Friday, February 28, 2003

I was pretty surprised to learn today from his blog that Daniel W. Drezner is a libertarian Republican. His criticism of how Bush deals with foreign policy disagreements in his administation and rather friendly discussion of the foreign policy views of some Democratic candidates had lead me to believe otherwise.

Good for him - he's clearly not repeating anyone's party line, so I'm going to read him even more in the future. I already know the party lines.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

According to this essay by Steven Den Beste on his blog USS Clueless, recent changes have allowed President Bush to be more frank about our plans:

I've long said that the real reason to conquer Iraq was to set off a chain reaction of liberalization in the Arab world (here, for instance). Many have asked me whether I thought this was really what the Bush administration was thinking, and if so why they hadn't gone public with it.

The answer is that I do believe they were thinking along these lines all along, but that for them to go public with it back then would have led to serious grief by making clear to such stalwarts as Saudi Arabia just what we really intended. I'm happy, therefore, that we've reached the point where we no longer think we require the good wishes of the Sauds, and thus Bush has indeed publicly stated the real goal for this war, and the only way in the long run we can really win it: liberalization of the Arabs. And, as mentioned above, Iraq will be used to create an example in the middle East of how it's done, and most of that process will be financed by sales of Iraq's oil.

President Bush has already made clear that our first move will be to keep the current government in place while changing a few people at the top. This has angered the Kurds and Shia, but it was difficult to think of another way to do it. The majority Shia might vote in an Iranian type theocracy if the country were made a democracy tomorrow. Even if they didn't, it seems likely they would be much too close to the Iranians for our liking. The Kurds would declare independence, and this might split Turkey as well as Iraq into civil war.

If Steven Den Beste is correct, I guess the questions can be divided up into two categories. How about the occupation? How are we going to keep the Shia and Kurds from revolting after we get rid of Saddam? Remember, there is only one model for keeping Iraq a single nation ever since it was cobbled together from three Ottoman provinces. Bloodshed. Do we have another one? If not, how much killing can we do and still set up a democracy?

Next group. Where are we going? If Bush doesn't want an American or Iraqi dictator, eventually it will come to the voting booth. How do we keep the majority Shia from either going the way of Iran or voting to kill all the Sunni's? I would like to think once the Shia have a prosperous free democracy they will vote to keep it, but we can't just assume so.

I'm not one hundred percent sure these questions are unanswerable. Could it be Bush has answers to all of them, or at least his administration? If Steven is right and Bush had to keep our current plans secret, perhaps there are more secrets. Certainly there are situations which require a president to keep certain things secret. Yet, there were people speculating about how our plans involved the Saudi's. (I wonder if any Saudi's read Steven's blog.) Since this is a democracy, I would be much happier if I heard more pro war people thinking in more detail about what we're going to do afterwards. Hoping Bush has an answer is one thing, assuming it is another. Steven Den Beste is probably one of the deepest pro war thinkers in the blogosphere, and he hasn't even touched on the mechanics of welding Shia, Sunni, and Kurds into a single democracy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Well, even though they don't have complete freedom of the press in Saudi Arabia, somebody has made a start.

Wasted Youth, Unspent Energy

I've written several times over the past week or so about Kurdish responses to our planned post war occupation of Iraq.

Courtesy of Talking Points Memo, here's an MSNBC article on the Shia response.

Talking Points Memo post on this article is characteristically well researched and thought out - and uncharacteristically non partisan. One of his best ever. On my monitor you have to scroll upwards after clicking the above link, it brings you to the end of Josh Marshall's post.

Thomas Friedman is a New York Times journalist who favors what he believes will turn out to be 'The Liberartion of Iraq'.

What all this means is that when it comes to building democracy in Iraq, the Europeans are uninterested, the Americans are hypocritical and the Arabs are ambivalent. Therefore, undertaking a successful democratization project there, in a way that will stimulate positive reform throughout the region, will require a real revolution in thinking all around — among Americans, Arabs and Europeans. If done right, the Middle East will never be the same. If done wrong, the world will never be the same.

If this triple revolution is necessary for a tolerable result, wouldn't it be better to work on it BEFORE the invasion?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

This BBC news article isn't from today, but I think there is still something worth saying about it.

The FBI has warned American hackers not to launch cyber attacks against Washington's foes.

From a conventional viewpoint, this is the correct thing to do. The government no more wants a group of unpredictable hackers doing things they don't expect when they don't expect them then it wants men who are not part of the military going to Iraq on their own in order to shoot some Iraqi's and getting in their way.

Yet I know another decentralized organization that sometimes seems to work similarly - Al Qaeda. I don't know what the government is doing, so I'll take their word that the dangers of interference are substantial. I can't help wondering if there was any direction the hackers could have been steered in, short of blanket exclusion, so that the potential benefits would have outweighed the potential harm. Imagine an emergent hacker brain, with individual hackers testing out new ideas, copying successful ideas from other hackers, and continually trying out new combinations. An unpaid army, with perhaps an occasional discreet and ambiguous congradulation from our government. A deniable army, just as Osama admits to being pleased by terrorism but claims he cannot be held responsible because he didn't know about or plan it.

Not that it would be easy, but if we are in the most serious war since WWII we may have to change a few tried and true ways of doing things. Very carefully - some of the people involved are serious vandals or even professional criminals. Think of it as a last ditch force of privateers, only not necessarily quite as nasty as the seagoing privateers who were often merely pirates who preyed mostly on enemy ships.

Monday, February 24, 2003

I've been thinking for the past couple of days about what Joi Ito said about my previous post. I am one of those Americans who felt (and still feels) that 'Why do they hate us?' was an intelligent and worthwhile question to ask. We certainly were not and are not perfect, but after much thought I am still honestly disinclined to believe that American injustice or misbehavior play the most important role in what happened. Of course, much depends on your standards of comparison. If you look at hyper-powers throughout history, nations with the economic and military potential to dominate nations far from them both culturally and geographically, America comes off very well. On the other hand, if you compare us with our own ideals, we still have far indeed to travel.

One issue often mentioned is support for Isreal - some Saudi's have accused us of completely unbalanced support for Isreal. Let us imagine a scale from negative 10 (no support for Israel, we refuse to sell them weapons while Hamas achieves their stated goal of getting rid of the entire state of Israel, slaughtering millions in the process) and 10 (we tell Isreal that we will continue to sell them arms even if they engage in a similar bloodbath against the Palestinians inside the territories, depopulating and colonizing them). One could argue whether on that scale we are closer to 2 or 4, but ten is, well, untenable. There are some who would say that while they do not agree that flying airplanes into buildings is a reasonable response, there is still some sort of equivence in the sense that they are both actions which might seem justifiable to the actors but are clearly wrong. Although I have always felt the 'blame America first' crowd went too far, unlike many conservatives I am pleased with the result as well as the process of free speech. After reading arguments on both sides, reading about Isreali settlements and Al Qaeda and the Wahibbi and the Isreali faction who would like to drive all the Palestinians in the territories into Jordan and the murders in previous decades of Palestinian moderates who wanted peace by those who call them traitors, I firmly believe that in comparison to other hyper powers throughout history we have done rather well. There are many Palestinians who would remind us that there was no Isreal before the 1940's. And yet, it was not so long before that that the Saudi's were only one of many warring tribes in Saudi Arabia, rather than an internationally accepted govermment. There are many other conquests by the sword that modern day Arabs would look at proudly as well, and if we are serious about peace we cannot demand that the whole world redraw it's borders to what they were fifty years ago first. Why have none of the wealthy supporters of Arabic culture and religeon tried to help Arab nations do what the Japanese and Germans and South Koreans and other nations have done, built an economic system of prosperity that could demand respect on equal terms?

That being said, sometimes good is not good enough. The Arabs have responded to (what some call) colonialism differently than India (where it was definitely colonialism) and others did. I have elsewhere discussed some of the reasons I believe a purely military defeat of Al Qaeda will be impossible. I even believe those who blame America first have given us a head start by trying to feel Al Qaeda's anger from the inside. That being said, we must acknowlege other things as well if we dare cherish the ambition to create what human history has never seen, a world without war and poverty, or at least a largely successful system to keep these things as shocking misfortunes rather than the normal human condition as the centuries roll by. Many have pointed out that desperate people with nothing to lose cannot be deterred. Very well, we must do what no other group in history has dared seriously plan - eliminate poverty. This is not a laudable ambition, this is the price of the survival of civilization, and if we find the wisdom and courage to pay that price there is nothing we cannot do. We are those who dare feel guilty merely for our failure to prevent the suffering of those continents away - when others would humbly admit there was nothing they could do. We are those demand our governments let protesters defy them in time of war, since we are more concerned about fighting the wrong war rather than defeat.

A new Marshall plan for the middle east must not pretend the terrorists will go away if we're nice enough. We must first help those nations where the terrorists are most tightly restrained - so that at last people in Wahibbi dominated nations will begin to curse the religious leaders who preach death and keep them in poverty. We cannot afford the keep the world as a pet, a new Marshall plan must bring the economics of prosperity to countries that do not seem as eager as Japan and Germany were to learn it.

And yes, we must be prepared to meet force with force. I happen to think invading Iraq is the wrong battle, perhaps a disastrous one which will help Al Qaeda recruit. Since it seems Bush will do it anyway, I've thought as seriously as I could about how we could make the occupation of Iraq work anyway, snatch defeat from victory. I don't seriously believe any idea I have will be picked up and improved by another blogger more knowlegeble than I and eventually make it's way into the media and government, but blog as though I did. In addition we must ask which battles really should be fought, and what tactics will best resist the emergent tactics that have evolved against us, but I'm going to make that a seperate entry. I'm not going to post this to the topic exchange since the relation to emergent democracy is only tenuous.

Update an hour later: I have been thinking about the varying meanings of 'we' within the preceeding paragraph. I believe it is all the prosperous industrialized democracies that need to work together to eliminate poverty, to help form an emergent intelligence which is composed not only of the democratic nations but the entire world. Of course I am proud to be an American, as Joi Ito is proud to be Japanese. Ultimately it is all the nations of the world that will need to work together, but I cannot help thinking some have taken the first few steps while a few have not. Yet we are all human, and as Joi Ito says perhaps not so different from each other. In some ways this is a scary thought.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

With all the wonderful talk I've heard about emergent democracy around the blogosphere, something I read in Howard Bloom's Global Brain has been haunting me. Intergroup tournaments as one of the conditions for the constant improvement of emergent intelligence.

This brings us to emergent totalitarianism, or emergent terrorism. At first they may not seem susceptible to analysis as emergent phenomena, since by definition totalitarianism is a command system, and the greatest terrorist threat today demands obedience (at least nominally) to a strict and inflexible code of behavior. Yet many have noted how the decentralized network of Al Qaeda makes it difficult to cripple or destroy. This is not the first time they have been discussed as an emergent system, yet I think it's important to study their dynamics as deeply as possible if civilization is in a war to the death with them - we must know their strengths and weaknesses better than they know ours. And if we are truly to pit emergent system vs emergent system (rather than command vs emergent as the communists did economically) it must be at least in part us rather than our government who think about it.

Much of the leading edge thought on copyright and intellectual property has invoked the idea of a prestige economy as more appropriate then an exchance economy where there is no true scarcity. There are many advantages to a prestige economy, such as not having to worry as much about the free rider problem - if you lose nothing by giving prestige to the creator of a public good, then why not? This already plays a small part in our economy. People and corporations sometimes do things just for prestige without any attempt to collect payment, and sometimes the publicity is cost effective. Open source software is one example.

The most ominous and important example of a prestige economy I know is the reward for suicide terrorists. In Isreal the families of suicide bombers can reap financial rewards, but it is really more of a prestige phenomenon, since there is no chance of enforcing a contract. They merely count on the fact that rich hypocrites will pay these rewards in order to win acceptance of the community, and that acceptance is the coin of prestige. I don't believe any of the families of the Saudi terrorists involved in 9/11 even needed money. In some sense it was the prestige alone the suicide bombers wanted. Even if they had some warped belief they would go to paradise for mass murder, it was still the belief of the community that made that belief possible for them.

As an engine for finding weak points in our defenses, Al Qaeda seems formidable, although there is good hope that it will turn out to be less formidable than it seems at first. The only thing it has shown no potential for is to bring prosperity to those who believe in it. Imagine they nuked a few dozen major US cities and we were too busy internally to worry about anything outside our borders. Imagine there was a horrific ethnic cleansing of Isreal, and no Jews were left. Al Qaeda can't help anyone build a decent civilization. Telling people they will go to paradise for building a better factory that will help feed starving children even if they help their own children in the process doesn't have the right ring to it. Osama may have started the machinery, but he couldn't stop it even if he wanted to - the sort of people who listen to his type would just adopt a new figurehead. Meanwhile, they've done enerything they could to prevent people from learning the skills to participate in material prosperity. More thoughts about the emergent structure of Al Qaeda here.

It seems like we've developed the cutting edge emergent system for the creation of wealth, and they've developed one for death and destruction. It's not that simple, we're far from perfect. I've always been one of those who believes we should go the extra mile to figure out what we should have done better even if the other people don't, just because we're a democracy with free speech and we can. Maybe this is a time for being proud of what we've done - and thinking hard in case we need a new way to fight.

Friday, February 21, 2003

I've learned a great deal about our preparations for war by reading Den Beste's blog USS Clueless. His latest entry includes three sentences about our preparations for peace afterwards.

Plans for the administration of Iraq after the war are maturing. We won't be turning control over to the exiles immediately. We also won't be turning it over to the UN or to "allies". The first sentence of that paragraph is also a link to a Washington Post article about our plans for a post war Iraqi government. We are going to put Americans in charge. Some people might be worry if the Iraqi's will go along with this, but that's already been taken care of, as per the last paragraph of the Washington Post article.

'A similar anxiety led to the decision to prohibit the Iraqi opposition based outside the country from forming a provisional government. The chief proponent of that idea, Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, was informed this week that any move to declare a provisional Iraqi government "would result in a formal break in the U.S.-INC relationship," the official said.'

So that's taken care of. We all know no ethnic group of Iraqi's will cross that line in the sand.

And yet, some Kurds released this basic plan along with a reaction to it a few days before our government announced it to the post. I blogged on it and linked to the article in the British newspaper Independent here.

At least we've decided what kind of government we're going to put into place in advance. Now lets think harder about how we're going to do it. We could at least have gotten one of the two main groups of Kurds to go along with us by offering them something. Perhaps we're too idealistic to play them off against each other like Saddam did - but I'm not sure dictating to them by fiat will require less harsh meaures in the long run. Iran has already said they will start issuing fatwa's against us if we're there more than a couple of weeks. They have adherents among some of the Shia. We should start negotiating with other groups of Shia immediately, offering some role in the new government if they will provide a counterweight. The more material prosperity they have, the more they will have to lose under harsh Sharia law. Saddam is a Sunni. The Sunni would seem a tough sell, but if we can make ourselves their protector against the Shia they will have little choice but to align themselves with us - they are a minority, about 20 percent of the population. Maybe we should start finding out which Shia leaders might be able and willing to cooperate in all this. Yea, I know, our troops will do it all, but there are many more of them than of us.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

I've just read a great essay by Joichi Ito on the potential of blogs and the web to contribute to democracy. He sees it as more than a means to make communication easier and faster:

"What is difficult is ability for the silent majority to engage in a debate and understand and develop complex ideas without any one citizen needing to have control or an understanding of the entire system. This is the essence of an emergence, and it is the way that ant colonies are able to "think" and our DNA is able to build the complex bodies that we have. If information technology could provide a mechanism for citizens in a democracy to participate in a way that allowed emergent understanding and management of complex problems in the same way that ant colonies solve complex issues, direct democracy would be not only be feasible, but superior to our current representative governments, which are unable to control or understand many of the complexities of the world today."

I love this idea, but I think it is important to realistically confront the challenges if it is to have any chance of becoming real. The hard work of ants is proverbial. If this is our serious ambition, we must ask what we as bloggers need to do to bring it closer.

How many of your favorite blogs are like newspaper columns and editorials, only less so? Perhaps they always praise liberal democrats and attack conservative republicans, unless to criticize the liberals for not being liberal enough. Or perhaps they are a brand of conservative, be it libertarian right or religious right. Belonging to a subgroup is not the same as independent thinking. Either way, paraphrasing the already well articulated arguments of any particular group does not really advance the thought process of the emergent intelligence we collectively hope to become - or even offer the prospect of doing anything not already better done in the mainstream media.

Instead, collective accomplishment requires effort - ants always seem busy, although some neurons seem to get a relatively quiet time when other parts of the brain are very active. Let us try to ask questions that will keep us out of both of the twin ruts. It seems to me that both parties are machines driven to manipulate us by our emotions. If you are dead sure that one is right and one is wrong, perhaps it is worth investigating the efforts of prominent tax cutting conservatives to gain and keep pork for their own districts, or ask if the current system widely varying awards for medical malpractice suits with no guidance for the jury is truly the best way to ensure equitable compensation for injuries while making medical care affordable for all. I guess the questions are slightly different for those living outside of the United States, yet the basic issue may be the same.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Most of my recent blogging seems Iraq related in one way or another, especially if the Global Brain stuff is counted as thinking about a mind better capable of resolving the problem than any politician. In a way this is only natural. I believe the war against terror and nuclear proliferation is a battle for civilization. We must make nuclear weapons into the only technology not to become cheaper and more easily obtainable as time passes - and confront an enemy who strives to use our ideals against us.

DEBKAfile asks, Are The War Delays Over?, and it does seem that a critical battle (even if as many think the wrong battle) in the war on terror is about to be fought. Any war opponent who is not desperately hoping Bush knows what he's doing despite any evidence to the contrary doesn't fully realize the gravity of the situation. Of course errors have different magnitudes, a player who makes a blunder in chess may curse silently, but will then strive to turn the results of the blunder into victory - and will frequently succeed. Many games have blunders on both sides. I think the time has arrived for opponents of invading Iraq to join proponents in asking what we should do once we are in there.

I'm also going to try and blog about other things some of the time. These issues may occasionally seem trivial even to me in comparison with what is to come, but I think all of them are a part of who and what we are.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Kurds are revolting against US military government in Iraq. Of course, this wouldn't be surprising if we had set it up. Maybe I procrastinate too much, but I would have expected them to wait.

Kurdish leaders enraged by 'undemocratic' American plan to occupy Iraq

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Is Saddam going to kill some protesters, then apologize when he discovers they weren't protesting against him, but against the evil Americans? Are we going to say that the Kurds are much more ungrateful then the French because they are ungrateful before we even start, and tell Saddam we'll suspend the no fly zone if he gets in a few licks for us?

This makes it harder to hope that anyone in the Bush administration has a secret master plan. I think much of the oil Bush is counting on is in Kurdish areas too. Any chance that the Independent's "Kurdish leaders who recently met American officials." are a small dissident minority, and we are negotiating with the rest? That's not the feeling I get, but you never know. I would feel more hopeful if the Kurdish leaders concerned insisted on remaining anonymous.

"Conquerors always call themselves liberators," said Sami Abdul-Rahman, deputy prime minister of the Kurdish administration, in a reference to Mr Bush's speech last week in which he said US troops were going to liberate Iraq.

Mr Abdul-Rahman said the US had reneged on earlier promises to promote democratic change in Iraq. "It is very disappointing," he said. "In every Iraqi ministry they are just going to remove one or two officials and replace them with American military officers."

So I guess we have two things to worry about - is this really the plan, and will it work?

Something about the idea of a simple set of rules which individuals could follow to help bring us as a group closer to being a collective superintelligence, a world mind similar to some envisioned by Olaf Stapledon, still appeals to me. All the emergent intelligences I've read about seem to work that way, brains formed from neurons, bacterial colonies, and ant colonies. There may be such rules, but my idea of encouraging people to think them out verbally may have been misguided. My last rule was going to be that everyone had to make at least one change in the rules, so that the hive mind itself would think about the rules that were the substratum of the hive mind. Kevin Kelly's model is more fun anyhow.

I'll probably finish the set sometime since I'm more than half done, but I now suspect that most of the rules will only be formulated explicitly after they have been put into effect by trial and error, something like this. Probably just as well since the relationship between the blogosphere, the noosphere, and the biosphere is still being worked out. Link via Genstart

I suppose it is good news for America that we will no longer look undiplomatic by comparison, although I would rather hear of our being statemanlike than someone else misbehaving.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - French President Jacques Chirac launched a withering attack Monday on eastern European nations who signed letters backing the U.S. position on Iraq, warning it could jeopardize their chances of joining the European Union (news - web sites).

It is not really responsible behavior," he told a news conference. "It is not well brought up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

Monday, February 17, 2003

Interestingly enough, this makes me feel better rather than worse.

War Planners Begin to Speak of War's Risks is an article in the New York Times.

On Page 2, here is one of the problems they are thinking about:

Chaos after Mr. Hussein is gone. Several task forces on Iraq have examined what some call the "score-settling problem," the specter of rivalries and feuds that have been bottled up for decades spinning out of control. Most have concluded that one result may be an American military occupation likely to be longer than the 18 months that Ms. Rice has talked about. Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, noted in Senate testimony last week that getting at the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction would be a "complex, dangerous and expensive task."

OK, so what's the plan to do all this while Al Qaeda is deploying suicide bombers in a country where they speak the language and we don't?

All the same, I feel just a tiny bit better about this invasion plan than I did before reading this.

Has anybody gotten this error? Here.

Via The Universal Church of Cosmic Uncertainty

Am I crazy, or is this more humane than the way we do executions in the United States? Of course we never cut off hands of thieves or anything, and I think we have fewer executions per capita. This is from Arab News, for what it's worth.

Day in the Life of an Executioner

Al-Arabiya: A balanced alternative to Al-Jazeera?

I'm not sure if this is good news or bad news. It might just be another Al-Jazeera which doesn't upset the Arab governments by criticizing them, but is similar otherwise. Read the article - but read critically, it's from Arab News.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

The Straits Times Interactive has written about the UN security council meeting on Friday.

Opening his remarks, French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin said: 'The message comes to you today from an old country, France, from a continent like mine, Europe, that has known war, occupation and barbarity.

'An old country that does not forget and knows everything it owes to the freedom fighters who came from America and elsewhere,' he said.

Steven Den Beste has been writing about it as well.

Fuck the State Department. They're the ones who got us into this mess, and they don't seem to have figured out yet that they've been played for suckers by the Weasels.

It is possible that this could cause long term resentment. But in the short run, it's really difficult to fathom why State thinks that some nation which is on the fence in this would decide, when it saw Germany get crunched for its active belligerence, that becoming actively belligerent against the US is a good idea. At this point I will settle for resentful support in preference to active opposition.

If you read his article and the Observer article he links to about Donald Rumsfeld's plan to punish Germany, you'll see that our tone is not really so different then Steven Den Beste's. The fact that France may come off sounding better to third parties is not the major issue here. The fact is, we don't seem to know exactly what is going to happen after we take over Iraq (it seems inevitable at this point). I would like to think that the Bush administration has a plan, but if so either it is so secret that he has convinced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to criticize his administration to protect it, or they don't understand it. If so, I presume we won't need France and Germany to help us with it. On the other hand, perhaps we're not sure exactly how we're going to handle it but simply feel that the danger is worse if we do nothing. In a case like that, you never know who will be of help. Of course there's still the possibility we are making a mistake, in which case not knowing whose help you might want goes double.

Remember when Pakistan and India tested their way into the nuclear club? Yes there were sanctions, but I honestly think we spoke of both countries more respectfully than we do of France and Germany today. Rightly or wrongly, we decided that Pakistan's support in getting rid of the Taliban was worth having, even at a cost. I would like to think that France and Germany will be there for us if three months from now things have changed as much as they did between August 11, 2001 and October 11, 2001.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

I found this article in the Daily Howler via Rhetorica.

Even though Bob Somerby discusses conservative bias, if you read the information presented another kind of bias comes out, perhaps even worse. Favoritism for candidates who are friendly to reporters. This could be even more dangerous than it seems at first glance. Our intelligence agencies know they are going to miss something sooner or later, and there will be stories about it in the media. Who will get more than their share of blame, and who will get less? And have you seen any information in the media from unnamed officials about how we decide the alert color of the day which could possibly be useful to terrorists trying to evade our intelligence, and what did the unnamed officials hope for in exchange? Not money I'm sure, that would be unethical. But if errors are made, perhaps the story will be slanted just slightly differently if some people have been more helpful than others to the media.

The Straits Times Interactive got this from Associated Press, so you'll probably be seeing it in American newspapers soon.

N Korea prepares for Kim Jong Il's successor

Even if you're skeptical of much of what you read in ArabNews, you'll still be interested in this article on smuggling between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Friday, February 14, 2003

I kind of like Flemming Funch's take on the power law distribution. We help make our own distributions.

From Ming's Metalogue:
The point is not at all whether I have unfairly more or less readers than some other weblog. The emerging democracy in blogs is in that we together leverage our choices in a way that normally isn't possible unless you run a big corporation or you're run by one. We're a swarm of thought bubbles.

Put together all the bits you've seen in the newspaper and on television about how we determine the alert level. Now read this, which I got from The Talking Dog and they got from Unqualified Offerings.

The conclusion is they they're jerking our chain. I suppose one guy could have done it because he was stir crazy, but we have to assume that they're either giving us false leads so that when we do get a real clue we either don't recognize it or can't devote all our resources to it, or trying to frazzle our nerves with false alerts so the real thing has more impact. What's our response?

Have you ever seen information in a newspaper or seen it on television which seems like it would be very helpful to terrorists? There are extreme dangers in any legal attempt to do anything about this - what if someone decides criticizing the President gives aid and comfort to terrorists? Yet sometimes I think the danger of doing is serious enough to worry about, if only so we don't act impulsively in the future.

Here's a tiny proposal which violates no laws or constitutional guarantees. If you have seen such information more than once in a given place, you can assign that place a moron point. Needless to say we don't need links to the offending material, and if I had more traffic I would even encourage people to wait a few days after the offence to avoid a huge flood of moron points helping terrorists figure out which issue to look in. If this got more serious some kind of adjustment would be made for how many readers or viewers of each news source seemed to be participating before giving out a moron of the month award. Maybe there will be an outbreak of common sense in the media and mine will be the last moron point assigned.

If not, be reasonable fair but not insanely so. Even if Al Qaeda probably knows something, there might be independent terrorist groups who don't.

I'll start off by assigning one moron point to Long Island Newsday. For now you might as well leave others in the comment section.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

So far Britain seems to have foiled a chemical attack and a missile attack on a passenger plane in the planning phase. They still seem to be wroking on this.

Someone please convince me that the reason we haven't had comparable discoveries in the United States is that we are less infiltrated. I'll tell you the truth though, I think this is the next phase of the war on terror. Not just passing more and more laws, but making a public case for which sacrifices will actually be cost effective (in terms of progress towards victory rather than cash) in tracking down Al Qaeda cells in the United States. During World War II everyone made sacrifices willingly. There was much comparison of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor initially, but the time has come for those who said so to ask what happens if they were right. What if this war requires just as much universal sacrifice as world war II did, but of a different kind.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

This is from the right wing Washington Times.

Some conservatives remain wary — and are willing to say so publicly — about President Bush's threats of war against Iraq.

I hope you click through to read the whole article, but here's the last paragraph just in case.

Military historian William S. Lind, director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Cultural Conservatism, has concluded that the "administration's Iraq policy is more liberal than conservative. It is Wilsonian, an attempt to export democracy on the tips of American bayonets, which never works — not in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia or Kosovo."

So what now? I've been haunted by the feeling for some months that most people didn't understand exactly how difficult what we are trying to do will be, but I no longer feel that is the case. If many intelligent people still favor war, we must now look elsewhere for the reason. The blog is a good place to start.

Now, I'm willing to say that I accept the risks and consequences and an Iraqi invasion. I know that when we invade US soldiers & Iraqi civilians are going to die. I also recognize that it's going to be expensive and our troops are going to be stuck there for years, possibly decades. Furthermore, I accept the much more limited risk that that there could be massive casualties, nukes launched, or that Saudi Arabia could fall.

That being said, is the anti-war crowd willing to claim responsibility for the negative end-results of their position? Are they willing to say, "Yes, it's fine with us if Saddam Hussein and quite possibly down the road Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons?" Are they going to take responsibility for terrorists getting their hands on nukes provided by one of these regimes and using them on an American city? If five years from now Iraq launches a nuke at Israel and Israel responds by launching two dozen nukes at Iraq (perhaps at all of the countries that surround Israel), is the anti-war crowd going to stand up and admit that, "If only we would have invaded Iraq, this wouldn't have happened?"

I'm not willing to do that if there's any alternative, so I feel a need for at least one of two things. Either a post invasion plan that seems more likely to weaken Al Qaeda than power a recruiting drive, or a plan that doesn't involve invading Iraq but will be more effective than doing nothing or continuing as we are.

This is getting a bit long, so I'll just look at the first one today. The first major danger in Iraq is that many Shia will want revenge on Sunni (especially members of the Baath party) who participated in Saddam's atrocities. In many cases they will have good cause - yet we must protect all those whom we don't plan to arrest and put on trial. Otherwise we have a precedent for lynch mob justice, and a large group who will fight to the death even after the country is occupied, because they know they can be killed at will otherwise.

Many of the dissidents who want to be the new government of Iraq are Shia, some with ties to Iran. They haven't demonstrated the ability to form a government, and are not elected representatives of the people of Iraq. Nevertheless there could be roles for some of them, who have shown they have something to contribute. Let them use their local knowledge and connections to help us avoid vigilante killings. Those who do should have a role in the administration, although Americans will be on top initially.

The second problem will probably be the Kurds. They have become accustomed to a quasi-independent government under the shelter of the no-fly zones. Turkey is already massing troops to make sure they don't become a fully autonomous nation, setting an example of rebellion for Turkish Kurds. Since Turkey will not accept this and the United States has no plans to fight Turkey, we should negotiate before the hour strikes with representatives of both Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds. I sure hope the Kurdish leader who got killed recently wasn't involved in something like this, but even if his loss makes it harder it needs to be done.

I hope even the most devoted respecters of Bush's administration won't assume he has this so much in hand that nobody else needs worry about it. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee doesn't seem to think so.

This is it. At last the government has started talking publically about what we plan for (and haven't planned for yet) after invading Iraq. From The Washington Post.

Pressed for an idea of how long a military occupation would last before Iraqis could take back the government of their country, his colleague from the State Department, Marc Grossman, said he would guess "two years."

But the two officials, at a hearing called to discuss the future of Iraq, said they did not know how the United States would manage the Iraqi oil industry, who would cover the costs of reconstruction if oil installations are damaged in the invasion or how they would install a democratic government.

There's great stuff here, I read it several times. They talk mostly about the potential for unrest arising from how we deal with Iraqi oil. I may well have underestimated the importance of this, but what I'm really wondering is how we're going to set up a government or Shia and Kurds and Sunni's that won't fly apart into civil war, and how we will keep them from killing each other without killing many people and making troops targets for terrorists.

I googled for transcripts of this Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, and looked here and here and here, but either it's not up yet or never will be - or I looked in the wrong places. Anyone have any suggestions?

Wait! One more quote.

Some of the senators expressed incredulity at the state of the Bush administration's planning and several said they regretted Senate approval last year of military action.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I have long (considering I've been part of the blogosphere about three months) read Den Beste's blog USS Clueless because of his knowledge of military matters, and because he thinks about problems in depth, but I never would have thought him capable of this. Good for Den Beste! Even if your attention span is too short for long thoughtful posts, click through to this one.

Having made the case that French and German opposition to the US is motivated by a desire to dominate the EU, or by fear of damaging revelations coming out of post-war Iraq, there is an entirely different way of looking at it: it's a clash of cultures. It's a great big miscalculation. It was never intended to become this serious but it got out of hand because everyone trapped themselves.

You can have cases where the cultures of nations are tuned just exactly right so that each side, for the best of intentions, does exactly the wrong thing. American and Japanese soldiers fought a particularly brutal and unforgiving war in the Pacific for exactly this reason.

This is over ten days old now, but I think this is a good time to blog it now anyway. Pakistani Exodus To Canada Brings Waits, Crowding.

Most of these people seem to be worried about being deported, but nobody knows exactly how many have encountered worse, or under what circumstances. The worst case is a non citizen in the country illegally when the FBI or some other agency thinks or hopes you have some information related to terrorism in some way. Of course I'm not suggesting we should give the rights of citizens to people who are in the country illegally. My concern is public policy.

Suppose, oddly enough, a Pakistani illegal alien actually thinks he has evidence about a terrorist. Suppose he even wants to talk to the FBI about it, possibly because the terrorist is a member of a Muslim sect that would kill him if they were both back in Pakistan. From his perspective there is one little problem. What if the FBI suspects he is misleading them as part of a conspiracy, or even that he is sincere but might be of use later? He can be detained indefinitely for any reason. Like this.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001, signed by President Bush on October 26, gives broad, unprecedented powers to the U.S. Attorney General to certify and then detain non-citizens suspected of terrorist activities or of threatening national security. The law contains vague definitions of "terrorism" and other key terms, and fails to provide meaningful judicial review for detainees wishing to challenge their certifications and subsequent detention. The new law also includes provisions that may lead to the indefinite detention of non-citizens.

OK, so we don't want them to have lawyers. I just wish there were some independent authority, maybe even only involving people with security clearance, which could review the cases and make sure nobody got lost in the shuffle. If there is more than one person who makes detention decisions, do they have different standards? Suppose someone gets tortured (we would never do that, suppose he finds an interrogation more traumatic than expected) and someone starts wondering what the public reaction in the United States would be if he told his story. Now suppose further evidence proves conclusively they are innocent. Is it going to be hard to let them go? I mean, as a taxpayer I don't want to pay room and board for someone who poses no danger.

I'm not mainly concerned about rights for illegal aliens here, but it would be nice if there were some credible authority figure who could promise freedom (for non terrorists only afraid to speak out) in return for cooperation with the government and be believed.

Monday, February 10, 2003


This is unconstitutional, but it's going to come up sooner or later unless we defeat Al Qaeda with no more incidents nearly as horrifying as 9/11. Better to start thinking now while our heads are somewhat cool.

"The Two Faces of Islam" is a book with faults, but some of what it says seems well documented. Many American Mosques have received Saudi funding, and even if the teaching of Jihad as militarnt Islam is not as common here as the author implies, he does site a number of sources. Does the situation justify sending undercover government agents to major Mosques where there is no proof of terrorist involvement just as a precaution? I will admire those who say no, and will admire them more if they continue to say it as the situation worsens.

If perhaps some are inclined to say yes, let us count the costs. I suppose you could say freedom of religion isn't being technically violated - but who would not be angry if their own religion were treated thus? Freedom of Speech? It depends on what happens to those who praise Osama bin Laden, whether it comes to be considered incitement or not. Traditionally you don't have 'incitement to riot' unless a speaker is trying to whip up a crowd to do something violent then and there. On the other hand, the belief that suicidal murderers are 'martyrs' plays an undeniable role in suicide attacks, and a religious authority figure who praises them clearly contributes.

I think we need to define charity carefully as well. The families of suicide bombers may sometimes be victims, not even knowing what was about to happen, but the knowlege of financial rewards for their impoverished families has sometimes been part of the motivation for suicide bombers. I think we must be prepared to say that any organization which gives money to the families of suicide bombers is a terrorist organization.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Uh Oh. Maybe DEBKAfile is wrong this time. After all, Powell didn't say anything about a bodyguard defecting in his speech to the UN. Al Qaeda’s Opening Shot in Iraq War is an article about the assasination of "the top command of the pro-American Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan’s fighting militia."

"DEBKAfile’s counter-terror experts note the features common to these murders and al Qaeda’s assassination of the legendary Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, by two suiciders who detonated bomb belts just two days before the Islamic terrorist network struck in New York and Washington. Today it is generally believed that al Qaeda, predicting America’s response to the terror attacks, struck in advance of the Afghanistan War to eliminate America’s most gifted and formidable military ally.

The wiping out the PUK high command in Suleimaniyeh has alerted Western counter-terror agencies to the possibility of its being the precursor for another massive al Qaeda strike against the United States or its allies. Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the presence of its operatives in a given territory to hit pro-American military leaders present in the same place. One such operative is Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, who is in charge of terrorist activity in Europe and the Middle East, as well as the worldwide distribution of the network’s stock of chemical, biological and radioactive weapons. It is therefore possible that the murder of the Kurdish commanders signals the next major al Qaeda outrage."

Have doctors in the United States received any specific information preparing them to treat the most likely kind of chemical and biological attacks? Yes, I know, right way or wrong way we've definitely tried to start preparing for smallpox. In Singapore doctors are being prepared for ricin, the poison the terrorists in Britain were caught trying to prepare a few days ago.

Alert goes out on ricin poisoning from The Straits Times.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Since I linked to the original report, here are the denials.

Government officials and a senior U.S. diplomat yesterday denied a local television report claiming U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld expressed willingness to withdraw troop stationed here during a meeting with a special envoy of the prersident-elect.

Proposed rule number four: (huh?)

Blog as though you had an audience that could change world events.

Don't just carp at all the things President Bush has done wrong regarding North Korea. To the best of your ability, tell him exactly how he should handle the non crisis there - starting from the situation as it is now. He probably doesn't actually read your blog, but if your idea is strong enough, it could catch the eye of someone else. Better yet, if you have the kernal of an idea, it could catch the attention of another blogger who could make it even stronger, get linked to by instapundit, then make it into the newspapers and on television. A route this direct is unlikely, but chaos theorists say in the long term a butterfly can affect the weather, and ideas do circulate in the blogosphere. Plus all this thinking will make your posts more interesting and original than those of people who just paraphrase the platform of their favorite party. Also it makes blogging more fun, at least for me.

If you're completely sure his mind would be closed even if he read your blog, you can imagine you were talking to one of his advisors, or a few million voters.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Hey, anybody want to read some happy news? Via Untold Millions.

Here's some news about Korea that hasn't made it into any American newspapers I've looked in. Click each link to see where the story comes from.

The U.S. has notified South Korea of its willingness to withdraw its military from South Korea if such a request is placed by the South Korean side, MBC television reported yesterday. I'm not sure what role American concern about Korean feelings of Anti-Koreanism play in this - if it's real.

Here's a good place to get started if you want to learn who the heck MBC television is, and decide if you trust them.

US Ready to Give N.Korea No War Pledge. I have confidence in this article, the Korea Times is a large well South Korean newspaper. Read it carefully to see what was offered under what circumstances.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

I've been thinking about proposed rule number three and the first subject for alpha testing. How can we destroy a distributed network such as Al Qaeda while minimizing the number of elements we kill? Steven Johnson talks about several examples such as cities and ant colonies in his book (as well as Al Qaeda), but doesn't really focus on methods of destroying them. Ant colonies can be killed with poison, but that involves killing most of the ants. An analogous method involving millions of civilian killings would tarnish our spirit more than anything Al Qaeda has done so far. History does have many examples of cities being annihilated without killing most of the people. Most of them are economic - a change in water availability or trade routes or farming conditions may cause the vast majority of the population to leave sometimes. The city is destroyed, but not the individuals who used to comprise it.

I'm clearly a little short on details at this stage, but I'm only one tiny element of the Global Brain. I found a really good place to start in this June 2002 post on Armed Liberal.

"What we really need is a system as decentralized and flexible as Al Qaeda's, one that is so diffuse and interwoven into the American fabric that it can detect intrusions much as an immune system can. Such a network of private citizens could then call in the airstrikes (FBI, etc) when they get a solid hit on the detection network. Furthermore, it seems that such a diffuse, low-power system would be far less prone to abuses since the amount of power concentrated would be small."

I found a few other hints elsewhere on the web.

At the very end, Barabási can not resist wrestling with the networks most on our minds these days, terrorist networks. He sees Al Qaeda as a robust, self-organizing, distributed network that has the benefits and weaknesses of all scale-free topologies. We can’t defeat it by destroying small hubs. We can destroy this network only by finding and crippling the few large nodes that have the most links in the network. But, as a fitting conclusion to the book, Barabási recognizes that terrorists are networks of people, and destroying their current set of links is not enough.

An important part of this is not underestimating the enemy. Here's a timely reminder that the enemy will be learning as we do.

Fortunately for Washington, the Taliban and al Qaeda forces seem to have been too rigid in holding their positions, counted too much on the advantages of similar positions and strong points in past wars, and to have concentrated too much in a single area. They also fought too determinedly once superior forces engaged them.

The next time around, enemies are likely to be more disperse, to try to fight in several different places at once, and retreat more quickly. They also may not operate under conditions where much of the local population is hostile.

I've seen some strange stuff in DEBKAfile, but I also saw a story there about one of Saddam's ex-bodyguards preparing to give us information about hidden terror weapons well before I saw it in an American paper. I still don't know if that story was true or not.

DEBKAfile thinks they have detailed information on terrorist attack plans timed to coincide with Iraqi invasion.

Monday, February 03, 2003

The Five Wars of Globalization

The illegal trade in drugs, arms, intellectual property, people, and money is booming. Like the war on terrorism, the fight to control these illicit markets pits governments against agile, stateless, and resourceful networks empowered by globalization. Governments will continue to lose these wars until they adopt new strategies to deal with a larger, unprecedented struggle that now shapes the world as much as confrontations between nation-states once did.

By Moisés Naím

The persistence of al Qaeda underscores how hard it is for governments to stamp out stateless, decentralized networks that move freely, quickly, and stealthily across national borders to engage in terror. The intense media coverage devoted to the war on terrorism, however, obscures five other similar global wars that pit governments against agile, well-financed networks of highly dedicated individuals. These are the fights against the illegal international trade in drugs, arms, intellectual property, people, and money. Religious zeal or political goals drive terrorists, but the promise of enormous financial gain motivates those who battle governments in these five wars. Tragically, profit is no less a motivator for murder, mayhem, and global insecurity than religious fanaticism.

This is a great article. I have to say the solutions at the end don't quite fit the size of the problem highlighted, but he discusses the problem clearly, which is a start. It seems to me Al Qaeda is the worst of these dangers, since their true aim is to destroy us rather than live off us parasitically.

I think this discussion is related to one I have been having with Arthur Fleischman of Untold Millions a couple of comments down. How to deter an enemy who is willing to die? Apart from any other problems, if a family doesn't have a house the threat to destroy it cannot intimidate. I do not live in Isreal, but this is no idle speculation, because soon I believe American troops in Iraq will be under attack from suicide bombers. I believe that when the neighbors of suicide bombers start cursing them and their families instead of considering them martyrs the battle will be half won.

Perhaps massive investment in Jordan could be a good start - on the condition that some of the investment be used to provide homes and jobs for those Palestinians who are prepared to relinquish any claim to return to Israel. If Jordan could build enough of an industrial base so that it was economically better off that it's xenophobic neighbors (including those with oil) it would make those neighbors who more actively host terrorist groups look worse to their own people. Once the Palestinians inside Isreal began to see that those who had embraced peace had something to live for, they too would wonder what exactly they were fighting for.

I found a couple of links to a similar plan - Stef Wertheimer's peace plan. I originally encountered it here. I hesitate to quote this third link from The Zimbabwe Independent without studying their politics, but the story itself seems to be taken directly from Reuters news wire, near the bottom of the page. For the forseeable future we will need the stick as well as the carrot, but if we are to have collective punishments we must have collective rewards as well - already there are many Arabs who believe we will fight them no matter what they do, so that suicide bombers are martyrs rather than people who bring trouble upon them. At least in the beginning, some of the rewards will have to go to those who refrain from doing horrible things others around them are doing, although I hope their will be less passive things to reward later.

Is Bangladesh the next point where violence will flare up? draws no such broad conclusions, they only describe a fairly minor incident.

The gypsies reportedly told the BSF that they had travelled to Nilhati, a border village in Bangladesh, to hold shows. It had rained hard on January 30 and they were looking for a shelter when the BDR told them about a nearby schoolhouse where they could spend the night. They found no such building -- it was a BDR ploy to get them to cross the border. When they tried to return, the BDR beat them up and pushed them back into Indian territory at gun point.

The snake charmers are Muslims, but they perform Hindu rituals and worship the snake goddess Manasa. This makes them unpopular with Musilm fundamentalists, who might have plotted with the BDR to push them into India.