Sunday, February 7, 2016

Echo Chamber? Only When Confronting the Incredibly Stupid

One of the best ways to piss me off is to dismiss expertise via calling experts "elites."  So, I woke up with this
 What was Mark reacting to? Ah, the folks who study national security find Ted Cruz's references to carpet-bombing to be appalling.  Not just from a moral standpoint, but from a standpoint of, dare I say it, expertise and experience: that we know that indiscriminate bombing does not work.  Bombing German cities did not reduce the economic production of the Nazi war machine until the last few months (one could say it served to distract German resources, but then again, the bombers were a distraction from allied resources and efforts as well).  Carpet bombing Vietnam was somewhat useful in bargaining but did not defeat the Viet Cong nor Vietnam.  Oh, and carpet bombing Cambodia?  Not good.  These experiences have created a consensus on the issue of carpet bombing by those who take national security seriously.

Is this consensus an echo chamber?  Probably not since the folks who study national security disagree on damn near everything, whether that is partition (not a fan, but many are), counterinsurgency strategies (contrast the Exums of the world with the Fousts), the effectiveness of drones, and on and on.  Cruz just happened to hit one of the few things upon which most national security folks agree--that carpet bombing is such a bad idea that it creates a consensus.  Indeed, I told Mark that it was really strange that he wanted to "die" on this particular hill....

This does not mean that there is a consensus on how to fight ISIL or on the efficacy of targeted bombing.  But those are different issues.

The broader problem with Mark's statement is the implication that those who study national security are wimpy effete elites--the reference to pinky extended wine glass holding.  Besides the fact that many of us prefer beer to wine, this statement is problematic because it suggests that manly men who are not wine-swillers are better judges of national security (I spent the earlier part of yesterday tweeting the twitter handles of a bunch of smart women who do international security stuff).  This is akin to, but perhaps not identical, to the frequent argument that only those with military experience can judge national security issues.  I always find this problematic precisely because we are better off having both military and civilian experts on this stuff--that civilian expertise serves as a check on the military.  Indeed, civilian control of the military, a fundamental aspect of modern democracy, requires voices outside of the military to provide some perspectives on the issues.  Otherwise, you just get Presidents and Prime Ministers simply doing what the Generals and Admirals want, and that is not always good (despite the Presidential candidates saying that they will exactly that--just listen to the military folks).

Perhaps there is a consensus these days among national security elites: that the Republican Party is producing presidential candidates who are mostly or entirely ignorant about national security, which leads to stupid statements and problematic stances.  It used to be the case that the Democrats were the party where ignorance of all that is military was a badge of honor.  These days, it is the GOP, and I would much prefer it if both parties saw expertise in these issues as a good thing, rather than something to disparage.  Because I know that calling something elite these days is supposed to be an insult.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Downside of Middle Age

Today, I learned that yet another man who played an important role at my summer camp long ago has died.  Ben Wenglin, who was the camp's mail man, died this week.  He was such a sweet man, who made a big impact despite having a pretty small yet central role.  Since I was a long time camper and one of the few who spent eight weeks (rather than the usual two or four) each summer there, we got to know each other a bit.  I didn't know that he had gotten hurt in World War II as one of Merrill's Marauders (predecessor to the modern Ranger Regiment), but that is something that tends to only be revealed at times like this.

Ben is the third man from that key part of my life to die in the past few years.  The math makes sense--camp was almost forty years ago, so the middle aged men who shaped that place are now departing.  Damn.

I have been lucky since I have lost few people (other than grandparents), but that is changing as I reach 50 soon.  When I talk to my friends, I find that most of them are dealing with sick parents or have recently lost one.  So, we are entering a time frame where losses begin to mount.  I am not looking forward to that part of getting older.

Life has been very good to me.  I am glad that we now have this social media stuff so that I can connect with those who were important to me long ago and find out the fates of those who mad ea difference in my life.  Ben, Mike, and Ed made such an impact not just on me but on generations of boys who went to that camp.  I am sad that they are gone, but glad that they were recognized and appreciated not just by me but by everyone who passed through Thurmont, Maryland in the 1970s-1980s.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My Iowa Gap

I haven't blogged about Iowa.  Why? Partly because I was in Japan last week, and partly because I would like to put Iowa in proper context by ignoring Iowa. 

Going first does not mean that Iowa selects the winners.  It does mean we get folks pandering to farmers, which is so good for the national interest except that it is awful in pretty much every way.  Otherwise, Iowa's impact is to affect the funders--who should they stop betting on?  Jeb! should be gone soon since his performance was pathetic, but this generation of his family has a shallow learning curve.  Rand has already gotten out.  The rest of the field should clear out, leaving the oh-so-joyful triumvirate of Trump, Rubio and Cruz.  Lovely. 

The GOP outcome only proves slightly less than the Dem outcome that this is all about expectations and the sports-like punditry.  I get driven crazy during various playoffs, where the opinions flip after every game if the outcome is different from game to game.  It might just be that a three point outcome in one basketball game should not shift expectations that much.  Well, the same here: if this were a poll, all of the results are solidly in the margin of error.  The closeness of the results really means we cannot read much in the way of momentum or anything about the outcomes elsewhere (especially since Iowa is not representative of anything and its caucus system is certainly not the normal way delegates are distributed). 

I have to run to class, but my major point I'd like to make about Iowa is: so glad it is over and let's not think too much about its meaning.  On to NH, another not so representative state that also does not pick winners but does help to pick losers.  Once NH is over, the awful ads that we sometimes get via our Canadian feeds will disappear for a while, and that will be progress.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Hate Decathlon

Trump's pandering to the haters knows no bounds.  He has now taken a stance against marriage equality, so that adds another category to his list of targets.  Let's take a look at the completed events in his Hate competition:

Tis no wonder that white supremacists are some of his biggest fans.  Of course, #notallTrumpsupporters are racists, but Trump has been making racism a key part of his campaign.  So, voting for him means that one is at least tolerant of racism, if not an out-and-out racist. 

Comparative Provocation

One of the issues that kept coming up in the weeklong visit to Japan is the Senkaku islands dispute.  Japan has them, China wants them.  What puzzles me is Japan's military stance.  One of the questions I have been asking lately for pretty much everyone is that China and Russia are not the only actors that can play the anti-access/area denial game of developing weapons (anti-air and anti-ship missiles, subs, etc). 

If China is threatening these islands, why not put some defenses in place that would raise the costs of an attack--to create some deterrence? The answer? This would be too provocative.

So, what is Japan doing?  It is building up its capacity to take back the islands if the Chinese take them. This means aircraft carriers that are not called such things and amphibious ships to land troops.  There are two problems with this:
  1. Folks in the neighborhood might just be provoked bigtime but Japan developing these capabilities.  
  2. Trying to take back lost territory is far likelier to cause a dispute to escalate than placing some weapons.  The scenario would play out thusly: China takes some islands and then tells Japan if you try to take them back, we will escalate.  Um and then what?

So, I am confused.  Perhaps Japan has only lousy choices from which to choose, but the choice of developing the ability to project power via helicopter carriers and amphib stuff seems the most problematic.  What say you?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kyoto Trip Report

Yesterday, we took a bullet train to Kyoto, did some tourism, and then took the bullet train back to Japan.  The trains do, indeed, run on time.

Anyhow, we did three things in Kyoto: a tea ceremony, we visited a beautiful set of shrines, and we shopped in the touristy area near the shrines.  Pics and captions below:
Tea Selfie

Our Tea Hostess

Lots of folks going up or down to/from shrines

Gates and shrines

The folks wearing kimonos and such
were apparently mostly Chinese/Korean tourists who rent
the stuff for the day

Worshiping folks

Shrine dedicated to single people looking to pray for love

Lots of trains as they came and went with much frequency

Random Observations At the End of the Trip

I plan to post at least one piece that thinks through what I have learned from my week in Japan, but I want to get back to North America and ponder a bit.  So, this post is about a few things I noticed along the way.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ignorant? Yep

I got into a twitter conversation with a Trump fan, and I used the word ignorant to describe Trump supporters.  The supporter then used it to describe me when I answered her question about who I supported (more on that later).  Who used the word correctly?  Well, me, of course.

From wikipedia:
Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge). The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware and is often used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts.
I can be confident that I am not so ignorant since I have a pretty good understanding of the policies my preferred candidate advocates because, um, that person has actually specified the policy stances and has a track record.  And I pay attention, more or less, to politics all the time,  not just every four years.

Do Trump fans know what Trump's record is?  What he will do if elected?  Mostly not. How can I be so sure (I am not ignorant but arrogant, sure!)?  First, Trump does not have much in the way of established policy stances--he mostly has a series of inconsistent statements.  Second, as Colbert has shown recently, Trump tends to take conflicting stances so that it really depends on which day you catch Trump--some days he might support the policy ignorant Trumpkin might like and then oppose them a few days later.    

More importantly, the second part of the definition above applies so very strongly to Trumpkins.  When I raised Trump's xenophobia, racism and misogyny, the Trump fan said that his employees liked him.  WTF?  A) Really?  Do his employees (the ones who still have jobs, not those who lost them in various bankruptcies) really find Trump's management to be so swell?  B) Holy deliberate disregard for the important info--Trump's frequently slurs towards pretty much anyone who is not-white.  I mean, the white supremacists get it, as they see Trump as their best recruiting tool (which gives them something in common with ISIS).

When I mentioned that Trump is actually behind what he would have earned had he just left his money play in the market (he inherited billions and then has lost billions), that he has bankrupted several times, the response is everyone gets a few do-overs.  No, it strikes to the core of his message--that he is a good businessman.  No, he is not.  He is a great self-promoter, but his business acumen?  Meh.  Also, politics is not business, so even if he were a good businessman, so his governing would be a nightmare.

Why do I bother with this?  Just getting it of my system.  I know that the Trump fans will not read this.  I know that they will not seek out the real info about Trump and his stances.  They just want to be entertained and hear someone who can be angry, who can be racist, who can be misogynist, and get away with it.

Saddest Day in History

Not sure August 6th, 1945 is the saddest day in history, but it is definitely in the competition.  I went to the Hiroshima Museum this afternoon as part of the tour of Japan.  I think the last time I was this moved and this sad was when I visited Dachau in 1987.  The displays were just incredibly sad, featuring many burned/torn/tattered kids' clothes, among other objects.