Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Army generation gap causing increasing officer tensions

{ Podcast this essay } In a recent NY times article, there was an extended treatment about how elite junior officers in the U.S. Army are starting to challenge the Army generals on Iraq strategy and policy. This tension is interesting to me; because, in my experience, there is seemingly a significant change in the outlook of college-age people about every seven years or so. And many of these junior officers are of approximately the same age group.

My speculation is that Junior High school-age young people track what Senior High school-age young people are doing, but after about six-years (two years J.H. + four years S.H.) there is a cultural turn-over. In a similar window of cultural change, we are now approximately seven years into the Iraq conflict as we now know it (and even longer if you count the Kuwait pre-cursor activities to it all). And as I mentioned, junior grade officers are very close to college age, typically representing the age group of graduate students. So where arises the tension?

Since those in senior strategic military command positions (i.e. Generals) have been culturally (or actively) formed by combat experiences from the late 1960s, or by cold war maneuverings from the 1970s and 1980s, they appear from the perspectives of junior grade officers (lieutenants, captains, majors) to be improperly understanding, or to be unwilling to change, the circumstances of the military's engagement in Iraq. In the NY times article, Fred Kaplin comments on the differences between the two groups:
Today’s generals rose through the officer corps of the peacetime Army. Many of them fought in the last years of Vietnam, and some fought in the gulf war. But to the extent they have combat experience, it has been mainly tactical, not strategic. They know how to secure an objective on a battlefield, how to coordinate firepower and maneuver. But they don’t necessarily know how to deal with an enemy that’s flexible, with a scenario that has not been rehearsed.
This disagreement about how Iraq is going which is voiced by many of the best junior grade officers who have actually done tours in Iraq, who have formed opinions drawn from their own intense exposure to that theater, is probably fueled in part by differences in how the younger generation evaluates "success" in military action. The senior grade officers have not been explicitly trained to deal with the odd circumstances wherein the U.S. finds itself, and the junior grade officers are noting the implications of their senior officer's confusion on the matter -- i.e., at the combat and operations level. Eventually, it seems even the generals themselves admit the problems, but this just exasperates the junior officers further. Another quote from Kaplin:
[In April of 2006] six retired Army and Marine generals publicly criticized Rumsfeld, who was still the secretary of defense, for sending too few troops to Iraq. Many junior and field-grade officers reacted with puzzlement or disgust. Their common question: Where were these generals when they still wore the uniform? Why didn’t they speak up when their words might have counted?
One can easily summarize the junior officers' attitude about such admissions: too little, too late.

That the younger generation is reassessing the U.S.'s military role can also be seen elsewhere. Trends of attendees at West Point are showing a clear trend of change in attitude. Potential officer recruits are exiting at a much higher rate:
West Point cadets are obligated to stay in the Army for five years after graduating. In a typical year, about a quarter to a third of them decide not to sign on for another term. In 2003, when the class of 1998 faced that decision, only 18 percent quit the force: memories of 9/11 were still vivid; the war in Afghanistan seemed a success; and war in Iraq was under way. Duty called, and it seemed a good time to be an Army officer. But last year, when the 905 officers from the class of 2001 had to make their choice to stay or leave, 44 percent quit the Army. It was the service’s highest loss rate in three decades.
That 44 percent decided it was not in their interest or ultimate values to support American military policy in Iraq, or in the greater world more generally, is a telling statistic. Again, this is all occurring at West Point, where young people enter that premiere institution already friendly to the idea of being a military officer, already probably primed to pursue that track, but their academic and social experiences eventually move 44 percent to outright change their mind. I would also suspect that a significant fraction of the remaining 56 percent who went on to active duty were not exactly enamored with their future career possibilities.

In the end, I note two more quotes from the NY Times article, ones which are so representative of ambiguities in U.S. military history that one is left wondering if the awareness of history, even in excruciating detail can make any difference at all to American political policy. First, there is the role that senior officers should play (or should not play) in a constitutional republic where civilians decide military policy:
The very discussion of these issues discomforts many senior officers because they take very seriously the principle of civilian control. They believe it is not their place to challenge the president or his duly appointed secretary of defense, certainly not in public, especially not in wartime. The ethical codes are ambiguous on how firmly an officer can press an argument without crossing the line. So, many generals prefer to keep a substantial distance from that line — to keep the prospect of a constitutional crisis from even remotely arising.

Second, this upper-echelon cultural hesitancy of pressing arguments against risky (or even stupid) use of military policy can create situations that eventually take on a life of their own, situations that have no option of solution, but only of cessation. In 1982, Wass de Czege was ordered to rewrite the Army’s field manual on combat operations, and in doing so incorporated many of the lessons of classic treatises on war, from both Eastern and Western sources, and from his own experiences from Vietnam. A quote from him leaves one wondering if the U.S. simply has the same problem, but with a different geography:
In an essay for the July issue of Army magazine, Wass de Czege wrote that today’s junior officers “feel they have much relevant experience [that] those senior to them lack,” yet the senior officers “have not listened to them.” These junior officers, he added, remind him of his own generation of captains, who held the same view during and just after Vietnam
Once Rumsfeld said that the Iraq situation was not like Vietnam. "Different Place. Different time." He stridently said to the press. He was right, but I think history will add a third phrase: "Same mistake."


Fred Kaplin, "Challenging the Generals" NY Times (Accessed 8/27/2007)


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Friday, August 24, 2007

Philosophy of Mind (Audio from Wikipedia)

I have just posted my 42 minute audio reading of the Wikipedia article on Philosophy of Mind. It is in a format called .ogg (something like .mp3), though you can also listen to the audio file in your browser by using Wikipedia's built-in Java player.


"Philosophy of Mind" article.
"Philosophy of Mind" audio (.mp3)


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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Practice for the eternal state

{ Podcast } Crickets constantly remind me by their song that soon enough night will come along and force by habit that temporary death called nighttime slumber, my required rest.

[image] "I got crickets" by Bill Adams Flickr (Accessed 8/23/2007)


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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lao Cai monk climbs a mountain

{ Podcast this essay } A monk who lived near Lao Cai owned nothing but a short walking staff and the clothes on his back. One day he decided to walk to Sapa, and cross the beautiful mountain there. As he started up the mountain, some younger men were eyeing him casually. "Where do you walk today, old man?" They called out. "To see the bright side of this mountain in the morning, and to see its shadows when coming down again this evening." He replied.

The three younger men wished him well, but when he had gone out of sight they conspired with one another on whether to rob the old man upon his return. "What does he own but a single stick?" Asked one. "He has his dignity, and as long as he has such, we feel our lack at the very sight of him." Another retorted.

Some time later, at twilight, the youth spied the old man returning, slowly making his way down the mountain. At a moment of their choosing, they all descended upon him as one.

When the first of the three awoke, he noticed three things: Morning had come. The old man had not left. And his two (still unconscious) companions were lying nearby, battered and bruised.

Noticing this slowly arising youth, the old man address him. "When coming to a new area, it is only proper to grieve with the sad. Or to celebrate with the joyful. But when coming to an unfamiliar area, one must maintain an open mind and a transparent respect for its traditions." The old man explained, his face brightened by the morning sun.

As the old man arose and turned to leave, all the young men were now awake, smarting with pain. Immediately, each noticed a large, newly formed bruise on the back of the old man's neck. So too were there now three walking sticks laying near at hand.

[image] glasvleugelvlinder by patries71 Flickr (Accessed 8/19/2007)


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Friday, August 17, 2007

Therein lies the One point

{ Podcast this essay } Were a sage to have even a thousand eyes, and could he float on the wind at but a moment's whim, even so -- from such high vantage, he would not gain sight of the center of all things. Yet in the silence between breath and breath, at the moment of inward attention, focused, and observant -- there even a simple man may be the center.


[image] "Fly: Supermacro" by Kenn Wingle Microscope.org (Accessed 8/17/2007)


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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Contemplating the first, deadly strike

{ Podcast this essay } The discipline of emptying the mind, just before the strike, demands either superb mental control, gained by years of practice; or, it requires merely a very small brain, one that lies empty, devoid of all but the most metabolic of thoughts, one trained to kill without even the distraction of remorse.

[image] Samuel Yung photos.


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Death draweth nigh for U.S. citizen privacy

{ Podcast this essay } In a pithy but chilling summary of the current US government's free reign to monitor whomever it wants for any reason whatsoever (all under the convenient pseudo-excuse of fighting terrorism), Jennifer Granick outlines "two of the most important cases in decades dealing with the rule of law and personal privacy"[1]. Granick identifies two worries to civic freedoms.

First, if a government branch uses illegal activities (in this case electronic monitoring) on its citizens in the name of national security, can it claim immunity from public oversight when later caught so doing? Second, can a government collect data about its citizen's communications, such as phone calls and emails, and then subsequently data mine this data w/o judicial supervision?

Any person who participated in The Cold War sneak-and-peek era[2] will appreciate that how these questions get answered in judicial review will set a long precedent for the role of government action towards its citizens in a completely digitalized society.

The importance of such a long term precedent is the reason why the derived "right" to privacy is far more important than the simple 1980's huff about who must get notified during an abortion procedure. First, that squabble was simply a warm-up game about social disagreements concerning sexual mores and how various sub-cultures (mostly religious) within a greater secular nation would get to set values for their own regional influence. Yet a part of that squabble also overlapped a more important civic issue; the debate about states rights versus federal rights, much like how The Scopes Monkey Trial of the 20s and the more recent so-called intelligent design debates were about whether one could mandate the teaching of favored religious values (or not) from region to region.[3]

So what will be the precedent for the role of government in a completely digitalized society? In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court of the United States found that the U.S. constitution contained "penumbras" that implicitly granted U.S. citizens a right to privacy against government intrusion. Privacy has also been linked to due process considerations, and in some ways this is the issue at hand for today: will there remain a process in place to keep the U.S. government from overextending its influence into citizens affairs, and thus maintaining maximal freedom of movement for its citizens?

At least the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Justice is still clear concerning what is at risk to American freedoms. As Director Robert Mueller recently stated:
"The FBI is acutely aware that we cannot protect against threats at the expense of civil liberties. We are judged not just by our ability to defend the nation from terrorist attacks but also our commitment to defend the rights and freedoms we all enjoy."[4]
My ultimate worry is that unenlightened, power grabbing politicians and means-justify-the-end bureaucrats within other governmental organizations (such as the CIA and NSA) will certainly not be interested maintaining such a responsible attitude. Therefore, strong judicial oversight of surveillance activities conducted under the ever-nebulous guise of fighting terrorism is absolutely essential.


[1] Jennifer Granick "Nation's Soul Is at Stake in NSA Surveillance Case" Wired Accessed (8/15/2007)

[2] "Cold War Experience - Espionage" CNN Interactive (Accessed 8/15/2007)

[3] Doug Linde "Evolution/Creationism" Exploring Constitutional Law Website (Accessed 8/15/2007)

[4] Fritz Kramer "Sincerely Yours: The FBI's National Security Letters" PBS Frontline Website Accessed (8/15/2007)


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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Armless driver gets prison time on latest traffic charges

Human nature always intrigues me, especially as we learn from those who deviate from otherwise standard behaviors. What I found sardonically humorous about this story was how the guy summed-up his driving misadventures with, what I take to be, an expert opinion:
"You can only bang your head against the wall so long before it hurts."
Yeah, buddy, you should know.


[image] "Armless driver gets 5 years in prison on latest traffic charges" Orlando Sentinel (Accessed 8/5/2007)


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Friday, August 03, 2007

A global warming exchange with a friend

This is a short exchange I had with an old friend about one of his opinions on global warming. I think it's a good exercise in how to critically assess a claim advanced by someone else on merely the grounds they themselves provide.

* * *

Hi, Jim. [Not his real name.]

With interest, I've read the articles you've sent me regarding your (new to me) idea that the global warming issue can be managed only if the poverty issue is managed.

Let me say, I'm a full believer in global warming. At this time, I also believe that human beings are causally significant contributors (perhaps even the sole and sufficient contributors) to global warming. But whether we are sufficient or just incidental contributors, it is a problem that we must solve.

Your own position introduces a particular way that humans are contributors to global warming -- to wit, that the vast number of people living under poverty conditions are the main cause of the global warming problem. I said I doubted this, but since it was a new idea, I asked you to send me scientifically reputable sources from where you got this idea. You then sent along two sources, which I’ve since read and upon which I shall now comment.

First, let me address this source:

  • Anthony Browne "You can be green and still love the poor" NewStatesman (Aug. 26, 2002).

  • Here is the key quote which is relevant to our difference of opinion:
    [....] The old theory was that, up to certain income levels, environmental degradation was just an inevitable part of development. Poor people pollute more because they have more urgent priorities than conservation; only the rich can afford to conserve parts of their land, and can afford the clean technologies that reduce pollution. But Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement, insists this is just not true: "The new research is that bad environmental practice produces costs, whatever the stage of development." [....]
    Overall, this article reports green groups and aid groups want to cooperate, and quotes, as an aside, merely one guy, Barry Coates, of a particular aid group, as asserting that the old theory of economic development is false. Sorry, but there are two problems here.

    (1) This is merely a claim, and an anecdotal claim at that; and, one made by a person who is not a recognized scientific authority in global warming issues. So this is hardly convincing evidence that the global warming issues can be solved only if the poverty issue is addressed.

    (2) The article was from 2002, which is very early in the global warming debate. It is only recently that the consensus of scientifically informed people have agreed that the global warming is caused by us, and not by long-term cyclical trends in geo-weather patterns. Again, this is not a strong support for your position.

    Second, let me now address this other source:

  • “Factsheet” WWF South Pacific News

  • This is a global warming fact sheet, which claims, "Global warming threatens to reverse human progress, making the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty reduction unachievable." Note that it does not claim that poverty causes global warming, only that the UN cannot meet its goals of reducing poverty if the trends of global warming continue. This is neither synonymous with nor entailed by your position: again, that the vast number of people living under poverty conditions are the main cause of the global warming problem. Note also that it is put out by an environmental advocacy group, and not a scientific organization. Nor is it a report about the results of a scientific organization. Yet scientific evidence is the kind I’d requested that you send along, but in both cases, sadly, you did not grant my request.

    Overall, it appears to me that you have an opinion, but one which I cannot share; since, the evidence for it seems (at this point, and on the basis of what you’ve sent) non-existent. Naturally, if you find any reports that convey scientific evidence in support of your view, I’d be happy to read them, since I’m genuinely concerned about global warming and its causes.

    Might I suggest that you carefully review this month’s (August) Scientific American Magazine article titled, “The Physical Science behind Climate Change” pp. 64-73. By giving attention to this article, you could read what peer-reviewed scientific experts say about global warming, and then form an evidence-based opinion about what you and I both acknowledge as one of the supreme issues of our time.


    [image] "Global Warming" The Augusta Chronicle (Accessed 8/3/2007)


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    Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Robotic infantry units coming to an Iraq near you

    The Special Weapons Observation Remote Reconnaissance Direct Action System" (SWORDS) robots have recently been deployed to Iraq. These remote controlled robots are armed with M249 machine guns, but can also be armed with any standard issue weapon that an American infantry soldier might utilize, such as anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers. (The video above gives an excellent 9 min. overview.)

    The ability of a wealthy, technologically advanced nation like the US to field robotic infantry units is the next logical step from what has already been occurring with Air Force ordinance.

    There will inevitably come a nasty transition point where one nation fields robotic infantry units while another must field human infantry units. It seems to me that the immediate response would be the quick deployment by the less technologically advancd nation of some form of constrained radius EMP device, such as a pulse bomb, focused wave generator, or even pulse mortar. I suspect knocking out the circuits of such a robot (or collection of robots) would not be difficult, if the much hang-wringing over the complexity of shielding avionics in the 1980s from nuclear blasts is any indication.


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    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Muffin Man returns from Iraq

    { Podcast this essay } Do not rob the muffin man. Nor taunt the man. Nor trash the man. Do not dis’ the muffin man; for, killing is his game. On Mondays he does shotshells; on Tuesdays, just the same. On Wednesdays he likes rimfires, and on Thursdays foreign grenades. On Fridays slugs and projectiles, on weekends it’s flares at planes. The muffin man he knows the ways of IEDs and pain. Of fuse and cords, and switching circuits, to him it’s all the same. And colorful accessories plant explosives in the lanes. Can boobytraps ( mine fuzes too), and tripflares keep him sane? So do not rob the muffin Man. Nor taunt the man. Nor trash the man. Do not dis’ the muffin man; for, killing is his game.


    [images] taken from Securesearch, Inc. (Accessed 8/1/2007)
    "Attention! Drivers do not have access to the muffins" by Isofarro Flickr.com (Accessed 8/1/2007)


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