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Thank God for Times Select

[ 0 ] July 12, 2006 |

Because of Times Select, I can rise each morning happy in the knowledge that I won’t have to read John Tierney.

Another Way for the Man to Keep You Down

[ 0 ] July 12, 2006 |

This sounds really cool, in a mildly creepy kind of way:

[Rick] McKenzie has devised Crowd Federate, a model that will add a crowd component to a variety of defense simulations. “The intent is to provide a real-time, realistic, psychologically based crowd model to provide interactions with control forces.”

Based on extensive psychological research, Crowd Federate works at several levels. At the smallest, the model tracks individual people, although only for navigation within the city at this point. The psychological aspects kick in at the group level, with groups typically composed of 10 people.

“There are different types of groups,” McKenzie said. “There is the protester group which protests for a cause. They’re the ones holding the banners. The agitator group is there to cause trouble. The bystanders are just there and don’t want to get involved. Then there is the curious group that will move toward anything interesting and stick their noses in. If something violent should erupt, they will probably run away.”

To some extent, the behavior of the military forces will determine the response of these groups. The very presence of soldiers may ratchet up tensions, as will shooting into the crowd. But numerous other factors influence crowd behavior, and many can be adjusted by simulation operators. One key sets the overall crowd emotion level, expressed through nine levels of aggression.

Terrain and cultural factors are also included, although the operationalization of the latter seems kind of clumsy:

The Crowd Federate has two cultural variables. On one end is a user-determined rating for inherently cultural aggression. On the other end is a rating for the cultural awareness of local customs among the military forces. The most volatile combination is an aggressive culture and a culturally insensitive army.
There are also environmental factors. Terrain affects the aggressiveness of crowds and their tendency to mass.

The simulation is being vetted for use by Joint Forces Command. Previous simulations have either severely simplified civilian behavior or just dealt with the behavior of groups. If it works for the Pentagon, expect the simulation to be used by your local police.

Baseball Challenge Standings, All Star Break

[ 0 ] July 12, 2006 |

The Bearded Ducks, unsurprisingly, hold a lead after the first half of the season. Loomis trails closely, and a mad run by Axis of Evel Knievel has placed Dave Noon within striking distance.

Remember that lineups restart after the All-Star Break; if you haven’t yet modified your team, you’ll be getting zero points.

1 Kentucky Bearded Ducks , R. Farley 4138
2 I Love Technology , E. Loomis 4080
3 Axis of Evel Knievel , D. Noon 4011
4 titleixbaby , P. Smith 3922
5 Bolts from the Blue , R. Payne 3785
6 green weinies , W. Bell 3551
7 The Stugotz , B. Petti 3525
8 Shangri-La Coelacanths , J. Daw 3495
9 Eephus , J. Schroeder 3457
10 Seattle HemiCats , M. Bruneau 3362
11 Moscow Rats , I. Gray 3315
12 Sector 7G Carbon Blobs , S. Meredith 3308
13 deez nuts , m s 3153
14 St. Louis Cardinals , D. Solzman 3133
15 Axis of Evel Knievel , d. noon 2825
16 GeorgeWCarpetbagger , P. McLeod 2279

Shine On

[ 0 ] July 11, 2006 |

Syd Barrett has died, only thirty-five years late.

Syd Barrett, the troubled genius who co-founded Pink Floyd but spent his last years in reclusive anonymity, has died, a spokeswoman for the band said Tuesday. He was 60.

The spokeswoman — who declined to give her name until the band made an official announcement — confirmed media reports that he had died. She said Barrett died several days ago, but she did not disclose the cause of death. Barrett had suffered from diabetes for many years.

Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with Roger Waters [ed], Nick Mason and Rick Wright, and wrote many of the band’s early songs. The group’s jazz-infused rock made them darlings of the London psychedelic scene, and the 1967 album ”The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — largely written by Barrett, who also played guitar — was a commercial and critical hit.

However, Barrett suffered from mental instability, exacerbated by his use of LSD. His behavior grew increasingly erratic, and he left the group in 1968 — five years before the release of Pink Floyd’s most popular album, ”Dark Side of the Moon.” He was replaced by David Gilmour.

I quite like Piper at the Gates of Dawn and some of the early Pink Floyd singles. I don’t particularly care for Barrett’s solo work, although during the height of my Floyd fandom I owned all of his albums.

… also read Jody Rosen. While I enjoy Piper at the Gates, I concur with Rosen that a) the best of Pink Floyd’s later work in much better than Barrett Floyd, and b) that Dark Side etc. would not have been possible had Barrett remained in the band.

Improving Counter-Insurgency

[ 0 ] July 11, 2006 |

Matt has some good comments on the excellent Fred Kaplan article on the latest US Army counter-insurgency doctrine. I differ from Matt on a couple of points, however. Matt writes:

I think that, basically, yes, we should give up these sorts of wars as futile. Kaplan observes near the top of his article that “as a nation we may simply be ill-suited to fight these kinds of wars.” This is a common trope in the counterinsurgency literature. And it appears to be true. The deeper problem, though, is that so do all the other relevant nations. The history of liberal democracies waging successful counterinsurgency campaigns of the sort suggested by the Field Manual is very poor.

I think this is wrong for few reasons. First, I don’t think that the history of counter-insurgency has been quite as grim as Matt suggests that it is, even for military organizations employing relatively civilized tactics. The United States Marine Corps assissted several counter-insurgency operations in the 1920s and 1930s in Cental America, and these operations by and large were successful and did not employ the sort of scorched earth tactics that Matt later aludes to. The US also assisted in the elimination of the Huk rebellion in the Philippines, and in the defeat of the communist Greek insurgency in the late 1940s. British success in the Malayan Emergency is well known. The Boer War has to be rated at least a qualified (if costly) success for the British Army, and again did not involve mass slaughter tactics (although large number of Boers died of disease in concentration camps). Now, there are also plenty of examples of successful insurgencies against liberal democratic opponents, and I don’t want to suggest that such operations commonly succeed, but the number is a bit higher than zero. The converse is also wrong, I think; mass slaughter as a counter-insurgency tactic works pretty rarely.

Second, Matt makes what I think is an important qualification: The history of liberal democracies waging successful counterinsurgency campaigns of the sort suggested by the Field Manual is very poor. Right, but that’s part of the point. For the modern military organization, nationalist insurgency is a relatively new problem. It’s important to recognize that insurgency and guerilla warfare are not the same thing; the former often (but not always) employs the latter, and the latter can exist without the former. In Iraq, the Saddam Fedayeen that the US encountered early in the war quite clearly employed guerilla tactics, but were not insurgents. European military organizations of the 19th century were accustomed to dominating huge colonial tracts with extremely low troop density. If we accept that the tools that make a military good at counter-insurgency are not the tools that make an organization good at conventional continental warfare, then it becomes apparent that even during the period in which nationalist insurgencies could be expected, many organizations had better things to do. Whereas keeping the colonies down was important, defending the border was usually viewed as the more compelling mission in most military organizations. Simply put, armies haven’t had that much incentive to either theorize about counter-insurgency or become proficient at executing it. The two conclusions that follow from this are first that the number of democracies executing these tactics in a competent manner has been quite small, but second that there is no very compelling evidence to think that military organizations cannot improve their counter-insurgency tactics over time. Indeed, we’d even expect it as the incentives for fighting counter-insurgency well increase. Training and doctine matter, and both can be improved over time. It is certainly well known that organizations vary in their capacity to execute counter-insurgency or peacekeeping operations; colonially experienced European military organizations (France, UK) tend to do better than continentally oriented ones (US, Germany, Russia). Finally, we can do a bit of process tracing and point to situations in which well-executed tactics worked better than poorly executed ones (see, of course, Andrew Krepinevich’s The Army and Vietnam, which points out how much more successful Marine operations were than Army, despite employing less firepower).

Treating insurgency as an intractable problem opens up other difficulties. Not all insurgencies are the same; some are weak, some strong, some have a large popular base, others don’t, and so forth. Even if we were to accept that defeating the Iraqi insurgency was impossible from the start (a proposition I regard as unproven) this hardly means that no insurgency can be beaten with civilized tactics. Moreover, simply suggesting that we should discard the project of improving our counter-insurgency capabilities because it’s too hard disregards the possibility that the US may be required to engage in difficult counter-insurgency operations. In the case of Iraq, I can think of half a dozen different scenarios in which the US would have come into conflict with an insurgency for entirely legitimate reasons. If Hussein had openly allied himself with Bin Laden, or attacked Kuwait again, or if the state had begun to collapse, US intervention would have been both justified and necessary. It’s quite possible that an insurgency would have developed anyway, and the US military would have needed to develop the tools to fight it.

Matt also argued that “we need to endeavor to steer clear of counterinsurgency situations as much as we possibly can.” I concur, although that doesn’t really distinguish insurgency from any other kind of war. Whether we’re just bad at counter-insurgency or the task is impossible doesn’t matter all that much, because we shouldn’t fight wars we’re unlikely to win. But this strikes me as an unproductive and potentially disastrous way to argue against intervention. The idea that war could be at least quasi-civilized and that particularly brutal tactics like gassing the enemy, incinerating their cities, and killing their prisoners didn’t help anybody out has, in spite of some setbacks, contributed to the reduction of human misery. Suggesting that the only successful counter-insurgency tactics are likely to be the brutal ones leaves a humanitarian with relatively few options in the face of a necessary counter-insurgent fight. Moreover, it’s not rhetorically compelling to argue, against someone invoking national necessity, that the tactics we need to win are just too brutal for us to conduct. In the wake of, say, an Iranian sponsored terrorist attack against the United States, the “we can fight them because we’ll kill too many of them” argument is likely to fall on deaf ears. Indeed, some considerable portion of the US electorate might regard mass slaughter as a feature, not a bug.

So, I can’t agree with Matt that efforts to improve counter-insurgency tactics and operations are pointless. I do, however, agree with him that trying to maintain a reputation for resolve is ridiculous. More on that later.

What World Are You Living In?

[ 0 ] July 10, 2006 |

On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Grace Sherwood’s witchcraft conviction through trial by water:

“With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice,” [Tim] Kaine wrote. “We also can celebrate the fact that a woman’s equality is constitutionally protected today, and women have the freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

Sigh. If only either of those were true…

Er, that’s not very heroic…

[ 0 ] July 10, 2006 |

Interesting comparison:

The most wanted Chechen rebel warlord, Shamil Basayev, has died in an explosion in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

Russia’s FSB security service chief, Nikolai Patrushev, said Basayev was killed in a “special operation”.

But a pro-rebel website said Basayev and three other militants died when a lorry carrying explosives blew up accidentally.

I know that you don’t want to depict the Russians as particularly competent, but isn’t “Heroically Slaughtered by the Enemy” a better epitaph than “Accidentally Blew Up While Riding in a Truck“?

Tokyo Nerves

[ 0 ] July 10, 2006 |

I think Anthony Cordesman’s point regarding North Korean missile ranges helps explain Peter’s observation that the Japanese are really freaked. Cordesman:

There is absolutely no meaningful agreement about what the more limited range of such missiles would be. The Washington Post, for example, quotes a possible range of 2,175 to 2,672 miles in its July 5 edition. Other sources quote maximum ranges of 3,500, 4,000, and 5,000 kilometers. All are sheer guesswork, and all ignore the fact that missiles do not have maximum ranges; they have range-payloads. If you do not know (or at least state your assumption about) the weight of the warhead or payload, your guesses are undefined and irresponsible rubbish.

Accordingly, until better data are available, the main risk seems to be that North Korea is beginning early testing of a missile that could throw the equivalent of a rock at Alaska. Even in the worst case, it would be able to launch a small fission nuclear weapon with great inaccuracy and unreliability at Alaska, and just possibly Hawaii or the upper northwest corner of the U.S. Given its history of testing to date, it is probably around five years away from even this operational capability, although shorter times are all possible.

What there is, I’d wager, is near unanimous agreement that North Korea has the capacity to hit Japan with nuclear armed ballistic missiles either now or in the very near future. Japan has a couple of reasons to worry about this. First, the North Koreans will undoubtedly target Japan in the assumption that the prospect of the destruction of Tokyo will deter the US almost as much as that of Los Angeles. Second, this assumption may not hold. Although it’s virtually impossible to imagine a US president making a well-reasoned decision that attacking North Korea would be worth the destruction of Tokyo, it is certainly conceivable that US policymakers will think about the five years prior to a reliable North Korean ballistic missile threat as a window of opportunity. The threat of nuclear attack, rhetorically and psychologically, is likely to be less acutely felt when the target is not American. Consciously or no, American policymakers might be more willing to take risks when Tokyo rather than LA is at risk.

Obviously, this would be of concern to Japan, and I can see why the Japanese would seek their own, independent means of dealing with North Korea.

The Guv

[ 0 ] July 10, 2006 |

Governor Fletcher continues to stagger me with his tin-eared ineptitude. Irritated that he’s been indicted, Ernie has proposed that the Treasurer and Attorney General of Kentucky ought to be appointed, rather than elected. Both positions are currently held by Democrats, and the latter has pursued Governor Fletcher and most of his associates in an illegal spoils scheme. Fletcher’s popularity in Kentucky is collapsing even among Republicans, and he apparently thinks that he can successfully pull off a persecution narrative. The narrative extends to Mark Nickolas of Bluegrass Report. Presumably on Fletcher’s orders, Bluegrass Report and a few other blogs have been banned from the computers of state workers. Nickolas has filed suit.

Thug Fight!!!!!

[ 0 ] July 9, 2006 |

Speaking of thugs, Dority vs. Turner has to be the most entertaining bit of television I’ve seen all year.

…although Alma vs. Ellsworth gives it a good run. What a great show.

Penalty Kicks?

[ 0 ] July 9, 2006 |

Congratulations to Italy. What a crappy sport.


[ 0 ] July 9, 2006 |

A further note on deterrence theory; the most common critique (but not, as I have argued, the correct critique) is that deterrence theory cannot answer the problem of “madmen”, leaders who are presumably clinically insane and cannot be relied upon to make the rational calculations necessary to make deterrence work. As John Judis (via Matt) points out, the trope of the madman seems to have found purchase in American political debate, apparently undeterred by the fact that it is supported by virtually no empirical evidence.

It is hard for me to think, off the top of my head, of a genuinely suicidal leader. Hitler certainly does not qualify; he estimated correctly (over the assessment of his generals) that France could be conquered, then estimated incorrectly (but with the assent of his generals) that the Soviet Union could be conquered. It’s unfortunate that, instead of identifying the real problems with deterrence theory, policymakers and talking heads feel the need to discuss foreign policy problems in terms of mental illness. I suppose it makes sense rhetorically; the low level stability consequences of deterrence theory are kind of hard to explain, treating other countries as if they have reasonable interests and complaints almost smacks of treating others as actual people, and a calm discussion of interest leaves “hawks” without a bludgeon to bash people with.

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