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Ghost soldiers: fear will give you false figures

From: Akira Urushibata
Subject: Ghost soldiers: fear will give you false figures
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2021 09:49:47 +0900 (added by address@hidden)

The sudden fall of Kabul and collapse of the Afghanistan government
has taken the world by surprise.  The cause of this is summarized in
a phrase in "The Art of War":

  Know your opponent and know your self.  You shall see no peril in
  a hundred contests.  Know not you opponent and know your self.  You
  win and lose.  Know neither your opponent nor your self and you
  are in constant peril.

Officially, the Afghan military forces had 300,000 soldiers and
policemen.  We now know that this was a badly inflated figure.  Some
suggest the real number may have been around 96,000.  Within the
Afghan military, inflating the ranks with "ghost soldiers" was common
practice.  Typically a soldier dies or deserts but his commander fails
to report it and pockets his wages.  Corruption was endemic and this
practice was hard to stop.

A "ghost soldier" is a soldier that exists only "on paper."  We say
"paper" but modern armies use computers instead of paper for
accounting purposes.  As programmers we should be quite familiar with
users requesting features which allow the modification of data for
illicit purposes.  Getting rid of bugs to ensure proper calculation is
a relatively easy task compared to convincing clients or certain
members thereof of the dangers of tampering with data.  People in
positions of power often believe that they can handle "managed" 
data with ease.  In reality once falsehood is allowed in, confusion
sets in and spirals rapidly out of control.

Another facet I would like follow list members to consider is freedom.
The "freedom" of free software is based on Enlightenment philosophy.
Enlightenment philosophers criticized the practice of manipulating
facts and figures prevalent at the time.  Absolute monarchs had the
right to order this done while citizens had no right to say that the
reports looked wrong.  Often those who spoke up were punished.
"Liberty" was often nothing more than demanding that falsehoods be
corrected and requesting that those who spoke up in favor of truth be
released from jail.

The United States won independence after waging a war against England
which was headed by an absolute monarch.  Some critics point out that
deeply set faith in principles of democracy likely misled leaders and
the populace alike.  Americans believed that they were leading
Afghanistan out of the feudal ages by teaching them those principles,
and almost everyone - with the exception of religious zealots - would
welcome it.  Some Afghans took the lessons earnestly while many others
just feigned attention.  It seems Americans made the mistake of taking
the pretense for real.

We should keep in mind that sycophants can cheat the computer for their
advantage.  For millennia their likes have been deceiving us with lies
slyly concealed behind smooth speech and fine clothes.  Recently
they sport their adeptness with the computer to gain credibility.

  Whenever there is fear, you will get wrong figures.

These are the words of Edwards Deming, a Bell Labs statistician who
taught modern quality control methods to the Japanese.  His teachings
were fully endorsed by engineers and managers who had witnessed chaos
in the factories and reports of planes and ships so poorly constructed
that they did not require enemy fire to be disabled.  Deming's
students led Japanese industry through roughly three decades of
spetacular growth.  After Deming's death in 1993 quality standards
slipped while a revisionist view of history which makes heroes of
wartime leaders who were fond of employing fear gained popularity.

Remember that George W. Bush started the campaign in Afghanistan
calling it a "War against Terror."  We can't deny that we were given
wrong figures.  If Deming is right, this means attempts to subdue
terror did not succeed.

Another way to look at this: Afghanistan and Iraq are not the only
battlegrounds of the "War against Terror."  Making computers output
correct figures is another battle of the same war.  I believe we agree
that it can't be won without free sofrware.

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