August 2007

You turn on the nightly news. You see a burning car in a foreign country. Ambulances carry away bloody bodies while angry men scream at the camera. You change the channel. You hear a story of a beautiful blonde college girl gone missing on vacation. You change the channel again and listen to a story of a schoolbus accident in California.

If anyone makes an argument based on those examples, they are using the appeal to emotion fallacy. But what is the effect on you, the viewer? Even if you distrust these stories and believe they are sensational exaggerations of rare events, they still impact your impression of reality.

After seeing a vivid event, you believe that such events are more frequent than they really are. In fact, if I was a beautiful blonde college girl I would be too terrified to go on a vacation.


I want to propose a simple model of the dynamics of insurgencies. In traditional warfare, two or more states will directly fight one another to achieve victory. Insurgencies defy this framework, not because insurgents avoid fighting, but because the victory objectives are substantially different.

In an insurgency, two or more forces compete for control over a common resource and objective – the civilian population. The insurgents organize to change the status quo. They have to win the support of the civilians by any means in order to gain victory.

Insurgent and government forces need a civilian “ecology” to gather resources, material, and intelligence to win.

Tyler Cowen reviews Charles Karelis’ Persistence of Poverty which describes why economic ideas from wealthier individuals and societies do not help the poor. The problem is not the amount of money or lack of effort.

The poor, due to their position, have different marginal preferences than the rest of us.

Most murder victims are criminals, not random innocents. In Baltimore 91% of murder victims were criminals. Other cities collected similar statistics.

Most crimes are not random or pointless. Most criminal activity is a violent competitive business – like gangs running drug operations.

As a matter of speculation, how can you shut down a nation-state with a series of highly targetted strikes? Why would I do this? I don’t want to. I’m merely pointing out how.

Economic systems are vulnerable to disruptive attacks. This won’t break the state itself, but it can impoverish it. In particular, I would look for system infrastructure that is old, has a high failure rate, and is in high demand.

Chinese officers and American officers are thinking along the same lines. The Chinese call this unrestricted warfare; Americans are calling it 4th Generation Warfare. Terrorism as a tactic failed. Now we’re seeing insurgents become more creative by attacking civilian economic networks rather than civilians. So let’s imagine ourselves as clever insurgents. What can we easily attack that can seriously harm out nation-state enemies?

Nuance is supposed to be about subtle distinctions between ideas. It describes complex things rather than simple ones. And it is almost always wrong.

Practitioners of nuance presume that more subtle and complicated answers are superior to simple and concrete answers. In reality, nuance relies on logical fallacies which  lead to wrong answers.

Californians will decide on a proposal to allocate electoral votes to the winners of Congressional Districts rather than a state-wide winner take all vote. A Field poll shows surprisingly strong support for the idea: 47% of registered votes supported the reform while 35% oppossed. Explaining the partisan disadvantages makes more Democrats oppose the plan, but even then 49% support it and 42% oppose.

It’s a good idea but only if other states like Texas make the same reform. Maine and Nebraska already use the Congressional District system.

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