Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

2.5.09

100 Days Later

About 100 days ago, on Inauguration Day, Michael Tanji's Threats in the Age of Obama (published by Nimble Books) hit the bookshelves. I am privileged to have been included in this veritable "who's who" of security theorists and bloggers.

My chapter (entitled "Blurring the Lines between War and Peace") was not "prescriptive", but rather a description of conditions concomitant with the empowerment of non-state actors and the devolution of warfare from state-v.-state.

So far, the Obama administration has made every gate I identified: acknowledgement of counterinsurgency as a principal mission space for our conventional military forces (a process set in motion pre-election by DoD Directive 3000.05); reorganizing the National Security Council to be a more-powerful arbiter of disputes across Cabinet departments and agencies (albeit bordering on micromanagement, as cited by Zenpundit); enhancing the responsiveness of local communities through a set of decentralized standards vice mandated responses (q.v. DHS Secretary Napolitano's wholesale review of the Incident Command System and National Incident Management System currently underway); and Defense Secretary Gates's admonishment for "new institutions" (cf. the fate of the F/A-22 RAPTOR, which will end production after this fiscal year).

Another co-author (and editor of a forthcoming Nimble publication on 5th Generation Warfare), Dan at TDAXP, has offered a provocative dual assessment of Obama's foreign policy ("a high A") and economic policy ("F"). Check it out.

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11.3.09

Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's "History Room" is a veritable treasure trove of insights into the early days of the Cold War and the transition from the Manhattan Project to a civilian-led Atomic Energy Commission. Since 60% of the entire Manhattan Project budget was spent here in east Tennessee, it's a fitting and appropriate role for the lab (formerly known as "X-10") to play.

Last year a retired lab chemist named Ellison Taylor passed away at the age of 94. The executors of his estate provided the History Room with a box of his personal papers. Buried within his research notes was a carbon copy of a letter dated 18 March 1946, signed by fifteen Division-level managers from X-10 (including future Laboratory Director Alvin Weinberg, who would later chair a commission for President Kennedy that sowed the seeds for increased transparency in government).

This letter was addressed to Sen. Brian McMahon, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy and author of the forthcoming Atomic Energy Act of 1946. At issue was the manner by which nuclear weapons research would be managed within the federal government.

On the one hand, MG Leslie Groves deftly left the Manhattan Project to a swift and favorable conclusion of World War II. The "establishment" logic, embodied in the Vandenberg Amendment to the proposed Atomic Energy Act, which would have created a governing military board with "veto" authority over the proceedings of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The scientists had work
ed side-by-side with soldiers for more than four years. Their opinion was that "... that military control would ... increase immeasurably the very dangers that we wish to avoid."

This paragraph summarizes the civilian scientists' sentiment for "The Army Way":
The delays produced by the army system of compartmentalization, denying the research men on the atomic energy project access to facts that are necessary for their work, the procrastination in releasing results of highest value to the medical and biological sciences though these results are of no military importance, show that it is only detrimental to place the power of censorship into the hands of persons who are in no position to judge the facts.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was passed -- without the Vandenberg Amendment. And civilian control of our nuclear arsenal, a model complementary to our nation's civilian control of its military forces, was assured.


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14.9.08

SNL: Palin and Clinton

NBC's Saturday Night Live brought back Tina Fey last night for a brilliant skit as Gov. Sarah Palin. Tina (who served as head writer for SNL from 1999 to 2006) left the show two years ago to create the series 30 Rock. This is one of the funniest SNL videos I've seen in a long time:

UPDATE: This link points to the official NBC site, so you get to be exposed to their 15-second Chevy commercial before you can watch the video. Ain't capitalism grand?


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29.8.08

GOP v. The Establishment


Earlier this morning Sen. McCain announced that Gov. Sarah Palin [R-AK] would be his running mate for the November general election. At least it's not four Senators on the big tickets!

Honestly, Gov. Palin brings a lot to the GOP ticket. Check her bio: she petitioned against city council pay raises, cut her own salary after being elected as mayor of Wasilla, called Commissioners on the carpet for unethical dealings, unseated a sitting governor IN THE PARTY PRIMARY, and has an unwavering commitment to ethics. Her first two acts as Governor were to put the private jet (bought by her predecessor) up for sale on eBay, and to fire the Executive Chef (convinced that she and her husband could cook for their family themselves).

The fact that she's a hockey mom, former beauty queen, mother of five (with an infant child with Down syndrome) and competitive basketball player only adds to her appeal. And the fact that she testified before Congress in a ColumbiaGear windbreaker.

Frankly, I think she's a brilliant choice by Sen. McCain. Compared to McCain-Palin, Obama-Biden looks so "Establishment".

Side Note: Today is Sen. McCain's 72nd birthday, as well as Todd and Sarah Palin's 20th wedding anniversary.

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3.8.08

R.I.P., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Nobel-prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose gripping portrayals of the brutal Soviet penal system erased leftist sympathies for Communism in Europe and America during the 1970s, died earlier today at the age of 89.

His most gripping work, The Gulag Archipelago trilogy, provided so much first-person testimonials that refutation by the KGB was impossible. A far more accessible book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (less than 3% the volume of The Gulag Archipelago), is equally as compelling -- and showcases the profound strength of character that Solzhenitsyn possessed to endure the hardships of a system designed to crush the spirit.

Solzhenitsyn's criticism of the GULags also honed his observations of the West, which he viewed as decadent and weak. His wry wit, "gallows humor" and brilliant investigative journalism helped end one of the most oppressive systems our world has ever seen.

До свидания, friend.

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17.7.08

Forty Years Ago ...

On July 17th, 1968, the Ba'ath Party in Iraq seized power in a bloodless coup d'etat that put General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr into power. Though the Ba'athists first came to power in Iraq five years earlier, internal divisions that discredited the party had them eased out within a matter of months.

1968 was different. While al-Bakr was a popular national figure, his deputy (Saddam Hussein) was the muscle behind the scenes -- emerging as the party strongman, using his influence to heavily militarize the organization, and eventually supplanting al-Bakr as the leader of Iraq. July 17th was celebrated as "Iraqi National Day" and "Revolution Day" until Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

While Saddam capitulated to Kurdish autonomy early in the Ba'athist reign (because they lacked the military force to defeat them), he ultimately used his force as a bludgeon to keep his subjects in check.

Iraq today has a far more promising -- albeit more politically challenging -- future.

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14.7.08

Fête de la Fédération

In 1790, the French celebrated the "Fête de la Fédération": the celebration of the new (albeit shortlived) constitutional monarchy that was considered at the time to be the happy ending of the French Revolution.

Though the September Massacres, the Reign of Terror and war with their neighbors were yet to come, the date of July 14th ("quatorze juillet") remains celebrated as the turn of the tide for the forces supporting a free republic in France. Happy Bastille Day!


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10.7.08

Nuclear Blogtank

Cheryl at Whirled View has asked:
"What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support."
Since it has become known to The Great and Wonderful Wizard that nefarious forces in the lands of ZenPundit are "contemplating how to leverage the possession of a small number of nuclear weapons to best advantage," we will develop our own strategy in the interest of global peace and tranquility.

Our resources being small, and our arsenal limited, we can not come anywhere close to the Kahnesque scenarios of On Thermonuclear War. And with a severely constrained national ability to reconstitute, our primary objective is the security and preservation of our fissile material.

Therefore, we will pursue a four-fold strategy we call "Deterrence Light":

1. INTERNAL SECURITY: Ensure the secrecy of our fissile material. Maximize employment of decoys and spoofs so as to preserve this material should it ever be needed. In addition, ensure that only the most loyal forces of Oz are entrusted with this powerful knowledge. Should we fail in this most important endeavor, our national investment in this capability will be for naught.

2. EXTERNAL AWARENESS: Inform the world of our technological accomplishment -- and embed in our announcements disinformation regarding the exact disposition of our research establishment and weapons complexes. Deterrence fails when your potential adversaries don't realize the extent of your capabilities.

3. MAXIMIZED ARSENAL: Given that our arsenal has, at most, five weapons, we will seek to maximize our arsenal by producing the smallest practicable weapons -- weapons still with significant destructive power in order to support our strategy of 'Deterrence Light'. To reinforce our standing in the world, we will stage one underground test (in full compliance with international protocols, short of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which we see as the foil of established powers seeking to preserve their exclusivity).

4. DELIVERY OPTIONS: Develop multiple methods to deliver weapons systems unto our adversaries, should the deterrence strategies of 1. and 2. above fail: via land, sea and air/space -- but emphasizing surface routes due to the high assurance (good) despite the lengthy response time (bad). While Oz may not be able to respond immediately to a clear and present danger, we must preserve the ability to respond at a time and place of our choosing -- akin to the Fedayeen Saddam in Iraq following the fall of the Iraqi government in 2003. Moreover, our declared philosophy will be peaceful coexistence with our neighbors and the world -- but a clear warning to our adversaries that their economic and population centers will suffer should they cause our own government or our people harm.

The Kind and Benevolent Wizard is content that the world will see us for our goodness, and not think ill that we should use this technological capability for the assured preservation of Oz and its ideals.

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8.7.08

House of Representatives v. Web 2.0

(image c/o Eric Drooker)

A recent tweet from @Fantomplanet and subsequent post by ZenPundit describe an effort underway in our nation's lower legislative house to restrict Members' rights to use Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with their constituents.

At first glance, the letter from Congressman Capuano [D-MA 8th] to Congressman Brady [D-PA 1st] sounds benign: "... existing tools available within the House ... are not user-friendly or efficient" and "... server storage space within the House is currently insufficient to meet the growing demand for video."

However, the 'desired solution' smacks of totalitarianism: the establishment of "official" external channels (Cong. Capuano's quotes, not mine) that "... would allow a Member to post video material on a qualifying external website and then embed the video on his or her Member site from this external site."

Qualifying external website?!?

Congressman Capuano makes a precarious leap of logic by asserting these practices "... ha[ve] been adopted by other government agencies ...", as if Members -- elected BY THE PEOPLE -- are akin to federal employees working in the service of a single executive. As a constituent, I would be appalled if my Representative were to take his position so lightly (thankfully, Cong. Zach Wamp [R-TN 3rd] has a far greater appreciation of a Member's role than the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts).

If Congressman Capuano (who also happens to Chair Speaker Pelosi's "Task Force on Ethics Enforcement") is concerned about the "dignity, propriety and decorum of the House," perhaps he should re-read the Declaration of Independence:
... That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
... and NOT the "Governing". Taking artistic license from Mr. Jefferson, perhaps the latter portion of our 232-year-old Declaration could be amended to read:

The History of the present Chairman of the Speaker's Task Force on Ethics Enforcement is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Networks. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

HE has refused his Assent to Blogging, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Members to post Tweets of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large video files on YouTube, unless those Servers would relinquish the Right of Data Management, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.

To arms! To arms! The Censors are coming!

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5.5.08

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of México's victory over Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Though it is virtually ignored in México (other than in the state of Puebla, just east of Ciudad de México), it has been celebrated for more than 140 years in the U.S. state of California.

While Cinco de Mayo is not México's "Independence Day" (that date is September 16th), in America it has become the cultural equivalent of St. Patrick's Day: a celebration of heritage and culture of our southern neighbor.

So tonight, raise your cerveza or your margarita and honor México!

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5.2.08

Super Fat Tuesday

Thanks to the early Easter this year (due to the close proximity of the full moon to the vernal equinox), we get to celebrate (quite appropriately, IMHO) "Super Tuesday" simultaneously with "Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras". So tomorrow morning, as ashes from the palm fronds from last year's Palm Sunday are imposed on the foreheads of the Christian faithful, will we also have a definitive presidential candidate from each party?

Having just left the polling place, I can say unequivocally that "electronic ballots" remain trapped in the Luddite past of paper-driven industrial age process. After arriving at the polling place at 8:30am EST, I discovered that our local polling places did not actually open until 9:00am. After the polls officially opened (at 8:00am one county to the west of us, in the Central Time Zone), I had to:
  1. Complete a "Voting Application Card" in red ink. (I told the pollsters that it was considered bad luck in China to inscribe a name in red; they didn't seem to care.) Note that though the line of waiting voters was now more than 30 people, there was only one (1) small table for completing this "Voting Application Card" -- rather than distributing them (with red pens) to the waiting voters.
  2. Present the "Voting Application Card" along with a photo ID to the kind lady with the "A-D" catalog of registered voters in that precinct.
  3. Let said lady compare the signatures between my digitized Voter Registration and the "Voting Application Card", then check some boxes and sign where indicated.
  4. Present my "Voting Application Card" to a third polling place worker, who wrote my name (in longhand) on a roster.
  5. Go to a fourth worker, who took my "Voting Application Card" and provided me with a four-digit "PIN" to activate the voting machine.
  6. Proceed to vote for one (1) candidate for President of the United States, as well as twelve (12) "Delegates-at-Large" and three (3) District delegates. Since my candidate of choice had only two "Delegates-at-Large" who had professed fealty to him, I decided to vote for all eight "uncommitted delegates". This meant I had to spin my "selection wheel" no fewer than fifteen times for each delegate, since the cursor reset to the top-left corner after each selection and the "uncommitted delegates" were at the bottom-right. (My attempts to outsmart the machine by rotating my selection wheel counter-clockwise sent me to the previous section of the ballot.)
BTW, the image at the top of this is provided courtesy of al Jazeera (found via a Google Image search for "Super Tuesday").

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