Thursday, August 07, 2008

A (completely!) non-political potpourri!

I’m mostly going offline for a little bit, so I figure I’ll toss out a few random jumbles of flotsam and jetsam, in order to keep the sharks fed in the meantime. (I may check in, under comments... or maybe not!) Have fun.

(Oh, and lack of time or a sane interface means I’ll not be hot-linking much. Sorry.)

At last, a stab in the direction of a predictions registry. ”Think you've got the gift of foresight? The Washington Post has partnered with Predictify , an online polling service, to create a "Prediction Center" that allows readers to vote on possible outcomes for selected stories. Users will be able to leave their predictions and discuss their beliefs on an integrated comment thread.

Predictify, which launched in 2007, goes beyond basic polling systems by integrating discussion features and monitoring a users' accuracy score across the entire service. While there isn't currently a way to weight one question more than another, the site's algorithm does take into account the type of question and the accuracy rate of participants. To offer an incentive for users to take part in the polls, the site has also implemented a premium program that allows companies to sponsor a poll and reward the most accurate participants with cash. In return, these sponsors are entitled to the demographics data that the service asks for with each vote. “

Note, this lacks most of the added features that could turn something like Predictify into a truly useful tool for accomplishing what society really needs:

systematic ways to appraise predictive success/failure.
ways to overcome natural human feigning, backdating and retro-disavowal.
sufficient attractiveness to draw in a large critical mass of participants.
a widely-accepted way to “out” those who claim predictive acumen, but refuse appraisal or accountability.
discovery of “3-sigma” forecasters so attention can be given to their methods.
rewarding “2-sigma” people with greater access to those in power.

Predictify appears to take some baby steps toward a few of these desiderata -- baby steps that could be so much more.

In contrast, for all of the hype that has recently been given to “prediction markets,” they in fact make almost no efforts toward achieving these goals. Indeed, their entire drive is in other directions.

See an interesting - if shallow - New York Times Magazine essay about “The Trolls Among Us” - profiling some of the “types” who choose to bushwack other people on the Net, the way their ancestors would lurk behind bushes (if they were poor) or simply grab victims openly (if they were lords). Oh, we’ve had a few troll problems here. But that’s not the segue. It is about so many things we’ve discussed here. Transparency & accountability. Self-righteous indignation (google exactly those words.) And about “getting” what this civilization is about.

I have had issues with Bill Moyers, especially his disappointing sycophancy toward that infamous plagiarist and propagandist for oppressive, feudal-romantic, storytelling-uniformity, Joseph Campbell. Still, Moyers does care and has loads of passion, reminding me a lot of my late “crusading-journalist” father. Hence, I feel it’s worth referring folks -- during an era when Edward R. Murrow is spinning in his grave -- to Moyers’s latest offering. A Hippocratic Oath for Journalists.  (Thanks Mel.)

One of my casual mini-essays -- written in response to a debate on John Brockman’s site THE EDGE, has raised some ripples. Based on Nicholas Carr’s cover story in the Atlantic: “Is Google making us Stoopid?” Have a look at responses by Danny Hillis, Clay Shirky, Larry Sanger and yours truly.

And see my new EDGE posting, taking issue with another cyber grough. Mark Pesce.

Oh, I have a few of these (Extraterrestrial Civilizations) in stock. Maybe I can retire!

From the Transparency Front: Last month, PeopleFinders, a 20-year-old company based in Sacramento, introduced, a free service to satisfy those common impulses. The site, which is supported by ads, lets people search by name through criminal archives of all 50 states and 3,500 counties in the United States.... A quick check of the database confirms that it is indeed imperfect. Some records are incomplete, and there is often no way to distinguish between people with the same names if you don’t know their birthdays (and even that date is often missing)....

A cool academic conference that may actually show a few sparks, next year, is the Ninth History of Astronomy Workshop, at Notre Dame, Indiana, July 8 - 12, 2009. Eminent SETI scholar Michael Crowe is among the organizers.

Misc science alert: Rapid changes in the churning movement of Earth's liquid outer core are weakening the magnetic field in some regions of the planet's surface, a new study says. For true?

Catch this promising vertical algae reactor! 

And the violinist spoof in the subway. You’ve heard of it. Still, ponder it again. We need to lift our heads more and be open to the unusual.

And now an example of how many ways that even smart people misunderstand the Enlightenment. Even its defenders!

The New Scientist Magazine lists - Seven Reasons Why People Hate Reason. “From religious fundamentalism to pseudoscience, it seems that forces are attacking the Enlightenment world view – characterized by rational, scientific thinking – from all sides. The debate seems black and white: you’re either with reason, or you’re against it. But is it so simple? In a series of special essays, our contributors look more carefully at some of the most provocative charges against reason.”

See: Why people hate reason.

Alas, even in the very first paragraph, the New Scientist team illustrates the fault of accepting false definitions and thus creating a lose-lose situation for your side, from the very start. Because, in fact, it is flat-out wrongheaded to claim that “reason” is the fundamental premise of the Enlightenment!

Indeed, by basing a defense of the Enlightenment on a defense of reason, we expose it to justified doubt, and possibly even great harm.

Oh, certainly , “reason” played a role in the long fight against feudal and theocratic bullying. When the first universities of Europe rediscovered the Greek classics, via Arabic translators, in the 13th Century, the socratic logic espoused by Plato became a rallying point for the first great western Youth Movement, pushing back against dark, ecclesiastical mysticism. And yet, of course, Plato was no friend of democratic values. Indeed, his so-called “reason” has always been dubious, elitist, tendentious and easy to poke full-of-holes. Amounting to a ritualistic pattern of incantations, platonism has proved a powerfully seductive force for rationalization and subjective self-fulfillment. An underpinning for “philosophical” calamities like Hegel.

Sometimes logic -- and especially its cousin, mathematics -- can suggest useful directions of interest, pointing science, philosophy and political thought toward new doors, new thresholds. It can be especially useful as a negative tool, to pillory and demolish really awful positions. Still, through hard experience, we have learned that logic and reason can only suggest, propose, refute, perhaps stimulate, but it is far more limited than its greatest adherents suggest. Because no model built out of words can truly describe, let alone predict, the complex behavior of physical systems, let alone those made up of intricately-interacting human beings. Outside of math itself, logic and reason cannot be relied upon to prove anything.

Alas, a large part of the Enlightenment movement -- the branch led by continental scholars of France and Germany -- bought into the notion of pure reason. From Descartes to Sartre, they focused on logical incantations that always just happened to “prove” preconceived beliefs. Marxism, Nazissm and dozens of other tragedies emerged out of this fundamental mistake -- the notion that you can prove things with words.

(And don’t I often try to do exactly that? O, it is seductive, all right!)

Fortunately, the movement had its own version of the Protestant Reformation, a rift that saved it, when the Anglo-Scottish-Dutch wing branched off, declaring fealty instead to Pragmatism. To empiricism and the preeminence of experiment over theory. Oh, this wing had its own desperate follies -- like Radical Behaviorism and Logical Positivism. Still, the chief overall result was a system or zeitgeist that could adapt to new developments, quickly discover mistakes, subject earlier assumptions to criticism, and negotiate new solutions to problems.

Hence, I find it tragic and disappointing that the editors of The New Scientist -- a British based publication -- should fall for the rhetorical trap of defending reason as the core element of the modern Enlightenment. All it does is set things up so that all of the legitimate complaints against reason can be used as weapons against something much bigger and more important. Against the far greater and more important Pragmatic Enlightenment that has brought us so very far, and let us earn so very much.

And now, a micro-essay-rant! (That I had tucked in a corner, meaning to spiff it up. Well, maybe not...)


One hundred years ago, the world was obsessed with the notion of the unconscious mind. Sigmund Freud was only the most prominent of a veritable wave of intellectuals, sages and scientists promoting the notion that we - each of us - consist of multiple layers, components or sub-selves, many of them in conflict with each other. Or keeping secrets from each other. The notion influenced both capitalists and Marxists. It propelled the social movements of the Roaring Twenties and gave millions an explanation for the Madness of the Great War.

At one level, this was a clear and epochal breakthrough. In his original INTRODUCTORY LECTURES, Freud spent many pages leading medical students through a series of simple experiments designed to demonstrate to each of them the existence of their own unconscious minds. This was Freud at his best, before he spun off, down paths of fantasy, self-delusion, sex obsession and downright, domineering guru-dom -- all displayed vividly in his later NEW INTRODUCTORY LECTURES. (Thus, unintentionally demonstrating some of the pitfalls that await any human who is lured by adulation away from the collegial criticism of science.) Today, you have only to see the wild ways that people leap to misinterpret each other -- in an argument or when skimming blogs or emails -- to witness the old unconscious in action. Or, ever notice how -- at a party -- the buzz of conversation fades into background... until somebody mentions your name? Clearly, much is going on, beneath the surface. Only part of your mental process is accessible to the melange that you blithely call “me.”

So why do we discuss the unconscious so little, nowadays? For one thing, there seemed to be no clear model of why the inner self would be secretive, concealing itself and even playing nasty tricks upon the upper-outer personality. A myriad sub-theories suggested different fundamental motivators for this, from Freud’s inherent sexual conflict to Adler’s power theory to Jung’s mystical archetypes, to traumatization of immortal cosmic souls by mind-warping technologies used by the evil Lord Xenu. In their rush to find a universal, general process or cause, the authors of these explanations reflexively avoided anything even remotely resembling falsifiability, scientific testing, or any reference to the Darwinian evolution that made us.

And then, along came psychopharmacology. At first, new drugs seemed to replicate the effects of psychotherapy, while therapy seemed to elicit changes in brain chemistry -- a chicken and egg situation that was bemusing... till newer drugs seemed to win the argument, hands down. In part because of better fine tuning, but also because therapy -- and especially psychoanalysis -- were so time consuming, expensive, and based upon a domineering style that was out of tune with a more liberated, individualistic era.

Finally, somebody seems to get it! ON DEEP HISTORY AND THE BRAIN, by Daniel Lord Smail, suggests that we constantly trigger altered mental states, simply because they are self-reinforcing... or possibly addictive. Excerpted from a review: ”By snorting -- suddenly creating a sound -- the slack-minded horse elicits an automatic “startle response” — flooding its brain with chemicals, delivering a jolt of excitement and relieving, at least for a moment, the monotony of a long day in an empty field. If horses can alter their own brain chemistries at will (and have good reasons to do so), what about human beings? In “On Deep History and the Brain,” Daniel Lord Smail suggests that human history can be understood as a long, unbroken sequence of snorts and sighs and other self-modifications of our mental states. We want to alter our own moods and feelings, and the rise of man from hunter-gatherer and farmer to office worker and video-game adept is the story of the ever proliferating devices — from coffee and tobacco to religious rites and romance novels — we’ve acquired to do so. Humans, Smail writes, have invented “a dizzying array of practices that stimulate the production and circulation of our own chemical messengers,” and those devices have become more plentiful with time. We make our own history, albeit with neurotransmitters not of our choosing.”

All of which is deeply connected to my longstanding assertion that such inner states give an entirely different perspective on addiction in human beings. (Anybody know how to contact this Harvard professor?)

Okay, that’s a whole bunch or raw meat, tossed into the pool. I may check in, under comments, once or twice. But otherwise, I’ll be taking a break for a week or two. You folks keep the community fizzing, yes? I’m sure there will be lively discussions.

Oh! Some time it a few months, I think it really will be time to ditch Blogger and get a really good blog client onto We can discuss it in the fall.

Now go yank-awake some ostriches... nicely.... ;-)


Travc said...

This is a bit of a meander, but I would really like to hear other views or opinions so I can crystallize it a bit better....

Reason and the Enlightenment... I've always had trouble describing it myself. Popper and the philosophy of science perhaps does the best job, but isn't quit succinct enough.

Anyways, reason is fundamental to enlightenment values as I see them... but in a 'meta' sense. It is a corollary (actually proven in the context of math) that we cannot answer the overwhelming majority of problems with pure reason. (Technically, an order of infinity more unsolvable problems exist than solvable ones.) So we fashion a pragmatic system which is based on reasoning with incomplete information which can identify and correct errors. But it is still based on reason.

Maybe the needed distinction is between logic and reason.

B. Dewhirst said...

Travc, if you'd like a late 20th century answer to that question, you should review Sagan's Cosmos and especially Bronowski's The Ascent of Man.

Sagan's astronomy has aged better than Bronowski's anthropology, but both are stunning works... masterpieces.

I'm guessing that, like many essentially like-minded Americans, you've seen Cosmos but not Ascent. Check it out.

Some of Dawkins' essays are very fine editions to this genre as well, but may not be to your taste. If I recall correctly, Ingersoll is also very good at this 'what does science all mean' stuff.

.... in other news ....

Has anyone found a really insightful analysis of the Russian/Georgian affair? I'd rather look behind the curtain before I go and fill my head with misconceptions from the mainstream media...

Anonymous said... t.html?sq=troll&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=all

404, should be

And see my new EDGE posting, taking issue with another cyber grough.


There is very little at this link (no blurbs, reviews, pictures, or etc.) to add to what you wrote in the blog post. A useless link for readers.

There's virtually no text here at all, just an embedded Flash object I don't feel like risking a virus to view. dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html?referrer=emailarticle

404, should be

Oh, this wing had its own desperate follies -- like Radical Behaviorism and Logical Positivism.

What exactly is wrong with Logical Positivism?

Cliff said...

Interesting feature on a crisis in Indian food production at Slate:

Interesting because it details the effects of industrialized agriculture, economic disruption, the disruptions in the Middle East, and global warming.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Pesche's description of the Enlightment seems weird, all right. Ditto his prognosis. Maybe he's been reading too much about South Korean cyber mobs going berserk.

Cyber mobs don't seem typical. We don't find them outside South Korea. They don't occur in Japan, for example, nor are they common in America, nor in most other countries with high-speed internet connections.

It's also baffling that Pesche doesn't emphasize the many uses of the internet for cooperative collective action that helps people. For example., or the instance of a woman in Canada right now who's using YouTube to look for a compatible bone marrow donor.

Frankly, both Pesche and Kurzweil sound like they're out to lunch. Technology will continue to advance, but there's no evidence that it will either cause us to degenerate into subhumans or elevate us to superhuman godhood.

Regarding Dr. Brin's claim that reason is not the foundation of the Enlightenment, he is simply and plainly wrong. All the history books, all the philosophy texts, all the studies in the history of ideas concur that the Enlightenment was all about reason and the key figures of the Enlightenment acknowledged this fact themselves. That was its downfall, of course, since the Terror represents the prototypical Stalinoid elevation of reason above emotion and the consequent logical justification of atrocities and depravities "for the good of the state." Once we purge emotion from our social calculations, any depravity becomes possible as long as we can justify it logically.

The Romantic movement of the 19th century corrected this deficiency in the Enlightenment but, alas, introduced new pathologies of its own. The Soviet Union has often been described by notable scholars like Isaiah Berlin and Jacob Bronowski as the apotheosis of the Enlightenment carried to its logical and depraved extremes, while the Nazi movement in 1930s Germany represented the Romantic movement carried to its most odious extreme.

Dr. Brin's persistent effort to redefine the meaning of words whose meaning is already well established does not prove (dare I say) enlightening. It's an annoying habit, and I wish he'd stop it. Words mean what they mean. Let's please not try to redfine them to fit our own personal whims, shall we?

zorgon the malevolent said...

Various bits of good news:

Here's an interesting discussion of sociological studies that show people living in dung huts in Africa and folks who like in penthouses in New York report roughly equal levels of happness with their lives.

The linux foundation releases a new development tool which promises to improve linux distros even further. For those of us who worship at the feet of the penguin, good news indeed.

Cindy Sheehan has qualified for the ballot. Wouldn't it be something if she takes Pelosi out?

Yet another thuggish police drug bust gone horribly wrong -- but this time they picked the mayor to harass with a bogus drug bust, who seems to be the wrong guy to mess with, and the FBI is now probing this abomination. Let's hope this is the start of a cascade of FBI probes into these outrageous unlawful travesties by muggers with badges.

This interesting development points up the continuing expansion of the audience and the ongoing change in distribution for movies and films: the second direct-to-DVD STARGATE SG-1 film, which seems to be getting good reviews and appears to be racking up nice sales.

New gene silencing technique may stop HIV cold.

B. Dewhirst asked if there's any good source on the Russian invasion of Georgia. Well, this might help -- looks like the Russians are headed for Jacksonville FL, so it's serious.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone understand the connection between Zorgons internet mob comments and links, and Brins reference to Lord Xenu?

'Net mobs change and evolve with a stunning speed, sometimes uplifted by a Wise Beard Man .

Expect them.

Travc said...

Zorg... I sympathize with your umbridge at Dr Brin's word usage, but there is a difference between common usage and term-of-art usage. I really don't think we are trying to use 'Enlightenment' here to refer to a distinct historical movement in Europe and N America. But there really isn't a common term for the (still extant thank gods) intellectual, political, and social framework/values which have evolved from the historical Enlightenment. You get my drift? Feel free to coin a term if you have a better suggestion.

BTW: Dr Brin does note the difference between the Enlightenment in England and America vs continental Europe (France and her Terrors). Some of my Enlightenment era heros actually predicted and opposed the Terrors using 'Enlightenment' values/reasoning. So in the context here, I don't think it is fair to lay the Terrors (or Stalin) at the feet of the intellectual movement we are referring to.

BD, I think I 'get' the philosophy of science and 'what science is' pretty well. It is the more general position (aesthetic?) that reason is the most reliable and pragmatic approach to every realm of human endeavor which I don't know how to explain well.

The arguments against reason seem to really be just arguments against relying on cold pure logic... which are silly (strawman IMO). Reason can handle incomplete information and incorporate heuristic (even emotion based) shortcuts perfectly well. Hell, reason requires these since pure logical inference is utterly intractable or even impossible in most cases.

The general public (at least editorial writers) don't seem to understand reason to mean the same thing that I do. Not really surprising, since my background is quite different. Instead of getting annoyed at people who don't know the meaning of 'reason' as a term-of-art (from machine learning, computer science, and some non-run-of-the-mill economics in my cass)... I'd like be able to actually explain myself better.

Travc said...

anon said...
Does anyone understand the connection between Zorgons internet mob comments and links, and Brins reference to Lord Xenu?

No on one... bad Zorg!

Xenu is the Scientology evil space alien devil guy. I was looking for a derisive term which would highlight the insane, silly, and exploitative cash cow which is Scientology... but 'religion' pretty much covers it. Google Xenu (and don't click the paid/ad link!)

Anonymous said...

The better search would be

Anonymous "Wise Beard Man"

Travc said...

An anon said...
What exactly is wrong with Logical Positivism?

Good question. From my limited understanding of it, nothing fatally wrong jumps out. Sure there are plenty of arguments about various definitions and such, but as a general idea/framework, seems pretty good to me.

matthew said...

FBI admits obtaining reporters' phone records.

It looks like the only reason they are admitting that they misused their "security letters" on this is because the Inspector General of the Justice Dept. was investigating them.

FK said...

To DB,

DB said:
"Because no model built out of words can truly describe, let alone predict, the complex behavior of physical systems,"

I'm no expert on this stuff ... but is reason simply about the use of words? What about Modern Symbolic Logic? I'm not disagreeing with you, I simply want to understand what you mean by reason.

To Zorgon,

Zorgon said,

"Once we purge emotion from our social calculations, any depravity becomes possible as long as we can justify it logically."

But if logic is so fickle that it can be made to justify or "prove" anything, what good is it?

It is my understanding that logic is a tool that helps us keep our ideas consistent and avoid contradictions. However, we still have to have premises upon which to reason. These premises can be acquired empirically or they can be deep rooted, non rational convictions. So logic is only one half of the equation. Therefore, if Stalinism's logic is valid it simply means that it is proceeding from a different set of premises than we are.

Given this, is it really fair to say that Stalinism's crimes are the result of reason or logic? Isn't that like saying Nazism is the result of science simply because they used the products of science (i.e. technology)?

B. Dewhirst said...

I think you meant Georgia's, our client state's, attack against Russian peacekeepers.

The US blocked the ceasefire on the grounds that Georgia must be allowed to kill whomever they like within their own borders...

And you wondered why I made such a big deal out of Kosovo... another fine data point for Chomsky's progaganda model of the media

Travc said...

BD, the current situation in Georgia is more complicated than Kosovo... and I've said repeatedly Kosovo was much more complex than the majority of the arguments for or against the intervention assume. Which is why we can disagree on it and without me thinking you are an idiot ;)

You are right about the propaganda. The stuff coming out from both sides bears only the faintest echos of reality.

My very non expert take on the situation...

Russia has been trying for a very long time to control Georgia (turn it into a crony state / fiefdom.)

The open society ideals of 'rose revolution' were never as pure as they were depicted... but were real. However, alliances of convince/necessity with several pretty dubious and corrupt people undermined them from day one.

Russia really has been fomenting and supporting the separatist movements to weaken Georgia. (Basically a proxy attack.)

Georgia, for her part, has been reacting with more and more nationalistic fervor. Fomenting nativists and other pseudo-fascist types. Moving down the same road that lead to the Terrors IMO.

Anyways, I really don't know which side has the worst case (neither has a good one). Apparently, it really is possible to be paranoid even when someone is out to get you.

B. Dewhirst said...

And, of course, it just got more complicated, with Russia bombing an airport in the Georgian capitol... still, they aren't the aggressor here.

The open society ideals of 'rose revolution' were never as pure as they were depicted... but were real.

Then why was one of their first actions to crush demonstrators, including firing on demonstrators? (The demonstrators that put them in power, on the other hand, had CIA backing...)

This, of course, sets the stage for our attack of Iran... (guess who, other than Iran, is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe?)

Further, I'm now suspicious this is an attempt to hand the election to McCain by increasing world tensions to where we need a "war hero."

(That he is the sort of war hero who graduates at the bottom of his class, receives nepotism to become a pilot, then gets shot down five times... that won't be mentioned.)

Travc said...

BD... I did some research on the Rose Revolution a while back and am pretty convinced that a good number of the leaders (but not all of course) were sincere. The public base of support was overwhelmingly sincere. (WRT general open society ideals, not just anti-corruption.) I was never convinced by the top level leaders/figureheads though.

So we probably don't disagree. Any major movement is a coalition of groups and interests. I'm just saying that some of those (some in the lead actually) were on the side of the angels IMO (so to speak).

I mentioned the Terrors for a reason ;) Counter-counter-revolution is a powerful motivator/excuse/justification for all sorts of bad stuff.

As for the 'aggressor'... I don't know which side properly holds that title in this. Lots of things Russia has been doing for a while could be reasonably interpreted as casus belli. Georgia's military action of course is not a proportional response though. It is a mess.

One thing that saddens me a bit is the 'what if'. If Russia (I'll just go ahead and blame Putin) didn't stoke nationalism and territorial ambitions (under the guise of historical territorial integrity), Georgia may have gotten a good way down the path towards a truly modern functional state by now. That leaves me with a bit of a prejudice against Russia in the current situation, but isn't really rationally justified.

B. Dewhirst said...

Past history indicates that you don't get very far with the CIA's hand up your ass... really, what is the -best- case of all of the puppet dictators they've set up over the years?

Travc said...

BD... The CIA wasn't the only player in the Rose Revolution. Though your point is well taken.

Georgia isn't really 'puppet dictatorship', though getting in bed with the CIA (and then relying more and more on the US as Russia has ramped up pressure) isn't a recipe for success.

Genius said...

Russia like china isn't afraid to bomb your civilians and kill half your population the Americans would stop after killing 4 or 5 % of your population so from a direct utilitarian perspective never go with the USA, they will get you all excited and then not even really kill your enemies.

SteveO said...

Hey all,

This is something I am passionate about, so I will chime in...

First, let me attempt to define Dr. B's term for him (oh the arrogance...)

As used by Dr. B regarding the Enlightenment reason = logic. Logic is a "way of learning" but it is not sufficient in and of itself. Logically you can deduce that the Earth is flat and at the center of the universe. These conclusions are are *totally* logical, given a certain set of premises. But flawed premises lead to flawed conclusions. Look at the horizon - it is flat, ergo the Earth is flat. Or, as Ptolemy said, the Earth must be at the center of the universe, for if it moved, a dropped rock would fall at an angle. A dropped rock falls straight down, ergo the Earth does not move.

So part of the Enlightenment may have been about reason as logic, but the powerful part was about the scientific method (IMHO) as a new way of knowing, and that came later in the Enlightenment. Forcing our explanations about the world to conform to observation was revolutionary. (It had been tried by the Ionians, but squashed by Pythagoras and Plato.)

So now perhaps it is clarified? Zorgon et al consider reason = scientific method, whereas Brin et al consider reason = logic. Actually, I consider it very modern that those are the two options, as opposed to reason = what authority says or reason = what the Book says (whichever Book you subscribe to). Other ways of learning are reason = appeal to common sense (an OK heuristic for day-to-day stuff, but it fails in the face of the new or mythological) reason = intuition/revelation (which is of course still practiced by our President).

What I teach my students is that, while any of those "ways of learning" *can* lead to interesting hypotheses and possibly to new real knowledge, they are still just hypotheses until supported with data. (This is also the objection I had to the book Blink's thesis, which purported to show how our subjective reading of a situation was correct, but STILL had to test with the scientific method in order to validate that instantaneous conclusion. Which to my reading means that our Blink is just a hypothesis...)

Popper's falsificationism is very oversimplified, and because it is so, it leaves you open to attack from kooks. I was teaching a class at a company and taught my section on the Scientific Method, as used in business. At the time I was teaching Popper's scientific method, and I said something like, " if any observation contradicts the hypothesis, you throw it out and come up with a new one."

Inevitably, someone (a guy with a doctorate in Chem. E. from MIT go figure) said, "Well you would think if that were true that the theory of evolution would have been thrown out long ago," and then they began the typical "find one little thing that we haven't explained yet and that destroys the whole theory" argument you hear all the time.

So I changed how I teach that, and while I show Popper's version, I show a slide right after that that shows how the scientific method is actually a network or web of knowledge. So if I go out and make an observation that seems to contradict the theory of gravity, I don't rush out and publish my amazing finding. I check my testing instruments, previous data, general principles, measurement error, auxiliary hypotheses, and other people's data first, since the web of information supporting the (non-quantum!) theory of gravity is pretty strong.

This over-simplification by Popper may contribute to the non-rational arguments, since they really do believe all they have to do is find one thing that contradicts the theory and the whole edifice comes tumbling down. Instead, the hypothesis is modified to account for the new information (e.g. Newtonian dynamics in the face of quantum dynamics).

Anyway, the Enlightenment was about a LOT of things, scientific and social, and must have been a very disquieting time to live in. But that battle is over, and was won decisively. The issue now is whether humans, with our naturally evolved brains, can handle reality as it is (and therefore, as we can discover with the scientific method) or if we really can't, and if we therefore give it up to go back to the other, older, more comfortable (but incomplete) ways of knowing.

Tony Fisk said...

You put it very entertainingly, steveo. (Passionate about reason? Are you Spock, or Data?)

Logic is a tool rather than an end in itself. Indeed, most of us are capable of using logic to justify preconceived notions. Even religious extremists can present very well reasoned arguments.

It's when someone finds those 'preconceived notions' to be wrong that the fighting starts (first reported casualty: the unfortunate greek who discovered that not all numbers are rational! Pythagoras decreed otherwise.. what would he have made of the transcendental nature of pi?)

This is where the 'isms' have to be treated with suspicion. While they may be founded on logic, and be great ideas, they are still mired in a set of 'this is so' assumptions.

The pragmatic bit of the enlightenment is the one that seeks to ensure that the assumptions you make are known and valid. It does so by continually exposing and questioning those foundations (CITOKATE) and so promoting their resilience. (if an assumption proves wrong, you don't simply discard it as unworthy, you look at why it's wrong and adjust accordingly. The beloved structure you have built on top will teeter and re-balance to suit.... or not. SteveO's web is a pretty good balancing act)

A nice example of this in action is Brin lambasting New Scientist's recent special on 'What's Wrong with Reason', He didn't take the articles on directly but, instead, questioned the basic tenet by which they had been gathered together: that reason was the sole basis of the enlightenment. Put in that light, they're not nearly as threatening. His comments on Freud are worth pondering as well.
(btw, Daniel Smale can be contacted at the History Department at Harvard University)

Interestingly, it is a variant on this freedom to question assumptions that appears to be the next tactic being employed by the creationist crew. I saw it reported, ironically, in New Scientist two weeks before the reason articles. Again, the editors chose to use FUD-laden terms like 'worrying' to describe the tack. I call it amusing, and predict these dudes will drop the approach as soon as they realise what it takes to use it properly.

Anyway. Logic was fashioned as a tool for comprehending a clockwork world. It still makes a pretty fair stab at explaining a quantum universe, but doesn't quite give us the full picture. Can it be overhauled, do we accept JBS Haldane's view that the place is stranger than we can imagine, or do we go back to pretending?

Anders Brink said...

Hi David,

Since you are thinking of ditching blogger, I would recommend wordpress to be incorporated into your website.

I'm willing to offer you my services in website design and admin to help you set it up. You may wish to take a look at my own website where I've a website, completely self-done.

It is not really that hard to cobble together your own blog after all.

NoOne said...

A good book which examines the rise of Western science and the Enlightenment is Richard Tarnas' "The Passion of the Western Mind."

Looking back at the comments in the forum so far on the Enlightenment, one safe generalization that can be made is that no one has pointed out that from Kant onward, Reason's throne has been under attack. With the importance of context and perspective becoming clear, you now have a bunch of academic postmodern "terrorists" - the successors of Kant - who still look to blow up any canon they can find.

I wonder if anyone has examined the rise of the new age and the various fundamentalisms to see if they can be predicted as natural responses to postmodern anxiety - which is our condition at present.

Anonymous said...

"The issue now is whether humans, with our naturally evolved brains, can handle reality as it is (and therefore, as we can discover with the scientific method) or if we really can't, and if we therefore give it up to go back"

If we really can't, we need to modify those brains and improve and augment them, not go back. If we are not to go extinct, the only way out is through. The process of evolution will continue, though in an increasingly conscious and directed way.

One thing is clear from studying genetic codes, DNA repair mechanisms, and other things that let e.g. bacteria modulate their mutation rate in response to stress or ease -- evolution, itself, is a biological function that can evolve.

What's happening now is that the proverbial blind watchmaker is busily evolving a pair of eyes.

(The recent science fiction novel Incandescence has a related notion -- a population that is content and incurious in times of ease, but develops strong tendencies towards curiosity, reason, and suchlike in times of stress. Like the bacterial DNA repair modulation, only with memes instead of genes.)

Travc said...

steveo, well put.

Though I have some quibbles. How do we describe logic in the technical sense? (Hereafter, I'm talking about this technical sense logic / mathematics.)

Logic provides the most basic tools (truths) we use to evaluate everything else. The scientific method assumes logical axioms are true... and can't work without them. A real chicken/egg problem... but the incredible success of the scientific method and logic in describing and predicting things provides a powerful pragmatic argument.

Also, quantum does not contradict logic. One can argue that it violates 'common sense', but A->B still means !B->!A. (Ok, way oversimplified example... but you get my point I hope.)

As for Popper's falsification criteria, I'm not an expert on everything Popper actually wrote... but I would claim that the general form is not actually an oversimplification. All your 'network of knowledge' brings in is Occam's razor / parsimony, which are actually principles derived by logic and tested by (passing so far) the falsifiability constraint/principle. Only a strawman version of falsifiability seems open to the sorts of misuse you lay at its feet.

Tony Fisk said...

I did say that 'classical' logic still kinda worked in a quantum universe. Clearly, though, something more is necessary. Backing out of the Copenhagen cul-de-sac might help but, look, we've been wrestling with this issue for a century now, it is hardly surprising that the impatient and mentally lazy turn to new age snake oil!

Confession: I've never heard of Lord Xenu before, but I have heard of Colin Wilson and H.P. Lovecraft. The cult of the strange ohmmeter seem to have taken a few pages from 'The Mind Parasites' (which is an engaging bit of mystical taradiddle!)

Anders has mentioned WordPress, I've mentioned pmwiki before. But I'll until DB's back before delving into what he want any further.

In other news:

- it used to be Romulans, now it's Harry Potter. Either way, the invisibility cloak gets closer to the visible spectrum (if that makes sense?).

- Researchers discover a gene switch that controls a cell's garbage collection, allowing them to function properly well into senescence.

- An amusing cartoon outlining the budget management over the last five years is here

TwinBeam said...

Sorry to bring in politics, but...


Bush == Batman ?!

This op-ed appears to self-satirize at times, so I couldn't decide if the author - Andrew Klavan - was serious. But I guess he is, and I'm sure those who responded in the comments were...

Tony Fisk said...

Oh, I think he's serious.

Andrew Bolt, one of our local shock jock culture warriors, reported the same thing.

I note Klaven also invokes Lord of the Rings in his spiel. Since it was released about the time of the 2003 Iraq invasion, here's the parable I took away from The Two Towers:

Bush is Saruman. Intent, with his mind 'of gears and metal', on bringing distraction, shock and awe to middle-earth with his horde of super-orcs.
Bought low by an inconvenient truth ("the trees' roots are strong, master!")in the form of some seriously pissed off ents.

Easy pickings.

Not having seen the Dark Knight (am I the last man on Earth?), I can't say what I'd take away from it. I doubt it would be the same as Klavel, though.

SteveO said...

If you recall our previous discussion about the Wired article and the "end of theory" I mentioned that it inspired me to write my monthly column. It is specific to my subject area (something called Six Sigma) but I get more space than here to expound! :)

Tony F - neither Data nor Spock :) I just think it is important to learn how we learn. The scientific method is really pretty radical, and I might make a case that the Enlightenment would have turned into "new boss same as the old boss" incantations without it.

Hey travc, I probably wasn't clear, so let me restate: logic is the study of "inference and demonstration." There is a bunch of stuff under that rubric. What I am referring to would most likely be classified as "informal logic" or the stuff Plato et al did. What is missing from this logic is validation of conclusions with observation. (Validation of premises may or may not have occurred depending on the appeal used...)

Logic is necessary but not sufficient for science. Hmm, I wonder if you could imagine a society that was naturalistic but not logical - would they discover logic? Perhaps a science fiction writer would know... ;-) I can't even figure out if that makes sense.

It is not sufficient since we never know if we have flawed premises. But by using logic to answer, "if this is true then that should happen" and then testing the prediction, we can expose flawed premises. Didn't meant to suggest the scientific method could exist without logic, just that logic alone does not necessarily give you reality.

Also didn't meant to suggest that quantum mechanics was illogical. But I do propose that we would not have discovered QM using only logic. We needed the added heuristic of the scientific method to whack us with what we didn't understand.

Popper made some serious errors, which are detailed here (showing how Popper abetted the "science is just a religion!!" meme, and here which details why Popper's falsificationism is really not how science works mostly, and is kinda bass ackwards. Not to detract from what he did contribute, but as in much of science it was a first approximation. I don't think I have drawn a strawman argument there. If I have, some high-octane philosophers of science are guilty too.

The "network of knowledge" is most definitely related to the law of parsimony, but more directly lays out other things to check before publishing (a la Pons and Fleishman). Remember, I am teaching engineers and business people, not philosophy majors! Confirmation bias is far stronger in the human brain than parsimony, so I try to make it really straightforward.

(Honestly, I am continually surprised that Occam's razor works. It astonishes me that we haven't run across an unnecessarily complex explanation! How weird would THAT be? Why should the universe conform to that principle? It is like watching a 747 take off, I know the equations that make it work, but daaaang!)

Anonymous, while I pretty much agree with you, the old "ways of knowing" worked sufficiently well to lead to the Roman Empire, and if that is the way humanity chooses, it could go that way. At terrible cost to my way of thinking, but if we just can't break that hardwired paradigm, humanity could survive. It could also kill itself of course. I hope we don't go that way though. My hope is that, while the majority of people are most comfortable with the old ways of knowing, if just a few can deal with reality on its own terms, they will be successful and prosper.

'Kay. Off soapbox. Night all! :)

Tony Fisk said...

Spock: a passionate being striving to be rational.
Data: a rational being striving to be passionate.

(OK: so it was a bit obscure, and I think the emo-chip was a cop-out by the writers)

Occam's razor has a satirical opposite: Crabtree's bludgeon. Nevertheless, I can see your astonishment.

Which brings me to the following bit of trivia.

I mentioned earlier that knowing the true nature of pi would probably cause poor old rational Pythagorus' brain to implode. To expand on a little snippet I learnt (or re-learnt) a little while ago. Mathematicians will think it old news, but still...

You all probably know that pi is irrational (well, heard, I suspect few have actually seen the proof. Maybe it really is 3 ;-). It gets stranger than that. Pi is actually 'transcendental', which is to say that it cannot even be expressed as a power of a rational number. (the root of two can, at least, be defined as 2^1/2). All you can do is give it a label.

The same is true of Euler's number, whose power increases at the same rate as its current value.
(Google ran a recruitment campaign based on some of its properties a couple of years ago)

i (or j if you're an electrical engineer) is just plain bizarre, but very convenient.

At the opposite extreme, 1 is the fundamental counting block: that which lets us play hopscotch on the cosmic pavement without falling down the cracks.

Whereas zero is the ghost at the numeric banquet. Unrecognised until a few centuries ago, it's null-properties are deeply influential.

Five mathematical quantities, all distinct and irreducible. All linked, via Cantor's equality, into the most elegant formula in mathematics:

e^iπ + 1 = 0

Think about it a little, and it's really quite profound: like throwing rocks from opposite ends of the universe, and expecting them to collide.

(If the late Douglas Adams was writing this, I expect there'd be a scene, a few pages on, where Arthur Dent or Marvin would be struck on both sides of the head by two rocks.)

Which suggests a possible answer to your question, steveo, a science-based culture without logic would be akin to those envisaged in the plays of Tom Stoppard (Guildernstein and Rozencrantz are Dead, etc.)


Watch Beijing 2008 Olympics Online said...

politics is a very dangerous job.

SteveO said...

Heh, I hadn't seen Crabtree's Bludgeon before. It is too true, and in problem-solving I see it all the time.

Given my background in engineering, I have run across i, pi, and e before, and yep, I STILL think it is bizarre. Especially i. If you are interested in such stuff, check out "An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i. Pythagoras and Plato's head's would have popped off to see and understand Cantor's equality.

I am pretty sure Pythagoras knew of pi, but not of its irrational and transcendental nature, of course. At the time it was expressed as a ratio.

SteveO: passionate about the scientific method :-)

SteveO said...

err, is it "Cantor's equality" or Euler's identity...

...for the Geeks shall inherit the Earth...

Tony Fisk said...

...and those who rely overmuch on the 'inner google' shall have to step aside for the newer models.

But then, we are told to never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Which is, I suppose, the issue which started this discussion!

Sociotard said...

Transparency Watch:

Photography banned at Australian train stations
TRAINSPOTTERS and tourists could be forcibly removed from train stations if they take photographs of "transport infrastructure" because Queensland Rail guidelines may deem it an act of terrorism.

Photography Banned in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland
There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Drive is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to 'protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us.' And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don't what their 'concepts' to be photographed for security reasons."

On Banning Photography from Restaurants

Tony Fisk said...

It gets worse (or sillier, depending on your point of view)

Some MIT students wished to submit a paper to DEFCON, describing vulnerabilities they had discovered in transit cards used in the Boston area, and suggested fixes.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority responded with a restraining order and a lawsuit. (It seems that some people prefer their windows locked, stained and darkened. Don't tell them their back door's ajar, they'll charge you with trespass)

Tony Fisk said...

More coolness.

Photos from the latest flyby of Enceladus are just coming through. 10m resolution of the hotspot regions (very close to the terminator, however!)

Anonymous said...

Sociotard: As someone who has to enforce similar laws in Victoria, these rules are honoured in the breach than the observance. Using common sense will normally show if the person may have malicious intent. Does the photo include significant landmarks, point at anything important in the background etc. There are some places where I think quite rightly photography is banned completely(eg. underground stations), and there are ways for enthusiasts to get permits(no cost, minimum hassle). Anyone else can always ask for Station Master permission.

Given all that, any terrorist using a conventional camera for location photos is an idiot. Pull out a GPS enabled mobile phone and snap away. No one will be any the wiser, and you can include you GPS location in the photo for really accurate mapping purposes.

PS: There are some things I would like to say but I consider even hinting them to be way to dangerous given the potential risk life & infrustructure.

B. Dewhirst said...

Okay, at this point, I think it is time for a little thought experiment.

Suppose, for a moment, that you are a terrorist interested in inflicting a great deal of harm. Consider, in your daily life, how you might maximize that damage.

In five minutes, you ought to be able to come up with something truly horifying.

This is an open society, not a police state-- and even in a police state, you can only seek to deter people from undertaking such acts, you can't actually prevent it if there is a group of suitably determined individuals.

From this, we can infer that terrorists are very rare-- and the number of false positives from paranoid security personnel will far exceed the number of terrorists caught.

Then, when every security guard learns that the past 999 people he falsely accused of malicious intent "just to be sure," the terrorist will do something that isn't being screened for.

Treating every law-abiding citizen is a recipe for a very different kind of disaster -along with the one you were going to get anyway.-

B. Dewhirst said...

In contrast, we've got thousands of law enforcement officers investigating death penalty abolitionists, harassing tourists, and insuring we are unable to recruit the best and brightest from abroad into our universities.

Tony Fisk said...


Since Clinton is frequently lauded as having provided a budget surplus (in stark contrast to other recent presidents), I was pointed to an article debunking it as a myth. (Link)

The basic claim seems to be that he achieved the surplus by borrowing from social security.

I might point out that lexta also debunks myths such as climate change and all that other dangerous liberal stuff and... well, I think you get the picture. However, ad hominem attacks are cheap. Just because I think he's barking doesn't mean this claim should be dismissed outright. Not being an economist, I was curious as to what other people thought.


@tintinaus: I appreciate your concerns, but security through obscurity... isn't.

BTW do you have views on the MBTA issue?

@bd: was there meant to be a question being posed in those last two posts? If so, I don't quite get it.

Anonymous said...

back @ Tony. About the MBTA, without knowing the whole story I would not like to voice an opinion on their actions but the first question I would ask is "Was the info given to the authority privately in advance?" When people involved in internet security find holes they normally give the company involved (eg. Microsoft, Mozilla) a chance to examine the proof and come up with solutions before they go public. No one especially Govt agencies like to be put on the spot or embarrassed in public. Without knowing the whole story I would not like to voice an opinion on their actions.

I stand by what I said about other issues but would welcome debate privately @ [myid]

TwinBeam said...

I think Lexta is nearly correct, except that he doesn't factor in inflation's impact on the value of the national debt. With that factored in, the value of the national debt did actually decline for several years - i.e. a surplus was achieved in real terms.

So, does Clinton get the credit?

Spending was held under inflation over his term - but that could be explained by lack of Congressional cooperation in increasing spending. After all, Clinton pretty badly wanted to increase spending on health care, but was thwarted.

Then there's the steep increase in tax receipts. Partially explained by higher tax rates (top rate increased from 31% to 39.6% in 1993 - even Bush didn't totally reverse that), and partially by the unusually rapidly economic expansion (at least part of which was the dot-com bubble).

Tax revenues as a fraction of GDP hit the highest rate since the start of the income tax - even higher than during WW2. I doubt the Republicans would want to take credit for higher taxes, so it's probably safe to give Clinton credit for that.

I'm not sure anyone would want to take credit for the dot-com bubble, but I suppose it'd be sort of poetic justice to give credit to Gore... :-) So the Clinton administration gets that one too.

Tony Fisk said...


I gather that the MIT students did inform the MBTA, and that the information they were intending to present to DEFCON was already in the public domain.

Ironically, the piece that was *not* PD was temporarily displayed by the MBTA when they filed the report the students sent to them as an exhibit in their case.

Possibly, the MBTA thought it was the full report that was going to be presented. Even so, a phone call to MIT might have cleared that up.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I have long been a fan of co-operation and communication. It is so easy turn negatives into positives if you listen and are willing to act when a problem is presented. If the MBTA decided initially that the Ostrich approach was best and went into panic mode when their lack of action was exposed, I have no remorse for whatever bad news comes their way.

Tony Fisk said...

bd: I think you are referring to an effect I call 'trampling the daisies': the classical guerilla (or should I say 4G assymmetric warfare?) tactic of getting the populace more annoyed with the government's heavy-handedness than the initial provocation.

Once they've got the ball rolling, why do the sadmen have to do anything, while every overly-oppressive security op does more for their cause than a few bang-boys could?

(If you've ever read 'Good Omens' by Pratchett and Gaiman, you'll see this is the demon Crowley's reasoning also)

David McCabe said...

Tintinaus, I respect how seriously you take the public safety. However, not only are photographers not terrorists -- the alpha error BD mentioned. Terrorists are not photographers.

"The 9/11 terrorists didn't photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn't photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn't photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren't being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn't known for its photography. ... Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don't seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets?" says Bruce Schneier.

Travc said...

steveo... Occam's razor is a provable result for learning systems. Since pretty much every adaptive system or analytical method of any sort is a learning system, Occam's razor is pretty general. (The very cool prof of a machine learning class I had took half a lecture to do the whole proof... not using any notes).

So the principle of parsimony isn't just a principle, it is a truth (at least in the context of learning systems).

I'm certainly not an expert on formal logic or philosophy, but I have a bit of a background in learning systems (as you might guess) and some 'complex systems' sort of economics. And that is how I frame 'science'. In the context of science as a learning system, verification/falsification against independent observations is a relatively easy to derived from first principles.

So, yeah, all sorts of other stuff goes into how people really do science, but the core is really a system that can be logically proven to be 'learning'/adaptive (making some assumptions about the participants, but none particularly outlandish.)

Do you see what I'm getting at... sorry if it isn't really clear. Explanation is hard ;)

No real disagreement, just a different angle I think. I'm pretty passionate about the topic too.

BTW: If you want to get really brain twisted, evolution is a learning system too. And evolution has created a variety of learning systems (including fast approximate learners), including human intelligence. And humans have created yet more learning system from basic cultural storytelling to science (and stuff like GAs and artificial evolving systems.) Now is we could just make Von Neumann (self-replicating) machines... "All of this has happened before..." keeps popping into my brain. Damn BSG.

PS: As for quantum... I used to work for a quantum physicist who did not approve of the Copenhagen Interpretation. (I was not and do not work on quantum physics though... no expert myself.) He would explain / prove amusing quantum stuff on occasion (especially after drinking a bit wine.) Always made perfect sense, though I couldn't hope to replicate it myself without a lot of study. This included the EPR paradox and proving the entropy of the universe is constant (assuming it is really closed). Hell, he even setup a working teleporter (photons) with an optics table and explained exactly how it worked.

Copenhagen, if not wrong, is a very poor framework. The metaphor of 'collapsing wavefunctions' for one is just horrible and leads to all sorts of erroneous intuitions. Measurement theory including entanglement and mutual information makes much more sense.

Anyways, just a side note...
Oh, but I must share the ultimate brain twisting. If the big bang theory is correct, given quantum entanglement (which is even more certain than the big bang): Isn't everything in the universe entangled with everything else? That is the 'god particle', not some big boson. Where did I put that piece of fairy cake?

Travc said...

BD & Tony... Right on! (regarding 'trampling the daisies')

I vote we call it "The Crowley Effect" from now on ;) Much catchier.

We really do need a good short summary. I want to throw this in the face of anyone who talks about the 'existential threat from Islamist terrorism'. (It is only an 'existential threat' because of the way the public and the government react to it.)

Travc said...

A quick question re Georgia and S Ossetia...

What were the S Ossetian separatists been doing before the Georgian crack-down / invasion? I have seen 0 info on this, but I can't imagine that such a long standing and apparently effective separatists movement was just sitting back peacefully... especially when it had Russian backing.

Why did Georgia decide to crack-down now? (The precise timing may be simply tactical, though obviously misguided.)

BTW: The separatists were apparently well armed, since even Russia claims they have SAMs. [Russia claimed a while back that a drone which was shot down was victim of the separatists, when really it was taken out by a Russian Mig (caught on camera by the drone).]

Anonymous said...

As I have said, the anti-photo legislation regards public infrastructure that has been enacted in all states of Australia is not strictly enforced in most places and the only place in the rail network where I work that it is strictly enforced is the Underground stations(Tony may be able to say if our underground station platforms are photo worthy). I have pointed out that a variety of people can get permission to take all the photos they want quite easily. I have also stated that even if terrorists did want to take photos of security infrastructure they would be idiots to pull out their Leica and start pointing it at all the cameras that are positioned around stations.

That being said at least two Australians convicted of terrorism were partially convicted on photographic evidence they had taken of their intended targets. That these people were not successful doesn't invalidate their methods.

If I see someone taking photos who in an area where they shouldn't be, taking shots of items that have as far as I can see no intrinsic value(eg. points, crossovers or stopping triggers) or are setting up a professional shoot, or TV news shot without seeking permission first, I will continue to ask them to desist and tell them to approach the proper authorities before continuing. Is that too much to ask?

B. Dewhirst said...

tintinaus, can you cite a single instance where prohibiting such photography cost a single life?

Shouldn't we be passing out epi-pens to prevent people from dying of food allergies with greater fervor than banning public photography?

B. Dewhirst said...

Rather, where failure to prohibit such photography.

ramarren said...

travc: the separatist were not doing much because they had already mostly won, ie. seceded to Russia back in 1992, even if this was not officially recognized. Georgian government had no control over most of South Ossetia, and there were Russian "peacekeepers" stationed there, which make the whole thing completely insane, because what did the expected would happen?

Anonymous said...

According to Statfor they only thing they could point to was shelling of Georgian villages for three nights prior to the attack. While more intense than usual these artillery exchanges are fairly routine though.

Gilmoure said...

Interesting news bit: USAF Suspends Cyber Command Project

Looks like it may be a bit of Pentagon in-fighting. I wonder if it's some of the professionals standing up to the religious take over of the Air Force?

As far as infrastructure terrorism goes, a few guys with cheap Walmart rifles could knock out a large city's electrical grid in about 20 minutes. Long distance distribution can also easily be disrupted. But does that really cause terror?

What I really don't understand is exactly what terrorists are trying to accomplish. I assume they're trying to further some political/sociological aims but has terrorism ever really worked, other than 9/11?

zorgon the malevolent said...

It's wonderful that Tintinaus has rushed forward to defend ignorant incompetent demented laws like the ban on photography, since it destroys his credibility in a single blow much more powerfully than any possible debunking of his ridiculous position.

Fact: not one single 9/11 or Madrid train bombing or London tube bombing terrorist ever took a single photograph while preparing for any of the terrorist attacks that catalyzed this demented anti-photo legislation.

Fact: laws against photography accomplish nothing except acclimating the public to being treated like dirt by an increasingly totalitarian and sociopathic group of power-mad muggers with badges misnamed "police."

Fact: not one single life has been lost since 9/11 due to anyone taking a photograph anywhere.

I hope Titinaus continues his foolishly futile effort to defend the indefensible ban against photography, since mindless "I was only following orders" goons like him sum up everything that has gone so horribly wrong with Western society since 9/11. Instead of enforcing these insane bans, Tinantaus and others like him should affirmatively refuse to enforce these ludicrously insane and wlldly counterproductive laws just as british soliders eventually refused to fire on Ghandi's non-violent protestors.

Anti-photography laws, like the depredations of the TSA and the demented rampages of anti-drug task forces, serve only to destroy the legitimacy of the government and wreck the credibility of police in general.

If fools like Tintinaus persist in trying to "enforce" these unenforceable and insane anti-photography laws, very soon they'll discover to their dismay that police in general have lost all respect and the citizenry in will rise up against them.

Police are now becoming widely recognized as a much more deadly threat to Western society than the harmless non-criminal "criminals" or peaceful non-terrorist "terrorists" (in many cases innocent people like the woman with nipple rings who was forced to remove 'em with a pair of pliers by the TSA, or innocent tourists taking photos for their personal enjoyment who have been harassed by muggers with badges) they falsely claim to "protect" us from.

The time is coming very soon when police will respond to emergency calls only to discover that they get shot down by citizen snipers whose wives and children have been brutalized and murdered by the police. Very soon, vets who return from Iraq only to find that their wives and children are being beaten and tasered and shot by thuggish cops will start setting off IEDs to take out police cars. You can see it coming: sometime in the near future, whole police stations will be blown up, SWAT tanks will be blown right off the road by IEDs when citizens have had enough of being shot to death for no reason and watching cops walk away with no punishment.

I don't approve of that kind of reaction, I don't sanction it, and the fact remains that thuggish rule-crazy muggers with badges misnamed "police" are now treating law-abiding Americans exactly the same way American soldiers treat innocent Iraqis. Law-abiding Americans are being beaten to death for no reason, tased to death without cause, shot down like wild animals with no justification...just the way innocent law-abiding Iraqis are regularly gunned down at checkpoints for no reason and beaten to death without cause.

We have seen the reaction of the Iraqi people. They rose up and fought back. The entire might of hte U.S. army can't stand against the Iraqi insurgency -- how much luck do you think police against 330 enraged American citizens? If 15-year-old kids could blow up M1A1 Abrams tanks in Iraq armed with nothing more busted cellphones and some homebrew plastique, I guarantee you Americans and Australians and citizens of Britain and Europe will be able to take out police cars and police stations and SWAT tanks with nothing more than the odds and ends under their sink and in their cleaning closets. The Muraugh Federal Building was blown up with nothing more exotic than fuel oil and some fertilizer. At that point, the rule of law disintegrates entirely. This is the road we're on, as Martin Van Creveld and William S. Lind and many other military historians have pointed out -- we're watching the collapse of the legitimacy of the modern nation-state courtesy of goons like Tintinaus and insane laws like the anti-photo ban. The crazy effort to turn Western democracies into police states will produce the exact opposite effect, and as a consequence we shall arrive at anarchy very soon, with citizens in outright armed rebellion against the police, if ignorant incompetent fools like Tinantaus presist in attempting to enforce these insane and unenforceable assaults on the basic liberties that define Western civilization.

Of course Tintinaus and his thug pals will pay no attention to me, just as they've paid no attention to armies of security experts like Bruce Schneier who have repeatedly condemned these crazy and unenforceable laws like the insane ban on photography.

Not a problem. When Tintinaus and his thug friends continue to brutalize and harrass and taser and kill innocent citizens for insane reasons, like the crazy ban on photography, they will be pounding the final nail in the coffin of their credibility.

People won't stand for it. There will come a breaking point. The redcoats who got shot down like dogs by citizen snipers hidden behind hedgerows didn't believe it could happen to them, just as muggers with badges like Tintanus don't believe it can happen to him.

Keep it up, Tintinaus. You're going to get an education.

B. Dewhirst said...

What I really don't understand is exactly what terrorists are trying to accomplish. I assume they're trying to further some political/sociological aims but has terrorism ever really worked, other than 9/11?

Osama Bin Laden apparently believed, correctly, that attacking the United States would draw them into a guerrilla war in Afghanistan, and, incorrectly, that this war could be won by his group and would lead to the fall of the United States. This was based, in part, on a flawed understanding of the fall of the Soviet Union.

The United States arranged to have civilian airliners blow up to increase pressure on Venezuela and Cuba.

The Unabomber, as near as I can tell, was a luddite who wished to remove confidence in societal infrastructure and to inflict pain and suffering on hated categories of people.

Some of my intellectual antecedents, anarchists, tragically believed in 'the propaganda of the deed'-- i.e., if cops kill a few workers, and you respond by killing some cops, the people will learn from your example and rise up against their oppressors... or that if President McKinley was shot because he was an enemy of the poor, the people would similarly rise up. Turns out... that doesn't work for a variety of reasons. (The press being one of them.)

From a certain point of view, the American Revolutionary War was a terrorist campaign designed to make holding onto the colonies too expensive for the British Government to endure-- they certainly had enough troops in India and elsewhere to crush the Revolution (even when it became your bog standard European warfare with regular troops firing in lines, etc.), but the resulting cost was deemed too high.

Too often, terrorists are demonized as if they had no motivations at all, as if they were just crazy. Generally, there is a certain logic to it, even if the perpetrators are insane and/or their reasoning flawed.

Joshua said...


I've been a student of machine learning for some time, and the only thing I can think of that might be what you're referring to vis-a-vis Occam's Razor and machine learning is theories surrounding
minimum description length
. (Part of the problem is that there is no agreed-upon computable minimum description length.) If there is a proof that a "learning system" if optimal must have minimal-length output, I'd be very interested to get a reference to it (and so would the Nobel and Turing committees, I speculate).

In any case, I think you may be overgeneralizing Occam's Razor. Occam's Razor suggests, more or less, that good solutions (or systems) are ones that are as simple as possible. I'm not a biologist, but I suspect that it's pretty trivial to come up with examples of biological systems that _work_ but that include arguably extraneous components. (Exhibit A: the human body and the appendix.) Occam's Razor--even if it were a law of nature--doesn't disallow those, it just suggests that such systems are suboptimal.

B. Dewhirst said...

Occam's Razor is about selecting the least complicated explanation for a phenomina... parsimony.

Cliff said...

Zorgon said:
When Tintinaus and his thug friends continue to brutalize and harrass and taser and kill innocent citizens for insane reasons

Easy there, killer. Tintinaus was just explaining why photography of public transit isn't allowed.
I don't agree that there is a credible threat there, but he presented his case clearly and reasonably.
You can't rationally associate him (or her, I suppose), at this point, with the American cops who taser people with broken spines. Going full tilt from civil discussion to implied threats of sniping and IED use is also uncalled for.

B. Dewhirst said...

Zorgon had it about right, Cliff.

He didn't explain a thing... he simply said "because of the terrorists."

As Zorgon points out... terrorists don't use photographs.

As Tintinaus points out, this is ineffective legislation.

If you're so sure he has a case, please restate it.

You can't rationally associate him (or her, I suppose), at this point, with the American cops who taser people with broken spines

Zorgon has accurately categorized Tintinaus' beliefs on authority.

"Respect authority because it is authority. Treat everyone as a potential terrorist."

I'd say Zorgon's characterization was apt, though there are -some- policemen of like mind to he and I who'd likely join us on the barricades.

David McCabe said...

Tintinaus, you've only spelled out more reasons why a photography ban is pointless.

What's to stop a terrorist getting permission from the Station Master? Brown skin? Nothing?

Although cell-cams are nigh useless for art, they are adequate for reconnaissance and nearly undetectable. So why are you bothering the Leica people? And professional shoots, TV news shoots? What has that got to do with terrorism? You seem to be directly contradicting what you're trying to defend.

And by the way, great photos are everywhere. You have neither the right nor the aptitude to tell artists what subjects are worthy.

Frankly, your incoherent defense of the photo ban speaks ill of your ability to protect the public. You remind me of my acquaintances in the military who give senseless and ever-changing reasons to stay in Iraq. For a secure infrastructure, its defenders must think clearly about actual dangers -- not rationalize for power-grabbing legislators.

B. Dewhirst said...

A more terse response:

Tintinaus has forgotten he is a servant.

Cliff said...

Let me put it this way:
I don't feel Tintinaus' explanation warranted Zorgon's response.

You, Zorgon, and David McCabe all make excellent points about photography and terrorism. I agree with you on that.

Where I disagree is in lumping Tintinaus in with the power-tripping cops we've seen here in the States. I think it was an overreaction to say that, rather than a valid logical leap, especially when Tintinaus was calmly explaining the situation.

You disagree with him. I disagree with him. But that disagreement does not provide a valid reason for personal slurs and implied threats.

B. Dewhirst said...

Cliff, his argument was predicated on the implied threat terrorists present.

Cliff said...

We're going into deeply subjective territory - I don't feel his words were nearly as loaded as Zorgon's were. There may be an implied threat that terrorist attacks will be abetted by photographic evidence. But that's not near as vivid of imagery as Zorgon presented with his scenarios.
And tintinaus didn't dovetail them with a personal assault.

David McCabe said...

Cliff: Agreed.

Music video made with CCTV footage obtained by the Data Protection Act. Couldn't terrorists just use the government's own cameras if they needed to? ;-)

Tony Fisk said...

In defence of Tintinaus, he is citing 'common sense' in the application of these rules (which he has to uphold because that is his job description) He has also pointed out ways of circumventing the problem legally (although I suspect such ways are also available in China... technically)

I do think that referring to T as a goon and a badged thug is way out of line, but indirectly answers Gilmoure's question about what terrorists are trying to achieve in general. Terrorisation of the populace just plain flat out does not work. Terrorisation (and subsequent brutalisation) of authority does. Or, at least, raises that expectation.

(from someone who has photographs of railways in his possession! You wouldn't need GPS in Melbourne's underground as it's colour-coded...oops! I say too much! ;-)

I have a little more to say, but I see others have too...

David McCabe said...

To elaborate a bit: I found Tintinaus' words not only stupid but creepy. He sounds, frankly, like a pretty dangerous wall-follower. That said, he is enforcing a law, and there is no indication that he is using excessive force to do so. In Australia, the law may not even be unconstitutional. The law is harmful and irrational, but enforcing it is quite different from shooting, pushing people off of bikes, and so on. Nobody is getting hurt, directly. We expect and demand that our police do what the legislature tells them to do -- otherwise, they truly would be muggers.

(They can still be muggers while enforcing the law, but aren't in this case.)

B. Dewhirst said...

David, that he would pull the lever of a gas chamber if ordered to by his government is no consolation for me.

Some laws ought not be followed, and even if he feels obligated to uphold the law, he is not obligated to defend it on his free time.

B. Dewhirst said...

Further, David, Zorgon has made it perfectly clear what is at stake.

zorgon the malevolent said...

The argument "they are enforcing the law" has traditionally been used to justify unjustifiable infringements of the fundamental rights necessary to the operation of a democracy.

This was the justification used to support SA units that arrested people in 1930s Germany for violating the Nuremberg Laws (which forbade Aryans from sexual contact with Jews).

This was the justification used to support police who rounded up IWW union organizers during the 1920s when the Palmer raids falsely accused them of plotting to destroy America.

And it's the justification used to support police armed with M16s who now patrol New York City subway cars with K9 attack dogs today, conducting illegal warrantless searches in violation of the fourth amendment.

People who try to give this kind of justification for unjustifiable violations of basic human rights in the name of "anti-terrorism" need to learn 3 words:

dead letter law.

A dead letter law is a law which is technically on the books and theoretically valid, but which has become unenforceable because it's crazy and the citizenry as a whole refuse to obey it.

Examples of dead letter laws include:

Criminalization of alcohol in the 1920s;

Bans on downloading of TV shows via broadband today;

Laws against xerox copying books today;

Laws that prohibit copying of mp3 files of downloaded music.

Wise and sensible public servants discreetly ignore dead letter laws. I've seen it every day -- so have you. When everyone on downtown L.A. freeways violates the speed limit by driving their cars at 80 mph, the police cars also travel 80 mph in order to go with the flow and not obstruct traffic. The police don't flash their sirens and start pulling over everyone on the freeway. The police ignore the violation of the law.

When kids nowadays have hard drive parties where they bring their laptops and synchronize their hard drives and copy hundreds of gigabytes of mp3 music files, police don't break in the doors with battering rams and start tasering the teenagers and arresting them en masse. The police wisely ignore this kind of activity because it's unstoppable.

Increasingly, large parts of current law are becoming "dead letter laws" like the laws against marijuana possession in small amounts. Police throughout America are increasingly just ignoring these infractions because towns throughout America just don't have the jail facilities and don't have the police personnel to enfroce these unenforceable dead letter laws.

When the citizenry as a whole refuses to obey a crazy law, it dies. Police who stand around and repeat the mindless mantra "the law is the law" forget that the police themselves ignore countless violations of dead letter laws every day in order to do their jobs. If police actually cited and/or arrested every citzen for every technical violation of every law on the books, Western society would grind to a halt tomorrow. The jails would fill with litterers, loiterers, college students who downloaded e-books of their textbooks instead of buying them, businessmen who copied software to run their businesses, deliverymen who violated the speed limit in order to keep up with the flow of traffic, and so on.

"The law is the law" is the single dumbest defense possible. Laws are only laws if the citizenry decides as a whole to obey them. When the citizenry decides en masse to stop obeying a law, then that law is a dead letter law, and nothing on heaven or earth can revive it.

Incidentally, I gave the most extreme endpoint of a police state: mass resistance by the entire population when the state completely loses its perceived legitimacy. There exist many more moderate points in between that extreme endpoint and the situation we've got today.

For example, it's easy to foresee mass pushbacks by citizens against crazy photography bans in the form of flash mobs. 5 students start phtoographing pretty modern architecture (like Bilabo) in violation of ridiculous anti-photography bans; police start hassling them and threaten to arrest the 5 students. They text their friends and suddenly a flash mob of 100 kids with cameras materializes. The police go bsererk, arresting them all. They text their buddies and now you've got a flash mob of 10,000 people taking photos of everything with everything at their disposal -- cellphones, DSLRs, $20 disposalable cameras, Taiwanese mp3 players that also record movies. What do the police do then?

It doesn't take many instances like that for bans on photography to become not only dead letter laws, but recognized as such by everyone from city councils to mayors to local police. Sensible police will get ahead of the curve and simply warn people taking photos that this is technically against the law, then a sensible police officer will walk away and ignore the situation.

Also -- this is not just my personal uninformed opinion. Since the John Peter Zenger trial in 1735, the principle has been enrshrined in Western common law that citizens of a democracy are to act as the judges of both the facts and the law.

David McCabe said...

I guess we disagree on how bad it is to ban photography. I think it's heinous but better than anarchy.

And let me reiterate that T.'s defense of the law, besides being incoherent, is disturbing.

David McCabe said...

Whoa, race condition. That was re: BD.

David McCabe said...


A distinction can be made between enforcing nasty-but-not-deadly laws and going far beyond the powers afforded by the law. Most of the police actions you mention are illegal.

Now let's see if we can get T. back or if he's gone.

B. Dewhirst said...

David, is there anything wrong with asking people to wear a yellow star on their arms?

It is about putting policemen inside people's heads.

David McCabe said...

It's a logarithmic scale. Something can be really, really bad while still being not anywhere near as bad as the holocaust, or any of the things Z mentioned.

Not sure what you mean by your last comment.

Travc said...

Joshua, I'll try to find the reference later, but the more precise form of Occam's Razor is:

Given two models/fits to a set of given observations generated by an unknown process... if both models fit the given observations equally well, the least constrained model is most probable to have lowest error with respect to new observations generated by the original underlying process.

It really is just a statement about overfitting. Nothing magical.

You are correct that identifying the relative degree of constraint for models is not easy unless the models are of the 'same sort', but in machine learning you are normally evaluating models selected from a given type/family where it is relatively easy.

Tony Fisk said...

OK Zorgon, your last post is a lot more reasonable, and I go along with most of the stuff on dead letter laws (police in Victoria are specifically instructed not to pull over motorists in a speeding stream because it isn't safe)

Ask me to not tell a soul if I witness someone being bustled away under the anti-sedition laws passed in 2005 (on pain of being subjected to the same laws), and watch me laugh.

And it's the justification used to support police armed with M16s who now patrol New York City subway cars with K9 attack dogs today, conducting illegal warrantless searches in violation of the fourth amendment.

This is true?? If so, then it is way beyond anything we have in Australia (thank goodness!), and makes me see why you get so ramped up on the topic.

I might also point out that most stations in Melbourne are unmanned. So you could snap away without a care (although you are technically on private property... but that's probably opening another can of worms!)

Anyway, to get back to the photography of sensitive infrastructures. You can consider a security response in two ways:

1. Intense: hide the information from the general domain, so sad men and other malcontents can't get to it.
Easier to assign the maintenance and security responsibilities (and the training involved). The problem is that security is an illusion: in the hands of a few who can never be sure what the opposition know.

2. Diffuse: make it all very public knowledge. At least you can assume everyone knows, and may discover that it was the average citizen who was querying (or at least monitoring) the guy in the anorak who's taking an interest in the local signal system box. Of course, the problem there is assuming that said citizen would care enough to do so (short answer: not at present, but I suspect the underlying issues of citizen empowerment here would fill a few volumes)

Travc said...

'Dead letter laws' are potentially quite dangerous. Selectively enforced laws are one of the real threats to open society, allowing the authorities to persecute/prosecute whomever they want.

Probably the biggest recent-ish case was Putin's prosecution of an oligarch (forgot his name) who had the balls to actually get involved with politics.

However, this sort of thing at a lower level happens many times every day in the US. In fact, it is why the police defend loitering, drug, and (baroque) gun-control laws so vehemently. It isn't so much about 'the law is the law', it is about being able to arrest and prosecute people the authorities 'just *know* are bad'.

Perversely, with respect to guns and drugs at least, having a complex patchwork of laws is actually better for the police than more sane and effective laws.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Cliff for the support against Zorg, McCabe and B.D's invective.

I hope this clarifies MY position. I have not been trying to support the legislation as it stands just trying to say that for the average citizen I do not see it as a concern. Most people continue taking photos to their hearts content and will continue to do so until we enter Zorg's prophesied police state; and I don't see that happening any time soon.

You all may be happy to learn that as of March 08 it is no longer an offence within the state of Victoria to be drunk in a public place. The Victorian Police asked that it be removed from the statutes as they deemed it unnecessary and our parliament were quite happy to oblige.

To answer questions put by the above: Yes their have been two people in Australia have been convicted partly based on surveillance video, and photos they had accumulated prior to their attempted attack. Jack Roche still had the video footage that he took of the Israeli embassy in Canberra and Faheem Khalid had photos of various military barracks around Sydney.

These attacks did not occur but this does not make the threat any less real.

Andrew said...

Forget to bring your ID to the airport?

Congratulations! You're now on the TSA Terrorist Watchlist!

David McCabe said...

Tintinaus, I think it rather uncharitable of you to lump me in with Zorgon. I am doing my best to partially defend you here. (It isn't easy.)

David McCabe said...

T., since most people continue to take photos to their hearts' content, how do you decide which people to try to stop?

B. Dewhirst said...

And how many people have been killed for want of such laws?

I'm not at all surprised that someone was charged with 'taking photographs' in -addition- to real offenses.

Anonymous said...

David, sorry if I offended you, I just didn't appreciate being called Stupid and creepy. If you read my posts, I quite clearly state the circumstances I ask* people to stop their activities and while this is subjective I stand by the line I draw in these circumstances.

*Zorgon, please note the complete lack of strong arming, tasers, guns or truncheons here. I find a polite "Please stop" followed by a "thankyou" works every time.

David McCabe said...

There, T. just said what I was trying to get across. What he's doing in bad but an order of magnitude less bad than anything Z is equating it with.

Sorry if I gave offense. However, I described above what I think is stupid about your defense of the ban, and you haven't really responded yet. And rationalizing laws by saying contradictory things, then evading criticism while continuing to argue, while being a cop, implies being creepy.

B. Dewhirst said...

This is why I'd rather not live in a society where people believe they ought to do as they're told, whether it makes any sense or not.

David McCabe said...

BD, I reluctantly disagree with you. This is because of the stupid, ill-socialized people I run into often enough. Systems of law-making aren't very good at choosing sensible courses of action, but they're better than are many individuals. There are a lot of people who shouldn't be allowed to do what makes sense to them.

This position is arrogant but nonetheless true.

Instead, the best we can do as yet is to decide what makes sense ahead of time, collaboratively. Our present system for doing this is immature and erratic but better than nothing.

If you know of a way to reliably sustain a state of anarchy with perfectly balanced force in which nobody can coerce anybody else, I'm all ears.

zorgon the malevolent said...

What Dewhirst probably means by saying "it's about the attempt to put policemen inside peoples' heads" is that these unjustifiable and crazy infringements of basic human rights that have been enrishined in law since the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago are actually efforts to legitimize inherently illegitimate forms of tyranny.

When Cromwell overthrew king James, he did so because the English people judged King James to be a tyrant who had overstepped his powers because he used the kind of unjust arrest without charges and torture the lites are now attempting to resintate today. Since the 17th century, we've seen a consistent pushback by the socioeconomic bottom 80% of Western civilization against perceived overstepping of the bounds of legitimate authority byt he top 20%.

At one time it was considered legimate for employers to set up machine gun emploacements and hire private detectives to beat to death and shoot striking workers: today, this is no longer perceived as legitmiate behavior. At one time it was considered legitimate for government troops to ride down homeless people with drawn sabers, as Douglas MacArthur did to the bonus army marchers in 1932: today this behavior is no longer considered a legitimate use of govenrment power. At one time, during the 1920s, indircriminate wiretapping of private citizens was considered legitmate, before court decisions made it illegal: today this kind of government behavior is no longer perceived as a legitimate use of government power.

To a considerable extent, the so-called "anti-terrorism" legislation today can be viewed as an ultimately futile effort to re-assert as legitimate psat government behavior, such as indiscriminate wiretapping, or arrest without charges and without trial (common during Star Chamber secret court proceedings in England prior to the 17th century) which are today generally judged as illegitimate abuses of government power.

The current futile justification for this abuse of government power is that it must be done in the name of combatting "terrorism." This is merely the latest version of the old smokescreen for the attempt by the top 20% of Western society, which Brin aptly describes as "the feudal lords," to re-assert their feudal tyranny. Prior to 9/11, these kinds of government abuses of power were futilely justified in the name of anti-communism, before that in the name of anti-slavery, before that in the name of ani-mobocracy (the opponents of Jacksonian democracy predicted America would collapse into mob chaos if every man were given the vote, and not just people who owned land and had money), and before that these kinds of abuses were justified in the name of the Crown, which claimed to obtain its legitimacy from God Himself. And so on.

It's all just a failed and futile effort by the elite of western society, the people Brin calls the feudal lords, to try to reverse the erosion of their oligarchical power over the bottom 80% of the population. Rich people don't take the subways in New York; the "super class" use private jets, so they don't have to remove their shoes at airports or get strip-searched or watch their wives get fondled and brutalized while TSA goons hold them down.

It's amazing that Tony Fisk doesn't know about the SWAT teams armed with M16s and attack dogs now patrolling the New York subways and randomly searching innocent bystanders without a warrant and without probable cause. See here and here and here for details. Moreover, this sort of crazy behavior by police started in Britain, as this 2005 news article shows. It's astounding Tony Fisk doesn't know about these rampant abuses of police powers. Britain has gone a lot farther down the road toward a police state than America, so I would think Tony would be concerned.

I'm not making this up. And it's going to spread -- in a classic case of "monkey see, monkey do," this kind of crazy overreaction is going to spready like wildfire to every city and eventaully every small town in America. Indeed, Helena, Arkansas appears to have crossed the line into actual mrtial law with a 24-hour curfew and cops patrolling the streets to arrest anyone walking around outside their home.

The Helena, Arkansas 24 hour curfew is really something new. It's also the logical endpoint of our current anti-terror hysteria, which, contrary to Brin's claims, just continues to get worse and worse and more and more hysterical. At this point, you've turned an entire town into an open-air jail. It's outright martial law.

How long before every other town in America winds up like Helena, Montana?

Tintinaus and others will surely rush to justify this unjustifable destruction of the basic rights necessary for a democratic society. After all...if you're not a criminal, what are you doing out on the streets?

Anonymous said...

David, if you want to call the laws stupid, go for it. I am not stopping you. Just do not call me names for trying to bring some sanity and common sense into a situation I am placed in on a daily basis and describing how that despite the laws it is possible for most continue doing what they do without any real conern. Just for the record I am not a police officer or any type of law enforcement personnel.

I work at a place that has rules and laws that pertain to it. If I see someone doing something "wrong" it is part of my duty to inform them they may be breaking the law, endangering themselves or other members of the public etc. If they choose to ignore me that is their concern. They have been warned and if an enforcement officer comes by they can and will be charged. Thankfully arresting people is not my job, I put up with enough crap from people as it is without having to deal with the hardcases who believe their right to do whatever they want overrides other peoples right to a safe & comfortable travelling environment.

B. Dewhirst said...

Instead, the best we can do as yet is to decide what makes sense ahead of time, collaboratively. Our present system for doing this is immature and erratic but better than nothing.

David, you and I have very different ideas about the extent to which we have any input into those decisions, at least through the mechanisms you're thinking of.

Which political party do I vote for to get rid of the war on drugs again?

Zorgon does a good job listing the onward march of progress-- but often as not, those changes were not changes in -law- (except after the fact).

tintinaus, that you are not formally a law enforcement officer makes it even worse-- you're unaccountable. In fact, you sound uncomfortably close to a TSA employee.

Anonymous said...

BD: Imagine you are smoking in the lobby of a hotel near a no smoking sign. A hotel employee comes up to you and asks you to stop smoking or move to a place where smoking is allowed. Is the hotel employee in the wrong? This is what I do as "part" of my regular duties. The hotel staffer doesn't grab you and toss you out of the hotel when you refuse to stop smoking. He doesn't even take your name and add you to the list of people barred from staying at the hotel. All that happens is that the staff member mumbles to himself "bloody arsehole" as he goes off to deal with other things.

B. Dewhirst said...

Tintinaus, sorry, I'm not altogether fond of "I was just following orders."

And by "following the rules" you reinforce them. As Zorgon made very clear-- if you don't follow an unjust regulation, that regulation will go away.

David McCabe said...

T., would you care to defend this statement? "There are some places where I think quite rightly photography is banned completely(eg. underground stations)"

Here in sunny Portland, it's private citizens that hassle me about taking photos. I have been threatened with violence, had fear of injury illegally instilled, and been illegally obstructed on public property. On these instances it would be nice to have a cop around.

I really have to wonder about the busybodies who, passing a photographer on the sidewalk, will stop to accost them that they "need permission" to photograph, say, a historical building, or a tree. At least most of them are harmless. But what are they thinking, and how did they come to think it?

Tony Fisk said...

.... erm, Cromwell overthrew James' son, Charles I.

And you could delve a little further back in history, to the peasant's revolt in 1381 (against heavy handed poll taxes imposed by feudal masters, an event commemorated in 1989, when Thatcher was shown the door)

wrt NY police: not living in New York, I am not aware of its day to day subway scene. It sounds bad.
However, I was aware of the disproportionate response of British authorities in the wake of the 7/7 bombings (although not that particular incident)

The events of 7/7/2005 epitomises what I say about the sad effects on populace and authority...
The populace rally, while the authorities flinch in to bunker mode, hounding suspicious innocents to death because they run.

We've mused on this before: the strain between highly trained but beleaguered professionals and the increasing extent of empowered citizenry. Is the bunker response a basic part of human nature? Is it the character type who gravitate to those sorts of jobs?

I'm inclined to the former whereas, I think, Z is inclined to the latter.

As to the rest... well, for a guy who claims to have never indulged in the various pharmacological products on offer, you get awfully huffed up with indignation...nothing tintinaus has said makes me think he would 'rush to justify this unjustifable destruction of the basic rights necessary for a democratic society.'

But then, nothing I say will persuade you otherwise. So, I'm decamping to another planet for now!

Observations on T and BD's last exchange. The situation could be put in terms of a neural net. Whether or not a law gets relegated to the dead letter pile could depend on how often the enforcement is challenged. Challenge it often enough, and the enforcement is suppressed. Enforce it effectively enough, and the challenge is suppressed.

Unless the feedback mechanisms are stifled by the 'nyah' effect.

Cliff said...

And by "following the rules" you reinforce them.

It's his goddamned job.

Now I know there are tons of historical precedents for why that's not a great argument - you and Zorgon have already pointed them out.

But in terms of tyranny, jackbooted thug >> bloke asking you to stop photographing.
Cops with assault rifles and attack dogs on subways:
Big problem.

Dude who asks you to stop taking pictures because the Australian government has a flea up its ass:
Minor problem, that hints at larger problems which cannot be solved by bitching at a low-level grunt.

If you really want to fight the power on this one, go to Australia and organize a Free Photography movement to repeal the laws. Haranguing Tintinaus for politely asking people not to take pictures isn't going to do a goddamned thing.

I'm sorry the world doesn't correspond to your anarchist vision. It ain't exactly my ideal reality either.
But yet I don't shit my pants because I have to take my shoes off at the airport. I don't like it, but sometimes I have to fly and choosing my battle to be right there, right then, with the TSA employees, isn't going to get anything accomplished.

David McCabe said...

BD, if you don't mind my going meta on you: You should step away from the highly generalized principles and sweeping statements. T is saying, "Imagine this scenario; is this tyranny?", and you are responding with nebulous rhetoric. It's annoying AND it's disposing you to error.

David McCabe said...

(Cliff spelled out the error, and to be a bit more trenchant about this: you are running into thought-terminating clichés.)

Anonymous said...

David: If you want to take photos of Flinders St station go for it! If you are on the footpath outside the station take all the photos you want. That goes for pretty much everywhere. But once you are inside the station you are no longer on public land. It is owned and controlled by the Transport Authority and so different laws apply. This is something most people don't seem to understand. Still if you are taking shots of the Victorian era architecture or leadlighting; taking shots of your mates or family in front of the Christmas tree on the concourse chances are no one will stop you. But if someone comes up to me complaining that you are taking photos in the toilets(and yes it happens) or I find you with your camera down past the end of the platforms in an area that is designated storage for the various shops in the station, I will ask you to take your camera and leave. Am I asking too much?

This one is going to be a bit of a leap but please follow. And tell me where you draw the line.

You are holding an open house in preperation to selling up. Someone comes in with a camera and starts taking photos of the fixtures and rooms. He notices a photo album sitting on the coffee table, sits down and starts flipping through your photos. Then he asks to go to the bathroom. While in the bathroom he opens the cupboards and takes pictures of the medicines in there.

Has he gone too far yet?

Lets look at one loop station(one of the places I want no photography) Melbourne Central:

A bomb or number of bombs goes of on the bottom level with two full trains on the platforms: 1400 dead(600 in each train + 200 on the platforms): the platforms above collapse, + 1400. The 5 level shopping centre above is also severely damaged: Dead/injured: lost count.

You ask why I want to turn a low probability event into a no probability event. Guess!

Once again thanks to Cliff and David Mc for pointing out DB bombast but I am no longer responding to him. After being accused of Racial segregation(the Yellow stars comment), genocide(pulling the lever for the gas chamber) and now accusing me of calling upon the Nuremberg defence; he officially loses the argument according to Godwin's law.(First mention of Hitler or Nazis looses the argument. I have allowed three).

Off to work now, will be intrested to see what happens while I am gone.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Someone asked "I do not see what terrorists are trying to accomplish."

This is a well studied subject nowadays. It turns out to have large ramifications.

First, instead of using the catch-all term "terrorists," we have to recognize that we are really talking about 4GW fighters.

What's a 4GW fighter?

William S. Lind (a prominent U.S. military historian who wrote the current field warfare manual for the Marine Corps) and Martin van Creveld (an Israeli military historian, probably the most famous living scholar of military history) independently proposed an explanation for the transformation of warfare in the modern era. You can find an explanation in Martin van Creveld's book The Transformation of War and you can find William S. Lind's discussion of the trnasformation of war in his columns "On War," especially in the archived columns going back about 10 years.

To summarize simply, van Creveld and Lind identify 4 different historical styles of warfare:

1st generation warfare -- land armies with cavalry but without artillery. These kinds of armies fight by massing men and hurling them at one another. This includes Hellenic hoplites, Macedonian phalanxes, Roman legions and Norman and Saxon armies at the Battle of Hastings.

2nd generation warfare -- land armies with artillery or the equivalent. These kind of armies fight by putting fire on target. The first instance of an artillery-equivalent in Western warfare can be found at the battle of Crecy in 1346, where the massed English longbows skewered French knights in full armor. Subsequent conflicts using 2GW include the War of the Roses, the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian war, and WW I.

3rd generation warfare -- land, sea and air forces in which maneuver is the primary means of winning a conflict. 3GW armies include the German blitzkrieg tactics of the 1930s and 1940s (but not the American army, which remains stuck in 2GW, obsessed with "putting fire on target" as a means of victory. Current "transformation" doctrines instigated by the ignorant fool Rumsfeld merely ramp up the doctrine of "putting fire on target" to absurdly Wagnerian levels, replacing artillery with orbital railgun "rods from god" platforms and other ridiculously bloated versions of long-obsolete 2nd generation warfare. It's as though American transsportation engineers were to propose a "transformation of transportation" by introducing a nuclear-powered cybernetic artificially intelligent buggy whip. Fabulous technology...but who needs a buggy whip, no matter how advanced?).

4th generation warfare -- asymmetrical warfare in which small cells of irregulars, often leaderless, blend with the general population and create a conflict so long-drawn-out and so messy that they destroy the legitimacy of the opposing armed forces and ultimately the government or NGO that opposes them. Examples of 4GW include Mao's "Long March," the IRA, American irregulars during the American Revolution, The Viet Cong, and the Iraqi insurgents.

From this perspective, the goal of 4GW fighters is simple and obvious: to destroy the perceived legitimacy of the government or NGO that opposes them.

It's important to recognize that 4GW runs the full gamut from violent to non-violent. Mao Tse Tung remains one of the bloodiest butchers in history, and he was arguably the leader who perfected 4GW in its modern violent form. As Mao famously remarked, "The enemy wants a short war. But we will not oblige." However, Mahatma Ghandi also conducted successful non-violent 4GW against the British Raj in the 1920s and 1930s, and Martin Luther King conducted successful 4GW against the Kim Crow laws of the deep South in the 1950s and 1960s.

So the second important point is that we must be careful of using a stupid term like "terrorists" because it's inaccurate and flat out wrong. Walter Reuther conducted successful 4GW against corporate monopolists in the auto industry during the 1930s -- was Walter Reuther a terrorist? Certainly the newspapers of the time tried to claim so, and the goons hired by Ford to beat him with axe handles during the River Rouge strike in 1937 certainly said so afterwards. However, today, labor organizers are generally not recognized as terrorists despite frantically futile efforts by some far-right modern newspapers to revive the label of "terrorist" for labor union organizers. As Bruce Schneier points out, this misuse continues to cheapen and devalue the word "terrorist," essentially rendering it meaningless in the same way that the term "fascist" has been made meaningless by using it to describe "anything I don't like" (so that both the left and right today comically call each other "fascists," with Rush Limbaughs hysterically railing about "feminazis" and Noam Chomsky raging against "fascist corporations." And, of course, most recently and most comically, B. Dewhirst calling all of us fascists. Instead of the term "fascist" or "terrorist," I propose substituting the term "Daleks." This makes clear how ludicrous the terminology is, since both "fascist" and 'terrorist" have now been so cheapened that they've been entirely emptied of significance. Besides, it would be fun to hear news anchors warning us of "heightened danger of Dalek attacks" every evening.)

The strategies and tactics of 4Gw fighters relate closely to the military theories of Colonel John Boyd, America's greatest military thinker. Boyd identified the OODA loop as the central paradigm of modern war: an army Observes what's going on, Orients itself in the fluid situation, Decides on a course of action in the midst of incomplete info and a chaotic situation, then Acts to change the fluid situation. The goal of 3GW is to get inside the enemy's OODA loop and act by using rapid maneuver before the enemy can react. Soon the enemy's ability to resist collapses, as happened with the German penetration of the Ardennes, overunning the French Maginot Line in 1940.

4GW acts in an even more invasive way to destroy the enemy's OODA loop from the inside out. 4GW wrecks our ability to Observe the fluid situation because 4GW fighters blend with the general population; 4GW destroys our ability to Orient outselves by encouraging security forces to misidentify innocent citizens as 4GW fighters; 4GW fighters destroy our ability to Decide what to do by encouraging us to pass crazy laws making illegal innocent activities everyone engages in; and, lastly, 4GW destroys our ability to Act in a fluid situation because 4GW fighters operate in cells too dispersed and too fast-moving for a regular army or security forces like police to anticipate and respond in real-time, leaving the opposing army or security forces to do crazy meaningless things in response to the previous 4GW action. Examples include banning shoes from airline flights, a measure that makes no sense because alert airline passengers would take down any passenger who tried to detonate his shoes from now on, and also because it's already been tried, so 4GW fighters will surely not repeat that failed tactic. As security expert Bruce Schneier points out, almost all the Western democracies are wasting their current anti-terrorism efforts by responding to previous terror attacks which will not be repeated, such as the 9/11 hijackings.

To a significant extent, 4GW fighters rely on Boyd's hierarchy of war and use it against the opposing army. Colonel Boyd identified the three levels of warfare as: moral, mental and physical, in that order of importance.

An army which loses the moral high ground cannot win a war no matter how militarily successful they are. Obvious examples include The 2003 Iraq invasion, the Viet Nam war, and the Algerian war for independence. The analogy here is with a grown man beating up a child. No matter how successful the grown man may be in beating up the kid, he can't ultimately win because everyone will turn against him. Eventually, police will come or the neighbors will intervene.

The mental level of warfare refers to getting inside the enemy's OODA loop. Maneuver warfare disrupts the enemy's ability to respond, reducing the enemy to chaos but not necessarily destroying the opposing army. Successful maneuver warfare often ends with encirclement, in which the enemy surrnders without losing many troops.

The physical level of warfare refers to the physical destruction of enemy soliders. Even destroying virtaully all the opposing army does not guarantee a win. During the Long March, Mao Tse Tung lost 90% of his guerilla forces, yet he ultimately won the war. The Romans practiced this kind of warfare by total destruction of the enemy down to men, women, children, and even dogs and cats. The Athenians also practiced this kind of total-destruction warfare against the isle of Delos, slaughtering its entire population during the Peloponessian War. In the modern era, this form of genocidal warfare has proven counterproductive, as Sherman's march to the sea has shown. Nothing today provides a greater rallying point for anti-Northern sentiment in the deep South than Sherman's march. As for sheer physical destruction, nothing beats nuclear weapons -- which have ironically become useless because their use is today universally regarded as unthinkable. Global megadeaths of entire nations are simply morally unacceptable today, and consequently nuclear weapons have no military use.

It's worth looking at foolish people like Tintinaus who play irght into the enemy's hands when faced with potential 4GW. Their response is to destroy their own moral legitimacy by enforcing crazy laws and criminalzing essentially the entire population. This is what a 4GW fighter hopes for. People like Tintinaus are Osama Bin Laden's greatest allies, far more valuable and helpful to him than the Taliban or that Pakistani scientist who tried to peddle nuclear weapons technology to Al Qaeda. Setting off a nuclear bomb in a Western city would destroy Al Qaeda's moral legimacy, whereas enforcing the kinds of crazy laws Tintinaus futilely and foolishly tries to defend, destroys the moral authority of the Western nation-state.

I would encourage everyone to read more about Colonel John Boyd's theories of warfare, especially the powerpoint slides summarizing his classic Pentagon presentation Patterns of Conflict.

Ultimately, Boyd's concept of warfare transcends crude low-level tactics like maneuver warfare or 4GW warfare. Boyd proposed that war be fought at a grand strategic level by isolating global areas of disruption (what we today call "failed states" and what military theorist Thomas P. M. Barnett calls "the non-integrating gap" in his classic presentation The Pentagon's New Map) and drawing more closely together the global democracies which recognize the rule of law. Boyd's grand strategy does not necessarily involve warfare. For example, international trade is one of the most potent ways of drawing democracies closer together, but doesn't have anything to do with traditional military action.

The greatest trick of the 4GW fighter is to dupe a gullible nation-state into fighting 4GW against its own citizens, as Tintinaus and other of Bin Laden's hapless pawns have been gulled into doing. People like Tintinaus are Bin Laden's most valuable assets on the ground, because they not only try to enforce unenforceable laws against innnocent citizens (thus destroying the moral legitimacy of the Great Satans of western democracy that Bin Laden so fervently hates), but he even makes the failed and futile effort to defend his indefensible 4GW against innocent citizens.

As I have pointed out elsewhere (not this forum), the tactics used by the 4GW insurgents in Iraq are now being eerily mirrored by the United States government against its own citizens. These classic 4GW tactics involve: [1] destroying infrastructure to deprive citizens of basic services; [2] murdering innocent civilians to spread chaos in society; and [3] wrecking the rule of law by infiltrating police forces and using them as arms of terror.

As we have seen in America and Britain, however, these legitimate governments have been duped into conducting 4GW against their own citizens. In America, [1] the government has allowed the infrastructure to collapse, depriving citizens of basic services -- a process most clearly seen in post-Katrina New Orleans; [2] thug police and paramilitary units now routinely murder innocent civilians for no reason, destroying the moral authority of the state; and [3] warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition and kangaroo court phony "trials" at Guantanmo destroy the rule of law, sowing the seeds of chaos throughout Western society by fostering a Hobbesian bellum omnes para bellum.

As we can see, the American government has been duped into conducting 4GW warfare against its own citizens. If it persists, it will destroy itself. Bin Laden must be dancing in ecstasy at the folly of his enemies.

To regain its legitimacy, the U.S. government would be well advised to immediately disband the TSA and the DHS, shut down armed patrols on public subways, get rid of the CCTV cameras, and immediately restore the rule of rule by repealing the Treason Act (misnamed the USA Patriot Act). We should also prosecute for crimes against humanity the people who authored the Patriot Act and authorized extraordinary rendition. As for the wannabe-Stasi formerly employed by the TSA and the DHS, they should merely have their heads shaved and tattooed with something memorable like TRAITOR TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES so that everyone can see they've committed crimes against the constitution of the united states. Something similar to what happened to French citizens who collaborated with the German army during the 1940-1945 German occupation of France should happen to former employees of the TSA and the DHS.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning the origin of the term "terrorism." The original use of the word "terror" was by Maximilien Robespierre, who first advocated political terrorism. Terror as a political strategy originated during the 18th century as state terror against its own citizens. Robespierre vigorously defended the use of state terror against citizens, as in this memorable speech from 1794:

If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country. ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny. Is force only intended to protect crime? Is not the lightning of heaven made to blast vice exalted?
The law of self-preservation, with every being whether physical or moral, is the first law of nature. ... The protection of government is only due to peaceable citizens; and all citizens in the republic are republicans. The royalists, the conspirators, are strangers, or rather enemies. Is not this dreadful contest, which liberty maintains against tyranny, indivisible? Are not the internal enemies the allies of those in the exterior? The assassins who lay waste the interior; the intriguers who purchase the consciences of the delegates of the people: the traitors who sell them; the mercenary libellants paid to dishonor the cause of the people, to smother public virtue, to fan the flame of civil discord, and bring about a political counter revolution by means of a moral one; all these men, are they less culpable or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they serve?

["On the Principles of Political Morality," 1794 -- the alert reader will discern a chilly irony in that turn of phrase, akin to the bizarre use of the word "Patriot" is "The U.S.A. Patriot Act"]

Compare with V. I. Lenin's advocacy of state terror in 1905 and 1917:

“We will turn our hearts into steel, which we will temper in the fire of suffering and the blood of fighters for freedom. We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky, Zinovief and Volodarski, let there be floods of the blood of the bourgeois - more blood, as much as possible.”
[From the 1 September 1918 issue of the newspaper Krasnaya Gazeta.]

Obviously today's nation-states are attempting to revive the original meaning of the word "terrorism" by conducting mass terror against their own citizens. This too doubtless makes Bin Laden and Al-Zarkawi giddy with delight.

This connects in an interesting way with the discussion of logic and reason earlier. As we can see, state terror fails...because humans aren't rational. Logically, people who brutalize and shoot and beat their opponents expect to get slaves...but what they actually get is Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Marching unarmed into phalnxes of riot-geared police who beat you with rubber hoses wrapped with barb wire and savage you with attack dogs makes no sense; it's irrational. Welcome to life on earth. Humans remain irrational creatures. Logic doesn't work in the everyday world, for reasons Kahneman and Tversky have elucidated in their Nobel-prize-winning reesarch. To a large extent, the scientific method remains a defense against reason. The big problem with clever apes like humans is that we keep deluding ourselves we can figures things out by reason alone, as the Athenians did. However, as Francis Bacon pointed out in his Novum Organum in 1620, "The subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of the senses and understanding; so that all those specious meditations, speculations, and glosses in which men indulge are quite from the purpose, only there is no one by to observe it." If you look at classic scientific experiments like the series of experiments by Shannon and Bardeen and Brattain that led to the invention of the transistor, you can clearly see that reason proves wholly inadequate for dealing with the complexity of nature. Shockley et al. reasoned that what they needed to produce a transistor was a slab of doped P-type semiconductor slapped against a second slab of doped N-type semiconductor. If you follow Shockley's reasoning, it all makes perfect sense. It should've worked. Unfortunately, everyone today knows that a PN semidocutor sandwich produces a diode, not a transistor.
So what went wrong?
Shockley et al. failed to realize that free electrons get captured in doped semicodnuctor lattices, so there has to be a 3-layer semiconductor snadwhich, with the middle layer less than the width of the mean free path of an electron in that material at room temperature. Countless similar examples show that the human brain just isn't complex enough to encompass all of nature, and our mathematical models, while often quite good, can never fully describe nature. As a result, we have to keep moving to different mental models of nature, and we must constnatly test our hypotheses against reality.

This also shows why Brin was so clearly wrong about his claim that the Enlightenment was not based on reason. Although Brin claims scien was the basis of the Englishtment, this is wholly and provably false; the scientific reovlution began in the 17th century, not the 18th century -- Bacon's writings date from the 17th century, not the 18th; Isaac Newton's crucial work on the system of the world was done during the 17th century, not the 18th, and the formation of the Royal Society and the rise of experiment occurred during the 17th century, not the 18th.

The Enlightenment represented a problematic effort to transfer the already-successful application of reason to nature (which occurred in the 17th century, coupled with experiment) into the realm of human social affairs (which occurred in the 18th century, and tended not to be accompanied by experiment as a corrective). This effort proved problematic insofar as it detoured into crqazy excursions like Jeremy Betham's hedonic calculus and Robespierre's state terror, both precursors of the worst features of Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. The 18th century Englihtenment also proved problematic because of the effort to ban religion in France. While Dewhirst and I appear to have little need for worshipping various graven idols carved out of crucifixes, history as well as current cognitive research appears to show that many people do have a need for religious worship, and it appears to be hardwired into most human brains.

To someone of a logical turn of mind, such as myself or Dewhirst, people who crave religious rituals should be given magnetic helmets with superconducting magnets designed to stimulate a region of the temporal lobe which is now known to be the origin of religious epiphanies.
This would prove convenient for the rest of us who occasionally get annoyed with all the chanting and kneeling and praying, since the devout person could simply flip a switch connected to the yellow motorcycle helmet and experience the touch of god. When they tire of having their temporal lobes stimulated, the religiouslu inclined could flip off the switch and get back to doing what the rest of us do in everyday life.

Of course, this is doubtless too coldly rational for most people, so as a society we'll likely continue to build churches and sing psalms, even though the experience could be much more economically duplicated by a set of a high-powered electromagnetics in a yellow motorcycle helmet. In a larger sense, however, reason fails and falters, because, as William James pointed out, "Truth, law, and language fairly boil away from them at the least touch of novel fact. These things make themselves as we go. Our rights, wrongs, prohibitions, penalties, words, forms, idioms, beliefs, are so many new creations that add themselves as fast as history proceeds. Far from being antecedent principles that animate the process, law, language, truth are but abstract names for its results." [William James, "Pragmatism and Humanism," 1907]

David McCabe said...

That the underground stations are private property is hardly relevant to the question of whether or not photography should be banned there -- it merely changes the technicalities of whether they can be banned.

As an aside, in US law, a place can be privately owned and still count as a 'public place' in some cases.

2,800 dead. That's a lot. The 7/7 bombers only managed 52. The Japanese bombers had nerve gas and only managed 12. The Unabomber killed only three people during his seventeen-year career. Killing with bombs is hard.

You've mentioned that you don't arrest these people; you merely ask them to leave. If you really think there's a chance that they're terrorists, why is this? Shouldn't you stop them and bring in the cops?

If BD's discourse is characterized by vague and haughty bombast, yours seems to be characterized by non sequiturs.

(And mine by lack of tact?)

David McCabe said...

Wow, Zorgon. Do you mind if I paste that missive at people? Especial thanks for the link to Boyd's book; this crowd has got me interested in military and political strategy, but I didn't know where to begin studying them.

David McCabe said...

More on bombs:

The Oklahoma City bomb consisted of a truckload of explosives. It turned a nine-story building to rubble, produced a crater nine meters deep, damaged buildings sixteen blocks away, and measured 3.0 on the Richter scale.

Yet only 168 were killed.

This from 2,300 kg of powerful ANNM explosives, constructed and deployed by an expert. Who's going to carry two tonnes of liquid explosives into a railway tunnel? Do you think you'll stop them by politely asking them to put their cameras away?

You fear an implausible movie plot, and the policy you are defending is as effective as doing the hokey-pokey. Stopping photography has NOTHING to do with saving lives, just as Hrodna has nothing to do with Panaeolus bisporus*.

* (These unrelated nouns courtesy of Wikipedia's Random Article feature.)

Travc said...

Re: Police dogs and assault rifles on NYC subways...

There have been incidents of the NYPD getting very fascist, but dogs and more visible guns don't really change that (if anything it probably decreases the incidents of officers on power trips... at least K9 handlers tend to be pretty sociable and level headed, which are job requirements for handling dogs well.)

Anyways, M16s on subways are pretty dumb (short arms are better in confined places... give them p90s at least;) It really is just a show, but nothing intrinsically wrong with that. They do wear uniforms after all for the same reason.

The dogs are almost certainly a good thing IMO. Using 'attack' dogs is not the best, but it is also a pretty huge misnomer. Police dogs of the standard training sort are much more about protecting the officers and the public. They kindof stand sentry, looking out for odd body language (dogs are exceptionally good at that) and alert the handler. They also can 'apprehend' in crowed and confined places much more effectively and safely than a dude with a gun.

I really hope they mix it up with dogs trained for explosives detection and fire detection (smoldering fires in subway tunnels are actually are pretty significant problem/threat). Kindof a waste not to.

If you can't tell, I'm a big fan of working dogs ;) As a species they are literally made for it.

PS: There is a competitive dog competition thing (can't remember the name, it is French IIRC) for dogs with police/security type training.
Various tests include:
Not feeding the dog for a day or two and then plopping a steak in front of it... must not eat or even sniff it.
The handler giving it a stay command and leaving, a bunch of people come into the area, making lots of noise, arguing, ect... dog must just sit there.

And one that was really interesting IMO. At a random point in the exercises, a random person (or even the judge) attacks the handler... the dog must prevent it without any direction but not try to seriously harm (at least beyond bruising and maybe bites on the forearms and legs) the attacker.
There are also 'fakes' of this test, where someone rushes towards the handler, argues with the handler, ect... where the dog must not intervene.

Yeah, very very few dogs actually manage to do all this successfully, but some do... which is pretty amazing IMO.

B. Dewhirst said...

tintinaus, I thought you -weren't- defending this practice?

I'm "confused." Actually, I'm done talking with you because clearly you're either lying or changing your story to suit the argument.

(And it isn't Godwining to discuss Nazis in the context of Facism.)

B. Dewhirst said...

Also worth noting, with regards to Zorgon's rather long post up-thread wrt "I do not see what terrorists are trying to accomplish." :

They had the Patriot Act sitting in a drawer waiting for the attack to justify it. (They knew, as a simple matter of probability, that such an attack would one-day come... I'm not suggesting they engineered the attack.)

Travc said...

Zorg, there is a huge problem with the theory of G4W... it isn't warfare (or at least limited to warfare). Basically it is a 'theory' that groups of people who want to achieve a political shift can undermine the legitimacy of the current political 'powers that be' using clever strategies. Well, you don't say!

It is also not new in the slightest.

The only big new bit is communications tech / media and international bodies (another target audience).

The idea of generations of military paradigms is pretty dumb IMO. Yeah, new technological and organizational capabilities allow for new strategies, but old strategies generally don't become obsolete. The 'best' paradigm all really depends on what the political goal of the military operation is.

The parts of G4W which are actually about warfare (not the grand overall theory) is actually pretty much limited to utilizing small autonomous units effectively. Great for some situations, sucks in others. Really it is most appropriate to the Marines and some special forces units (not surprising given the originators).

As for the "Pentagon's New Map"... that too is a mix of the totally obvious and what I consider dangerous stupidity. Yes, the ME, Africa, and Central Asia are troublesome places where criminal gangs build armies and/or 'terrorist' organizations. Putting a bunch of military bases there isn't really going to help much (not at least without significant political and economic development). The other half of the 'new map' is basically "be very afraid of China... we need more big weapons systems." Though, there is a bit of schizophrenia, since some folks argue we should be very afraid of Russia instead/also. Of course the entire community of 'experts' agrees the answer is to build more weapons systems and bases.

B. Dewhirst said...

Travc, perhaps you and Zorgon should be discussing the -goals- of the Pentagon. I imagine you've got different perspectives on this.

(Also, this "it isn't warfare" doesn't jive with their "Warfare is diplomacy by other means" I'd add "Economics is warfare without guns.")

zorgon the malevolent said...

David McCabe:
Sure, cut and paste whatever you want. You should also take a look at these two excerpts from Andrew Bacevich's new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

Also: here's a particularly cogent article about Over-regulating Our Way To Police Abuse.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Sorry, Travc, we're going to have to sharply disagree about 4GW and the relative merits of van Creveld's and Lind's contributions to military history.

You remark: "There is a huge problem with 4GW isn't warfare."

At the end of the conflict, the 4GW fighters are left in charge of the society and their opponents have fled. If that isn't warfare, what is?

You claim "[4GW] is not new in the slightest."

On the contrary, it's entirely new. 4GW is unprecedented in the history of warfare, and for a simple reason: prior to the Enlightenment, people who tried to engage in 4GW would be slaughtered en masse. In fact, it's very simple and easy to win against 4GW fighters -- just slaughter the entire population. Temujin (AKA Genghis Khan) had this down pat, so did Tamerlane, so did the Romans. F**k with these guys and they'd not only kill you, slowly, by crucifixion, they'd crucify your mom, your dad, your wife, your kids, your neighbors, your dog, your cat, everyone in your entire village, everyone in every village in the province, and then they'd burn the entire province to the ground and sow the fields with salt and dump poison in the wells.

That works. It definitely wins against 4GW fighters. Thing is, we don't fight wars that way anymore, and it's because of what Brin keeps talking about -- we really have become more humane and more decent as a species over the course of history, but not for mysterious spiritual reasons. It's happened because of technology. If someone tried slaughtering the entire population of a city-state today as an object military lesson, cellphone pics would hit the net and youtube movies would go up within 10 minutes and the entire world would gasp in horror. Sanctions would be slammed down on the aggressor nation, embargoes would hit, and you'd see such sh*t hit the fan that the sanctions against South Africa would look like a walk through Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.

In short, technology has made it impossible for us to fight the way people used to, by publicly and savagely raping the entire female population of a province to death while publicly crucifying all the men, including the boys and the male infants. That stuff really worked. The Ottoman Empire dealt with insurgents that way. The insurgents didn't last long. But can't do it today in the age of CNN and youtube and cellphone videos.

So, yes, 4GW really is new, and it's new because only modern communications technology makes 4GW possible. Modern media were crucial to the AFL/CIO strikes, to Ghandi's march to the sea to make salt, and to MLK's marches, and it's absolutely crucial to modern 4GW like the Palestinian intifadah and the Iraqi insurgency.

If you can provide (say) 10 successful historical examples of 4GW prior to the American revolution, I'd like to hear about 'em. (Isolated examples like the Goths destroying Augustus' legions in Germany do crop up, but a killed military leader could and did deal with such 4GW. Julius Caesar won against the 4GW tactics of the Goths by murdering 20% of their population. We call that "genocide" today. It works against 4GW. Augustus just didn't know how to do it right, so the loss of his legions in Germany really isn't a valid example.

You go on to claim that "the idea of generations of military conflict is pretty dumb..." Do you have any hard evidence to back up your claim? As far as I can tell, it's remarkably insightful.

You remark: "Yeah, new technological and organizational capabilities allow for new strategies, but old strategies generally don't become obsolete."

Sorry, that is factually incorrect. Each successive generation of warfare makes the previous one obsolete. How do we know? Look at the historical evidence.

Artillery/machine guns (2GW) made 1GW warfare obsolete, and the best proof is WW I. Millions upon millions of men hurled themselves into machine gun and artillery fire, and they died literally by the millions without accomplishing a thing. The Germans and the British & French tried 1GW warfare tactics against 2GW foes, and they failed conclusively. They failed so badly that very few generals have been stupid enough to try it again.

Of course the single best example of 1GW failing against 2GW is the battle of Omdurman in 1898, but WW I remains a larger and much bloodier object lesson. Since WW I, few generals have been dense enough to think they could win by hurling masses of men into 2GW "fire on target." It just doesn't work. It's a total slaughter. 2GW always wins aginst 1GW, unless the 2GW fitghtrers run out of bullets or artillery shells.

3GW likewise always beats 2GW unless the 3GW fighter runs out of men and materiel. The best evidence is the Germany victory in the ardennes in 1940, but we also saw 3GW beating 2GW in Desert Storm. Stormin' Norman used encirclement while Saddam set up his tanks as static fire positions. Saddam's army got creamed. 3GW always beats 2GW unless the 3GW just runs out shells and gasoline....which is how we won WW II with a 2GW army against the 3GW army of the Germans. Actually, "we" didn't win WW II, the Red Army won it, and they won it by simply hurling so many millions of men and so many thousands of tanks and so many tens of millions of artilery shells against the Germans that the Wehrmacht ran out of everything from bullets to bombs to gasoline. What the Soviet army did to the Germans on the Eastern front in WW II is similar to what the Chinese People's Army did to the U.S. Big Red One at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea in 1953. The Chinese just hurled so many human waves of soldiers at the U.S. army that the Americans ran out of bullets and then the Chinese overran and killed 'em.

4GW has the most remarkable track record of all. With the exception of the Malaysian insurgency, every single 4GW engagement since WW II has been won by the 4GW fighters. Every. Single One. That's a track record unequalled by any other method of warfare, to my knowledge.

Also, your description of the tactics Lind and van Creveld and Boyd have proposed against 4GW fighters is simply not accurate. Boyd in particular emphasized the importance of bugging out and leaving the 4GW fighters to fester in their rotting states. Leave, embargo the S.O.B.s, and let 'em rot. Eventually their societies will become so impoverished by comparison with the first world that they'll abandon their 4GW ways and beg to become a part of the first world. This strategy has proven remarkably successful when it's been tried. It's the strategy we should have continued to use against Saddam. It's the strategy Thomas Barnett has suggested against "the non-integrating gap," along with various artful measures for drawing the populations of the non-integrating gap back into civil society should they change their ways and desire to join the first world. If you read Lind's and van Creveld's columsn on the Iraq war, you'll see that they offer no recipe for winning, because they judge the war lost before it started due to impossible goals.

I don't agree at all with your dismissal of Barnett's model for current affairs either. (Compared with the dismal fool Tom friedman, Barnett looks like a genius. Friedman predicted an exponentially more prosperous and more peaceful world as time went on in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Instead, the Lexus crashed into the olive tree and now they're both burning, and, as Prem Shankar Jhan has pointed out, global instability continues to widen and the number of failed states keeps increasing as the 21st century grinds on. The rot is even infecting first world Treaty of Wephalia states, as we see from the disintegration of habeas corpus and the abolition of the right of jury trial, etc. in America and Britain with various anti-terrorism laws. Yeah, peace 'n prosperity 'n global democracy courtesy of the all-powerful God named "the market," good prediction, Tom Friedman. You dumb shcmuck.)

That said, I tend to agree that Barnett's warnings about the alleged danger posed by China represent a misreading of history. China has historically been far more terrified of its own population than of other nations, and China has a long history of reclusivity and isolation, rather than expansionism, dating right back to the 15th century. It seems far more likely that China will use its newfound industrial capacity and wealth to clamp down on its own population than to try to conquer other nations. China is already facing severe demographic crises not far in the future, so they've arguably already bitten off more than they chew with their own population, much less trying to assimilate and rule other societies.

It's not clear that you understand "The Pentagon's New Map" clearly because Barnett isn't talking about physical locations. He's talking about demographic groups. Manyof these leak over between national borders. The 50% of Brazil's population that's under 18 belongs to the same dangerous non-integrating gap as the 50% of Egypt's population that's under age 18. Barnett's solutions, like Boyd's, don't primarily involve military action. He recommends a more level playing field for international trade, empowerment of women, and various other measures to bring the non-integrating gap into the fold of the functioning core.

If you're saying, on the other hand, that Lind and Barnett and Boyd and van Creveld are drawing on ideas that have been previously stated, that's true. These guys put 'em together for the first time, though. Lind and van Creveld in particular have synthesized previous isolated insights about warfare in a way I don't recall anyone else doing.

If your point is that elements of the various generations of war also appears in previous eras of history comingled with previous modes of warfare, that's also true. It's a mistake to imagine that warfare advanced in a nice linear progression. The Mongols of the 12th century arguably represented a very early form of maneuever warfare; ditto the British Navy of the 18th century. Early uses of the British longbow preceded the general use of cannon in warfare. Biological warfare involving catapulting plague victims' clothing into siege towns arguably represented an early form of 4GW. And so on.

I'd agree to all that. It doesn't invalidate the broad outline of Lind's and van Creveld's synthesis, however.

If you're arguing that the generations of warfare model is not the only way of viewing the history of warfare, I'd agree to that absolutely. It's one model. It offers some insights, and has some weaknesses. It explains the remarkable failure of large land armies since WW II in small arms conflicts, especially in failed states, and I don't know of other syntheses of military history that do that. If you can point some out, I'd appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Ok, one last time.

YES: Legislation is in place in all states of Australia which states that taking photos of railway infrastructure is a criminal offence.

YES: I have been working with this law for the last 3 years, and so am not running around in circles, tearing my hair out, shouting "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!"

NO: You are not going to be tackled by 12 burly security officers, thrown to the ground, have your face ground into the dirt and your camera destroyed in front of you, before being told "You were lucky this time, chum" if you try to take happy snaps where I work.

YES: If you are an enthusiast, you can get permission to take as many photos of trains and stations as you want. People from overseas on a rail spotting holiday of Victoria I would recommend calling before you travel to see what you need to do to apply for your enthusiasts pass.

There seems to be an unfortunate tendency for people on this forum to assume that because something hasn't happened it won't happen.

The next time I am taking part in a role play of a multiple system failure in an underground station, with all station exits blocked making it necessary to evacuate via train tunnels, I will be sure to tell everyone who takes part they can have a day off as the gurus at Contrary Brin are sure there isn't a problem.

Last one to David Mc. Couldn't find any reference to 12 bus loads of tourists parked around Timothy McVeigh's truck. The death toll would have been a lot higher if these buses had been there. As in my worst case scenario the death toll is a lot higher because the packed trains that I mention.

David McCabe said...

You are not going to be tackled by 12 burly security officers

Shouldn't you be, if there is any chance it will save 2,800 lives?

If you are an enthusiast, you can get permission to take as many photos of trains and stations as you want.

What's to stop a terrorist from posing as an enthusiast and getting permission?

[You] assume that because something hasn't happened it won't happen.

Yes, if 'something' is Hollywood-style fireballs from sneakable amounts of explosives.

The next time I am taking part in a role play of a multiple system failure in an underground station, with all station exits blocked making it necessary to evacuate via train tunnels,

... you'll double-check that nobody has a camera! Could be dangerous!

You still have not addressed -- you have repeatedly dodged -- the supposed connection between photographing rail stations and blowing up rail stations. Remember that the most successful rail station blower-uppers to date did not use photographs. It's hard to see why they would need them. It's also hard to see how you would stop them if they did.

Anonymous said...

I have pointed to two instances of people being convicted with terrorism related offences partially due to photographic surveillance they had collected of potential targets. That these were not railway stations is beside the point. Photography is and has been used in terrorist planning. (That dot beside the word planning is a full stop just in case you were wondering.)

David McCabe said...

So why do you make it so easy to photograph railway stations?

Anonymous said...

You want me to be more prescriptive in what I decide is appropriate photography or not? Sorry can't oblige, I am happy with the way I operate now. Good to see you are starting to realise what important issue this is though. Thanks for your support!

David McCabe said...

I'm not. I'm pointing out your contradiction:

1) The restrictions on photography really aren't that restrictive!
2) But allowing photography could be really, really dangerous!

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. The worst case scenario I gave was for a place where I approve the total ban on photography. Everywhere else I choose to judge on a case by case basis based on probable risk. That is wrong?

Tony Fisk said...

T: In case you didn't notice, you were turned to straw for target practice by these jokers the minute you let drop you were a 'figure of authority'.

You are not going to be tackled by 12 burly security officers =
Shouldn't you be, if there is any chance it will save 2,800 lives?

Oh! puh-leeze!

(Think of that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the heroic knights get berated for being 'the violence inherent in the system' by the peasant commune.)

(hint guys: you're shooting the messenger)

1) The restrictions on photography really aren't that restrictive!
2) But allowing photography could be really, really dangerous!

Now *that* is a little more coherent and answerable. But I will give tintinaus first shot...

TwinBeam said...

Interesting - it appears that each generation of warfare consists of what the previous generation of warriors would call "cheating".

"Cheaters! Come up here face to face, so we can fight properly!"

"Cheaters! Stop avoiding contact and bring your army to meet ours, so we can fight properly!"

"Cheaters! Create an army and put on uniforms, so we can fight properly!"

Which points to the 5GW that's now forming in response to 4GW -

"Cheaters! Stop hiding behind your remote control robots and information collection/integration systems, so we can fight properly!"

Anonymous said...

Tony, I don't mind being "The bad man". I am actually having fun(does that make me a troll?). Zorgn produces a lot of intresting information, and BD and David, trying to trap me with semantics, well perhaps they are having fun too.

Sorry if it getting a bit tired for the rest of you though.

TwinBeam said...

5GW won't just be high tech. Bribing civilians to win them over to your side so they won't allow 4GWarriors to hide among them is also "cheating".

Tony Fisk said...

@t: Just so you don't think we're all barking at you. But I guess you've hung around here long enough to know that.

(I do think McCabe's last point is worth answering, though)

Twinbeam, your cheat simile now reminds me of the Black knight scene!

Zorg's discussion of GW is actually an interesting piece (I'm glad to see I've got it right about daisy trampling, and I'm also glad he mentioned the Malaysian emergency: won via a form of what Twinbeam called 5GW)

I'm tempted to apply the idea to rhetorical conflicts. Nominal labelling:
- 1G: Clubs
- 2G: Socrates' contributions
- 3G: Culture warrior hit and run (did I hear the word 'cheat'?)
- 4G: Holocene or some such(?)

Feel free to add and insert.

Travc said...

Zorg, I'm being a bit of a Devil's Advocate. We don't disagree as sharply as you may thing ;)

True enough, most of my criticism is actually of the Pentagon and 'foreign policy community's' interpretation of Lind, van Creveld, Boyd, and Barnett... the actual experts are not the 'experts' I referred to (should have made it more clear than just using scare-quotes I suppose.)

That said, the generations of warfare model is pretty weak IMO. G3W does not always beat G2W... but the obstensibly G3W tactic of encirclement and/or cutting supply lines is very effective at making the other poor sobs run out of ammo and supplies. But that is hardly a profound insight.

A G3W (or any) army which effectively uses propaganda (actually being true is better of course) and is appropriately sensitive to public sentiment can actually delegitimize G4W fighters. There is a reason Samantha Power worked on the counter-insurgency field manual that Petraus is constantly getting credit for.

Also, Twinbeam actually makes a good point. What is considered acceptable is more of a generational thing than what is actually possible... and I am one who will readily admit new tech does open up new tactical options.

As for my 'G4W is not new' claim... you pretty much proved my point for me. It is much more generally effective given modern norms and tech. However, it certainly existed, though it was generally less effective (at least on a large scale) and wasn't typically called 'war'.

The overthrow of the Roman Republic was G4W by the definitions proffered, as are many episodes in the fall of the Roman Empire. I could come up with a list, but your command of history is better than mine. If you see my point you could provide better examples than I can.

My main beef is really with the adoption of new models of warfighting strategy and tactics leading to dismissal and abandonment of older strategies and tactics. Yeah, the real experts don't do this (they are almost all historians after all), but civilian leadership, lots of top brass, and all the way down to procurement officers do.

In Afghanistan, the forces initially sent in (including CIA) were supposed to be an example of transformation in action. Yeah, they did high-mobility ops, but they were smarter than most of the people that sent them there who also used G4W tactics, G2W with airpower for artillery, and 'classic' G1W-G3W tactics with the Northern Alliance for manpower.

Another example, I not so humbly posit that a 'classic' invasion (occupy and hold territory in an incremental fashion) would have been a much more effective strategy in Iraq. It would have served the stated political goals much better and left much less opportunity for an insurrection to gain legitimacy (under several assumptions of course, such as the Army actually following their own counter-insurgency doctrines and setting up provisional local governance as they proceeded.) However, the doctrine of 'transformation' said that supped-up G3W was always 'better'.

Quite simply, the strategy and tactics employed depend on the goal. The doctrinal approach says Y is better than X unequivocally.

I'm also a bit worried about the ever-expanding notion of what 'war' is, often at the expense of more effective options. I don't agree that "politics is war by other means" (visa-versa is more insightful)... War does have a political and/or economic goal, but political/economic goals don't necessitate engaging in warfare.

PS: Boyd's (I think) point about the effectiveness of 'empowered' small units who have knowledge of not just their proximate mission but also large goals and a freer hand in decision making is a very good one. They can't do every job (useless for occupation for example), but are a 'new' in the sense of technology making them generally more effective. However, IMO it is doctrinal thinking that lead the military to improperly discount their usefulness in the first place.

Travc said...


The photography bans give the authorities the power to detain and prosecute people for something that isn't nominally a problem/crime. The fact that it is only rarely enforced makes it even worse, since they use it at their own discretion.

Quite simply, it is a very bad idea to give anyone the authority and tools to prosecute only those people they feel like prosecuting. Yeah, most authorities will only use it against people they 'know are bad', but do we really want to trust one (or a few) people's judgment on that? Especially since there are no protections against applying this law for political, racist, or whatever reasons.

Jilted lover? I wonder if he/she has any photos with 'infrastructure' in them...
(Though putting child-pornography on their computer is a better bet just now.)

Do you see the reason for worry?

BTW: A collection of 'casing' photos can certainly be used evidence. It might even be ok to make it a modifier to a crime (like a weapon is to assault). Making it a crime to simply take a photo which includes nebulously defined 'infrastructure' is just far too open to potential abuse.

Travc said...

Tintinaus, one more little thing...

Perhaps the next time you see someone taking photos of something suspicious or whatnot... instead of telling them it is not allow, you should tell them their actions are suspicious.

At least to me, that would be a much better explanation for why I should ask (or at least inform) the station master or whatever authority for permission. Rules are not reasons, and reasons are more persuasive to many people.

Boot said...

You know the US is currently engaging in counter-GW4 tactics. Brutality and Murder which are unlawful for our military is being engaged in by contractors such as Blackwater, Custer-Battles, etc. They may not operating at a genocide level, but my former Marine Gym Trainer says that he is very glad they are doing these things. He believes that someone has to do it and is glad to have them. I strongly disagree with him.

The US practices (unacceptable) counter-G4 Warfare. Its just a matter of scope.

Gilmoure said...

twinbeam said...
Which points to the 5GW that's now forming in response to 4GW -

"Cheaters! Stop hiding behind your remote control robots and information collection/integration systems, so we can fight properly!"

I thought 5GW would be ruining your opponent's credit rating, bot-netting their computer and posting embarrassing photos on YouTube.

B. Dewhirst said...

Rather than embargoes and a slow strangulation (for which the embargoer is likely to be blamed), wouldn't nonintervention and foreign aid through respected institutions such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent be a more positive measure?

Consider the Cuban Embargo (the one "to get Fidel Castro out of power")-- even if you are opposed to Cuba, one might think you ought to be opposed to the embargo... it gives the Cuban Government something to (quite legitimately) rail against.

As far as promoting 'free trade...' is that an indication we're going to take down our corn subsidies any time soon? I'd like to again recommend Kicking Away the Ladder-- in fact, if you'd like me to buy you a copy Zorgon, just drop me an email with a mailing address.

zorgon the malevolent said...


We probably don't disagree as much as I thought.

You mentioned that "most of [your] criticism is actually of the Pentagon and `foreign policy community'" interpretation of Lind, van Creveld, Boyd and Barnett..."

Alas, if only the Pentagon and Council on Foreign Relations paid any attention to Lind, van Creveld, Boyd and Barnett. I see no evidence that the Pentagon and COFR even know who these guys are. The Pentagon probably thinks Lind, van Creveld, Boyd and Barnett is a law firm handling copyright issues for the RIAA.

We'll have to disagree about the alleged "weakness" of the generations of warfare model. It isn't weak, but it is somewhat fuzzy. That is to say, elements on a later generation of warfare can coexist with an earlier generation of warfare even though the earlier generation is the dominant paradigm. That's because these generations of warfare depend on technology, and as William Gibson pointed out, technologically "the future is already here, it just isn't distributed evenly."

The goal of 3GW encirclement isn't to physically destroy the enemy, it's psychological. Read Sun Tzu: the greatest general wins without fighting. Once encircled, an army defeated by 3GW typically prefers to surrender rather than be annihilated because it know the fight is over and it can't possibly win. 3GW exploits Boyd's mental level of warfare (confusion and disarray leading to intimidation) rather than Boyd's physical level of warfare (cutting of supply lines, starving the enemy to death, etc.).

You claim that "a 3GW army that effectively uses propaganda and is appropriately sensitive to public sentiment can actually delegitimize G4W fighters." There's very little evidence to support this claim. The British victory over Malaysian insurgents represents a special case, and we haven't seen victories by any traditional armies over 4GW fighters since the late 1940s in any of the 4GW engagements that have been fought.

We can learn one lesson from the Brits in Malaysia. The single best way to delegitimize 4GW fighters is for anti-terror forces to take special care to make sure that for every civilian killed, 4 or 5 anti-terror troops get killed. During the British anti-terror operation in Malaysia, that was the ratio: in Iraq in 2008, it's something like 250 Iraqi civilians dead for every American soldier. The British ratio of 5 dead Brit soldiers for every dead Malaysian civilian flipped the moral superiority over to the Brits. Since the moral level is the highest level of warfare in Boyd's hierarchy, that did the trick.

"Propaganda" as such typically doesn't work against 4GW fighters because the 4GW fighters live in the native population and everyone can see what they do and how the anti-terror forces treat 'em. The most powerful form of anti-American propaganda in Iraq is a dead Iraqi family gunned down by U.S. soldiers by mistake at a checkpoint. You can't spin a dead Iraqi family in a bullet-riddled car. That's a real no-spin zone. And that's why Boot's friend is being stupid when he says he's glad Blackwater mercs are killing Iraqi civilians. Blackwater is just creating more 4GW fighters, along with plenty of world-class anti-American propaganda.

The best pro-American propaganda is Jenna Jameson on a porn DVD. We should get the hell out of the third world and export our culture, which the rest of the world loves, and which seduces them into Englightenment values like skeptical critical thinking and tolerance and an open society. A movie like ANTZ is great pro-American propaganda.

I radically disagree that the counter-insurgency manual Petraus is using bears any meaningful relation to the theories of Lind, van Creveld, Boyd or Barnett. Petraus is doing glorified Viet Nam style LURPS - Long Range Patrols, AKA "Hey, let's send our troops out of the Green Zones and put 'em on sweeps for insurgennts so our troops become big fat targets for enemy snipers and IEDs while accomplishing nothing whatever in the process!" That's just Viet Nam tactics. It doesn't work.

A Boyd/Lind/van Creveld/Barnett counter-insurgency manual for Iraq in 2008 would run something like this: evacuate the U.S. army, pull all civilan contractors out of Iraq, then fly C47s overhead dropping cellphones, fashionable western women's clothes, porn DVDs, laptops and western philosophy of science texts and Qur'ans with scholarly commentary nothing all the inconsistencies translated into Farsi and Arabic on the population. After about 3 years of fundamentalist Islamic rule, the population of Iraq would crawl on their hands and knees to beg to overthrow the fundamentalist mullahs and rejoin the first world by setting up a democratic constitutional government, adopting women's rights, free trade, western-style open society, etc.

Sorry, but the overthrow of the Roman Empire by the Goths and Vandals and Visigoths was a purely 1GW operation. You could see the Vandals coming over the hills in huge hordes. And when they got to Rome, they raped and pillaged. Classic 1GW.

If you want an example of genuine 4GW, take a look at high Moslem birthrates in Europes. Now that's 4GW. The Moslems blend with the local population but reproduce at higher rates so they eventually become the voting majority. Then they simply vote in sharia and vote Western civil rights out of existence. That's 4GW (if it were to happen -- however, in the real world, successive generations of immigrants typically become westernized, and often the most staunch supporters of traditional values of the society they infiltrate). The classic example of immigrants getting absorbed even when they try to take over demographically remains Mexican illegal immigrants in the American Southwest. Mexicans' kids go to protesant churches and sing protestant hymns and have adopted the protestant work ethic. They're more American, culturally speaking, than most Americans, which is why the U.S. doesn't have much to worry about as far as 4GW from mexican immigrants, and certainly not from Asian immigrants, who are if anything culturally hyper-American. The real danger involving Mexicans and 4GW is to the Mexican government from the drug lords in their country. The Mexican government is being hollowed out and undermined by the drug lords' 4GW. "Plomo e plata" really works.

You mention the forces sent into Afghanistan as an example of the Boyd/Lind/van Creveld/Barnett concept of 4GW. Once again I would emphatically disagree that the special ops forces sent into Afghanistan had anything to do with 4GW. They were just 2GW SEAL and Delta Force units sent in for the usual reasons, because the Pentagon couldn't put a full American army into Afghanistan for fear of destabilizing Pakistan and bringing Islamic fundamentalists to power in region's only Islamic nuclear power.

Special forces merely put "fire on target" more precisely and more surgically than a typical 2GW artillery. But it's still 2GW, not 4GW. The U.S. special forces in Afghanistan did not blend with the local population, did not destroy infrastructure to deprive civilians of basic services, did not infiltrate local police and destroy the rule of law to create chaos, did not murder civilians to break down social cohesion. U.S. special forces in Afghanistan fought 2GW. That fails against 4GW fighters.

I think your mistake here is equating the Rumsfeld "transformation" doctrine with 4GW. It isn't. The U.S. army's current "transformation" doctrine is nothing but 2GW run through a Marshall stack, to use a rock music term. Rumsfeld's "transformation" doctrine involves putting more fire on more targets from farther away. Robots are just 2Gw amped up. You put more fire on more targets from farther way -- the grunt controlling the robot or the UAV sits in an air-conditioned building in Area 51 twiddling a joystick 8,000 miles away from the peasant who gets blown up by the UAV in Afghanistan.

That fails because, as Boyd pointed out, guerillas don't surrender to airplanes. Guerillas also don't surrender to cruise missiles or robots or laser-guided cluster bombs. However, all those glitzy hi-tech weapons do kill lots of the guerillas' family and friends and children, and in the process they create a whole lot more 4GW fighters. So Rumsfeld's "transformation" doctrine is idiotic and worthless. It's just 2GW done jumbo-size with Star Trek tech. As William S. Lind points out, historically "wonder weapons" get trotted out at the very end of an empire. The new miracle weapons are always supposed to save the day. They never do. So as soon as you hear about new generations of wonder weapons, it's a sign that the end is near for the U.S. military, and we're hearing plenty about particle beam weapons and airborne lasers and ground-based robots and other bullshit from the Pentagon noawadays. It's the final death rattle of imperial America.

Lind and van Creveld have repeatedly pointed out that there is as yet no such thing as 5GW. Robots armed with guns ain't 5GW. That's just 2GW, putting more fire on more targets from farther away. "Wonder weapons" like poison gas (WW I) or V2 rockets (WW II) or robots and UAVs armed with machine guns (America today) aren't 4GW, they're a sign that the military is collapsing and desperation is setting in.

There's another different "transformation" doctrine going on today, however, getting pushed by SecDef Gates, and that's the notion of transforming the U.S. Army into an outfit that does Operations Other Than War. That's just as idiotic and just as counterproductive as Rumsfeld's glitzy hi-tech 2GW delusion. Transforming the U.S. Army for OOTW means turning our army into a OOTAA, an Organization Other Than An Army. Basically, Gates and company are talking about turning the U.S. Army into a glorified version of the Peace Corps and then deploying 'em all over the world into failed states.

That's crazy and stupid. It's dumb, dumb, dumb because failed states are tarpits. Nobody knows how to reconstitute failed states. Sending in the Peace Corps certainly doesn't work. It will create lots of tasty hostages, plenty of pretty young white girls to rape, and lots of lurid photo ops for CNN. But I don't know of a single instance in which U.N. peacekeepers or Peace Corps workers have succeeded in reconstituting a failed state since the fall of the USSR. On the contrary -- failed states since 1989 have tended to infect other nearby states with their rot and cause them to fail. Failed states are tarbabies. Bre'er Rabbit needs to stay far away from 'em.

The other reason Gates' "transformation" of the U.S. Army into an OOTAA doing OOTW is stupid and futile is that armies don't do policing or infrastructure repair or rebuild civil society. Cops do policing, and it takes at least 10 years of experience on the streets to produce a good cop. Plumbers and carpenters and auto mechanics and electricians do infreastructrure repair, and it takes a lotta years to become a master auto mechanic or an expert electrician. Mediators and judges reconstruct civil society, but it takes a lotta years to train a skilled mediator or a good judge, especially when you're talking about working within the confines of Islamic law and local tribal allegiances in a third world country. There's no evidence that 19-year-old Marines can be trained to do any of this stuff in 6 weeks of boot camp. An army blows sh*t up, it doesn't do policing or building highways or power plants.

You mention you're worried about the "ever-expanding notion of what `war' is, often at the expense of better options." This is because the world has stopped having big wars, or even moderate-sized ones. And it's not because of the alleged Pax Americana. The world stopped having big land wars long before the USSR imploded.

Big traditional wars are going away because technology and globalized tradfe and information exchange are drawing everyone much closer together, and also because wealth no longer comes from resources as much as from the ability to organize brainpower. So invading and capturing silicon valley wouldn't accomlish anything even if the Chinese could pull it off. Silicon Valley's wealth lies in its brainpower and you can't force people to be innovative by pointing a gun at 'em. They'll just work-to-rule and you get nothing.

Wealth increasingly deepnds on infrastructure, and big modern hi-tech wars destroy it so badly, and cost so much for all the hi-tech weapons that get blown up and burned out, that big land wars aren't worth it anymore. Look at the Falklands War in 1982. Neither Britain nor Argentia got anything out of that worthless even remotely comparable to all the resources they pissed away. The Falklands War was a complete bust, and a lesson for the rest of the world.

Dewhirst thinks we ought to have a discusion about the Pnetagon's goals. Unfortunately, the Pentagon's goal is to slurp up as much of the U.S. budget as possible...preferably all of it. It's gotten close. The Pentagon now sucks up more than 1.3 trillion dollars of our 13 trillion dollar economy, which amounts to a whopping 10% of U.S. GDP. That's twice the percentage it gobbled up at the height of the Cold War, and the geniuses in OpFors wants to increase it. That's unsustainable.

Travc remarks that "the stratagy and tactics you employ depend on the goal." That's true. Since big land wars don't work anymore and since America no longer has the money for anything like our current military, the logical solution is to change our goals in order to downsize to the kinds of strategy and tactics we can afford in dealing with global conflicts. The kind of strategy and tactics we can afford involve stuff like making hi-def porn blu ray discs and selling 'em to Islamic countries, which will much more effectively erode Islamic fundamentalism than sending the U.S. Army to some hellhole to get shot up by Islamic snipers.

America does graduate education better than any other country in the world, and now we're putting all our best college course materials online. That kind of skeptical critical thinking and application of the scientific method available online worldwide will crush radical fundamentalist Islam a lot faster than killing Islamic children with cluster bombs from 30,000 feet.

As I've pointed out, U.S. demographic trends will soon force America to hugely downsize our military whether we like it or not. It's not a matter of policy; it's a simple matter of fiscal necessity. When the money runs out we'll have two choice: shut down medicare for a bunch of old sick people 80% of whom vote, or keep pissing away trillions on worthless superweapons designed to fight a Soviet Union that no longer exists. The choice will be decided by the old sick voters, and it won't be for more stealth cruisers or B2 bombers. Given a choice between getting that nifty new anti-cancer treatment, or buidilng another Polaris nuclear submarine, old sick voters are not gonna choose the Polaris sub. So the Pentagon's goals are irrelevant. To paraphrase that idiot Rumself, you don't downsize your military-industrial complex with the economy you want, you downsize it with the economy you've got.

The simple fact is that America no longer needs much of a military because countries like North Korea that try to piss in the face of the international community wind up with a starving population eating grass. You can't mount a big invasion of your neighbors when your population is crawling around on its knees eating grass. The big news since the fall of the Berlin Wall is that sanctions work. South Afriacn apartheid fell because of international sanctions. Saddam was on his knees because of international embargoes. North Korea got brought to its knees by international sanctions. Iran is crawling and whining because of international sanctions. We're all so interconnected nowadays that sanctions and embargoes work very well for crushing any nation that tries to run around causing trouble by enriching uranium, or committing genocide, or trying to annex the territory of its neighbors.

So the reason that the Pentagon is trying to continually expand the definition of "war" is because traditional war is going away and the Pentagon is scared spitless of being downsized, so it redefines as "war" anything it thinks it can get money for. The latest money trough for the Pentagon is the Drug War, which isn't a war at all.

This process will wind down as the Pentagon gets dismantled by the ongoing fiscal crisis. The Pentagonization of American society is running smack into a Peterbilt truck called "medicare for baby boomer retirees" and the Pentagon is gonna get flattened. William S. Lind has written about this, and his recommendations boil down to reducing the U.S. military budget by around 80% or so. He'd essentially shut down the Air Force, leaving only a few nuclear weapons in some silos, and he'd shut down the entire U.S. Navy except for the current aircraft carriers (useful for carrying refugess from global warming floods and droughts) and submarines (useful for sinking enemy ships if we ever need to) and he'd downsize the U.S. army to a couple of corps-sized units that can intervene if our ambassadors need extraction because of local food riots or a flu pandemic. Quite honestly, a global HN51 flu pandemic or worldwide drought due to Global Warming are the real threats America faces in the 21st century...not lurid fantasies about swarthy Islamofascists with knives in their teeth lurking under our beds. Crackpots who yammer about the alleged "existential threat of fundamentalist Islam" are spouting gibberish. There is no possible way fundamentalist Islam can destroy America or any Western democracy. They can't subvert us demographically because we're slapped on strict immigration quotas from middle eastern countries, and they don't have an army or a navy to blow us up. What're they gonna do, fly 100,000 757s into 100,000 American skyscrapers to wipe out our entire population? That's stupid. There aren't 100,000 757s in the world. Islam holds no attraction for Americans, so they can't seduce us ideologically. What American teenager thinks, "Yeah, man, a lifetime of no sex and no drinking and no rock music! Wow, I want that!"

4GW is mostly confined to failed states. The best way to deal with failed states, as Lind and van Creveld and Boyd and Barnett have pointed out, is to isolate 'em while leaving open options for 'em to rejoin the functioning core if they reform themselves. Basically, that's targeted isolationism: bug out and abandon the failed states to rot until they reform. It works. America pulled out of Somalia and guess what? We haven't lost a single U.S. soldier in Mogadishu since. If the Somalis want to keep killing each other, that's tragic, but utlimately it's not America's business.

I agree with the dismal fool Tom Friedman on one thing: America needs to do nation-building here at home, not abroad. We need to repair our own roads and bridges and rebuild our own busted water mains and collapsing sewers. Sending the U.S. Army everywhere in the world to failed states to rebuild their infrastructure isn't just impractical, it's crazy when our own roads and bridges are falling apart here in America.

Boot said...

I’ve got to disagree with you on only one point Zorgon. It is America’s business when other nations are experiencing extreme turmoil. Just as it’s my business to say that one person should not murder another person. I think we have a moral obligation to make a difference.

I think that we need to find practical ways to improve such situations. War, military, and isolation are all undesirable. Cultural invasion is what I’d advocate for so long as we don’t pursue it from a fascist mindset.

We must do what we can for victims least we become one.

B. Dewhirst said...

Boot, don't you think we've lost any mandate to do such things?

We're UN signatories, and that entails a responsibility to abstain from preemptive and unilateral war.

Doug S. said...

With the exception of the Malaysian insurgency, every single 4GW engagement since WW II has been won by the 4GW fighters. Every. Single One.


Stalin and Saddam Hussein defeated many 4GW movements. They did it using the time-tested method of destroying the civilian population that supported the guerrillas. More recently, Russia has essentially won its battle with rebels in Chechnya. Syria committed the Hama massacre.

Yes, you CAN get away with using the Roman solution today. What happened to Syria after the Hama massacre? Absolutely nothing! What's happening to the leaders of Sudan today? Absolutely nothing!

B. Dewhirst said...

Okay Zorgon, how would you stop these 4GW tactics?

(Denver is about to suddenly become very interesting.)

Boot said...

Hi b.dewhirst,

Not exactly. I think we’ve lost the right to claim democracy, leadership, or moral authority. I think other nations should have given us sanctions for our actions over the last half century. Unfortunately, we are simply too powerful and get our way too often. We’ve become a nation of “Do it our way.” when we should be “Would you like to try it our way. (Optional: Here are some incentives.)”

I’d call it fascism, though that might not be the right term. Our presence and history as a nation among nations is sad. Because of this, I think it’s completely acceptable for the international community to refuse, hinder, or demand monitors for our actions. I still believe in activism though.

We may be wrong, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to do what we think is right. If we don’t have the moral authority or wisdom to choose the right path, we will suffer for it and rightly so.

TwinBeam said...

Hmm - stopping anarchists in Denver. How about this:

Have the State Patrol arrest anyone disturbing the peace, and -due to overloaded local prisoner processing and holding facilities - bus them to jails in tiny towns scattered all over the state.

Release them there after 24 hours, generally dropping all charges.

Travc said...


Roman Republic != Roman Empire
And event the fall of the Roman Empire had much more to do with loss of public support for colonial occupations, disruption of food supplies, and general economic woes than with the Vandal and Goth armies.

I should have said 'psy-ops' instead of propaganda, but even that is a bit too narrow. Anyway, my note of 'actually true is better' should have given away what I meant. Publicizing things/events which are actually true can be very effective.

As for special forces and G4W... um, you do realize the mandate of the Green Beret's is to contact or create, train, and support native allies behind enemy lines?

I think perhaps a bit of the problem is that G4W (and all the other generational labels) are indeed very fuzzy and poorly defined. IMO, so fuzzy that they are pretty much useless... or worse, since overly simplistic interpretations end up being just wrong. That is what I mean by "weak".

As for most of your other points... I mostly agree, though maybe not so vehemently.

A few nit-picks...

The Army does build things and can do policing (at least on a short term 'basic security and order' basis) pretty well. They should be able to do it better, but some people keep pushing the idea that the Army should be all about breaking shit. No, the basic function of an army is to capture and control territory, and building and policing are big parts of the 'control' part. The Marines are all about killing and breaking shit.

The Navy probably has the biggest justified peacetime role. Reducing it to a couple of carrier groups and subs would be profoundly dumb. Potential force projection, 'showing the flag', humanitarian ops, embargo enforcement, and maritime security are all jobs the Navy does pretty well (could be better of course)... more importantly, some of those are very necessary jobs no other organization can do at all. Hell, just maintaining basic maritime security (counter-piracy) requires the US to maintain a pretty big and active navy (at least until other nations really step it up).

Oh, and the Navy is pretty much the only branch with any sort of real strategic sense IMO. At least some of the Navy brass see not having to militarily engage an enemy as a real success.

The Air-Force, for all the cool tech, probably could be folded into the other branches. Army and Marines really do have different mandates (leading to what should be different 'cultures'), but neither needs to be nearly as large as they currently are. (If we must get into a large war, a draft and retasking of civilian industry to war materials production is not unreasonable compared with the alternative of maintaining a huge standing force.)

PS: I've had some dealings with AF, Marines, and Navy officers when I was working on DARPA/ARPA and ONR sponsored stuff. Of course, not your typical officers... but 'cultural' differences between the branches was still evident. Navy was very big picture, Marines very goal oriented (but not at all myopic in my experience), and Air Force was quite fuzzy and 'pie in the sky'. Friends of mine who have worked on big Army projects reported a mixture of impressions.

zorgon the malevolent said...

On reflection, I'd have to agree with Doug S. and retract my provably false claim that since WW II no state has won an engagement with 4GW fighters. Good point, Doug S. Dictatorships have successfully used the Roman solution to wipe out 4GW movements.

However, I will point out that my essential conclusion remains correct as well. The tactics required tend to be so brutal that the dictatorships delegitimize themselves when they crush 4GW movements. Notice that Stalin's USSR and Saddam's Iraq no longer exist as countries, and Syria, frankly, is on the edge. Hafiz Assad's son is not nearly as brutal as his father was so I think it's only a matter of time before Syria suffers a revolution and gets rid of the Assad dynasty of dictators.

So I think you may be inclined to agree to my main point that the brutality of such anti-4GW tactics destabilizes the states that use 'em by removing their perceived legitimacy.

Boot remarked: It is America’s business when other nations are experiencing extreme turmoil. Just as it’s my business to say that one person should not murder another person. I think we have a moral obligation to make a difference.

I think that we need to find practical ways to improve such situations.

This offers an admirable summary of Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy idealism. Alas, it proves fatal in the real world. Wilson was a disaster for the U.S. -- if you doubt it, consider that the present-day mess in Iraq may be laid entirely to his & Clemenceau's and Lloyd George's doorstep. Those 3 bozos sat around ina Paris hotel room and drew the phony lines of the map of the middle east that created the bogus "state" of Iraq out of 3 formerly independent and entirely racially and ethnographically incompatible populations in 1918. When you look in the dictionary under "folly" and "hubris" you see pictures of Wilosn, Clemenceau and Lloyd George.

JFK also espoused Wilsonian idealism, and what we got out of that was Viet Nam. JFK was not a good president (once again Brin was right on that point. I should just have a macro saying "Brin was right" and get it over with.). Lyndon Johnson was even more idealistic, as his Great Society program showed, and both the Great Society and Johnson's expansion of the war in Viet Nam caused problems we're still living with (can you say "medicare entitlements busting the budget"?). If you doubt it, note that one of McCain's campaign ads still presses 45-year-old Viet Nam era culture war buttons by showing pictures of hippies and comparing them to McCain's service in Viet Nam.. I'm really getting tired of the Viet Nam-era culture war trope. Maybe in another 20 years it'll be over? I can just imagine the cutlure war ads in 2030: a campaign ad showing a 90-year-old hippie on life support in a hospital bed with a voice over saying THIS DYING HIPPE WAS A TRAITOR TO AMERICAN VALUES!!! and then another 90-year-old ex-marine on life support in another hospital with a voice over saying THIS DYING EX-MARINE FOUGHT FOR THE VALUES OF HIS COUNTRY!!! C'mon people, the sixties is over, let's get past it.

The current fumbling bumbling bungling fool in the Oval Office is arguably the most idealistic of 'em all, and we can see what trouble that caused.

Morally I've got the same impulse to try to save the world that boot has, but out here in the real world, America has to realize that we're not God. We cannot foresee the consequences of our military actions, and they're usually unexpected. There are also lots of things America cannot do regardless of how much military force we apply or how much money we spend. America needs a healthy dose of humility. Boot's candy coating of admirable idealism conceals a poison pill of hidden hubris.

I keep coming back to one of my basic points: nobody knows how to reconstitute failed states. Until and unless boot and the other foreign policy idealists can give us a concrete proven practical plan for reconstituting failed states that has been tested and shown to work...I just can't see putting American forces, or U.N. forces with American troops in 'em, anywhere near the failed states that cause the kind of problems boot is talking about.

This sounds hard and cruel. It is. What I'm saying is essentially that America is going to have let innocent people die and get raped and tortured. I'm also saying that there are very sharp limits on American power -- in fact, there are extremely brutal limits on all military power. Many kinds of turmoil in other societies do not have a military solution. A superb example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These two groups can blow each other up till doomsday but no amount of warfare will solve their basic conflict, short of one group entirely wiping the other out (which ain't gonna happen).

Boot's admirable idealism also sums up the attaction of the neocons. It's popular to portray neocons as Snidely Whiplash villains who twirl giant mustaches while gloating over starting genocidal wars and destroying America's fundamental democratic values, but nobody actually acts like this -- that's a cartoon caricature. Moreover, it's impossible to explain the allure of the neocons in Washington or throughout the country over the last 20 years if we fall for that that naive caricature.

The neocons were Wilsonian foreign policy idealists. Their road to hell was paved with boot's and dewhirst's good intentions. Bit by imperceptible bit, the neocons found themselves sliding down the slippery slope from military intervention in trouble spots around the world (hoping to promote global democracy and stop rapes and tortures by foreign dictators) to an imperial overreach (in which American found itself using genocidal levels of force -- "it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it") to the final degradation of having to turn American into a garrison state with no civil rights to accomplish all this.

It's absolutely brutal and repugnant to say that America is going to have to stand by and allow women and children in Darfur to be raped and murdered, and to say that we can't do anything about it...but that's the truth of the matter. CNN and other media airheads are already bleating for U.S. intervention in Darfur and other failed states. But America isn't God. We're not a comic book superhero. We need to remember Clausewitz's motto that "War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events."

The oportunity for disaster in any U.S. military intervention is immense, but especially so when we dare invade a failed state. It is tantamount to sticking our heads in a bag full of vipers and whacking the bag with a stick. Moreover, America's military interventions often have unforeseen consequences so far-reaching, and so unexpected, that we would be best advised to absolutely refrain from such idealistic escapades unless compelled by absolute necessity.

America simply must return to the doctrine of the just war. That means that if we aren't attacked, we shouldn't invade other countries, nor should we sponsor internal conflicts in other countries (as we unwisely did by nurturing the monster bin Laden in Afghanistan). Period. Not even if innocent women and children are being raped and murdered.

And not just to safeguard American lives or treasure: we need to remember that when America invades a failed state, we often wind up making things worse. American forces slaughtered an estimated 10,000 teenage kids armed with AK-47s in Somalia in the process of rescuing our own soldiers. That's a lot more deaths than would have occurred in years of Samli fighting within their failed state. America's involvement in Viet Nam slaughtered millions of Vietnames and Cambodians, and in horrible ways, from napalm and Agent Orange and cluster bombs and claymore mines. Somewhere around 3 million innocent women and children would today be alive if we hadn't intervened in Viet Nam.

Until and unless someone can provide concrete specific proven plans for reconstituting a failed state that have been shown to work in the real world, I say America needs to stay as far away from failed states as possible.

We can try to help from a distance non-militarily, but there's a poor track record on that as well. Remember that America's military involvement in Somalia came about because humanitarian food distributions were being stolen by Muhamed Farah Aidid and used as political weapon s against Aidid's rival warlords. America's and the U.N.'s non-military effort to assuage the famine in Somalia wound up making the situation worse.

Travc, I mostly agree with your points. Green Berets, however, were a Viet Nam-era creation and represent "Vietnamization" tactics as their worst. This was an effort to reconstitute a failed state, we're trying it again today in Iraq, and it failed both times.

Delta Force and other special forces are a different flavor of tapioca. Delta force, SEALS, etc. are basically assassins. They run around the world shooting guys whom we don't like in the head with subsonic smooth-bore 9mm pistols and silenced sniper rifles. This often makes the local situation worse, not better. We ought to stop doing this crap. Once again, America is not God, and we're not a comic book superhero. The results of these kinds of targeted assassinations and abductions of foreign nationals usually wreck America's perceived legitimacy and moral authority around the world. The political reaction inside other countries to our targeted assassinations are often even more toxic than the policies of the guys we assassinate. America needs to stop and ask how we would react if a foreign SEAL assassin shot Obama in the head while he was taking the oath of office.

Interestingly, B. Dewhirst (along with boot) shows himself to be in the same boat with the neocons here, which I think helps explain the peculiar ascendency of the neocons in recent years. The neocons espoused a policy very attractive to basic American values: namely, we should use American military power to make the world a better place.

Dewhirst averred: "We may be wrong, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to do what we think is right. If we don’t have the moral authority or wisdom to choose the right path, we will suffer for it and rightly so. Dewhirst's statement is a virtually word-for-word paraphrase of the rallying cry for the necons.

I would offer an alternative formulation of American foreign policy: We may be wrong, but we should stay the hell out of other countries' affairs unless America is specifically and directly attacked. If we run around the world blowing sh*t up out of misplaced idealism, we will suffer for it, and rightly so.

We should even be careful what non-military aid we give to other countries. Sending our Peace Corps volunteers to failed states may well produce nothing more than ugly pics of pretty young white girls getting raped and murdered on CNN, which will certainly generate a cry for military invention among the American public. Nothing gets the American public's attention like pretty young white girls in danger on the evening news, it's become such a cliche that media critics now call it the "damsels in distress" fallacy, replacing the old "if it bleeds, it leads" media fallacy. And the worst of all possible media fallacies is a combo of both: dead raped white girls on CNN. Then the American public really goes bonkers and screams for military actrion, which is the dumbest possible reaction and essentially always makes things worse.

As to the putative 4GW protestors at the Denver Demo convention, personally I would deal with those protestors with a particularly diabolical jiu jitsu flip. I'd invite 'em to speak at the Demo convention, then have Obama take the podium and say, "You know, I disagree with what these people say, but I celebrate their right to say it. Notice how different the Democratic party is from the Republican party -- we believe in American values like free speech and the right to peacably assemble." The Repubs would have a meltdown, Limbaugh's head would explode, Coulter would have a massive embolic infarct and TV ratings would go through the roof.

I'd suggest the same response from the Repubs, but the Repubs aren't flexible enough due to the authoritarian culture of their party. Also, the modern Repub party stands for torture and repression, so they're incapable of impelmenting such a response to Ron Paul supporters' direct action. The smartest Repub response would be to get McCain to pick Ron Paul as a running mate. Of course, that won't happen.

The current Demo and Repub responses to these 4GW action embody the acme of folly and a PR disaster waiting to happen. Both political parties need to wake up and get back to the constitution.

The constitution guarantees the right of te people to peaceably assemble. That means that if protestors want to come to the politcal conventions and chant and hold signs and shout, you let 'em. If the protestors lie down in the streets and block traffic, arrest 'em for blocking traffic.

Otherwise, no tiger cages, no mini-Gitmo in a warehouse, no fenced-off "protest area," no cops in riot gear, no clubs, no mace. Democracy is messy. People get obstreperous. If protestors at the Denver Demo convention prove embarrassing to the Demo party leadership, too bad. That's America. If you don't like that, emigrate to North Korea, where they surely have no protests.

The American constitution: love it or leave it.

B. Dewhirst said...

Zorgon wrote:

Dewhirst averred: "We may be wrong...

I believe you've misascribed Boot's quote in response to something I wrote.

My position is almost diametrically opposite. Your analysis of the misascribed quote is, however, accurate.

Brother Doug said...

I think Martin Luther King Jr said it best about violence:

But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

This idea is what the neo-cons and their supporters hate. Just war discredited.

Brother Doug

Doug S. said...

Another example of 4GW tactics being crushed by military force and nothing much happening:

China. Tiananmen Square, 1989. Their government is still going strong and hasn't been de-legitimized in any way, as far as I can tell.

Boot said...

Hi Zorgon,

Be careful with a couple of those arguments. I’ll summarize you…

- We don’t know what the consequences of our actions will be, therefore we shouldn’t act.
- Intervention does not work in the real world.
- The neocons will manipulate us by using our idealism, naivety, and morality.

Your first main theme is a choice that people often make, but isn’t my path. I think that in all things, we must push the barriers of the known to discover the answers that do exist. How can we advance science without this? Physicists or Biologists could conceivably destroy the world; should they be banned? We are almost certain to make mistakes in our efforts to fight Climate Change; should we wait and see? I think not.

Changing the subject to things we do know about. We know what the results of Military Intervention are: possible short-term gain with greater problems down the road. Therefore, your second point is valid only for many military actions. This is a very good reason for us to not take this path. I am in complete agreement with you about the size of our military.

The Nazis, Communist, and neocons are constantly used to undermine various positions. Guilt by association is a pretty emotionally effective argument even if it sucks from a logic standpoint. It isn’t persuasive for me (at least in this case) though it may work for others. It is completely fair to say that we must be wary of manipulation. But heck, you were trying to manipulate me by using our collective distaste for the neocons.

I understand that you want to shake me from my pseudo-interventionist views. I think that your pseudo-isolationism is due to uncertainty. I can respect that because I don’t think we should act without a plan. And most importantly, I think all results of testing should be evaluated by those who don’t have a vested interest certain outcomes.

Rather than try to disprove any of your positions, I’m trying to channel them in the right direction. I think most of what you’ve said is reasonable. Try a little roleplaying. Pretend you were President. Though you don’t personally want to take action, the people of the United States wanted you to. What steps would you take to effect change? What methods would you use to determine the positive and/or negative affects of your actions? I respect your opinion.

Travc said...

The stated goal of the strategies you linked is to "Disrupt the DNC". Regardless of whether you think the DNC is a good thing or not, isn't 'disrupting' it violating the participants rights to freely assemble?

The mob can deny our civil rights too. Hell, historically it is probably much more common, just not as often on as grand a scale as governments manage.

I'm all for allowing protest, but there is a difference. At the very best, 'disrupt' is extremely bad framing... though I have little doubt it is the actual goal of most. Hope they remember to bring their jack-boots.

Zorg, I'm more of an interventionist than you obviously. Military is not the way except in vanishingly rare situations. Even 'carrot and stick' isn't right... it should almost always just be mutually beneficial 'carrots'. (Economics and international relations are not a zero-sum game.)

Isolationism requires forgoing mutually beneficial engagement. That is just far too much to give up. Yeah, there is definitely a cost (really risk), which must not be ignored (Tom Friedman is an idiot)... but that cost (entanglement) is very often worth paying.

Engaging with failed states is quite problematic. The cost is potentially quite high (high risk). However, in some cases for some types of engagement (ones that can be easily pulled out of for example) it may well be worth it. Economic investment and help with physical and civil infrastructure have a very large potential upside, and a relatively low downside.

PS: I should really drop this topic, but there are many examples of unsuccessful G4W. Most of them probably fail to register with you because they failed early on. The right wing militia movement in the US is basically a complete failure. Anti-abortion militants still exist, but have very little public support anymore. And the anti-WTO militants are more of absurdist annoyance than a threat.

BTW: Where does organized crime fit into the whole G_W paradigm? Hamas and Hezbollah have much more in common with the classic Mafia than MLK.

What about orgs like "Focus on the Family" or even the GOP ratfuckers (it is a term-of-art)? Are they G4W fighters?

B. Dewhirst said...

Yes, because 'free speech zones' and a complicit media are -perfectly- acceptable, as are teargas, barbed wire, mass arrests, police brutality, and failure to properly comply with rights governing the size of prison cells, the right to meet with an attorney in private, etc.

That "mob" is democracy. Our system of elected elites... not so much.

Or hadn't you noticed some 'breadth' between the opinions of both political parties and that of the public they are supposed to represent?

zorgon the malevolent said...

We need to be careful when discussing alleged failures of 4GW. The protestors in Tiananmen square weren't really 4GW fighters, since they fit none of the definitions: they didn't blend with the normal population (instead they separated and drew attention to themselves); they didn't destroy the local infrastructure; they didn't show up dressed as the police and murder innocent civilians or other policemen; they didn't try to wreck the rule of law but actually depended on it when they assumed the Red Army wouldn't kill them en masse. Tiananmen Square was just a protest, not 4GW.

Likewise, the demonstrators at the Demo and Repub conventions aren't really 4GW (as best we can gather from the descriptions of what they plan to do) since they don't fit the definitions either. If a group of people managed to get valid credentials as convention delegates, then some of these people started murdering the other convention delegates with suicide bombs, and then if the rest of 'em sabotaged the local power grid and local satellite feeds and local water and sewer facilities to black out the conventions, and then if police and firefighters arrived but turned out to be 4GW fighters who continued to murder innocent bystanders and the real police and frew crews, that would be 4GW. Kids in dolphin suits chanting "Save the planet" don't qualify as 4GW.

The mafia and other organized crime groups may qualify as 4GW if they blend seamlessly into the population and if they can subvert and become part of the police and other authorites and if they destroy local infrastructure (as part of a protection racket, say) and if they subvert judges to rig trials and dstroy the rule of law. However, they're a weak form of 4GW insofar as mafiosi dress and act differently from the rest of the population and so identify themselves as separately. True 4GW fighters are indistinguishable from ordinary civilians.

THe right wing militia groups in the U.S. have nothing to do with 4GW because they take great pains to avoid blending with the general population, and they cannot infiltrate local police and fire authorities, etc. Guys who isolate themselves in big compounds while wearing clearly identifiable paramilitary clothing are the exact opposite of 4GW.


4GW fighters blend seamlessly into the local poulation. If you can tell them apart from ordinary bystanders, they're not 4GW.

4GW fighters infiltrate and become part of local police, fire, utility workers, etc. If at least some of 'em don't do that, they're not 4GW.

4GW fighters destroy the infrastructure of a society. If they're not doing that, they're not 4GW. Note that Reuther's strikes in which strikers wrecked auto plants, and Ghandi's salt marches, in which home-made salt deprived the British Raj of important revenue, represent forms of infrastructure damage, albeit mild ones.

4GW fighters strive to destroy the rule of law and create chaos. If people depend on the rule of law (i.e., protestors who assume the police won't shoot them down like dogs because of the constitution), it becomes much harder to classify 'em as 4GW, though this is somewhat of a gray area.

Walter Reuther and Ghandi represented more of an edge case than I made clear. Those groups represent a gray area between true 4GW fighters and ordinary protestors. They exhibit many elements of 4GW, but in a weaker form than usual 4GW.

NOTA BENE: justfying totalitarian police state tactics because protestors are "disruptive" is a sign of dictatorship. Democracy is dsiruptive. If you want to avoid disruption, impose martial law. Otherwise, get used to disruptions.

zorgon the malevolent said...

"Isolationism" has now joined the weasel words "fascism" and "racism" as bogus smear terms used to slander anyone whose political judgment proves inconvenient but whose logic and facts cannot be discredited.

My criteria for U.S. foreign intervention are not isolationist and have nothing to do with isolationism, as you well know.

My position is pragmatic. I have laid out clearly defined conditions under which we should intervene militarily abroad. Despite all your hand-waving and empty rhetoric, boot, you have not met my criteria. Moreover -- and especially disturbingly, boot -- you have not laid out any specific criteria of your own for foreign U.S. military intervention other than vaguely nebulous clouds of rhetoric about "promoting good" and other vacuous word salad. That seems incredibly dangerous as a basis for foreign policy.

When our children's lives are on the line, boot, you need to give concrete specifics about when and where U.S. military force should be used abroad. You must provide meticulously specific criteria. I have. You haven't.

If and when you can provide a credible proven practical method for reconstituting failed states that has been demonstrated to work repeatedly in the real world, then America should intervene in failed states.

Otherwise, we should indulge in foreign military adventures only if America is directly attacked. (Some malcontent bombing a U.S. army mess hall in Uzbekistan doesn't meet my criteria.)

My position is not controversial and is not exotic. it's the position George Washington enunciated in 1798. It's the position held by all U.S. presidents and all US. congresses (with a handful of very unwise exceptions like the Phillipines debacle) prior to the era of U.S. military cowboy adventurism after 1945.

Your position on U.S. foreign military intervention is bizarre and exceptional and has no precedent in the overwhelming length and breadth of American history, when U.S. presidents like Washington wisely warned us against "foreign entanglements."

My position on U.S. foreign policy is the normative one. Your position, boot, is weird and exceptional, and we should coin a new term to accurately describe it: I suggest "irresponsible adventurism."

Irresponsible adventurism may have become popular since the end of WW II in U.S. foreign policy circles, but it has not done well for us...or for the world. We need to quit this failed policy of irresponsible adventurism and get back to the normative U.S. foreign policy of prudent pragmatism.

David Brin said...

Hi fellows. Back from the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver... plus a family trip to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Devil’s Tower... plus several magnificent caves.

I could only lightly skim the lively argument you guys have been having. Seems you managed to argue fine without me. Still, there are a few quibbles. As usual, with Zorgon:

1- I never ever claimed the Enlightenment was not originally based upon “reason.” Of course it was! Was. And if the entire movement had kept that fixation, it would have ground to a halt. I made very clear that the Anglo-Scot-American wing branched off into pragmatism and that was an essential step that re-invigorated the whole movement. So much that pragmatism IS the core of today’s Enlightenment.

2- For all his erudition, Z’s views on 2GW, 3GW ewarfare are simply quaint and silly. To claim that the Western allies had nothing to do with defeating Hitler is bizarre. The Russians could never have even put up a fight but for the West’s use of 3GW naval abilities to win the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the Arctic to bring Soviet armies the supplies they needed. The invasions of North Africa, Italy and France were all 3GW as was Patton’s end run and Bradley’s brilliant use of combined arms blitz-bypass. Yes, Montgomery was an old -fashioned 2GW fighter, but El Alamein still could not have been won without the brilliant combination of ULTRA intercenpts and naval tactics that reduced Rommel to a shell.

The ENTIRE campaign in the Pacific was about agility and maneuver. Moreover, to claim that the Russians learned nothing from their enemy is both insulting and dumb. Their tactics remained heavy on artillery and brute force, but they inserted a LOT of maneuver.

3- Likewise the rant that 4GW has only been defeated in Malaya is just wrong. Combinatuons of inproved government tactics and political reform undermined ALL of Che Guevara’s movements in Latin America and all subsequent guerilla operations except Nicaragua, where elements of the army joined in ousting Somoza. The US attempted to support 4GW movements bhind the iron curtain. Some had huge popular support. All were defeated. The list goes on and on. Saying something does not make it so.

4- We committed a crime, by abandoning Somalia. Yes, we should think of ourselves first. But it is now a lawless site for legal toxic waste dumping from around the world, poisoning our kids. The entire northern region of Somaliland is lawful and hopeful and could have been supported/expanded. Nation building is not discredited. STUPID and wasteful and corrupt nationbuilding is.

Nevertheless, thanks Z for making a macro of “brin was right”!! One thing... LBJ was a great and tragic figure. His one-year “anno mirabilis”, leveraging JFK’s death into a transformation of American life, was astonishing, though alas, his loyalty to Kennedy should not have extended to pursuing Kennedy’s macho dream in SE asia.

The neocons were idealists... willingly harnessed into service to monsters. That isn’t Wilsonianism. That is whoredom. (I’ve spoken to how their fall from sanity wasn’t entirely their fault, at the beginning, because of far-left biugotry/madness/hypocrisy/bastardy. Still, they made their choices and became a nest of lickspittle craven servants of the New Feudalism.)

Urgh. I’ll do a real posting soon. Much news.

Travc said...

BD, you miss my point about 'disruption' pretty much entirely.

Zorg, 'democracy is disruptive/messy' misses the point too. (Really, paraphrasing Rummy... I can hardly believe you went there.)

People who actively seek to deny the rights of others have very little moral standing. Lynchings were normally not carried out by the authorities, and were even against the law. They were actions of the mob, most often given tacit official approval by non-enforcement of laws.

Free speech and assembly are less extreme than murder of course, but a true conflict of rights is none the less exists.

No, I don't support the idea of designated 'free speech zones' or the inane co-option of the media by those who have money and power. But I also don't support the idea that people/orgs which nominally have power are somehow free targets. Equal protection under the law and uniform enforcement of laws are critically important.

I just don't think that we are far enough gone yet as a society where radicalism is justified. And radicalism is definitionly contrary to the existing cultural, legal, and/or civil framework.

In short, attempting to keep people from freely assembling is still wrong, even if those people are powerful.

NOTE: Only some of the 'direct action' sort of activity has blocking free assembly and free speech as a goal. Other angles which attempt to grab some of the media spotlight, ridicule, and/or provide an alternative message are perfectly fine.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Welcome back, Dr. Brin.

Brin claims: I never ever claimed the Enlightenment was not originally based upon “reason.”

That's provably false. You can tell my argument is inexpressibly potent when Brin finds himself forced to claim he didn't say what he just said in the very same post:

Quote: " is flat-out wrongheaded to claim that “reason” is the fundamental premise of the Enlightenment!" -- David Brin

Denying that you said what you clearly and obviously said is not an effective debating tactic, Dr. Brin.

Of course, Brin is right (that macro again) that the Enlightenment splintered into a number of branches. It's not at all clear, however, that the Anglo-Scots branch was the only (or even the main) pragmatic branch of the Enlightenment. Lavoisier was probably the best experimentalist of the period, and he was French. Newton tended to cook the books on his experiments, and he fudged his astronomical observations to add extra digits of precision where they were entirely unwarranted, so Newton belongs more to the camp of "pure reason" than the pragmatists like his peers Hooke and Halley. Since Newton was the major of figure in the Enlightenment, along with Leibniz, this throws Brin's entire claim about French pure reason vs. Anglo-Scots experimentalism into doubt. To make matters more complicated, Leibniz was arguably the craziest exponent of pure reason, with his nutty claim that an ideal logical language would eliminate all human disputes. (Yeah, let's see a fundamentalist Wahabi solve his disputes with a fundamentalist Christian by using an ideal logical language. Good luck with that one, Gottfried.) But Leibniz was neither French or Anglo-Scots, he was German.

Brin goes on to aver: Indeed, by basing a defense of the Enlightenment on a defense of reason, we expose it to justified doubt, and possibly even great harm.

The original Enlightenment of the 18th century (as opposed to the rise of the modern scientific method in the 17th century) deserves to be exposed to justified doubt. After all, it produced the Great Terror in France, and laid the groundwork for modern totalitarian uses of state violence in the service of pure ideology, viz., the USSR, Pol Pot's Year Zero, etc. Plus, the englihtenment led to the first modern mass conscription armies and the modern mechanized slaughter of men in vast numbers via Napoleon's innovations, which would not have been possible without the 18th century Enlightenment. The attractiveness of the original 18th century Enlightenment has already been done great harm, however, so Brin is far too late trying to save it from harm at the alleged hands of New Scientist's editors. The guy who did most to harm the allure of the 18th century Enlightenment was Voltaire, and he did it through adroit satire. Moreover, the targets of Volatire's satire needed to be harmed. We see modern equivalents of Dr. Pangloss cropping up today in academia and in the Pentagon's bureaucracy and in giant financial institutions like Fannie Mae and the NYSE, when otherwise sensible people descend into word salad and gibberish and susbtitute ideology for logic and run to extremes as Robespierre did, rather than using common sense.

Most importantly, Brin once again conflates what he calls "the modern Enlightenment" (unclear exactly what he means by that confusing term) with the original actual Enlightenment of the 18th century.

I think everyone sort of gets what Brin means, but once again, sir, you're redefining words to mean something you want them to mean, not what they are generally recognized to mean. Please stop it.

If by "the modern Englightenment" you mean "modern secular liberal democracy," Dr. Brin, let's please use some other terminology than "Enlightenment" to describe this.

Modern secular liberal democracy is a mix of traits. Some of our institutions are taken from the Enlightenment (a secular division twixt church & state, the importance of reasoned debate, democracy as given rather than monarchy or theocracy, Adam Smith's free market), the 17th century (pragmatic experimental method, the importance of objective data, a guarnatee of the rights of the minority, religous freedom as a given), the 19th century Romantic movement (right of the individual to be free of state control of sexual and other private kinds of behavior; a valuation of intuition and non-verbal modes of being, women's suffrage) and early to mid 20th century values (FDR's Four Freedoms, the importance of an open society, etc.).

Modern liberal secular democracy is a complex mix. It's not a modern "Enlightenment." It has some Enlightenment values, but a lot of modern liberal secular democracy would've horrified the founders of the Enlightenment. Free love, women's rights, gay rights, equal rights for minorities like African Americans, the sale of pornography freely over the counter, the unregulated porn on the internet, and the freedom of wretched lower class dirt poor ingrates to challange the arguments of people like Brin in public, would all probably have horrified the founders of the Enlightenment, who were mostly white sexist upper class males.

Brin goes on to claim: Z’s views on 2GW, 3GW ewarfare are simply quaint and silly.

Since I'm really citing William S. Lind's and Martin van Creveld's view on generations of warfare, Brin is here describing the most notable living military historians' ideas as "simply quaint and silly."

That's an extraordinary claim. As we all known, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To sustain a claim this extraorindary, Brin wil have to provide us with a mountain of the kind of evidence we'd expect to convict someone of murder in a jury trial.

What detailed hard evidence has Dr. Brin provided that Lind's and van Creveld's claims are "simply quaint and silly"?


Let's take a look at Brin's shockingly insufficient basis for his extraordinary claim that Lind and va Creveld are "simply quaint and silly."

His evidence boils down to:

[1] Ihe phony straw man that I allegedly claimed the Allies never had anything to do winning WW II. Flatly false. Read what I wrote. I pointed out that Russia did the heavy lifting in WW II in Europe, a view confirmed by all the objective historical facts. The Russians took 5 million casualties on the Eastern front, both civilian and military. The Russian army defeated the vast bulk of Hitler's armored units. Tank battles on the Eastern front dwarfed anything on the Western front. The Russians captured far more Wehrmacht soldiers than the Allies did, ainly in the battles around Stalingrad and other besieged Russian cities. By any measure, the Russians did the really tough work, losing millions of soldiers and civilians in Operation Barbarossa. No Western nation had to sustain such losses during WW II, and no Western nation did even remotely as much to capture or destroy German army units except at the very end, in the last few months of the breakout from the hedgerows in France in late 1944, when the Wehrmacht had basically collapsed and run out of gas and ammunition.

That said, Brin is of course right that the Western nations played a vital role in winning WW II. I never said otherwise. WW II was a combined arms operation, and everyone played an important role, from Russia to England to America. That said, it remains a fact the Russians took the brunt of hte casualties and suffered far more civilian casualties than any of the Western nations. If Brin tries to deny that, he's simply contradicting historical facts.

None of this refutes any of Lind's or Van Creveld's ideas about generations of warfare. Strike one for Dr. Brin.

[2] Brin goes on to claim that the Allies won the battle of the Atlantic through 3GW maneuever. Nope, that's simply wrong. What won the Battle of the Atlantic was very clearly Admiral Doenitz's stubborn use of the Enigma machine even in the face of growing evidence that the allies had broken it. That's not maneuver warfare, that's good intel + putting fire on target. Guess what? Putting fire on target is 2GW.

Maneuver warfare at sea involves masses of ships, like Nelson's battle of Trafalgar (arguably an early use of 3GW). But the singular fact about WW II is that the only large engagement of battleships in the whole of WW II was in the Battle of the Coral Sea. You could argue that Halsey won that 3GW battle. (Or you could argue that the Japanese simply turned tail and ran, for no discernible reason. No one is really sure why the Japanese bugged out in the Battle of the Coral Sea.) The rest of the naval engagements in WW II, however, either involved dueling torpedo bomber squadrons (Midway, etc.) which involves putting fire on target by airplane or ULTRA intercepts which pinpointed German subs on the surface so anti-sub planes could sink 'em, which involves putting fire on sub targets via anti-sub planes. That's not 3GW, it's classic 2GW, putting fire on target with the help of good intelligence. Brin has made a common mistake here, confusing good intelligence in puttting accurate 2GW fire on target (anti-sub warfare aided by ULTRA intercepts) for true 3GW maneuever warfare (the only naval example in WW II is the Battle of the Coral Sea).

Once again, none of this refutes any of Lind's or van Creveld's ideas about generations of warfare. Stike two for Dr. Brin.

[3] Brin makes a good point that some elemnts of the U.S. army in WW II did engage in true 3GW warfare, particularly Patton's Third Army and Bradley. That's quite true, and proves insightful because it points out that the situation is not quite as black and white as it first seems. Yes, the U.S. army is and war a 2GW outfit -- but some U.S. commanders have always used 3GW tactics, usually to the dismay and outrage of their superiors. A few isolated American commanders engaged in 3GW battles, infrequently. The fact remains that 3GW has never found an official home in the Pentagon, since only the Marine Corps has a 3GW field manual, and at the level of the JCS they pay no attention to the Marine Corpse 3GW field manual. At the operational level in the Pentagon, it's all still 2GW, as it was in WW II.

Once again, none of this refutes any of Lind's or van Creveld's ideas about generations of warfare. Strike 3 for Dr. Brin.

Lind and Van Creveld's presentation is more nuanced that I've had time to describe. You should really read Van Creveld's The Transformation of War for the full monty with all the nuances. As I've repeatedly mentioned, van Creveld and Lind do point out that 3GW makes an occasional appearance in earlier generations of warfare. That does not rebut their central point.

[4] Brin's claim that the invasions of North Africa and Sicily and France represented 3GW simply represents a misunderstanding of the difference between 3GW and combined arms. This is once again a common mistake.

Combined arms operations are common, and ahve been since WW I combined air and sea and land attacks, but that doesn't make them 3GW. North Africa was a combined arms operation; Montgomery won with innovative tactics, including using antiaircraft guns against tanks, not by maneuever. The Sicilian invasion was actually planned by Montgomery as a 2GW operation after Pattons' true 3GW operation was rejected, so Sicily started as 2GW but Patton overtly disobeyed orders and turned it into a partly-3GW operation with a very risky amphibious landing behind German lines and an encirclement. The brass hated this and basically put Patton in the doghouse after Sicliy. So this is kind of a gray area. Patton turned Sicliy into a partly 3GW operation by pure insuborbination, and he only avoided getting cashiered because it worked brilliantly. The invasion of France had nothing to do with 3GW until Patton et al. broke out of the hedgrows in France. Then Patton and Bardley turned it into a true 3GW sprint, a genuine war by maneuever, in the last several months of the war.

This is a flat-out mistake on Brin's part and thus clearly does not contradict Lind's or van Creveld's claims about generations of warfare. Strike 4 for Brin.

[5] Brin's claim that the Pacific campaign was a 2GW operation is more substantive. The island-hopping had a lot of elements of 3GW. I think I'd have to give Brin this one. However, a lot of the Pacific campaign still involved older 2GW meatgrinder tactics, such as the Guadalcanal meatgrinder. So the Pacific island-hopping campaign was really a combination of old-fashioned 2GW (meatgrinder throw-artillery-fire-and-massed-troops-at-the-enemy 2GW stuff on the actual islands, especially in brutal campaigns like Tarawa where the Marines bascially went from cave to cave burning the Japanese out with flamethrowers and greandes and artillery) and true 3GW (bypassing less important Japanese islands and cutting 'em off). Hint: going cave to cave burning out enemy troops with flamethrowers for 6 weeks, you're not engaged in rapid maneuver blitzkrieg-sytle warfare.

It's worth noting that until the atomic bomb became available, nobody had any better idea for invading Japan than a plain old 2GW meatgrinder. Not even General MacArthur, author of the island-hopping campaign. An invasion of the Japanese main island would've been horrific, with probable casualties in the many hundreds of thousands. Some estimates ran to millions of dead.

None of this refutes or rebuts any of Lind's or Van Creveld's claims about generations of warfare. Both writers cite Patton as an U.S. general who used 3GW, and both L & van C point out Patton was the rare exception. Let's call this a draw for Brin, since he makes some good points, and he probably hasn't read van Creveld's book so it's unfair to criticize Brin for failing to get the nuances in L & van C's presentation.

So Brin makes good points in reminding us of the complexity of WW II, but on balance he still confuses combined arms with 3GW (they're not the same) and like so many others, he tends to confuse 2GW + good intel for 3GW (they're not even remotely similar). Putting fire on target means destroying the target, which clearly was done with U boats. 3GW involves winning by meaneuver, which often involve "crossing the line" in naval battles or encirclement in land war. Not applicable to the U boat campaign.

So I see nothing in Brin's entire argument to support his sweeping claim that Lind's and van Creveld's ideas about generations of warfare is "simply quaint and silly." On the contrary, Lind's and van Creveld's ideas remain innovative and sophisticated, and Brin hasn't made a dent in 'em. Last strike for Dr. Brin, he's outa there.

When it comes to Somalia, sorry, we're going to have to sharply disagree, Dr. Brin. Abandoning Somalia was exactly the right thing to do. Not only was it not a crime to abandon Somalia, it was one of the best military decisions by an American commander in chief. It was wise then, and even more wise in retrospect.

Does anyone doubt that U.S. army would still be bogged down in a meatgrinder if we'd stayed in Somalia? It was an unwinnable mess, and it's frankly astounding that Brin or anyone else would even try to defend that misconceived boondoggle. My only criticism is that Clinton should've refused even to go into Somalia with military forces. He's not really to blame beacuse he inherited that mess from (wait for it!) a Republican, Bush 41.

Yes, Somalia has gotten worse since 1993. Yes, Somalia ahs turned into a toxic dumpsite. Yes, Somalia remains a haven for terrorists. Yes, Somalia is a breeding ground for international black markets, including arms smuggling. That's what failed states are nowadays. They're cancers on the global body politic.

But until we know how to reconstitute failed states, we need to stay the hell out of them. We can try to help non-militarily, but even then...the track record is very poor. U.N. peacekeepers sent into failed states tend to become hostages, food aid workers sent in tend to beomce rape victims. Aid sent to failed states invariably gets diverted to local warlords, making everything worse.

So here's a point-blank question for Dr. Brin: if we should've stayed in Somalia, should we also invade Darfur? Okay, how about Myanmar? How about Afghanistan, where everything is falling apart in slow motion and U.S. marines are now guarding local poppy fields for Afghan drug lords? How about the Congo? How about Zaire and Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan and all the other collapsing failed states in Eastern Europe that are today basically run by gangsters?

Where do we draw the line, Dr. Brin?

If we actually do what Brin is suggesting, we'd need an army 20 times the size of the one we've got, we'd have millions of soldiers engaged all over the world...and the only likely outcome would be that isntead of losing 800 troops to sniper fire and IEDs per year, we'd be losing 800,000 troops per year to sniper fire and IEDs and 15-year-old suicide bombers crazed from chewing khat in hellholes like the Congo and Rwanda and Darfur and the Balkans and Burma (AKA Myanmar).

Believe me, I feel for these innocent women and children getting raped and tortured and murdered by monsters like Robert Mugabe. But America is not God. There is simply no evidence that sending conventional military forces into failed states like Somalia accomplishes anything other than stirring up the local warlords into a killing frenzy, and gets a lot more civilians killed as collateral damage when we react by bombing and strafing and using fuel-air munitions and white phosophorus artilleray rounds, as at Fallujah.

Neither Dr. Brin nor anyone else has explained to me how to rebuild a failed state. I keep asking for specific, practical, proven solutions. Nobody answers.

Nobody. Ever. Answers.

That's because, right now, nobody has an answer. We don't know what to do about failed states, other than to isolate them. If you have a specific practical solution for reconstituting failed states like Somalia that has been shown to work in the real world, Dr. Brin, don't keep it a secret. Let us know. I'm all ears.

The big nightmare of the 21st century remains Prem Shankar Jha's worst-case scenario that the failed states will infect other nearby states with their rot, as Iraq has infected America with loss of basic constituional rights, exponentiating police and government lawlessness, growing use of constitution-violating paramilitary tactics by LEOs in U.S. cities, and in the ever-escalating drug war that is now starting to use the same tactics against U.S. civilans that the U.S. army uses against Iraqi civilians.

If we can't reconstitute failed states, and if their rot spreads, eventually every country on earth winds up like Somalia. I think that's an unreasonable worst-case scenario. However, right now, no one has disproven Prem Shakar Jha's or Martin Van Creveld's or William S. Lind's diagnosis that the 21st century is characterized by the collapse and loss of legitimacy of the modern Treaty of Westphalia nation-state.

Lastly, as for Brin's claim that Lind's and van Creveld's ideas about generations of warfare are "silly," we need a great deal of evidence to back up such a sweeping claim. When Dr. Brin posts a blow-by-blow rebuttal of van Creveld's book The Transformation of War, I'll pay attention.

A lot of people have tried to rebut van Creveld's and Lind's synthesis of mitilary history and their dagnosis of the breakdown of the nation-state in the 21st century. No one has succeeded.

Until Brin provides boatloads of hard evidence specifically rebutting the major factual assertions in Lind's a van Creveld's books chapter by chapter, as far as I can tell, Brin is blowing hot air on that particular point.

Many of Brin's other points remain insightful and valid, however. I'd agree about the idealism of the neocons getting subverted by criminal lunatics. I'd also agree that my claim that 4GW has never been defeated was incorrect, but since I already pointed that out, it's a moot point.

I get your point, I just reject it out of hand as meretricious sophistry.

All this talk about "conflicts of rights" is po-mo far-left (and sometimes far-right) horsesh*t that needs to be sh*tcanned.

Protests are supposed to be inconvenient. When public protest inconvenience enough people, we get a serious public debate.

If you think you have the mythical "right" to walk down the street and not be obstructed by a group of shouting protestors, move to North Korea.

If you delude yourself that you have an imaginary "right" to drive your car down the street without getting stopped by cops beating kids and kids hurling tear gas canisters back at the cops, emigrate to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is exquisitely sensitive to the convenient myth of "conflict of rights" (as opposed to certain basic inalienable right which are not conferred by the state, with everything else being a social negotiation). Saudis are especially sensitive to the conflict between the "right" of the Qur'an not to be insulted as opposed to your wife's right to walk down the street unaccompanied by a male relative without being raped and set on fire.

Guess which of these mythical "rights" the Saudis come down on in that imaginary "conflict of rights"?

B. Dewhirst said...

Lynchings were carried out by sherrifs, mayors, priests, etc for their financial benefit and that of their relatives.

You've completely missed that, having had their Constitutional Rights infringed and lacking representation in government, people have a right to speak out and make themselves heard...

And, since you went there, this sort of direct action is an infringement of the rights of others in the same sense that a strike and picket is a theft of labor from a boss or that liberating a slave is theft of his owner's rightful property.

I just don't think that we are far enough gone yet as a society where radicalism is justified.

Well then, sit on your ass... those prepared to risk life and limb presumably hold a differing opinion.

If tear gas is the 'nerf' version of liquidating demonstrators, even the worst of this direct action is the 'nerf' version of restoring democracy.

Cliff said...

Zorgon said:
But until we know how to reconstitute failed states, we need to stay the hell out of them.

Then he said:
I keep asking for specific, practical, proven solutions. Nobody answers.

Practical notion: If we do not engage in failed states, how will we ever know how to rebuild them? In your rant on the Enlightenment, you point out the follies of pure reason, as opposed to experiment.
Extrapolating that point, a bunch of PhDs in Ivy League schools will never provide adequate theories of rebuilding while keeping clear of Somalia and Myanmar.

I also find it very funny that your ideal solution to 4G warfare is to drop porno DVDs into global hotspots:
The kind of strategy and tactics we can afford involve stuff like making hi-def porn blu ray discs and selling 'em to Islamic countries, which will much more effectively erode Islamic fundamentalism than sending the U.S. Army to some hellhole to get shot up by Islamic snipers.

Funny, because those are the same products of the culture you so frequently rail against, and which has the dire flaws we all so frequently discuss.

Cliff said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that I haven't seen any evidence that Afghanis will appreciate having hi-def blu-ray porno DVDs dropped on them, and will change their culture.

Not that they can likely even play them, at this point.

David Brin said...

=== Z is being (I assume) deliberately obtuse.

Quote: " is flat-out wrongheaded to claim that “reason” is the fundamental premise of the Enlightenment!" -- David Brin
Exactly. The operative word in that sentence is “is.” (At risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, the meaning of the word “is” is “is”. Hence I was talking aout the present phase of the Enlightenment, which means there is and was absolutely no scintilla of ambiguity about my meaning and Z is deliberately twisting my meaning (which he understands perfectly well) just to be the little provocateur he loves to be.

And now he waves a magic wand of ULTRA in order to denigrate the fact that the naval war of the atlantic was just as much about improved combined arms operations, with jeep carriers, long range bombers with microwave radars, improved sonar and very aggressive destroyer tactics. He ignores all my points about the desperate need of the Russians for western arms, or the fact that the Rusiians out blitzed the Germans with better tanks throughout 43 & 44, when stalin stopped meddling.

He can bandy around names like Lind all he wants. But I am sick of fashionably calling the Nazis supermen. Guderian and Rommel used Liddel Hart’s concepts, and even deGaulle tried to adapt to them, in the summer of 1940.

Bradley and Patton used them masterfully and tricked Hitler repeatedly into committing his troops into “3G” attempts at repeating the glory days of 1940. By the last year, it was the Germans who were stuck in the past, falling into Bradley’s traps again and again. (Though the Bulge was an unintentional trap -- Bradley was completely lucky on that one.

Feh. In fact, the Germans played a one-note opera. They were the lucky ones, getting 2-3 years of enemies who neglected to learn. But when they learned, the note was predictable and stupid and THAT defeated them.

It is not Lind & Creveld who are being “innovative.” They are part of a tedious cliche.

As for Somalia, Z’s assumption that it would be a meat grinder is based upon assuming stupidity. But the entire country does not have to be pacified. The colonial empires left the lawless hinterlands alone in Sundan, Djibouti, and thousand other places, while enforcing law in narrow strips where the upland tribes had to come and do business. Z has this tendency to make grand, sweeping counterfactual statements that are utterly refuted by hundreds and hundreds of counter examples.

A single small enclave in the south, while supporting expansion of the lawful and sane north, would be eminently do-able. With the main goal of NOT having a long stretch of coastline where pirates rove and where billionaire toxics dumpers thrive.

Sorry Z. I do not find your positions here worth detailed rebuttal and you are free to cry out that that defeats me.,

But you are wrong down the line.

B. Dewhirst said...

Practical notion: If we do not engage in failed states, how will we ever know how to rebuild them? In your rant on the Enlightenment, you point out the follies of pure reason, as opposed to experiment.
Extrapolating that point, a bunch of PhDs in Ivy League schools will never provide adequate theories of rebuilding while keeping clear of Somalia and Myanmar.


Bleed the patient, it must have something to do with humors...

Meanwhile... what working definition of 'failed state' are you working from Cliff? Does it have something to do with oil production? Because, as near as I can tell, that is the definition our leaders are working from...

Cliff said...

BD - in that context I was simply using it as a general term, since Zorgon didn't (to my recollection) define it either.

I was thinking of nations like Myanmar, Somalia, Cameroon, and Mexico - states where their governments are unable to provide what I would consider a basic range of services to the populace, or states where the governments are entirely parasitic.
Oil has nothing to do with the definition in my mind, but I know it does for certain, shall we say, foreign policy pragmatists.

B. Dewhirst said...

... states where their governments are unable to provide what I would consider a basic range of services to the populace, or states where the governments are entirely parasitic.

So Louisiana would be a failed "state"?

Cliff said...

No, but close. Now that you mention it, there do seem to be some warning signs of the US becoming a failed state, when viewed in a pessimistic light.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Lind and van Creveld and Barnett have defined failed states pretty clearly.

A failed state:

[1] Lacks functional governance. If it has a government, it's in name only, with no real power, as in Iraq. The real power lies in competing tribes or militias or other NGOs. Or, as in Somalia or Afghanistan, there's simply no government at all, just constantly-shifting alliances among warlords who constantly get assassinated and replaced.

[2] A failed state is unable to provide basic services for the population. Local warlords or gangsters or other NGOs step in and do that. In the Balkans, if you want broadband internet, you have to get it from the Russian mafiya.

[3] Basic elements of civil society are lacking. There are no property rights, no legal redress -- you have to bribe somebody to get your basic rights upheld, and the person who gives the biggest bribe wins.

[4] The rule of law has vanished. A friend of mine who had a vacation home down in Mexico came back to his Mexican house to find the doors smashed in and his TV and other electronics stolen. When he went down to the local police station to report the theft, he discovered that the Mexican police were watching his TV.

[5] The government is unable to provide even basic security for its citizens. In a failed state, militias or death squads or ethnic cleansing troupes murder citizens in broad daylight with impunity and the government is powerless to prevent it.

The blogger Fabius Maximus has written with keen insight on failed states, so take a look at his blogs too.


As for the point that I'm in favor of bombarding fundamentalist Islamic states with consumerist culture I find toxic -- yeah, what about it? Consumerist culture is indeed highly toxic when it goes to extremes. So why not use it as a weapon against radical Islam?

Dewhirst brings up a good point. Significant parts of America are now turning into failed states-within-a-state for the underclass who live there. New Orleans LA is one, Baltimore MD is another, Washington D.C. is certainly another, downtown Detroit MI is another, and the border regions in states like AZ and NM where nut jobs like Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs amok are another good example.

Whole geographic segments of America are collapsing into failed mini-statehood. If you watch the HBO TV series The Wire, which gives the most accurate portrayal of America's failed urban core available in current media, you'll discover that the rotting urban core of America's big cities eerily resembles Somalia or Iraq, at least for the underclass who live there.

For white middle class who live in the suburbs and only commute to the failed urban cores in America to work as lawyers or police, it's a different story, so the picture of failed mini-states-within-states is complex. White professionals come in contact with the failed mini-states inside America, but they don't live in 'em, they live in the nice safe suburbs.
We don't typically find that situation in failed states like Somalia or Iraq.

Fortunately this economically-enforced racial segregation in America's failed urban core is now starting to change. Evidence now appears to show that high gas prices are forcing the middle class back into the failed urban cores of big American cities, and this is starting to gentrify urban cores once again. Good news for those parts of America's failed states-within-states.

Cliff said...
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Cliff said... maintain that dropping bombs on guerrilla hiding spots kills innocent people and radicalizes them, creating more enemies for us. (Which I do agree with.)

But then you turn around and declare that we should drop the toxic products of our culture on guerrillas, in order to erode their culture. Which, of course, will be completely without fallout.

Let's say it works, we rain DVDs on the Taliban until they convert to the Enlightenment. Now we have a whole 'nother nation full of Western-style thinkers who are raging through the planet's resources because they want them some iPods - an entire other nation, in other words, full of the qualities that are proving to be ruinous in the United States.

I think there's a good chance it won't work. Hell, we have people in the United States who can barely stomach the Enlightenment, who retch at the thought of progressive society and who wage a relentless war against the elements of culture they deem unpleasant.
How will fanatic Muslims, oppressive Chinese and paranoid Russians react if we go overboard with our Cultural Blitzkrieg? (Especially considering the backlash against America building these past seven years.)

Here's another wrinkle - you need a DVD player to play a DVD. Let's assume Afghanistan and Somalia get some powerplants, because they'll need those for everything else they do.
So, in order to play the DVDs and the iPods we bombard them with, how many forests will have to be leveled, how much oil must be drilled, how many minerals will have to be mined?

zorgon the malevolent said...

You surely realize I'm being a little facetious when I say we should drop porn DVDs and Manolo Blahnik women's high heeled shoes out of C47 cargo planes onto fundamentalist Islamic regimes. :-)

What's actually happening is more subtle and much harder to control. American culture filters through porous borders and percolates down into all other cultures. The more restrictive and fundamentalist the regime, the more irresistably the products of American consumerist culture, like Grand Theft Auto video games and porn DVDs and Manolo Blahnik women's shoes, become sought after in those regimes. So the harder the anti-Enlightenment folks try to keep this stuff out, the more attractive it becomes to their repressed populace.

America doesn't really have to do anything to promote our consumer culture. It sells itself. The single greatest weapon is file-sharing in which divx files of porn DVDs and eventually digital raprep plans for Manolo Blahnik high heels filter across borders electronically and anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can download 'em. That's absolutely impossible to control. No way any regime can stop that, not the Great Firewall of China, nothing. There's just no way to prevent it. And we don't have to do a thing, it's happening independent of America's effort to hinder or help torrent filesharing.

The great aspect of backing off from our military adventurism and just doing what we do best, churning our fluffy infantile highly attractive consumer culture products, is that it gives America tons of plausible deniability. When the Taliban rages against American porn or the attractiveness of Manolo Blahnik high heels, we just turn around innocently and say, "What? You're blaming us? We didn't create this stuff to destroy your culture, we're just making movies and selling shoes. Chill out, bro."

So the Taliban just looks silly. The claim "you should stop manufacturing that nice stuff because we think it's corrupting our kids" has no credibility. The rest of the world looks askance at the Taliban and says, "So just use the off button on your DVD player, bozo, shut up already."

This is why the reaction such as it is from the Taliban et al. is confused and plaintive and doesn't rouse anyone's ire or get much traction in the fundamentalist states. Even within Saudi Arabia, mullahs who rail against women's shoes get a short sharp retort: "So you claim you're a big tough guy, why can't you control your women? Why are you asking the Americans to do it for you?" That shuts the mullahs up fast.

As for your point that global consumerism will burn up the planet's recources even faster, cliff, that's an excellent point. We need to move rapidly towards renewable resources and massive recycling worldwide. Fortunately China and other developing nations are doing this.

You don't need a DVD player to play a porn DVD, all you need is a laptop, and they're everywhere nowadays. You can even download videos from the net onto cellphones. I haven't checked specifically to see, but I'd bet there's plenty of porn converted to cellphone and iPod format available for download. I'd be willing to bet that the open-source MIT courseware is also now available in a format that can be downloaded directly onto iPods and PDAs and cellphones. I do cruise enough bookchans to know that any book that's available for download can quickly and easily be converted into a PDA or ebook reader or cellphone format with free open source utility programs.

Cliff said...

I do realize you were exaggerating with the porn DVD carpet bombing. I just wanted to highlight the irony of using the most virulent parts of our culture instead of bombs.
I also feel that if this idea is as effective a weapon as you describe, there would be consequences to using it. The literal definition of a double-edged sword, if you will.

Jester said...

Although with the new Alpha Post up this is probably a waste of typing.

Dr. Brin -

With all respect, Zorgon is right on one point.

You don't understand what third gen warfare is.

Israel cutting off half the Egyptian Army in Sinai and watching them die from a lack of water is third gen warfare at it's almost purest.

Third Gen warfare means that you don't have to destroy many of your enemies forces with fire on target. Getting creative in how you track down Subs with spotter planes is NOT an example of Third Gen.

By-Passing a bunch of fortified Japanese held Islands while cutting off their supplies IS Third Gen. Taking them out of the fight without having to fight them.

The most pure, never actually having occured, ideal form of third gen warfare would be if a General were able to surround the enemies divisions one at a time and force each of them to surrender untill he completely defeated the opposing force without firing a shot.

The Infamous "Highway of Death" in the first gulf war is a perfect example of the American obsession with 2nd gen Warfare.

We had the forces available to cut off Highway One north of the retreating Iraqi forces. We could have done it, and forced them to surrender or die in the desert.

Instead, we expended a couple billion in fuel and ammunition to kill something north of 50,000 Iraqi troops by putting fire on target - 2nd gen.