in this New York Sun article. He describes therein how France and Germany pressured Turkey to refuse America's request to deploy troops into Iraq from their territory by threatening that if they did so, "Turkey would be locked out of Europe for a generation." Thanks, friends.

And in the Times, Anatole Kaletsky tells us what form this new world order is taking by telling us which countries/organizations he believes will end up winners after this conflict, and which will be losers. I don't particularly agree with his analysis on several points. He claims that the UN will be a loser, and that is certainly true, but he also believes that "Nato will probably cease to exist in its present form." I'm not sure what he means by this exactly, but I doubt that NATO will be disbanded or changed significantly in structure. This is not the first time that NATO has been tested and found wanting, and in fact two of its own members have fought each other in the recent past: Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. NATO may be weakened, as is the UN, but it will not change substantially over night.

France and Germany will obviously come out as losers in the long run. He also writes that Europe as a whole will suffer as American money moves ever eastward into Asia. This is probably true, but I don't think it's strongly connected to the Iraq situation. Europe is a poor investment because of its largely socialist economic systems, not because some of its countries back the US and others don't.

Russia will fare poorly, and that to me is a mystery. It would have been easy for Russia to stay mostly neutral (as China has done) or even to support the US, and there would have been little cost other than lip service. Why did they so vehemently oppose us? Merely for money? I suppose it's possible, but if that's the case then it would appear to have been a gross miscalculation since it will cost them far more in the long run than they could have ever hoped to collect from Saddam Hussein.

Kaletsky also believes that Israel will come out a loser because the Bush administration will abandon it in order to create peace, so as to give its newly reconstructed Iraq the best possible chance to survive. I don't think this is likely, and I think Kaletsky underestimates "the fanatical attachment to aggressive Zionism among many of Bush's neo-conservative supporters." As of this moment, Israel is the only democracy in the region; soon there will be two, and I doubt that the US will throw the first to the wolves just as the second is coming on line.

Finally, he claims that the only sure winners, other than Iraq, "are the governments of Iran, North Korea and other rogue states. After this unexpectedly difficult war in Iraq -- and the even more difficult occupation -- America is most unlikely to be able to summon up the political will, the money, or the military resources to attack any of its other perceived enemies." Frankly, this is absurd. It will certainly be a year or so before we take on the next of our enemies, but I doubt it will be more than six months before the next domino falls, be it North Korea or Iran or Saudi Arabia. Our terrible, swift strike against Saddam himself in the first hour of this war should give every ruthless dictator reason to tremble.

We can find you, we can kill you, and we don't need to fight through all your cronies to do it.
LOVE AND MARRIAGE: One of my friends asked a question about the number of people who get married. I consulted the source of all knowledge, The Internet, and found this page. It cites reliable sources, but otherwise I can't vouch for its accuracy. Nevertheless, let's look at some of its statistics:

  1. Median duration of marriage (1997): 7.2 years
  2. Likelihood of new marriages ending in divorce in 1997: 43%
  3. Adults between 25 and 34 years old never married in 1998: 14 million (35%)
  4. Percentage of population (by area of US) who had never married in 1999: Midwest: 28%, Northeast: 28%, South: 26%, West: 29%
  5. People (by gender) 15 years of age and over who have never married: Males: 32,253,000 (31.3% of men), Females: 27,763,000 (25.1% of women)
  6. Median age at first marriage: Males: 26.8, Females: 25.1
  7. Average age of marriage [first marriage and later] in 1997: Males: 28.7, Females: 25.9
  8. Percentage of people that married under the age of 20 who eventually get divorced as of 1995: 40%
  9. Percentage of people that married over the age of 25 who eventually get divorced as of 1995: 24%
  10. Percentage of women whose parents were divorced who get divorced within 10 years as of 1995: 43%
  11. Percentage of women whose parents stayed together who get divorced within 10 years as of 1995: 29%
  12. In 1996, children of divorce were 50% more likely than their counterparts from intact families to divorce.
  13. Fatherless homes account for 63% of youth suicides, 90% of homeless/runaway children, 85% of children with behavior problems, 71% of high school dropouts, 85% of youths in prison, well over 50% of teen mothers.

All very interesting. Waiting until after age 25 to get married seems like a good idea. It's also scary that children who have divorced parents are 50% more likely to get divorced themselves.
CANADA, FAIR-WEATHER FRIEND 2: Jacob Levy over at The Volokh Conspiracy has a different take on the Canada issue than I do. He mentions serveral legitimate grievances that Canada has with the US, and although I don't know a lot about each specifically they aren't all minor. I don't think, however, that these issues are the reason that Canada has refused to support us in Iraq.
THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON: Everyone likes princesses and dragons. I particularly like princesses. Here's a story about a Princess who finally gets rescued by her knight in shining armor. If the direct link doesn't work, just head to The Forge and look for the entry on March 26, 2003.
INSECTS: I just had a discussion about insect eyes with a man in the elevator. He tried to tell me that some insects have non-compound eyes, and he cited as an example the praying mantis. I told him that I was quite confident that all insects have compound eyes, but he remained unconvinced when I had to get off at the 3rd floor.

As it turns out, I appear to have been correct. Some insects don't have eyes, but the ones that do all have compound eyes. Take that, anonymous-man-in-elevator.
WOMEN AT WAR: Opinion Journal posts an article by Collin Levey (a woman, if it matters) that discusses some of the issues involved with allowing women to take part in combat operations. She rightly points out that in most circumstances women are able to be as effective as men in combat. 90% of military job types are open to women, and 15% of the American military is female. She further notes that:
In a small nation like Israel that's constantly fighting for survival, young women have always been seen as fit to serve. Keeping half the population out of warfare is a luxury of a country that can choose its wars carefully. Still, if doubts about the capabilities of women soldiers have been put to rest, our own capability to endure seeing them come home in body bags has yet to be tested.

She is right, it is a luxury. There are very compelling reasons to exclude women from special forces and front-line ground combat, but for the other 90% of military jobs the only real reasons are based on emotion. Seeing Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson on video in Iraqi custody made me feel sick to the stomach in a way that seeing the men did not. Why? Probably because, to some degree, I'm sexist.

Would it be right for society to forbid women's participation in high-risk military positions for emotional reasons? We make a lot of decisions for emotional reasons (such as government entitlements), and I'm generally against such motivations. Maybe I'm more reluctant in this case because I share the emotion.

An except from the New American link above:
The issue of violence against women was crystallized when former prisoners of war appeared before the Commission, including one of the two women captured during Operation Desert Storm. Testimony about the indecent assault on one of the women drew further attention to POW training programs already in place that "desensitize" male POWs to the brutalization of women with whom they may be held captive. An interview with trainers at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training center at Fairchild Air Force Base uncovered a logical but disturbing consequence of assigning women to combat:

"If a policy change is made, and women are allowed into combat positions, there must be a concerted effort to educate the American public on the increased likelihood that women will be raped, will come home in bodybags, and will be exploited. The consequence of not undertaking such a program would be large-scale disillusionment with the military should the United States get in a protracted military engagement."
CANADA, FAIR-WEATHER FRIEND: Canada has a lot going for it, mostly because of its proximity to the US. Unfortunately for them, their French roots are showing and its starting to have a negative effect -- from the National Post:
"There is no security threat to Canada that the United States would not be ready, willing and able to help with," Mr. Cellucci [the US ambassador to Canada] said in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto. "There would be no debate. There would be no hesitation. We would be there for Canada, part of our family. And that is why so many in the United States are disappointed and upset that Canada is not fully supporting us now."

Well, what does the esteemed Mr. Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada, think of this?
"Of course [Mr. Cellucci] is disappointed. We are all disappointed somewhat that we could not agree," Mr. Chrétien said. "They have the right to make their own decision, as I said, and we have the right as an independent country to make our own decision .... Being independent and sovereign nations, we can disagree and remain good friends."

However, his diplospeak either deliberately or inadvertantly misses the point. We are not disappointed that we couldn't agree on what flavor of ice cream to get. We are pissed off that when we could have really used their help, they balked. The problem isn't one of mere words, as a "failure to agree" would seem to imply. The problem is one of action.

He is certainly correct that Canada is free and sovereign and can oppose the United States, but he is incorrect in thinking that such opposition will have no effect on our relationship. We aren't friends with Canada because we like to hang out and watch Buffy together. The truth of the matter is that Chrétien knows all this, and he's playing to his electorate. I hope that they aren't as ignorant as he believes they are.

Perhaps they are not.
IRAQI TV PRETTY MUCH SUCKS: The Times Online has a little bit of info about what Iraqis watch on TV. "Normally, in peace time, there is news focusing for about 60 per cent of the time on the country's leadership, the actions and statements of Saddam Hussein and other government figures." Sounds like a blast.

"There is a channel for young people, Shabab or Youth TV, run by Uday Hussein. The content is mostly the same but with a focus on things with more of an interest for youth and on Uday's cult of personality." I'm sure that made it easier for him to rape and murder young girls.
WESLEY CLARK: I don't know a lot about Wesley Clark, but I do know two things. First, the mean kids made fun of his name when he was in the third grade. Second, and more important, he has since then far-surpassed even the coolest third grader by attaining the coveted title of SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER EUROPE. He's retired now, and is contemplating running against Bush for president in 2004 (good luck). I'm sure that there have been nights that he's laid awake in bed and just thought to himself about how incredibly cool he is.

(Nicholas drew my attention to his title a couple of days ago, but he hasn't been writing much recently. I think he's sick.)
MY FIRST LINK: I was perusing the recent network traffic (which mostly consists of hits from my mom and brother) and I noticed that someone has linked to me! Take that, France! Despite their best efforts, France's Monkey Force has utterly failed to "eliminate me", "put me out of action", or "take care of me". At first I thought The Diablogger had linked to me on accident, but after emailing him I can now confirm 100% that it wasn't a mistake. Apparently SDB mentioned me to him, and so I say to both of them: you are very wise. I have no doubt that my upcoming post on the eternal question of "Pirates or Ninjas?" will make you proud.
NORTH KOREA: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (a.k.a., the last Stalinist nation on earth) continues to make noise as it tries to capture US attention while we're distracted by Iraq. If North Korea is going to start a shooting war, now would be the best time to do it, and they know that we know that they know this. So, Pyongyang is making threats and issuing ultimatums and, as usual, we're ignoring them. They also now claim that they aren't trying to build nukes.

Since we cut off the fuel oil supply we were bribing North Korea with (as a response to their announcement that they were, in fact, pursuing nuclear weapons), the government has become more and more desperate. Without that oil they cannot generate electricity to run their trains, transport food, heat homes, or run any sort of industry. It is only a matter of time before the government collapses, but there is one trick. If Pyongyang knows that it is about to go down, it might trigger an attack on South Korea as a last-ditch attempt at survival. This scenario is what the US is hoping to avoid by refusing to enter into negotiations. If there are no negotiations then they cannot make demands of us, and they cannot claim that we provoked them to war.

Just as we used diplomacy and the UN to lull Saddam into a sense of security so that he wouldn't attack our troops while they were being deployed, we are using diplomacy to buy time so that North Korea can fall on its own, without the need for a messy ground war.
THE HAND IS QUICKER THAN THE EYE: SDB theorizes that part of the reason that the military allowed reporters to be embedded in certain operational units is to distract attention away from other units without embedded reporters. I guess Tommy Franks figures that if you can't beat the media by keeping them out, you may as well join them and subversively enlist them to your cause.
UPRISING IN BASRA: Info from this Telegraph article:

Iraqi troops fired artillery pieces horizontally into crowds of their own people last night after a civilian uprising in Basra, the second city.

Watching British troops encircling the city of 1.3 million inhabitants said there were "horrific" scenes. One officer said: "We have seen a large crowd on the streets. The Iraqis are firing artillery at their own people. There will be carnage."

How can you even read that without disgust? Fortunately, our friends and allies the Brits are on the scene to help:

British artillery targeted the Iraqi emplacements, and the Ba'ath Party headquarters, home of pro-Saddam forces within the city, was destroyed by laser-guided bombs from US aircraft.

Later British forces took "significant action" against mortars and artillery pieces in Basra. An official said: "They have all been destroyed."

Tank commanders from the Black Watch battle group, part of the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, had been urgently seeking permission to intervene. But British commanders decided to wait for daylight.

I trust them that it's smart to wait for daylight so that they don't inadvertantly kill even more civilians while trying to help them, but I can only imagine the agony that the wait must have put the soldiers and the Iraqi people through.

Two weeks ago I was overly optimistic and didn't realize how many people were so intimately tied to Saddam's regime that they would rather die than let it fall. These are the worst of the worst, the people who know that if they are thrown out of power they will be killed by angry mobs, screaming for their blood as payment for the decades of death and oppression they have inflicted on the Iraqi people.

(Via Instapundit.)
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE MIDDLE-EAST: I picked up an actual newspaper this morning, and found a great article in the business section of the LA Times by Jim Flanigan about the economy of the Middle-East. Naturally, the article is also online; free registration required. The article points out some of the difficulties involved in building a flourishing economic environment in this region of the world, and correctly links economic development with political and social development.

Mr. Flanigan notes (as others have, including myself), that the vast oil wealth of the Middle-east has not generated any actual economic development. For example, he writes that although there are 200 million people in the region, there are zero automobile manufacturing plants. In fact, there is almost no industry whatsoever except what is invovled with pumping oil from the ground, and most of that infrastructure was built by Western companies under contract.

But who will help to turn things around?

For starters, don't count on those living there. The richest families in Saudi Arabia, far from being enthused at the prospect of increased U.S. influence in the region, are looking to invest more money in Europe, not on their home turf. Similarly, investors in Lebanon and Kuwait are questioning "whether there will be stability and rule of law" across the Middle East after the war ends, according to an investment manager who has wealthy clients in those countries.

It is a pattern that is all too familiar. As of the end of last year, the oil-producing countries -- including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar -- had piled about $70 billion into U.S. stocks and bonds.

That's $70 billion not looking for genuine business opportunities in the needy nations of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the West Bank and Gaza areas of the Palestinian Authority.

Part of the obvious problem is that no one, including the political rulers of the countries in question, is confident that any investments made in the region will be secure. Not merely secure from economic risk (which is always present), but secure from military threats, government seizure, terrorist attacks, and the like. In such an environment, no one invests at reasonable rates; the oil infrastructure was bought with cash, and in cases where it was financed it was done so at absurd interest rates.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

OMEGA POINT: If you're in the mood for some light reading, take a look at The Omega Point and the Final Fate of Life. Some thought-provoking stuff about the future of life in the universe, and some various hypothetical scenarios for the end of the universe. From an atheist perspective, of course.
THE FUTURE OF EUROPE: If you're at all interested in European politics, take a look at this UPI article that explains the current goings-on in great detail. There is a power struggle between Chirac (who wants to shape the EU into an anti-American socialist paradise with France at the head) and Blair (who wants to shape the EU into an American-friendly slightly-less-socialist paradise), and the war in Iraq is only one component. Via Andrew Sullivan.
HEAVY EXPANDED MOBILE TACTICAL TRUCK (HEMTT): Via the Federation of American Scientists, I give you the HEMTT. These bad boys are the workhorses of the US Army, which uses its 16,000 HEMTTs to keep our armor and infantry divisions supplied with fuel, ammunition, food, and other essentials while they're operationally deployed (as they are now in Iraq). Each truck can be configured to carry fuel (up to 2500 gallons) or other cargo (16.5+ tons), or to serve as a tractor or a wreaker. They've got winches and cranes and all sorts of nifty devices, standard!

But what if you need to move something really big, like a 70 ton M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank? Then I guess you'll need to upgrade to one of these.
PRIME NUMBERS: Nature has an article that briefly discusses the distribution of prime numbers. The idea presented is interesting, and one I've thought of before, but I'm not yet sure where it can lead. Statistically analyzing the first 1,000 or 1,000 trillion prime numbers could be an interesting exercise, but unless it leads to a method for exhaustively predicting larger primes, what good is it? If prime numbers are distributed randomly, then there are an infinite number of infinitely long sequences of primes that will fit an infinite number of patterns. Perhaps one such sequence starts with the number 1, and this is what they have stumbled upon (although even that I doubt).

I am not a number theorist, but I play one on TV.
POST-WAR IRAQ: The New York Times reports that the US is planning to set up a civilian administration under military command to immediately take control of Iraq once the fighting cools. Additionally, this civilian authority will be under the sole control of the US (what about the UK?), and there will be no initial role for the UN.

Bypassing the United Nations and setting up an American civilian peacekeeping administration under the military, however temporary, is a huge break from recent tradition and a denial of one of the United Nations' central roles since the end of the cold war.

You can imagine how I feel about this. Everything the UN touches becomes twisted and malignant, generally to the detriment of the US. So I say: screw 'em. According to Fox News, France and Russia don't want the UN to have any role in post-war Iraq, because they feel that UN involvement would serve to "legitimize" the war that they so recently opposed.

This Fox News headline says "Powell: France Has Role in Post-War Iraq", but that is misleading. What Powell means is clear from a quote in the article:

On postwar Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac also has thrown up roadblocks, threatening to veto in the United Nations any attempt to "legitimatize the military intervention" and "give the belligerents the power to administer Iraq."

Powell made clear Chirac's objections would not deter the U.S. drive, which British Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to take up with President Bush in their talks here and at Camp David beginning Wednesday.

Still, Powell said, France is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and so anything done through the council on administering Iraq would require France's support.

"Hopefully, France will play a helpful role," he said.

"What we need to do now is to recognize the fact that this regime is finished," Powell said of the government in Baghdad. "It will be removed, and then how do we get together to quickly to help the people of Iraq to a better life."

France's role, then, is to shut up and let us do our job. The more they complain, the more they undermine the remaining usefulness of the UN. It's already clear that the UN is powerless to speak on issues of war and peace; if France eliminates the UN's role as a charity organization as well, what will be left of it?
FALLEN HEROES: FoxNews has an article giving names and vital statistics for the American men and women who have thus far given their lives for us in Iraq. I say "us", because no matter where you are from on earth, they were fighting to make your life safer and more secure. Unless you're Saddam or one of his cronies, I suppose. Or any other murderous thug. Otherwise, the "us" includes you.
MORE FREE-RIDERS: Continuing my previous postings about the free-rider problem, I see an article on TCS by James Miller that explains it very clearly.

No one likes cleaning bathrooms, but most people like their bathrooms to be clean. When several people share a bathroom, a free rider game may manifest in which some attempt to free ride off the efforts of others.

He then goes on to describe how this type of game plays into the situation with Iraq and other foreign policy issues. It's an interesting article, and easy to understand. He concludes by writing:

After victory in Iraq, many will suggest we have a choice between acting morally or vengefully towards reluctant allies like France and Germany. I believe, however, that the vengeful path is also the moral one. If we don't reward our allies and punish our detractors, free rider problems will doom U.S. troops to act alone in future conflicts.

Spotted via Instapundit.
UPDATED LINKS: I updated the links on the left bar of the site. I added a few blogs, several news sites, and some good resource sites as well. Take a look, they should all prove interesting.

Monday, March 24, 2003

RUSH-N-ATTACK PART 2: An update to my earlier post about Russia selling military equipment to Iraq. Via the Command Post, I found a Donald Sensing post where he repeats that Russia is just "screwing the Iraqis over and making a few bucks off them doing it" when it sells them GPS jamming gear. Our weapons can land within a meter of their target even without GPS guidance.
IT'S BETTER THAN THAT, HE'S DEAD JIM: Via The Command Post, a National Post article that presents pretty strong analysis that Saddam and his inner circle are all dead.

If ever there were a time for a "mother of all battles" speech, this is it. But there seems to be a noticeable lack of folks around to give it. Whether or not Saddam is dead or dying or hideously disfigured or lightly bruised or looking as relaxed and roguish as Jack Nicholson picking up a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, the rumours of his death have spread quickly around Iraq and the regime seems to be incapable of restoring the appearance of authority. Whether or not Washington succeeded in its aim of "decapitating" the regime, the Iraqis are doing an awfully good impression of behaving as if they're headless. The significant indicator is not the units that are surrendering, but the ones that are disbanding -- they've concluded they don't need the protection of the British and Americans to keep them safe from the regime's wrath, because the regime is no longer in a condition to enforce its wrath....

When Jean Chrétien told reporters in Mexico that you can't just go around removing leaders you don't like, one assumes he meant it at least in part as a matter of practical possibility -- the human cost of taking out the butchers is too great, the civilian casualties too high. Dictators from Kim Jong-Il to Robert Mugabe rely on that argument.

But, if it emerges that Washington effectively disabled the entire leadership on Thursday morning, that the first casualty of the war was a Mr. S. Hussein of Baghdad, well, that's an awfully cautionary tale for Kim and Co. America will have invented not the neutron bomb but the neuron bomb: They'll have shown they're capable of disconnecting the regime's nervous system while leaving everything else standing -- bridges, hospitals, men, women, children. If I were M. Chirac or one of those other fellows who think the real threat to the world is American hegemony, I'd be longing for a reassuring call from Saddam. Otherwise, that North Korean crisis is going to go very differently.

They're all dead. Or, even better, horribly maimed and in terrible agony. It kinda makes me feel bad to wish unimaginable pain and suffering on someone, but I can only read so many stories about raping girls, gouging childrens' eyes out, and pushing people into shredding machines before I really start to dislike someone.
I HATE YOU: Good riddance, Uday Hussein.
HOLY HELMET: I really have no idea what to make of this. The article describes an apparently serious effort to induce "the kind of holy visions of prophets, even in those who have never experienced religious belief." It operates by running high magnetic fields through the brain's temporal lobes.
THE WEASEL-POODLE PACT: Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs speculates that the announced France-Germany-Belgium military alliance "may lead to the creation of the mightiest force for appeasement and capitulation the world has ever known."
RUSH-N-ATTACK: It appears that Russia has sold prohibited equipment quite recently, and that there might have been Russian scientists on the ground in Iraq as recently as two days ago. Russia denies these claims, and says that it will investigate. It may be that certain Russian companies sold technology to Iraq without complicity from the government (plausible deniability: a benefit of Russia's newfound capitalism). Personally, if these reports are true, they don't really surprise me or anger me the same way such reports about France and Germany would. Russia has never pretended to be our close ally, and has made no secret of the fact that they have different goals around the world than we do. Unlike France and Germany, who make friendly noises to our face and then stab us in the back.

Additionally, unlike France and Germany, Russia actually has power outside of UN conference rooms. In some areas, our interests do line up with theirs, and so there is a much richer and more complex diplomatic situation between the US and Russia than there is between the US and the countries of Europe. Russia agreed to our abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, for instance. So even though Russia is on the US Security Council and may have violated UN sanctions, they actually have the power to offer us other things in compensation (unlike the Weasels). So with Russia, Iraq is just one piece of a large puzzle, and we can continue to work with them in the future. We may never have even really expected them to respect the sanctions in the first place (which underlines the futility of the UN process).

However, France has pretended to be our "close ally" and "friend" for quite a while. Similar revelations about France would (will) have a much more serious effect, and rightly so.
SADDAM IS DEAD: Another speech by Saddam Hussein has been aired by Iraqi TV. FoxNews discusses it briefly, and it seems pretty obvious that it was pre-recorded. Saddam doesn't mention any specific battles or dates or places, and gives vague assurances and praise to various elements of the Iraqi military... some of which have already surrendered.

Senior U.S. officials told Fox News that they believe the person in the tape is indeed Saddam, but that the message was taped before the war began.

This conclusion has been drawn, in part, because Saddam praised the 51st division of his troops, which surrendered in the early stages of the war.

"Hussein praised people who were not praiseworthy," the official said, adding that Saddam mentioned units that were not engaged in the fighting. There were also jump cuts in the tape, suggesting Saddam or Iraqi television took out pieces that were even more off the mark.

As I wrote before, I believe that Saddam's surviving henchmen are just playing for time. They're trying to delay the inevitable long enough to escape the country with whatever money they can grab, and are using the remaining Iraqi military forces to shield themselves.
A-10 THUNDERBOLT: Also known as the Warthog, the A-10 is a close air support plane that is used to take out enemy main battle tanks. It's main weapon is the GAU-8/A Avenger, a seven-barrel gatling gun that can fire 4,200 rounds per minute (that's 70 per second). Each round is 30mm in diameter, weighs more than a pound and a half, and travels 1067 meters/second (that's more than 2200mph). The gun itself is larger and heavier than a Cadillac.

Click on the picture to learn more about the plane, via the Federation of American Scientists.

Click on the picture to learn more about the GAU-8/A Avenger via Stravonski's A-10 Page.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

COMBAT DOZERS: Americans and Israelis use large Caterpillar-built bulldozers in combat. I love huge machines, so here are a few links with some pictures of the D9 62-ton armored dozer, and the D7 armored dozer. These massive vehicles are used to breach set defenses such as walls, buildings, barriers, and barbed wire, as well as to clear mine fields. Their blades are heavy enough and strong enough to absorb the blast of an anti-tank mine without significant damage, and with their armor kits they are impervious to small arms fire.
FRIVILEDGE: Go read James Lileks; you should read his column every day (there's a link there on your left). He will explain what friviledge is, and how it relates to the Oscars. Tell him I sent you.
FLIRTATION: It's spring! The thoughts of young men turn towards romance, and all the terrible awkwardness that portends. In honor of such, I've written a little piece called Flirtation over at The Forge. If the direct link doesn't work, just follow the link to The Forge and look for the entry on March 23, 2003.
KEVIN'S OSCAR PICKS: My Hollywood inside connection (a.k.a., Kevin) made some predictions, and ended up batting a respectable .500. Let's recap:

CategoryKevin's PickWinner
Best PictureChicagoChicago
Best DirectorMartin ScorceseThe Child Rapist Roman Polanski
Best ActorDaniel Day LewisAdrien Brody
Best ActressNicole KidmanNicole Kidman
Best Supporting ActorChris CooperChris Cooper
Best Supporting ActressMeryl StreepCatherine Zeta-Jones
Best Original ScreenplayTalk to HerTalk to Her
Best Adapted ScreenplayThe HoursThe Pianist
ORGY OF SELF-CONGRATULATION: The Oscars are over, and Hollywood can tuck two more disgraces under its belt.

First, Michael Moore. As I believe I've mentioned, I loathe Michael Moore. The lying fraud took advantage of the forum to slander Bush and America; at least some in the audience had the courage to boo him. Still, there was a standing ovation for him among the Hollywood elite.

Secondly, and even more disgusting: the child rapist Roman Polanski was awarded an Oscar for best director. They announced the award, everyone stood up and clapped, and then they moved on, without even mentioning why he wasn't able to be at the ceremony to accept it. Hmm, maybe they didn't want to tell the audience that the child rapist, Roman Polanski, has been hiding out in Europe for 30 years as a fugitive, after having been convicted for raping a 13-year-old girl and then skipping bail.
THE TIDES OF WAR: Although just about everything in the battle of Iraq is going smoothly for the US, there have been two rather startling incidents. First, the traitorous attack by Sgt. Asan Akbar against his commanders in the 101st Airborne Division camp; second, the apparent capture, torture, and execution of up to 12 American soldiers by irregular Iraqi forces. War is not pretty or glamorous, even when you win. It's important to remember that. Often times when I read reports of the battle and speculation on Hussein's death (along with his sons, we can only hope), it's easy to distance myself from the real horror that war entails.

War is brutal and ugly, make no mistake about it. The best thing we can do for our own solders, and for the people of Iraq, is to finish it as quickly and humanely as possible.

Of course, it makes it hard to be humane when Iraqi soldiers pretend to surrender, and then attack when we try to accept.