sea sight

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saturday Is Heinlein Quote Day (even on a Sunday) #43

From The Past Through Tomorrow
I think perhaps of all the things a police state can do to its citizens, distorting history is possibly the most pernicious.
“If This Goes On—” Chapter 6

Friday, January 23, 2015

On Midrats 25 January 15 - Episode 264: "The American Military in WWI"

World War I - "the war to end all wars" - was roaring along 100 years ago. As part of noting that, please join us on 25 January 15 at 5pm (EST) for Midrats Episode 264: The American Military in WWI
Well inside an officer's career arch, we saw the American Navy move from the Great White Fleet, The Spanish American War to the age of the Dreadnought. Our Army, from ad-hoc volunteer units to a professional army going head-to-head with the finest professional army on the planet.

How did our military and our Navy build up to WWI, and how did that experience inform the evolution of our national defense infrastructure?

Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. John T. Kuehn , the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College CGSC). He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer flying both land-based and carrier-based aircraft. He has taught a variety of subjects, including military history, at CGSC since 2000. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011. His latest book, due out from Praeger just in time for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns.
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or for later listening you can find us at iTunes here

Friday Fun Film: Naval History of "The Civil War" (1958)

Kicking off the 150th anniversary year of the end of the Civil War:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Things to Ponder: "What do jihadists want?"

Interesting paragraph from Dr. Walid Phares in his book The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy;
Salafists, Wahabis, Takfiris, Tblighis and other Sunni Islamists reject the concept of pluralism and radically oppose the rule of the people. Only Allah and his teachings, they postulate, are the basis for governance. The Shia-born Khumeinists condemn Western-style liberalism but co-opt concepts and words from international democratic institutions such as the idea of a republic. They installed an Islamic republic in Iran, but its mandate is believed to be divinely inspired and not subject to the approval of civil society. Islamists from all schools of thought, and violent jihadists in particular, have an ideology of their own, based on ideas diametrically opposed to classical liberal democracies. The jihadists aim at the re-creation of what they perceive as a caliphate, merging dozens of Muslim countries into one world power. They want to impose strict religious laws on the people of the caliphate and claim furthermore that this form of government is ordained by God. Hence they have no tolerance for man-made legislation, and politics is tightly scripted by the militant interpreters of faith. The followers of Jihadism, openly or discreetly, as well as those who share the Islamists' enemies, have moved worldwide to obstruct the rise of secular democracies, especially within the realm of the Muslim world. They plan to resume what they believe is a millennial project: world domination.
Makes negotiating toward some peaceful resolution tough when your opponent believes that his position is "God-approved" and that your position is the work of the devil. Not much in the way of middle ground there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yemen: Iran v. Saudi Arabia? Shia v. Sunni? Oh, By the way, It's a mess . . .

Nice article on The Economist website that you should read in its entirety (may require free registration), Instability in Yemen: The Houthis aim the sword:
Yemen's Houthi rebels appear to be moving in for the kill against the staggering government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Can't tell the players without a scorecard?
The Houthis (who prefer to call themselves Ansar Allah, or the Partisans of God) were operating alongside allies of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was toppled in 2011; together they form the so-called “Popular Committees”, militias that control a growing chunk of northern Yemen.

The rolling coup has been a long time gathering. A once-marginalised movement emerging from the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, whose devotees make up about 40% of Yemen's population, the Houthis fought against the army in the northern province of Saada between 2004 and 2010.
The turmoil in Yemen is borne of long-standing internal rivalries and the country’s endemic instability. But America and especially Saudi Arabia will see in the Houthis a dangerous extension of Iran’s power. Iran already provides military help to the governments of Iraq and Syria against Sunni insurgents, among them the jihadists of Islamic State, and is the power behind Lebanon’s Hizbullah militia. Iranian officials, for their part, seem more than happy to feed Saudi fears.***
Nice closing sentence:
The consequences of instability in Yemen extend far beyond its borders.
So, the answer is? See the nearby cartoon.

One more thing on poverty in America

If The US Spends $550 Billion On Poverty How Can There Still Be Poverty In The US? by Tim Worstall from a couple of years back. Mr. Worstall notes that if we simply gave each poor person in the U.S. $11,000 annually we could eliminate poverty by boosting each such person above the poverty threshold. Total cost? About $550 billion.
Here’s what Census says is the number of people in poverty in the most recent, just released, figures.

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2011 was 15.0 percent, with 46.2 million people in poverty. After three consecutive years of increases, neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2010 estimates.

We could certainly argue that that’s way too high a figure for a rich country like the United States. In fact, many people do so argue. But we do have something of a problem with this figure. We could lift all of these people up out of what is defined as poverty at a cost of around $550 billion. That’s in the 3 or 4% of GDP range*.
But wait, there's more:
What I want to point out is that to an acceptable level of accuracy this is already done. $550 billion is indeed spent on the poor so therefore there shouldn’t be any poverty. The reason there still is, by the way we measure it, because we don’t count that $550 billion as reducing poverty. Which is a very strange way of doing things when you come to think about it.

Medicaid is largely health care for the poor. This costs, in 2010 at least it did, some $400 billion. SNAP, the renamed food stamps, cost some $70 billion in the same year. The EITC handed out $55 billion. Add those sums up and we’ve got $525 billion being spent on the alleviation of poverty. Which is close enough, given the level of accuracy being used here, to have entirely abolished poverty in the United States. If we’d simply given the cash to poor people then there would no longer be any poor people.

So, how come there are still these near 50 million poor even after we’ve spent enough money to have no poor people? Simple, we just don’t count the money we’ve spent on the poor as reducing poverty. I know, I know, it’s unbelievable, isn’t it, but here’s Census saying exactly that:

The poverty estimates released today compare the official poverty thresholds to money income before taxes, not including the value of noncash benefits.
Umm. So, poverty in the U.S. is misrepresented? Oh, hell yes.

You know, the Fair Tax has a component that deals with this, the "prebate":
The FairTax provides a progressive program called a prebate. This gives every legal resident household an “advance refund” at the beginning of each month so that purchases made up to the poverty level are tax-free. The prebate prevents an unfair burden on low-income families.
See also here.

Of course, if you make it simple, a large number of bureaucrats will lose their jobs . . .

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lying with Statistics: Education Division

When journalists grab information from biased parties, we get bad reporting. Case in point, a Washington Post article, "Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty" which apparently unquestioningly took "allegations" as true without looking further. WAPO reported
The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.
If you go visit The Southern Education Foundation's website ("Advancing Creative Solutions to Assure Fairness and Excellence in Education") you can find a link to the cited report, or a least a report on the report, "A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation's Public Schools":
In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.

Most of the states with a majority of low income students are found in the South and the West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.
At this point, you are invited to download the "research bulletin" itself. You really need not bother, the "bulletin" merely states what the WAPO reported,
For the first time in recent history, a majority of the schoolchildren attending the nation’s public schools come from low income families. The latest data collected from the states by the National Center for
Education Statistics (NCES), evidence that 51 percent of the students across the nation’s public schools were low income in 2013.

The pattern was spread across the nation. Half or more of the public schoolchildren in 21 states were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches, a benefit available only to families living in poverty or near-poverty in 2013.1

In 19 other states, low income students constituted between 40 percent and 49 percent of the states’ public school enrollment. In other words, very high proportions of low income students were evident in four-fifths of the 50 states in 2013 ....

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Reading

It's one thing to ask men and women who serve our country to place themselves in harm's way because of a threat to the people of the United States or our allies. It's quite another to put them in harm's way because of . . . apparent indifference to the harms they face just trying to do their jobs. The Navy blogger at "Ask a Skipper" points to just such a story at "Not Every Fairy Tale has a Happy Ending". Reporter Mike Hixenbaugh of the Virginian Pilot deserves a salute for his reporting. There's a reason we replace old tools.

It's hard enough to figure out what weapons owned by a potential opponent are truly worrisome without ascribing capabilities to them that appear to make the opponent 10 feet tall. So it is interesting to read this article from The National Interest, "No, China Can NOT Shoot Down 90% of Hypersonic Missiles" in which Zachary Keck examines the hype present in the the headlines:
Far more importantly, however, by these reports own admission, the Type 1130 CIWS can’t shoot down hypersonic missiles. As noted above, these reports claim that the Type 1130 CIWS can target missiles traveling at up to four times the speed of sound, or Mach 4. As impressive as these reports make Mach 4 out to be, it doesn’t reach hypersonic levels. To constitute hypersonic, the missile must travel at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or greater. ***

There are other smaller issues with the claims as well. For example, no country currently deploys hypersonic missiles, raising the question of how the Type 1130 achieved its 90 percent success rate in shooting them down.
Well, except for the facts, the original reports were accurate. It should be noted that hypersonic missiles are being developed, such as the joint Russian-Indian BrahMos II, the Indian Shaurya, and the Chinese "hypersonic glider". About the last, Bill Sweetman at Aviation Week writes:
In the view of the U.S. Navy, the Mach 10 test of a hypersonic glide vehicle that China conducted on Jan. 9 reflects its predictions of future warfare. If and when China can put the technology into service, Beijing will have a weapon that challenges defenses and extends the range of its ballistic missiles against land and sea targets, but its offensive application is still some years away and depends on solving tough challenges in targeting and guidance.
As you might have guessed, the U.S. is also playing with the hypersonic missile world.

Will cities become the most trouble areas of our future? Robert Muggah has an article on the Foreign Affairs website discussing that issue,
Fixing Fragile Cities: Solutions for Urban Violence and Poverty
The direction of urban population growth is shifting dramatically, as Africans and Asians, not Americans or Europeans, flock to cities in unprecedented numbers. According to the latest UN estimates, more than 90 percent of all future population growth will occur in the cities and sprawling shantytowns of the developing world.
As large cities thrive—just 600 of them now account for two-thirds of global GDP—countless smaller and medium-sized cities fall behind. Widening this gap are so-called fragile cities: places where the social contract binding municipal governments to their citizens has crumbled and anarchy rules.

With some exceptions, these centers of fragility are located in North, Central, and South America, which are home to a staggering 45 of the 50 most dangerous metropolises....
Rapid growth and a younger population appear to be key factors in city instability, which have also been noted as issues in national instability. Karachi, Pakistan is cited as a prime case. You may not agree with some of the proffered solutions (e.g. "City planners and private investors must avoid the temptation to reproduce segregation and social exclusion, and they must insist that the public good prevails over private interests.") but they are worth contemplating.

Finally, a revisiting of the "war on drugs" - this time the impact the illicit drug trade is having in Africa, from The Economist, The Smack Track
East African states are being undermined by heroin smuggling
pointing out that the clamp down on drug smuggling from Afghanistan by a land route into Europe has caused the smugglers to turn to other routes:
Instead smugglers have taken to the seas. Shipments of heroin are unloaded from dhows and cargo ships off the shores of Kenya and Tanzania, and taken ashore on small speedboats. They are then broken up into still smaller packages before being “muled” to Europe from international airports in Kenya and Ethiopia. Sometimes they are consolidated and sent by lorry to South Africa for onward shipping. Some of the heroin enters the African market to feed nascent demand, particularly in Zanzibar, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, where heroin use is slowly rising. Heroin is also smuggled to consumers in South Africa and Nigeria.

In Kenya and Tanzania criminal gangs with close ties to political and security elites control the trans-shipment. The risk is that state institutions will be hollowed out or, worse still, that states could be captured by transnational criminal networks. A 2011 research paper by the International Peace Institute, a think-tank in New York, said the foundations of the Kenyan state were “under attack” from such gangs.
Can drug cartels cause states to fail? That's a good question, isn't it?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday Is Heinlein Quote Day #42

From Time Enough for Love on learning to be forehanded:
Anyone can see a forest fire. Skill lies in sniffing the first smoke.

- Robert A. Heinlein
Ever know enough about your job, car, plane or boat that you get that "vibe" that tells you something "bad" is about to erupt? That's why we have strategic planners peering off into the future and making all those contingency plans.

If everything happens "unexpectedly" you are not very good at your job.