How To Produce Suicide Bombers, and How To Cease Production

Professor Robert Pape is a social scientist at the University of Chicago and has been analyzing the motivations of people (generally people on the “other side”) for a few decades. He avoids falling into the trap of stereotypes, avoiding taboo, and saying things that people like to hear. Rather than relying on quotes from holy books, political speeches or other fuzzy sources to understand why things happen, he’s collected hard data on some two thousand terrorist attacks and attempted to understand it from that perspective.

He’s instructed Air Force Officers at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, he’s provided intelligence to various Federal Intelligence agencies that they did not previously have, and he runs the Project on Security and Terrorism, including its publicly accessible database of terrorist attacks.

Below is the video of a presentation he gave at Duke University a few months ago – it is fascinating stuff, and the conclusions are far from what you would expect. His theory offers a model that includes predictability, meaning that as we watch future current events we should be able to test his theory by applying the model and using it to predict if large numbers of suicide bombers will or will not be produced by a conflict.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

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How To Produce Suicide Bombers, and How To Cease Production

In Economics, what is specialization & opportunity cost, and why do we try to keep poor countries poor?

These concepts are often made murky by the most well intentioned textbooks. Let’s see if a practical example would suffice:

If I am a lawyer and earn $500 per hour in a courtroom, and can type 60 words per minute, do I hire someone that types 30 words per minute at $50/hour?

Assume that it will take him two hours to do the typing, but it will only take me one hour.

Hell yes I hire him!

By hiring him to do my typing, I lose $50 per hour for 2 hours but make $500 per hour in the courtroom for a total profit of $900.

If I type myself, I miss out on $500 per hour for one hour and hop into the courtroom for the other hour for a total profit of $0.00.

So even if I am better at both lawyering and typing than the person I hire, I should still hire him.

Now pretend instead of me and a typist, we are talking about two entire countries.

Poor countries specialize in cheap labor (“typing”), wealthy countries specialize in design and engineering (“Lawyering”), and both are better off than before the deal was struck to (hopefully, temporarily) create that arrangement.

The First World does things (like offer IMF loans that have strings) in order to keep them poor because it is in the interests of all of the First World to do so. If we created another Japan, we’d have competition. If we keep them around as another metaphorical China, then the wealthy people in the developing country can exploit our middle class for profit and our wealthy people can exploit the poor desperate people in the developing country for profit (via minimizing costs). As long as you aren’t a poor person in a developing country, you win.

Why is it that no one seems to care about poor people in developing countries, and instead the well-intentioned but misinformed First World philanthropists do silly things like give them free corn that destroys the local farmers’ and forces them to grow poppy or marijuana in a desperate attempt to stay afloat by entering the drug trade? When I find the answer to that one, I’ll happily be accepting my Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter and credit any suggestions you may have to offer in the comment section.

In Economics, what is specialization & opportunity cost, and why do we try to keep poor countries poor?

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the US Marine Corps’ ground forces?

Someone asked the following question:

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the USMC?
How are troops and weapons broken down into organized units in the US Marine Corps? i.e. squads, platoons, armies… Also, what rank officer would usually be in charge of these units?
Administratively,
3 Active Marine Air Wings.
3 Active Marine Divisions.Parenthesis indicates who is supposed to command such a unit on paper, but in reality they are often one or in the case of squads and fireteams, two, ranks below that. For specialized heavy weapons units, one rank above what I list is sometimes the norm (Weapons platoons are commanded by 1st Lieutenants, for example).

Divisions (2 star general) are composed of regiments.
Regiments (Colonel) are composed of battalions.
Battalions (Lt. Colonel) are composed of companies.
Companies (Captain) are composed of platoons.
Platoons (2nd Lieutenant) are composed of squads.
Squads (Sergeant) are composed of fire teams.
Fire teams (Corporal) are composed of Marines.

The generalization for how many of each form one higher unit is called the “Rule of Three” and can be approximated with the statement that “three line and one specialized form one higher”. Three line companies and one weapons company form a battalion, for example, and three Marines with one fire team leader form a fire team. The three fire teams that form a squad may have a machine gun team attached when deployed. And so on. There are caveats at every level though, so that generalization is very rough and should be considered a generalization and not an exact rule.When deployed, a provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is formed.

Most commonly, this is done by taking a battalion as the Ground Combat Element, augmenting it with perhaps a tank platoon, adding an Air Combat Element, a Command Element, a Logistics Element, training together for 6-18 months, and then deploying under the command of a Colonel as part of an Amphibious Ready Group commanded by a USN Captain and consisting of 2 or 3 amphibious assault ships of some variety and many more supporting ships.

For Iraq and Afghanistan rotations, the MAGTF is often built around a regiment instead of a battalion, has no ships (obviously), and may not have as much of an Air Combat Element. “Regimental Combat Team” is the term used here, very roughly equivalent to what the US Army calls a “Brigade Combat Team”.

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the US Marine Corps’ ground forces?

Bin Laden DNA Test in a Few Hours?

One of the big questions emerging from the death (or alleged death, if you prefer) of Osama Bin Laden is this: “How could they have done a DNA test so quickly?” with the implied answer of “They couldn’t, ergo it must have been a conspiracy and a lie.”

I’m not so sure about that. It isn’t 1985 any more for one thing. Our cell phones are several orders of magnitude more powerful than the computing power required to land on the moon, but we still think it takes several weeks to run a DNA test? DNA testing is not exactly something I could do in my bathroom with a cotton swab and digital camera, but a properly equipped facility can certainly do it in a matter of hours. If the operation in Pakistan was planned ahead of time (it obviously was), it is very likely that such personnel and such equipment would have been on hand at SEAL Team 6’s operating base in Afghanistan.

What happened (or allegedly happened, if you prefer) was something like this: Raid was a success minus one modified (stealth?) Blackhawk that went down, the body of Bin Laden was brought back to that operating base in Afghanistan, some blood or saliva was taken from the corpse, the corpse was then sent off to the USS Carl Vincent to be buried at sea while the DNA test was simultaneously being run back in Afghanistan. Within an hour or two of Bin Laden being dumped overboard (as predicted by me several hours in advance 😛 ), the test results came back.

It may not have happened exactly like that, but that is certainly a plausible scenario. Seeing the news report on Monday with all of that having already been done before the sun came up in the States on Monday may have felt fast and fishy (excuse the pun) to some, but those folks may be underestimating the resources available to the United States Department of Defense, and the amount of contingency planning that has been going into “what if we actually do get him?” since well before September 11, 2001.

Want proof that, if money is not a factor, a DNA test can be done in a few hours? Well, for $99 you can have a DNA paternity test done overnight. There are many websites like that, and many scientists are publicly stating that it is entirely possible for DNA testing to be done in about as much time as it takes to watch the first two Godfather movies. I haven’t seen a single knowledgeable scientist come out and say that DNA testing must take several days – in fact, more scientists have come out and said that Global Warming is a myth than have claimed that the several hour DNA test in 2011 is a myth.

I’m not a scientist, and I’m assuming you aren’t either if you are checking the blogosphere instead of a scientific journal for information on this. So, we laymen must rely on our own judgment and what scientists are saying. We must do the best we can to account for biases some scientists may have (such as those employed by Tobacco or Oil corporations) but otherwise assume the vast majority of them are acting in good faith. Based on that, the inescapable conclusion is that DNA testing can indeed certainly be done in a handful of hours. And, we are more certain of that than we are about global warming (alleged global warming, if you prefer) or the negative health effects of tobacco (alleged negative effects, if you prefer).

This doesn’t prove that Bin Laden is dead, but it does shoot down that one conspiracy argument that centers around the false notion that rapid DNA testing is impossible.

Bin Laden DNA Test in a Few Hours?

“Maybe I die, but as Shakespeare says the question is to be or not to be”

The above quote is from a Rebel fighter being interviewed by a foreign journalist.

Military Situation

No cities have changed hands since the map from yesterday.

Rebels still hold Ras Lanuf and everything along the coast to the east, while Misrata and Zawiya townspeople are still under siege by Government forces. Fewer than a half-dozen air missions where flown by Gaddafi’s mercenary pilots today, inflicting non-significant damage on Rebel military assets but killing a handful of civilians. The assumption of the mercenary pilots seems to be that if it is driving to or from a Rebel held town than the vehicle must be affiliated with the Rebellion.

My prediction about Government troops in Zawiya being Mercenaries has been confirmed, and Mercenaries captured by the Rebels have revealed that their task was to capture Zawiya by Wednesday. The Mercenaries, backed by some loyalist troops, have cordoned the city and have chosen not to allow foreign journalists to witness what they are doing inside the city. As one journalist put it:

“Reporting on conditions in the city [Zawiya] has been largely prevented by a concerted government effort to keep out journalists, who have been detained and threatened despite being told they have free access to visit anywhere in Libya.”

Out of besieged Misrata, we have this statement of defiance from a resident informing the BBC that the “youths” are in control of the town itself:

“We buried 21 young men today – the casualties of yesterday’s battle. We hear that Gaddafi’s forces are gathering to the west of the city so it’s quiet here but tense, very tense. Misrata is free of Gaddafi’s forces – totally free. I’m confident that we’ll do all we can to fight the murderous dictator’s forces. […] The youths of the city are cleaning up the mess left by yesterday’s battle. But there are rumours – and at this stage they remain rumours – that maybe the dictator’s forces are back for some more. However, that has not materialized so far. Our military guys are organizing their ranks again. We cannot take anything for granted and we cannot let our guard down. We are patching our wounds and are ready to defend our city. We wait for our friends from the east [the main force of rebels under the authority of Benghazi] so that we can push forward to Tripoli. Hopefully soon.”

Diplomatic Situation

Meanwhile, the spokeswoman of the Rebellion has re-affirmed that capturing Tripoli is the goal and that

“We want international recognition of the PTNC and the organs of the new state as the sole representatives of the Libyan people, and immediate action to halt the flow of arms and mercenaries to the Gaddafi regime. […] We want an immediate freeze on all funds of the Libyan state and the Gaddafi family.”

I noted the other day that the Benghazi Declaration made no mention of women’s rights in their vision for the new Libya. The appointment of this woman could indicate that the Rebels have a progressive view of women, or it could mean that they appointed her to pander for Western support. In that same post, I discussed why the Rebels took eight SAS operatives captive. In their own words, the Rebels state that

“If they wanted to do something confidential or keep it classified, they could have just sent a message and we would have welcomed them through the seaport, or Benina airport. We would have kept it quiet and listened to them, and discussed with them whatever they wanted. But the way they came, it was quite suspicious, and the council took the position that we really don’t want to discuss anything with this particular team.”

Still on the diplomatic front, but moving slightly to the economic front, the Rebels have stated that while Brega is not open for oil shipping to the outside world due to being in range of Gaddafi’s attack aircraft – the eastern city Tobruk is open for business. This could mean much-needed income for the Rebellion, and for people in eastern cities that need funds to purchase food from Egypt.

On the US and EU Front…

The United Kingdom and France are working on proposals for the “no-fly zone” option, and President Obama has said that a military response is on the table, possibly to include ground troops. Secretary of Defense Gates, who has been skeptical of the no-fly zone from the beginning, has said that the “no-fly zone” option “should be the result of international sanction.”

Would you like to know what is funny about this “no-fly zone” discussion? Government aircraft are killing fewer than a dozen people a day, Rebel and civilian alike. Government ground troops are killing about scores people a day. Why are we focused on the “no-fly zone” stuff? Because it worked so well at forcing regime change in Iraq? Oh, wait, it didn’t. Because the “no-fly zone” concept has worked so well at pressuring dictators to behave nicely in the past? Oh, wait, it hasn’t.

CNN’s reporting on the First Gulf War seems to have created this impression among American Citizens and American Congressman that the whiz-bang technological and alleged moral superiority of the United States can solve all problems. Eight years into Iraq, 33 years into Afghanistan (yes, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 33 years), and we still haven’t learned that this is a ridiculous notion.

Grounding the Libyan Air Force will save a half dozen lives per day of conflict. Medicine to treat those wounded by the ground conflict has the potential to save scores of lives per day of conflict. I know that we, the United States, have this “tradition” of “no-fly zones” that dates back to Vietnam, but there reaches a point when it is time to abandon tradition.

John Kerry (D) has joined McCain (R) in advocating direct military intervention and has countered my argument against the “no-fly zone” option thusly:

“One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.”

Yes, Mr. Kerry, you are absolutely correct. Our Naval and Air Force assets in the region are certainly capable of that, after the destruction of Government anti-aircraft assets along with the draftees manning them. The draftees, mind you, that are comprised of many young men just waiting for an opportune moment to defect and joint he rebellion.

Alternatively, our strategic bombing assets, US Air Force stealth bombers flying from Missouri can certainly “crater” every airport and airfield in western Libya. Yes, we have that capability too. The odds of the United States hanging around to rebuild those airports, however, are minimal.

Furthermore, B-2 Stealth Bombers cost millions of dollars per hour to operate. “Cratering” every airport and airfield in Gaddafi-held Libya will cost tens of millions of dollars, perhaps hundreds. If we feel like spending $30-150 million to support the rebellion, that’s great and I agree with the budget proposal. However, I propose a third option for the disposition of that money.

Purchase $30-150 million in food, medicine, and vehicles on the Egyptian economy and unload all of the “humanitarian rations” floating offshore with the hovering US Fleet as well. Have the vehicles driven from the Egyptian border, where the Rebels can bring their own drivers and military escorts at their leisure. It will kill fewer people, and save more lives. The Rebels have all the guns they need, and damage done to the Rebels by the ancient and decrepit Libyan Air Force is trivial. Give them the band-aids they need for their battle wounds, and the food they need for their bellies.

“Maybe I die, but as Shakespeare says the question is to be or not to be”