That Whole Rigamarole

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Pining for Containment

Here's a gem from anAP story on the President's speech tonight:

Neither he nor his advisers explained why the Middle East peace process made no major advances while Saddam was contained in the 1990s.

This is mentioned in part because the reporter and headline play up the President's remarks about Iraq forming a starting point for peace in the region.

Let's just think back and contemplate the "peace process" of the 1990s. Can we accept that maybe the fact that Arafat did not keep any of the promises he made in the Oslo agreement hindered progress? And can we also accept that perhaps Saddam was not entirely contained during the preceding 12 years? This very same story mentions Iraqi support for suicide (or homicide) bombers, with the disclaimer that Iraq denies that accusation. (Which is news to me, by the way. I thought it was official Iraq policy, but even so I suppose they could still deny it.) Of course there is also the matter of Iraqi assistance for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the sundry other terrorist outfits, none of which was truly helpful to the peace process.

In short, what a stupid or disingenous little nugget to include in a straight news story about the speech.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Shuttle Update

This story from the AP hints at some of the dynamics I blogged about on the Saturday the Columbia broke up. I don't think this story says much that is new. The NASA engineers were concerned about the debris that departed the fuel tank and apparently hit the orbiter. The story suggests that they were anticipating trouble with the tires. It mentions a catastrophic failure result from a tire blowing up, but that's from last week and I don't know what it refers to. The e-mail that occasioned this story was apparently about risks and procedures for landing with a blown tire. I would certainly hope that hazard had been anticipated and planned for years ago. Hopefully this message traffic was the various engineers confirming the course of action in that event.

Nothing here suggests that even if the engineers had concluded that the orbiter might be in very deep trouble before re-entry, there was any better course available than to try to return.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

E2 Stampede Update

Susanna Cornett has this post on the E2 Stampede story and Jesse Jackson. The comments include one by erstwhile Chicago insider and sometime blogger Spoons.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

An Actual Reader!

I got an e-mail from someone who found this blog by means other than being prodded by me. He was interested in the E2 night club story that is the top of Chicago news right now. So here are some more links on this tragic but fascinating story:

Chicago's Black Heavy Hitters Line Up (Tribune)

John Kass on the powerless Mayor (Tribune)

Tribune's Round-up

General AP Story (Sun-Times)

I am not a media critic or a newspaperman, but the Sun-Times doesn't seem to be on this the way the Tribune is. If you want the very brief summary: stampede; 21 deaths; history of numerous police incidents; club owner was Jesse Jackson's lawyer, prominent black Chicagoan; club in chronic, open violation of court order to close; Mayor Daley backpedaling from any City responsibility to enforce the order; calls for independent investigations. Oh, and the Soviet-style mayoral election is in a week.

The galling thing about this story for me, and why I am following it closely is that Chicago employs legions of bureaucrats, cronies, and outright thugs who can be dispatched for a bewildering array of activities when it suits the power structure in general and Mayor Daley in particular. Read the John Kass column linked above for more detail on how this works. But somehow it is no agency's responsibility to enforce the orders of the housing court. I guess one solution would be to disband the housing court and spend the money on something important, such as more planters or the new football stadium. Something tells me though, that court orders against the average citizen get more follow-through, even though no one is in charge of that.

Monday, February 17, 2003

The Chicago Way

The big news in Chicago today is of course the night club stampede. It is proving to be another fine example of how Chicago has a government suitable for a Third World capital. The premises had no occupancy permit for the second floor, that having been denied by court order in July 2002. Yet, somehow, the business owners continued to operate it as a location for large parties. They went so far as to purchase radio advertising.

All the King's horses and all the King's men could not manage to enforce the City's building codes. Even someone like me who has never lived in Chicago and is pretty new to the region is savvy enough to suspect that someone influential is involved. One of the club owners (separate from the building owners) is a former Cook County Sheriff's Deputy (purported by WLS this afternoon to have been removed from the department pursuant to a shooting) who has had dealings in the past with figures as colorful as Mr. T and Mike Tyson. So he has some connections, apparently. And then there is this, from the linked story:
Records in the Illinois secretary of state's office list Dwain Kyles as the owner and principal officer of Le Mirage. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, a close friend of Kyles' father, said the younger Kyles voluntarily submitted to police questioning for several hours Monday afternoon.

So that explains Rev. Jackson's quick transition from London peace creepery on Sunday to South Side pastor on Monday. I thought it was just particularly obvious ambulance-chasing, but there may be more to it. Jackson is a pretty heavy hitter in Chicago, with one son a Congressman and another a Budweiser distributor (I know who got the better gig.) So these club owners may have benefited from the Jackson clout, helping to keep the Police, Sheriff, building inspectors, liquor control, and the alderman at bay. With 21 corpses to answer for, some serious damage control was in order.

But hey, it's The City that Works. They've got a $400M Millenium Park (open Real Soon Now) and a $600M stadium for the wealthy people who own the Bears, but some kind of inability to padlock an unsafe night club and keep it shut down. Oh, and a Soviet-style mayoral election in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Duct Tape: The Real Story

I have somewhere around here a Red Cross brochure about terrorism preparedness that includes what may be the original suggestion for duct tape. I'm pretty sure it was mentioned as part of a little routine they like to call "shelter in place." You are supposed to turn off the gas and the furnace, get in a windowless room on the first floor (not the basement), and seal up the door and any vents. That's what the duct tape is for. What I can't remember is what event would require "shelter in place." Some pretty significant chemical attack, I guess. People are making fun of the whole duct tape hysteria thing, which I understand. On the other hand, the "shelter in place" drill might be pretty handy in certain instances, and sounds just crazy enough to work.

The Phantom Deadline

I watched Condoleeza Rice on Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press this morning. She is always fantastic at presenting herself in public. She declined several opportunities to state a specific date for the end of the "diplomatic window" that we are in. Russert in particular was hung up on 14 March (apparently the due date for another report from the inspectors) as an important date. Dr. Rice would not ascribe any significance to that date or to the report. As an optimist, I take that to be a sign that we will be at war with or without UN approval before then. I suspect that pessimists will assume that her circumspection means that we intend to dither past that date.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Cross-Blog Debate Answers

1. Attacking Iraq has been publicly called a "pre-emption" of a threat from Saddam Hussein's regime, whose sins include launching regional wars of aggression. Do you think there is a clear and reliable difference between pre-emptive and aggressive warfare, and if so, what is it?
Yes. Let’s define some terms, though. Pre-emptive warfare: attacking an enemy that poses a clear threat to the safety and security of the nation before the threat is realized. Aggressive warfare: warfare in pursuit of political goals other than defending the safety and security of the nation. So the straight answer to the question is: “One has the component of defending the nation from a threat, the other does not.”
But I suppose that the implication of the question is that the impending war with Iraq is really aggressive warfare, despite the claims of the Administration that it’s pre-emptive self defense. There is probably no way for the general public to know with certainty, a priori, which is the truth. If one trusts the Administration (as I do) then one is prepared to take them at their word, especially since their word squares with years of history and the present facts as I understand them. For example, if the war was simply to get the oil flowing, the easiest way would be to play along with UN and lift the sanctions.
I can’t imagine that people really think we will seize the oil fields in Iraq and give them to ExxonMobil. That would be political suicide, which is something that elected governments actively avoid. Fascist dictators have no comparable brake on their aspirations.

2. What do you feel are the prospects that an invasion of Iraq will succeed in a) maintaining it as a stable entity and b) in turning it into a democracy? Are there any precedents in the past 50 years that influence your answer?
Post-war Iraq could be a mess of tribal contention, or it could turn into a stable democratic regime. There’s no reliable way to know in advance which it will be. We can observe that the long-term trend is for more democracies on the planet. People used to suppose that Asians weren’t compatible with democratic governments, but obviously they are. In the wake of the collapse of communist governments in eastern Europe, people were not sure if there would be stable governments in places like Poland and Romania. That entire region seems to have done much better than many were expecting. So democracy can take root under difficult circumstances, no question.
But besides all that, we need to kill Saddam Hussein to help ensure the safety of our population and the people of Iraq. We can worry about what happens after, after.

3. How successful do you think the military operations and "regime change" in Afghanistan have been in achieving their stated objectives? Does this example affect your feelings about war in Iraq in any way?
My assessment is that those activities have been very successful indeed. They have undoubtedly preserved thousands of Afghan lives. They appear to have put a serious crimp in al Qaeda’s style. The number of casualties for the allied forces at work there seems remarkably low given what they have accomplished. These successes give me hope for similar success in Iraq.

4. As a basis for war, the Bush Administration accuses Iraq of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), supporting terrorism, and brutalizing their own people. Since Iraq is not the only country engaged in these actions, under what circumstances should the US go to war with other such nations, in addition to going to war with Iraq?
We should go to war with those other nations when other options for preserving our national interests appear to be inferior. There are many, many factors affecting that evaluation, including political support and military realities. The use of force against, for example, Iran may prove to be unnecessary. The people there may in the process of deposing their Islamist masters. We should let them try. Moving several thousand troops in next door will help buck them up.
Going to war with North Korea may involve the destruction of Seoul by artillery barrage and God only knows what else if they have a nuke or two. We need to tread very lightly there, and consult with our allies in South Korea and Japan. China may also be helpful.

5. The Bush Administration has issued numerous allegations about the threat represented by Iraq, many of which have been criticized in some quarters as hearsay, speculation or misstatements. Which of the Administration's allegations do you feel stand up best to those criticisms?
My personal bugaboo is VX nerve agent. Saddam was known by the UN to have tons of the stuff, and it’s not accounted for. I’m not aware that any sane person has denied those facts. That weapon alone is sufficient in my mind to do what we are about to do, given Saddam’s reckless history. It’s sufficient to kill many thousands of Americans, and it’s not that hard to deliver. These attacks could take place in America tomorrow, and Saddam could deny involvement, and the anti-war people here and around the world would demand still more proof and forbearance. The proof may be impossible to obtain, and our forbearance has been officially exhausted (see resolutions of the US Congress and UNSC Resolution 1441.)

That was really pretty easy. I can’t imagine why everybody doesn’t agree with me!

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

More Osama?

WLS reported on the noon newscast that there is another al Qaeda message coming soon from an Arab television network (presumably al Jazeera.) They indicated that Colin Powell is "sure" this is from bin Laden, has seen the transcript, and that the transcript indicates a link with Iraq. Will we see some people do a quick flip on the question of bin Laden's health? I have thought that he is probably dead, but a message like this from a living bin Laden would should come in handy for my warmongering. On the other hand, those who having been saying for months that he lives may change their minds if he's going to come out and make the US case like this.

There's also this story on al Qaeda in Iraq and Iran, from the US intelligence apparatus.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Very Serious Consequences Indeed

I watched Fox News Sunday today. One of the guests was Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan). He used the word "complete" in connection with weapons inspection in Iraq several times, as in (paraphrasing) "allow time for inspections to be completed."

I can't imagine what that means in this context, and the Senator didn't explain it. I suppose that if Iraq had really provided a complete declaration of their WMD programs, then the inspectors would be going around to verify all the statements in the declaration. But of course the declaration is incomplete in many important respects, so don't we know that the inspections can never be completed under these circumstances?

Brit Hume pressed the Senator closely on whether he agreed that Iraq is in material breach of UNSCR 1441. Levin agreed that they are. Hume asked the Senator to define what he thought "serious consequences" would be. His answer: more inspections. That is the formulation that has produced 12 years of dithering and has pushed the UN to the brink of total irrelevancy.

The Senator also thought we should give the UN all of our intelligence about banned Iraqi weapons programs. That would be an excellent step to enhance Iraq's ability to hide these programs from us, and to burn our intelligence sources. I wonder how Carl Levin figures the Iraqis are finding out what facilities they need to sanitize? Does anybody think that none of the inspectors have been bought off?

Fox identified Carl Levin as a national security expert, but I can't for the life of me understand why.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Fog of War

I've been meaning for the longest time to post on the matter the possible court-martial of Majors Schmidt and Umbach of the Illinois Air National Guard. There really is no good end that can come out of this tragic mistake, but I've found some of the statements curious. There is a viewpoint out there that the defendants should not have been so much as subjected to an Article 32 hearing. I don't think it's realistic to expect that an incident in which allied forces are killed is going to be handled in an entirely administrative manner. That would have damaged the credibility of the Air Force, and suggested that they are not serious about examining their operations. There are plenty of people around with doubts about the military justice system, and not investigating this incident would reinforce those doubts.

I have heard some people express the sentiment that this honest mistake should not be turned into an occasion to end the careers of these men. I'm pretty sure their military flying careers are effectively over no matter what course the matter takes. But I also think we owe the families of the dead Canadian infantrymen a trial. I've also read the argument that this is a political exercise, because most friendly fire incidents don't receive this level of scrutiny. That's probably true, but then again most such incidents don't feature someone disregarding a direct warning to hold fire. To me that is the feature of this incident that almost mandates a court-martial.

I also have a little theory about how the court-martial is being set up. I think the potential defendants are being "over-charged." The most serious charge is involuntary manslaughter. If I understand the definitions correctly, the prosecution will have to show "culpable negligence." That seems as though it will be difficult to establish. A more appropriate charge might be negligent homicide. The punishments available for a conviction on that charge are still pretty steep, and it would seem much easier to prove. My little theory is that these pilots, and the Marine aviators who knocked down the cable car in Italy, were charged as they were precisely to enable their acquittals. In the Marines' case, I believe that I heard they went out and flew their low-level route without knowing the airspeed restrictions on the route. That seems like simple negligence to me, but the court saw it differently. In this Afghanistan case, there are a couple of elements that strike me as negligent. One is the aforementioned disregard of the AWACS call. The other is the decision to attack this target instead of simply flying away. My understanding is that the F-16s observed small arms fire. That is not much of a threat to a modern high-performance fighter aircraft. Infantrymen are generally taught to engage aircraft with small arms only if the aircraft is attacking them directly, because infantry weapons are not very effective against aircraft. "Leave him alone, and maybe he'll go away" is the best approach when aircraft are about and one has no anti-aircraft weapons.

To sum up, the publically available information on this incident is such that I think a court-martial is definitely warranted. I don't think I'm pre-judging these men, but there are bigger issues at stake than their careers.

A Real Blog?

Rand Simberg provided my first link from a blog that people actually read. So I apologize for the general lameness of this web log. I won't even know if anyone followed Rand over here, because I haven't figured out how to install a hit counter and place it in a location that I like. But I wonder if I'm not better off to just not know about the hit count. Is that really the point?

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Thinking Back to Challenger

I thought today a little about the Challenger accident. There's a very good book by Edward R. Tufte that includes an interesting treatment of that accident. He points out that the Challenger accident has served as an example for a wide variety studies of engineering tools. I have seen that accident used to illustrate a set of techniques knows as TRIZ; Failure Mode and Effects Analysis; Fault Tree Analysis; and I'm sure that there are dozens or hundreds more.

Tufte writes about communicating through graphics. He points out in this book that the engineers at Morton Thiokol essentially understood the relationship of o-ring performance and cold weather. They had some data. What they couldn't seem to do is present those data in a way that clarified the risk of launching the Challenger on that January morning in 1986. Tufte shows how, with just a modicum of graphical savvy and the data they already had, they could have made the risk very clear indeed. It's one of the saddest things I've ever read.

With regard to today's loss of Columbia, the scenario involving damage from a piece falling off the system during launch is very suggestive. I heard this described briefly on television this morning, and the reporter mentioned that the engineers had examined the possibilities of damage and concluded that there was no cause for concern. I thought "How would they know what damage had been done?" I don't remember hearing about any EVAs on this mission, but I don't follow it closely. What occurred to me was the possibility that they had no choice even if the damage was thought to be potentially catastrophic. How would they get down? Go to the Space Station and wait for another Shuttle? How would that work?

I can easily envision a case in which engineers can't really provide solid information about whether the vehicle is safe to re-enter, and without a convincing disaster scenario, all the pressure is going to be for the vehicle to come back. I was reminded of Dilbert author Scott Adams observing about engineers that if they do a really great job, they get a certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame. If they do a poor job, people get killed and the engineers get the blame. We may see that play out before long.

Overcome by Events

I was going to write a little about being inspired by Colby Cosh to watch some of the 1980 NHL All-Star Game on ESPN Classic last night, but now I guess I won't. Who's interested in that in the face of spectacular death?

There is an odd connection for me between Colby and this morning's loss of Columbia. I wrote him last weekend to say in part how sad I was that I didn't feel like wearing my Canadian Olympic team sweatshirt in public any more. That was based on all the pontification by the Canadian government about the war. Then, in the wake of this morning's accident comes the news via InstaPundit that the CBC is first out of the blocks to blame "American Arrogance."

I hope that there are still people up there who will take back the Government and begin to revisit their thinking about us Americans. They seem have gone over to the "Old Europe" coalition, which very shortly will be shown once again to be on the wrong side of history. Canada is next to the US, and her fate is bound more closely to ours than to the Europeans they seem to want to emulate. Come back to us, Canada. Don't throw in with those people.