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Re: Ghost soldiers: fear will give you false figures

From: John Darrington
Subject: Re: Ghost soldiers: fear will give you false figures
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2021 08:40:45 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.10.1 (2018-07-13)

Hello Akira,

Whilst I do agree with the general sentiment of your message, I think it
is going to have little effect partly because of its length and partly
because many of the facts you provide are wrong.  To take just a few examples:

1.  It's a distortion of the truth to say that the US "waged a war".  What
actually happened was they declared indepence after Great Britain (NOT
"England") rejected their "No taxation without representation" demand.
It was Great Britain which sent their forces to the colonies, and not the
other way around.

2. George III was by no means an absolute monarch.  The monarchy 
had ceased to be "absolute" more than a century earlier
with the Triennial Acts of 1641.  Some historians would argue this
had happened even earlier with Magna Carta in 1215.

3. I don't think the fall of Afghanistan took all the world by suprise.
Personally I thought it inevitable once the US pulled out.  Perhaps I
didn't think it would happen so fast, but there was no doubt in my mind
that it would happen.

I'm in full agreement with your statements about falsifying figures, but
drawing analagy with the American war of independence and the war in
Afgahistan is a tangent.



On Wed, Aug 18, 2021 at 09:49:47AM +0900, Akira Urushibata wrote:
     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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