November 13, 2006

Yes, but what's its error-to-fact ratio

I suppose it was inevitable, but the only thing Uncyclopedia seems to prove is that an understanding of what's funny remains a relatively rare commodity in the general public, at least compared to most forms of lay factual knowledge.

This, sadly, despite much wise advice from the founders such as, "Please, for the love of Sophia, stop pasting in articles from Wikipedia. Yes. We are aware that golf balls are white. We do not care. We care about their mating and nesting habits. Be funny."

Posted by BruceR at 03:16 PM

Double down?

Here's what one can conclude from the new Bill Stuntz piece, "Doubling Down in Iraq."

Stuntz does not play blackjack. Erm, that is all.

I believe the term Stuntz should have been looking for in that headline was "call and raise," or "go all in," since what he's really talking about in his conclusion is analogizing Iraq to a poker hand, where psychology is a major factor.

Doubling down, on the other hand, refers to blackjack, specifically the offer that the house normally gives players to double their bet once two cards are dealt.

Because no bluffing or mental play is involved in blackjack -- it's strictly a probabilistic bet against the house -- doubling down is only done *by a good player* when the face-up cards show a player advantage, most commonly when the house is showing a 2 through 6, meaning the player is more likely to win the hand. It is in no way a good play simply because a given hand isn't going particularly well so far for you.

If one wanted to analogize blackjack doubling down to a real-world strategy, it would be "take maximum advantage whenever things are going your way." Which, even if generally true, is not particularly relevant advice in the case of Iraq.

Glenn Reynolds evidently doesn't play much 21, either. Pity: good game, when you know what you're doing.

Posted by BruceR at 12:49 PM

The non-barking Persian pooch

The dog that didn't bark in Afghanistan, one that is never commented upon, but is probably worth considering in the Iraqi rethinking context now, is the neutral-to-positive impact Iran has had on stability in that country.

It's fair to say that Iran retains a significant unrealized capacity to muck things up for NATO if it felt the need. The fact it hasn't has to be attributed to a) a preference for the elected Karzai government over the alternatives on offer; and/or b) the implicit promise that a NATO/UN/World Bank/EU occupation, vice a US-led one, carries that the territory in question will not be used as a springboard for aggressive forays into or over Iranian territory. NATO simply isn't scary to Iranians. One suspects an American offer of a non-aggression pact would have helped calm things in Iraq for the same reasons. Still could, maybe.

The Baker Commission may be drawing the same conclusion.

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 AM

Afghan news

It has been now one month since the most recent Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan (Oct. 14). As mentioned in previous posts this follows historic patterns of fighting in that country's many wars dying down through the November-February winter period. (It may not be Mark Steyn's "brutal Afghan winter," but the truth is it does seem to always calm things down a titch.)

Bill Clinton says another 8,000 troops are needed. That's about what I'd have said, too. Right now the combat situation is basically two brigade groups (NATO Bde and the US 4 BCT), along with Afghan auxiliaries, fighting three distinct insurgent regional commands (see posts passim). A third brigade-size formation would give NATO commanders at all levels the strategic depth to weather the coming 2007 insurgent offensive, and continue to progress on the development front in the south and east. Without further reinforcement, the potential risk is retrograde action on development in security in either or both the RC-South (NATO) or RC-East (US) areas in March-October 2007. The good news is, unlike Iraq where the insurgency hasn't been taking winter breaks, NATO should now be able to count on three and a half months of relative calm, knock on wood, before crunch time. It's fair to say it's not often in wars you see the threat coming that far off.

I think I'm about the last person to sink into a "schools painted" sort of wishful thinking when Western military interventions are involved, but the simple fact is rebuilding in Afghanistan has been more marked than Iraq because there was so much more to rebuild. In Iraq the challenge has been restoring electrical power to a capital that up until March 2003 was the center of a functioning civil society... in Kabul it's been getting electrical power at all, after decades of civil war and Talibanist medievalism. So this is probably a useful piece for war opponents to read. Highlights:

*80% of the population has access to basic health care, up from less than 10% in 2002;
*$11 million a month into development projects selected by elected Afghan village development councils: 7,500 projects completed so far;
*6 million Afghan children in school, up from 1 million in 2001, of which 2.2 million are girls, the highest number of girls receiving education in Afghan history (NB: but still only a third of the potential total, according to HRW);
*individual income figures 70% higher than in 2001;
*greater than 10% annualized economic growth for the last five years;
*1,000 schools opened in 2006 alone;
*45,000 trained teachers, including 15,000 women.

The only way I think one can objectively read figures like this is that, all other things being equal, the average Afghan really is significantly better off than he/she was five years ago. It's got to get a lot better, still, of course, before it's likely to stick. And the only alternative on offer is a return to nihilism and destruction.

(It's far from rosy, of course. There is a significant drought disaster ongoing that needs to be addressed. UNICEF is pleading for support; a story I note that was taken up by neither the Toronto Star nor the Globe and Mail last week.)

Finally, a note on the 3,700 Afghan fatalities story in the Canadian papers today. It's probably worth observing that not only is the UN's number fairly reliable, given how closely it's tracking the Associated Press aggregated count this year, but that somewhere surely it'll have been broken down further into insurgent casualties, Afghan military and police casualties, and civilian casualties -- figures that were apparently unavailable at Canadian papers' press time yesterday. The best thing we can say is that the current HRW estimate is that "over a thousand" of those deaths are civilians, meaning over 2,000 of those deaths were of combatants, enemy or friendly. As for the civilians, there can be no doubt after reading the links above, that the major international agencies involved consider the insurgency to be responsible for far more of the civilian death toll than NATO or U.S. forces were this year, too. (Another data point that the reporter might have used for comparison is that the peak of 600 attacks per month this year was roughly a fifth of the current (3,000 per month) Iraqi monthly average.)

Posted by BruceR at 09:59 AM