zenpundit.com » Questions

Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

Does technology change people?

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- another fine example of what I call DoubleQuotes in the Wild ]
.

This one comes from my anthropologist friend Peter van der Werff via our mutual friend Howard Rheingold:

**

Looking at the two images, do you see the juxtaposition as “meaning” that tech does change people, or that it doesn’t? Is it really a question, as its caption suggests — or a statement? And if it’s a question, is it an “open” question, ie a matter of philosophical curiosity — or a question that questions an asssumption, ie a form of statement-in-disguise?

Questions can’t be “true” or “false” as such — but they can sure be suggestive, eh?

Share

Now, about taklif, and about parawar?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- two learnings about Hezbollah, in process and with one question each ]
.


.

The trouble with this internet thing is that it offers nonstop opportunities for learning.

I hope my readers here at Zenpundit know by now that I’m an amateur (a lover) of the topics that I write about, learning as I go. I have long thought fard ‘ayn or individual obligation was the key phrase in religious recruitment to the jihad, conveying as it does divine sanction for the deeds properly committed under that license. I believe I first encountered the phrase in the context of Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj and his book, The Neglected Duty. It’s my (strictly amateur) hunch that the neglected (pun intended) Faraj should be the object of as much of our study as the far better known Sayyid Qutb.

**

Just yesterday Phillip Smyth posted an extended piece on the Brown Moses blog, Hizballah Executing Syrian Prisoners? – Analyzing the Video, which in turn introduced me to the concept of taklif al-sharii. The key paras read:

In a June USA Today article which covered Hizballah’s involvement in Syria, a Hizballah fighter noted, “Everyone who is sent to fight in Syria has received a ‘Taklif Sharii’”. USA Today added the taklif sharii is “a religious command that means he will go to heaven if killed.” Nevertheless, the taklif sharii is more than just a religious edict which guarantees a martyred fighter’s spot in heavenly paradise. It is a religious obligation put forth by a cleric and must be followed. In fact, it is a form of religious ruling which underpins the Khomeinist ideology guiding Iran, Hizballah, and all of the main Iraqi Shia organizations sending militiamen to Syria.

Augustus Richard Norton noted that Hizballah’s adherence to taklif sharii is a theological legal ruling, “as though commanded by Allah”. According to Mohammed Sherri, an Al-Manar (Hizballah’s official TV channel) commentator, “once a taklif is issued, violating it is similar to any sin, like murder or adultery, or not praying or fasting.” In traditional Shi’ism, the taklif sharii was rarely issued and normally did not deal with political issues. The concept was actually revived as an important Shia idea by the father of Iran’s Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and as an important support for his form of clerical rule, Wilayat al-Faqih (in Persian it’s known as Velayat e-Faqih). In effect, the issuing of a taklif sharii by a high ranking Shia cleric, in this case Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei—The “Spiritual leader” of Hizballah and the other Iraqi Shia groups, is a direct order coming from Allah.

So — here are my amateur — still learning — questions: does taklif sharii serve the same function among Shia jihadists as fard ‘ayn does among Sunnis? Are both terms used in both communities? The parallel between the two terms, and the differences between the kinds of authorities who control Sunni and Shiite discourses in matters such as these, would make for an interesting exploration I think.

Okay, that’s the “About taklif” section of this post.

**

As you might imagine, though, Smyth’s post set me reading Augustus Richard Norton‘s piece, and there I discovered another interesting snippet, on another topic entirely:

From the Israeli withdrawal of May 2000 until the eruption of war in July 2006, there was aggressive patrolling, heated rhetoric and periodic episodes of violence by both sides. Most of the armed attacks were in the disputed Shebaa farms. By historical standards, however, this was a relatively quiet period. In general, clashes respected “rules of the game”, which had been codified in writing in 1996 and specified that Israel would not attack civilians in Lebanon and Hezbollah would not attack Israel. As Daniel Sobelman notes, the rules were so well established that officials were sometimes quoted as saying that such and such skirmish was ‘‘within the rules’’.

The Sobelman reference points us to:

Sobelman, D. New Rules of the Game: Israel and Hizballah after the Withdrawal from Lebanon. Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2004, pp. 67–82.

Okay, here’s second my question, the one about “parawar”. What’s the Clausewitzian term for something of this kind, far beyond politics, “within the rules” yet still not quite war — parawar? The duel comes to mind, too.

So: is there a word for such things?

Share

War on Speed

Monday, August 26th, 2013

[ by Mark Safranski a.k.a. "zen"]

“When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day, a Boche will get him eventually. The hell with that. My men don’t dig foxholes. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving.”

                                                                                                      - General George Patton

“In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse, you must pursue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover.”

“Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast”

                                                                                                          – Miyamoto Musashi 

“Two basic principles . . . underlie all strategic planning. . . .The second principle is:  act with the utmost speed”

                                                                                                             - Carl von Clausewitz

Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division charge [ Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski]

SWJ Blog published a link to  2013-14 Key Strategic Issues List put out by the Strategic Studies Institute to US Army War College students and researchers regarding the critical questions that the Chief of Staff believes need to be answered for the US Army to adapt to changing circumstances. It’s a good institutional practice and an interesting document to peruse. My attention was drawn to the subset entitled “Chief of Staff of the Army Special Interest Topics”. General Odierno’s second topic begins with an appropriately broad question:

                                       ”How important is speed—both in terms of maneuver and information?”

We should look at the question first in a general sense and then in the light of the U.S. Army and the circumstances in which it is likely to find itself in the next few decades.

Common sense tells us that in any conflict, the ability of a single combatant, an armed group or an army corps to move and fight with speed is generally an advantage. This applies in other forms of conflict aside from warfare; for example, the boxing legend Muhammed Ali was great in his early career not merely because he was a big man and a gifted boxer but because he was also incredibly fast compared to his opponents, running rings around them in a match, taunting and humiliating them. When age removed the edge of speed, a slower Ali was forced to change his tactics and absorb a great deal of punishment that he had formerly escaped. Slow moving armies are like Muhammed Ali past his prime -they make for good targets.

In the history of warfare, many great fighting forces were also fast moving ones. Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates averaged close to fifteen miles per day in the Shenandoah Valley campaign; Roman legions frequently marched twenty miles in five hours while the armies of Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte drew closer to thirty a day. The fierce and elusive Apache topped them all, reputedly covering an astonishing seventy miles a day on foot in harsh desert terrain. Nor are the advantages of great speed limited to land armies, speed at sea and in the air is a tremendous equalizer for numerically inferior forces. It is good to move fast. The US Army, or at least parts of it, should be able to move fast, but this comes with a few caveats:

  • First, speed is always relative advantage. Being the fastest army in the world is a great thing but it is not quite so great if you are fighting the second fastest army in the world and the difference between the two is marginal.
  • .
  • Secondly, really optimizing speed for an entire army (vice specific units) is likely to come with trade-offs in terms of force structure and operational costs. Fast is fine, but fast with firepower is better, unless you think Operation Market Garden is the model to emulate.
  • .
  • Third, distance is often antagonistic to speed (i.e. imposes greater friction costs).  The ability to sustain a campaign in Afghanistan from the Western hemisphere does not mean it will be cheap to run your strykers and helicopters on imported fuel.  Zipping your panzers across France is not the same as slogging them through the vast and roadless expanse of Russia.
  • .
  • Fourth, speed and agility are not the same thing.  Maneuver in battle depends on other things aside from linear speed; the ability to execute fast transients by rapidly shifting what your force is doing on the fly is unlike simply moving them from point A to point B at a high rate of speed. 
  • .
  • Fifth, moving at one easily predictable speed and operational tempo, even at a high rate, is not as good as purposefully changing up both to throw the enemy off of their game. Sometimes employing a slow or erratic tempo is useful for imposing costs on enemy forces, deceiving them or constraining their freedom of action. 

Speed of information is not at all the same as the speed of material things, in part because the qualitative value of the information determines the utility of receiving it faster. An army that could move information and communicate more effectively – by having mastered writing, messenger systems, secret codes, the telegraph, shortwave radio or the internet – usually has a comparative advantage, but only up to a point. Much like medicine, the right dose of information can cure what ails you but too much or the wrong kind at the wrong time can kill you.

Even valuable information – much like Robert E. Lee’s battle plans for Antietam wrapped around some cigars – is simply unconnected data unless it is received by someone (Observation), who unlike General McClellan, is competent to discern the importance, put the information into context (Orientation), plan (Decide)and take appropriate action (Act).  Knowledge is contextual and actionable ( or it is a prerequisite for effective action) while information is isolated, raw and could easily be irrelevant trivia or distracting “noise”.

Quantity of information and the velocity with which it circulates through an organization can undermine the comparative advantage of having greater informational speed. Communication often expands to fill the bandwith allotted to the detriment of organizational effectiveness.  What is useful intel for a squad leader entering a seemingly abandoned village becomes a drowning sea of minutia for a battalion, brigade or theater commander who can only grasp coup d’oeil by focusing on essential components of operational or strategic problems as they are expressed on the battlefield.

Every transmitted message is a form of transaction requiring time, attention and energy from a commander and his subordinates, taxing their ability to prioritize effectively and inevitably creating “fog” by increasing the ratio of useless, incorrect or irrelevant data to crucial information. Improvement comes both from becoming increasingly effective at distilling knowledge from masses of data and from paring back the traffic in informational garbage and “busywork” and legalistic “CYA” communication. Greater informational speed shows it’s true value when an organization (military, business, political etc) can systematically move critical knowledge to the person who needs it at the moment it is required.

How Should the US Army think about Speed?

The US Army, in my view, faces some probabilities in the next few decades in terms of thinking about speed, force structure, potential conflicts and other questions:

  • Barring a resumption of conscription, austerity and domestic politics will mean a smaller active duty peacetime force that will have to formally shed some of the Cold War legacy missions it is no longer capable of executing  or willing to fund. 
  • .
  • Any major land conflict the US enters is likely to be expeditionary against a much more numerous opponent ( North Korea, Iran, Pakistan,  China or a proxy war – likely in Africa) while our technological edge over near-peer and second to third tier adversaries, while remaining, will be less than in previous decades.
  • .
  • The US may face more than one “small war” at a time with an allied or friendly state requesting FID/COIN help against an insurgency of some kind. 
  • .
  • The US may face an insurgency at home from Mexican narco-cartels that may begin as a law enforcement matter and be escalated by cartels into a serious paramilitary insurrection and terrorism problem before political authorities are willing to acknowledge the gravity of the threat (i.e. American politicians will behave much like their Mexican counterparts did in the 2000′s. Indeed they are already doing so in regard to massive cartel infiltration of American cities)
  • .
  • The US will retain sufficient nuclear deterrent, Naval and strategic air capability to make a conventional or nuclear attack on the American homeland extremely unlikely.

The US Army, even in a reduced size,  will probably retain the role of “mailed fist” land force with a core of  armor, motorized infantry, artillery units along with infantry that could conceivably be scaled up to much larger levels of personnel in a grave crisis. But the reality is the politicians will always try to fight foreign wars with peacetime forces, so to be of real use, the Army must be able to go to war “as is” and win it very quickly.  It is unlikely that a serious opponent like Iran, if it’s leaders believe the US intends regime change, will permit America a leisurely 6-12 month build-up of an invading host in a neighboring state the way that Saddam did [ can you imagine PLA generals sitting on their hands as the US Army put, say, 10-15 divisions of American and coalition troops on their border with Vietnam?]

So if the US Army is to be operationally relevant by virtue of speed, there must be a deep all-services investment in the unsexy air and sealift capacity to move a substantial amount of troops and their heavy equipment in days or weeks instead of months ( most likely combined with even greater efforts at pre-positioning ). Speed and maneuver in operations depends on getting there in the first place.

Assuming we have many divisions or brigades (if we stay “modular’) arriving somewhere, increasing operational speed is partly a work of the Army’s leaders spending years changing  the organizational culture to give subordinates real room to take initiative within their commander’s intent. This will help improve both physical maneuver as well as information flow by reducing the institutional incentives to create paralysis by micromanagement.

Accepting loose reins may mean more American casualties, far more enemy combatant casualties and consequent civilian collateral damage as field grade and junior officers take greater responsibility and the tempo of operations accelerates. ROE will have to be simpler and hew closer to what is permitted under the Laws of War vice what overly complex guidance prevailed at certain times in Afghanistan. This will require ruffling the feathers of international law professors, lefty NGO activists, anti-American journalists and some members of Congress.

On the other hand, we might start winning wars again.

Share

What could have stopped Snowden

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- mini-rant on importance of humans, human errors, and insight ]
.

OK, I watch TV & this screencap is from *Lie to Me* - this is about more than that


.

One proficient judge of human character with a good combo of micro-observation skills and / or gut instinct present at a Booz Allen job interview might very well have made a substantial difference, no?

**

I see this as a case to consider in terms of the human intelligence : number crunching ratio, or HUMINT : SIGINT balance.

Or rich data : Big Data or mind : machine question.

Or am I missing something?

**

Just one piece of the puzzle:

Microexpressions, from Wikipedia:

A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face of humans according to emotions experienced. They usually occur in high-stakes situations, where people have something to lose or gain. Microexpressions occur when a person is consciously trying to conceal all signs of how he or she is feeling, or when a person does not consciously know how he or she is feeling. Unlike regular facial expressions, it is difficult to hide microexpression reactions. Microexpressions express the seven universal emotions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, Paul Ekman expanded his list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions not all of which are encoded in facial muscles. These emotions are amusement, contempt, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride, relief, satisfaction, pleasure, and shame. They are very brief in duration, lasting only 1/25 to 1/15 of a second.

Microwizards, from Wikipedia — which may not be quite the same as the ability to detect microexpressions:

O’Sullivan and Ekman identified only 50 people as Truth Wizards after testing 20,000 (~0.25%) from all walks of life, including the Secret Service, FBI, sheriffs, police, attorneys, arbitrators, psychologists, students, and many others. Surprisingly, while psychiatrists and law enforcement personnel showed no more aptitude than college freshmen, Secret Service agents were the most skilled.

**

That’s all, folks. It’s a beginning — what say you all?

Share

A religious footnote to the pro-life / pro-choice issue

Monday, April 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- with cites from the Qur'an and Bukhari, together with a concerto by Saint-Saëns ]
.


.

Stephen Hough is a classical pianist of note recording on the Hyperion label, the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and one of twenty living polymaths listed as “Pianist, poet, composer, writer on religion” in a 2009 survey by The Economist’s 2009 Intelligent Life blog.

Hough — a Catholic — blogs at The Telegraph, and today he wrote something that caught my eye in his post Why haven’t you written anything about Gosnell?:

I think that without religious faith it is hard to accept a zygote as equivalent in value to a fully formed child. I can understand that a non-religious person is going to see a scale of development in the nine months of pregnancy.

**

To broaden Hough’s discussion a little, I’d like to gently point out that not all religious faiths perceive these matters in the same way. Islam, for instance, has a Qur’anic passage that’s apposite in Sura 20, The Believers, 12-16:

Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay); Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create! After that, at length ye will die Again, on the Day of Judgment, will ye be raised up.

Getting into more detail, we find these ahadith — the first in Bukhari, Chapter 6, The Book of Menstruation, 312:

It is related from Anas ibn Malik that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Allah the Mighty and Majestic appoints an angel to every womb who says, ‘O Lord! A sperm drop! O Lord A clot! O Lord! A lump of flesh! ‘ Then if He desires to complete His creation, He does so and the angel asks, ‘Is it to be male or female? Wretched or happy? What is its provision? What is its life-span?’ This is all decreed in the mother’s womb.”

and the second in Bukhari Chapter 63, The Book of the Beginning of Creation, 3036:

It is related that ‘Abdullah said, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who is the truthful confirmed one, said, ‘The way that each of you is created is that you are gathered in your mother’s womb for forty days as a sperm-drop and then for a similar length of time as a blood-clot and then for a similar length of time as a lump of flesh. Then an angel is sent and he breathes the spirit into you and is encharged with four commandments: to write down your provision, your life-span, your actions, and whether you will be wretched or happy.

*

My Sources:

  • Qur’an 20, in the Yusuf Ali rendition

  • Bukhari, Book of Menstruation 312 the Aisha Bewley translation
  • Bukhari, Book of the Beginning of Creation, 3036 also in the Bewley translation
  • **

    Here Stephen Hough plays Camille Saint-Saëns‘ Piano Concerto 2 in G minor Op. 22 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo conducting:

    blockquote>

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site