Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fighting pointless battles

The United States recently committed to upgrading Taiwan's F-16 fighters. China, as one might expect, made a stink about it. Why bother? China knows they're not going to change the outcome. This is a battle they won't win. Is this just China being China, with dramatic, belligerent posturing?

The Free Software Foundation recently started a new campaign to prevent computer manufacturers from restricting their hardware to running Windows. Their fear is that Microsoft will use a new security feature as a Trojan horse to lock out Linux and other competitors. To me, it's obvious that Microsoft will not do that. They're under too much scrutiny from the United States Justice Department and the EU's anti-trust enforcers. Something this blatant would get smacked down hard. This is a battle the FSF has already won. Is the FSF just being overly-sensitive and panicking over nothing?

In both cases, the battle is not the thing that matters. China knows they can't prevent the F-16 fighter upgrade. The FSF knows that Microsoft isn't going to induce PC makers to restrict their hardware to Windows. This battle is irrelevant. What matters is the next battle, and the one after that.

For China, the next battle is replacing Taiwan's decades-old F-5 fighters with new F-16s. The battle after that is preventing Taiwan from getting the still-in-development F-35. There are innumerable battles after that, ranging from further arms sales to US Navy exercises in the Western Pacific to economic agreements and so forth.

China is drawing a line in the sand. Actually, they're drawing two lines in the sand, the drama line and the real line. The United States is crossing the drama line, but is also acutely aware of the real line and how close to it they are. By making a stink now, China is sending a clear signal how much they're willing to tolerate. They're promising a huge fight if the United States gets too close to the real line. It's not even about winning the next battle, or the one after that. It's about convincing the United States today to not even offer battle tomorrow.

By behaving this way now, China is telegraphing how they will behave in the future. They're training the United States government in how to think, in how to approach cost/benefit analyses of initiatives involving Taiwan in the future by raising the perceived costs. This battle is lost to China, but they're making it more expensive for the United States, and they're making it crystal clear that future battles will be expensive as well, quite possibly making them so expensive that we don't even try some things we would have wanted to do.

Similarly, the FSF is sending a clear signal to Microsoft. Don't even think about stepping out of line. You're being watched. They too have drawn a line in the sand. Microsoft is stepping close to it. This campaign isn't about winning this battle; it's already won, it's just not public yet. This campaign is about drawing the line, and making sure Microsoft knows the line is there. Next time Microsoft has a bright idea like this, they'll kill it before it gets out of Redmond, and that will be because the FSF made them understand where the line was, and how close they could get.

Winning battles is nice, but the best victories are the ones where your opponent doesn't even try to oppose you.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Suburban dad for the win




This is our first new car ever (either separately or together). And I've already scratched it.