11 July, 2017

Reality guide: A poster of how everything fits together | New Scientist

If you have any interest in how everything may hang together, this is useful:


Where it's most useful, however, is reminding us how little we actually know.

Reality guide: A poster of how everything fits together | New Scientist

10 July, 2017

China’s biggest ally in the South China Sea? A volcano in the Philippines — Quartz

Interesting connections--between Mt. Pinatubo, Typhoon Yunya, and China replacing the US in the South China Sea.  In one sense these events just accelerated some long-standing trends, but the impact of natural disasters on international relations is seldom given enough attention. 

Clark Air Base after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

China’s biggest ally in the South China Sea? A volcano in the Philippines — Quartz

Fatalities of firearms vs motor vehicle by U.S. State

Fatalities of firearms vs motor vehicle by U.S. State
This is interesting.  A comparison of fatalities by firearm versus fatalities by motor vehicle.  Clearly, it's not a random distribution.  I wonder why?  Any ideas?

Fatalities of firearms vs motor vehicle by U.S. State

The world by income (2017)

I like it when a map helps me to see connections I'd otherwise overlook.  I know North Korea is poor, but putting it in the same box with South Sudan and Afghanistan is something I hadn't thought of.  Likewise, Singapore and Seychelles.  It also raises some obvious questions:  why is French Polynesia so much better off than American Samoa?  Better administration?

The world by income (2017)

What the Largest Battle of the Decade Says about the Future of War

Mosul has some interesting lessons.  But we shouldn't get too focused on this one case.  Urban warfare is in transition.

I was interested in the over-reliance on special forces in the first stage of the war.  They're good, but but they're expensive, and grabbing and holding territory is not their job.  This looks like the sort of mistake the US might make with its own forces.

Most important: this is not over.  Daesh is not defeated.  It isn't even driven out of all the territory it holds.  And a coalition is most likely to fall apart when people are more worried about the post-war environment than they are in finishing off the original enemy.

What the Largest Battle of the Decade Says about the Future of War

15 September, 2016

Why we can't live in a completely liberal/internationalist world

It's amazing how many people dedicated to an open, liberal world fail to recognize the collective goods problem. In other words, for a "liberal", open, "Star Trek" world to operate, everyone within the system must be willing to play by the rules.  However, the profit to be made by breaking those rules remains great. Whether he's Putin, or Kim Jong-Un, or the leader of any of a number of countries, the payoffs to breaking the rules is higher than the rewards for abiding with them.  Such leaders, and such countries, drag everyone down to their level.
"The problem isn’t that the goals of the liberal internationalists are bad goals. They are excellent goals: no war, the spread of democracy and human rights, limits on weapons of mass destruction, strong institutions. The world they dream of is a much better world than the one we have now. And the liberal internationalists are also right that the world can’t afford to go on in the old way. Given 21st century technology and the vulnerability of our large urban populations to anything that disrupts the intricate networks on which we all depend, old-fashioned great-power politics with its precarious balance of power shored up by recurring wars is a recipe for utter disaster and, maybe, the annihilation of the human race.But the difficulty that over and over sinks hopeful efforts by liberal internationalists is this: Liberal internationalist methods won’t achieve liberal internationalist goals. Power, not communiqu├ęs, is what makes the world go round."

25 July, 2016

Lost in the halls of mirrors

Governments lie.

That's one of the first things I tell my freshmen: governments lie.  Not always, but often enough you need to always be aware of the possibility.  Paul Roberts gets into that territory when he talks about James Jesus Angleton, and stories within stories, and false trails, and 9/11.  Why was the unofficial Saudi funding connection classified?  It's not like anyone who knew anything about Al Qaeda didn't know about contacts in the royal family, including high-ranking people in the government.  It doesn't prove they ordered it.  It doesn't even prove that they knew about it.  Money is fungible.

The next interesting question, for me, is why are these documents declassified now?  Is it to remind people of Bush, and tar the Republicans?  That feels like a stretch.  Is there another connection, and this is supposed to lead us away from it?  Or to it?  Roberts claims the purpose is to reinforce the main story--highjackers, airplanes, surprise, etc.--while pointing to an irrelevant financing channel.  He seems to want us to believe 9/11 was, at least in part, an inside job.  That's a logical leap I'm unwilling to make.  While governments lie, in the long run they aren't very good at it.  There would have to be too many people involved to keep a secret this large for this long.  It's easier to imagine colossal incompetence, at several levels, followed by a lot of mutually-supporting CYA.

Will we ever have a clear picture of everything that happened on 9/11?  Probably not.  But as people grow older, and confess, and reveal their sins, we'll know more.  As copies of records are declassified, or leaked, or stolen, we'll know more.  As other countries reveal what they know, we'll know more.  Given time, we'll probably have a better picture of the mix of crime and incompetence.  It won't be perfect.  History is never perfect.  But we'll probably have a more complete picture than we have now.

And whatever is the truth, it probably won't be able to compete with the myths.  

Is the Saudi 9/11 Story Part Of The Deception? -- Paul Craig Roberts - PaulCraigRoberts.org

Contingency--or why most Americans don't speak French

Sometimes bureaucracy is not a problem.  Sometimes it solves previously unsolvable problems.  Sometimes, it changes the world.  Twenty minutes outside the French-Canadian city of Quebec changed the course of the Seven Years' (French and Indian) War.  And bureaucracy made it possible for the English to be there, when they needed to be there, to launch the decisive blow.

For the British it was part of the "Annus Mirabilis", but miracles don't just happen.  The British Navy had slowly, systematically, mapped the treacherous waters of the St. Lawrence.  They intercepted French fire ships and ran them aground.  They probed for a landing site, and failed.  But eventually they found one, upriver at the base of a bluff.  A small French force was defeated, and the British moved up the the plains

of Abraham.  The French Army set up to face them.  The British Army were in no position to retreat.  They would either win, or die.

The French troops outnumbered them, but they hadn't finished training or integrating local troops into the professional army.  They were worn down.  An while skirmisher lines inflicted casualties, the main body of British and Colonial troops were pros.  They held their ground.  They followed their orders.  They wanted to lead the main body of the French forces to come to them.

The French obliged.  The British had double-loaded their muskets, to deliver twice the firepower.  But it was a trick they could only use once.  They had to wait in place as the French fired, and again, and again, moving forward the whole time.  But the British were regulars.  This is what they trained for.

Finally the French were close enough to feel the full effect.  Call it thirty yards. On command, the British forces fired as one, moved forward through the smoke, reloaded and fired again.  Two hundred forty seconds.  The French line collapsed, and the survivors began to retreat to the city.  Both sides lost their commanding generals in that volley.  Both became more disorganized.  But the French were in shock, and the British advanced to positions where they could maintain the full siege of the city.  Without a source of supplies, without a commanding general, the French eventually surrendered.

The war wasn't over for another year, but the tide had clearly turned.  And that's why the eastern side of North America remained British, and eventually American.  It may even have contributed, a little, to the willingness of the French to sell the Louisiana territory, fifty years later. And when a student tells me that violence never settles anything, I tell them to read history.  There's luck, and preparation.  There's friction.  But brief moments can change the world.

America Was 20 Minutes Away From Being French - The Daily Beast

24 July, 2016

It always helps to define your terms.

The link below is to an interesting  on how to portray and analyze.  It is a good step in a useful direction.  A common vocabulary would facilitate communication and threat estimates among states, between organizations, and within them. It would facilitate the academic research, too. To deal with a problem, first you have to identify it, and then you need to be able to talk about it.  If you can't do the second, you probably still have some problems with the first.

That said, I don't find this iteration to be perfect.  What is?  Focusing on "violent extremism" rather than "terrorism" is a good idea.  "Terrorism" has too much baggage.  I'm not sure we could find a consensus on what constitutes "extremism," though.  Can it include actions by official representatives of states?  Must the target be innocent, or civilian (the two are not the same)?  Can a drone strike, or an attack by Special Forces, be characterized as "violent extremism"?  Violent, definitely.  But some of them SF guys seem pretty extreme, too.

Not assuming the religious angle is probably a good idea.  But does it have to be political?  If so, how political?  I don't include an act of a Lone Wolf that has no more connection than an after-the-fact claim of responsibility to be the same as someone who is inspired--Phil Walter's got that right.  But should we include the loser who aims to be playing suicide-by-cop the same as someone who thinks (whether he's right or wrong) that his act will contribute to a desired political outcome?  It seems that some serial killers could be violent extremists, but certainly not all.  We could include the self-motivated murderers of abortion doctors, but some are "saving babies" while others want to change the law, and most probably hold a mix of motives.

Making a particular religious orientation optional is useful.  People with different orientations (or none at all) may well behave differently.  Typing could be useful for profiling, and making comparisons.  But should politics be optional?  I don't think so.  The "psycho killer" is different in kind, not degree.

Toward a Common Lexicon of Violent Extremism - Lawfare

21 July, 2016

Fun with graphs

I've been reviewing basic comparative data for the foreign policy class.  I may have stumbled on a reason the Republicans (and Trump) have been doing so well--or maybe any cause-effect relationship is in reverse.  In any case,
comparison of belief in evolution versus national wealth, revealing ...
I think I'd like to visit Iceland.

In the World Values Survey, there's more evidence of the US has been shifting:  from more traditional and more self-expressive to less traditional but also less self-expressive.  It's quite a jump from 2008
Applied economist: World values survey
to 2015, but by no way unique.  Also check out South Africa, Ukraine, and Hong Kong, among others.
World Values Survey @ ValuesStudies
What's at all mean?  I don't know.  But it's fun to dig around.  If you'd like to take a look at the World Values Survey, you can find it at http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp