Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lamest U.N. Security Council Resolution ever?

United Nations Security Council Resolution 43

April 1, 1948

The Security Council,

In the exercise of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,

1. Notes the increasing violence and disorder in Palestine and believes that it is of the utmost urgency that an immediate truce be effected in Palestine:

2. Calls upon the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the Arab Higher Committee to make representative available to the Security Council for the purpose of arranging a truce between the Arab and Jewish communities of Palestine, and emphasizes the heavy responsibility which would fall upon any party failing to observe such a truce;

3. Calls upon Arab and Jewish armed groups in Palestine to cease acts of violence immediately.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Building a terror-resistant city

If you could start from scratch, how would you construct a city that minimizes the destruction and chaos terrorism could cause there?

The terror-resistant city would also have to be as pleasant to live in as a normal city. No hiding people in underground concrete bunkers.

First, lets split terrorist attacks into two categories:

1. Attacks that interrupt vital services (electricity, water) to a large number of people.
2. Attacks that cause large number of casualties.

Looking at the first kind of attacks, the Internet is a good model to follow, I think. The Internet was initially designed as a communications system that would still function after sustaining several nuclear attacks. The Internet has no central core, just a series of inter-connected nodes that each have many connections to other nodes. A node may be destroyed, but the rest of the grid still functions fine.

Cell phones and satellite TV are good examples of services that follow this model already. Terrorists have no way of blocking large numbers of people from receiving them due to their design.

How could you deliver the two most vital services a populace needs, power and water, in a way that resembles the Internet or cell phone service?

Power distribution seems to be the easiest to tackle: a combination of solar power panels on individual building and small, neighborhood generators linked together in an Internet-like grid. It would be tough for a terrorist attack to deny large numbers of people electricity were it to be distributed in this manner.

Water is a tougher problem, but a similar design would still work. Drill as many individual wells as possible coupled with a large scale water distribution system again modeled after the Internet. Also, each home could have a large water storage tank that held at least a weeks worth of water in case of an outage.

Turning to the second kind of attack, the ones that kill large numbers of people, a few things are obvious from the start:

Cars and trucks need to be completely separated from the city's population, period.

This suggests what the city's layout should look like: a long thin rectangle with the center devoid of cars and trucks, or perhaps a circular deign with a ring road. Anyone who needed their car would still have it close by, but outside the city. Delivery trucks could still get close to where they need to get to, just not inside the city.

Large numbers of people need to be discouraged from gathering, period.

Small, neighborhood shops, restaurants, theaters, work places, etc. vs. large ones. Not really a problem, most big cities already have these. Nothing like being able to shop, dine out and take in a movie without once having to get into your car.

Schools and factories present a problem. Schools could be kept small or schooling could even be provided via teleconferencing. Any factory that required large numbers of people would have to be located outside the city. No huge office towers, office parks only.

The idea is to come up with a terror-resistant city design, not a terror-proof one.

It would be interesting to see what an architect's contest sponsored and advised by the military could come up with.

I bet some of the ideas they came up with would be worth applying to Baghdad and other cities at risk.

New Palestine - An idea for Middle East peace

A peace plan that Israel could carry out unilaterally:

1. Carve out a chunk of northern Israel such that any reasonable person would say it is a fair swap for the West Bank and Gaza. A line drawn west from somewhere on the Israeli-Jordanian border to the sea.

2. Declare that in 10 years, this land will be New Palestine and the West Bank and Gaza will become part of Israel.

3. Slowly begin evacuating Israeli citizens from New Palestine while at the same time offering inducements (free house, land, cash, etc.) to encourage Palestinians to voluntarily move to New Palestine, starting with the Palestinians living in Jerusalem and northern Gaza.

4. After a few years, take over Jerusalem and northern Gaza. Allow any remaining Palestinians in these areas who want to stay a chance to, deport any troublemakers to the "old" Palestine.

5. Repeat step (4) with the rest of Gaza and the West Bank over and over until Israel has taken over the entire West Bank and Gaza.

6. All the while, maintain peace and services as best as possible in New Palestine with some combination of Israeli, U.S., NATO, U.N. or even New Palestinian troops (Iraq occupation done right). Provide a stipend for residents of New Palestine to live comfortably on while getting established.

7. At the end of 10 years, allow the residents the option to vote out the peacekeepers/service providers or have them stay on.


1. Israel is a much more defensible country with only three neighbors.
2. The Palestinians have one contiguous country.
3. No more Israel-Lebanon border. Hezbollah is now bordering on New Palestine.
4. No more Israel-Syria border. Assad, meet your new neighbors.
5. No more problems from Gaza.
6. No endless negotiations, Israel could do this on its own (with financial aid from the U.S./U.N. for resettlement costs and inducements).
7. No need to evacuate Israeli settlers now living in the West Bank.
8. PEACE AT LAST (or at least a better chance for it).


1. Loss of nothern Israel obviously, along with its infrastructure and cities like Haifa (The Palestinians gain, though).
2. Disgruntled Palestinians who didn't want to move out of the West Bank and Gaza or live under Israeli rule (hopefully only a few hundred thousand if sufficient inducements were offered).
3. Disgruntled Israelis who liked living in northern Israel (can be offered their choice of land in reclaimed Gaza or West bank plus some cash to ease their pain).

That's my idea in response to a challenge to come up with one...what's yours?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gaza's complicated natural gas deposits

British Gas owns 90% of a rather large natural gas deposit that sits off shore from the Gaza strip.

Because of certain technical issues in getting it to market, the most likely customer for Gaza's natural gas is...Israel.

To say the negotiations for the deal are rather complicated is an understatement.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More weird war news

An insurgent mortar attack on the Taji Army Airfield in Iraq took out somewhere between 1 and 16 of the Army's helicopters yesterday. These maps show the base in question. The runway is about a mile long, the mortars used in the attack probably have a range of at least twice that length. Quite a security problem judging by the number of civilian building that surround the base.

The destroyed helicopters cost a minimum of $6 million each.

Attacks like these can quickly erase the 1000:1 funding advantage our forces have over the insurgents.

And the Washington Post reports that Israel waved 500 Fatah fighters trained by the U.S. in Egypt into the Gaza battlefield today to combat Hamas.

So much for being an honest broker in the Middle East conflict.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Heroes under attack

Cops, journalists, teachers, soldiers, scientists, judges and preachers are all getting bad press these days.

Even moms are the targets of rage and scorn lately.

Everyday heroes who try to do the right thing, make an effort to make the world a better place for the rest of us, are under attack.


It's not uncommon for societies to tear down the old heroes to make way for new ones, or try to make the current ones not look so bad in comparison. But nobody is rising up to replace them this time.

I suppose it could be seen as a tribal thing.

The left attacks soldiers, preachers and cops.

The right attacks journalists, teachers, scientists and judges.

But what happens to a society where there's nobody to look up to?

I guess we'll just have to look for our heroes in the past.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fox TV: Best 2 out of 3

There are five major TV networks in America: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW.

Fox is frequently reported as the most watched network, but is that really accurate?

The ratings reported are for "prime time" broadcasts. That's 8 pm to 11 pm Monday - Saturday and 7 pm to 11 pm on Sunday. That comes to 22 hours of prime time TV a week.

But...Fox (and CW) goes off the air at 10 pm every night!

They show 1/3 less shows than ABC, NBC and CBS.

Here is a typical week's worth of TV ratings (in .pdf format).

A rating point = 1% of American households with a TV.
A share point = 1% of American households with a TV turned on when the show was aired.

So a show's share will always be larger that a show's rating. (In the unlikely event that every single American home with a TV had it turned on, a show's rating and share would be indentical.)

As you can see from the link, Fox (and CW) are showing 15 hours of prime time shows a week while ABC, CBS and NBC are showing 22 hours a week. Yet they are all judged by their average rating. This is fine for setting ad rates, but not when it comes to determining which network is the most watched.

Fox can't even fill its paltry 15 hours a week with original programming. It fills an hour each Sunday with repeats of Family Guy, King of the Hill or The Simpsons and Friday night it runs repeats of House and Bones.

Even though its the night when hits like Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart used to run, Saturday night is now a junkyard for all the networks. They all tend to run movies, repeats and cheap news and "reality" shows.

So, basically, Fox's ratings consist of American Idol plus House....2 1/2 hours of TV that are so popular that they drag the average rating of the other 12 1/2 hours Fox puts on high enough for it to score a ratings win or a place for the week.

Without American Idol, Fox would be competing with CW for the least-watched network crown.

With American Idol, Fox frequently "wins" the ratings race.

That's why Idol judge Simon Cowell gets $30 million a year to be mean for one and half hours a week.

And that's why every network keeps trying out new Idol clones every few weeks...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dept. of WTF? - Afghanistan Branch

A member of the Afghan National Army gunned down two of our soldiers?

As far as I can tell, Col. James W. Harrison Jr. is the highest ranking member of our military to be killed in Afghanistan in 5+ years of operations there.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What makes a country independent?

I was reading responses to Israel's Winograd report, the look into why the Second Lebanon War went so poorly for them and saw quite a few comments that implied Lebanon, at least the southern and eastern parts, is in reality still just a province of Syria.

So how does one country exert control another country?

The most obvious suspects are the usual three methods:

1. Military
2. Political
3. Economic

How one country can exert control another country militarily:

1. Occupy it
2. Control an armed faction within the country
3. Have a credible military threat against the country
4. Have loyalists within the ranks of the country's military

How one country can exert control another country politically:

1. Have its guy running the country
2. Have one or more political parties that work to further its interests
3. Have control over the media of the country

How one country can exert control over another country economically:

1. Own its means of production
2. Control its export and/or its imports
3. Hold enough of its debt

Those are the means I could think of off the top of my head, I'm sure I've missed a few.

Within the global economy, few countries are completely free of foreign influence these days. But clearly, there has to be a certain level of influence before one country could be said to "control" another country.

The old Soviet Union scored high in each of the three categories, leaving little doubt they controlled the Eastern Bloc nations. You can also see which categories began to escape their control before they lost it completely.

Looking at Syria's influence in Lebanon, I think a reasonable conclusion is it remains just that: influence, not control.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Racism and The Tragedy of the Commons

Externalities have always been my favorite field of economic study. The costs and benefits that accrue to people outside of an economic transaction.

A simple example of an externality is that of a homeowner who fixes their place up and also adds to the value of their neighbor's homes as well (a positive externality). Or the flipside, a homeowner who is a slob, who drags down the value of his neighbor's homes too (a negative externality).

The most famous statement on externalities is probably The Tragedy of the Commons:

It descibes a public pasture where farmers are free to graze their cattle. The benefits of adding one more cow to the field accrue only to the farmer, while the cost (in less well-fed cattle) is borne by every farmer who has a herd grazing in the pasture.

Taken to its extreme, there will not be enough food for any of the cattle to survive on, and they all die.

While studies of externalities usually focus on things like polluting factories, I see a Tragedy of the Commons problem developing in racism in America.

It's fairly obvious that racism is being employed for political and economic gain these days. The people who want to continue the war in Iraq demonize all Muslims quite blatantly. Talk radio hosts practice a milder form of racism to increase their audience. Politicians push the fear of a Mexican invasion to win votes. etc.

But I think all these "farmers" of race have gone too far. Too many have jumped into the racism game in the last few years, and the ones already in the game have become even more racist to hold on to their audience in the face of competition.

I think they've triggered a backlash from the majority of Americans who realize that the corrosive effects of racism, taken to the extreme, will tear America apart.

Don Imus had his herd put down.

Who's next?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A tower in the desert

The Burj Dubai looks like it's going to be an amazing building. Twice as tall as the Empire State Building (click on the tower on the linked page to get a neat comparison chart to the world's next tallest buildings), by far, the world's tallest.

I wonder why the U.A.E. feels comfortable building such a thing smack in the middle of the Middle East?

It's clear that the stable countries of the Middle East fear terrorism far less than America's militant pro-war crowd.


What do they know that we don't?