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Archive for April, 2009

Recommended Reading…. in the Age of Piracy

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009


 Top Billing! Galrahn at Information Dissemination for his comprehensive Somali pirate blogging Observing the Obama Administration Somali Piracy Policy , Somalia is Bigger than Piracy Even as Piracy Dominates the News,  French Conduct Hostage Rescue Off Somalia – Updated , Captain Richard Phillips Rescued , Leveraging Success Going Forward, Somali Pirates Vow Revenge, Kaplan’s Elegant Decline Applied to Piracy  and Time to Plan and Weigh Options

Coming Anarchy:  “Stop calling them pirates”

Global Guerillas: PIRATES

Outside the Beltway (Schuler)Dealing With Somali Piracy (Updated)

HG’s World –  In the Finest Traditions of the United States Navy

SWJ BlogWeekend Piracy News, Opinion, Blog Roundup

David AxeSomali Pirates versus the Tuna Trade

Ok…that’s enough piracy for anyone lacking a peg leg and a parrot. Moving on……

A MENA Burst: Abu Muqawama on The Regionalization of Hizballah and Lounsbury on Reading Race in MENA: Black Imam of Mecca and American reads

A more granular take on Mideast cultural-political issues.

DEBATE: The Army’s Strategic Role  Dr. Steven Metz of SSI vs. Nathan Freier of CSIS

SEED –  The Living Robot

” Researchers have developed a robot capable of learning and interacting with the world using a biological brain.”

The Journal of DemocracyReading Russia: The Siloviki in Charge

Thomas P.M. Barnettbanning nuclear weapons is a foolish dream and a waste of Obama’s limited political capital in national security affairs

 Tom’s 100 % correct. The folks pushing this, who include conservative Republican elder statesmen who know better, if they succeeded, would breathe new life into great power war ( our last round, WWII, cost 60 million dead) and give a huge edge to dictators who could produce a small arsenal of atomic bombs in secret.

That’s it!

The Colombianization of Mexico

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

One of my Twitteramigas pointed this out. A re-post from STRATFOR:

Mexico: The Third War

….Then there is a third war being waged in Mexico, though because of its nature it is a bit more subdued. It does not get the same degree of international media attention generated by the running gun battles and grenade and RPG attacks. However, it is no less real, and in many ways it is more dangerous to innocent civilians (as well as foreign tourists and business travelers) than the pitched battles between the cartels and the Mexican government. This third war is the war being waged on the Mexican population by criminals who may or may not be involved with the cartels. Unlike the other battles, where cartel members or government forces are the primary targets and civilians are only killed as collateral damage, on this battlefront, civilians are squarely in the crosshairs.

There are many different shapes and sizes of criminal gangs in Mexico. While many of them are in some way related to the drug cartels, others have various types of connections to law enforcement – indeed, some criminal groups are composed of active and retired cops. These various types of criminal gangs target civilians in a number of ways, including, robbery, burglary, carjacking, extortion, fraud and counterfeiting. But of all the crimes committed by these gangs, perhaps the one that creates the most widespread psychological and emotional damage is kidnapping, which also is one of the most underreported crimes. There is no accurate figure for the number of kidnappings that occur in Mexico each year. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and anecdotal accounts and, in the end, can produce only best-guess estimates. Despite this lack of hard data, however, there is little doubt – based even on the low end of these estimates – that Mexico has become the kidnapping capital of the world.

….Between these extremes there is a wide range of groups that fall somewhere in the middle. These are the groups that might target a bank vice president or branch manager rather than the bank’s CEO, or that might kidnap the owner of a restaurant or other small business rather than a wealthy industrialist. The presence of such a broad spectrum of kidnapping groups ensures that almost no segment of the population is immune from the kidnapping threat.

Colombia went through a similar cycle, opportunistic criminal gangs taking advantage of the accelerating civil war between the Colombian government, FARC and ELN in order to kidnap 25,000 + people per year. We can speculate that this state of affairs, where the civilian population was being chronically terrorized, was a precursor to the formation of the AUC Loyalist paramilitaries by the small businessmen and big landowner class, and promptly began clearing rural areas and small towns of rebels, rebel sympathizers, habitual criminals and family members of the same by savagely killing them off.

I will wager that Mexico is going to hit this phase in less than a year.

Slumdog Millionaire

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Watched this tonight and – against my preconceptions – found it to be an excellent film. I can understand why it’s phenomenal success may have caused mixed feelings in India but that underscores the universality of the film’s appeal. Some plot contrivance but impressed nonetheless.

Excess Complexity is the Route to Extinction

Friday, April 10th, 2009


Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, had an op-ed in FT.com entitled “Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world” (Hat tip to John Robb and Pundita). Taleb was addressing the global economic crisis, but I was particularly drawn to Taleb’s fifth principle, which has a more general implication:

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

Taleb has encapsulated many important concepts very well here. Up to a certain point, increasing complexity represents a advantage for an evolving system (biological, financial, physical etc.) by increasing efficiency through adding specialization, interconnection, diversification, redundancy and checks for mitigation of risks. Complexity, in the earlier part of a development curve can add to a system’s overall resiliency – to a point.

Superfluous complexity, that which goes beyond the minimum required for additional gains in systemic efficiency or productivity, is a net drag on the system, an economic waste, a source of friction, a cancer,  a useless eater of resources and the earliest sign of the system’s inevitable decay. Worse, excess complexity represents an increasing probability of systemic failure by multiplying the number of variables involved in the normal process of the system. There are more things that can go wrong and more choke points where a catastrophic failure can occur. Increasing the degree of complexity moves the system away from simplicity and reliability and toward chaos and the creativity of emergent properties, but like an ice skater seeking ever greater range, go too far and the ice will crack under one’s feet.

This is an effect familiar to engineers and scientists but one that appears to escape the majority of politicians, corporate executives and economists. My co-blogger at Chicago Boyz, Shannon Love,  took GE to task for trying to get on the Federal dole by advocating needlessly complicating the nation’s power grid:

If Your Grid Had a Brain

GE is advertising to build political support for Obama’s plan to purchase billions of dollars of GE tech in order to make the power grid “smart”.  After all, who would want a “dumb” anything when they could have a “smart” something? 

The reason we should keep things dumb is that in engineering the word “dumb” has a different connotation. In engineering, “dumb” means simple and reliable. 

Increasing complexity in any networked system increases possible points of failure. Worse, the more interconnected the system, i.e., the more any single component affects any other randomly selected component in the system, the faster point-failures spread to the entire system. Power grids are massively interconnected. Every blackout starts with a seemingly trivial problem that, like a pebble failing on a mountain side, triggers an avalanche of failure. 

In the social and political domain, back in the 1990’s Philip K. Howard wrote a book called The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America in which he detailed example after example of how the overlawyering of regulatory systems in America by an emerging and hyper-aggressive legal class was producing neither restraint on government abuses nor fine-tuned social outcomes but instead created a state of paralyzed rigidity, risk aversion, perverse incentives and general dysfunction; in other words, chaos instead of order.

The Obama-ites in the White House are not “socialists” ( at least not most of them) but there is a great love of liberal-minded technocracy there, and a seemingly boundless self-confidence in the ability of high-minded, upper-middle class, progressive, wonks and lawyers from the “good schools” (or investment houses – in some cases, both) to micromanage not just our lives for us, or even the United States of America but the global economy itself. Sort of a Superempowered Oligarchy of Good Feelings.

The ancient Greeks had a word for that: hubris. More importantly, the Obama-ites are wrong here – adding endless amounts of regulatory complexity is not going to give them the kind of granular control or positive returns that they seek to obtain from the system. Counterintuitively, they should be radically simplifying where and to the degree they safely can instead.

Historical Analysis at SWJ Blog

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Bill van Horn puts the COIN vs. Big Army debate into the larger context of the evolution of the U.S. Army since the Civil War, identifying structural changes that created a personnel system that emphasized individual military careers rather than long-term unit service:

The So-Called COIN Debate and Institutional Memory

…Small wars will not go away. They have always been a part of the international landscape, and show no signs of abating. While the Army should not abandon its conventional ability, it likewise cannot afford to shelve COIN/small wars/low intensity conflict again. As a succession of presidents have shown, overseas commitments will not decline just because the Army does not like them. In fact, they seem to become more common under idealistic administrations (Wilson, Clinton, G.W. Bush). Since the personnel system no longer allows the formation and retention of the Regular cadre that used to be the Army’s backbone for such operations, a conscious effort must be made on the part of the institution to preserve the hard-won lessons of our current small wars for future leaders and decision-makers.

….An Army that maintains and values its institutional COIN knowledge is well-placed to offer credible advice on the subject. War is war, but warfare has many shades, tones, and levels. Commanders who showed great battlefield ability and skill during the Civil War often foundered on the Frontier, and with disastrous results for the men under their command. Others performed with skill against one tribal group, only to fail when facing another. But those who built their reputations in the Civil War and then showed ability on the Frontier found themselves leading troops in the Philippines or providing advice to successive administrations prior to 1900. The Army cannot afford to lose that capability again.

Read the whole thing here:

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