Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

To all my Christian readers, as well as Non-Christian readers. Merry Christmas. As a Buddhist, I have always celebrate Christmas - because I always have Christian friends. It is my philosophy that we should all celebrate other religious holidays.
This is why I am always puzzled by people who are uncomfortable with Christmas symbols. This is especially true of atheists. People of other religious tradition rarely have any problem with Christmas. In fact in Asia, where more than 90 percents of the population are Non-Christian, Christmas is an celebrated event. Daniel Drezner in Hong Kong noted that Christmas lighting in Hong Kong is far more extravagant than any city in the US.
Some may complain that Asian are commercializing the holiday. As ardent defender of capitalism, I see commercialism as a very good thing. It is certainly good for the world economy. Only if we can commercialize Ramadan.
So, I hope you get many presents this Christmas. I hope to get many presents myself. Long live shameless marterialism.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Quid Pro Quo

Ayman Nour was sentenced to 5 years for a trumped up charge. The White House wants his immediate release.
"The conviction of Mr Nour, the runner-up in Egypt's 2005 presidential elections, calls into question Egypt's commitment to democracy, freedom, and the rule of law," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement.

"The United States calls upon the Egyptian government to act under the laws of Egypt in the spirit of its professed desire for increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society, and out of humanitarian concern, to release Mr Nour from detention."
The US must do a whole lot more than just demanding Nour release. There should be an ultimatum. Secretary Rice should make a public statement to this effect and make it clear that the US is very serious. If Mubarak want his annua twol billion dollars in financial aid, he will release Ayman Nour right now. It is about time we attach condition to our financial assistance. Two billion dollars is a lot of money and we have the right to demand some political reform from those who receive our money.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Another Look At Iraq Economic Number

There are questions and doubts on the Iraq economic data I cited earlier in this post. So I went and looked at different sources other than Wikipedia. I subscribe to the Economist, but I am not willing to pay a few hundred extra dollars to get their data on Iraq from the Economic Intelligence Unit. And their regular site provide almost no information. Here are data from other sources, and they vary greatly.
According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (link in pdf), the economic growth for Iraq in 2004 is 35 percent. The forecast for 2005 is 6.8 percent.
According to Index Mundi, the growth rate for 2004 is 52.3. There is no mentioned of forecast.
According to the World Bank (link in pdf), the growth rate for 2004 is 46.5 percent and no mention of forecast.
From the International Monetary Fund dated September 24, 2004: "Real GDP is projected to rebound sharply, by about 50 percent in 2004, thanks in part to a stable macroeconomic environment; this is less than originally anticipated, mainly because of the continuing security problems."
Readers feel free to post other sources so we all can have a clearer pictures

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Meaning of the New Poll in Iraq

The BBC and ABC commissioned a poll in Iraq. And we can interpret the result of the poll as following. (1) We are making progress in Iraq. (2) But that progress is painfully slow (due to mistakes on our part), and there are still much to be done.

The poll shows that the main stream media narrative is different than that of the Iraqis living there. This is natural. If one is to watch the local news, one may think that the area where I live, the Great Washington Metropolitan, is crime infested and overran with gangs. Part of it is true, there are areas that are crime infested and overran with gangs, but those are exception to the rule. This is true of Iraqis too. 70.6 percents of the participants their personal lives are quite good or very good. 51.5 percent think that their lives are better than it was under Saddam Hussein. Another 18.6 thinks their lives remain the same. Only 17.9 percents thinks that their lives are worsen off.

The interesting fact is despite thinking that their personal lives (70.6%) are positive; only 44.4 percents think that things in Iraq as the whole is positive. No, it is not a contradiction. Minus those who think their lives are positive, we have almost 30 percents who think their lives are negative (which interestingly coincides with the 30 percents unemployment rate). Now if 30 percent of your fellow citizens are in bad shape, it is only natural that one thinks that things are negative.

The poll also shows that the Iraqis do not like the occupation. This is not surprising either. Who in the world would like to be occupied? It is no surprise that Iraqis are resentful of being occupied. It is humiliating. Imagine a very abusive family where the father starves beats and sexually molests the children. If an outsider comes in, removes the father, and runs the household – it is still a humiliating experience. It is a humiliating experience to be situation that an outsider has to come in and rescue. There would be plenty of angers, but it would be because the person is helpless and dependent on outsider – and not due to anything the outsider does.

Iraqis do not like the occupation. It reminds them of their own helplessness and impotency. They resent having other people doing things that they know they should be doing for themselves. Imagine having to depend on strangers for food, security, and livelihood. It does not feel good. Therefore it is vital that we help the Iraqis help themselves – to put them back on their feet as soon as possible. That means a serious effort at training the Iraqi Security Forces. That means a more involvement of Iraqis in the reconstruction process.

Those who support the war know understands that we need to end the occupation as soon as possible. Neither the occupier nor the occupied like occupation. Therefore, the end goal should be to end the occupation – but not before the Iraqis can take care of themselves. The poll also illustrates this point. Only 25 percents believe that the US should leave right now. They all want us to leave at some point in the future however.

The poll for the most part is positive, but it is not a slam dunk for those supporting the war. The poll does not gross over the negative parts. It shows that mistakes were made (and are still being made) by the US. But it is something that the war supporters already knew. Unlike the impression being portrayed of the supporters of the war (by the anti-war groups), we never thought for one second that the project to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq is easy. On the contrary, we knew that every brick being built in Iraq would be soaked in blood, sweat, and tears. We knew that we would spend many nights anguishing over the mistakes we made. And we also knew that we would make plenty of mistakes and some Iraqis out there would resent us for our mistakes.

We knew this is the most difficult enterprise we have ever participated in. But unlike the critics, we rolled up our sleeves and gave it our best shot. And for some, they gave a whole lot more – their own lives. This poll is a long shot from a certificate of achievement. But it is an indicator that we that our decision to start the project was right after all. Now, we just need to work a little harder.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eugene Stoner versus Mikhail Kalashnikov

There are those out there who hold the Kalashnikov in high regard, especially in comparison to the US M16/M4. The myth of Kalashnikov superiority is anything but a myth. It is in fact a very crappy weapon – for various reasons that I will discuss later. The belief that the M16/M4 is an expensive but fragile weapon is also an unfound myth. It is true that Kalashnikov (the inventor, not the weapon) was an able weapon designer, but he was not superior to Eugene Stoner (the father of the M16/M4). Kalashnikov designed a weapon for an ill-trained conscripted army. For that purpose, the AK47 was and is a superb weapon. Stoner designed a weapon for a professional army. Any professional soldier would prefer the M16/M4 family over the Kalashnikovs.

Let take a look at professional armies across the globe. The British Army service rifle is the S-80, but their elite Special Air Service (SAS) used the US M4. The Australian service rifle is the Steyr AUG, but their SAS also used the M4. The Israel Defense Force various special units also use the M4. Most Western Special Operation Forces used M4.

Having handled both an M16 and AK47, I understand why the M16 is a better weapon. My favorite feature of the M16/M4 is the functionality. It is more functional than any weapon out there. I will ignore accuracy because it is an accepted fact that an M16/M4 is far more accurate than an AK47.

(1) First, the fire selector is conveniently located above the pistol grip. Shooter can switch from safe to semi and back almost immediately with his thumb. In a place like Iraq, the ability to put a weapon in action quickly is highly prized.

(2) Second, the iron sight is natural. The rear sight is closer to the shooter eye. The smaller hole in the rear sight allows accurate firing at long range. The larger hole in the rear sight allows quick reflexive shooting at close range.

(3) Third, the weapon can put back in action quickly went the last round is fire. When the last round is fire, the bolt is held at the rear. The magazine release is conveniently located above at the magazine well, next to the shooter supporting hand (I hold my weapon at the magazine well). One press by the thumb and the magazine fall off by itself. Grab a full magazine, put it in the magazine well, press the bolt release, and the weapon is ready for action. The sequence just described can be done in a second. And this is done without the shooter having to take his eye off the weapon sight or his firing hand off the pistol grip.

How does the AK47 function compare to the M16/M4 family.

(1) First, the fire selector is located on the right, below the ejector port. One has to take his hand off from pistol grip, locates the selector switch, the turn it to auto. Yes, the AK setting is safe to auto then to semi – only untrained conscript fire his weapon on auto. It is inaccurate and wasted a whole lot of ammo. The shooter then has to put his hand back into the pistol grip to fire. The lost time in getting the weapon in action is the different between shooting the opponent and getting shot by the opponent.

(2) The sight on the AK47 sucks. The rear sight is far away from the shooting eye and is not very natural. Furthermore, one cannot switch between distance shooting and reflexive shooting.

(3) Now if one run out of ammo on an AK47, one better finds a good cover to hide for a few minutes; because that is how long it takes to reload the weapon. The magazine released is behind the magazine. One has to press the level; and at the same time one has to physically pull the magazine out. Reload a fresh magazine take as long, because one has to rock the magazine in place. Then one has to take one right hand off the pistol grip and physically charge the weapon with the charging handle on the right side below the ejector port, since the bold does not stay at the rear after the last shot. Reload an AK47’s magazine requires three extra motions and five times longer compare to the M16 or M4.

The only advantage the AK47 has over the M16/M4 is reliability. This only matter if a soldier does not maintain his weapon. And the advantage is only slight. The M16/M4 is not as fragile or sensitive as some believed. For the whole year in Iraq, my issued M16 never malfunctioned. And I had an old wore out National Guard M16. With a proper cleaning, an M16 will last for two to three days. I did not clean my weapon everyday. I cleaned it every other day. Every time, I left the base, I test-fired it. And we went to the range quite often. And the faithful M16 never let me down. And the AK47 is not as robust as some claimed. I have seen AK47 jammed because the owner (an Iraqi National Guard soldier) did not clean it. Even the AK47 needs cleaning.

Therefore I am glad that the US Army discontinued the XM8 program intends to replace the M16/M4. The XM8 is not better than the current service rifle. It is lighter and more reliable, but it still lacks many functions that make the M16/M4 my favorite weapon. Reloading magazine is still slower on the XM8 than the M16/M4. The XM8 bolt does not stay to the rear at the last shot. And the magazine release button is as clumsy as the AK47.

The US Army should stay with the M16/M4, however make more M4. I wish I had an M4 instead of an M16. It is shorter and is better to fire in confined space. With a few improvements, the M4 would be a perfect weapon. If the magazine well mouth is flare, like the H&K UMP, it would speed up reloading under combat stress. And perhaps it is time we go for better round, like the 6.8mm SPC or the 6.5mm Grendel. Currently, I am in favor of the 6.8mm SPC because the round fits in the current M16/M4 magazine. And switching to a 6.8 SPC is much cheaper than developing a new rifle. All we need to manufacture is the upper receiver.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Economic Growth without Oil

One item that Western media often neglect to mention about Iraq is the state of the economy – or how well the economy is doing. According to Wikipedia, the growth rate (real rate, not nominal) for Iraq in 2004 is 52.3 percent. And the prediction is that the economy will continue to grow. The forecast according to the Economist will be 26 percent for the year 2005-2006.

The most interesting fact about the current Iraqi economy is that it is not petroleum based. Many war critics often criticized that oil production in Iraq is still below pre-war level; and they are correct. This means that Iraqi economic growth has little to do with oil. In fact a CNN Business article dated August 23rd, 2002 titles: “Iraq economy shrinking, despite oil.” The economy shrank despite higher oil production in 2002 but grew despite lower oil production in 2005.

I have argued before that raw material based economy – particularly petroleum based economy is unhealthy.

…oil [is] a curse because it creates a dysfunctional relationship between the people and the government. It further remove incentives for entrepreneurship, a key factor to economic progress. A future Iraqi government with a large oil revenue does not need to listen to her people since the money do not come directly from the people. There is no need for accountability. State revenue can be squandered on any frivolous project because oil revenue is readily available. Furthermore a large part of the economy, labor and capital, will revolve around the state-owned petroleum industry deprive Iraq of economic diversification.

Therefore, it is a very good sign that Iraq economy grew without oil. And no one (whether the Bush administration or the current Iraqi government) should takes credit for the economic growth. The credit belongs to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Iraqi people. There are several thousands new businesses are being registered every year (there are thousands more businesses that ignore the registration rule). It is the new enterprising spirit that allows a 52.3 percent growth in the worsening security environment (2004 is the most violence year since the fall of Baghdad).

The Iraqi people will find out that it is possible to experience wealth and prosperity without depending on the volatile oil market. It will allow them to diversify their economy by investing in many different industries. There are still many problems. Unemployment remains high – 30 percent. The banking industry, essential to investment, is nonexistent. But if the economy of Iraq grew despite numerous obstacle; one can only imagine the future when those obstacles are removed.