Friday, June 25, 2010

A Time To Fight

I just finished reading Senator Jim Webb's book "A Time To Fight".  Jim Webb is a Vietnam Vet (Marine) who climbed the military ranks to become Secretary of the Navy.  He's also a successful author.  I enjoyed his book (with the exception of typical political self-promotion and opponent bashing).  A couple of the key take-aways:

Japanese Prison System
Senator Webb had the unique opportunity to visit a Japanese prison.  Compared to the U.S., Japan has highly trained prison guards, about 1/10th the prisoners per capita, of which they keep in prison for a shorter period.  They have the of re-integrating the prisoner into society (they teach work skills, respect, etc.)  When asked how they started this they replied that they have been doing this for over a century.  How did they develop this system?  They learned it from the U.S. and Germany.  Where did we go wrong and how do we fix it?

War Strategy
Senator Webb was very critical of the war in Iraq.  His description helped me to better frame my opinion about the war. I believe in being supportive of our troops while at the same I generally oppose having gone there in the first place.  I believe that we justly carried out the war and have done good there.

The issue is long term strategy vs. short term tactics.  In the game of chess (for example), you have to consider the value of all your pieces.  You might make a sacrifice, but only for a greater advantage. 

  • Global Relations - Before the Iraq war, the U.S. had basically universal support in the war on terror.  Our motives are now in question and support has fallen.
  • Financial Costs - The $1 trillion and counting cost of the war was an unfortunate expenditure considering our current crisis.  The additional cost was that it resulted in turning over Congress to the Democrats with basically an open line of credit.  
  • Human Cost -  
    • ~4,000 U.S. Deaths [1]
    • ~30,000 U.S. wounded .
    • ~300,000 to 500,000 with mental health issues.  This was according to an article in a recent issue of the USC Alumni magazine that claims 1 in 3 will return with problems.  Another article claims 1 in 5. [2]   About 1.6 million people have served to date.
    • ~100,000 Iraqi Deaths
    • 1-3 million Iraqi refugees [3]
  • Balance of Power -  This wasn't in "A Time To Fight" but I read another article about the FBI agent, George Piro, that gained Saddam Hussein's confidence [4].  He found that "[Saddam's] prewar weapons of mass destruction deceptions were a ruse to convince Iran - whom he feared - that he had an arsenal." [5] Since we now seem to be worried about Iran, maybe a better strategy would have been to leave Saddam Hussein in power to counter-balance Iran.
I'm sure there are plenty of benefits to the war, but I'm still not convinced that overall strategy for the Iraq war makes any sense at all.


    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    A Briefer History of Islam

    ~2000 B.C. - The prophet Abraham is Born. Abraham marries Sarah. She can't have kids, so she gives her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar bears a son, Ishmael, the ancestor of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
    ~1900 B.C. - Abraham (100 years old) is told his wife Sarah will bear a son. Sarah Laughs. She bears a son, Isaac, the ancestor of Israel and Jesus.
    ~1885 B.C. - Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Just before he does it, an angel stops him. Because of his obedience, Abraham is promised by the Lord that he will "be a father of many nations" and his seed will as numerous as the "stars of the heaven, and as the sand ... upon the sea shore".

    Bible version: The son was Isaac.[1]
    Islamic version: The son was Ishmael.

    ~570 A.D. - The prophet Muhammad is born.
    ~610 A.D. - Muhammad is meditating in a cave and is visited by an Angel. Over a period of time, he receives revelations that end up being the Quran (Koran). The revelations include instructions on moral living, which help Muhammad and his followers prosper and overpower the barbaric culture that he was raised in.

    750-1200 A.D. - The Islamic Golden Age. During this period, the Islamic world contributed to agriculture, the arts, economics, industry, law, literature, navigation, philosophy, sciences, sociology, and technology.[2] The Middle East was positioned along major trade routes adding to the power of Islam.  Islamic territory expanded to include North Africa, Israel, Spain [3], Bulgaria.  The Crusades attempted to retake Israel.

    1300-1500 A.D. - The European Renaissance.  During this period, Europe absorbed the knowledge from the Islamic world [4] and made advancements in the areas of literature, philosophy, art, politics, science and religion.

    1500-1900 - The Modern Era.  During this period, the Western World saw significant development in science, politics, warfare and technology (including the printing press, advances in navigation, etc.).  Shipping allowed Europeans to bypass the Middle East, reducing the power of Islam.  European weapons and warfare shrunk Islam territories. Islam becomes relatively insignificant.

    1900s - Oil. The world starts getting hungry for Oil and the Middle Eastern Oil fields are discovered. Western technology and know-how is imported to exploit the Oil fields.  Islamic countries start getting more powerful.

    1964 - Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr joins the Nation of Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali.

    2001 - 9/11.  Islamic Fundamentalists crash airplanes into the World Trade Center and remind the world about Islam.

    The author and historian Bernard Lewis describes what went wrong [5]. My summary is that while Muhammad's revealed morality greatly benefited Islam, the success resulted in arrogance causing Islam to reject anything from the "infidels".  Unfortunately this included many critical advancements that left Islam way behind.  Bernard Lewis also claims that Islamic restrictions on women reduce the potential contributions from half their population.

    We can all learn a lesson from this history.

    [1] Genesis 22:2
    [2] Howard R. Turner (1997), Science in Medieval Islam, p. 270 (book cover, last page), University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-78149-0
    [5] What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the weather.

    The primaries are over and Barbara Boxer has launched a website to provide "facts" about Carly Fiorina.

    I think that some of "Call me Senator" Boxer's attacks may backfire. Specifically the "Fiorina’s Flippant Climate Change Attack".
    “One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change,” the ad shows Boxer opining in 2007. “Terrorism kills,” Fiorina declares in response, “and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the weather.”

    First of all, equating climate change with the weather is childish in its ignorance. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has a helpful kids’ site that enunciates the difference. “Weather,” the site notes, “describes whatever is happening outdoors in a given place at a given time. Weather is what happens from minute to minute.” In contrast, “Climate is the long-term average of a region’s weather events lumped together…Climate describes the total of all weather occurring over a period of years in a given place.”

    I didn't know "equating climate change with the weather" was such a serious fault. I would like to see a definition of "Climate Change" that doesn't use the word "weather" nor have anything to do with the weather.

    Fiorina should have said "Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the long-term average of weather events". Not as catchy.
    Don't call me ma'am

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    The Bachelorette

    After the TV show "Lost" ended, I thought that I would have an extra hour per week. Last week, my wife was watching The Bachelorette. She makes fun of me for acting uninterested as I ask questions, make comments and laugh.

    I have to confess that I genuinely like The Bachelorette. If you read my blog much, you may be surprised to read this. Why do I like it?

    1. I have developed a genuine interest in "reading" people. Lately that has included a lot of politicians. Its funny how they respond to Tea Parties, angry Town Hall meetings and basically any criticism. Non-verbal communication fascinates me and The Bachelorette is very rich. A bunch of guys competing for a very nice, attractive young lady creates an intriguing reality.

    2. I recently watched a couple of Oprah's New Earth classes. Most of it is way too esoteric, but there is a cool concept of "the power of now". It reminds of the book "The Inner Game of Tennis". When the guys on the show start thinking about what's at stake and not enjoying the present moment, you can see it in their face and whole body. It's a death sentence on this show. It's a real kick to see these guys go from confident to worried panic.

    The Guys:

    The Weatherman - Last week he was being bullied by another guy. He really got his feathers ruffled. The tenseness in his face, his obsessive reaction to everything the bully did. He felt obligated to warn Ali about the bully. He was given a rose (saved). My wife pointed out that while all of these guys are vying for Ali, she saved the Weatherman because she now had a spy into the house. No matter what he does, he sets himself up to be used.

    The Bully - He saw the weak one in the herd (the Weatherman) and it was too easy. He was actually pretty funny. He got kicked off because he competed against the guys, not for the girl.

    Enough for now. The show is surprisingly entertaining.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Civility and the Oil Spill

    I think its time for a dose of civility related to the current oil spill.

    1. Can Hollywood help with the Oil Spill?

    • James Cameron, Kevin Costner, Spike Lee and Robert Redford offered to help.
    • James Cameron was rejected by BP.  His response: "They're just a bunch of morons."
    • Actor Paul Sorvino thinks BP should accept their help.  Watch this video:


    Complex problems need the people and organizations best equipped to solve the problem.

    After spending my career as an engineer and scientist, there is nothing more frustrating than having someone try and help who doesn't fully understand the complexity of a problem.  For example, in the case of the oil spill, there is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons flowing out of a complex system of pipes one mile under the ocean. Remote controlled robots requiring extensive training and experience to operate are being used to fix the problem.

    Asking Hollywood to help makes about as much sense having James Cameron ask deep sea oil experts help make an Avatar sequel.

    In fairness to these actors, I respect their willingness and desire to help and it would be great if their resources could be used, at least to help with the clean up.
    2. Are Obama and/or Bush to blame for anything to do with the oil spill?
    • Political types are quick to blame Obama or Bush for the oil spill, depending on which side they are on.  Why did they let this happen?  Why aren't they doing more? What should they be doing?

    I was very impressed with the interview between Larry King and Obama.  I thought Obama actually sounded presidential. Video Here

    1:35 Larry: "...wants the Defense Dept. more fully involved...more troops..."
    2:20 Larry: "What part of this is your baby?"
    3:00 Obama: "My Job ..."
    3:10 Obama: "When it comes to solving this problem..."
    3:30 Obama: "BP has the best equipment and technology"
    3:39 Obama: "Our Responsiblity ..."


    People need to understand that this world is way too big and complex to hold one person responsible for problems, even if they are the U.S. President.  It's fair to criticize the politicians when they claim they are going to fix things (Health Care, financial crisis, immigration, etc.)

    If your are strongly opposed to a person, group, etc., you don't have to hate everything they do.

    A post about naturally occurring oil leaks in the ocean

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    He hit me first

    I was reminded of a scientific study where two people had sensors placed on them (their arms or chests, I don't remember). The first person was told to tap or hit the second person. The second person was told to tap/hit the first person with the same force.

    The result: The second person always hit harder than the first.

    Not surprising. Tender flesh is more sensitive than your knuckles, so you do have to hit harder to have equal pain.

    Recently I made a comment on a website. The author of a new book was interviewed and I made a comment:
    I started wondering if [the author] was a disgruntled employee at ..., since he seemed to depart from scholarship and opted for unsubstantiated innuendo. He left me satisfied at the end [of his interview].
    He responded
    please advise me re: scholarship and unsubstantiated innuendo, as I’ve only written a doctoral dissertation and published a lengthy volume which documents what I describe. You have apparently listened to some of a podcast interview. Now feel free to read what I’ve written, and get back to me with your counsel.

    I was never, to my knowledge, gruntled as an employee, and thus cannot see how I am currently in a state of disgruntlement. Did I sound disgruntled? Was I pleased with how things ‘worked’ there? Obviously not, for reasons I give in the book. Of course, that I may or may not be a disgruntled employee entirely answers every argument I make, and clearly proves the contrary case, whatever that may be. Only gruntled persons can make true statements, for sure.
    He was hitting me back harder than I hit him. I then responded:
    I owe you a read of your book or dissertation (is it available?). My apologies for the use of a poorly selected word “disgruntled”. I was only responding to your language where you seemed to communicate dissatisfaction with your experience
    Did I take the easy way out of a good Internet flame war?

    His final response answers this question:
    No problem, I am sorry I reacted rather prickly. There’s such a loss in communication when we don’t have the voice to attend to the words. I actually made a few jokes about being ‘gruntled’ in the book, as I was expecting the term to be thrown at me. The links to both volumes can be found on the first page of the interview.