July 2007

Jeffrey D. Sachs calls attention to Neglected Tropical Diseases – or NTDs. This diseases afflict Africans especially.

Currently, developmental aid focuses too much on vague economic structural reform or big-name diseases like HIV. Yet it’s the little things like dysentery and parasitic worms that wreck societies. Many of these ailments can be cured with very cheap medicine and treatment


The FAA is experimenting with a GPS system to track aircraft instead of ground-based radar.

This is a good solution to problems with ATC. There has been an increase in near-misses, overworked controllers, and problems with radar. This causes congestion around airports.

The GPS can reform the system. It helps pilots navigate and it gives controllers accurate information about traffic.

The Army armed UGVs with rifles. In the past, the Army used the ground robots to defuse IEDs, scout buildings and sort through rubble. It was only a matter of time until someone figured out how to mount a weapon on them and use them for combat missions. These are literally remote controlled M249 SAWs.

The Air Force went through a similar transition with the Predator UAVs. At first, they were a simple recon drone designed to supplement air operations. Then they armed them with Hellfires. The newest UAVs like the Reaper virtually replace fighter-bombers.

I’m seeing another pattern across a range of wars that might be useful. After Islamists establish their radical states, the population turns against them in short order. Other types of militant organizations are not having much better success.

Radical Islamists lose the support of the local Muslim population everywhere they installed a government: The Taliban in Afghanistan and many parts of Pakistan, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, The Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, the GIA in Algeria, and so forth. These groups establish a radical form of theocratic government, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, and terrorize their political opponents into submission.

Hamas is the latest group to wear out its welcome in record time. Their approval has plunged to 15% in Palestine, and more than two thirds of Palestinians want to hold new elections.

It’s fashionable to say that journalists are politically biased. They are, but that’s not the point. Journalism is damaged by sampling bias.

Journalists report anecdotes as if a few scattered samples are an indication of statistical trends. Making matters worse, journalists select which events to cover and which to ignore, creating a distorted view of reality. They string together these anecdotes to form an artistic narrative to sell to audiences.

Journalists confuse randomness as meaningful. They insert emotional appeals and taint our interpretation. It’s a false narrative, obviously.

The New York Times reporters on the ground, like John Burns and now Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack are reporting on the sea change in Iraq. Gen. Petreaus’ COIN strategy has improved the security and political position in Iraq.

It’s my observation that the US needed a COIN strategy back in 2003. The inability to hold positions after clearing them allowed the network insurgency to grow unchecked.

Non-state actors need financial income to sustain operations. If they lack a state sponsor, they must develop their own economy. So they turn to criminals. Insurgents provide legal sanctuary for criminals in return for taxes.

This is a growing pattern since the end of the Cold War. The loss of Soviet and Chinese sponsorship forced militants to turn to gangsters. There are a few exceptions, like Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah.

This means criminals have gone to war to hollow out the nation-state. This has an unexpected effect. Criminals don’t want the insurgents to win either. As time goes on, pragmatic criminals take over militant organizations and push aside the ideologues. They just want lawless areas.

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