Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ahmadinejad - A Strategic Analysis


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the recently elected President of Iran, has made a number of statements in recent months which indicate not only a mental instability, but also a near-maniacal intent to attack the United States and Israel with nuclear weapons. To be blunt, I do not believe this is his intention in the short term, say in the next two years.

In a scenario simulation using an old crisis generation program called REALTIME, no matter what conditions were given, Iran was not able to destabilize the United States with a nuclear strike, given the limited operational scope Iran possesses. Even a potential decapitation strike on the President and Congress failed to prevent the continuity of the American government, or avoid the inevitable obliteration of Iran. Insane the mullahs are, but they are no fools; for all their talk of a great war to rid the world of America, they know they are in no position to do anything but dream of such a possibility. If Iran has or acquires nuclear weapons in the near future, they will still have only a limited stockpile, which in practical terms means the ability to hit soft easy targets like cities, but negligible military value. Recall that even if Iran had a nuclear bomb at this moment, they have yet to test it, so they have no idea whether the thing will work as designed. The story is still told about an Indian ultimatum to Pakistan back in the 1970s, based on assumptions about the yield of their atomic weapons. When the actual tests were done, the yields produced were less than 15% of the predicted measures, which severely embarrassed the Indians and set back their bargain position, especially since the Pakistanis took care not to test their own weapons during negotiations, in order to avoid clueing the Indian government in on what they were facing. The moral of the story is that nukes only have value when you know what they can really do, and a rookie nuclear power cannot just assume that because they did their math and followed the scheduled process, that they will enjoy the desired results.

Let’s take an obvious small-scale objective of Iran; destroying Israel. Compared to a major nation like the United States, Israel should be a much easier target, closer and smaller and weaker, to say nothing of less protected by allies. Yet Israel has repeatedly shown an ability to defend itself against larger numbers and multiple-level threats, and the Samson Option is a sufficient deterrent to dissuade invasions and state-level attacks. Sending in suicide bombers one by one is hard to link to a national government; a nuclear event will receive immediate retaliation.

At this point I would also like to address the psychology of nuclear weapons. I have heard some commentators claim that if Iran send a terrorist group into the United States with a nuclear bomb, Iran could deny any responsibility and Liberals would run public interference for them to delay, even prevent the response to such an attack. Such claims misunderstand the nature of a nuclear threshold. As a comparison, when 9/11 happened no one doubted that the United States would react with massive force; somebody was going to get hit, and hit hard. Also, information came out rather quickly, data which the Taliban probably did not expect to surface as quickly as it did, and the U.S. response was faster and better-planned than the Taliban could have dreamed. Surely the mullahs in Iran saw this series of events, and understand that if a nuke goes off in the United States in the next couple years, no matter how it’s concealed the common assumption by the public will be that Iran did it, and the public will demand a harsh reprisal. Imagine 9/11 escalated to another factor, and the matter becomes clear. In fact it seems to me that even if another power, say China, were to detonate a nuke in the United States by way of a terrorist group, the public would still demand we hit Iran; the statements and posture of Iran’s representatives and envoys has welded that nation to the image of the terrorist attack. Ahmadinejad has likely not thought the matter through that far, or else he might have been a bit more careful with his statements. Or else he wants a war so badly that he doesn’t realize how his masters will plan and play the Jihad to their gain. In either case, I do not believe that the mullahs plan to actually instigate a war just now, at least not in the way they appear to be headed.

Remember the reaction by the world to 9/11? Not just our allies, but also the countries which normally hate us? Russia, China, even France stepped up to shw solidarity with us. Know why? Besides a level of basic decency which was betrayed by the attacks, these nations also understood that a line had been over-stepped; someone had gone too far, and a very powerful nation was going to go to war. If you didn’t want to be on the receiving end of some very nasty weapons, you had to either prove you were an ally, or at least get out of the way fast. The best example of this was the reaction by Yassir Arafat, the head of the PLO and the mafia-style head of the Palestinan Authority as it existed in 2001. Personally, I believe the old murderer was delighted to see America’s innocents killed by such a monstrous atrocity, but you’d never have known it by his reaction. Within hours of the first notice of the attacks, Arafat was denouncing them on Al-Jazeera in no uncertain terms. This was because Arafat understood that to say anything else was to invite devastation on his organization and people; the Palestinians have an extremely unfortunate track record of backing the wrong side in major wars, and Arafat understood that opposing the United States on this count would be suicide, and no doubt. If the death of 3,000 people by aircraft hijacking could produce such a condition, the deaths of so many more people in a nuclear attack would certainly result in a demand for a massive retaliation, especially (and yes I’m being cynical here but practical) when there is zero chance that the enemy could do to us what we can do to them. Iran has no ICBMs, no nuclear missile submarines, no bombers which could reach American states, and while they could try to smuggle more nukes in, they would only be able to hit targets one at a time, probably doing no effective damage at all to the national infrastructure. Imagine a man with a pistol, surrounded by the police. Yes, he can shoot a few shots and maybe hurt or kill some of the officers, but he cannot hope to win, and the only chance he has of survival is to not fire at all in the first place. Same situation here.

So what is old Mad Mahmoud up to? Basically, I figure he’s got three avenues to stroll, and in this order:

1. The first choice for Ahmadinejad is pretty simple; he wants Iran to become a nuclear power, the same way Pakistan is. And Pakistan is a good example for Mr. Ahmadinejad. When 9/11 happened, Pakistan was not exactly the best buddy to the United States,and even afterwards, they weren’t always that compliant with the American plan, as evidenced by Osama bin Chicken’s habit of crossing back and forth from Afghanistan and Pakistan, depending on which side was hotter at the moment. But for reasons which included strategic geography the United States counted Pakistan a good guy. Not the least because Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and among other things serves as a counter-balance to India, who themselves serve as a counter-balance to China, on the nuclear level as well as others. I don’t believe this view is accurate, but I suspect the Iranian oligarchy believes that the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would make an invasion or significant military action against them much less likely than the present condition.

2. There is a danger in believing your own press, a lesson few facists learn, because they only ever hear what people think they want to hear. In the case of Iran, it is entirely possible that the mullahs believe that if Iran provokes the United States and its allies to attack them, they can play the ‘victim’ card and launch an escalation of their Jihad against the West, making the effort against them impracticable while providing a rhetorical foundation for Jihadist efforts in Southern Europe and Southwest Asia.

3. If all else fails, these nutcases actually believe in a god which rewards mass murder, provided you can find a way to claim ‘martyrdom’ in the process. As a rule of thumb, it can be said that Shia Muslims are more inclined to insurrection and violence as part of their faith than Sunnis, that Jihadists are more violent and hateful than Shiites, and that Iranian Jihadists are more inclined to terror as a devotional rite than most Jihadists.

Fortunately, this does not mean that a war with Iran is inevitable. Even with their present government, most Iranians are like anyone else - they want to live a happy life and love their family, and have no desire to destroy another nation or be on the receiving end of a warhead. Thousands of young Iranians have publicly protested against the Iranian regime, suffering brutal punishment. With a majority of Iranians under 30 years old (the decade-long war with Iraq had a lot to do with that), the clock is running out on the ways of old men with nothing better to offer than fatwas and fascism. The bad news is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows this, as do his masters, and they may well feel the pressure to act quickly to start what they see as their legacy to Islam, no matter how bloody. Insh’Allah, they will fail as all pretenders to piety fail. God is a perfect judge, and is not fooled by the invocation of His name by murderers.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Modern Faith - The Major Beliefs


With all the attention on terrorism which is blamed on radical sects within Islam, it seems to be a good idea to take a brief look at the world’s religions. According to, about 16% of the World’s population express no religious preference, which includes atheists, agnostics and secularists. As a group, such non-religious people would rank third-largest if they organized. Of course, that is part of the problem. The largest groups are not monolithic in their doctrines or organization, as is best exemplified by Christianity. At 2.1 billion in 2000, the Christian faith would be imposing indeed if it were unified, but the reality is quite different, with a few major denominations and a great many splinter sects and offshoots. Geography, local preferences and cultural shifts also influence the grassroots beliefs. I would go so far as to say that any religion of significant size ends up with a traditional or orthodox doctrine, from which actual practices vary.

The site lists Islam as number 2, and Judaism, the third religion most Americans are familiar with, is only 12th in size. The ones ranking 4th through 11th then are worth a closer look:

Hindus number nearly a Billion believers, and yet are largely unknown to the West and in the Middle East. According to, Hindus believe in a central deity, and apparent gods or goddesses are manifestations of aspects of that deity. It is most common in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Confucianists are those believers in a philosophy of individual morality and ethics, which requires “proper” action by political leaders. Confucianists, essentially Chinese, exercise body and mind together and are known to criticize leaders if they “lose the mandate of heaven”. This explains part of Communist China’s crackdowns on the Falun Gong, as this group can be said to practice Confucianism.

Buddhism is actually more a philosophy than a religion, except that like religion its adherents accept discipline to learn “right thinking” along a path to discovery and greater life. Buddhists focus on the question of suffering and how to ameliorate it. It should be observed that Buddhists enjoy the renown of being the only major religion which has never been an instigator for war, yet it should also be observed that Buddhism has condoned many practices which other cultures would consider immoral, such as drug running, gambling and prostitution.

Primal-Indigenous religions are those beliefs most often attached to a specific land or region; notes dozens of specific sects under this category, so while the overall size is imposing, the actual societal effect of these beliefs is diluted by their factionalism. In general, primal religions are most often animists and nature-worshippers in various forms. They also tend to be suspicious of outsiders.

African Traditional is probably one of the more generally misunderstood religions. A great many people would confuse African tribal rites for the animist rites of the primal sects, but that misses the oral history and tradition handed down through the better-organized African sects. It might be useful to compare some of the African tribal rites to the traditional practices of Scottish clans, down to traditional dress, dance, and food.

Sikhism is a 500-year old religion founded on many philosophical teachings from gurus. Sikhs devote themselves to “remembering God at all times” and in “truthful living”. Sikhs are opposed to useless rituals and superstition. Unfortunately, in some Asian nations Sikhs have also been prone to violent radicalism.

Juche may be the largest religion you’ve never heard about. Basically, it’s the notion that a human can control his world and environment, and is the state religion of – get ready for it – North Korea. It is a mix of political dialectic, martial arts, and economic self-sufficiency. ‘Juche’ means “self-reliance”.

Spiritism is focused on interaction with celestial spirits believed to exist, and to gain wisdom from them. Formed in France by Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail, Spiritism is best known for such totems as Quija Boards and Séance parties.

Baha’I was formed about 150 years ago, and follows the teaching of one Bahá’u’lláh, who claimed to be sent to mankind as an emissary of God, and co-equal to Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad in stature and credibility. The basic theme of Baha’I is that Humanity is in evolution, and grows in stages, each new messenger representing an elevation in that growth.

Jainism is similar to the Hindu faith in form, but follows the teaching of 24 masters who “overcame” the world. It is similar to Buddhism in its disciplines, and pays special homage to one ‘Mahavir’. Jainism is focused mainly in India.

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, which rose from feritility cults and nature worship to include hero worship. During the fascist years under Tojo, for instance, Shinto priests played up the image of the Emporer and the Army as national heroes by identity and divine purpose. This led, among other things, to groups like the kamikaze fighters, whose devotion to the emperor went far beyond rational measure.

Cao Dai is an Asian-based religion based on themes of tolerance, unity, common purpose, a single deity, and peace as human destiny. The Cao Dai believe God and Humans are one in essence.

Zoroastrianism is an ancient mythic belief which originated in Iran. Zoroastrianism is notable for being the earliest religion to foretell a final battle between forces of Good and Evil, and of a celestial judgment for all men based on whether they did good work or evil.

Tenriko is an Asian religion founded in Japan during the 19th Century, which seeks harmony in life and society. Tenriko can be employed through such things as flower arrangement or food placement on a plate. A good example of Tenriko is the spiritual value many find in Japanese gardens.

Neo-Paganism is also known as Gardnerian Wicca, and emphasizes devotion to nature and ecology, as well as ancient pagan traditions related to respect for the earth.

Unitarian-Universalism is the notion that all religions amount to the same purpose, and so unity and common tolerance and respect for all beliefs should be ancouraged and taught.

Rastafarianism is a religion common to Haiti and Jamaica. Originally a social protest in the early 20th century, Rastafarianism has evolved into a cultural identity, with heavy emphasis on drug-aided meditation, especiall marijuana.

Scientology is proof that bad literature can still grab a following. L Ron Hubbard was never better than a middling novelist, but he sold plenty of people on his quack theories, most notably Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

That's the biggies, folks. What does that tell you?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Polls And Politics


Well, John Zogby is nothing if not a firestarter. His latest imitation poll purports to claim that most American soldiers want to just call it quits and go home. As I wrote earlier, and as others have admirably demonstrated, that poll is so obviously flawed (if not an outright fraud) as to raise doubts about the accuracy of any opinion polling method. And so today’s column addresses the science of polling.

You may be familiar with basic probability. That is, if I flip a normal coin, there is a 50-50 chance between Heads and Tails. And you may have heard that if I flip a coin five times and it comes up ‘heads’ all five, that there is still only a 50% chance of it coming up heads or tails on the sixth flip. Of course, that’s also where human opinion comes in, because if a coin comes up ‘heads’ five times in a row, I’m going to become suspicious about the weighting of that coin. All things being equal, a coin should not come up 5 in a row one way, so if it does, I’m likely to start thinking that all things are not equal. And while that’s just my opinion, that opinion carries its own weight. The problem for Science is measuring opinion in a consistent and empirical manner. The only solution at hand is to review poll results in the context of the only analytical measure appropriate for such comparison; comparing election poll predictions to the actual results over a sustained period of time, and under comparable conditions and methodology.

It has always been human nature to want to know the future. The ancient Egyptians, and later the Greeks, were noted for pretty much making an industry out of omens and oracles. Nice gig, with certain restrictions. Fast forward to the 20th Century, and your average politico wants to be hip, to be happening, to be the guy with the know. That is, a lot of them want to know what they must and must not say when campaigning for office, or when giving speeches on a given issue. And of course the public is hungry to know what’s in fashion, so it was only natural that the major newspapers started giving attention to mentioning the Gallup poll and other big-time polls. And before long, polls started getting reported as news by themselves. When Walter Cronkite wanted to claim the Vietnam War was being lost, he not only said so as his own opinion, he pointed to carefully managed CBS polls which seemed to say the same thing. Throughout modern political history, officials and candidates have spun and sponsored polls to support their position and counter the opposition. Fortunately, these days there is also the New Media, to catch out frauds like Zogby and correct the bias in polls from other MSM outlets. While it can be annoying to have to cut apart polls one after another to show why they do or do not accurately reflect the national mood, the need to do so is greater than ever.

The first thing I would recommend any reader do when noticing a poll, is to ask why the poll is being done. That is, do you get the sense that the poll seeks to discover the existing mood of the nation, or does it seem to want to direct the mood in a certain direction? Many polls give away a bias in the way their headlines read; if the headline statement is not completely supported by the results of the actual poll, a bias exists. In some cases the claims made in the headline are actually contradicted by the details of the poll itself. For instance, whenever a poll cites a President’s “best” or “worst” approval ratings, watch out, because those polls do not often compare a given President to other Presidents. Also, Presidents are often given high or low approval ratings out of a sense of tension; that is, a poor President can enjoy good ratings simply by avoiding controversy and difficult decisions, while a good President may drop in the ratings because he takes on the tough issues.

Another trick in polls is the demographics. Blog readers are getting to be pretty sharp at noting unbalanced respondent pools; the 2004 election was pretty evenly split, with 37% each for Democrats and Republicans, with the remaining 26% self-identified Independents. Any poll weighting by party affiliation or identification ought to use the same balance in their demographics, but none of the major polling groups does this. Also, as we have seen, some deliberately overstate representation by minorities, by urban respondents, and by the under-30 adult, in order to present their findings in a Liberal-friendly light. I think this happens for three reasons. First, the United States has been leaning Liberal for a long time, and it’s taking the polling groups a while to understand that the Reagan Revolution was a paradigm shift in cultural focus. That is, it’s a permanent thing. Second, for whatever reason a large number of the polling groups are managed by Liberals. I think this has more to do with the urban-voter effect (remember that the major polling groups are based in large cities, which tend to vote more Liberal than the country as a whole), but in results it means that a pro-Liberal lean feels natural to these polling groups. The better groups are working on correcting this problem, but it’s still there to some extent. And third, it sells well to be Liberal in a poll. That’s because Conservatives, nominally, prefer facts to opinion, while Liberals have always been interested in how the wind is blowing.

But this hardly means that you cannot use a poll’s results to get a good sense of direction and opinion. For one thing, most polls, whatever their methodology, are consistent within its scope, the notable exception being Zogby. Also, even when a poll is biased, if it cites its internal data, like the CBS News/New York Times poll for example, then you have solid data by which you can actually reverse-engineer the poll and reconstruct the numbers using the hard data. The readers will remember that even when a poll had results I liked, if I could not see the internals, I could not call that poll credible.

Finally, you should also look at any poll with a critical eye, as to how it was constructed. In the case of the Zogby poll which claimed the U.S. Military wants to quit, for example, a number of red flags go up as soon as one tries to consider how Zogby went about conducting his poll. Polls can be scientifically accurate, but only when established procedures to confirm random response are consistently applied. To have a truly viable scientific sample, you need to interview at least a thousand respondents within the conditions needed, inside a three-to-five day period, at different times of the day, and in a variety of locations to avoid a demographic rut. In a national survey, that usually means RDD sampling with a margin for no-response/eligible contacts as well. It would mean avoiding concentrations in location or time or demographic categories. That’s a tall order, and frankly a lot of polling groups fudge a bit, accepting less than a statistically valid sample or accepting demographic imbalance and depending on an arbitrary weighting to “correct” the results. In the case of soldiers in Iraq, the task becomes unwieldy very fast. To begin with, contacting a thousand respondents is one thing, but a valid response in terms of the opinions of our fighting men means aiming for combat units, something Zogby clearly did not attempt, as evidenced by the demographic data released. Further, there is evidence that Zogby’s respondents were clustered in geographic locations, which further dilutes the viability of the results. In plain English, Zogby either deliberately ignored the soldiers whose opinion was the most relevant to the question of combat morale, or he mixed pools to get a flavor he wanted. He did not achieve anything like a truly random response, which by itself negates any claim to statistical accuracy. I won’t even go into the question phrasing, the order of the questions, or the use of a sub-contractor whose motives might be reasonably called into question. The poll simply failed to meet basic criteria for credibility, as is sadly common in Zogby polls these days.

Read the polls, take information from them, but don’t worship them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What If We Had Not Deserted Vietnam?


My thought for the day. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that whatever the end result of the invasion of Iraq is, the place is better for it, a fact which is causing some much-deserved gnashing of teeth and wailing in the halls of the Left. The decision was not easy, especially with doubters all along the way, but the removal of Saddam, two sets of free elections, the creation of a representative Parliament and Army for Iraq, and a check on the emerging ambitions of a madman in Iran, and such make for a pretty good return on investment so far. Which does not even address the notion of creating a functional Arab democratic republic, complete with free enterprise and women voters.

Now, roll the clock back to 1972. The U.S. was winning the war in Vietnam, as close as they ever came. Mining Haiphong Harbor, air strikes on selected North Vietnam targets, and diplomatic hints that the President was seriously thinking about expanding the war in scale and territory, all helped to chase the Viet Cong to the Paris Peace Talks. Imagine, just for the mental exercise, if Richard Nixon had done the following things differently:

1. Turned in the Plumbers as soon as he heard about them. 'Sorry guys, I love ya but you did this on your own’.
2. Supported free elections in South Vietnam, with promotional efforts made to help pro-democracy candidates?
3. Replaced Spiro Agnew with either Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan in 1973.
4. Met up with a few key Democrat hawks (the real thing did exist in the early 1970s) and decide to keep Southeast Asia secure.

Just thinking, what if? I know I know, it’s not to say we could have “won” in Vietnam under the conditions imposed on the military, but if South Vietnam could have been maintained the way we have in South Korea, and given what we know now about the Cold War and the political evolution in Asia, it’s tantalizing to think about the possibilities. And then to apply what we learn to the real-world conditions in Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"The Unit"


I normally don't have much to say in praise of CBS, but maybe they got one right. Tonight is the premiere of a new series called "The Unit", which revolves around the work and lives of a team of Special Forces soldiers who perform missions around the globe. Knowing CBS and having seen the commercial, I have to admit I am already a little unhappy with the emphasis on sex in a show which is about trustworthiness and combat, but the cast appears to be good and the basic premise offers a lot of potential. Sure, they could screw this up the way they did "The Agency", but if they get it right, CBS might actually have a show that's tougher and smarter than "24". And no, I never thought that would be a possibility for CBS in the near future.

Here's hoping the premiere lives up to its promise.

Monday, March 06, 2006



Gaypatriot posted a letter last week which is required reading. Just one part reads:

“To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.”

How about that, John Murtha?

Another part reads:

“I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.”

Want to explain that in the context of Democratic Defeatism, Senator Clinton?

Here’s the last part:

“Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment, I haven’t the words to describe the courage of its officers and soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these legendary heroes and their brave families.”

Why do I think no one in a New York studio has any plans to mention this letter, from the Mayor of Tall ‘Afar, Iraq?

Read it, and pass it along. Heroes do indeed live, and they call themselves American soldiers. Like the good Mayor, I lack the words to do justice to what they have accomplished. The audience may note, ahem, that the good Mayor would seem to be both an Arab and a Muslim, just for the record.

PS – From Powerline Blog, details about the operation.

REALTIME - Scenario Review


President Bush lying in a hospital bed at an unknown site, Cheney in command of the armed forces, two American cities hit with nuclear attacks, a Middel East nation utterly destroyed, Russia and China with their fingers on the nuclear button... and this was a “Best-Case” scenario?

According to a program called REALTIME, yes. Of course, REALTIME was written more than fifteen years ago and when it was, it was not written as a military scenario simulator or designed to micro-manage crises. Even so, when I applied the possibility of a nuclear exchange between the United States and Iran, I found the playout interesting. I tried to apply the best information on the general overall capabilities of the United States and Iran, as well as the other major players, both militarily and politically. I also tried to leave the parameters of the conflict as wide open as possible, with the most likely results produced where one existed above 40.0%, and left the 40.0 and under chances to a randomizer. I realize that too much of an examination would bore most folks to tears, but I did find certain points fascinating:

1. REALTIME gave no chance to a first strike by the United States on Iran. Even when I tweaked conditions to suggest an imminent strike by Iran, the program waited for an actual attack.

2. Every nuclear attack by Iran included a nuclear attack on the U.S. If Iran had just one bomb, it hit an American target. If it had two, it had two U.S. targets. Only when Iran possessed three or more nuclear weapons, did it hit another country. The second country attacked ws always Israel, though if Iran possessed eight or more weapons it also attacked Saudi Arabia.

3. Every alternative featured an attempt on the President. Some were successful, most were not. Bomb attempts were common, but never succeeded. In this scenario, terrorists were sent to Washington D.C. to attack the same day as the bombs were to be detonated, the closest thing to simultaneous action that Iran could manage under signal silence. In this case, Iranian assassins listened to network news radio transmissions in the clear, and set up at the location of an impromptu press conference. They were able to attack the President because the Secret Service had less time than usual to clear the area in detail, and because of human nature; it is a common mistake to believe you are safer in an area where you are familiar, and so to assume that your enemy is less likely to try something on your home turf.

4. In every alternative where Iran attacked Israel, the bomb was delivered in a different manner than in the United States.

5. In no alternative did every Iranian bomb detonate.

6. In no alternative did the Russians or Chinese react to American nuclear strikes on Iran, although the scenario always ended within 24 hours of the attack on the President, so that long-term reaction (say, to things like fallout floating over their country) is not addressed in the scenario. Even so, the fact that no alternative included a nuclear escalation after the American strikes is interesting and frightening at the same time.

7. In no alternative was Iran attacked by a nation besides the United States or Israel.

8. Every alternative where a nuclear weapon detonated on American soil, the United States used nuclear weapons on Iran, and always in a measure which destroyed Iran’s military at all levels and killed more than a million people.

9. The various attempts to fool American sensors (like masking the Iranian material with Russian nuclear waste) failed to provoke a U.S. attack on Russia or any country except Iran.

This scenario, while interesting, was no more scientific than my preference for Beagles over Pit Bulls. While the program was interesting, it should not be considered an accurate predictor of American capabilities or intentions. That said, I wish someone would make clear to President Ahmadinejad and his Mullah masters, that the only way to avoid turning his nation into a glowing puddle, along with setting Islam back by an incalculable distance, is to re-evaluate his threats and plans in the light of real capabilities.

An interesting exercise, enough to make me wonder how the pros’ games are playing out?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Modern Education - Incomplete


A reader last week asked me to address Post-High School Education in the United States as a topic, and I gladly take up that challenge. I have to say at the start, however, that the topic is a broad and serious one, and one which I can only touch in a very superficial way in one sitting. Wordy as I am, I cannot address the issue in a comprehensive sense without a lot more time and space, and I suspect the readers would not wish to examine too many fine details on the subject, so it’s overview time again.

Education has changed from what it used to be. Back when the United States was founded, you basically had four types of education. There were colleges for professionals like doctors and lawyers, and the sons of noblemen, which accounted for the survival of bad poetry and medeival architectural studies through history. There were trade guilds, which used apprenticeships to bring in the new talent for such things as smithywork, tannery, or cobbling. There was the basic knowledge of reading, writing, and simple arithmetic for the average sort, and sadly there was a whole class of folks who were not provided with a means for any structured education whatsoever. The purpose of each class was to equip the individual for the life they were expected to lead.

The American Ideal, however, naturally found class distinction unsound, and over time there was a movement towards some measure of education for everyone, and general admission to universities for anyone so inclined, provided they could pay the tuition. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, therefore, most Americans had access to basic educational skills, and a man could at least dream of sending his kids to college or a decent trade school. The level of education received, however, varied considerably from place to place, resulting in a modest attempt at standardization by way of local school boards.

Fast-forward then to the 1960s. After Sputnik, Americans began, for the first time, to doubt that their education was the best in the world, and the fear that we would lose the Space Race to the Soviets led to emotional demands for better education and resources. Unfortunately, human capacity is not so easily adapted to political goals, but fortunately, the American character pursued ambitions which the Soviets could not offer. The fact is, however, that in the past generation especially, schools at all levels have been unreasonably influenced by political considerations and social correctness, and temporary priorities have been allowed to subvert basic lessons.

The obvious solution, in my opinion, is to return control to the Independent School District level, with standardized testing at each grade level in the basic coursework and scholarly skills. This will allow for correction to unbalanced curriculum, and will further allow each district more control of its own resources. The trouble, of course, is the likelihood of court intervention in the pursuit of equal outcomes, which is both a mathematical impossibility, yet also the unyielding demand of everyone whose kid is failing school.

Ironic, but the old rule of getting the education you need for the work you do is valid again. It’s valid, because where it originally was imposed on someone (Son, the blacksmith has agreed to take you on as an apprentice. You start tomorrow at 5 AM. Good luck), today it’s available as an option. Anyone can pursue a college degree or go to a trade school, anyone can choose to settle for what they learn while underage. The key skills are developing a sense of intellectual curiosity and honesty, a work ethic and a personal code of honor. By adulthood, you either have and use those things or you do not.

And that is really where I think education has fallen down. You can still learn your reading and writing, your math and your science, and even if it gets politically colored you still get some version of history. But a large portion of young people grow up without a sense of responsibility, or a hunger to prove themselves. Not enough people see losing as a valuable life lesson that gets you ready for the real world. Not enough people are willing to accept that you will inevitably see both good and bad luck in your endeavours, but only the combination of some luck and a lot of hard work ever turns into lasting success. Not enough people learn while they are young that spending all your money early means you will not have it later, or that excess in anything leads to an eventual but certain disaster. To have a full education before they finish High School, young people need church and community work to teach them those vital, missing, lessons.