THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 667 March 21 - 27, 2011
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March 21, 2011
Traditional First Day of Spring
It is raining in Los Angeles. The sun was out for a couple of hours earlier, but more storms are moving in. It's cold for Los Angeles, but that equates to chilly and an extra layer of clothing, not life threatening cold. We count our blessings.
An update which is a correction of sorts: there are two holes in the roof of Gaddafi's palace as I reported last night, but the US military now says that Gaddafi is not a target. This probably means that some component of the Tripoli air defense system was installed in or on the palace. Possibly there was a radar on the roof. The Arab League is unhappy that we are bombing Arabs. I have not see the teddy bears yet, but it's early on: I still expect to see at least one.
The President claims the War Powers Resolution as the authorization for the gunboat style bombardment of Libyan air defense forces. I presume he uses Harvard Law School logic: the US is a signatory to the UN treaty. The UN has called for a no-fly zone in Libya. The US is obligated to carry out the mandates of the UN, because treaties are the supreme law of the land and rank with the Constitution. The War Powers Resolution gives the President the power to resist attacks on US forces. Any attempt to impose the no-fly zone would inevitably expose US forces to attack from Libyan air defenses, and therefore it would be absurd to send in US aircraft over Libya while those air defense forces are intact; therefore carrying out the UN resolution did expose US forces to attack, and therefore the preemptive strikes on Libyan air defense targets was within the powers given by the War Powers Resolution. QED.
As to US obligations under treaties, and reservations about
the treaty process being a way to amend the US Constitution by other means,
see discussions of The Bricker Amendment. The Wiki entry
Note that there is in fact some validity to the President's logic as explicated above. (Note also that I made it up: this is not based on any official statement I know of.) If you grant that the US is obligated to respond to the UN resolution imposing a no-fly zone, then the rest certainly follows, and any President who sent in US forces without adequate preparation would and should be condemned. However: the US holds a veto over such UN resolutions, and in fact the US sought that resolution. The counter argument here is that a UN resolution cannot give the President of the United States power to make wars without the consent of Congress, and if the President believes the US is obligated to act when the UN mandates such an action, then he ought not consent to such a UN resolution without authorization of Congress. That, however, contradicts the almost universally approved doctrine that matters of foreign policy are pretty much the business of the President and the President alone, and while Congress and particularly the Senate may advise the President, neither Congress nor Senate have any veto over how the President uses the UN votes and veto powers.
It may be time to reopen the Bricker Amendment discussions. It is almost certainly time to reconsider the wording of the War Powers Resolution. In particular, this may be a very good time indeed because the US is not yet irrevocably committed in Libya. It is not unlikely that left to themselves, Libya will play out in a way that does suck US forces in as we strike this tar baby. (Note) Usually when we debate the limits to the power of the president to make (as opposed to declare) war, it is already too late: we are in, and the Legions need our support. This time we are not yet in, and we have no particular obligations to anyone. A good time for a real debate on these matters.
As to my views, I have no objection to wringing Gaddafi's neck, but I do not believe that decision belongs to the President alone. This is a matter for the Congress of the United States to decide. The nature and quality of debates on this matter should be illustrative. They might even change people's opinions about the present leadership qualities in the United States.
Note: Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is from the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus Stories, which were highly rated by Mark Twain, and were taught along with other American stories in 6th grade at Capleville consolidated when I was going to school outside Memphis in the 1940's. "Uncle" was considered a respectful term for white children to call elderly blacks in the segregated Old South
In Japan, the situation is stable, which means under control, which means that barring new disasters (such as another big earthquake and tsunami) the nuclear matter is on course for an ending with the results being about what was rationally expected when it began: this wasn't Chernobyl. Some plant workers were injured, and there were measurable but not harmful releases of radiation off site, with the possibility of more significant and possibly harmful releases to come, but with a definite and rather small upper limit. The major off site harm will prove to be due to hysteria.
From the MIT report:
For more and a situation report as of Sunday afternoon, see http://mitnse.com/, where you will also find more background information. So far as I can tell, the nuclear crisis is over, and Japan an turn full attention to the real disaster: the aftermath of an unprecedented earthquake and tsunami followed by freezing weather. Tens of thousands in refugee centers without water and power. Roads blocked or non-existent. Airfields covered with debris. A bad hit in electric power supply at a time when power is needed.
Despite the hysteria of the Western Media, Japan has handled the nuclear situation well and honorably.
There was mail Saturday and Sunday on several topics of interest. Begin with this one. There is also an on the spot report from a long time subscriber in Tokyo.
Over in mail the question is asked: where is Congress in all this Libyan action?
Actually I wish we could make every news reporter watch all of it! It's not a bad presentation.
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Well, there's this for good news:
We can hope.
Alas, there is also this:
I have dental appointments. Back later.
So far the Libyan War has cost about $200 million of borrowed money. I do not know what the potential return on investment is. Putin is rumored to be opposed to Medvedev's abstention on the UN Resolution: he wanted a veto. Could this internal dissention in Russia be beneficial to the United States? Is this part of entangling alliances and involvement in the territorial affairs of Europe? Stay tuned.
The February/March Computing at Chaos Manor column is now up at Chaos Manor Reviews.
Spider Robinson sends this link. The story comes out at last?
No one dared tell the Politburo. Yuri Gagarin died about a year later. I note that the KGB declines to reopen the investigation of Gagarin's mysterious death in a plane crash. At the time we didn't really believe Gagarin's death was an accident. Bad things happened to most of Kumarov's friends. But I never had any real data.
The Authors Guild has sent a notice to members.
We also have this:
The Authors Guild adds
I will have more to say on this later. I thought the Guild, Google, and the Publishers had come to a flawed but not unreasonable agreement. It can certainly be improved: perhaps that will now happen. I do note that the decision was made on grounds of protecting rights of authors and creators.
March 23, 2011
Surprise: starting up wet electrical equipment often produces smoke. I am astonished. For the latest reliable information on the Daiichi nuclear situation, see the MIT site http://mitnse.com/.
Off-site releases are greater than from TMI (where there essentially were none) and Tokyo residents have been told not to feed tapwater to children under the age of 1 year because of iodine-131 levels. The water is said to be safe for everyone else. Infants whose thyroid glands are just forming are especially susceptible.
Iodine-131 is a beta emitter. When I was an undergraduate "Beta rays" were electrons; that is now known as Beta minus. We have since detected Beta plus or positron radiation, but this does not seem to be of any concern in fission product releases. Iodine-131 occurs naturally, and is also a product of uranium fission. It has a relatively short half life of about 8 days, meaning that 80 days after release the radiation levels are down to 1/2^10 ( 1/1024 = 0.009) times the starting level. One doesn't want radioactive iodine in the tap water, but as usual the dose makes the poison. That off site release does make this a "worse" accident than TMI. It's hardly the worst burden Japan must bear.
There is also excessive caesium-137, the principal contamination from Chernobyl and one of the major reasons for the rise in atmospheric background contamination during the period of active nuclear testing. Caesium-137, unlike iodine-132, almost never occurs in nature: it's a product of uranium fission. (There are uranium deposits whose geometry can under certain rain conditions result in a natural uranium reactor, but that was last active about a billion years ago, so no fission byproducts from this odd event remain.) One really doesn't want a lot of caesium-137 in the environment, and that's one major reason for the nuclear test ban treaties. Cesium (or Caesium, which is the international but not the American spelling) is an alkiline metal, and fairly active. Iodine is a halogen that is a member of the family of elements that include sodium and potassium. Cesium emits both Beta and Gamma radiation at various stages of the decay chain. Beta radiation can be blocked by most anything including ordinary clothing; Gamma is highly energetic photons, or x-rays. Caesium-137 has been used to generate x-rays for medical purposes.
There have been a number of cases of injury from cesium isotopes, most of them from improper disposal of medical wastes; in one notorious case gleaners found equipment in a temporarily unguarded hospital in the process of demolition. They salvaged it, ending in one of the worst known nuclear poisoning incidents in history as salvage workers became fascinated with the salt that glowed in the dark. If there is any long term contamination from Daiichi, it will likely be cesium isotopes. I am unaware of the levels of off-site contamination by cesium, if any. All fission products contain it. However much is released off site it will almost certainly be less than that put into the atmosphere by Tsar Bomba, so my original prediction remains. Civilization has endured far worse assaults.
(Note that the first post of this had a mistake in the chemistry that does not affect the conclusion. That has been corrected. The moral of the story to me is that I ought not even attempt multitasking any longer. Ah well.)=====
As I said at the beginning of this affair, Libya's fate won't be decided in Libya. The West can't seem to make up its mind about Gaddafi, which seems odd. If it's legal and in the national interest to take him out, surely it would be better to send in a force to do it rather than merely smiting his minions for day, or weeks, or months, or... Gaddafi can't fly. What next?
We may have a similar decision to make about Syria, where the regime is no more savory than in Libya. Syria is the home of the Hama massacre of 1982 under the father of the current ruler. Syria's interferences in Lebanon are notorious. We have no reason to wish the continuation the present regime, other than a fear that what replaces it might be a greater threat to the US than the current dictator. And of course there are riots in Bahrain where the ruler is a friend. There are riots in Yemen where the ruler is not a friend but who has cooperated with the US at times. There are pograms against Muslims in some parts of India. There are pogroms against the few remaining Christians and Hindus in Pakistan. There are pogroms against Christians in much of the Muslim world. Iran has arrested American hikers and is still holding two of them for no crime other than crossing an invisible line in rough terrain. There riots in Iran In Afghanistan and Iraq -- but surely the point is made. There is no lack of people who claim that they yearn to be free. There is no lack of wrongs to be righted.
But yet: the wave of electronic revolts seems to be sweeping the Middle East. The US needs a policy. That policy ought to be based on US abilities, not mere principle, but there ought to be principles and a clear policy. One principle might be "We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own." A quite different one might spell out the conditions under which we will protect civilians from their own governments. Or perhaps we should not have a public policy. Doc Bussard used to say that the last thing America needed was a consistent foreign policy. Let everyone else wonder what the hell we are going to do. But that was at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when there was this strong pressure for the US to recognize that we were at the end of history and we ought to get on board.
Gaddafi is doomed if the West wants his doom; if left alone he will survive and rule.
March 24, 2011
Wars don't really begin until the fighting starts, and they certainly don't end when the battles are over. Sometimes it takes a long time to determine who actually won the war, particularly if you define "win" as being better off after the war ends than you were before you entered it. Under that definition the United States clearly won the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, although in the latter case it took a while for that to become clear. After all, one of the unstated objectives of the War of 1812 was the conquest of all or at least part of Canada, that we clearly failed to achieve that; it took a while for the upside of this war to manifest themselves. The Mexican War looked to be a clear victory. World War One was probably a defeat under this definition, and World War Two had only one clear winner, the Soviet Union. Whether Japan was winner or loser depends on how long a view you take. The Japanese Empire was a clear loser, but by 1960 the nation of Japan was probably better off than it had been in 1941. And so forth.
In 1787 the King of England could make war on whomever he pleased, and Parliament had no say in the matter other than control of the purse: it could refuse to pay for the king's wars, and thus exercise some control over his policies. The Constitution made the President the Commander in Chief, but put the power to declare war unambiguously in the hands of Congress. Roosevelt famously told Churchill that he couldn't declare war, but he could make war, and he took actions in the Atlantic that were clear invitations for Germany to declare war, such as escorting convoys to Britain, and provoked German actions such as the sinking of the Reuben James that might have provoked Congress into retaliatory actions but did not.
I bring this up as a background to the question of what we should do about Libya. The President has in essence declared war on Colonel Gaddafi: he has stated that Gaddafi has to go, and has fired over 150 missiles at targets in Libya. The French, and possibly US warplanes, have destroyed vehicles clearly marked as part of the armed forces of the sovereign state of Libya. Whatever one chooses to call these actions, this is war; the question is, against whom?
We don't have a mechanism for distinguishing "regime change" from war. On the other hand, when Germany invaded Norway and installed Vidkun Quisling as Prime Minister, that was universally considered an act of war. If the United States supports insurgents against Cuba, would that be war? War and peace have become complicated in this new age. There used to be fairly clear rules about the rights of belligerents and the rights of neutrals under international law. That was all complicated when the United States simply ignored rights of neutrality in trade after December 7, 1941 and declared unrestricted submarine warfare against the Empire of Japan, although we had gone to war with Germany in World War One over the German submarine actions. The United Nations has completely muddied the waters. No one knows who has what rights, and under what conditions, and what is and is not an act of war.
And, of course, we have no assurance that at the end of this Libyan war we will be better off than we were before it began. On the gripping hand, there is a flame across Islam. Is that a good thing for the West? Are the new democracies likely to be more or less peaceful than now? The principle that "democracies don't make war on each other" does not, I think, hold in the Middle East: it is likely that free and open elections in many Near Eastern countries would elect governments dedicated to the extirpation of Israel.
We are at war with Libya. The President has declared that Gaddafi must go. How shall we end this war?
A data point:
The SA-24 Grinch is not invincible but it is likely to bring down airplanes operating at low altitudes. Support of ground forces from high altitude inevitably will bring about civilian casualties. So will "precision" high altitude economic bombardments intended to force regimes to do your will: for examples see Clinton's War in the Balkans, which was about as well conducted as any such campaign could be. Of course the consequences to the economies of the Lower Danube were stark, but most wars to bring about stark consequences for someone. They're supposed to.
Wars break things and kill people. What things in Libya need to be broken, and who should be killed? Someone must answer these questions.
I have long advocated prizes as a way to advance technology.
One wonders if prizes might be used in foreign policy? "The Congress hereby directs the Treasurer of the United States to pay the sum of $200 million dollars in US currency, and the Secretary of State to deliver a United States passport made out to any name the winner chooses, to anyone who will deliver to any United States Embassy the head of Colonel Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi (Arabic: معمر القذافي Muʿammar al-Qaddāfī). The head may but need not be attached to the body. This prize shall be paid upon confirmation of the identity of the head. The winner of this prize is declared a friend of the United States."
No doubt the drafting could be improved but it is important that it be brief and unambiguous: Bring us his head and you get the money and a new identity, no questions asked, all previous actions against the US forgiven, and when the winner takes the money and leaves no one will follow.
It would certainly be cheaper in blood and treasure than continuing the war to a similar completion.
March 25, 2011
So, NATO will take over the no-fly provisions, while the United States gets to kill Arabs and destroy villages in order to save them. We get to make the ground strikes. NATO shoots down airplanes. That's heroic.
I hope I misheard that radio report because it makes no sense to me. Were we sucker punched, or is there something not reported going on here?
It is noon. We have plumbing problems, apparently rather expensive ones, so that's one more thing for me to worry about. Alas.
The news continues to be dominated by Libya and the Japanese Daiichi plants. The media hysteria over Fukuyama continues. Japanese workers stepped into radioactive water and exceeded their badge limits; they can't do nuclear work for about ten months now. Despite the hysteria, nothing horrible has happened, and each day they are in better control. Each day the worst case scenario grows less frightening and less probable.
I do not know what the US objective in Libya is. I do note that there is now unrest in Syria. Regime change in Syria, as in Libya, would be a consummation devoutly to be wished, particularly if it can be done without making America the villain. Syria is the major reason for the horror in Lebanon. Lebanon used to be an important US ally, and the US committed Marine to its defense until the 1983 bombing of their barracks. Our handling of that crisis and the later withdrawal of US forces from Lebanon were in my judgment a major strategic error by the Reagan team, but that was not so apparent at the time as it is now. The options were thoroughly debated and the decision was that the costs of preserving Lebanon outweighed the strategic benefits to the United States.
I presume that there will be a similar debate regarding uprisings in Syria and Yemen. The flame that roars across the Near Eastern Muslim nations presents both opportunities and dangers; we can hope that this is appreciated in the National Security Council, and a coherent policy is under development. It would be a great mistake to ignore this. It would also be a great mistake for anyone to see this as primarily a politically partisan issue: there is a real national interest here, and it ought to be found.
I have this:
I do not think the Egyptian Army will tolerate this for long, but it may take time to put together a decision making structure. At the moment the Mamelukes are holding on and reorganizing. A new leader -- or Council -- will emerge, but that may take some time. I suspect one major question is the policy toward Israel and the Peace Process. We know there are factions that want to renew the war against Israel. Unrest in Jordan and Syrian will have an effect on that decision. We don't know what the rebel factions want. If they are all Moslem Brotherhood, times may get interesting.
|This week:||Saturday, March
.I was harried by plumbers working on my far too expensive sewer repairs, so I took the day off.
March 27, 2011
I have the Paperback Collectors Show and Sale out at the Valley Inn on Sepulveda today. The show runs all day. I will be there at 2 PM with Niven. A lot of SF and show biz writers will be out there.
My Pajamas TV interview with Glenn Reynolds is available at:
It was recorded just as the Japanese nuclear crisis began, and covers a number of topics.
If that link doesn't work, Google PJTV Pournelle
Peggy Noonan asks relevant questions in her Wall Street Journal column
I'll have something to say this evening when I get back from the paperback faire and dinner with Niven and some other friends who will be there.
2230: We had a good day and a pleasant dinner with Tim and Serena Powers, Niven, Karen Anderson, John DeChancie, and
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