Archive for the 'defense' Category


Kirsten Gillibrand and Sexual Assault

I first learned about the sexual assault problem in the military from a podcast I listened to while running. I was absolutely appalled by the statistics and had to suspend my run out of outrage.

So, I’m very interested in following the bill proposed by Kirsten Gillibrand (senate D NY) that will take certain military justice cases out of the chain of command. I think this is pretty commonsense, though there is a rival bill to combat sexual assault while leaving the chain of command intact.

If you are concerned about this issue, here are two easy things to do.

1. Track the bill, you can go here and just sign up to get updates about what is happening to Sen. Gillibrand’s bill.

2. Track the senate armed service committee so you can see who is supporting this and who is opposing it. I doubt anyone will outright oppose this bill, though they might vote for its rival bill.


Iran has submarines?

This site is, I think, one of the best sites on the internet for foreign policy news and commentary. It’s just great. It’s so good that it charges to be a member, and quite honestly I would like to if I were richer. So look at this, but understand that you can’t see the whole article and I couldn’t either.

Iran has submarines? No way! I love all things related to submarines because they are a kind of terrorist of the seas. They are asymmetrical because a well operated diesel (old tech submarine) can be very quiet and so be a very real threat to even sophisticated navys. It’s also interesting to me that this if the first time Iran has deployed to the Red Sea. Maybe they’re thinking about making some big moves. I’m not sure.

What should the U.S. response be? I have no idea. Maybe follow them around all day bombarding their sonar operators with active pings to make them go insane? It seems like at the very least we should try to get some good data. Do the Iranians know how to work these things with any competence? Tech is nothing without training. I believe the Chinese air force has more planes than us, but since they are so poorly trained, its kind of dangerous for most of them to ever take off. Win for us, for now.


Petrodollars don’t fund repression

The website I’ve been working on for a long time has finally launched its new interface and its really cool. I’m an editor and I also write for it (as do some of my friends) and I have some cool stuff coming out. Check it all out at

I saw this today which seems like a reputable, recent, quite well done paper. But the result is also incredible, which is that high oil prices do not help repressive regimes fund their repression. Now, in one sense, I can agree with this, because I think optimal profits from oil revenue come at around 40-50 dollars a barrel. So that at high prices, money per barrel goes up, but total barrels is going down because of conservation efforts that start making sense at higher prices (all of a sudden oil is so expensive that it makes sense to have your pizza delivery boys bike their deliveries, no matter how cold the pizza gets) This is oil elasticity stuff that some people spend their whole lives doing.

But this study doesn’t say that (well it doesn’t give that rationale), it just says that there is no link between prices and democracy, looked at from a rigorous statistical perspective. Really? If oil went to $10 a barrel, Saudi Arabia wouldn’t have to think about not spending 10% of its GDP on the military?

I guess, to be fair, the article’s conclusion, that there is no general relationship between democracy and oil prices, is compatible with thinking there is such a relationship in specific countries.

What does it all mean? Two things. One is that we don’t have feel so guilty about using oil cause it doesn’t fuel repression. Its a kind of “oil doesn’t kill people, oil dictators kill people” result.

Second, any argument for getting off of foreign oil will have to be pretty heavily (almost exclusively) environmentally based. Environmentalists step up.

(look at this for the opposite perspective)


Media Haze (I think this post turned out well)

As I’ve mentioned before, I surf the news sites in the morning for my job, so I’m starting to get a real feel for the news world. It’s kind of a cool experience, because I’m learning what will quote “play in Peoria” when it comes to story ideas. I’m also getting to feel the currents of the “news cycle,” a system just like an economy — controlled by thousands of interactions yet has meaningful and understandable macro trends. A stock market analyst tries to listen in to those trends to make money and rack up dollars, and publicity and news people try to listen to the heartbeat of the news in order to rack up eyeballs and people (and nowadays, for money as well).

So I’ve also started to understand what the news is about a little more deeply. I used to think that it was crap, and I think it still kind of is, but I guess the purpose of it was never really to be READ in the sense that one reads a novel or a philosophy book. For these types of writing, one READS it. You take the thing on its own merits and in an intense, engaging way. The news, and I’m not saying it is worse for this fact, is not meant to be READ in that way. Instead, its browsed, looked over, and kind of “soaked in” like one would take a shower. Through these interactions with many pieces, some good, some ok, and most bad, you start to get a feeling for the “beat” or the “rhythm” of the world (or your country or whatever). You start to come into contact with what some have called the collective unconscious, and once you’ve tapped into this behind the scenes, economy of psychological fragments, half ideas, and discarded bits of cultural insights, you gain something, though it is not a knowledge of a type of argument, and you certainly gain nothing like clarity.

Instead, the news cycle is to think tank and journal writing what the mystic or prophet is to the philosopher. One teaches wisdom while the other teaches knowledge (and you know, if you follow this blog, that I don’t at all mean to say that the latter is superior than the former).

Part of how the news allows us to gain wisdom about society is partly because it simply reports facts.  The news may not report all of them, and it may not report only them, but it does report some facts. This is partly how we get in touch with what’s “going on around us.” But through the opinions and videos and snide remarks, we also get in touch with what people are “feeling around us.” We build a rough hunch about the “mood” of the country and in the process of twittering through micro-arguments and sifting through reader comments, and analyzing back-biting and counter back-biting, we come to make some judgments about things. They are easily manipulable and whimsical, but they are the intuitive ways that society organizes its knowledge for the day ahead. Science regiments and organizes our society’s knowledge on a grand scale, and in a slow but implacable way. News on the other hand is science just for today, just for the revolution, or the insult, or the joke. Everyone makes use of it to guide their everyday, intuitive stuff, and that’s its connection to wisdom.

Of course though, I can’t resist constantly engaging with this media haze — this cauldron of automatic-half-insights — and revealing its silliness and its flaws, and its unreasonableness when one takes a different perspective. When one takes the eternal perspective, or the view from nowhere, or the view from forever (rather than the view from here and from now — *see below for some more stuff on this).

So here I am, suggesting that you look at this so you can see how the average article smashes together ideas and concepts that should be kept separate. The point of this article is that people who use OBL’s death as a justification for torture are engaging in torture creep, at first saying that its use is justified for ticking time bomb scenarios and then saying that its used anytime it will bag us a terrorist. This is “torture creep” as the article says. But wait, who really said that? The only thing I’ve heard is that Bin Laden’s capture was a positive for aggressive interrogation. Now one can dispute that claim, but I didn’t really see anyone who said that now torture is justified anytime it can be used to marginally improve our safety (maybe some lunatics say it, but I mean real people).

Also, it’s a confusion to call aggressive interrogation torture. Maybe waterboarding is torture, but aggressive interrogation consists of a very specific number of things including temperature manipulation and slapping (read the memos). Other stuff too, and not all of it shocking at all. In the CIA black sites, techniques were authorized very specifically and overseen carefully: in many cases people who were aggressively interrogated were NOT tortured. The sane person thinks “huh, maybe aggressive interrogation can yield some good information,” contrary to those who think that all this kind of interrogation does is produce falsehoods. In other words, there are some real and complex debates here, not the simply “torture creep” narrative which comes out of nowhere.

Why is the media coverage of the day to day so hazy? Well, I think its because careful thinking requires an ongoing overriding of our natural dispositions (that’s why fallacies of various types are so common: they are so natural). So, it’s hard to carefully think enough to get something out. Instead, you have to WRITE A LOT. If you want to do news and blogging, your ideas are always coming out, never being formed; there’s just no time to see all the ways in which they are wrong. That’s what academics are for.

*Notice that “here” and “now,” what philosophers call indexicals, are paradigmatic news words, and fitting with my thesis, they are not amenable to scientific or “objective” study? Why? Well they are intrinsically first personal. Of course, for any individual sentence someone says like “it’s raining here” there is a translation in terms of non-indexicals. If I say that sentence in Boston, then one can rewrite my sentence as “It’s raining in Boston.” But the concept of “here” cannot enter into scientific study or explanation because it, as its namesake indicates, is indexed to a person and to their particular location on the world. What is here for me is there for you.


Deterrence from the other side

So last post, I talked about how Bin Laden’s death would have serious deterrence consequences for U.S. foreign policy, and that such effects would increase our safety.

Today I want to just weigh in on the 2012 race speculation. One thing political scientists have noted about candidates is that they are opportunistic. Really good candidates are usually savvier than the run of the mill politician and so are more strategic about when they run. You could think of good candidates as sharks that like to circle the electoral waters when they sense weakness.

But now since Obama looks decidedly unweak,  the FIELD of republican candidates might be altered. Unfortunately, the best republican candidates are probably already declared (Romney), so this may not result in too much change. On the other hand, the candidates who are waiting may continue to wait once they see that Obama is so popular and has such a feather in his record. (see the prizefighter paper in the  “my favorite papers” section which explains electoral strategy.)

Imagine how many times “I got Bin Laden” is going to come up in any presidential debate. WOW.

Also imagine how upset (well not upset, he’s happy we got Bin Laden) you must be to be Romney. You’ve been positioning for years and once you get your political shot, you’ve got a tough opponent already, but then he goes and score the foreign policy coup of the last 20 years probably.

People go back and forth on this, but I think Obama is  going to be VERY HARD to beat in 2012. Then again, things move quick in politics. Some serious gaff  elsewhere could bring him right back within striking distance.

The main reason that the Bin Laden killing makes me more supportive of Obama is that it provides data for what is usually an X factor that is hard to get at — presidential competence.

ANYONE can take a stance on things. I can say “O I believe in X, Y, and Z” and just check off issue boxes. But the other thing about presidents is can they LEAD. Can they keep their team together and make good decisions and work deals with other countries and legislators that advances the national interest. From all the evidence I have related to the Bin Laden death, Obama can REALLY do that shit. I mean, after all, I don’t think  clandestine military operations in other countries just come together.


Trying to say something new about Bin Laden

Here’s my attempt to say something that hasn’t been said before in Bin Laden. It’s going to be hard, because one problem with an extremely rapid information economy is that pretty much every idea gets said (in usually a factually incorrect and superficial way) right way — and I’m going to contribute to that I guess.

It’s already very common to see articles saying that killing Bin Laden doesn’t really do anything to make the U.S. more secure because terror groups will continue operating, like a hydra, even though one of its many heads has been cut off.

Ok fair enough, but this ignores what I think is really quite a mind boggling conclusion: the U.S government actually did a really good job with this and our DETERRENCE has been boosted immeasurably. Let’s pretend that for every crime that you committed, you would be punished in ten years, with a probability of 1 (certainty). This would drastically reduce crime. There have been a ton of studies confirming that certainty is a huge factor.

So, the U.S., by keeping its political eye on the prize as it were, has manifested an unprecedented ability to connect an action with a counteraction. Many political decisions have no such bite because the tides of politics comes and goes, a subsidy is switched on and then back off. One group puts in a tax break and another takes it right back. The government of any country rarely sets a goal so ruthlessly in mind and then so effectively pursues it (is the space race a counterexample?).

In the Bin Laden kill, the U.S. kept this intensity and focus over the course of a decade and two presidencies, AFTER George Bush blew it in Afghanistan (most people know I’m not a partisan, so at least consider believing me when I say I’ve read A LOT about those Afghanistan days, and we really screwed up. We could have probably gotten Bin Laden there and then.) So, what this killing shows is not that the “leader” of Al Qaeda is dead (there is no such thing for Al Qaeda) but rather the the planners and executors of specific actions against the U.S. can expect a certain IMPLACABLE retaliation.

If you’re really following this post, you’re saying to yourself “but Jordan, the sample size here is only 1. No terrorist will make an inductive inference based on n=1 (one instance).” The next terrorist is just as likely to conclude that THEY can get away with things. Wrong, psychology is very powerful here, and all the salient psychological factors play the U.S.’s way in this. What I mean is that the human brain assesses risk very poorly, and it draws on all sorts of irrelevant things to make an assessment of how risky something is. That’s why flying can scare some people, because for all our risk-assessing apparatus knows, we should not be 30,000 feet above the earth. Same goes for would-be terrorists. Sure, you can shoot up some marine barracks or plant some IEDs. That won’t earn you the ire of the entire U.S. military/political establishment, but planning a major operation that succeeds in hurting a lot of Americans is likely to bring to mind vivid images of black men in helicopters coming in the night to shoot you and your closest friends. That is an image that is hard to endure for any length of time. I’m pretty firmly convinced that Bin Laden must have been going insane (he already was in one way) hiding out in his compound, learning about the outside world only through runners and couriers.

Ironically, that is perhaps the most powerful type of TERRORISM available, and the U.S. right now, is its master.

Unbelievably, wikileaks could have really given Bin Laden a clue about our action against him. Does this show that wikileaks doesn’t matter because evil people are too stupid to read it, or does it show rather that some sort of censorship might be really important in this information age.

Also, just read this.


Don’t read foreign policy news unless you’re going to really read it

As some of you know, I’m the editor for PolicyMic and as such I help find stories for writers to work on.

As a side effect, I’m reading a LOT of the daily news. The shame is that I don’t really have time to digest most of it, so I’m not learning that much. But what I am learning is where to go if I wanted to learn stuff, especially areas I know nothing about, like Syria.

So, I might post some more links in the coming days of some weird but really good sites that I’ve found.

To start, I will say that these two Syria sites are pretty serious. Here and here.

I’m also realizing that most foreign policy commentary is HOPELESS, and the reason this is, I think, is that there aren’t a lot of statistics to back up FOPO claims (randomized experiments are hard to keep in place when wars start). However, there are some really good nuggets out there, but they’re hard to find. When you find a really data-driven article though, you take notice, because it just feels so different than reading endless crap about who is going to do what based on superficial regional and historical parallels combined with cliche sound comments about how regimes “think” and “feel.”

Get some data and learn something. Try this post to see what I mean about data (holy shit what a post). This guys knows shit, and if you want to know shit too, you should read his ideas. Simple as that.

(Funny to see my anger creeping in here. Perhaps I’m just expressing my bitterness that no one will probably ever read my philosophical work, even though I believe it deserves to be taken seriously. Grrrr).