Friday, February 15, 2002

Why Didn't They See It Coming?
Psychic Hotline Accused of Caller Scam

The brief but flamboyant television career of "Miss Cleo" is coming to an end, amid charges that the psychic hotline advertised by the Caribbean clairvoyant scammed consumers out of millions of dollars with false promises of free readings.

Thank God! Now I can see more OxyClean commercials!
Tivo and Britney Spears
The folks at Tivo put out a press release saying that the most replayed part of the Superbowl were the Britney Spears commercials. Two things spring to mind. First, I had no idea Britney Spears was that big. I knew she was popular, but not so popular that people would choose to watch a commercial that is bound to be run endless over the next six months.

Second, I am disturbed that Tivo is measuring such things. Apparently you have no privacy with Tivo. I had assumed (not having one myself) that it was the hard disk version of a VCR. Apparently it is also communicating back to Tivo world headquarters. Since I was just ratting out Comcast for recording what web pages people visited, I can hardly spare Tivo for not only recording what people are watching, but watch specific parts of the show they find so memorable that they want to watch them again.

A quick web search brought up a CNet article from March of 2001 on the issue:

On Monday, the Privacy Foundation released a report accusing digital video recording company TiVo of misleading subscribers. The Denver-based nonprofit group claims that TiVo's service can gather more information about its subscribers' viewing habits than the company is letting on.

Tivo is concerned enough about this to have issued a Response to Privacy Foundation Report. Tivo says the data is kept separate and they do not connect the stats with individuals.

Even so, I'd be worried as a Tivo user. These devices, being software driven, can be changed without your prior approval. Witness the Replay TV situation. Right now, Tivo says they are playing nice with personal data. If they find out that data is worth millions, will they stay nice? I'm reminded of all the dot coms with strong privacy policies that went bankrupt and then sold the data anyway to help payoff debts.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Well, One More
Good news in Lakerland. Chick Hearn is scheduled to be back March 1st.
That's All Today
In honor of Valentine's Day and the fact that I'm going out to dinner don't expect anything more today. Jay- that means you can stop hitting refresh.....
E-Publishing
The one and only magazine I subscribe to is journal International Security. It is not light reading. I find that if something interests me in regular magazines, I’ll just stop by the newsstand and buy the issue in question. Last year I somehow acquired a free subscription to Wired. I was glad when it and the half a million “Subscribe now!” letter stopped coming. I decided that basically Wired was Cosmo for nerds. All flash and no substance. Anytime it discussed something I knew anything about, I was annoyed because they would make mistakes. This starts you wondering whether they are right about the stuff you don’t know much about. Like Consumer Reports. But I digress.

The latest issue of International Security arrived last week. It is devoted to 9/11 and is about 50% thicker than normal. This is an expensive journal. An individual subscription is $42 a year. When you consider it is a quarterly, that is a lot per issue. The reason it is so expensive is that it is a low circulation magazine. This is the issue with the USPS circulation statement, and average paid circulation for that last year was 2856 copies. That’s correct- less than 3000 people get this thing. On top of that, it contains essentially no advertising. In this issue of 246 pages there are but 10 pages of advertising, all together in the back.

Why I am bothering to tell you all this? Not because I think you care but to note that they have an alternative and cheaper distribution system. Instead of the $42 subscription, you can order a $38 electronic version that grants you access to PDF or RealPage version of the magazine.

For $4 a year, I’ll take paper copies, but then again I’m sure a good chunk of that $38 is subsidizing the print magazine. I say that because as a print subscriber I get free access to the electronic database. That database currently has about four years of back issues available in it. The login and security provisions are somewhat bothersome, but now anywhere I have web access I can pull down articles. Even better, there are hundreds of journals in the system, many of them offering free issues or ways to sign up for a free trial.

I would not be surprised to see journals and other small print run publications moving to a fully electronic distribution method. The final barrier is screen legibility. If it is hard to read on screen people won’t use it. Ironically going to full electronic would increase readability because the current PDF type format is inferior to HTML formats for on screen reading.

The concerns over pirating are going to be much less in areas where total distribution is below 5000 copies. There is simply no market for it, and if the price is set at a break even point or a slight profit I would expect university researchers to pay the money rather than risk pirating.

Another possible advantage to e-publishing would be for small run scholarly books or textbooks. The online journal system, CatchWord, had a link to a British publisher called Taylor and Francis. They are offering regular, hard copy books at regular, hard copy book prices. But they are also offering e-versions of their books for less. In some cases as low at $1.50 for a $15.95 book, the title in question being about the internet. Interesting stuff, and the people in the academic world seem to be leading the charge.

I know a lot of students who would love to be able to download their books instead of paying $50 for a used copy.

Daley Weather Poetry Moment
Did you know California has a position for state Poet Laureate? And that it is open? And that only 10 people have applied? The job could be yours!

As one poet quoted in the article said:

"Poetry does not need the state, but the state needs poetry"
No Wonder Bill Gates Is Rich
I'm reading this article about some new Microsoft software package. This part caught my eye:

As Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates unveiled a $2-billion suite of tools for software writers Wednesday, the programmers who want to create applications for the company's Web services framework weren't the only ones taking note.

Wow! At that price they only have to sell like one or two.

And yes, I checked- no other price in the article.

I bet Fry's locks it up so you can't read the back of the box.
Happy Valentines Day
If you are without a Valentine follow the advice of this intrepid LA Times reporter.

I located the world's most effective pickup lines, including: "You must be Jamaican because Jamaican me crazy," "Here I am. What were your other two wishes?" and "Hi, the voices in my head told me to come talk with you."

OK, perhaps that isn't the best approach. He had some other ideas too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Stupid Boat Tricks
If you told me this, I probably wouldn't believe it. I'm also amazed at the people on the bridge. I'd have been running!
http://personal.lig.bellsouth.net/lig/r/a/rayf/Ramblers/towboat.html
All Quiet On The EU Front
If you read Best of the Web you can skip this, but the EU has pending legislation that would limit workplace noise to 83 decibels. First, that strikes me as pretty low. Most of you reading this probably play your stereos at least this loud. And indeed, the Association of British Orchestras is fighting for an exemption. If they don't get one, no more classical music, let alone anything amplified.

Couldn't find any details of the proposed law. Would be interesting to know how they plan to measure. Peaks are one thing, sustained loud noise is what causes hearing loss.
More BT

Another good article from Wired News.

Of note is the last part:

BT's chairman Sir Christopher Bland said in a press conference on Friday that he was not concerned about "making friends" with U.S. Internet service providers.

"The idea that we should abandon the suit for the feel-good factor for ISPs is bizarre," Bland said. "Everyone sues all the time in the States, anyway."
More From British Telecom
The BT attempt to own hyperlinks doesn't see to be going well. Some quotes from the Judge in the case:

British Telecommunications PLC claimed in federal court Monday that it owns the patent on hyperlinks — the single-click conveniences that underlie the Web — and should get paid for their daily use by millions of people.

But a federal judge with a laptop on her desk warned that it may be difficult to prove that a patent filed in 1976, more than a decade before the World Wide Web's invention, somehow applies today.

"The language is archaic," said Judge Colleen McMahon. "It's like reading Old English."

She said comparing a 1976 computer with a 2002 computer is like comparing a mastodon and a jet. And she suggested that the invention at issue "was already outmoded by the time it was patented" in 1989.


This bit sounds like one of those lawyers out of control situations:

At a preliminary hearing in White Plains, lawyers for BT and for Prodigy Communications Corp. — the Internet service provider that is the first target of the lawsuit — argued over the meanings of words as simple as "central," as in "central computer," and phrases as complex as "means coupled to said further memory means."

"Central' is a simple English word," the judge said, to little avail, as the lawyers used slide shows and charts.

BT tried to persuade the judge to interpret the language broadly for the jury — to include a computer mouse, for example, as the "keypad" mentioned in the patent.

"It has keys," BT lawyer Robert Perry said.


Wonderful- "Your honor, the telephone is included too. It has keys. And the lock on your front door. You use keys to open it. Give us money!"

You can read the full article too.
Spy Game
Anyone with Comcast Cable for their high speed internet should read this. Or this. Or if you want the summary from AP:

Comcast Corp., the nation's third-largest cable company, has begun tracking the Web browsing activities of its 1 million high-speed Internet subscribers without notifying them.

Then there is the Comcast retreat. Though at first they just said, "Yeah, we are doing it and yeah, we didn't bother to tell the customers. No big deal."

Since no one knew they were recording this data in the first place, for some reason I'm not believing them when they say they:

Comcast absolutely does not share personal information about our customers, and we have the utmost respect for our customers' privacy.
Bad Year For Historians
The past couple of months have not been kind to the historical community. Witness the following:

  • Emory University historian Michael Bellesiles wrote a book that claimed that guns were not very widespread in early America. Unfortunately it’s turned out to be full of faulty evidence. Worse it won the Bancroft Prize making this the historical version of Milli Vanilli.
  • Popular historian Stephen Ambrose (I quick scan of my shelf shows three of his books) is accused of multiple examples of plagiarism.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, frequently seen on the PBS News Hour show, is accused of a similar plagiarism in her book on the Kennedy Family. I figure if any family should be capitalized, it is the Kennedy’s.
  • Then this article from Princeton has a history prof with some idiotic things to say. (Details of his take down)

I like to think I’m an historian. Just a non-practicing one. I took all the theory classes and learned the conventions of the profession. You learn how and when to footnote your sources so future historians can follow up and build on your work. It seems the first three folks thought no one would ever check up on them.

In school, you knew your teacher was unlikely to check all your footnotes. At the same time, you had the sneaking suspicion that if you cheated, you would pick a book or topic your teacher was an expert on. All it would take is one falsified reference to cast your entire argument into doubt. And God help you if you copied something without attribution.

The general public probably doesn’t think much of historians. Some of that is deserved. Many of them can’t write worth a darn. I note that at no point in my many history classes did anyone attempt to teach me how to be a good writer, just a technically correct one. Many people judge history by the classes they endured in high school or college. It is much more interesting and dynamic than an hour lecture.

I wish today’s historians would take a hint from the writings of Samuel Elliot Morrison. He believed that for history to be good it had to be well written. His goal was history that told a good story and that people would read. Sorry, it is not on the net, so here are some excerpts. He was saying this back in 1946:

A whole generation has passed without producing any really great works on American history…There has been a sort of chain reaction of dullness. Professors who have risen to positions of eminence by writing dull, solid, valuable monographs that nobody reads outside the profession, teach graduate students to write dull, solid, valuable monographs like theirs. And so the young men who have a gift for good writing either leave the historical field for something more exciting, or write more dull, solid valuable monographs. (History as a Literary Art, Chapter XIII from By Land And Sea, 1953. The reason I’m saying 1946 above is that this chapter of the book was originally an essay written separately.)


Sounds like things haven’t changed much since then. If you ever need to fall asleep quickly, pick up a history disertation. He also had some thoughts on details:

A few more details. Even if the work you are writing does not call for footnotes, keep them in your copy until the last draft, for they will enable you to check up on your facts, statements, and quotations. And since accuracy is the prize virtue of the historian, this checking must be done, either by the author or by someone else. You will be surprised by the mistakes that creep in between a first rough draft and a final typed copy. And the better you write, the more your critics will enjoy finding misquotations and inaccuracies. (Ibid)

Advice that the first three historians above could have profited from.

I did not read this in my history classes. I found it on my own because I though Morrison was a great writer and I wanted to read as much of his work as I could. Perhaps it could stand to be required reading today.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

More Trek
As a follow up, here is the StarTrek.com site. It proclaims:

JOIN NOW FOR ONLY $21.95 PER MONTH!

Think we should tell them the Federation abolished money?
Or Just Cheat
For anyone who can't stand to be beaten in Windows Solitare.
If You Don't Have Real Games
OK, I admit to playing the odd game of Microsoft Solitare to kill a couple of minutes, but this guy is sick.
Spam!
The FTC claims to be going after spammers.

I have a fake Yahoo email I used when I'm forced to give an email. Last time I checked it had around 800 messages in that account. Quite a few since I never use it for corresponding and always uncheck any "Send me free spam!" boxes on forms.
Who Owns The Net
Apparently British Telecom thinks they do. At least the hyperlink part.
BlackICE Users
If anyone out there is using the BlackICE series of firewalls, there is a security problem and you should go download and install the patch, available on the company web site.

I wouldn't normally post something like this, but I'm not seeing a lot of coverage on it and I know at least a few people who run BlackICE.
The Future Of Recorded Music
2001 was a lousy year for the music industry. Their spin was that it was because of MP3 pirates. Many commentators have pointed out that for the most part the releases in 2001 stank. I lean toward the second explanation. To me MP3’s look like today’s version of all those cassette tapes people had when I was in college. Everyone I knew had one or two legit tapes and dozens of blanks filled with copied music. Some of those copies sound pretty darn bad, as they were probably copies of copies of copies.

Though no one could have known it in the late 1970s when the CD format was developed, the move to digital opened the possibility of perfect copies. Lets be realistic- did anyone reading this think in 1980 that within 20 years you could buy for under $1,000 a machine that could make perfect bit for bit copies of CDs? The record industry didn’t either.

The initial CD ad campaign has boomeranged on the record industry. For those of you who don’t remember, it was “Perfect Sound Forever”. They have reinforced that over the year by declaring any number of things to have “CD quality sound”. Thus the CD became the gold standard for sound quality.

What is less known is that there has always been a hard core group of wackos who said CDs were a step backward and did not sound as good as LPs. And guess what? They were correct, especially in the early days of CD. The CD audio standard is based on a 16 bit digital sample done at 44.1K sampling rate. However the early CD players could only manage 14 bit resolution. On top of this, the digital medium behaves differently than analog recordings. It took the recording pros a while to understand the differences and use digital effectively. For example, if you overload an analog signal it does so gracefully giving a warmish ness to the sound. Overload a digital signal and it clips with nasty effects.

Of course for most people, CDs were an improvement over their LP records. That was because the entry price point for decent digital sound is much, much lower than good LP sound. To say nothing of the maintenance required to keep a high quality turntable in shape and the records clean. CDs were not all they were cracked up to be sound wise but for the majority of the population they were a huge improvement. And the quality of CDs and CD players has improved dramatically in that last 20 years. CD is now a mature technology that produces excellent results.

CD is mature in another way. Most people have completed the process of purchasing albums on CD that they used to own on cassette or LP. That re-purchase path drove CD sales and made it an extremely profitable medium for the record companies. But now they are faced with the prospect of selling new music and are having trouble doing so.

OK, remember “CD quality sound”? Once the CD has been enshrined as the top of the quality heap lots of digital formats that lacked the 16 bit resolution of the CD were proclaimed to be CD quality. A good example is the Dolby digital surround tracks used on laser disks and DVDs. They are not full CD standard audio because you cannot fit that much information onto the disc for 4 or 6 channels of audio. And worse for the music industry, MP3 has been proclaimed to be “CD quality”.

So here the quality issue bites the record labels on the butt. Frankly most labels have never been overly interested in sound quality. One of the key tests for most pop music is how it sounds a car stereo. The theory being that if it sounds good on the radio in the car people will buy the record. Producing for the lowest common denominator has produced a tremendous amount of crap. A lot of music today has very little dynamic range because compressed music sounds better on car systems.

Take that compressed CD, rip it, and down convert it into MP3 and it will sound very close to the original. Not perfect but since the sound was stinky anyway who cares? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who tell me, “MP3 sound just as good as CDs.” I’m here to tell you that they don’t. Not even close. I call them undead music because they seem to remove the spark of life from the music. Now don’t get me wrong, MP3s have their place and I like to listen to them to see if I like music enough to spend the money for the CD. But given a choice I would never pick MP3 as my primary musical format.

On top of all this foolishness there is a format war being fought to decide what will replace the CD- if anything will. Most people I know have never heard about this. Hardly surprising since the players and the recordings are limited right now. The two formats are DVD-A, an audio version of the DVD video disk, and SACD- Super Audio CD. For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn’t really matter which one will win, just that either high resolution format has better than CD quality (closer to 24 bits) and multi-channel capabilities. Personally I prefer SACD but again, that is another topic.

Right now the music industry strategy is to condemn MP3s as a pirate medium (attack Napster), try to copy protect CDs, and not promote the high resolution formats until they are sure which format will win. This strategy is doomed to fail and I’m not sure I could come up with anything worse.

First, it is a huge mistake to try and kill MP3 because they lack the power to do it. MP3 is not a captive format and there is no way to control it. At any rate, it appears the anti-Nester legal action is in danger of collapsing and that the record companies might be facing anti-trust charges. Second, copy protecting CDs will fail. The attempts to do so may cause a backlash because the copy protected CDs won’t play in CD-ROM drives. You might think, “No big deal, I don’t listen to CDs on my PC.” But because CD-ROM drives are cheaper than CD audio drives because of the volume many are used in non-PC applications such as in cars and some home audio components. The first time you buy a new, $18 CD and it won’t play in your car you are not going to be a happy camper. Finally, if no one knows about the high resolution formats they may both fail.

The music industry needs to adjust its strategy and let technology work for it rather than against it. First, they should embrace MP3 and treat it like the radio. It is a way to expose listeners to music. MP3s have some big problems because they are not a regulated medium. A certain percentage of MP3s out there for download are:

  • Labeled wrong so you get the wrong band or song.
  • Poorly ripped and contain digital pops or will refuse to play
  • Are encoded with low quality encoders at poor sample rates

The music industry should create a captive MP3 library of known quality and charge a moderate fee for use. Even if it costs them some money to run, the payoff in terms of more record sales would easily offset it. (Thanks to Jay for some of these points)

The second move needs to be a thrust toward quality. The industry used to consider quality important. Many records from the 1950’s through the 1970’s sound remarkably better than many modern records. A quality emphasis allow the record companies to say several things:

  • MP3 are great to try out music, but they are not perfect.
  • If you want to hear more of what the artist intended, buy the CD.
  • If you want to hear everything, buy the high resolution format and get superior sound and surround sound.

This approach has the great advantage of being true. It would start to cast shadows over the quality of MP3 as well as supporting the eventual move to a high resolution format offering the possibility of selling the music to people who already have the CD. The hardware and computer manufactures would gladly come onboard rather than fighting against the music industry strategy as they are now.

Failure to change is going to lead to the end of the music industry. Change is always a better choice than extinction.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Star Trek
Lately I've been complaining alot about Star Trek. For example, there are no gay people on Star Trek. Also no one is religious other than aliens. I found someone who had written a detailed explanation of the flaws inherent in the political/economic aspects of the show called The Fascist Ideology of Star Trek: Militarism, Collectivism, & Atheism. And somewhere else on the net lurked a comparison between the Ferengi and Nazi propoganda images of the Jews. The Star Trek world started to look like a not very pleasant future.

Now I find this from SFGate.com. Couldn't link directly to it, but if you go to this page and skip past the Bush stuff you'll see it. Or read my excerpted version:

Needless to say, the big problem with the Internet to date is that true Trekkies (or Trekkers, if you will) couldn't get a Star Trek domain name for their e-mail. At last that problem's been solved.

Internet service provider EarthLink has introduced a StarTrek.net service which not only provides that much-needed Star Trek domain but also weather reports from distant planets and a valuable primer on Borg culture.

"I'm the ultimate dweeb," proclaimed Bill Heys, EarthLink's executive vice president of sales, who spearheaded the StarTrek.net initiative in conjunction with Paramount Digital Entertainment. "This is just a cool thing for Star Trek enthusiasts."

I guess. For $21.95 a month, Trekkish EarthLink subscribers can obtain a startrek.net e-mail address and access a special start page that's chockablock with Trek tidbits.

For example, along with the weather on Taurus II (cold and misty), subscribers on Friday had access to an exclusive interview with the actor who plays Dr. Phlox on the new show "Enterprise" and a streaming video on how to land an Intrepid-class starship.

EarthLink, which unveiled the StarTrek.net service last week, has high hopes for attracting the pointy-ears crowd. "We only entertain things like this when we expect at least 100,000 customers," Heys said.


I'm sure this will make Earthlink a lot of money.

Of course I know I don't have to worry about this too much, as Scott Adams pointed out, the Future will not be like Star Trek.
Tolls
The tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge might increase to $5. Sounds like the bridge is going to need a lot of dough over the next decade. Fortunately the bridge has no real competition. If you want to go north of San Francisco there are not lots of options.

Contrast that with this story on one of the Orange County toll roads that just had their bonds reduced to junk status. I used to live there and watched the tolls roads go in. They are privately built and operated. At the end of the bond period the roads are to become public highways owned by Caltrans and thus free.

Interesting that the toll road I used, the Foothill one, has more traffic than expected. Since it saved me at least an hour a day when I was using it, I can understand why. Unlike the toll road in the article, there are no go alternatives to using the toll road. And it was a pleasant drive with low traffic. The only time I ran into any was the one time someone flipped their car.

I'd love to see similar projects here, but I guess we just don't have the land for something like that. I'd put one from the Golden Gate to north of Santa Rosa and another from San Jose to Gilroy. Those are two horrible traffic messes that people would pay to avoid.
Mt. Whitney
Some of you who know me know I like to go hiking in the mountains. And the ultimate mountain hike is a climb of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48. I have always done this as a day hike. A long, 22 mile day hike. This year I'm thinking about trying for an overnight hike permit. They are hard to get and the application needs to be in by February 14th (Valentine's Day).

If anyone who is reading is interested in joining an expedition in August of this year, email me at cdaley@pacbell.net. You can also use that address to comment on my musings in general. There is a fee of $15 per person (for the hike, not the commenting which is free) and due to the nature of the lottery system we won't know for a couple of weeks if we get a permit or what days it will be. I'll aim for a weekend as first choice though.

The advantage of a two day hike is that it is a lot less strenuous once you've spread the hike out over two days. The downside is that you need another day and you have to carry more gear to set up a base camp.

This is a lovely area and worth seeing. Even if you just happen to be passing through a detour and a trip to the Whitney Portal area about 20 minutes from the main road in Lone Pine is worth the effort. Your car will do all the work and you will be the great views and alpine scenery.

For those interested but not sure of where Whitney is, it is located on the eastern side of the Sierras near Lone Pine, CA. Maps and more info can be found at the excellent (from a content standpoint- design is frames....) site 395.com.
Curling
The current world champions of curling are from Sweden. And the US team beat them, though it sounds like it was a risky move that allowed the US to pull the upset.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Slow News Day
Haven't written much on here today. Been busy doing real work.

Watched a tiny bit of the Olympics, and either my timing is good or the coverage is much better than I remember from the last time. I saw about 10 minutes of a hockey game between Austria and Latvia and learned that there is apparently a sizable Latvian community in Utah. Also saw the preliminary round of 90M ski jumping and learned that the US sucks at ski jumping. Guess we are too busy snow boarding.

I wonder which nation is good at curling?
Red Vs Blue
Interesting article on OpinionJournal, the online version of the Wall Street Journal's opinion page. It talks about an Atlantic Monthly article by David Brooks about Red America- the sections of the country that voted for Bush. You can read the original article on the Atlantic's web site.

I must profess to not having fully read either yet. But it strikes me that if Mr. Brooks had gone to some African or Latin American nation and talked about the intellectual superiority of his east coast neighbors it would be roundly decried as either racist or culturally insensitive. But if he is bagging on folks in the midwest that is perfectly PC.

I'll have to dive into these tomorrow and see if the knock OpinionJournal delivers is justified. At least I learned one thing- you can get back issue Atlantic articles online for free!
The Budget
I don't know much yet about Bush's proposed budget other than the fact that it is dumping money into the defense budget. But I just read that along with the usual pork it gives $208,805 to something called the Popcorn Board. Yes, of course they have a web site: Popcorn.org.

With that sort of support, why is a batch of movie popcorn $6?

I didn't know popcorn was such a hard sell in the US. But this does help explain why Orville Redenbacher has ads on TV again. Pretty fly for a dead guy.
Censorship
Remember all those crys of censorship after 9/11? Anyone interested in the details of those claims should check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Terrorism page. I discovered this after my girlfriend Murphy had received what I thought was a very biased handout in one of her classes at San Jose State. Can't blame the teacher too much, since the class was an English class on banned books. But it turned out that the cases she was using to paint a picture of widespread censorship were very questionable at best. The site is worth checking out so you can decide for yourself how restricted the political debate has been.
Leadership
There has been a tendency over the last decade or so to lead from the middle of the pack. You lick your finger, stick it in the breeze, and then tell the crowd (who were leaning that way) “We will go over there!” Instead of policy debate we got endless analysis of opinion polls. The result was a lot of very bright people in government spending their time trying to gage and then mold public opinion instead of doing deep thinking on the issues. We have been largely leaderless and it has hurt us, especially in foreign policy.

Before anyone accuses me of Clinton bashing, I think the drift started post Gulf War during the first Bush administration. In February of 1991 the United States had a tremendous amount of political capital available. Victory is the best propaganda, and the US lead coalition had just delivered a smashing victory. It looked even more remarkable compared to the dire predictions of defeat and disaster in the Gulf.

This was more than just a public perception. In military circles there was much talk about a revolution in military affairs. The potential weight of that sort of talk can be seen in the number of articles in Russian and Chinese military journals saying either there was no revolution or that it somehow did not apply to situation they might be involved in.

Capital is only good if it is used, and the US made poor use of that capital:

  • We encouraged a popular uprising against Saddam in Iraq and then stood by while his forces crushed it. Saddam is still in power and US and British aircraft have bombed Iraqi targets many times since the end of the Gulf War. Not going to get Saddam was a good decision in 1991 if we were going to allow internal forces to do the job for us.
  • We intervened in Somalia in a weak and haphazard fashion, leaving after suffering relatively minor loses.
  • We let the situation in the former Yugoslavia fester, eventually leading to two interventions (Bosnia 1995, Kosovo 1999). We tried to let Europe handle it. At the first of many signs that Europe was not organized enough to put together a policy we should have lead the way.
  • We responded to terrorist attacks with a few cruise missiles. A great way to destroy buildings, a lousy way to kill specific people. It is impossible to say that a strong response in the 1990’s would have stopped 9/11 but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
  • We ignored and actively sought ways not to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. To me this is probably the worst thing the Clinton Administration did (or didn’t) do. Anyone who can see the PBS Frontline show The Triumph of Evil or read the transcript of it on the web site and not be sickened by what was done needs to have their head examined.

What is galling is that the Gulf War victory dividend was never used. It would have been useful to tell the Serbs that we would not allow them to conduct ethnic cleansing. Prompt bombing (not a few bombs, but a sustainable campaign) with the threat of ground forces would have forced Milosovitch to think twice before continuing to support the Serb militias. And it is hard to believe that there would have been a Kosovo War if we had not allowed the Bosnian and Croat Wars to drag on for years.

I can remember watching the News Hour show on PBS when the UN had peacekeeping forces trying to keep the lid on Bosnia. An ITN camera crew went on patrol with a British unit. At one point they ran into a Serb militia unit and the Serbs tried to through their weight around. The British commander was not in a good mood, and started reading them the riot act. At some point it dawned on the Serbs that making a bunch of heavily armed, professional soldiers was not a good idea. There was a great deal of fear in their eyes as they left. The British wanted to take away their weapons, but that was against the rules. All they could do was move on. It was clear that the Serb militia was good at killing civilians, but wasn’t in any condition to fight with regular troops. The argument for not getting involved was that we would be stuck there. Guess what, we are stuck there anyway and a lot of innocent people died.

In a way, the low loses of the Gulf War spoiled us. We got used to seeking ways to fight with little or no loss. The Kosovo War was remarkable with zero NATO casualties. Certainly a war with dead Americans is going to be less popular, but if our leadership cuts and runs at the first sign of blood as in Somalia, then they don’t deserve the name leader. Public opinion is always going to lack the depth of knowledge our leaders should have about the international situation. I don't get to see intelligence information and NSA communication decrypts, do you?

Right now post 9/11 casualties are not a concern. We are operating with small forces. There are more troops in Utah guarding the athletes and their 12,000 condoms than there are in Afghanistan. But if it becomes necessary to invade Iraq or put larger American combat units at risk I hope that we don’t cut and run just because the Presidential approval ratings start down. I think Bush II has the backbone to do that. But if we succeed in this war I hope that our victory dividend is not squandered a second time. It is cheaper in the long run to stand up for what is right early on.