Monday, November 29, 2010

Notes on Survivalist Site Defense

There was a thread on, discussing the minimum manning requirement for a site defense. I think it is useful to readers who are not paying members, to archive part of this thread. It also merits further clarifications on the tactical considerations for defense planning in a semi-rural/suburban area.
For a defensive position, you need to establish a perimeter, and station guards. Obviously, not everyone can be pulling security at the same time. You need to let people rest. Also, food production and other manufacturing activities are vital in a long-term situation. So only a small fraction of the group can stand security watch at a time.
The purpose of the sentry is to give time for the reserve/QRF to get ready. The time, in this case, is distance. Say your defenders need 1 minute to go from work detail to defensive positions. People can rush 200 meters (in gear) in a minute, give or take. So your sentry(ies) need to see at least 200 meters out from your perimeter. You may need 8 ppl per shift to cover that distance, but most likely 2 people, in a protected position (rooftop nest), will suffice. So 10 people are capable of handling that duty. I would go with 12am-12pm 12-hr shifts personally, as opposed to the 6am-6pm shift beloved by everybody else. It's easier on your biological clock.
[In a homestead, your perimeter is not the whole farm, but rather the living area complex (barn, house, outhouse(?), et al.)]
Where the people requirement really come in is in the active defense plan. In other words, patrolling. You have to keep up a patrol schedule if hostiles are in the area. The manpower requirement varies, but SOFs give us a guideline here. SAS go w/ 4-men teams, while Force Recon go w/ 6-men teams. If you have 1 team out, 2 teams resting/working, you need a minimum of 12 people. Factoring in the sentries would give you 4 teams min, 16 people.
Your sentry acts as your Observation Post(s). You can go up, or go out horizontally. If you have the altitude, a guard tower is good. If you cannot go up, then you have to put your sentries outside your perimeter. Speaking of guard towers, it is unconscionable to place people in unarmored guard towers. All guard towers need to be sandbagged at a minimum. Overhead shade obviously. A protected entrance. A rooftop nest with internal access is the best. Obviously the house need strategic sandbagging as well. Sandbags are easily accessible to the homesteader. An alternative is using those Amazon shipping box, with a plastic liner. Or just build a sandbox with plywood.
If you are in a built-up area, you will need more people because you need to have eyes-on for all of the dead space, possible infiltration routes. In addition, you need to subdivide your compound, so that infiltrators cannot compromise the defense of your whole site. In other words, you need to have "water-tight compartments", to use a naval analogy. For the perimeter defense, if you have a square, four firing ports/bunkers/strongpoints can complete your defense by putting out a wall of lead along the perimeter.
"Think of the effects of a probe on your BOL site not once or twice a day , but 10,12,or even 20 times a day and night."
Yes, it would be unwise to go battle stations with just a pot shot. Manning the defensive line/battle positions is only for an active assault, ie, you see people breaking from the tree line. And yes, you should clear as many trees as you can, out to 500m from your squad nests/houses, when possible. In a suburb/city, you may have to use obstacles to channel the enemy main assault, and rely on vigilance against the infiltration attempts.

"Lets revisit that probing issue. You say you will just send out a patrol to run them off. Thats a great way to get ambushed, ect."
Well, you do have to clear the area. Active patrolling means you should have a team in the field at all times. If you're doing it right, this is when you call the patrol team back to clear that sniper.
The preper needs to remember that the patrol team is out there to disrupt enemy assault preparations and recon operations. Therefore, the team needs to look for possible enemy objective rally points/patrol bases. They recon enemy ingress routes and vehicle staging areas. They check for signs of passage and occupation at these sites.
Speaking of vehicles, that will be the biggest threat to the survivalists. Think of it as modern cavalry. A pick up can greatly disrupt your defense, if you're not planned for it. You will need vehicle barriers [trenches and those giant caltrops/dragon's teeth] to block and channel a mechanized assault. You may also need to place an OP on the possible vehicle rally points for early warning.
The enemy mode of operation will probably be distributed, 1-vehicle scouting parties, ranging all over their area of ops looking for prey. Upon target selection, the scouts/swarm is recalled to mass against the target. Obviously the mass is depending on the perceived target difficulty. If you happen to be in the AO of such a gang, and you have just repelled the scout, it is time to run away. Unless you are organized and trained enough, or can call in enough posse, to ambush/interdict the gang coming your way.

Education, Global Governance & Development

A couple of interesting links here. One on education, the other global governance.

Althouse commented on an NYT op-ed, which was calling for less emphasis on testing. Instead, Ann commented that we're seeing a debate on teacher's pet vs testing. With so much testing, we're finding out that American teachers have been giving good grades to the "good" students, who behave in the classroom and do what the teacher says. And the testers had been losing out, until recently. Obviously we need to do both. Teaching compliance as well as learning skills. As the Far East has shown, teacher's pets will study hard and test well, if that is the new metric. The key objective, as ever, is to foster creativity. Although people impugn the US education system as good at creativity, it's not certain that is the case. With so little testing, what is left is creativity, so that's what you see. But you can take it to extreme, and it underserves the disadvantaged students, which is what had happened.

Ken Anderson remarked on the Climate Change movement from the global governance and "development" perspective. It dovetails nicely with the current Playboy's article on Vulture Funds, which demand full payment for the bonds of insolvent states. The Playboy article is from the perspective of the "development" community and the subject states, but it does highlight the corruption exposure Vulture Funds do in getting paid. It turns out that, if you expose corruption in, say, Congo, they will pay you to stop doing that. As John Reed would say, a state does not need to borrow money to function.

Anderson highlights that third world countries see Climate Change as a way to get paid. Over the past 30 years, international development had been trending away from states, because of the blatant corruption in 60s and 70s. Climate Change offers a way to go back to "state-centric" development, where bureaucracies and rulers can skim off the top, again. For the UN bureaucracy, it is also a way to increase its power over the world. Climate Change advocates often ignored this aspect of the Climate Change movement, which led to gross distortions of the carbon regime.

Anderson also looked into why the BRICS, and China in particular, opted out of the Copenhagen/Cancun rounds, even as the advocates dangled more incentives. It is an interesting thought on the boundaries of Chinese behavior.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Collapse of Micro-Credit in India

New York Times bring us the sad story of the collapse of Micro-Credit in India. Apparently politicians encouraged people to default.

It is sad that this is happening. The industrious poor can often lift themselves out of poverty, with just a little bit of help. The daily vagaries of poverty can set people back [car troubles, sick days] despite their best efforts. Either a strong network or available credit is necessary to meet the cashflow demands. In a transitional economy [industrializing, marketizing, etc.], where the social networks are weak and in flux, credit availability is even more important.

Micro-Credit is a hope to by-pass traditional loan sharks in providing cheap credit to the poor. [the industrious ones.] That the micro-banks are now meeting political resistance is just sad. Some of them are perhaps becoming payday lender with higher rates, prompting this movement.

The chaotic beast that is Indian politics and bureaucracy continues to perplex.

h/t Global Guerrillas

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Insights into Philippines' Strategic Re-Alignment

Asia Times has an interesting article outlining the Philippines' strategic embrace of China. We saw the Philippines' rebuke of Sec Clinton at the recent ASEAN conference, and now we have some of the reasons why.

Filipinos are turning against the US due to the legal shelter of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which protects US servicemembers from local prosecution. At the same time, China is donating equipment to the Philippines military. Thus public sentiments align with the elites in turning away from the US.

It is a question whether this re-alignment is temporary or permanent. The article reminds us that the VFA is up for renewal. The ASEAN drama could be the Philippines leveraging their position in the VFA negotiations. It could also be the Philippines steering a neutral course between China and the US, getting the mostest from both sides.

The Philippines dispute the South Sea boundary with China. With this neutral course, it could be bargaining for a more favorable outcome in the border negotiations, compared with Vietnam. That they had not fought a war with China certainly make the Philippines more amiable toward China. China also has an incentive to demonstrate its peaceful intentions to the world. A successful resolution to Sino-Filipino border would be a good counterpoint to the on-going disputes with Vietnam and India.

This is a nice illustration of the axiom that nations do not have friends.

h/t China Defense Mashup

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Government Pork in India: Software Edition

India's Defence Research and Development Organization, which is the Indian equivalent of the American DARPA and the service materiel commands rolled into one, wants to build its own computer operating system. It cites computer security as the impetus.

While the goal is noble, it is patently a boondoggle. DRDO is setting up TWO software engineering centers to write this one operating system. Its waste is evident when you think: MIT computer science students used to write an operating system for their 6.033 design project [not sure if they still do that.] Linus Torvald largely wrote the Linux kernel on his own, over a 4 month period. [Other people contributed codes for features later on, but Torvald finished the functional prototype.]

The Linux example stands out particularly, because it is open and already working. China's software institute, for example, has customized a couple versions of Linux for domestic use. If India cares about developing a useable product and plugging security holes, it should deploy a suitable Linux version immediately, instead of putzing around with an ego project/pork like this operating system project.

That India is continuing with Windows while waiting for DRDO, with its long history of over-budget and over-schedule projects, means that this stunt was for political purposes rather than to satisfy a present capability gap. For most computing needs, there are open software products available.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tests are Good

Tests help kids retain information and improve learning outcomes. Americans need to get over their fear of testing straitjacketing their kids. You can be both creative and take tests. It is not either-or.

And have more recess time. Asian countries have 10 minutes between each class, so kids can recess throughout the day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Absurdity of the Zero Interest Mortgage Meme

MSN quotes this gem of an article, speculating on the home mortgage interest rate in America. The unknown author thinks that the interest rate has a good chance of hitting zero percent. He reasons, "0% financing has long worked as an incentive in the auto industry." And, "After all, two years ago, few people would have thought a 4% mortgage was possible, Larson said."

The author ignores the fundamentals of bank financing. For home owners, their payment consists of two parts: principal and interest. If the sum of principal and interest is within his means, the home owner can afford the house. The laws of supply and demand says that the monthly payment of the average house will be affordable to the average home owner. Interest rate is but half of the price here, the other being home price. If there is excess inventory on the market, the sellers will have to lower the monthly payment to move inventory, meaning lowering both interest and principal.

The other market here is the financing market, being the bank. Banks do not care about the price of the monthly payment, per se. They only care about the interest payment. With a zero interest mortgage, the banks will lose money. With positive inflation, the interest rate has to be higher than inflation. With zero or negative inflation, keeping money in the bank is worth more than taking on the risk of lending. If we ever do get to a deflationary economy, banks will never incur a loss from mortgage lending. They will either not lend at all, or they will milk a government subsidy to cover their risk of lending.

In addition, in a deflationary period, by definition the home price will go down with the rest of the economy. With a lower home price, once again the monthly payment is within reach of the average buyer, all without having to resort to zero interest.

The author seems desperate to believe home prices will not fall. That desperation, and the political will to prop up the home prices, is harming all Americans and holding back our economic recovery.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Naval Strategy and South China Sea

This article in Asia Times adds to our understanding of nationalist elements in Japan politics.  The writer's pro-China bias is so thick that even I could pick it up, but he makes clear the current [and maybe emergent] Japanese strategy: Aggressively patrols the Senkaku Islands as territorial waters, but not crossing the bright line of settling the islands.  Japan's strategic concern is in not antagonizing Taiwan on the Diaoyutai issue, which can strengthen the pro-unification camp in Taiwan.  [The independence movement in Taiwan is pro-Japan for historical and geo-strategic reasons.]  If Taiwan ever reunifies, Japan will settle the Senkakus in a heartbeat.

More broadly, Japan's overtures to Vietnam, and Phillipine's ASEAN rebuke to Sec. Clinton's South Sea remakrs, underscores an interesting anti-colonial dynamic [for lack of a better word] at play in South East Asia.  [The Hate Triangle that is North East Asia is well-documented.]

In all ASEAN states [except Singapore and maybe Brunei], there are strong sentiments and biases against both China and America. [A bit of Japan, too, but that's faint compared to the other two.]  The Chinese outposts in the South Sea are sore spots to the surrounding countries, but their people don't like the Americans, either.  For example, Vietnam would really prefer Russia over the US in balancing China, but Russia cannot do more than sell weapons at present.  In fact, Russia wants to refurbish Cam Ranh Bay, but we'll see if it actually happens.  Up Country portrays well both the strategic inevitability of a US-Vietnam security alliance, and Vietnamese reluctance to do so.

Phillippines has been pissed off about the American evacuation of Clark Air Base in 1991.  Its intelligentsia are suspicious of America over its support of Marcos regime.  Indonesia has regional aspirations, colonial baggage, past military dictatorships, and an Islamic identity, all of which build the above bias as well.

All this is to say that the US may have no "entry point" into a Battle of the South Sea.  While the US has a freedom of navigation concern, the combatants (China + one more) will not want its help in resolving the battle.  The most likely scenario is where the US Navy escorts neutral convoys together with Singapore and Japan, a la the Tanker War'84-88.  The escort scenario will require several squadrons of FFGs, which the US Navy is retiring soon.

Most of the popular South Sea scenarios envision the US taking a combatant role against China's southern fleet, which in turn feeds into the general support for more destroyers and aircraft carriers.  However, the political emphasis on the higher end of the Navy is unbalancing it for meeting the full spectrum of requirements.  The combatant scenario is but one of the possible futures of the South Sea.  Another equally likely future is the above escort scenario.  Convoy escort is generally the duty of frigates, but we are coming up against a frigate gap.  The current difficulties of the Littoral Combat Ships program means it may be cut short.  It will take time to start up a replacement frigate program.  So there may be a long gap between the retirement of the last Perry and the introduction of the next frigate, in the near future.  If the South Sea Battle falls during this gap, the US Navy will have to commit our Aegis destroyer squadrons [which are national strategic assets for missile defense] for convoy duty, which is a much lower strategic priority.  So the USN is on the trajectory toward a disastrous South Sea.

[The LCS as currently configured is completely incapable of convoy air defense, and only possibly capable of the convoy ASW, pending its ASW module.]

Another question we need to answer is the strategic priority of the South Sea itself.  With the opening of the Northwest Passage, the South Sea is no longer the petrol lifeline of Japan.  Australia, another ally, does not depend on the South Sea for petroleum.  Other than the possibility of oil, and the general global commerce, why should the US care about the South Sea?

The popular South Sea combatant scenarios may be the manifestations of a US Navy in search of a strategic purpose.  The continuing focus on a "near peer competitor", aka China, is unbalancing the US Navy from its other strategic priorities, as I outlined above.  We need some sanity over this piece of ocean, at least in the US.  That the ASEAN states go crazy over the submerged atolls there does not mean it will start World War III.  The most important role for the US is to contain the conflict, and compartmentalize its effects from the rest of the world.  With a robust convoy escort capability, we can minimize the harm of a shooting war on global commerce, and avoid foreign entanglements.  The Senkaku flare up reminds us all that there are no easy territorial disputes left in the world.  All of the remaining territorial disputes have no clear title holders; every claimant has a legitimate claim to the title.  The rest of the world should not suffer from these petty title fights.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Senkaku/Diaoyutai, and Reflections on Maritime Low-Intensity Warfare

Watching the Senkaku dispute, one is reminded of the passion people feel toward land, especially a piece of land that most people have never seen and almost uninhabitable. That people can feel so passionate of land speaks ill toward conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

What is the next step? In the Hobbesian world of international relations, possession is 90% of the game. Japan had erected markers and a lighthouse on Diaoyutai, but has no permanent presence on the islands. Therefore, the first actor to "settle" the islands will resolve the dispute in his favor.

Indeed, as NightWatch reports, Japan is considering stationing troops.

I thought China might deploy the PLA to garrison the islands much like it did in the south china sea, but this article suggests that China may not have the will to escalate.

A unilateral occupation of any island [of the 4 "habitable" ones] will trigger a military race to settle the other 3 islands. The second mover will also embargo the opposing garrisons to "freeze" the situation, pending diplomatic resolution. Both sides will try to re-supply their marines on shore. A naval confrontation is inevitable in this scenario. Due to the distance, neither side is capable of enforcing an aerial embargo for long, so aerial resupply will keep the garrisons at survival level.

[If Japan moves first, Taiwan will face political pressure to deploy as well. Such a three-way race risks driving Taiwan away from Japan, which may be one of the few current constraints holding Japan back.]

In this scenario of unilateral settlements, a military confrontation at sea will quickly reach a new local equilibrium, absent political wills for war. If domestic pressures increase, the political leadership may seek points through this escalation.

One further point on this military confrontation: To enforce the naval embargo against resupply, ramming will be the predominant tactic. As I mentioned previously, ocean-going tugboats are incredibly relevant on the maritime low-intensity battlefield. If a combatant is too fragile for ramming, its only resort will be warning shots, which is a very risky escalation on the force continuum, depending on gunnery skills and sea state. Whereas the physical force of a tugship enables safe resolution against non-cooperative vessels. While Galrahn has expounded on the necessity of including and elevating VBSS teams and naval infantry in the planning/doctrine & force structure of naval strategy, tugs and ramming represent the other leg of the low-intensity naval dyad. Indeed, a ramming touched off the current crisis, and the Japan Coast Guard cutters frequently resorted to ramming to enforce its claims over the Senkaku Islands. Both tugs & VBSS teams will depend on a mothership that is sorely lacking in the US Navy.

Given the prominence of nationalist groups in both Japan and China, a non-government actor may try to settle the islands. Japanese and Taiwanese civilian groups had attempted to resolve the sovereignty dispute through settlement. Japan Coast Guard were able to arrest and deport Taiwanese settlers in the past. Japanese settlers did not have the logistic support to stay long term. There is no fresh water on the islands nor much wildlife, making the logistic requirements unaffordable to most NGOs. The current diplomatic crisis may raise sufficient funds for such an expedition, though.

If a Taiwanese group undertakes a deployment, its primary obstacle will be Japanese eviction. The settlers will have to employ non-lethal measures to successfully resist eviction. For example, net launchers can trap RHIBs and swimmers in the surf zone, preventing Coast Guard officers from landing. Once on land, sticky foam and nets can immobilize the officers. Thus secured, the settlers can send the officers back out to sea on their RHIBs, for an intercept and recovery by their own cutters. The settlers may deploy an ADS-like device without contending with human-safety concerns, but fuel for power generation will be the primary constraint on its operation. Same goes for other direct energy systems.
[We focus on a Taiwanese group because of logistics, and because Chinese billionaires are unlikely to fund this endeavor without government clearance.]

A Japanese civilian group faces eviction risks from the Coast Guard as well. In the current environment, PRC will respond to a civilian escalation with a proxy civilian deployment [ie, a state-sponsored NGO.] To maintain the status quo, where Japn enjoys de facto sovereignty over Diaoyu with its cutter patrols, the Japanese government has an incentive to head off a low-intensity escalation by evicting Japanese settlers. In addition, a Japanese civilian escalation risks a Taiwanese response as well, which is against Japanese interests as stated above. Therefore, a Japanese NGO needs to invest in non-lethal measures to oppose landings.

An NGO can survive on the islands with reverse osmosis water purifiers and mussel/shellfish harvests. It is not impossible, but requires significant preparation and training.

At the moment, neither Japan nor PRC wishes to escalate the dispute. However, ignored domestic pressures can become rogue NGO actions. A successful NGO operation/settlement can force the governments into escalation, reaching the new local equilibrium of a naval embargo. A Solomonic resolution could divide each island into two, half to Japan and the other half China, with a Green Line going down the middle of each island. However, a settlement operation can preclude that division. We could end up with an Ying-Yang-esque division, with a Japanese Diaoyu Dao and a Chinese Taisho Jima. That would be an amusing ending to this 130 year old dispute.

PS (3OCT10): Edited title and added links and tags.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NYT's Tutoring Discussion

Today's New York Times has an interesting story/discussion on the boom of after-school tutoring programs like Kumon and its ilk. Educators weighed in on what's driving this boom.

One of the respondents, Dr Ormsby, opined that we need to get rid of calculators and bring back proof-based geometry in our math curriculum. He is right.

I studied Japanese abacus and mental calculations in elementary school, and indeed abacus and slide rules help students form a physical understanding of arithmatics, an understanding you do not get from calculators. Some kids will get arithmatics without an aid, but most students benefit from this physical understanding. Essentially, you are engaging the visual and the physical centers of the brain in understanding math, in addition to the verbal center. Anytime you use more than one part of the brain, you get better learning results.

In East Asia, elementary school students used to train on the abacuses as well as calculators as part of their arithmatics program. Of course, memorization of the multiplication table was a requirement, too. I don't know if these things are still there today, but I hope so. America would do well to import these requirements.

Proof-based geometry is another vital part of a rigorous high school math program. Students who cannot do proofs are not ready to take on technical majors in college [except maybe biology/psych.] We are doing students a disservice by depriving them of this vital piece of learning, therefore constraining their options in college. Proof-based geometry [and all proofs] is fun, more so than algebra, which is just pure drudgery. If you take the fun out of math and leave only drudgery, of course students will tune out.

When I was doing stuff like math teams, Academic Decathlon, and SATs, I found that I could do the problems more quickly without a calculator, than with one. The abacus training was great in that regard. During my time in AcaDec, the math sections were difficult for most contestants to finish, for some reason [I didn't have a problem.] Maybe it was when they were introducing calculators into the problems, thus causing that problem. Anyway, for contestans like me, it was a great place to pick up valuable points and pull away from the pack. I hone the strategy of quickly deciding if I should apply calculators to a particular problem or go w/ my mental abacus, which allowed me to complete the math sections. For standardized exams like the SATs, the math section is indeed a place where fast arithmatics is vital, and where a calculator will slow you down.

[I was extremely saddened when they subsequently dumbed down and trimmed the math sections at AcaDec. Going from a 50-problem set to a 35- -problem set is just pathetic.]

New York Times had another recent article on the testing culture in East Asia, and it is fascinating. I may have to put my kids into cram schools during their elementary years, just to make up for the lack of structure and discipline of today's American elementary education.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dysfunctional Colleges

Dysfunctional colleges are just as sad as dysfunctional high schools. While many of the "at-risk" students are not ready for college-level course work, they are capable of the work with proper preparation. It is sad that machine politics, designed to empower and serve the disadvantaged, is now failing them with these horrible colleges.

My wife teaches at a lower-tier college, and her descriptions of the horrible purges going on at the school, plus inept administration [even when firing somebody they don't like], would be funny if they are not hurting the students.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gates Strikes Again

Sec (Dr) Robert Gates has struck again.  He is eliminating 50 flag positions and 150 SESs [Senior Executive Service], as well as chopping JFCOM down to size.  This is great.  We certainly should not fall into the Royal Navy's problem of having more Admirals than ships.  That he's allowing the services to keep any future savings is certainly a good incentive for more cost cutting.

As Dr Gates has acknowledged, military healthcare is the elephant in the room that we need to control.  As I've discussed before, right now the services get to pawn off retiree healthcare to the VA, which just lets them off of any consequences of abusing their people.  We need to hold the generals accountable for excessive disability among the veterans, especially the preventable ones such as hearing loss and sit-up-induced lower spinal injuries.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Institution of "Capitalism & Luxury Goods"

Daniel Indiviglio had a great article on the gender pay gap earlier this week, "Why Working Mothers Fall Behind".  This is based on the New York Times story and a recent study on the gender pay gap.  Indiviglio's observation is, if we focus purely on men and women who stay in the labor force during their professional career [by discounting the women who take breaks or drop out], there is no gender pay gap.  The gender pay gap, at this time, is basically a proxy for the real pay gap, between people who stay in, and people who drop out, of the labor force.

His article touched off some interesting discussions around the web.  I finally had some time to look at the comments today, and it struck me, that this is another place where we can ponder Carroll Quigley's Institutionalization Theory! :D

A brief recap on Institutionalization: Over time, instruments of power calcify into institutions, thus stopping contribution into our civilization's growth, eventually leading to its collapse.

In our current Western Civilization, Quigley identified our "instrument" as free market Capitalism.  As Quigley remarked, luxury goods is the engine behind the growth of commerce in general, and in today's economy, luxury goods and services [anything not essential to subsistence-level food and shelter] have grown to dominate the economy.  Our current labor market system is a reflection of that, where most people labor to produce luxury goods and services.   In this system, people advance by working harder AND making more personal connections than other people.  Therefore, dropping out of the labor force [or part-timing during the toddler years] negatively impact one's professional growth, by limiting effort of work and opportunities to connect.

At the same time, this labor system does not look good demographically.  The higher-paid professionals are having less and less children, while the lesser-paid people continue to meet replacement-level need.  Therefore, demographically, we will have proportionally more descendants of the lower class and less of the upper class.  If you subscribe to the theory that you learn productivity and work habits from your parents, then you can see that we're on the path to Idiocracy.  Good thing that the US has a fairly mobile [and upwardly mobile] labor market/culture, where the schools have taken on the social function to inculcate "hard work" into the students.  Looking across the pond toward Europe, they're at a much more advanced stage of the demographic Idiocracy than we are, a warning to us all.

Then again, we should re-examine this system, a confluence of free market capitalism and monogamy.  Polygamy again has emerged as a discussion topic this week.  As it happens, polygamy presents a possible answer to this demographic conundrum we're examining here:  A business unit with organic [in the "internal to oneself" sense] childcare capability and multiple working parents who can stay in the labor force.  The internal dynamics of a polygamous household does present significant challenges to the adoption of this practice.  However, if we cannot figure out the educational institutionalization problem [where the education hierarchy, aka teacher union, is perpetuating an underperforming status quo, and where higher education is not adequately preparing students for the future], this is where we might have to end up at.

Speaking of polygamy, we have a kind of a polygamous system at present, with the prevalence of infidelity.  The hypocritism that infidelity engenders today, as well as the sub-optimal economic arrangement [where the high wage earner has to support multiple, duplicated, childcare efforts as opposed to a single, consolidated childcare focal], makes the current polygamous system self-defeating.

And yes, I do realize that I need to find another book and author to harp on.  Now that Megan McArdle is looking at Tainter, and I having just finished The Collapse of Complex Societies, I guess I should do my Tainter book report here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ideas on Military Personnel Costs

These days, everybody is talking about military personnel costs, from Sec Bob Gates to the blogosphere. Recently, Bryan McGrath put forward two ideas on controlling retirement costs.

Commenter milprof passed along a paraphrase from the defense leadership: "Plan to take it out of force structure because it sure won't be coming out of pay and benefits". Indeed, we need to think critically about force structure, which directly relates to the personnel cost issue. As a primer for the discussion, I've found Dr. Cindy Williams's defense series to be illuminating. Holding the Line is a great book on alternative force structure and a discussion on the ideas.  Filling the Ranks is another great book on incentives and personnel policy.

I've touched on this topic before.

Here are a few more proposals. The way to control medical cost is to make the military responsible. If the brass has to make the budget choice between retiree medical care and weapon acquisition, perhaps they will be more sensible.

A couple of quick examples: Sit-ups are known to cause lower spinal injury and later disabilities, yet it is still the standard in the Army. With budgetary incentives the brass would be in a greater hurry to change that. Hearing loss: passing through Al Asad Air Base (Marine) in '07, I saw the junior Marines frequently worked without hearing protection on the flightlines. In the army infantry only used earplugs on the rifle range. Electronic ear muffs have been a proven technology for 20+ years, yet only the start of OIF did the military purchase Peltor and other muffs in significant quantities.

Soldier care is an empty slogan until we hold the brass budgetarily accountable.

Retirement benefits: With so many military retirees working in the federal government, we need to start "means-testing" military retiree benefits. For example, if you're drawing retirement and GS salary at the same time, you will lose retirement dollar for dollar until (a) you're getting total GS-13 lvl 1 pay or (b) only 50% of retirement pay [not counting GS], whichever is higher. And maybe we do the same to federal contractor employees, too.

Moreover, if we do away with the 20-year vesting, and start giving retirement at 10-yr mark [but who would have to wait until 62 or 65 to start drawing retirement], then many more people will opt to retire earlier, thus ending up saving Gov't money. [The present value of that 15-20 years of retirement pay (48 to 65) may worth more than the retirement pay of that 2nd replacement soldier.]

So there are plenty of ways to lower the personnel cost. The only worry is that the various Associations will not be courageous and farsighted enough to take this problem head on, and that Congress will wait until the last minute [when we're broke already] to start slashing programs willy-nilly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Force Symmetry Across Political Spectrum

NightWatch had an interesting comment for its July 16th 2010 report. Regarding the government of Pakistan vis-a-vis India, it said that, basically, both the military regime and the progressive governments are hostile toward India, but in different ways. For example, Musharraf dialed back the tension in Kashmir, but increased support for LeT. The civilian governments reduced state funding of LeT, but increased tension in Kashmir.

This symmetry of force across the political spectrum, where both ends employ force, but in different ways, is echoed today in Danger Room. Spencer Ackerman reported on the appointment of John Bennett to chief of NCS, and mentioned that the Obama administration has greatly increased the scale of the drone campaign in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater. At the same time, the United States is drawing down the human presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is similar to Bill Clinton's fondness for Tomahawk missiles and air strikes, juxtaposed against the Bush dynasty's multiple ground deployments (Panama, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan).

Governments have all found lethal force to be useful, regardless of their political stripes. The preference for conventional vs unconventional is shaped by domestic constituencies, but they all want to kill people. The Peace movement would do well to keep that in mind.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Apatheism, Agnostics, & Atheists

Prof. Somin over at Volokh is responding to Ron Rosenbaum of Slate on the topic of Agnostics vs Atheists. Rosenbaum portrays Atheism as being a faith, same as its Theist opponents, thus philosophically as vulnerable as theism. Somin, on the other hand, shows that Rosenbaum's argument is incomplete, that a rejection of god(s) does not require an alternate explanation/faith.

Here is a good opportunity to talk about Apatheism vs Agnosticism. Apatheism is another way of confronting the Theism vs Atheism divide, and a morally stronger one than Agnosticism. One criticism of Agnosticism is that it is morally wishy-washy, akin to post-modernism in not making up its mind. Apatheism, on the other hand, reject the whole debate as irrelevant in daily life, and therefore not worth spending time to think over. Essentially Apatheism is the Existentialist answer to the God debate.

The Apatheist ask himself, does the existence of the divine change his choices and actions? At all times, [or 99% of times], the existence of god does not change the outcome of our decision processes. Therefore, by not thinking about god, the Apatheist focuses his mind on more productive concerns.

So if you have a crisis of faith, here is an opportunity to ask yourself, "Do I care if God exists?" If God is there, He would be glad that you're thinking this through.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle: A Two-Stage Alternative

The US Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is again in the news, following a Government Accountability Office report on the growing expense of the system. Basically, the EFV is getting as expensive, and complex, as a helicopter.

In this new fiscal environment, everything overpriced is facing the budget axe. The Marines have not had their turn yet, and of their programs the EFV is the most vulnerable. [The super-jeep and EFSS are smaller and thus less endangered.] The requirement is valid, but the vehicles are too expensive. So it is time to look at possible replacements.

One way to maximize return on our technology investment, yet reduce technical complexity, is to split the EFV into two components: A landing craft, and A fighting vehicle. The landing craft can carry the vehicle to the beach at the 25kn required speed. The fighting vehicle can disembark and carry on the fighting. The landing craft can then ferry the next wave of follow-on forces. The fighting vehicle can be minimally amphibious to ford inland rivers and streams.

Most of the complexity of the EFV design comes from the 25 knot waterborne speed requirement. This requirement led to the retractable tracks to minimize the hull drag. The speed requirement also restricts weight, which led to a reduction in operational range. By splitting the design, we can re-use the waterborne-hull and waterjet design in building the fast landing craft, while keeping the vehicle chassis and tracks for a simpler assault vehicle. Without the waterborne speed requirement, the assault vehicle will be cheaper and more compact. We will also have more flexibility in extending the waterborne range of the overall system, depending on other design constraints.

The waterborne speed requirement is driving unnecessary complexity, because it is a distinct and separable phase of the EFV operational spectrum. Once it beaches, the EFV does not require that 25kn speed anymore. In traversing rivers and other brown-water obstacles, it does not have the room to accelrate fast enough to materially affect the crossing time. The seconds of crossing time reduction is an expensive investment, which may be better spent in smoke and other visual obscurants [that also are tactically useful on the ground]. If the EFV is working as a riverine gunboat, it can bring along the landing craft component for that part of the operation.

By splitting the EFV in two, we will require two power packs, one for the landing craft, and one for the tank. To achieve the 25kn assault speed, we can use a clutch to couple the tank powerpack to the landing craft, combining the power output of two engines to drive the landing craft. The landing craft can also use an autopilot after dropping off the tank, [to get home], to minimize the manpower requirement.

By de-coupling the blue water phase from the ground phase of the amphibious assault, we can dramatically reduce the technical complexity of the follow-on EFV-lite program, while preserving much of the technical investments we have made on the EFV program. It is a win-win for the taxpayers.

Friday, July 2, 2010

High School Math Important!

New York Times reports that factories are looking to hire CNC machinists and other craftsmen, but cannot find enough qualified or capable candidates. A pharmaceutical factory in Ohio is looking for 100 candidates who understand ninth-grade level math [Algebra 1], among other basic skills, but found only 47 people qualified out of 3,600 appliants.

That article is a sad indictment on the American primary and secondary education system. It is absolutely criminal that so many of our high school graduates cannot pass an Algebra I test. I can understand how some people might have problems with high school Geometry, since it involves some visualization ability, but Algebra 1 is just not that difficult conceptually. All Alg 1 requires is hard work: checking your answers, doing out every step instead of skipping around, etc. Some people might not like math; that's ok, I'm not a poetry afficionado myself, so we're even on that score. But everyone [who can graduate high school] should pass high school math. [Even though passing is such a low standard.]

Speaking of those CNC machinists, I read about CNC machining in my high school econ class, back in the mid-90s. [A laid-off automobile assembly line worker found a rewarding job as a CNC machinist.] So it's been at least 15 years that we know computer-numerical-control machining is a hot field. Yet we're still having problems filling CNC vacancies? That should be enough grounds for firing every community college presidents within 100 miles of a factory!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Russian Spies, and American Pop Culture

The Russian 11 has been a funny diversion on the daily news this week. Mowscow Center's inability to understand American culture continues to astound, but perhaps this inability is bureaucratically useful. Russia's political elites probably relate more to the mafia's secretiveness than the academia's openness.

Looking at the pictures of Anna Chapman, I was struck by a thought: It will be deliciously ironic, if Ms Chapman wins her trial, and then promptly becomes a media personality. She and her cohorts will get book deals, appear in reality TV competitions, commentate on CNN and Fox News, and maybe even start their own training school/consultancy on the Beltway circuit. This espionage arrest may be the biggest break of their lives, second only to getting assigned to the US. Christopher Mestos may well regret his bail-jumping in Cyprus.

SVR employees will fight for an American assignment, if only they can replicate the celebrity status that the Russian 11 are now enjoying. Being a foreign spy in America is now another path to Hollywood.

PS: I want to clarify that, even if Chapman, et al, got convicted, they may still have a celebrity career.  In fact, as known media personalities and registered foreign agents, they might get more recruiting leads/volunteers from their elevated social status.  So, like the Chinese idiom, this arrest may be the lost horse [apparent mishap] that is a blessing in disguise.  And I added links and labels.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twitter-Revolution, and the Limits of Retail Diplomacy

Rick Schmitt wrote about Jared Cohen'04, Stanford, who is State Department's coordinator on internet diplomacy and e-communication strategies. He explored Cohen's exploits in Congo, Russia, and pushing Twitter to better support the students in the Iranian protests. Schmitt gave a tantalizing peek at the possibilities of retail-level diplomacy, where we go around the governments and appeal directly to the people of other countries.

Obviously Cohen is someone going places. His story makes good copy. But it calls to mind Bush 2's efforts to bypass the elite opinionmakers in Europe to reach the masses, old Europe vs new.

We need a retail-level diplomatic capability. However, there is a chicken v egg problem here: Do the elites get power because they're part of the political system, or do they get into the political system because they have power? We may like to ignore the existing power structure in Iran, say, and help the masses rise up in a proletariat revolution, but that does not mean we can take the power away from elites. If anything, Iraq & Afghanistan demonstrate the peril, again, of bypassing the local power structures.

This retail-level approach is also inherently destabilizing, because it is a capability to undermine local power structures. In a bi-polar world, such a capability is ok because the other side is already nominally hostile. In a multi-polar world, we risk pushing potential allies into a hostile corner with this approach, notably Russia and China. [Not to say that there are deserving candidates to be hostile with, Myanmar & Zimbabwe coming to mind.]

Where the retail will be helpful is in failed states and proto-city-states. Sadly, the federal gov't is clueless on such non-Westphalian entities. A retail capability can help us map the local allegiances and power structures, telling us who would be a worthwhile ally and who to stay away from.

[h/t Galrahn]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mirage Followup: Pakistani Prospects

Anonymous questioned my analysis on the prospects of Pakistan getting the 62 Mirage 2000s from United Arab Emirates. Rumor says that UAE wants to swap the Mirages in exchange for new-built Rafaels from Dassault. I said that Pakistan is not likely to be a recipient of these planes. Anonymous disagrees, because Pakistan is the largest operator of Mirage IIIs and Vs in the world today, thus a long-term relationship with Dassault and in need of replacements. In addition, Pakistan is looking for advanced systems to arm its future JF-17s, such as RC-400 radars and MICA missiles.

Yes, Anon, Pakistan would absolutely love to have 62 Mirage 2Ks. However, as an analyst, we always need to separate wishful thinking from analysis based on facts. I will be upfront myself and admit my personal bias to see a Taiwanese Air Force strong enough to deter the PLA Nanjing military district. Even taking that into account, though, Taiwan still remains the most likely candidate for these Mirage 2Ks, eventually.

The most important factor to understand here, is the business imperative of the Dassault corporation. Dassault has been searching for an export customer for the Rafale. Without an export customer, Dassault will have to shutter the Rafale production line, at least temporarily. Having to restart the production line would raise the Rafale unit cost dramatically, further hurting its export prospects. Despite all the hype of the armed UAVs, the end of the Rafale may mean the end of high-performance fighter airplanes for Dassault [either manned or unmanned], with the attendant loss of the engineers and the craftsmen. Without the human capital, it will take Dassault a generation to rebuild its in-house capability to design and build airplanes capable of high-Angle-of-Attack maneuvers. Therefore, getting a Rafale export, and thus keeping the line warm, is synonymous with Dassault surviving in the fighter business.

Therefore, Dassault absolutely does not want to endanger its Rafale sales prospects. According to Wiki, the Rafale is in the running in India. Brazil has also supposedly chosen the Rafale. With this stock of Mirage 2Ks, Dassault may now offer the Mirages as temporary stand-ins to India and Brazil, while they waited on the Rafales.

With the business consideration, Dassault is unlikely to offer Mirages to Pakistan, at least for now. Dassault needs India's MMRCA order. A sale to Pakistan right now will shut Dassault out of the Indian market. Pakistan may get Mirages later, after MMRCA award, but by then, JF-17 production will be in full-swing in Pakistan. A Mirage 2K acqusition will be competing for funding against a more indigenous JF-17 production program. Egypt is also discussing a co-production deal with Pakistan for the JF-17s, which elevates the political importance of the JF-17 program. If JF-17 is fighting for funding against Mirage 2Ks, JF-17 will probably come out ahead. Pakistan may well buy RC-400s and MICAs, but that does not translate into Mirages.

Based on the business case, Dassault is unlikely to offer the UAE Mirages to Pakistan. Based on the timing and politics, Pakistan is unlikely to seek Mirages. Therefore, Pakistan is not a prospect for the UAE Mirages.

The Turkish Flotilla: A Non-Violent Approach

The news is abuzz over the Israeli raid, and the subsequent lethal clash, on board MV Mavi Marmara. Hindsight is 20/20, but placing soldiers and protesters on the crowded confines of a ship is a recipe for bloodshed. The protesters are sending more ships to run the blockade, and we can only expect more such semi-civilian maritime protests in other corners around the world. Therefore we need to develop an appropriate response and avoid falling into the "action" trap like the Israelis.

One approach is a more extensive use of tugboats on the open seas. It may be difficult for non-mariners and non-engineers to understand, but ships have a very poor directional control. Most ships are not designed with directional thrusters. Outside of specialized vessels such as oil rigs and tugboats, civilian ocean-going ships cannot "turn on a dime", relatively speaking. They don't need to, either, except when in ports. And there, the tugboats are almost always available to lend a hand.

Therefore, in a protest scenario like the Turkish flotilla this weekend, a tugboat is very useful. By applying leverage at the bow, a tugboat can push a ship in the desired direction, toward an Israeli port instead of a Gaza one, for example. And that's assuming that the boat cannot tie a rope on the ship. Two tugboats, one on each side of the ship, can squeeze the bow and pull the ship in the desired direction, in a limited fashion. In the worst case, the tug can push the ship toward a shoal or bar, running the ship aground and thus immobilizing it. If the shoal is in hostile territory, a marine detachment establishing a bridgehead on land is still much better than commandos securing a ship from hostile protesters.

In a less lethal confrontation as envisioned here, we can expect protesters to impede tug operations by throwing projectiles at the tug. The tug can use its firehoses to limit attacks. In addition, the tug crew can operate under shelter, limiting the effectiveness of non-explosive weapons. The onboard firefighting gear counters the threat of molotove cocktails.

Therefore, in enforcing naval blockades, navies need to include tugboats to provide the maximum range of responses in the OOTW environment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mexico: Aztecs vs Latins

Following up on my previous article on Mexico, I want to add something else I've been thinking on for the last few days: the cultural landscape of Mexico. Specifically, the mixing of Aztec and Latin culture.

As I've mentioned Prof Carroll Quigley several times, his theory of civilization re-generations have changed my view of events. Spain's colonial period has layered a Latin veneer over Latin America. The Latin-Mediterranean-Spanish culture meshes fairly well with Hispanic sensibilities, so it may sometimes be difficult to detect any leftover signs from the native civilizations like Maya or Aztec. There have been Indian revolts throughout Latin American history, reflecting the continuing undercurrent of native alienation. [Recent examples include FARC, Shining Path, basically all of the land-reform movements.]

Communism had co-opted native discontent during the 20th century, but the ending of the Cold War and the narco economy has fueled an alternative model. The narco economy is serving as the instrument of the society, and the vestiges of the native culture serving as the glues of the society.

The narco death cult, Santa Muerte, may be a synthesis of Aztec death cults and Catholicism. Its veneration of death hearkens back to Aztec times. The narco industry promotes this alternative religion to increase cohesion. This definitely merits a deeper look into the cultural mixing and gestation in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

One more note on Mexican culture: The Mexican elites (Spanish descendants) have been afraid of the Indian peasants throughout history. The current gun ban (only people with connection or bribes can get a gun permit, to buy guns of NON-military caliber like .380acp) is a symptom of that. The lack of economic reform and exporting of economic refugees into the US is another. [Holding up the status quo for the elites and send the suffering poor to the US.] The on-going Indian revolts in southern Mexico constantly reminds the elites of this problem.

One reason why the drug cartels in Mexico have gotten so powerful is because of elite snobbishness. The drug cartels arose from the Indian peasantry and gray economy. The elites saw the cartels as country bumpkins with more money than they know what to do with. The elites ignored the cartels because they're a Yankee problem, but also because they didn't expect these rednecks to start making trouble in the upper class neighborhoods. Thus they were surprised by the scale of the cartel problem today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mexican Blame Game Re-Run

Now that Mexican President Calderon is here in the US, the anti-gun lobby and Mexican government are re-newing their calls for American gun prohibition. [I've previously covered the Mexican narco guns blame game here.]

They talk about explosive bullets and full-auto machine guns, implied to be US-origin, deployed by the Mexican narcos. Well, I'd like to have explosive bullets, too. Wish I can buy it from my neighborhood gunshop here in the states.

The Newsweek article mentioned, at the very end, that the narcos likely got the grenades and machine guns from Mexican military and police inventory, in addition to supplies from China, Europe, and Brazil. Well, great, then why are we talking about the US? And if the Mexican army is a prime weapon supplier of the narco-cartels, then it's intuitively obvious we should limit what we give to them, lest it ending up with the narcos.

Admittedly, the Mexican narcos are probably buying pistols through American dealers, in small quantities. Pistols have always been a prestige weapon worldwide, and their concealability make them both desirable and more smuggle-able. American truck screening on the border would help limit the flow. If Mexican smugglers can still get people and drugs into the US, though, we have little hope of stopping the flow of pistols into Mexico.

Therefore, a border fence is an eminently sensible idea in limiting the flow of weapons. If Mexico is serious about choking off the narco-cartels. That Calderone has not advocated a border fence shows that he cares more about sending people north than stopping drug violence.

PS: Edited for links and tags.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More Signs of Housing Glut

The New York Times had an interesting article on the state of the housing market. In Nevada, [and some in California, Arizona, and Florida], home builders are doing a great business selling new houses, even as inventory of already-built houses loom large in the local markets. This is bad, because it means that the real estate market has yet to hit the bottom.
Generally, new houses cost more than already-built houses. New houses are new, and has not depreciated. Everything works and has the "new" premium [supposedly]. The owner has a whiter canvas to play with. Only a good school district can keep up the value of already-built houses.
The article offered a couple of reasons why new houses are selling like hotcakes. 1. the recession has decreased the cost of both labor and material, giving the builders a much bigger margin to discount prices. 2. the existing homes are stuck in the foreclosure limbo: underwater owners cannot sell at a loss without bank agreement, and banks are not eager to realize their losses. So the existing inventory end up priced higher than the new inventory. In addition [not mentioned in the article], business credit lines are flowing again, following the credit freeze of 2009. The construction business greatly depend upon lines of credit to finance their operations. The re-opened taps allowed the builders to meet the pent-up demands for new construction.
Overall, this is bad on two levels:
1. Obviously, we still have lots of room at the bottom. Obama [and American people generally] are playing a dangerous game, trying to out-wait the recession. The mortgage modification program is only succeeding at buying time. We have not solved the fundamental problem of excess supply.
2. In addition, with so much inventory in the foreclosure pipeline, we will have an increasing problem of sub-urban blight, with the attendant law-enforcement problems. The housing problem is primarily a suburban issue, and the suburbs have less revenue to patrol their current areas.
So although the economic signs are still good, it is still a time for hedging your investments. And that will include guns and ammo for the suburban homeowners.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Unintended Consequences of Arizona SB 1070

There has been plenty of inks spilled on SB 1070. However, there is a negative consequent scenario that few have talked of: the flight of working illegal immigrants.

There is plenty of evidence that illegal immigrants have been fleeing Arizona in the wake of SB 1070. MSNBC reported that a hotel on the Mexican border, catering as a immigration way-station, has seen a plunge in customers. Media is abuzz with anecdotes of people looking to move out of Arizona. The ones with family certainly do not want the daily hassle and disruption from police scrutiny. The gray market trade (day laboring, hospitality industry, general service industries) will see a big plunge as these working immigrants flee the area for more permissive environments.

Therefore, the ones who stay are likely those working in the black market trade (trafficking in general). They were already operating in a non-premissive environment facing police scrutiny. This law will not substantially change their economics. They may lose some cover as their compatriots thin out, but they will still have a market to serve. SB 1070 does not improve the security of the border itself, so traffickers still have their routes open.

With the flight of the working immigrants, the illegal community will appear more violent. By taking away the peaceful people and activities, the violence ratio per illegal immigrant will rise drastically. More of the arrests will be gang and violence related.

It is likely that the short-term flare up in violence will burn out shortly afterwards. Gangs will consolidate their control and drive out competitors, bringing order to the streets. Violent activities will bring in additional police scrutiny, which will also remove the offenders. Violence is bad for business, afterall.

So be prepared for more headlines on traffickers in Arizona over this next year.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gates Re-ignites Interservice Rivalry

The milblogs have been abuzz over Sec Gates' negative remarks to the Navy League on May 3, 2010. The navy and marine boosters naturally are up in arms over Gates' future intentions to control budget growth. While seapower, indeed, has been the US's primary tool in military diplomacy, I think Gates' actions will do the navy a world of good.

Everyone has been concerned with the budgetary outlook of the near future. We know that Congress cannot keep growing the defense budget, and the services have been making plans in a budget-neutral fashion. However, no one on the policy side has ever come out with a clear statement on the budget direction. It is as if people are afraid that, by saying it, they will make the future self-fulfilling; that they could undercut themselves bureaucratically by making the first move, policy-wise. Therefore, we have a divergence between policy and budget, with policy clinging to the Long War, while the "base budget" quietly follows the steady state.

So basically, Gates is saying what everyone knows but fears to say. He is telling the services that they need to alter their policies to fit the budget. The services have three choices: 1. go along with the status quo budget plans that will put them on a gliding path downward; 2. innovate and get more for the same dollars; or 3. toss out the inter-service congeniality and start fighting for budget shares again. By first attacking the F-35, and then Navy carriers and Marine EFV, Gates is throwing the door open and putting everything under review.

This will be good for the US military and for the American people. The inter-service congeniality fostered by Goldwater-Nichols Act has kept contentious defense issues out of the public eye. The services stick with their given shares of the defense budget, and do not fight for a bigger slice. Taking their dominant procurement position as a given, the USAF, and the USN to some extent, have allowed themselves to get intellectually lazy and default to the status quo. The US Army and USMC similarly have not looked for fundamental innovations in operational concepts nor procurement. Now that the budget crunch is upon us, we have to face the budgetary monster we've created over the past 60 years.

So Game On, I say. A public thrashing over roles and missions of the services, and the associated strategic debate over employment of force, is good for the nation. The status quo has few incentives to innovate, and we're ending up in the procurement death spiral of less capability and less platforms for more unit cost. I've found personally that I think a bit faster in the middle of a debate. I hope that proves true for the brass as well. Without a fire under their pants, the military brass have no incentives to do things better for the good of the nation. As Prof Quigley would agree, an imminent threat to the bureaucratic institution is the best incentive for reform. A bureaucratic institution is on a calcifying trajectory unless disturbed by outside forces.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

UAE's Mirage 2000s and Strategic Balance

Arabian Aerospace reports that, as a condition to purchase the Rafale fighter, UAE will require Dassault to buy back its 62 Mirage 2000-9s. The question then becomes, who will buy these 62 Mirages? These 62 Mirages may end up altering a strategic balance in the world.

This question is a tough one for Dassault because it no longer markets Mirage 2000s. It has staked its future on the Rafale, and its sales efforts focus on that. This batch of Mirages can interfere with Rafale prospects.

Wiki shows that the current operators of Mirage 2000s are: France, India, UAE, Taiwan, and Greece. Egypt, Qatar, Peru, and Brazil each operates less than a squadron of Mirage 2000s. We can knock off India and Brazil off the list right away, as they both have a current fighter competition in which Rafale is a contender. Greece is having economic difficulties and cannot spend its EU bailout on surplus aircrafts. We can probably say the same [economic difficulties] about potential new prospects such as Argentina, who currently operate older Mirages. Qatar Air Force and Peruvian Air Force are too small to absorb any significant quantities.

Egypt and Pakistan are good prospects. However, Egypt has been buying F-16s, and is talking with Pakistan to jointly manufacture the Sino-Pakistani JF-17. A Mirage sale to Pakistan may also upset India, whose Air Force got Rafale back into MRCA.

So the remaining customer, however improbable, is emerging as the most likely prospect: Taiwan. Taiwan already operates 60 2005s, and wants to retire the last 33 of its F-5s. Dassault is unlikely to sell Rafales to Taiwan anytime soon. Taiwan is shopping for more F-16s from Lockheed, but Obama has not been warm to a sale. The stars are lining up for Taiwan, so to speak. It has the money, the will, and the capacity to pick up as many 2000s as it can get. A direct sale from UAE to Taiwan is unlikely to draw major diplomatic heat from China, due to UAE's status as a petroleum exporter. Another 60 2000s would address the growing cross-strait military imbalance nicely.

If Obama continues to drag feet on F-16 sales, Taiwan may end up a Mirage 2000 country. France still has 300+ 2000s it would like to replace with Rafales at some point. India has 51 2000s that were supposed to be placeholders for the MRCA, and it could unload those to Taiwan to help balance against China. As the F-16 line closes down, these surplus 2000s will be Taiwan's only choice.

PS: Edited for links and labels 1JUN2010.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Yglesias and Labor Economics

Matthew Yglesias showed an economic fallacy today in his comments on "Border Security and Economic Migration". Yglesias repeats the common belief that, if we were to allow more legal migrant workers, the illegal (and mostly Mexican) migration would slowly dry up. Therefore, a "secure border" means we need immigration reform.

Well, most likely not. The legal migrants will abide by the minimum wage rules, whereas the illegal immigrant workers have been willing to work below minimum wage. Therefore, the candidates for illegal immigration will not be swayed by the opportunity to come working legally. The ones willing to work below minimum wage will continue to cross the unsecured border to work the illegal jobs.

Immigration reform will not stop people from crossing the dangerous desert. Being a true compassionate humanitarian means stepping up to the plate and accepting the responsibility: By abrogating our responsibility to build a wall across the American Southwest, we have consigned millions of Mexicans to death and deprivation in the desert while they search for a new beginning.

Friday, April 30, 2010

W-Shaped Recession and Urban Development

Megan McArdle at The Atlantic is calling attention to the possibility that Greece is the trigger to drag us all into the second wave of the "W-Shaped Recession", the way there's often a second dip before a full-on recovery. It's definitely something you need to hedge against, if you haven't already.

In other news, Tim Logan at The Big Money says that Prof Richard Florida, the guy who invented the "Creative Class Thesis", is undermining his own thesis in his new book, The Great Reset. Florida's new idea in this book is that, we need to help kick people out of under-performing cities such as Rust Belt, so that they can go to where the jobs are. Which is counter to his "Build it and they will come" thesis of revitalizing the downtown club scene.

It's great to see Florida acknowledging his own mistake. I've always thought that he was mistaking the symptom for the cause. Art is a luxury good, as Prof Carroll Quigley would say. You have to have rich people around to consume luxury goods, including art. Artists thrive because the city has plenty of jobs and rich people, not that artists bring jobs into a city. For a city to grow, you need jobs, a reason for people to go there. That seems to be a foreign idea to Florida and his supporters, who don't have to work for a living.

Plus, there are several variations on the "creative class" idea, some of which include engineers, others purely art. Despite the artistic element of architecture and industrial design, applied science has little to do with art. In the first place, engineering can create jobs, whereas art is kind of a service industry. It's dangerous when the urban developer confuse the two.

The US Army cancelled Non-Line-Of-Sight-Launch-Station, their new smart missile system. Unfortunately, that has not erased the precision short-range strike/recon requirement from the books. I've always thought that NLOS-LS was kind of a waste, where you have this big box that you toss out afterwards. Plus how are you going to manhandle it into position?

The strike requirement, you can substitute with precision mortars. It's long past due that the Army acquire a precision mortar munition, when the Brits and Scandinavians already do. A laser-guided mortar will be great.

For the recon requirement, perhaps we will resurrect the fiber-optic guidance technology. You can even string the fiber behind mortar bombs as they fly off.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

E, Marriage, & Stock Markets

Meghan McArdle wrote her own book review on Lori Gottlieb's "Marry Him". McArdle brought up the inherent game theory aspect of the dating jungle. Indeed, the current dating system is quite inefficient at connecting people together in a long lasting way.

As I've been reading Caroll Quigley's Evolution of Civilizations, I have to wonder perhaps that the Western dating scene has institutionalized. That the combination of fairy tale endings and the sexual liberation has transformed the instrument of dating, as a way to interview suitors, into an institution more concerned with dating for its own sake.

As a side note, the book is fantastic, and it has definitely transformed the way I look at history and current events.

Anyway, when I went to a math camp, I saw a population problem that has some bearing on this dating business. Readers perhaps will find this of use in their own lives:

Assume that the dating population is stochastic, meaning that you will, at random, meet dating prospects who are of random quality. The problem is that you have no pre-existing basis to judge your boy/girlfriends: Is s/he sufficiently good enough to settle with? How do you know if s/he is the best you can do?

It turns out that, given a time range when you plan to date, by time 1/e, you will have met enough of the population to know the upper and lower bounds of the population. By time 1/e, you have a good enough idea to know what "great" looks like, and to settle with the next best guy/girl that comes along. At age 22.4 [for range 18 to 30], you will have enough data history to know what is the best you can get.

So at age 21 to 23 [23 is using another age range], you need to sit down and seriously compare your internal romantic ideal versus the past boy/girlfriends you've had, just so you don't keep pining for that Disney prince/princess to come along.

This particular solution assumes that dating and pickup skills do not improve, which is not necessarily the case. But it is a good metric.

The number 1/e is applicable for other random walk problems as well. For example, assume that the stock market is a random walk, and that you need to invest $5,000 into the stock market every year [aka, your IRA contribution]. If you want to time the market, you want to know when is a great low-point to plunk your money into the market. Well, the 1/e works here, too. Assume 12 months, by April 12th, you will know what's the likely lower bound of the market. The next time the market crosses that lower bound, you know that the opportunity has arrived.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Team Sports Are Bad (Kind of)

This morning, I saw Bill Sweetman's response to the "Mission Readiness"'s report that obesity is endangering national secuirty. Sweetman lambasted school intramural sports program as one prime factor in spawning the national obesity trend, among others.

This is an interesting take, especially since I've been reading Caroll Quigley's The Evolution of Civilizations. Prof Quigley had a similar observation on the evolution of American football as an institution. Quigley described football originating as an impromptu intramural program to keep students exercising. Over time, football naturally became an organized club sport and spectator-funded as people focused on winning the game against other groups of people (clubs, colleges, cities, etc.) The natural institutionalization of American football led to the NFL and NCAA today, where the athletes are getting more exercise than they need, while the rest of us who need the exercise are, instead, watching from the stands, sitting down and converting beer into calories. The institutionalization of football has made football an abject failure at achieving its original purpose: Instilling habits of exercise among the youths of this country. Prof Quigley arrived at this conclusion back in 1961. He saw all the other college sports programs in the same light, but football and basketball were the most prominent offenders.

Organized team sports definitely are not helpful in promoting general athleticism among the general population, speaking as an uncoordinated nerd myself :) By its very nature, team sports seek to exclude. The very structure of a tournament competition incentivizes the teams to seek the best players, and exclude the general peons.

It is a problem found in most organized competitions. Math teams and Academic Decathlon, for example, both seek to promote scholastic skills among the student population. However, the team competition format discourages the less practiced students from participating. The tournament format of Academic Decathlon additionally leaves most participating school teams with little to do for much of the year. [Academic Decathlon has a regional meet in Nov, a state meet in Jan/Feb, and a national meet in Apr/May. One to two teams per state go on to national.]

At this point, though, organized team sports are here to stay. With the entrenched institutions and interests of football, basketball, et al, in the US and around the world, reform is near impossible. As Prof Quigley would say, we'll have to try circumvention. The Japanese morning calisthenics program, or the Chinese morning Taichi, both look pretty good from here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Business Education": Advice to Aspiring Undergraduates

Newsweek is noting the declining enrollment in liberal arts program at the mid- and lower-tier colleges around the US, in the midst of this recession. Students are majoring in more "marketable" fields to prepare for a job afterwards.

Well, that sounds like a nice story, but it makes you wonder about all of those alumnis: How did they get their own jobs back in the day? Were companies just not paying attention?

Anyway, the author notes that the students were switching from traditional BA fields into Bachelor of Science fields or business. This seems like a bogus trend, as Jack Shaeffer of Slate would say. Students have been flocking to the business majors for years. Most people at these colleges know that the arts are not business. That schools are cutting the arts programs are more the result of a declining endowment, rather than a new found trend. Schools are confronting the reality that they have to cut costs, such as the relatively expensive arts programs.

As I previously wrote about the service academies, the Bachelor of Science program, for non-science/engineering fields, are inadequately rigorous for the scientific theories we employ. The BS, with its shallow calculus and science requirements, give the students the illusion that the world is deterministic and Newtonian, whereas science and engineering have moved past deterministic calculus and into differential equations. The real world is full of equations that we cannot solve explicitly, but only approximate with computers.

So in general the BS program does not give its students a good appreciation of the complex world we live in. Unless we step up the requirements of the BS program with at least 2 more classes inlcuding differential equations.

That gets to another problem in the American college education, the inadequate math skills of the American students. The calculator is not a substitute for arithematic skills, which builds the foundation for higher level math skills. But I probably should save that for another day.

We also have this expanding corps of business undergraduates. Personally, I think business undergraduates are not getting their money's worth, except for the accounting majors. Business programs attempt to treat all businesses the same, that there are universal expertise you can apply to all industries. That theory of universal expertise is not universally accepted; just witness all those consultants who specialize in particular industries. If a generalist consultant could serve all industries, there would not be a market for all these specialist consultants.

This is partially related to the Generalist vs Specialist debate, whether generalists' universal truths are more useful than the nuanced knowledge of the specialists. For the business students, their problem is that they have no grounding for this amorphous universal principles they are learning. For a program that's supposed to be real-world skills, the students are ironically learning theories without real-world experience or skills to ground the application. Students end up practicing the skill of salesmanship: most business plans end up focusing on retail, selling a product mano-a-mano.

I guess that's kind of fair, as Americans are supposed to be the best salesmen, that their business students end up practicing sales skills.

A revolution in the business undergraduate program would make the business program a double-major, that the student has to major in a field outside of the business school. For example, marketing students should double major in visual art or psychology. Management could major in history or economics. They could even major in the sciences or engineering, if they feel up to it. That second major will give students some in-depth insight to back up the broad overview they are learning.

The business students might complain that is too much work. [As in they shouldn't work hard?] My answer is, if they are going to work in the retail world, as many Americans do, do they really need that business degree right now? Why is it that a high school education has not prepared them to manage that first level of business operations? It is not like business math teaches a subject beyond Algebra 2. Writing a business plan is a college class, but does it require a college graduate to write the plan?

That segues into the next subject: jobs and college education. College is an inefficient way to figure out what you should be doing. It is expensive. A full-time student is incapable of working above subsistence level, and he is piling on debt on top of that. In America, it is easy to work part-time to be self-sustaining [at least before the recession.] Once you take care of food and shelter, you can spend the rest of your day figuring out what you want to do. At least you're not being a burden on society by frittering away financial aid dollars.

The subject of future jobs can take up a whole book, so I will elaborate later. However, there are three key trends you need to pay attention to. First, the US Dollar will depreciate quickly in the near future, relative to other currencies. As the world becomes more multi-polar, other currencies will replace the US Dollar as the reserve currency. Not to mention the fiscal health of the US, although the rest of the world is not much better. Secondly, distributed manufacturing will be more wide-spread, pushed downstream to the retail level. Like food preparation, the other physical retail sectors will take on more manufacturing at the store level to be more responsive to consumer needs. It is also a requirement to compete against internet retail, by allowing the customers to receive products faster. Thirdly, oil will become more expensive in the US, as the Dollar debase. Transportation cost will rise, making domestic manufacturing, and local manufacturing, more attractive. How much production finishing should be done at the retail level will be the reigning business question for the next 50 years.

As an example, clothes fitting is one manufacturing activity still done at the physical store. The electronic installation and software configuration at the user level is another "manufacturing" activity that's keeping electricians and computer geeks working today. Sysco and the restaurant industry is all about production finishing. Ebay is full of vendors selling electronic parts that the users, or the enterprising local merchant, can assemble into finished products. That is a job opportunity that you can get into, whether you're recently unemployed or thinking about college.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Iraqi Elections and Political Puppetry

The Iraqi election results are coming out soon. The fact that almost no one is happy with the results means that it is probably legitimate. It's funny that Maliki is crying foul about "manipulations of voter results", considering that he is the sitting prime minister and is government personified.

One notable subject from Iraq is the meme of political puppetry in a democracy. America and some Iraqis consider several politicians to be Iranian puppets: Maliki, Sadr, Chalabi, most of SCIRI and Dawa. Similarly, the Iranians and some Iraqi Shiites consider Allawi to be an American puppet. Given the popular perception, how well do puppets perform in a democracy? In Iraq we find a great case study on this subject.

In a democracy, puppets have constraints on their behavior, because they have to get re-elected. They cannot run too far ahead of the popular will in favoring their patrons. Plus there is the natural checks and balances in a democratic system [hopefully]. [Of course we have the recent spectacle in the US where the Democrats are committing political near-suicides to pass healthcare reform. If a politician does not mind a political suicide, then most constraints disappear.]

So to get into a powerful position in a democracy, puppets have to first appeal to their domestic constituents. Having a foreign patron may help you get started on the political scene, but is of little help afterwards.

In a sense, Sadr is a failed Iranian investment in puppetry. Sadr's political party is a natural outgrowth of the network built by his father and family friends. As Nir Rosen documented in "In the Belly of the Green Bird", the party seems to be fully Iraqi. Sadr himself may be sympathetic to Iran, but he has little influence over the party his father built. The district chairmen and commanders are fully in charge of their local chapters.

The Iranian investment in puppetry also got bogged down in the Shiite political scene. The Iraqi insurgency is multi-faceted. In Baghdad and Anbar it almost completely followed the script of an ethnic cleansing. In the Shiite south, however, it was a class struggle: between the Najaf religious establishment/money class, and the underclass of Sadr city. We saw this played out again and again, in the battle of Najaf and the battle of Basra. Sadr's party represented the people of its namesake, while SCIRI and Dawa allied themselves with the Shiite upper class. SCIRI and Dawa seem to be more Iranian-influenced because their cadre trained in Iran before coming home. The Najaf upper class was also more favorable toward Iran because of Iranian tourists visiting Najaf. So SCIRI and Dawa were freer to execute Iranian commands.

So in this case, it is interesting to note that, while Sadr and SCIRI are in the same political coalition, Sadr candidates received far more votes than SCIRI ones. So in parliamentary politics Sadr party will be more dominant. SCIRI will probably split from Sadr in future elections to improve their fortune. Maliki is courting the Sadr bloc to form a coalition government, but readers need to remember that Maliki personally led the Iraqi Army to root out the Mahdi Militia in the 2008 battle of Basra. The bad blood is still there between the two. We'll see if Sadrists hate Maliki more than Allawi in the coming weeks.