Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Last Chance to See The Architechs

Andi Tobin wrote in to say "I just noticed The ArchiTECHS is on The History Channel at 5 a.m. on May 2."

I have the distinction of having been on the History Channel's top... and bottom... rated shows ever. "Life After People" was a huge success, and I'm still doing interviews about it, phoned in to New Zealand and Australia. History promoted it like mad, but there's also something deeply resonant about a show that portrays the world recovering after humanity somehow blows it. Suits the mood of the 21st Century, so far.

In contrast, "The Architechs" was a design show... that "challenged five geniuses to solve an impossible problem in 48 hours... to innovate more than a dozen new fire rescue and evacuation tools for skyscraper disasters." History never promoted the show and aired it one weekday night at 10pm.

Well, well. If end-of-the-world sells better than problem-solving, I'll do end-of-the-world!

Still, Tivo "The Architechs" if you can. (And tell friends! This may be their last chance.) You may enjoy a little dive back into the oldtimey can-do spirit.

A spirit of optimistic problem-solving we might do well to bring back, sometime soon.


(Feel free to continue your previous arguments in comments below...)


David McCabe said...

Somebody care to tape it for those without cable? (That's not wrong, right?)

Anonymous said...

History Channel says 6 am...someone is on Mountain time :)

They want 25 bucks for the friggin DVD. For a 50 minute DVD.

Have these idiots ever heard of charging what the market will bear? I'd buy it for 9.99, and they'd still turn a profit.

Anonymous said...

Cool! I'll have my MythBox record it.

There's an astonishing amount of "house porn" programming on cable TV. These are shows that have expert designers redecorate a home. It's all egregious dream-home wish-fulfillment crap. I believe that to some extent it's responsible for the inflated expectations that led to people buying oversize homes and dipping into their equity to pay for improvements.

With the coming of tight economic times, and a long-coming realization that we're going to have to retool our infrastructure, perhaps we'll see more of an audience for "how to" / DIY type programs that emphasize ingenuity and creativity over boutique consumption.

Rob said...

Good grief, David, this article makes you sound unhinged:

Science Fiction Mavens Offer Far Out Homeland Security Advice

The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.

Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.

David Brin, keeping on the topic of empowering citizens with mobile phone technology, delivered a self-described “rant” on the lack of funds being spent to support citizen reservists to back up the military, homeland security officials and first responders in times of crisis.

“It is impossible for you to succeed without us!” he shouted at the assembled officials, while banging his fist on the table and at one point jumping off his chair to wave a mobile phone in their faces.

What the hell happened?

(from Sadly, No)

Anonymous said...

This link was posted in the comments of a previous blog(Seizing the Symbolic Highground) and David said something along the lines(I can't check he has deleted his response) of: It was a complete washout of a meeting with lots of big egos on display. He said he tried to get things back OT but may have come across as being a bit strident. Not sure why he deleted his comment; so much for transparency and openness.(shrug)

David Brin said...

The reporter was a dunce. But that's no excuse for the outrageous things Jerry and Larry said, that were appropriate for bar-grousing after getting three sheets to the wind.

My "rant" (self-described) was an effort to distract from racist/nasty/awful statements by getting back on track about national security, so I gave my pitch for citizen-based resiliency, pointing out that just 0.01% of the DHS budget goes to the only thing that worked on 9/11.

A reporter with any pride and/or decency would separate his evaluation of the style from his description of the substance. But he had an axe to grind. Let's defend a republic that lets such dopes be dopes.

Anonymous said...

I just ran a schedule update, and ARCHItechs is indeed on at 6:00 am.

I just requested a recording.

A lot of blogs have picked up on the SIGMA story, but most just mention Niven's egregious foot-in-mouth gaffe.

The last time I saw Niven give a footnote, he actually got a question about the notion of SF authors consulting with the government. He was asked what SF authors he would recommend to be on a panel gathered after First Contact. His answer amounted to "I'd have to think about it, but Fred Pohl for sure." It struck me as a very generous response, given that he and Pohl are on opposite sides of the political spectrum!

Unknown said...

Brin comes off sounding sensible compared to Niven and Pournelle. Given Jerry Pournelle's persistent global warming denial, his crazy statements that we should've carpet-bombed Mecca after 9/11, and Niven and Pournelle's long history of outright lunacy in supporting demented fantasies like the Reagan Star Wars fairytale, I've come to the regrettable conclusion that Pournelle and Niven et al. have gone around the bend.

Pournelle's latest big project apparently involves writing a spirited defense of Herrnstein & Murray's crackpot tract The Bell Curve. Regardless whether you agree or disagree with that crank tome, a few facts stand out:

[1] Charles Murray is not a population biologist or a psychologist with expertise in population statistics, he's a political scientist, and both and he and Herrnstein strayed far out of their field of expertise in writing The Bell Curve. The result when any scientist departs from hi/r field of exeprtise to offer proununciamti about a subject with which they are unfamiliar is predictably dire, as Linus pauling's unfortunate claims about megadoses of vitamin C should remind us. (Pauling was a superb and authoritative chemist, but he was not a nutritonist, nor was he an oncologist.)

[2] If you check the actual data hidden in an addendum in the last few pages of the Bell Curve, you'll discover that the regression coefficients are down in the mud. Herrnstein & Murray base their entire argument on r values which are around 0.37, meaning that the contribution to heritability is 0.37 squared. That's so low it can't be taken seriously. If you look at a scatter plot with a regression coefficient of 0.l37, it looks like a big inchoate blob, there's obviously no global correlation in a set of data points with an r value that low.

[3] Lastly, it's worth asking why Herrnstein & Murray exposed everyone to their conclusions by means of a popular book, rather than by publishing their findings in a peer reviewed scientific journal. The answer is that they didn't publish in a reputable journal because that kind of junk pseudoscience couldn't get published in a reputable scientific journal. One look at those r values and any editor would recommend the paper for terminal rejection.

So Niven and Pournelle now seem to have jumped the shark and thrown in their lot with the psychic surgeons and the orgone therapists and the dowsers, and Orson Scott Card is no better.

I thought Fritz Hollings' raving and gibbering at the Repub national convention in 2004 offered the ultimate picture of crazed self-delusion, but Orson Scott Card's blabbering lunacy makes Hollings look positively suave and self-disciplined by comparison. Card (and, I would guess, Niven and Pournelle) actually seem to believe that a handful of ragtag Islamic fundamentalists skulking in caves actually have the power to reduce America to a giant pile of rubble and convert us all to cowering dhimmis who cringe as our new Islamic lords & masters stride past. Exactly how this is supposed to work, when the fanatical Islamists have no army and no navy and no air force and are separated from the U.S. by 8,000 miles of deep blue ocean and impassable desert, remains a mystery neither Card nor Pournelle nor Niven have explained. Even with a U.S. military 1/10 its current size, we would so far outclass Al Qaeda militarily (not to mention socially and culturally) that the entire concept that Islamic fundamentlists represent any kind of serious threat to the American way of life is hallucinogenic, to put it charitably. (Other, more blunt explanations would involve words like "hard drugs" and "brain damage.")

An objective observer diagnoses a reality distortion field surrounding the U.S. military which renders otherwise highly intelligent people unable to reason through even the simplest propositoin, and which induces a state of dreamlike unreality from which the victim can't be awakened even by physical force. Alas, Pournelle and Niven and Card don't seem to be only ones who've fallen victims to the U.S. military's reality distortion field: Dr. Brin is also one of the sleepwalkers.

Speaking of the U.S. military budget...over at Counterpunch, former Reaganut and apparently born-again progressive (or possibly libertarian) Paul Craig Roberts notes that:

* The government is now the largest single sector of employment in the country, passing manufacturing and even the services industries
* Imports exceed the total value of manufactured goods (not just exported manufactured goods) by at least 5 percentage points of GDP.
* The number of legal and illegal immigrants exceeds the number of new jobs created last year.

This explains the level of hallucinatory dementia from otherwise smart sensible people like Dr. Brin, who continue to support our insanely insupportable level of military spending. Clearly, the U.S. military now operates primarily as a jobs program, and if we were to drastically cut the Pentagon budget as I have suggested, it would devastate the U.S. economy.

Or so it would seem. In reality, of course, this is the same kind of specious argument as the claim that the deep south couldn't possibly free its slaves because that would devastate its economy. An economy based on depravity (whether slavery or a crazy military budget which winds up wasted when not being used to burn brown babies with white phosphorus in third world countries) is an economy bound to collapse sooner or later, so best to get the transformation over with now, while we can still control it. Just as the deep south's slave economy was unsustainable and would've crashed eventually sans the Civil War, the current trillion-dollar U.S. military budget is ununstainable and will eventually crash regardless of what we do. At least if we we drastically cut the U.S. military budget now, we'll have some control over the fallout. If we wait until medicare and the boomer retirement forces a fiscal implosion, we'll have no control whatever over the fallout.

Speaking of drastically chopping the Pentagon budget, William S. Lind, author of the current Marine Corps field manual for maneuver warfare, offers these suggestions:

"If a new administration were to turn to the military reformers and ask us how to cut defense spending while still securing the country, what would we advise?

Here’s what I would propose:

First, adopt a defensive rather than an offensive grand strategy. America followed a defensive grand strategy through most of her history. We only went to war if someone attacked us. That defensive grand strategy kept defense costs down and allowed our economy to prosper. We do not have to be party to every quarrel in the world.

Second, scrap virtually all the big ticket weapons programs such as new fighter-bombers, more Aegis ships, and the Army’s Rube Goldbergian Future Combat System. They are irrelevant to where war is going.

We should not plan for conventional wars against hypothetical “peer competitors,” which can only be Russia or China. We should do our utmost to make Russia an ally, and we should make a fundamental, bi-partisan national strategic decision that we will not go to war with China. Regardless of who “won” such a war, it would destroy both countries, just as the two World Wars destroyed both Germany and Britain. The world needs China to serve as a source of order in what will be an increasingly disorderly 21st century. We should welcome the growth of Chinese power, just as Britain learned (reluctantly) to welcome the growth of American power in the 20th century. It is only a threat to us if we make it one.

Third, as we cut, preserve combat units. That means, above all, Army and Marine Corps infantry battalions. Cut the vast superstructure above those battalions, but keep the battalions. Infantry battalions are what we need most for Fourth Generation wars, which we should do our utmost to avoid but which we will sometimes be drawn into, even with a defensive grand strategy.

In the Navy, keep the submarines. Submarines are today’s and tomorrow’s capital ships, and geography dictates we must remain a maritime power. Keep the carriers, too, though there is little need to build more of them. Carriers are big, empty boxes, which can carry many things besides aircraft. Mothball most of the cruisers and destroyers. Build lots of small, cheap ships useful for controlling coastal and inland waters, and create strategically mobile and sustainable “packages” of such ships. Being able to control waters around and within stateless regions can be important in 4GW.

Fighter-bombers are largely useless in Fourth Generation wars, where their main role is to create collateral damage that benefits our enemies. Keep the air transport squadrons and the A-10s, and move them all to the Air National Guard, which flies and maintains aircraft as well as or better than the regular Air Force at a fraction of the cost. Reduce the regular Air Force to strategic nuclear forces and a training base.

In all the services, vastly reduce the baggage train: the higher headquarters, the development commands, the education bureaucracies and the armies of contractors. As Mark Twain said of the male teat, they are neither useful nor ornamental.

Finally, as we cut, undertake reforms that cost little but will make our remaining forces more effective. Reform the personnel systems to create unit cohesion, eliminate the surplus of officers above the company grades and reduce careerism by ending up-or-out. Reform tactics and doctrine by moving from the Second Generation to the Third, which is to say from French attrition warfare to German maneuver warfare. This requires a change in military culture, in education and in training. The adoption of Third Generation tactics, doctrine and culture must be real, not just words on paper as it has been in the Marine Corps."


These are for the most part precisely the military reforms I've proposed, and which the Esquire article to which I linked last week also proposes. It's fascinating to observe the reality distortion field at work when it comes to the U.S. military, insofar as it induces temporary insanity in even the most rational people, like Brin and Pournelle. The idea that we can continue to spend upwards of a trillion dollars per year on worthless superweapons designed to defeat the WW II Japanese navy at Midway, or the WW II Luftwaffe in the skies over Europe, or the 1970s Soviet army in the steppes of central Russia, offers a clinical example of mass insanity that would make the author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds proud indeed.

Apparently, the United States military budget induces a form of mass insanity in otherwise rational observers (many with PhDs) which prevents them from even entertaining the possibility that the U.S. military budget could (or should) ever decrease. The remarkable nature of the hallucinatory mental state induced in people like Brin and Pournelle becomes clear when we recognize that this means the U.S. military budget must constantly rise as a percentage of GDP. Even a small child recognizes that this is unsustainable, particularly in the current economic environment, which Warren Buffet has called "the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression." But, like the dancing mania of the middle ages, or the current "penis theft" riots in the Congo, this is a case of irrational mass hysteria, not logical thinking based on facts and evidence.

The facts clearly show near-future medicare outlays on a collision course with the rest of the U.S. budget, and the retirement of the baby boomers combined with the current subprime criss represents a fiscal shock unprecedented since the Great Depression. Naturally, highly educated and otherwise rational people like Dr. Brin must ignore these facts in calling for continued level of insane and pointless U.S. military spending. But when we add to these facts the further (and thoroughly documented) reality that most of the current U.S. weapons systems don't work, and we arrive at a state of dementia which can only be appreciated by comparison with delusional mental states like methamphetamine psychosis.

When we study the insane rationalizations given by highly educated and ostensibly rational people like Dr. Brin for the supefyingly pointless waste of trillions of dollars on the current U.S. military budget, we encounter weirdly contrafactual claims like "Everyone was better off when we lived in a unipolar world after the fall of the Soviet Union." Of course Dr. Brin seems not to realize that the world wasn't unifpolar after the Soviet Union collapsed, nor is it unipolar now. In fact, I can identify the precise moment when the world stopped being unipolar -- it happened in 1982 during the Falklands War when that French-built exocet missile fired by an Argentinian jet sank a British cruiser. A missile costing only a few hundred thousand dollars destroyed a capital ship worth hundreds of millions of dollars. At that moment, the old bipolar world of the U.s.-vs-the-USSR disappeared, replaced by a multipolar world in any third world country armed with dirt cheap but utterly lethal weapons could destroy billion-dollar aircraft carriers and hundred-million-dollar attack helicopters.
But of course the Exocet missle, deadly as it was, offer an obsolete example of 25-year-old ancient military technology. Today's military tech is far more deadly, giving impoverished third-world attackers an even more incredible advantage. For example, the Russian-built Shkval torpedo travels underwater faster than the Corcorde and, if used in combat by any third world nation, would sink the entire American fleet so fast that the last ship would slide to the bottom of the Gulf of Arabia before the first report of the battle on CNN had finished airing.
And, of course, today's surface-to-surface missiles are far more lethal than the Exocet, as the test firing of a radar-evading missile by an Iranian sub demonstrates.
Equally obviously, this mountain of facts and logic means nothing in the fact of the dementia induced by the U.S. military budget, which must always increase and can never be reduced no matter how useless our superweapons or how counterproductive America's military "strategy" (if you can call a recipe for becoming ever more hated throughout the world and ever more impotent a "strategy." A rational person would describe such behavior as a form of pathology, but to each his own.)

It will prove fascinating to observe the verbal calisthenics with which Dr. Brin futilely attempts to evade these documented facts, since this will give us a clear picture of the extraordinary power of the U.S. military budget to induce a hallucinatory dream-state in otherwise rational people. In this regard Dr. Brin is hardly alone. Has anyone else noticed that the unsustainable size of our current trillion-dollar U.S. military budget is not even open for debate among the presidential candidates?

Anonymous said...

Is there a lithium shortage too?

Tony Fisk said...

Brin can defend himself, of course.

Nevertheless, I have to ask Zorgon where he has gotten the notion that Brin supports the 'current insane level of US military spending'?

I believe there are two things to separate out here:
- the military (ie the personnel)
- the spending

I think you will find that, while Brin has consistently supported the military, he has been swift to condemn the spending, primarily because it is *not* being allocated to where it is needed: the military. Instead it appears to be disappearing into Halliburton's maw. Plus a few other military contractors. Plus a few Iraqi roadsides.

David Brin said...

I try not to be provoked into coming to comments. But have to.

The thing that is breaking the bank is MILITARY AND THEATER SUPPORT SERVICES.

Those infamous contracts that were given on a no-bid crony basis to KBR and Halliburton and Blackwater etc.

This is where the lampreys are sucking the life out of our republic... AND out of the military These are the people who should be questioned... severely.


APPARENTLY the show airs 5am Eastern and 6am Pacific.

Anonymous said...

Zorgons right to link up to the major weapons contractor issues, though. You should check out that link in particular, Dr. Brin. The cost over-runs are outragous.

As ussual, lots of great data from Zorgon, and some very valid points. As ussual, unwarranted venting at the host.

It's true that the buck-rogers approach will not solve the problems of Fourth Gen warfare cusping on Fifth. MRAPs will no more "win" the occupation of Iraq than the miracle weapon of the Armored Car, the sure-fire technical solution, defeated the IRA in 1920.

Nifty toys like the JSF won't, either. It's like spending the Kings treasury on chain-mail barding for horses when the enemy is using caltrops, not arrows.

100 million bucks invested in prepared and trained citizen responders would do more to defend the US than 500 billion in Aircraft Carriers and Fighters....but Dr. Brin knows that. He's been pushing that meme since the day he started up this blog.

I have a hard time understanding why the guy who advocates decent pay, conditions, benefits, and overall treatment for our service personel gets tarred with the same brush as those who believe that shoveling trillions into unproven and unneeded military toys will make everything all better.

Anonymous said...

Breaking the bank - it is more than the military and the support services. Those are just causing the short term impacts. By failing to invest in education and infrastructure, we are doomed to continue the poor stewardship of our nation's finances.


Cliff said...

My jaw dropped when I read that piece by Orson Scott Card. The phrase that immediately came to mind is "bat s--t insane." Same for the comment by Niven.

The only explanations I can think of are:
(A) he drinks a gallon of mercury every day;
(B) someone was holding his family hostage to force him to write these things;
(C) someone paid him a LOT of money.

I also thank Zorgon for the informative links, as well as Lind's advice on cutting the military budget.

Anonymous said...

I have seen all of Zorgon's material on the vulnarability of the U.S. Navy to new weapons. Only it was in the 1970's, and used as an excuse to build more modern ships.

Since the 1850's, every few years a new weapon makes "all the world's navies obsolete!". Steam frigates, ironclads, battleships, dreadnaughts, torpedo boats, submarines, mines, land based aircraft, aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, cruise missiles...

Matt DeBlass said...

Use our armed forces to defend our country? What a concept! They've been sending New Jersey's National Guard overseas, just in time for the rainy (hence "flood") season in my area.

There was a reason that some of our early flags sported a timber rattlesnake, as Ben Franklin wrote in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1775: "I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretentions of quarrelling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenceless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defence, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"

Anonymous said...

Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?


harry potter5 said...

A speechwriter for the current president has written a column in the Washington Post:

"A Phony 'War on Science'" by Michael Gerson

Like Ben Stein, he also makes a connection between Nazis, liberals and science.

The sheer number of angry responses in the "Comments" section make me think America will be okay.