Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Groundhog emerges from den...er...Brave Sir Julian emerges from hole...

sees own shadow, scurries back in. The clock continues to roll…

Doesn't look like anything has changed with his situation.  Why the emergence? Desperate ploy?  Maybe.

It's also possible that he has worn out his welcome. Night after night of this in the Embassy might be too much to stomach, even for his friends the Ecuadorians:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Iraqi dissolution: To quote Matt the Hooper, “You got any better suggestions?”


(From an NYT Op-ed by Zaid al-Ali, “a legal adviser to the United Nations in Iraq from 2005 to 2010, is the author of “The Struggle for Iraq’s Future: How Corruption, Incompetence and Sectarianism Have Undermined Democracy.”)


Iraq’s situation is desperate. What makes it worse is that its political class, and many American officials, continue to push a cure that would be worse than the disease: a breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines.”

Interesting that the oped doesn’t give much hope that any other solution would work, while it is threadbare as to what his alternative solution would be.

Reasons it won’t work, freeze dried version

1. Sectarianism is baked into the body politic.

2. Corruption is baked in grime as well.

3. Maliki screwed up, didn’t follow on the surge. He is emblematic of (1) and (2), is repressive of political rivals.

4. Sects and regions have no trust between them.

5. Shia Iraq is incompetent militarily

6. Ditto the Suni (unless your consider ISIS…er…ISIL…er… IS to be that portion)

7. The leaders have no sense of urgency; they can hightail it out of Iraq if ISIS..er..ISILIS… er the Barbarians get too close for comfort, will have little compunction to leave the not so well connected and wealthy to reap the consequences.

8. All of the possible PM candidates should Maliki leave or be removed are either no improvement on him or cyphers with no track record of competence.

This is a pretty impressive list of reasons to think Iraq’s days are numbered as a unitary state.  What is Zaid al-Ali’s solution to all this and why does he think it superior to a dissolution?

The solution lies not in further division or the establishment of rival regional armies, but in the reversing of those trends by re-establishing national institutions that treat all citizens on an equitable and equal basis. The Iraqi Army did exactly that in 2010, until Mr. Maliki’s corrosive influence took hold. It was not particularly competent, but at least — unlike now — it had the respect of the population.”


“[T]he power Mr. Maliki granted himself over the military and the police should be transferred to a civilian-led national council with authority to review all major security policies.”

Outside of a major long term occupation by *guess who*, headed up by General MacArthur Mad Dog Mattis  er…someone keepin’ a lid on things, letting the Emporer, Maliki,  er…whoever, know who’s boss, this seems to me about as likely to succeed as Matt the Hooper’s Bruce the Shark hypodermic needle plan. 

If there is no sense of urgency, and the main players can leave any time, they’ll dither until the end. Absent substantive sustained action by the U.S. the dissolution is inevitable.  The tone of the Op-ed leads me to believe al-Ali is no more sanguine about the possibilities of success. So why exactly does he think dissolution is an option not to be contemplated?

Heaven help us. Yet another U.N. style plan with little or no chance of success.


Here’s the Op-ed in its entirety:

 IRAQ’S situation is desperate. What makes it worse is that its political class, and many American officials, continue to push a cure that would be worse than the disease: a breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines.

If the past 11 years have proved anything, it is that a lack of representation and inclusiveness in Iraq’s government and institutions is not the problem. What we have learned since 2003 is that merely ensuring that there are ministers from each of Iraq’s main communities — Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and minorities like the Chaldeans and Turkmen — will not ensure that they will represent those communities’ interests, let alone the national interest. Any American influence left in Iraq should focus on rebuilding the credibility of national institutions.

Instead, supposed experts are advising us to further entrench our ethno-sectarian model and allow each of the country’s main communities to govern itself and manage its own security. This ignores the current reality. There is no chance that Baghdad will allow for the Sunni-majority provinces to develop serious security forces. There is so much distrust at the moment that the idea that the Shia-dominated state would let political and religious rivals arm themselves with heavy weapons and establish an army along the lines of the Kurdish pesh merga is ludicrous. 

Even if Baghdad were pressured into accepting such an agreement, the Sunnis could not properly manage an exclusively Sunni fighting force — given that Iraq’s Sunni politicians are just as corrupt as the Shiite parties that control Baghdad. The little experience Iraq has in auditing, oversight and project management is concentrated in Baghdad, so new regional or provincial institutions would most likely be even more corrupt than the national institutions.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has deservedly been the focus of criticism, given his authoritarian exercise of his constitutional powers, his paranoia and his blindness to real dangers. But the rest of Iraq’s elite has not done any better. Parliamentary elections took place in late April, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria began its first push into Mosul in early June, and yet Parliament is still nowhere near forming a government.

The little progress that has been made — electing a new parliamentary speaker and a new president — was a result of pressure from the country’s religious institutions. The only major security initiative since ISIS burst onto the scene has been to encourage Iraqis to volunteer to replace those army units that collapsed in June. Tens of thousands of mostly unemployed young men have signed up — only to find that the same incompetent and corrupt elements that had infested the regular armed forces were leading them into battle with close to no training, equipment or support.

Our political class behaves as if there is no crisis, because for them, there is none: If it comes to it, they can pack their bags and leave with their families. In fact, a number of those parliamentarians who were elected in 2005, 2006 or 2010 and who did not return to office after this year’s elections have left.

Sadly, none of the men being considered as possible replacements for Mr. Maliki would necessarily do any better than he has. Their records, from their time in exile in the 1990s, are dubious at best. Ibrahim al-Jafari, a front-runner, did nothing to curb militia activity when he was prime minister in 2005-6, and refused to impose a curfew that might have prevented the bloody civil war that erupted. Ahmad Chalabi’s name is frequently floated, but his family banking business was a failure, his opposition group in exile was accused of mismanaging American funds, he has failed to win a single seat in Parliament in his own right in each of Iraq’s elections, and he has no executive experience of note. A third candidate, Tariq Najm, is a virtual unknown — as Mr. Maliki was when he was picked in 2006. The main advantage of Adel Abdul Mahdi, the final candidate, is that he alone probably realizes that he is not capable of governing the country on his own and would therefore rely on assistance from outside his immediate circle. That may be reason enough for him to occupy the position.

But what policies would he pursue? The solution lies not in further division or the establishment of rival regional armies, but in the reversing of those trends by re-establishing national institutions that treat all citizens on an equitable and equal basis. The Iraqi Army did exactly that in 2010, until Mr. Maliki’s corrosive influence took hold. It was not particularly competent, but at least — unlike now — it had the respect of the population.

 Since 2003, unknown numbers of Iraqis have been detained without charge for weeks and months (sometimes longer) and subjected to human rights abuses. It is not enough for that practice to come to an end; serial torturers, prison guards and judges must be held to account publicly and immediately, to convince Iraqis that a page has been turned. Such an effort is necessary if Iraqis are to trust and fight alongside their new government in the effort to rout ISIS.

Similarly, the power Mr. Maliki granted himself over the military and the police should be transferred to a civilian-led national council with authority to review all major security policies.Iraq’s problems are not primarily religious (as Westerners so often believe) or economic (oil revenues are being shared, and there is enough money to finance government operations). They are, as always, is political.

If the existential threat from ISIS isn’t enough to shake the political class into acting, nothing will. Having ignored Mr. Maliki’s abuses so as to complete the troop withdrawal by 2011, the most America can do now — alongside its actions to provide humanitarian relief and keep ISIS at bay — is to support the political process with fair advice. Iraq’s existence as a nation hangs in the balance.


Friday, August 8, 2014

A Hatfields and McCoys analogy

The Hatfields and McCoys live on a small isolated island. They have been there for 75 years.  There is a fence bisecting the island. The McCoys are content to live and let live. The Hatfields are not, and want to push the McCoys into the sea, or kill them, in order to take their half of the island for themselves. This explains the origin of the fence. Most of the Hatfields’ efforts and riches go to this goal.

The Hatfields have a long term strategy of exhaustion, expecting that the McCoys will eventually leave or give in. As a part of this strategy, they indoctrinate generations in hate of the McCoys, via their schools, literature and media. As a result, most of the Hatfield population has sincere animus toward the McCoys.

Toward their ends, the Hatfields dig tunnels to infiltrate, kidnap and kill McCoys. They also lob missiles across the wall. Each missile launching site is housed in either a school or hospital. The missiles are primitive, but dangerous nevertheless. They do kill injure and destroy property.

The McCoys plug up or destroy tunnels. The McCoys have precision munitions they can deliver into Hatfield territory. They have aircraft as well. They can observe the launching sites. Not wanting to kill children, teachers, patients, doctors and nurses doing their jobs, they warn the Hatfields before they strike these areas. At first, the facilities are vacated by civilians upon receipt of the warnings. The buildings are then leveled by the McCoys.  This leaves the Hatfields with a decreasing number of schools and medical facilities. It also depletes their supply of arms. They take advantage of the former fact to propagandize, paint the McCoys as moral monsters. To preserve arms they modify their practices; now refusing to allow evacuations of threatened facilities. As well, they house launchers in other civilian areas (in and around housing and businesses).  They continue their attacks. At least one missile a day is launched over the course of several years. Often, several a day are fired.

The McCoys now have these options:

1.       Boots on the ground invasion, to better discriminate targets from civilians, leave after eliminating infrastructure/material of present threat.

2.       Similar to #1, but with longer term occupation in order to police the actions of the Hatfields.

3.       Destruction of missile launchers by delivery of precision munitions with the usual warnings.

4.       Because most missiles do not injure or kill they can refrain from acting.

5.       Attempt to arrest or take the leaders of the Hatfields, in the hopes that they can be brought to justice, while also drying up the will to resist by such “decapitation”

6.       Same as 5, substitute killing of the leaders.

For the moment, considering these options in isolation:

In terms of limiting killing of Hatfield civilians, #3 will be the worst option short term, because the civilians will not be evacuated.

In terms of protection of McCoy civilians, #4 is the worst, short and long term.

In terms of eliminating the threat long term #2 is most likely to succeed.

#1, #5 and #6 are not likely to stem the will to attack, so fail as long term solutions. Each may work in the short term to eliminate the present threat or present leadership.

The McCoy government has a moral obligation to eliminate the threat long term. So, it appears it must choose something along the lines of #2.

If it does choose #2, the McCoys can expect the use of human shields to continue, not only in the form presently utilized by the Hatfields, but in ways that will present challenges during house to house fighting. They will be attacked from residences, schools, hospitals, and civilians will be placed in front of fighters, quite literally serving as shields.

Thinking tactically, it may be advisable to undertake 6, while also incapacitating command and control, communications, in the hopes that after that point, absent the coercion, civilians will evacuate targeted areas. Then, the McCoys can employ their precision munitions against the infrastructure and materials of aggression. This would best eliminate the short term threat.  But what about long term success?

Even if this all succeeds, the populace will no doubt sprout new leadership. There is a likely rinse and repeat scenario here that will go on indefinitely. As long as the indoctrination continues, the seedbed for the aggression will be fertile.

This points to the necessity of long term occupation and efforts to exhaust the culture as it is presently constituted.

There are two ways to do this; the hearts and minds approach and the Japanese/German model.

HM: Hearts and minds will try to change the culture by occupying, living amongst the populace, while providing services usually provided by government and civil institutions, showing the Hatfields that the image portrayed by the propaganda is false. There will be efforts to work with local governance; police etc. successful implementation of this strategy will require years before the McCoys can hope to leave having eliminated the threat.

JG: The Japanese/German approach will be a more top-down model, imposing a constitution that disarms the Hatfields and also outlaws anti-McCoy propaganda and activities, while implementing a humane martial law that allows civil society to run, but takes over all the important governmental and regulatory roles from the indigenous.  Over the long term, such capacities will be gradually returned to the Hatfield populace if conditions warrant the trust. This approach will take years as well.

In choosing between these two options we have to ask these questions: What is the depth of the hatred? How effectively has the propaganda worked? Can Hatfield minds be changed in the short term or long term? If so, what method is best? What level of competence for governance is shown by the Hatfields?  Do they have extensive experience in governance, and have they shown competence in it? 

If the brainwashing is deep and effective, the HM approach is not only likely to fail, but puts occupying forces at undue risk. If the governance track record is poor, the HM approach will be more likely to fizzle as the locals will be unable to carry out the functions that are allowed them. These functions will have to be taken over by the occupying McCoys.

In the case of the Hatfields, most of the efforts of the leadership have been put toward the war against the McCoys. Most funds and material have gone into tunnels and weapons. The governance has been inept when considered from the perspective of domestic concerns. They have also shown a willingness to place civilians in harm’s way as a method of first resort. This evidences a fundamental disregard of the basic obligation of government.  This is also evidenced by the propaganda. For, it too, has the effect of placing civilians in harm’s way, and using them, via the manipulation inherent in the propaganda, maneuvering them, into functioning as expendable human shields. The anti-McCoy animus is deep and abiding, having been carefully nurtured over generations. It has this purpose.

All of this points to the best course of action being a long term occupation on the J/G model.

If it is unavoidable, in carrying this out, that civilian Hatfields die in high numbers, this is morally acceptable provided that the casualties are not directly intended, and is no more than are necessary given the nature of the exercise.

Consider the opening phase of the invasion as described just above: There is significant risk that decapitations will either not be complete or, complete but not affect the civilian evacuation rates hoped for and prerequisite to taking out infrastructure as invasion is carried out. They may stay, or be forced to stay in areas that will need to be attacked. This does not obviate the need to eliminate the sources of attack, nor the moral force of the case for invasion and occupation. No one is morally required to endure acts of military aggression over the short or long term, if they have not done something to deserve it. This holds even if protective measures will cause civilian fatalities amongst the aggressors.

An even simpler analogy.

People in house A attack house B with gunfire, and the inhabitants of B cannot approach or enter A to stop the attack without being killed. There is no police force or similar third party that can intervene, or is willing to intervene. (By standing gone berserk.) There are children in A that have nothing to do with the attack. Can B return fire, knowing that its action may kill the children? Yes. It is unreasonable to expect A to simply take it. If B can stop the hail of bullets by firing into A blindly, it can do so, if that is the only available means of defense. This holds if the number of children in A is 5,10 or 100, let alone 1. And, it does not matter if B houses a lesser amount of children or none at all.

If the adults in A have and raise kids for the express purpose of using them as shields, or they import children, using them as shields over and over in repeated attacks on B, B is still not morally obligated to refrain from protecting itself. The fault for the deaths belongs to A. And, no, it does not matter if the by standers vigorously blame B or argue that they are fighting an unjust defense.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Naming military aircraft after hippies? Why not indeed…

At NRO, Ian Tuttle nicely dissects  Simon Waxman’s case of the vapors over this question. OK, not exactly this question, but another burning question: why it is we persist in naming bad ass birds after Native American tribes.

Waxman is among the stable of Solons at the Washington Compost. It is evident that he thinks the practice is deeply offensive to Kiowa, Lakota, Apache and Comanche.  Equally as evidently, he did not do his research as to the attitudes of these groups. Here is a typical example, from the post:

Army Regulation 70-28, dated April 4, 1969, made the tradition of conferring tribal names on military choppers official policy, and names are selected from a list provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 2012, American Indian leaders came out to ritually bless two new LUH-72 Lakota helicopters.

And more from Crispin (WOI) Burke on the long standing  perception of this tradition as honoring brave, courageous and tenacious warriors (perceptions, we must impress upon you, by the very tribes Waxman is so concerned with):

So what evidence do we have to suggest that Native Americans aren’t offended by the Army’s tradition? Take, for instance, the fact that Army Material Command actually gets approval from Native American tribes before naming its aircraft. That’s according to the Department of the Army’s Pamphlet 70-3, paragraph 1-11-4-g, for you sadists out there.

Still not convinced? Well, consider that some Native American tribes don’t just approve of the Army’s naming convention, they give their outright blessing—literally.

In 2012, Native American leaders were on hand to bless two brand new LUH-72 Lakota helicopters—named for the nation which handed the Army one of its most notorious defeats at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

The two helicopters, christened “Eagle” and “Turtle” for prominent Native American symbols, carry honor feathers in their cockpits, gifts from the tribe to the North Dakota National Guard.

A rudimentary Google search would have perhaps revived poor Mr. Waxman, he of the oh-so-finely- tuned moral sensibilities.

Now, Tuttle has some fun at Waxman’s expense:

Indians were not alone in placing a high premium on martial courage, of course. Until about the time Franklin and Penelope Rosemont started printing “Make Love, Not War” buttons and distributing them on the streets of Chicago in 1965, people tended to see war as an unavoidable part of the human condition, and it was a truth universally acknowledged that a society seeking to survive would need a sizable corps of men fierce enough to fight. Vergil, following Homer, sang “of arms” and the men who bore them.

But the progressivism that has flourished over the past half-century is not interested merely in eradicating war (a doomed, if well-intentioned, undertaking). It sees a self-evident evil in the martial virtues themselves. Progressives see not an America whose martial virtues have been exercised in defending and liberating but rather a jingoistic country that has used superior military force to conquer and brutalize. They would much prefer an army (if such a thing is necessary) of SNAGs: Sensitive New-Age Guys. American Indians such as Apache John, who embrace warrior glory rather than victim status, are not only unwelcome in the progressive vision but impossible. Like offensive team names, they need to be disappeared.

And, if you think that characterization is a bit over the top, reference the words of Waxman, who while deep in the throes of the vapors concerning America’s past, references Chomsky, the high priest of such vexation, as backup for his claims.

The destruction of the Indians was asymmetric war, compounded by deviousness in the name of imperialist manifest destiny. White America shot, imprisoned, lied, swindled, preached, bought, built and voted its way to domination. Identifying our powerful weapons and victorious campaigns with those we subjugated serves to lighten the burden of our guilt. It confuses violation with a fair fight.

It is worse than denial; it is propaganda. The message carried by the word Apache emblazoned on one of history’s great fighting machines is that the Americans overcame an opponent so powerful and true that we are proud to adopt its name. They tested our mettle, and we proved stronger, so don’t mess with us. In whatever measure it is tribute to the dead, it is in greater measure a boost to our national sense of superiority. And this message of superiority is shared not just with U.S. citizens but with those of the 14 nations whose governments buy the Apache helicopters we sell. It is shared, too, with those who hear the whir of an Apache overhead or find its guns trained on them. Noam Chomsky has clarified the moral stakes in provocative, instructive terms: “We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ”

So, it is quite evident that the Native American groups take no offense, and actually are honored by the practice. Indeed tribes are active partners in the practice. Now, I suppose it is always open to Waxman, the Roaming Noam and others of the tribe of the ‘progressives’ to argue that these groups are in the throes of some deep seated denial, Stockholm syndrome or the like, in an effort to explain all of this away. But in making such a rhetorical move they open themselves up to charges similar to those they level at others; they engage in a sort of pseudo-psychotherapeutic imperialism if you will, knowing better than the poor vanquished  brown man, what is in fact better for him, his true valuations and interests. They would seem to be arrogating to themselves superior knowledge of the true thoughts, emotions, motivations and interests of the Native Americans that take part in this practice.

Be that as it may, there is simply no evidence that the tribes are offended. It seems that in his haste to capitalize on the Redskins brouhaha, Waxman, as others have done, has glommed on to the notoriety of the case in order to morally preen before his readership.

Now, to the point of this post:  I am disappointed that Tuttle failed to actually address the question that heads the post.  I can see no good reason NOT to name military aircraft, missiles, tanks & etc. after hippies. I think it’s a damn fine idea.  But, lest we too narrowly restrict our pool of candidates for honor, we should include the entire ‘progressive’ tribe. Yes, I know the term is imprecise, but we can use it to delineate those that share the overall view of Waxman/Chomsky, that, on the whole U.S. history is a lopsidedly bad story of exploitation, imperialism, genocide, etc..

Once we’ve supplanted or supplemented DOD with DOP, we can begin the purge, and institute the new naming regime.

Well, very clearly Howard Zinn and Chomsky need honoring. 

Zinn was a B-17 bombardier, so, obviously, we will need to name one of the two extant bomber aircraft after him. Since his prose is a bit less turgid than Chomsky’s, we’ll give him the B-2 Stealth Bomber.


Chomsky, precisely because his prose lumbers along, angrily growling at a low rumble, saturating his target with less than precisely delivered rhetorical munitions, will be assigned to the old reliable flying strato-fortress, the B-52.

How about derivative popularizers of the prog gospel?
There should probably be a large troop transport, a C-130 perhaps, that can proudly bear the moniker of Flint..er.. Davison native, Michael Moore.
Hey Hey Hey! The Blue Angels need to freshen things up anyway.

And, lest we forget, Oliver Stone, who has rendered Zinn’s masterpiece cinematically, we’ll assign him the LGM-30 Minuteman, the last land based nuke missile in the arsenal, because of the obvious connection with JFK, and ‘Cuber,’ Ollie’s home away from home.

OK, now on to actual hippies.

Abbie Hoffman was by all accounts a loud and obnoxious guy. So he gets the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II

Kind of a big loud middle finger ain't it?

Damn.  He’s a “yippie.” I know. I know.
OK, how about Donavan? That guy has the essence of hippy doesn’t he?
No. Not that Donavan, this one..
Mellow. Yellow. 
He reminds us of something relatively slow and easy, something one wants to get comfortable with. Yes, of course...
A trainer, the HawkerBeechcraft T-6B Texan II

It’s yellow after all.

Speaking of mellow dudes, you have to give John Sebastian something very slow and non-threatening and cloyingly saccharine.

Because he sings like a lark, he gets the LARC-V (Lighter, Amphibious Resupply, Cargo, 5 ton)

Note: It’s yellow, and it ain’t scarin’ anyone.

How about misunderstood I’m-only-aiming-to-destroy-property bomber boss Billy Ayers?  Sure his folks were building bombs chock full o’ nails nuts and bolts, but those were not intended as anti-personnel.  We can take him at his word, something of similarly innocuous intent is suited to him.

How about the SRBOC, or Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff? It, as the name indicates, is a short range missile system that throws up shards of chaff, simply to confuse incoming missiles.  Harmless enough. Billy boy would approve.

How about wifey, Bernadine Dohrne, who thought what Manson’s group did with knives and forks was pretty darn hip?  Clearly, she deserves to be the first official name given to the M9 Bayonet.

Yes, I know, these two were less hippy, more yippie, but still in that broadly prog camp.

OK, that’s all I have.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jean Shepherd - July 4th

An Army Fourth - Shep during his Army days...

Cool cynicism runs up against patriotism. The 'put-down artist' rendered speechless by taking part in a parade. One of his best stories. Click to listen, right click to download.

And on the fascination of fireworks...
"There are muddle-headed souls who would tell you over and over that man is a basically peaceful and quiet creature, destined  ultimately to while away his golden days strumming lutes, penning odes, and watching birds. I have never yet witnessed a turtle preparing to ignite the portenteous fuse of a cherry bomb. No, it remained for man to concoct black powerder from the innocent elements of the earth and ultimately split the atom, all in pursuit of that healing balm -  the thundering report."

A story of near disaster: Ludlo Kissel and the Dago Bomb that Struck Back

More Shep holiday broadcasts HERE

Google book HERE

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cars, Climate Change and Kirok’s Obelisk: Precautionary Principle Analogy.

Really just an excuse to work in a reference to an old Star Trek TOS episode. Wait for it...

By electing to drive a typically equipped car I engage in behavior that can end up in death or injury.

By electing to drive a cutting edge, AI enabled self-driving high tech gee whiz car, I engage in behavior that can end up in death or injury, but the likelihood is substantially decreased. However, I will spend considerably more money than for a typically equipped car.

I might decide to refrain from driving, in order to assure myself of no future bad consequences.

By electing to refrain from driving, I will not be engaging in that behavior; will not run the risk, but will not benefit from having a car.

In a rough nutshell, we can use this to illustrate the so called ‘precautionary principle.’ It says something like this:

If an activity is known to carry certain risks, it may be the case, that all things considered, it would be best to refrain from it, even in cases of epistemological uncertainty, that is; when we know the risks are present within a certain degree or range of probability, but we do not know whether we will incur them.

This principle, in some form or another is often cited in reference to climate change, to support either mitigation technology, or limitation/elimination of carbon generating technologies.  The mitigation technologies are analogous to the gee-whiz car; the limitation/elimination regime is analogous to electing not to drive automobiles.

Quasi-formally, the argument for elimination goes like this.

In any case where an activity has avoidable negative consequences that are likely enough and severe enough, we should avoid it.

A has probability P (high enough) of causing severely negative consequences C (severe enough).

Therefore, we should avoid doing A.

Applying this to the car example, the conclusion is that we should not drive cars, assuming you think the accident rates are high enough.

Quasi-formally, the argument for mitigation is similar but has this first premise

In any cases where an activity & etc…, we should introduce devices that will reduce the likelihood and severity of the consequences of that activity.

This leads to the conclusion, contained in the later clause:

We should introduce devices that will reduce….& etc.

To apply this to our car example, the conclusion is that we should drive cars that have mitigation technologies, such as airbags, computer aided traction, or self-driving tech; drive with helmets; etc., including some combination of such ‘devices’ as innovation provides them.

Now, obviously, in this latter case, we can take greater or lesser measures, depending on how much risk we would like to eliminate.  The more mitigation we opt for, the greater the cost. That expenditure must come from somewhere. Sacrifices must be made in some other aspect of life. Money ‘don’t grow on trees,’ even if it is created by fiat. At some point, excessive caution will price the technology out of existence, in that it will become prohibitively expensive, drying up the market, and thus the providers.

In the car case, we could require all the above mitigation measures, and include some sort of Michelin Man body suit, ejection seat, self-driving AI in all cars, (if it is demonstrably better than human drivers), and drive the cost of cars up so high that only the very wealthy could afford them.  That being the case, we would need to factor in the negative repercussions this ‘carlessness’ would have in other spheres of human activity, and determine whether the negative utilitarian impact outweighs the precautionary benefits.

In the elimination case, elimination of the activity will equally as obviously bring with it negative consequences. So, we will have to carry out a similar projection of impacts.

In either case, we need to ascertain probabilities of the various negative impacts.  We should also take into account the positive impacts for all options, and their probabilities. We also need to ascertain how allocation of finite monetary and other resources will be impacted.

So, in order to properly and thoroughly carry out the sort of thinking instantiated in the precautionary principle, we need not only consider the positive impact of mitigation or elimination, but the negative impact as well.  We should also consider the positive and negative impacts of retaining the status quo, and we should compare the three proposed regimes.

In any case, the plausibility of the arguments for action will also rely on the degree of certainty we have as to the causal connection between the activity and the targeted negative consequences under consideration.

In the car case, the certainty is quite high, that human driving has direct causal connection to injuries and deaths on our roads.  In the case of climate change, there is not as high a level of certainty as to whether or not carbon dioxide levels are cause of climate change, or symptom, or as to the role of human produced CO2. Indeed, there is even disagreement as to whether or not any significant change is occurring at all, and whether or not it is caused by anything we can significantly affect. If, for instance it is due to long cycle solar minima/maxima, short of altering dear ole’ Sol, there is nothing we can really do about it.

So, in general, it looks as if there are three basic attitudes we can take to such risks.

1. Retain status quo.

2. Mitigation/adaptation.

3. Elimination.

In each case, we have to consider viability of the proposed measures, costs and benefits, and do this for all involved parties.  Using the car analogy again, it may be proposed that we require all cars in the world to have a certain set of precautionary gizmos. If so, we would have to consider whether or not such a thing is feasible and affordable across the globe, for all (or most) drivers, and how they should be provided with the gizmos.

Should the regime be regulated into effect? Who enforces? Who pays? Who can afford the new cars? Who cannot? Should we rely on market forces? If so, do we not retain a status quo? All these questions and others need to be addressed. We’d also have to establish that the gizmos would actually do the job.

In the case of climate change, we might have a proposal to eliminate oil, gas or coal fired power plants in favor of solar, wind or hydro powered plants. Less drastically, we might introduce mitigation requirements, such as “filters” on power plants, or we might introduce one of the so-called ‘carbon credit’ schemes. If so, we not only have to consider if the U.S. can afford such regimes, but Namibia or Sudan or Pakistan. We have to ascertain the likelihood of compliance across the lines of the world’s many sovereign nations. We have to compare the use this money would be put toward with other possible uses, and ask if it is overall the best ‘bang for the buck.’ 

It would seem that these proposals would be compelling only if it is the case that the consequences of inaction are perceived to be sufficiently dire and likely. Hollywood analogy time: It would have to be something as dire and likely as the scenario presented in the Bruce Willis film Armageddon. We would have to be in a position where we literally see the damn hammer of the gods hurtling toward us. Only then would we come together, override sovereignty or cost considerations and build the damn obelisk of Kirok.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Darth Bin Fishfood? Jar Jar Bin Laden?

Clearly the OSS..er CIA abandoned this particular effort too early, and well before they had fully considered the widespread effect they could have produced.

There’s a dispute over how many of the figurines, if any, were ultimately delivered. A person with direct knowledge of the project in China said hundreds of the toys — one of which was seen by The Washington Post — were made as part of a pre-production run and sent on a freighter to the Pakistani city of Karachi in 2006.

The CIA, while not disputing that it had commissioned the bin Laden figures, said the project was discontinued shortly after the prototypes were developed.

“To our knowledge, there were only three individual action figures ever created, and these were merely to show what a final product might look like,” said CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani. “After being presented with these examples, the CIA declined to pursue this idea and did not produce or distribute any of these action figures. Furthermore, CIA has no knowledge of these action figures being produced or distributed by others.”

They could have easily tapped into the almost universal contempt for the later..er…earlier episodes of the Star Wars franchise to sow the seeds of a visceral disgust response to the mere image of Osama Bin Fishfood.

Note the similarity:

Osama BFF the Doll

And Darth Maul

Imagine what could have been; a coordinated re-release of that horrid Episode I with a concomitant saturation bombing of the Middle East with Darth Laden (Lauden?) dolls…er.. action figures, raining from the skies as vast formations of aircraft flew over Af/Pak, Iraq, etc. in gross violation of airspace.

It might be possible though, that there was good reason to axe the effort. As Phantom Menace characters go, Maul was not really as appallingly bad as the others. He was kind of a hissing bad ass come to think of it.

One dimensional, yes, but not wooden and mind-numbingly boring as were so many of the others. So, perhaps the CIA saw that he was not necessarily the best choice for propaganda purposes.

But they cut bait too prematurely, I think. If they had been thinking about this just a bit more, the CIA would have happened on the obvious choice for this sort of psychological aversion therapy. Think about it; if you had to rank the characters in that interminable film in terms of intolerability, there are several that are better candidates for action-figure hybridization with OBFF. Several characters the essences of which the Chinese doll..er..action figure manufacturers could have captured, and craftily melded with Bin Laden’s visage. 

Brooding pouty baby Anakin,

Soporific Padme,

Dime-store philosophizing Qui Gon

or Yoda.

Sure, any of those would have done. But, one character truly stands out, reviled across all cultures (OK maybe more in Rastafarian circles). Of course we are talkin’ Jar Jar.

There is a certain resemblance:

Perhaps it is not too late to take advantage of this?  Drop millions of copies of Phantom Menace into ISIS held territory, and millions of talking Jar Jar Bin Laden Action figures, including all those catchy and painfully unfunny Jar Jar phrases We-sah all-a hate-sa so much.
All those kids would be turned off to ISIS AQ or any other variant forever!
Hearts and Minds. Hearts and Minds.
It's all about the kids.