Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eisenhower Story

Another reason to like Ike.

A useful reminder of how doctrine isn't born fully formed and perfect, it's a result of constant testing and struggle against diverse circumstances.  There is a book waiting to be written comparing this with the Cuban missile crisis and MacArthur/Truman in Korea.

IT Gone Bad

Related to Cringely's comments on IT, here is a story about a large non-profit in the Portland area at risk of bankruptcy ostensibly because of bad IT.  That's disgusting!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Excellent Cringely column/podcast

Cringely has an excellent column and associated podcast up dated 4/18.  His thesis in a nutshell:  Most IT consultants don't know what they're doing, and trusting such people can destroy a company.  What he doesn't say is that many internal IT departments are no better then consultants. 

The fundamental problem is businesses that don't know what they're doing.  What is the average duration of employment for someone with a given organization, maybe 5 years?  How long does it take to understand all the nuances and tricks, to know what is real and what is merely label?  One year, at a minimum. 

Now add a level of complexity:  how long does it take to gain sufficient mastery to be able to explain these intricacies to someone else?  It's the difference between being a student and being a teacher.  I'd say another year, easily.

So in a given company, at least 20% of the people don't know what they're doing, and another 20% are probably doing the right thing but couldn't tell you why.  Throw in the fact that most of these 40% will not self identify, and it's no wonder requirement gathering sucks! 

Cringely cites a successful consultant, Christine Comaford-Lynch:

A key part of her success was her requirements gathering process. She turned it into a very effective collaboration effort involving the key people who would use the software.

Sounds to me like she was good at separating the wheat from the chaff.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Krauthammer op-ed

This crap op-ed by Charles Krauthammer got me thinking about the nuclear club.  He claims the successful program in North Korea, and ongoing work in Iran mark the "end of the era of non-proliferation."  Really?  Let's look at the numbers:

Country/Year of successful weapon test

  • US, 1945
  • USSR, 1949
  • Britain, 1952
  • France, 1960
  • China, 1964
  • India, 1974
  • Israel, prior to 1979
  • South Africa, 1979
  • Pakistan, 1998
  • North Korea, 2006

Nearly every decade since the creation of the bomb has seen a nation, quietly or loudly, enter the nuclear club.  And with the arguable exception of Britain every one of those countries conducted the R&D work in strictest secrecy.  Secrecy in this context is not a sign of nefariousness, it is simply the way successful nuclear weapons programs get done. 

The idea that Iran's program marks some huge breach with the past is absurd, it would be a greater discontinuity if countries stopped trying to get nuclear weapons.

Snarkage:  Krauthammer on regime change:

Total safety comes only from regime change. During the Cold War, we worried about Soviet nukes, but never French or British nukes. Weapons don't kill people; people kill people. Regime change will surely come to both North Korea and Iran. That is the ultimate salvation.

Regime change equals remaking a country into Britain or France!  TOTAL SAFETY!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Not good in Russia

Says Engadget.  Mandatory registration for all wi-fi transmitters(as in a wireless router) and enabled devices.  I hope they haven't thrown out all their fax machines...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Interesting Analysis

M K Bhadrakumar has an interesting review in Asia Times of Iran's role in Basra.  There is a lot of quote-worthy material, such as his puzzlement over Iran's modesty:

In the highly competitive world of international politics, nation states very rarely miss an opportunity to crow about success stories. The opportunity comes rare, mostly by default, and seldom enduring. By any standards of showmanship, therefore, Tehran has set a new benchmark of reticence.

The real money quote though is on the Bush administration:


Out of the dramatic developments of the past week, several questions arise, the principal being that the Bush administration's triumphalism over the so-called Iraq "surge" strategy has become irredeemably farcical, and, two, US doublespeak has become badly exposed. What stands out is that Washington promoted the latest round of violence in Basra, whereas Iran cried halt to it. The awesome influence of Tehran has become all too apparent. How does Bush come to terms with it?

How indeed?

Rubin Op-Ed

Via Foreign Affairs

Michael Rubin has a generally wrong op-ed in the WSJ, but it has a few nuggets worth considering.  His thesis in a nutshell:  Democratic presidential candidates pose as realists, but their emphasis on diplomacy as opposed to military force makes them idealists.  Rubin implies this makes them more dangerous then the fantasist George Bush.

The problems with this thesis are clear.  Neither of the Democratic candidates have indicated a desire to disband the U.S. military.  They have not even indicated a desire to reduce military funding from it's current astronomical levels.  In fact, the only policy proposal from a Democratic candidate that Rubin cites is Obama's advocacy of aggressive diplomacy with Iran.

What is Rubin's take on Iran?

Attacking Iran isn't a viable option because it would likely only delay, not eliminate, Tehran's nuclear program. Risking the blowback from an attack would only be productive if there was a strategy to use the interim period to end the threat posed by the regime's ideology. Until there is a regime-change strategy, a military strike would merely allow politicians to put off conducting a serious national security debate.

In other words, to topple the government of Iran. 


Snarkage:  Rubin pushes the combination of threatening military force with diplomacy.  Is there a better example of successfully executing this strategy then Bill Clinton with North Korea and Iraq?  Is there a better example of the perils of this strategy then George W. Bush?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Continuity in the White House?

Via Foreign Affairs daily opinion roundup:

Philip Stephens has an op-ed in the Financial Times suggesting that the next President will have significant continuities in policy with the Bush Administration, if only because there are too many problems to solve in the course of a single term.

If you allow problems to define you then I suppose he's right.  I'd hope for more though, a lot more from whoever is next to sit in office.  The key challenge Stephens dances around is rejecting the factionalism that developed under Bush and regaining control of the bureaucracies.

Throughout Bush's term he was constantly overwhelmed and outmatched by events on the ground.  This was only partially due to his incompetence.  Another factor was the lack of control and direction given to the bureaucracies that make up the federal government.  Cabinet members and their subordinates were free to pursue whatever agenda they wanted, so long as they observed the Golden Rule:  Do not make George Bush look bad.  Disband the Iraqi ArmyGive the leader of North Korea the fingerBadmouth Western Europe?  Sure thing!  Allowing the departments to pursue their own agendas meant allowing them to define their own problems, all of them vying for attention and resources.  A more unified administration would force policies to match given resources, based on the President's priorities.

I think any of the current candidates including McCain would bring a more unitary style of management.  That in itself would mark a dramatic change from Bush- a President defined by their policies, rather then their problems.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Surprisingly smart op-ed on Afghanistan

Courtesy of Foreign Affairs:

Benjamin Friedman has a good op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor.  He criticizes the field of presidential candidates for seeking to expand the western troop presence in Afghanistan, either through NATO or the American military. 

His point in a nutshell- foreign military power is no substitute for a legitimate federal government.  The US doesn't need a large occupation force to conduct anti-terrorist operations, and military forces are terribly ineffective at nation building.  Hence sending in more troops is a waste of lives and money. 

Friedman does not dwell on the political calculus that encourages both parties to support escalation, but it's not hard to see.  First there is a perception that while Iraq is 'lost' Afghanistan can still be 'won', and having more troops there increases the chance of winning.  Afghanistan is salve and distraction from our losses in Iraq.  Escalation also serves as political cover; candidates who would withdraw troops from Iraq can still claim the mantle of militarism by sending them elsewhere.  There is a third reason for sending troops to Afghanistan, one that somewhat undermines Friedman's argument.

I'd argue that eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan are more important to America's national security then Iraq.  First, Pakistan is an unstable country with nuclear weapons.  Anything is possible there, and a significant area troop presence creates options.  Second, the worst people are there.  Osama Bin Laden and his followers, the people who actually did attack the U.S., are there.  More troops permit more effective cordon and search operations.  In sum, Afghanistan and Pakistan possess real WMD, and real people who have demonstrated the will and ability to launch attacks on U.S. soil.  Iraq (and Iran) possess neither.

That's a relatively small problem though, because that only works if you think military forces in Afghanistan won't be used for nation building, and they almost certainly will be.  It's worth thinking about what that is likely to accomplish.