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July 16, 2008 | 1 Comment

Red State Update

If you haven’t seen Jackie and Dunlap before, you’ve been missing out. Here’s there take on the New Yorker’s terrorist Obamas cover. Hilarious.

They have an album coming out. The song “Too Much Lovin'” will undoubtedly sweep the nation.

July 15, 2008 | 36 Comments

What’s Wrong with the Sun? (Nothing)

The headline comes from this article at NASA, sent in by reader “Mike D.”

The gist of the article is “that there’s nothing to report.” Says David Hathaway:

“There have been some reports lately that Solar Minimum is lasting longer than it should. That’s not true. The ongoing lull in sunspot number is well within historic norms for the solar cycle.”…Although minima are a normal aspect of the solar cycle, some observers are questioning the length of the ongoing minimum, now slogging through its 3rd year…Hathaway has studied international sunspot counts stretching all the way back to 1749 and he offers these statistics: “The average period of a solar cycle is 131 months with a standard deviation of 14 months. Decaying solar cycle 23 (the one we are experiencing now) has so far lasted 142 months–well within the first standard deviation and thus not at all abnormal. The last available 13-month smoothed sunspot number was 5.70. This is bigger than 12 of the last 23 solar minimum values.”

In summary, “the current minimum is not abnormally low or long.”

Let’s take a look at the actual data and see if the statements about the “normalness” of the sunspot number are accurate. And let’s keep in mind the real reason NASA made this press release, the purpose of which is never directly stated—can you see it?. I’ll come back to this later.

Here is a picture from NASA showing the “Yearly Averaged Sunspot Numbers 1610-2007.”
Sunspots through time

Solar cycle “number 1” peaked around 1760, the cycles and other behaviors before this time are ignored in the official counting. Well, that’s neither here nor there—the labels do not matter—but we should always remember that the sun’s sunspot activity has been taking place for at least 4 to 5 billion years, and we only have measurements on the last 400. Thus we are in a very poor position to say what is “normal” and what is not. We can, however, make statements conditional on the data observed so far.

Hathaway’s analysis starts with cycle number “1” and ignores the previous data, which, given the extended period of low to no sunspots from 1650 to 1700, actually weakens his case. This is because, conditional on all the available evidence, periods of time with no or low sunspots are not that unusual. These quiescent periods are more likely given all the evidence than they are just using the data from 1749. This is true based on the simple observation that all the data has more quiescent periods than does the later half. It is true regardless of the periodicities or other structures present. Because we have seen periods in the past with few or no sunspots is excellent evidence, after all, that we will see these periods in the future.

So why would he purposely ignore evidence that would have strengthened his case? Part of the reason is that there is the possibility that the data before 1749 is measured with error, and so should be discounted somewhat. However, this error is not especially large. The real reason has to do with the “Maunder Minimum” (shown on the graph), the period with few or no sunspots. This period does not fit the probability model Hathaway has in mind, so it is ignored. NASA says this about the Maunder:

For reasons no one understands, the sunspot cycle revived itself in the early 18th century and has carried on since with the familiar 11-year period. Because solar physicists do not understand what triggered the Maunder Minimum or exactly how it influenced Earth’s climate, they are always on the look-out for signs that it might be happening again.

But Hathaway thinks the “quiet of 2008 is not the second coming of the Maunder Minimum.”

Thus we have gone from “For reasons no one understands” to “the solar cycle is progressing normally.” The path from one statement to the other is indeed rocky. This is why I believe Hathaway’s statements are too certain. I believe that periods of low to no sunspots are more likely. I am not, however, disagreeing with Hathaway in the sense that it does not appear that we are in another Maunder: there is only scant, at best, evidence for this.

As a technical note: It is not clear that the uncertainty in length of time in months that the cycles last is best represented by a normal distribution, as used by Hathaway. Ignoring the Maunder makes his approximation a better one, but there is never a good reason to ignore part of the data it does not fit your expectations.

Anyway, back to the real purpose of this press release. Why are people so interested in the length of the solar cycle? Easy. Because for years, most climatologists insisted that the role the sun plays in the climate was minimal. That is to say, changes in the behavior of the sun were not thought to be related to changes in the Earth’s climate. The sun, which alone supplies all the energy that goes into creating the climate, was thought not to be important. Obviously, this attitude is starting to change. This press release is a tacit admission that some now admit some role of the sun in climatology.

I do not have time to talk here of the actual methods to predict sunspot number, which is an important activity in space weather. But take a look at the first picture in the press release and see if you can not anything odd.

July 13, 2008 | No comments

Actual footage

UPDATE: Christian Toto, over at Pajama’s Media, has seen the HBO Generation Kill and says “The new HBO miniseries on Iraq is well-executed, but its anti-war bias is clear.” Make sure to also read the comments.

This tip in from Kyle Smith, from today’s New York Post. Since the subject came up yesterday about fictional accounts of military action, we have here, at LiveLeak.com, hundreds of actual scenes filmed by the soldiers themselves. Smith’s story is called Wartube.

Some examples. One:

Two:

I had no idea of this site before today. But I would imagine that whatever Hollywood offers, no matter how “gritty and realistic”, cannot compare to the actual real reality as delivered directly by the soldiers. Of course, the soldiers’ own story suffers only one flaw when compared to fictionalized accounts: no slow motion (joking, just joking).

July 12, 2008 | 1 Comment

Transforming American Military Policy

Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy by Frederick W. Kagan, 2006. Encounter Books. Recommendation: read

This book is an excellent accounting of the theories that have gripped and influenced American military thinking and planning since the Vietnam war.

Theories?

If all your information on the military has come from Hollywood (and there is a new series about Iraq out on HBO, surely this time written by writers who actually served and are thus knowledgeable), then it might come as a surprise that when planning a war you actually have to decide what to hit, what resources are needed, when those resources should be in place, what will happen in theater and out of it, the political consequences, and on and on. These decisions are made with reference to a guiding doctrine, a.k.a. a theory.

Since Clausewitz, a leading theory has been to attack an enemy’s “centers of gravity”. Destroy those, the theory goes, and the enemy collapses in confusion. Maybe so. But what is a center of gravity? Does this mean you try to kill as many troops in the field as possible? Or instead commit your resources to disrupting enemy supply lines, or perhaps the lines of communication and control? Or do you, as happened at the very beginning of Iraqi Freedom, attempt to take out the leadership (an effort, you will recall, which failed)? All good questions, the answers to which should depend on the situation. The danger is that people can pay more attention to the guiding theory—to what the theory says reality should be like—than to actual reality itself. This common human failing is found in war just as it is in other areas.

There is also the danger of rushing in, say after an unexpected attack of your country, and not having any plan:

[T]hey find it difficult—albeit no less important—to identify clear, achievable strategic aims. There is an emotional temptation to want to ‘do something’ without first clearly understanding what political purpose that ‘something’ is supposed to accomplish.

Kagan repeatedly emphasizes that military actions are subservient to, or an extension of, a country’s political aims. Just killing the enemy is not enough. The way that enemy is killed or defeated must be done in such a way to further the political aims. The lack of these thoughts harmed the Iraqi war. As is well known by now, the hostilities themselves were over very quickly. The war plan was to “topple the regime” as fast as possible. This was “mission accomplished.” But in toppling the regime, nothing took its place, and chaos prevailed. The problem was the enemy was not captured, they was instead allowed to disperse, taking their weapons with them, the result of which was the insurgence.

The situation in Iraq was not turned around until more boots were on the ground, handling things in the old fashioned way, opposite to dictates of the “revolution in military affairs” and “transformative” theories then touted by the leadership.

Kagan also takes to task the latest theories that holds some in thrall: Network Centric Warfare, or NCW. This is the idea that the miracles of the “Information age” will “revolutionize” and “transform” forever our view of the “battlespace” (the old term “battlefield” deemed musty). Generals, using these things called computers, will soon be able to see what every platoon-leading lieutenant sees, and so will be able to direct the battlespace more effectively. Information overload? Don’t bother me with details. Kagan sums up his objections to NCW:

First, it is a solution in search of a problem. Second, the technical requirements needed to produce the capabilities sought and promised are unattainable in the real world. Third, it proceeds from a misunderstanding of the nature of war…The NCW visionaries imagine a world in which the eternal race between offense and defense ands in our favor—we will be able to see everything and the enemy will be about to nothing about it. This notion is preposterous.

Instead, Kagan advocates the obvious strategy: plan for the situations you are most likely to face. You might still be wrong, but you, by definition, have the best chance of being right. Do not ask for “revolutionary” technologies, but build better weapons from known technologies.

Other topics are discussed. For example: “The Army still maintain garrisons as though it were preparing to subdue the Sioux and Apache once again.” These historical dispositions “impose significant delays” on deployment and offer the enemy “numerous bottlenecks to strike.” But to try and change base and post locations is a mighty political task. Try suggesting to your congressperson—Democrat or Republican—that the base in their state is aptly located and see what happens. Politicians, as ever, will usually opt for what is best for themselves and not the country.

The book is an intelligent, readable overview of military policy planning and I highly recommend it.