Friday, March 01, 2002

Vote By Mail
Here in California we have move the primary elections up to have more impact on the Presidential race. This is causing some problems and combine with redistricting has lead to the elimination of physical polling places in some areas:

Direct voting has been eliminated at Kaufman's Wilshire District precinct and in hundreds of other neighborhoods across Los Angeles. Those left without a polling place must use an absentee ballot. The new political boundaries are not the only hurdle that election officials are facing as Tuesday's voting draws close:

* A new system that allowed voters to register up to 15 days before the election instead of the previous 29-day deadline has sent election employees scurrying to update registration lists and complete distribution of election supplies to the county's 4,845 voting locations.

* The cost of producing sample ballots has soared as officials juggled printing press runs to accommodate not only the new political districts but extra candidate statements now allowed under new state procedures.

* The scheduling of a gubernatorial election in March rather than June has caused some schools to refuse use of auditoriums as polling places. That has forced election planners to scramble to find alternate voting sites.


Wasn't it less than two years ago that we had this big bad election problem? People unsure of how to punch ballots in Florida? Dead people voting in Missouri? The other day I heard the DA in San Francisco was demanding an investigation into some voting irregularities. So what are we doing in California?
  • Eliminate actual voting places and leave people to figure out the ballots on their own with no one to ask for help.
  • Make sure we don't have to check ID's against voter rolls by mailing ballots to people who have not requested them and might be unaware of the change.
Walmart Vs. Silcon Valley
More from Information technology matters—when it delivers "everyday low prices.":

Today’s economic reality is that high-tech decisions made in Arkansas play a larger role in boosting America’s productivity than decisions made in Silicon Valley or Seattle. If you appreciate clever innovations, spend more time with inventors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. If you want to know which innovations will rewrite the productivity statistics, ignore early adopters and identify the Wal-Marts in key vertical markets. Moore’s Law is a necessary but not sufficient condition for economic growth; Wal-Mart’s motto is what makes Moore’s Law matter.

I live in Silicon Valley. I've only been here a short time, and saw the end of the dot com days. But I saw a lot of people chasing clever innovations that didn't amount to much. As the saying goes, everyone wanted to be the online Walmart, and the online Walmart has turned out to be Walmart.com.

So I agree with a lot of that paragraph. The key is not the technology- it is what you do with it. In the Valley there are a lot of people interested in technology for technologies sake. We need people like that, but we also need the Walmarts to figure out how to use technology to improve business in the real world.
Walmart
I used to really not like Walmart very much. OK, I still don't like Walmart very much, but I respect what they are doing. So it is a pleasure to see them recognized for their efforts. Information technology matters—when it delivers "everyday low prices."

In terms of sheer economic impact, the single most important, dynamic, defining technological innovation in America hasn’t been the silicon cliché of Moore’s Law; it’s the relentless promotional promise of “everyday low prices.” Sure, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and Dell may be terrific companies, but the true corporate leader driving productivity improvement over the past decade has been Wal-Mart. When it comes to managing high-impact innovation, there is no contest—Sam Walton still matters more than Bill Gates.

What I like about Walmart is their constant effort to push prices down. This matters most to those who are not well off and have extremely tight budgets.

About a year or so again PBS ran a documentary about Walmart wanting to build a store in a small town. I think it was in Virginia somewhere but I might be mistaken. Anyway, a bunch of folks where against it. After watching for a while, you began to realize that all the people against it were white and middle to upper class. The people that wanted the Walmart were poor. And while many of the Walmart supporters were black, none of the opponents were.

The most damning testimony came from an elderly woman who had to have batteries for her hearing aid. Walmart carried them, but the small shops the town was trying so hard to protect didn't. One of the opponents told her, "Well, so you have to pay a bit more."

"No," she said, "I can't just pay more. They don't have them." And it went unspoken that she probably couldn't afford to pay more either.

What I don't like about Walmart is that they put all that crap in aisles and I can't get around the store easily. But that is another story.

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Tobacco Laws
I've just done the crash internet course on tobacco regulations, at least as far as mail order sales go. There are two distinct issues. First are sales within the United States. Like all mail order sales these avoid state taxes as long as the sale is from outside of the buyers state. States like California have tried to impose their taxes on residents who order from out of state vendors but the legality is questionable. New York state tried to ban mail order sales but a Federal court tossed that out (link in PDF format)

U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska said in a 77-page ruling that she respected the state’s effort to crack down on distributing tobacco to minors, but that lawmakers cannot isolate the state from the national economy....“This lawsuit was an important decision because it set precedent for banning cigarette sales in other states,” said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Brown and Williamson, which is based in Louisville, Ky. “It also allowed Internet shopping restrictions.” Smith added that the case was won because the U.S. Constitution is very clear that state governments can place no restrictions on interstate business.

I am in favor of not taxing mail and internet commerce when the seller lacks a physical presence in the buyers state. This provides a strong check on excessive taxation by individual states. In addition, though I despise smoking, tobacco is a completely legal product. Sales of that product should not be banned.

Second case is the sale of tobacco from outside the US. This is what got me going on all this earlier this evening. Here the rules are harder to determine. The best I can tell, the people selling the tobacco are not violating any laws provided they label the package correctly. The burden of the law falls on the importer of tobacco and in this case the importer the is person ordering the product.

The overseas sellers are being a bit deceptive when they write:

Tobacco importation, limited to 200 cigarettes, is not subject to taxation.

US import laws allow a traveler to bring into the US 200 cigarettes for personal use. Perhaps there is law on this that I couldn't track down, but I would strongly suspect that the act of ordering 200 cigarettes on the internet does not qualify you as a traveler. That is the only exemption to import rules that apply in this situation. That means if you buy cigarettes from overseas, you are an importer in the eyes of the Customs Department and the ATF. This subjects you to taxes, the need to make sure the cigarettes are properly labeled with those exciting words of wisdom from the Surgeon General, and other regulations.

In addition, there is a March 2000 rule that prohibits any re-import of American made tobacco products that were exported. The law explicitly includes duty free tobacco products. So if you buy 200 American made, exported cigarettes overseas and try to bring them into the US they are illegal and will be seized. You are also subject to a fine of at least $1,000.

So my advice is that if you want to buy some cigarettes, go order them from a neighboring state's Indian tribe. They will thank you and you won't have to worry about ATF showing up at your door.
Tax Enforcement
CNet reports on California's efforts to enforce taxes on mail order cigarette sales (from two years ago):

The letters sent to citizens have resulted in minimal tax payments. Many state enforcement officers estimate that the average customer who has bought cigarettes online owes a little more than $100 in unpaid taxes. Washington state, for instance, has received about $12,000 in taxes from residents it has contacted since last August, said state department of revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow. Alaska has received about $38,000 from consumers since it began scrutinizing out-of-state sellers in late 1997, state revenue auditor Johanna Bales said.

"What we are thinking is that the enforcement is going to dry up some of these sales," Jenkins said.

Despite the minimal revenue, Jenkins is trying to organize a national effort targeting online cigarette businesses. And some cigarette sellers are already starting to feel the heat.

"A lot of states are coming out with scare tactics," said the operator at Cigaretteshop.com.
Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em
Some quick research (gotta love the net) leads to this story titled Research finds Internet cigarette sales present potential threat to public health:

Internet cigarette vendors present new regulatory and enforcement challenges for tobacco control advocates because of the difficulty in regulating Internet content, he said. Many vendors are on Indian reservations and regulating sales there also present complications because they claim sovereignty and are less regulated by states and the federal government.....Currently no federal laws make it illegal for Web sites to sell tobacco products to children.

I can attest to the fact that the first two pages of links Yahoo/Google spit out when I searched for "buy cigarettes by mail" were Indian reservation based sites.

The site by the tax folks in Rhode Island says:

Enticed by the low price of cigarettes sold through mail order vendors? The prices advertised are low because they do not include either the cigarette tax or the sales tax. Consumers should be aware, however, that Rhode Island law imposes a cigarette tax on the storage or use of any unstamped (untaxed) cigarettes within this state. The current cigarette tax rate is 0.71¢ per pack or $7.10 per carton. A consumer is allowed to carry into this state on his/her person ten (10) packs of unstamped cigarettes for personal consumption. No such exemption is allowed for cigarettes purchased through the mail, however.

Federal law requires all vendors shipping cigarettes in interstate commerce to file a monthly report with the Tax Administrator of the receiving state. That report must contain the name, address and quantities purchased by each individual. When this information is received, the Tax Division assesses both the cigarette tax and the sales tax, plus interest to the purchaser of the mail order cigarettes.

So if you buy cigarettes by mail order, be aware of the tax consequences that follow. Those purchases will probably result in a higher price than purchasing cigarettes locally at the minimum price.


The date on this peice of info is Fall 1999. Isn't that pre-tobacco settlement? Or has time flown by faster than I thought?

Still annoyed that people are spamming me for cigarettes. Why can't anyone figure out how to spam me with something I might actually want?
Cigarette Spam
I've been spammed with get rich quick schemes, porn, and herbal concoctions to increase the sizes of various body parts. But this is a new one. I'm now being spammed to buy tobacco. I just received an email with a link to a site called DFShop.org. They claim to be shipping them from Switzerland in small quantities to avoid duties and taxes. I wonder what the tobacco settlement has to say about this. To say nothing about the fact that if I was under 18 or 21 or whatever the threashold is then wouldn't this be marketing to minors? Perhaps they can put Joe Camel on their site.

If anyone is curious the whois for the domain shows the register of the domain to be:
seanm
Apto 619
Fuengirola , Malaga 29640
Spain

and the tech contact to be:

sean man (SM125-IYD) smoriarty@bigfoot.com
seanm
main st
gib, gib 12 denmark

I note that neither of these locations is in Switzerland. Quite an international operation Sean has going.

The site is not on Google yet so it must be pretty recent. But a Yahoo search turns up http://www.cigarette-shop.com/, a site that is identical to DFShop.org. Want to bet the whois is the same?
Enron Fun
OK, this will cost you a phone call, but if you are like me and have free cell phone minutes expiring today, go for it! 213-213-6070 and talk to Enron. If you don't want to call, here is the transcript. I suggest you call before you read though- it is pretty darn funny:

"Thank you for calling Enron. Please listen closely to the following
options as our menu has changed.

If you wish to serve a subpoena on a current or former Enron executive,
press 1.

If you are an Enron shareholder and would like to learn how to turn your
Enron stock certificates into decoratve origami, press 2.

If your Enron 401(k) plan is worthless and you'd like some tips on how to
survive your retirement eating nothing but mac and cheese, press 3.

If you are an Enron executive and would like to find out which prison
inmate will be making you his bitch, press 4.

If you would like to invoke your constitutional right against
self-incrimination, press 5.

If you are Dick Cheney, press 6, and thanks for nothin', Dick.

If your company is looking to hire someone to record your voicemail
menu options, please press 7, or stay on the line and an operator will
assist you.

Thank you for calling Enron, the world's greatest company."

SONG:

"We saw the stock a-rising and our hearts stood still.
Go Enron-ron-ron, go Enron-ron.
Everyone's retirement accounts were were filled
With Enron-ron-ron, with Enron-ron.
Yes, we loved you, Ken.
We were so happy then.
Everyone in California has to write a check
To Enron-ron-ron, to Enron-ron.

The accountants said that everything was A-OK
At Enron-ron-ron, at Enron-ron.
Now the moving vans are taking all the desks away
From Enron-ron-ron, from Enron-ron.
We lost almost everything.
Except for the management.
And when they try to find the evidence I think they'll see
It's all gone, gone, gone from Enron-ron-ron.
It's all gone, gone, gone from Enron-ron-ron.
It's all gone, gone, gone from Enron-ron-ron.



Thanks to Bob Gass for this one.
The Psychology of Conspiracy
One reason conspiracy theories are popular is the same reason we have lots of lawsuits. Folks think that if something happens, there must be a reason for it. Events that are at their base nothing more than an unfortunate combination of circumstances must have at their heart a human that can be blamed. Thus TWA flight 800 could not have blown up because some wires sparked the center fuel tank. It must have been shot down.

A second motive for creating conspiracy theories (CTs for short) is the sense of importance. A monumental event must have a monumental cause. Nowhere is this motive more clearly on display than in the theories of the JFK assassination. To many people it seems very wrong for a loser like Lee Harvey Oswald to be able to kill the President of the United States. JFK’s death was such a moving event so his murder must have greater meaning than the crazed actions of one man.

A third motive for CTs exists within extremist groups. Here you pick the problem and the group you dislike and link them up. Hate Jews? They must have staged the 9-11 attacks to implicate the innocent Muslims. Hate the Right? Then your problems surely are due to the vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

All of these are very human reactions. Grief, hate, a need to understand the world.

Of course there are indeed actual conspiracies. Watergate is one everyone in America has heard of, though I doubt most people today could walk you through the complete timeline. I know I can’t. So how do you judge a plausible CT? Plausible CTs have these characteristics:
  • Small core of conspirators. The more people that must be involved to make the conspiracy work, the more likely it is someone will talk. At some point the conspiracy will collapse under its own weight.
  • A simple plan of action. As von Clauswitz says, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. If the CT requires the timing of an episode of Mission Impossible it is probably unrealistic.
  • Definable and achievable goals. A well-planned conspiracy has specific goals in mind. A generic goal of World Domination is a bit hard to plan for.
  • Physical evidence. CTs that rest solely on the testimony of a convicted felon are likely not to hold water. The ability to point to hard evidence or documentation in support of a CT is much more valuable.


Apply these to Watergate. The number of conspirators was not small- the conspiracy eventually leaked. The plan of action was fairly simple, and the goal was pretty specific (win the election). However there was a trail of physical evidence that led all the way to Nixon. Thus a verifiable and exposed conspiracy.

Now apply these same standards to the CT outlined in the Oliver Stone movie JFK. I know there are literally dozens of JFK CTs, but for now lets stick to Stone’s version because as a movie many people will be familiar with it. The quick recap- CIA or military lead plan kills JFK and Oswald is setup to take the fall.

In this case, the number of conspirators is very large. No one has reliably came forward claiming to be a part of the conspiracy outlined by Stone. Not even a deathbed confession. The plan of action is complex. Multiple shooters are to kill Kennedy. Oswald has to be set up meaning the conspirators have to hope he is alone during the shooting. The goal is presented as being a need to become more involved in Vietnam. There is no certainty that killing the President will ensure that. Further it is historically quite unclear that Kennedy would have removed us from Vietnam. No smoking gun has ever turned up to show he would have. Finally, the physical evidence of conspiracy, as distinct from the physical evidence from the actually assassination, is missing.

With the passions that still surround the JFK assassination, I thought I'd give you some disclaimers. For the record, I think Oliver Stone is a good director in a technical sense. I thought JFK was excellent as a movie. But it was very poor history. I also am convinced that Oswald acted alone. Gerald Posner’s book Case Closed being the most influential on me. I’ve read the critics of the book and believe that Posner’s central claims are still valid. Feel free to disagree with me, and I do not think my opinion on JFK invalidates my views of how CTs come about or fall apart. Your mileage may vary.
CompUSA For All Your Piracy Needs
Need the new Office for OS X for the Mac? Just take your iPod down to CompUSA:

[Kevin] Webb, a computer consultant from Dallas, was browsing his local CompUSA when he saw a young man walk toward him listening to an iPod. Webb recognized the iPod's distinctive ear buds.

The teenager stopped at a nearby display Macintosh, pulled the iPod from his pocket and plugged it into the machine with a FireWire cable. Intrigued, Webb peeped over the kid's shoulder to see him copying Microsoft's new Office for OS X suite, which retails for $500.

When the iPod is plugged into a Macintosh, its icon automatically pops up on the desktop. To copy software, all the kid had to do was drag and drop files onto the iPod's icon. Office for MacOS X is about 200 MB; it copies to the iPod's hard drive in less than a minute.


I enjoyed the bit when Webb tells the CompUSA worker what is happening:

Webb watched the teenager copy a couple of other applications. He left the kid to find a CompUSA employee. "I went over and told a CompUSA guy, but he looked at me like I was clueless," Webb said.

Would have been a different story if this had been one of those smarty pants Office Depot employees.
USS Liberty Conspiracy Theories
My friend Jay wrote and asked about the 1967 Isreali attack on the intelligence ship USS Liberty. I'm not very well versed on the conspiracy theories on it. A quick Yahoo search turned up at least two sites: The Peace Encyclopedia: The USS Liberty and http://pnews.org/art/1ussliberty.shtml. A third site, The USS Liberty entry in the Jewish Virtual Library contains much of the same text in the other two entries. Clearly they are all drawing from the same source, though one of them could be the original.

All of the other sites are memorials to the crew or sites declaring there was a cover-up. Typically a Google search will turn up more material, but I didn't spend the time. I'd think a cover-up is certainly possible, but in this case I do not think that means there was a conspiracy. If you attacked the wrong ship and then found out you knew it was American but lost track of that you might want that fact buried.

My tenative conclusion- accidental attack caused by a string of unfortunate incidents. Afterwards no one wanted to dig too deeply into it. The perception of a lack of investigation almost always causes claims of a conspricy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Taxing Jesse
Instapundit has a link to this story about Jesse Jackson's tax troubles. I thought the lowest blow was this bit:

The American Conservative Union filed grievances with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, requesting audits of organizations run by the 60-year-old civil rights figurehead.

Perhaps my definition of figurehead is different than Jackson's? Is it just me or would that sort of label not have been applied to Jackson before the salary scandals and his out of wedlock child?

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Iraq War Predictions

Another interesting article from Strategy Page raising questions about whether Iraqi troops will fight given the hosing (authors words, not mine) they received in 1991:

Iraq has been trying real hard for the last ten years to shoot down an American aircraft over Iraq, without success. Morale is low among Iraqi troops. Memories of the hosing they got during the 1991 war, plus the efficient defeat of the Taliban in 2001, give Iraqi generals and troops little hope of winning many battles. Moreover, most of the armed forces are of questionable loyalty. Only the hundred thousand men of the Republican Guard, and a similar number in various police and security outfits, can be counted on to fight energetically.

I also like the emphasis on psychological warfare:

The idea is to use the psychological weapon as much as possible. Iraqis know that it's been over a thousand years since an Arab army defeated a non-Arab one. Iraqis remember that the last time Iraq was invaded, by two British divisions to overthrow a pro-German government in 1941, it was all over in a few weeks.
Invent A Conspiracy
A friend emailed me the link to this handy conspiracy creator.
Busy Day = No Posts
Sorry all- had a busy day and didn't have time to be a hyperblogger. Tomorrow should be a lighter day.
Bad Stretch Of Road
The LA Times reports that a study has concluded that California has the worst roads in the nation. The story is interesting because it is one of the few major media stories I've seen that reports a finding and then questions strongly the source of the finding:

Now a recent analysis of federal roadway data, if accurate, would affirm the feeling in the seat of our collective pants: California roads are the worst in the nation. Even Arkansas looks down its nose at us when it comes to road quality, according to this study.

But before we consider changing our state motto from "Eureka" to "Whoa, pothole," state officials and other transportation experts say we should consider the source of the analysis.

The study was sponsored by Transportation California, a coalition of road builders, labor unions, and asphalt and gravel suppliers. The group released the study as part of a campaign to support a March 5 ballot measure that would dedicate all sales taxes on gasoline to highway and transit projects, an estimated $1.4 billion a year by 2008.


How about they do this with all studies?

My personal two cents is that Highway 10 from LA to the Inland Empire was in bad shape the last time I drove on it two or three years ago.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Conspiracy Theory Week
I declare this to be Conspiracy Theory week here on the Daley Weather blog. Why? Because they are interesting, because they are a continuing thread in American politics, and because if you allow bad history to flourish no one will remember the truth.

I first became interested in conspiracy theories in college. I majored in history and my areas of interest were American foreign policy and military history. It is hard to study American history or be on a college campus without running into conspiracy theories. One of the first serious conspiracy theories I dealt with was that of Pearl Harbor. And surprise, surprise, I encountered it again today on the net.

In the discussion referenced below on the DSL Reports website, the discussion on the Pearl Harbor issue reached this conclusion:

The point in question about Pearl Harbor. Who knows if we will ever know the whole story

And a follow up poster:

As for Pearl Harbor, yes, we will probably never know.

This is fairly common in conspiracy land. In most cases, conspiracy theorists like to raise interesting points and poke holes in existing accounts but fail to deliver convincing evidence supporting their view of events. So instead of documentation of the conspiracy we are presented with “We will never now” with the implication that the conspiracy covered its tracks.

In the case of Pearl Harbor the question is what did we know and when did we know it? In this case we have extensive documentary evidence available, though some intelligence data is still classified. So we can examine another variant of the conspiracy theory, the information version of a death by a 1000 cuts. Here the theory is advanced along with hundreds of seemingly incontestable facts assembled by the author.

So what documentation do we have on Pearl Harbor? Well, we were able to read Japanese diplomatic code and some or all of their naval code. So we possess thousands of intercepted Japanese messages. Tremendous paper trail that allows the historian to go back in time to discover what we knew.

At the time, however, all these messages were a curse as well as a blessing. There were thousands of messages to decode and few trained to do so. The classic problem in intelligence is what to do with all the data. How to you decide what is valuable and what is not? With hindsight we can go through the decoded messages and see the trail, but at the time many of these messages were not available to decision makers.

In the end, America concluded that Japan was preparing to take military actions, but the assumption was that it would be against the British and the Dutch and perhaps the Philippines. A war warning was issued to Army and Navy commands in Hawaii on November 27th, 10 full days before the attack. That the message refers to Japanese actions in the Far East is cited by conspiracy theorists as proof that Washington was trying to mislead Hawaiian commander:

Consider this dispatch a war warning. The negotiations with Japan in an effort to stabilize conditions in the Pacific have ended. Japan is expected to make aggressive move within the next few days. An amphibious expedition against either the Philippines, Thai, or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo is indicated by the number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of their naval task forces. You will execute a defensive deployment in preparation for carrying out the tasks assigned in WPL-46 only.

What the theorists don’t pay much attention to is the fact the British and US aircraft were actually seeing Japanese task forces in and around the South China Sea. The Japanese carrier force heading for Hawaii was not seen. Naturally the focus was on the ships and forces that were known. This imparted a false sense of security in places like Hawaii where the main concern was sabotage by the Japanese population.

Another consideration for the conspiracy theorists- even if FDR desired a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he did not have to make sure all of the Pacific Fleet battleships were in port. If the target was certain, why not alert the fleet an hour before the attack. The effect would have been the same (sneak attack by evil Japan!) but the military results might have been more even. If the intent is purely to ensure American entry into World War Two an attack on an American base by hundreds of aircraft was going to do the job. There was no need to also stick our neck out.

None of this has stopped the conspiracy theorists. Books, magazines, and web sites all maintain there was a vast government conspiracy to allow Japan to attack us at Pearl Harbor. A good web example is PEARL HARBOR MOTHER OF ALL CONSPIRACIES

In the literary arena, the recent book Day of Deceit is a good example. It seems that much of the evidence on the above referenced web site is also used in the book.

If you want to know what is wrong with the book, just visit this link with Amazon comments in negative to positive order.

The web allows the popularization of conspiracy theories, but it also allows their quick and thorough debunking. So we hear on Amazon that the book in question has some dubious qualities:
  • Notice his footnotes frequently lead to discredited sources.
  • The author constantly confuses different kinds of communications intelligence
  • Stinnett lost credibility with me in the first chapter. He suggests that FDR confided to Ed. R. Murrow that he had advance knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack. Then the author says this "must remain speculative" because Murrow never made any such public statement. In fact, Stinnett concedes he later stated his belief that FDR did NOT have advance knowledge.

All of that just on the first page of reviews.

Close reading of the Mother of all Conspiracies (wouldn’t English be poorer without good old Saddam?) shows it to be chock full of small quotes from references without full citations. This makes it very hard to verify and would certainly be rejected by a professional historian. But you can see some of the same mistakes outlined in the Stinnett book by the Amazon reviewers. For example:

In 1979 the NSA released 2,413 JN-25 orders of the 26,581 intercepted by US between Sept 1 and Dec 4, 1941. The NSA says "We know now that they contained important details concerning the existence, organization, objective, and even the whereabouts of the Pearl Harbor Strike Force." (Parker p 21)

Now first, there is no indication of what (Parker p 21) is referring to. But in addition the author of this web site is making the same mistake Stinnett did in his book: confusing intercepted messages with decoded ones. They were in US hands but were not decoded until after the end of the war.

Information overload conspiracy theories almost always sound extremely persuasive on first glance because the authors of them have accumulated a seemingly endless array of facts. Admit it, if you stumbled on a web page or book that talked in what seemed to be detailed terms about something called JN-25 you would likely impress you. Unless you have studied the topic you would probably accept at face value explanations of the differences between JN-25A and JN-25B. But when push comes to shove many of the facts turn out to be discredited or old information. That is why historians insist on full source citations. If you want to prove something as serious as a major government conspiracy, you need to make sure your sources are in order. When historians evaluate evidence like this they overwhelmingly reject it. That reject is worn as a badge of honor by the theorists who assume it is all part of the coverup.

Tomorrow stay tuned for the psychology of conspiracy theories!
Chick!
Now that I've got a few readers who don't know me thanks to Instapundit, I should note that I grew up in a Los Angeles suburb and am a Lakers basketball fan. One of the great things about Laker basketball is listening to the Laker's announcer Chick Hearn. Chick is now 85 and had a major heart operation in December. Then about two weeks before he was due back he slipped and broke his hip. So I've been following his progress and here is the latest:

Chick Hearn's recovery from a broken hip is progressing ahead of schedule and he may be back announcing Laker games sooner than expected, his orthopedic surgeon said Sunday.

"He's doing just great," said Herbert Huddleston of the Southern California Orthopedic Institute. "He's remarkably strong and his clarity of mind is amazing."


Hooray! Get well Chick and hurry back.
Conspiracy Theories
Back in my school days I became interested in conspiracy theories and their historical place in America. American politics have always included a strong conspiracy wing. The people that would have JFK dying in a hail of bullets from the Cubans, Mafia, and CIA are part of a long historical tradition.

This morning I was reading the discussion board on DSL Reports, a site dedicated to information on broadband net access. The thread, triggered by the posting of an article in the WashingtonPost.com about restricting information due to the risk of terrorism created the expected discussions of the government going overboard. But it also drew out people who think the war is not about terrorism, but about oil.

Visit the thread and look for the post by a gentleman with the peaceful handle of Spamkiller. The resulting discussion makes the following claims:
  • The Taliban wouldn't allow us to build an oil pipeline so Bush went after them
  • The Bush administration wanted the attack to happen to justify the move against the Taliban.
  • The Enron exec who killed himself was probably murdered
  • Daniel Pearl was killed because he found out things about the US government
  • We allowed the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor so we could drop the atomic bombs on Japan
  • We replaced the Shah of Iran with Khomeni in 1979 in order to lower the price of oil
  • And best of all: the Cubans sunk the Lusitannia

We see the polls that show the vast majority of the population support the war. But it is useful to remember some people do not. I also find it ironic that the people calling for more historical knowledge are also the ones making mistakes like blaming Cubans for sinking British liners in a war zone infested with German submarines who admitted to firing torpedos at it. For course he ment the Maine, but if you can't get the ship right you wonder if he is even thinking about the right war.

What all the talk of conspiracy does is remove the reality of government requests to supress information from the table. When you are either concerned with the secret war for oil or annoyed that people would ignore the smoking crater in New York you tend to forget the more subtle disappearence of public information. So do go read the Washington Post story. To hook you, here is an excerpt:

The letter from the government told Joy Suh to destroy the CD-ROM of the nation's water supply data "by any means." Suh, the documents librarian at George Mason University, immediately asked her assistant to get out her scissors and cut the silver disk into tiny shards.

Suh was eager to do her part to help protect the country.

But as someone who has dedicated her life to sharing information with the public, she worried that this directive signaled the beginning of a more secretive period in American society.

"I debate both sides in my mind. I see the government aspect of it. I also see how researchers and the public might need this data," Suh said.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

OpinionJournal Strikes Again
Two excellent articles in OpinionJournal today. First is former CIA Director James Woolsey on the topic of European complaints about the axis of evil:

No, what is agitating the Europeans is not really any inaccuracy in what the president has said, nor is it any failure on America's part to act collegially. Rather, it is a perverse commitment to the proposition that no American good deed should go unpunished. Many members of Europe's elites--British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a few other stalwarts being conspicuous exceptions--persist in a waspish and reality-denying worldview, the centerpiece of which is that anything that America is decisive and enthusiastic about is highly questionable at best.
A substantial part of this derives from their having chosen to lead the good life, to maintain generous social services, take long vacations and let the U.S. bear the principal burden of preserving the world's peace. There is no disdain quite as sour as guilt-driven disdain.


Second is a long article on Islamic anti-Americanism by military historian Victor Hanson which concludes:

So a neighborly bit of advice for our Islamic friends and their spokesmen abroad: topple your pillars of ignorance and the edifice of your anti-Americanism. Try to seek difficult answers from within to even more difficult questions without. Do not blame others for problems that are largely self-created or seek solutions over here when your answers are mostly at home. Please, think hard about what you are saying and writing about the deaths of thousands of Americans and your relationship with the United States.

America has been a friend more often than not to you. But now you are on the verge of turning its people--who create, not follow, government--into an enemy: a very angry and powerful enemy that may be yours for a long, long time to come.


Hanson makes an excellent point. Instead of us asking "Why do they hate us?" the Islamic world should be asking themselves "Why do we hate them?"

Read them both, but especially Hanson's even though it is long.
Bush's Trip
Punditwatch, the weekly summary of the talking head shows, has these two comments on Bush's Far East trip:

I'm not sure it was a success, we were talking about the weapons technology and its proliferation. There was supposed to be a deal. The deal didn't come through. --Mark Shields

Bush comes back empty-handed All areas of disagreement remain areas of disagreement as a result of the trip. --Margaret Carlson


These entirely miss the point. Agreements are worthless if we have no confidence that they will be followed. But there are other reasons for meeting with foreign powers. One is to send messages. Even though we did not make concrete agreements, we certainly have put the Chinese on notice on the subject of missile proliferation. So judging the trip by Clinton administration standards is a mistake. As the LA Times put it:

Reflecting a different strategy from the style of the Clinton White House, however, the Bush administration didn't set out to produce breakthroughs, new agreements or dramatic "deliverables" during summits in China, South Korea and Japan, according to a senior administration official.

Beyond that, the leaders that Bush was visiting were unlikely to cut major deals. Two of them are lame ducks (China and South Korea) and the other is not in a very stable position (Japan). Again, the LA Times:

Prospects for any major development on the three-nation tour were also limited by the fact that two of the leaders Bush visited were lame ducks and the third might have problems holding on to power. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is set to step down next year. South Korea is holding elections in December to replace its president, Kim Dae Jung, who can't run again. And in Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's popularity has plummeted recently.

If you want a concrete, lasting agreement it is best to get it with someone who will be around long enough to get some lasting institutional support for the agreement. Especially in China. I'm sure the pundits would prefer to have some hand shaking photo ops to talk about, but as for me I'd rather get nothing over a deal that China violates whenever they see fit. The Bush administration seems to care more for substance than style. Thank goodness!
EU Rapid Deployment Force
Instapundit linked to this article entitled Nato plans army of 250,000 to fight 'anywhere':

Nato is organising three rapid-reaction corps in its effort to reinvent a role for itself after being sidelined by America in the Afghan war. The alliance would like to be able to put more than 100,000 men into a campaign, and envisages a total force in excess of 250,000, capable of combat in three conflicts in any part of the world for up to two years.
This sounds impressive, but:

The alliance forces still depend on the US for a vital services, including air power and communications. The European members of the alliance do not have anything like enough "airlift" to transport large numbers of troops and equipment into a conflict zone, or air-strike capacity for a sustained campaign. During the Kosovo conflict, the European nations made just 20 per cent of the air raids, the rest being done by the Americans.

There are other basic problems, concerning radio and other communication between the armies of the European members of Nato. Because of disparities in the communication systems, different European forces can often "talk" to each other only with the help of the Americans.


The United States faced some serious coordination problems during the Gulf War just between branches of the US armed forces. For example, during the air campaign the daily air plan, called the Air Tasking Order or ATO, had to be printed out and then flown out to the carriers because they did not have the capability to receive it electronically from the Air Force. This has since been addressed, but at the time it ment that most air targets had to be selected 48 hours in advance. This sounds like the same sorts of problems that will plauge a European military force that requires our help to communicate.

One of the keys to victory in the Gulf War and Afghanistan was the ability of the Western forces to get inside the decision/action cycle of our enemies. In a military action, information comes in, decisions are made based on that information, and then actions are taken. If one side can collect intelligence, make decisions, and then act on that intelligence while the other side is still gather information the opportunity to inflict uneven damage opens up. NATO forces planned to use their advantage in this area to defeat the more numerous Warsaw Pact armies in Europe. That war (thankfully) never happened, but the techniques were applied in the Gulf War. So communication problems in a future European Rapid Deployment force will have serious impacts. The additional overhead time that might be needed for communications that require the US to play telephone could mean dead allied troops.

At the moment NATO forces probably hold an edge in key C3I (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) areas over most potential enemies. But the US armed forces have an even wider edge. That means US forces can engage the enemy with less risk and fewer causalities. And if they are dependent on the US for communication between units they are still going to be subject to an American veto on their actions. Somehow I do not think that is what the EU has in mind.
Al Qaeda Nukes

The attempt by al Qaeda to prepare to build a bomb with fake internet data was well documented in Blogland. But I haven't seen any talk yet of this rumor:

Rumors are circulating that US Special Forces found two "phony" Soviet nuclear weapons in Afghanistan. These may have been "training shapes" used to help crews practice loading and unloading the weapons, but they had been contaminated with nuclear waste, which may indicate that whoever sold them to al Qaeda was trying to pass them off as real weapons

These guys are certainly trying hard to obtain nukes. This makes it even more critical that we disrupt their organization. It also means we should continue programs to retire Soviet area nukes. That is some of the best money we have spent in the last 10 years.

While the Bush Administration had wanted to cut back the $800 million the US spends each year helping Russia dismantle old nuclear and chemical weapons, a new study by the Administration has concluded that the programs must continue and in some cases should be increased. There are serious challenges, the largest being how to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium. The basic plan is to convert it into Mixed Oxide reactor fuel, but that would take decades to use up. Another plan is to vitrify the plutonium into a glass-like substance and bury it, but nobody wants it buried in their back yard (and the US is nervous about burying it in Russia). Another plan would be to build an entire new generation of gas-cooled reactors that could burn the plutonium, but that would take years.
US Carrier Troubles
The US is not immune from the problems of not spending enough money on our armed forces.

The U.S. Navy was having a lot of problems keeping it's aircraft carrier operations going before September 11, 2001. Shortages of sailors, pilots and spare parts made it difficult to train, or be ready for combat. In the last three years, the navy have received over half a billion dollars addition funding to deal with the persistent spare parts shortages. Yet the problems remained, and the cause appeared to be the way the navy tracked and distributed it's spare parts. Then came the war in Afghanistan. As with any wartime situation, ships and air wings were stripped of pilots and spare parts to support the carriers operating off the Pakistani coast. That war did not see the carriers flying as many sorties as they normally would, mainly because of the long distances that aircraft had to fly to reach their targets in landlocked Afghanistan. But now the navy is getting ready for possible operations against Iraq. The carriers that served off Pakistan are being rotated back to their home ports so that the crews can get some rest. The spare parts shortage remains, although even more money has been thrown at it.

This is the same type of problem the French military is having. They spent money on big programs and equipment rather than on spares. One of the reasons we can get away with that more is that our larger force allows us to rob Peter to pay Paul. It makes the force more fragile though, and this could be a problem in a war with Iraq. Our military is certainly technically more advanced than it was in the Gulf War, but it is also more shallow.