Thursday, December 01, 2005

More nonsense stemming from the study of Homo Economicus. Someone finally did a study showing that one of the things that makes Silicon Valley work is indeed good people moving around and spreading knowledge with them. Well, they could have told you that themselves. But economists are perplexed:

After all, the argument that Silicon Valley's job hopping fosters innovation contradicts economists' common assumptions. "It didn't feel right to me," James B. Rebitzer, an economist at Case Western Reserve University, said in an interview.

When employees jump from company to company, they take their knowledge with them. "The innovation from one firm will tend to bleed over into other firms," Professor Rebitzer explained. For a given company, "it's hard to capture the returns on your innovation," he went on. "From an economics perspective, that should hamper innovation."

You could write a small book about how this analysis ignores economic units at two scales which are as important as the companies in question: the individuals who are moving around, and Silicon Valley itself. (And yes, there are actors --- from synergy-minded venture capitalists to techies who just like having options --- who have it perfectly well in their interest to think about the economic health of the Valley as a whole). But if you did that, you'd be missing an even more basic mistake: If people were only motivated to do creative work when it was maximizing someone's financial gain, then "starving artist" wouldn't be a cliché.

Well, someone's been active in spinsville. The headline on the New York Times front-pager on Dubya's speech reads:

For Once, President and His Generals See the Same War

The article itself gets around to contradicting its headline completely by its own third paragraph:

Mr. Bush closed with a vow to "settle for nothing less than complete victory," without saying how that squared with the plan to hand over the main burden of the war to the newly trained Iraqi troops who, American field commanders say, have done well in some recent battles but much less impressively in others. Nor did the president say how his rejection of "artificial timetables" would be sustained politically if the plan for American troops to step back decisively in 2006, and for Iraqi units to step forward, falters in the face of the unrelenting insurgency.

To say nothing of today's editorial, which correctly describes Dubya as completely out of touch with reality:

The address was accompanied by a voluminous handout entitled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," which the White House grandly calls the newly declassified version of the plan that has been driving the war. If there was something secret about that plan, we can't figure out what it was. The document, and Mr. Bush's speech, were almost entirely a rehash of the same tired argument that everything's going just fine. Mr. Bush also offered the usual false choice between sticking to his policy and beating a hasty and cowardly retreat.

But, says the headline writer, things are changing. And he's not the only one. There is apparently similar balderdash in the L.A. Times as well.

Could two groups at two different newspapers find themselves trapped in exactly the same wishful thinking? They could. But modern America being what it is, I think there was someone spinning them that way regardless.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Will wonders never cease. Amid all the nay-saying about the course of things in Iraq, I've finally found a statement so negative that even I have trouble believing it. And the source of this vile canard is the United States government. It comes by way of the James Fallows story on the training of the new Iraqi Army in this month's Atlantic (on line for subscribers here), which reports:

Early this year, the American-led training command shifted its emphasis from simple head counts of Iraqi troops to an assessment of unit readiness based on a four-part classification scheme. Level I, the highest, was for "fully capable" units --- those that could plan, execute, and maintain counterinsurgency operations with no help whatsoever. Last summer Pentagon officials said that three Iraqi units, out of a total of 115 police and army battalions, had reached this level. In September the U.S. military commander in Iraq, Army General George Casey, lowered that estimate to one.

Do you believe that? I don't.

After all, let's consider who the new Iraqi government is. Its leaders, endorsed by us, include members of a radical Shiite organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is quite cozy with the theocrats ruling neighboring Iran. And SCIRI, in turn, has an armed wing, the Badr Brigade, which was hosted and trained by Iran during the decades when Saddam Hussein was in power.

If there's one thing the Iranians learned during the Iran-Iraq war, it's how to train an effective armed force.

These units have now almost certainly enrolled en masse in the new American-built armed forces. And while the Americans may have perfectly legitimate reasons to wonder on whose behalf they are operating, it's awfully hard to imagine that they are incapable of carrying out independant operations.

Then again, does the question of loyalty even matter? We are the ones who put their leadership, SCIRI, in the ruling coalition. That, apparently, is the cause for which American soldiers are dying --- making Iraq safe for the murderous allies of Iranian fanatics.