Archive for August, 2007

…but in their eyes

August 27th, 2007 — Wordman

Samablog’s recent mention of two articles with differing perspectives on the comparison between Vietnam and Iraq finds me returning to thoughts of a different comparison, one made before the war really started. To me, the biggest mistake made in Iraq appears to be the incorrect belief that that the Iraqis would be as active and willing in rebuilding their country as the Germans and Japanese were after World War II. They clearly haven’t been.

Up to now, I’ve gone along with the reasoning that this was because Iraq really wasn’t a nation to begin with, but rather an artificial imposition of Winston Churchill. While this seems reasonable, the articles Rob mentioned mixed in my head with a conversation I had with my wife’s uncle (a German citizen) about what life in the Fatherland was like after the war and with an article claiming (among other things) that suicide bombing is really about sex. The result suggests another key difference between post-WWII and Iraq: Immediately following the war, a large percentage of the young male population in Germany and Japan had been killed, so were not around to either help or hinder the rebuilding.

It’s hard to say what would have happened in those two countries had the young male population been around during that time. Certainly most of them would have been unemployed. You can imagine that this would have led to all sorts of things, such as increased crime, the rise of “gangs” or worse, and so on. Hitler, for example, was originally elected on promises of ending unemployment.

Iraq, however, and the Middle East in general, hasn’t recently suffered a World War to decimate its young males. While it’s tricky finding nuanced demographic information on Iraq, what figures there are point to more males than females, with a median age for males of 19.6 years. It’s likely that those in the insurgency now are the exact gender and age that would have been killed in something like World War II. Although a 1999 study by the U.S. Government on what makes a terrorist concluded that “there does not appear to be a single terrorist personality”, it mentions that 80% of terrorists world wide were male, and nearly all of them were under 30 years old. It claims that most suicide bombers “were bachelors aged 18 to 25” and that “Arab and Iranian groups tend to use boys aged 14 to 15 for dangerous missions, in part because they are less likely to question instructions”. This report is to old to contain information from 9/11 and recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it seems clear that young men are a significant portion of the insurgency.

All of this, combined with the sectarian violence Iraqi’s seem intent on pursuing in place of rebuilding their country suggests a strategy for the US in Iraq. It is quite brutal, and probably unworkable, but I think you’ll find it has a better chance of success than any other concrete strategy you’ve seen voiced recently (any easy task, since there haven’t been any). It requires abandoning all pretense that the U.S. cares at all for Iraqi civilians, but with over half a million of them being dead already, I’m not sure this pretense is really believed by anyone anyway.

The strategy goes like this:

  1. Withdraw all U.S. forces in Iraq into Afghanistan suddenly and without warning. Destroy any bases or airfields that would make the country harder to reconquer later.
  2. Watch as the various factions in Iraq start to kill each other in increasingly creative ways.
  3. Allow any arms dealers under CIA control to go nuts selling weapons that armies would use to fight each other, like tanks and artillery. The idea would be to encourage battles between semi-military forces, rather than soliders vs. civilians.
  4. At some point, the factions will probably stop fighting each other in favor of ethnically cleansing areas under control, as this is safer than getting killed by an opposing army. When this happens, send in black ops missions to frame the other side, with the intent to refocus the factions on killing each other instead of civilians.
  5. When one side gains the upper hand (probably the Shia, since they will be getting backing from Iran) send in some cruise missiles and air strikes to even the odds, claiming that we’re striking “terrorist camps” or something similar. No one will believe us, but fortunately that will no longer matter (a fringe benefit of Bush’s “middle finger” style of diplomacy is that we no longer even need to pretend).
  6. Fighting will probably lead to fracturing of Iraq into three or more ethnically aligned “nations”. When this happens, recognize all of their governments, then sell them all weapons. Also, repeat step 4, with the idea of getting the whole region to fight until it is under the control of a single “government”.
  7. While all this is going on, finish the mission in Afghanistan somehow.
  8. Once the region known as Iraq is under a single group’s control, re-invade.

At this point, we’re back to where we started, with three important differences. The first is that it will probably be twenty years later, with a splendid excuse to fund the miliary-industrial complex for the duration. More importantly, however, all the young men in Iraq (and probably from a lot of neighboring nations) will be dead, and the local population will have a fresh taste of what happens when you don’t take a hand in making your own civilization better.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, OK, lots. In a mine field of wild cards, two stand out. First is that should an independent Kurdistan get formed in the process, Turkey would probably invade it, which would make things much scarier. Still, it would probably be possible to leverage their desire to join the EU and sacrifice some Iraqi territory to contain this. The second wild card is the third important difference mentioned above: more countries, probably including Iran, would now have nukes. This would be scary, but I still think may make the situation more manageable if handled well, not less.

On the other hand, Iran will probably invade as soon as we leave anyway, making much of the strategy moot.

Burying the dragon

August 16th, 2007 — Wordman

Unsurprisingly, after canceling all of its licensing agreements, publisher Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is releasing Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition.

While a forum thread seems to be tracking all the details, one thing strikes me about their announcement: it doesn’t make any mention of the Open Gaming License (OGL) or the d20 System. Since WotC has the power to revoke the latter, I’m assuming that they will soon do so, probably as quietly as possible. So you may want to download the SRD while you still can. Update: Evidently, during a press conference, Wizards did state that 4th Edition would use OGL and a new SRD. This still doesn’t prevent them from revoking d20, however.

One other interesting bit is their on-line strategy, which really does look a bit like they are trying to pull a Steve Jackson and become the central, perhaps only, online hub for the game, all built around the horribly named Gleemax. Though I can’t find a more official link, in another forum post, something called “D&D Insider Fact Sheet” is reproduced, claiming this is “one community to rule them all”.

You can bet that non-WotC publishers of d20 games will be scrambling. Perhaps they will move to Green Ronin’s True20 license, which seems to have been constructed specifically to deal with this eventuality.

Wizards is clearly betting that their fan base will follow them. I’m not sure that’s true. It’s not clear to me if the Third Edition succeeded on its own merits, or because the OGL and d20 gave players a much larger and more diverse product line. I suspect the latter.

The Asteroid Ultimatum

August 12th, 2007 — Wordman

I just got back from seeing the Bourne Ultimatum. This might be a good movie, from the sound of it. I wouldn’t know though, because cinematographer Oliver Wood seems to have screwed the movie up entirely by only hiring cameramen with advanced Parkinson’s disease or some other severe palsy, so you couldn’t actually see much of anything. When the DVD of this movie comes out, someone should go through it and count the frames that consist of nothing but motion blur. I’d wager the count will be more than 15%. Some highlights:

  • A scene where Matt Damon and Julia Stiles are sitting down, looking at each other, doing nothing but quietly talking. They seem to be unaware that the cameramen are, evidently, caught in a massive earthquake or about to be eaten by the worms in Tremors.
  • Several different points where the camera spends several seconds frenetically panning around at absolutely nothing.
  • One of the best car crashes ever is rendered completely moot by the fact that you can’t see a damn thing. Repeatedly. From several different angles.
  • Most of the scenes, where editor Christopher Rouse takes footage from several cameras providing different angles on a single shot, and toggles the lever that switches between them like it was a Robotron controller.
  • The credits, when you realize you are looking at the first stable shot you’ve seen in the past two hours.

Similar stupidity marred what might have been a good movie trailer for Cthulhu in the Field of Clover or whatever it’s called.

I don’t pretend to be a filmmaker. I am, however, a film watcher and, seriously Hollywood, how many more films are you going to let the Handheld ShakyCam™ technique ruin before you knock it the hell off? I know you think it makes the film look “edgy” or “gritty” or “realistic” or something, but it doesn’t. It just makes the audience nauseous. Normally the rest of your recent products do that without the benefit of cinematography induced motion sickness. Please, at least, stop ruining movies that don’t suck from conception by shooting them handheld. Tripods aren’t that expensive.

Numbers is the new…

August 8th, 2007 — Wordman

Apple released a new “spreadsheet application” called Numbers as part of its iWork suite. A number of people have already started commenting that this is not exactly a spreadsheet application, but more an application that includes spreadsheet features, along with page layout and some other tricks.

Over the next few weeks, you’re probably going to hear some people claim that its a whole new concept. John Gruber, for example, mused: “This is a total ground-up re-imagining of what a ‘spreadsheet’ app is.… Numbers might be as much a new Hypercard as it is a new Excel.” Don’t you believe it though; we’ve seen this before.

In many ways, Numbers is really the new OpenDoc.

Originally conceived as Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), OpenDoc was about embedding “components” into documents that would all be linked together. You might have a spreadsheet component, for example, that was linked to a graph component. When you edited the spreadsheet, the graph updated. There would be other components you could add, maybe to show images, for example. Back when OpenDoc was under heavy development, this was the canonical demo what OpenDoc would do for you. It would, in fact, look a lot like this screen from Numbers:

I seriously doubt that Numbers works exactly like OpenDoc did, and it certainly doesn’t have the full blown complement of OpenDoc features. For example, you probably can’t add your own components to it (yet). But it sure looks like the way OpenDoc was supposed to function, and I’d wager that a great deal of OpenDoc code ended up inside it.