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Ether Mind

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Monday, March 27, 2006

China Syndrome

There is one tenet of public choice theory akin to Occam's razor: that the actual effect of a policy, even if it is opposite the stated goal, is usually the desired effect. If a policy meant to help the poor instead traps them in a poorly paid underclass for 50 years, what are the odds that it was an accident and that no one noticed the problem? It is more likely that creating an underclass was the real goal.

This is a somewhat flawed tenet, in that the goals of individuals are usually rational, whereas an organisation might not be. Usually, though, the goal of an organisation is simply survival. In that case, ending poverty would end the need for the Welfare Bureau (or whatever). To survive, the bureaucracy can do anything except fix the problem.

I will attempt to apply this tenet to another situation, although I'm not yet sure how well it fits.

We are borrowing vast sums of money and spending it inefficiently. Since this money must be paid back eventually, or rolled into new debt forever, and the interest or principal repayment will be removed from the efficient market economy, it is irrational to borrow money. The national debt would be fine if we were spending the deficit amount on activities that provided a better return than the interest rate on treasury bills. We know that we are not getting that return. In fact, the return on government spending as a whole is almost certainly below 100%. That means we are getting less benefit than we pay for, due to the inefficiencies of central control over allocation of resources.

Yet, most entities are rational. Are we making a positive return on the money, due to our great economic growth? Are we stealing from future generations? I have another possibility, that, if true, would make our massive borrowing rational.

A very large portion of our national debt is owed to China. The military sees war with the Red Menace on the horizon, and presumably an American victory. In that case, what do you want to bet that reparations to America are approximately equal to the T-bills held by Beijing?

We discount the debt to China in our decision to borrow, because we assume that the debt will not be repaid.

I don't see the problem.

So basically, it's like being a man?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

EtherMedia Special Report

Am I the only right winger who doesn't like Ann Coulter? Even attractive female College Republicans like her. Oh my stomach.

EtherMedia Report

Hm, I haven't done much actual reporting. I reported on the third presidential debate in 04, but that was before I had a blog. I think I mentioned some other people I've met.

Anyway, I met the president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Chris Simcox. That's not the Minuteman Project- in fact I haven't sorted it out yet. Anyway he was there endorsing Bill Montgomery for AZ state Attorney General. Montgomery was there, and I talked to him, but he's just a politician and a lawyer to boot. I don't vote for lawyers, although I may make an exception for AG, since all the candidates are lawyers.

Anyway they're all about the "rule of law." Makes sense, considering, but I'm really not into this law and order business. Yeah, I like hanging murderers and horse thieves and child molesters as high as practical (rope ain't free), but law and order... civil society... I'm more comfortable in the dirt with the dogs (literally).

Oh, and he dissed John McCain for being soft on immigration. He had an anti-McCain shirt from Cafe Press he showed us.

Will's Fashion Revue
Course it was a black tie affair, coats optional. I had to throw my grey shirt in the washer cuz I'm not wearing a red shirt with a tie. I can't stand to look like a waiter. And I don't do B&W, and the black-on-black is too British Game Show for a fundraiser. And blue is too engineery. I actually don't have any coats in AZ... that's a liability. And I need more ties. Dunno what happened to mine, but all I have is this long black one in a double windsor.

I think that was it... law and order... There was a local state district representative running for state senate. She was goofy, and she called her opponent a RINO, but she was all about lower taxes. Then she started rambling, and Montgomery's campaign advisor (I think) cut her off. Her daughter was cute though (little girl, not LITTLE but 13 years old and kinda small for her age), and smarter than half the politicians there. I got somebody else's kid to eat chocolate fondue dipped cheese. Hahaha. Too bad it wasn't anybody famous (I think).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Freedom of Information Part Two

index

Theoretical Basis for Freedom of Information (FOI)

Many people subscribe to the Hobbesian view of a social contract that exists only because Man has created it; the rights to life and liberty are not absolute moral standards, but pragmatic agreements made by man for his continued peaceful existence. Perhaps I give Hobbes too little credit. At any rate, if you deny the existence of absolute moral standards, Part Three will cover the practical benefits of FOI. I suppose at some point the FOI will require a constitutional amendment or the overthrow of the current world order or somesuch. This section covers the reasoning behind FOI from a more Lockean social contract, as well as from a solipsist standpoint.

Solipsist Model

I think therefore I am. Not much more than this can be known with certainty, but in practice we must assume that the evidence of our senses is mostly true. Perhaps the whole world is an elaborate illusion, but then what is reality? Is reality perception? Does it matter? Even if it is not and it does, there's not really anything to be done about it.

So we assume the world is real. I assume that you exist, and I assume you do me the same courtesy. I know that I prefer not to be killed or tortured. I know that whatever action I take, I take of my own volition. Of course I may get a job at Burger King out of necessity, but that is still my choice. Most people want to live, and they all want to do what they want to do. These things are obvious. Really, "living" can be rolled into the category of "desired actions." It is merely the prerequisite for the rest of them. Conversely, death is irreversible and ends all other liberties.

Life and liberty are therefore desireable, and can even be considered one and the same thing, for without life there is no desire, and no entity to feel desire. Desire doesn't necessarily make these things "rights." I may desire to live in a bubble on the moon, or to kill my neighbor for his cattle, but these things are not rights. Why?

Life and liberty are "negative." If I existed in a vacuum, alone, I would have them by default. No one else would exist to take them away. However, if I live alone in a vacuum, or even if I am contained within a walnut shell and mistakenly count myself king of infinite space, I will still not possess my neighbor's cattle, or live upon the moon, or drink sparkling wine all I want. These are "positive" things that I may or may not gain.

We are all kings of infinite space, wherein we possess life and liberty aplenty, until our walnut shells bump against each others'. It seems reasonable therefore that we have the right to continue to enjoy life and liberty as much as we please, so long as we don't bother anyone else in doing so. This is the well known doctrine that underlies Western Civilisation, although not oll westerners embrace the solipsist perspective. Pity for them.

FOI states that the individual has the right to know whatever he wants as long as he doesn't violate any of the other rights in the process of obtaining the information.

That's a standard disclaimer. If I picture myself again, floating in a dark space by myself, with no body or senses, what do I have? I have my life (I think therefore I am). I have the ability to do whatever I can do, as obvious and self-proving as that is. I also have this train of thought, which I remember. Further, I have the perception that I am sitting in front of a computer, that I am warm, that I have read about natural rights in the past. I have my memory of these things, although I cannot be sure of whether I really experienced them or whether the experiences were "real" at the time.

Therefore, I have information. I have a steadily increasing pile of memories of perceptions and memories of my thoughts. Even if I exist only for one brief instant, and all my memories are contrived and fed to me to deceive me, I still have the perception of those memories.

I belabor this point because I know that 2 + 2 = 4, and someone would say it was 5 if it suited their beliefs. People reject knowledge that runs counter to what they already believe. And yet, the more I write, the more handles there are for someone to seize on and attempt to muddle the issue. Of course, they won't do so until Part Three, when the logical conclusion comes. I am only so redundant to make it shamefully obvious to Heaven and Earth when the partisans eventually attack me.

So, in a vacuum, I have existence, freedom, and perception. Unlike liberty, perception cannot be easily taken away. It is closer to a law of nature than a law of man. Even a photon can be disturbed and forever imprinted with information by its interaction with the universe.

I have perception, and it cannot be taken away; my knowledge harms no one, and is not even noticeable to anyone else unless I divulge it; I can think about it, and no one can stop me without death or its equivalent, or know that I am thinking or what I am thinking; I have liberty, the right to do as I please as long as it infringes no one else, and I please to think; thought is the one activity that cannot directly hurt anyone.

Therefore, as certainly as or moreso than any other right, I have the right to know what I want to know.

Social Contract Model

Thought doesn't hurt anyone, and indeed the social contract is itself knowledge. Intelligence raised men from the beasts and created the social contract; knowledge of its ramifications is needed to follow the social contract.

It isn't yet known whether an individual can know every aspect of the social contract; until all the depths of knowledge are fully plumbed, philosophy must continue in the effort to make sure that one is not inadvertently breaking the contract or hindering it. It is impossible to know where a line of reasoning will lead until it is ended, and so any reasoning may be pertinent; for that reason, there can be no restriction on thought, because such a restriction might cause the contract to be broken.

Knowledge is not a scarce commodity; taking some does not reduce the supply and therefore hinders no one. Knowledge cannot hurt anyone unless some other violation of the contract has occurred; then knowledge could aid in the commission, detection, blackmail, or punishment of a crime. In itself it is nothing.

The social contract is not that airtight, in my opinion, but I think I've proven my modest point well enough for a blog post. Part Three is forthcoming, and it is the interesting one.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Freedom of Information Part One

index

There are a lot of people worked up over the "Right to Privacy" as a way to protect the legality of abortion. There are also a lot of concerns over wiretapping, medical records, government data mining, consumer statisitics, and so forth. People want their privacy. Even those who don't support abortion, or who don't think a "Right to Privacy" is in the constitution, want such a right and seem to believe that it is numbered among those inviolable rights that were God's gift to man.

For example, they say the government has no right to sit across the street and look at your house with infrared sensors to see if you're growing marijuana with heat lamps in your attic.

I totally disagree with this "Right to Privacy." I believe in the "Freedom of Information," hereafter FOI. This may take a few posts to fully explain. I must cover:

1) What exactly FOI entails - probably the shortest section

2) The theoretical basis in natural rights

3) The practical implementation and consequences of this policy

4) The theoretical basis in information theory

I may not get to number four, partly because I am a layman in that area and partly because nobody really cares. Also, I doubt I can explain it in a way that makes sense, much less to an audience that doesn't give a a damn.

Freedom of Information: What is this guy talking about?

Good question. There is a saying in the computer world: "Data wants to be free." This is often appropriated by software pirates, and it may actually be applicable to them, but not directly. What it means is that information has a tendency to leak out, and it can't be taken back once it does. From a practical standpoint, it is hard to control the flow of information.

Knowledge is power. Anyone controlling information does so for their own benefit. This sort of thing has led to Fascist abuses, Stalinist Communism, and all sorts of malfeasance in capitalist economies. It is undesireable to control the flow of information.

From an economic or information architecture standpoint, information increases the efficiency of decision making. This is true for all decisions, not just "economic" ones. Mr. Smith, forgive my butchery. The more information that people have, the better their decision will be. This idea is reflected in John Stuart Mill's work on free speech, which I have cited many times. We benefit when information is distributed widely.

My proposal is the Freedom of Information. It states that the individual has the right to know whatever he wants as long as he doesn't violate any of the other rights in the process of obtaining the information.

The italicised portion is the standard caveat for all the negative rights: Life, Liberty, Property*, and Information. The first part is the essence of the Right. It may seem irrelevant at first, but it has huge implications in several current political issues: data mining, wiretapping, the "war" on drugs, health care, and the plague of identity theft. It is also part of the transparency that is necessary to maintain a free society, transparency which must increase as freedom increases.

*Property is arguable. It may not fit totally in the positive/negative rights dichotomy, but it is predicated partly on Liberty anyway.

Also,

Evolutionary Psychology - This is sort of an economic model of human psychology, which posits that all behavior is caused by the need to reproduce. Argue all you want, but it works pretty well. Although it's predicated on the historical fact of evolution, I'd think that "Go forth, be fruitful and multiply" would be a dandy scriptural support for this theory.

EP has become sort of an intellectual fad in recent years, but I should stipulate that I supported it before it was cool. There's a good summary of basic EP in Survival of the Prettiest : The Science of Beauty. There were also a lot of articles in pop science magazines like Discover and SciAm back in the 90's, and there may be more now.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Coherent philosophy

Well, my worldview is partially informed by the following ideas. Some notes are attached:

Economics - Wealth of Nations, etc. Free trade. However, I have been studying some aspects of monopolistic behaviour and I'm not sure I agree with the state of the art. I'm closer to a supply-sider than a Keynesian, but I also believe tax cuts are better than spending because they increase allocative efficiency- the people receiving the benefits are making the decisions. This is an aspect of effective information architecture.

Information Architecture - Survival of the Smartest. Information input, power output, and decision making should all be vested in the same individual or entity for maximum efficiency. There are other aspects to information theory.

Information Theory - umm... my understanding of the topic comes from a lot of reading on networks, supernodes, quantum computing, game theory, etc. I have written about the network thing, which is sort of analogous to the "wisdom of crowds."

The Wisdom of Crowds - there's a book by that name. It says groups of people make better decisions than individuals in some situations. This is really just the result of economics, information theory, and whatnot.

Public Choice Theory - There is a common assumption, sometimes referred to as "Public Interest Theory," which says that everyone in the economy acts in their own self interest, but government bureaucrats and politicians act in the best interests of society. Public Choice Theory says that the individuals in the government act in their own interest. This is an obvious insight, but it has some less-obvious ramifications. The Causes and Consequences of Anti-Trust explains it succinctly in the first chapter or so. Google it, cuz I don't have any good links.

Foreign Policy Realism - see Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy by Henry Kissinger

Realpolitik - I think Orwell may've come up with the word, but it's the domestic equivalent of Realism, and it's a more sinister term for Public Choice Theory. I just like the word "realpolitik" so I wanted to put it in.

Anarcho-capitalism - I'm a moral AND consequential libertarian, due to the ideas already listed.

Natural Rights - see the writings of John Locke. I agree with him more or less, although I believe that the natural rights are predicated on solipsism as well as on practial and religious grounds. This is in contrast to Hobbes, who didn't seem to recognise an absolute basis for human rights.

Solipsism - Descartes, Meditations. There aren't many things that you can know for sure. In fact, your own existence may be the only thing that is real. I assume that the universe I see is real only because it is the default. This is an intellectual house of mirrors, but the existence of "negative" natural rights and the nonexistence of positive rights are the most useful ideas I derive from solipsism.

Stoicism - This is more of a personal preference. It means not being controlled by emotion to the point that it is counterproductive. The pursuit of knowledge as virtue and the use of ascetisim and mortification to increase willpower.

Burkean Conservatism - despite the fact that I have all the wild-eyed dreams of a gun-toting revolutionary, I'm not out there urging a Grey Revolution to overthrow the illegitimate US government. Why? Well, I could be wrong. Even if I am right, and some sort of anarchist utopia is *theoretically* possible, it is not practically possible and won't be for the forseeable future. Like any good conservative, I therefore prefer small, incremental steps towards the ideal. If we go astray, we can study it and fix it. We can get all the systems right.

A lot of these ideas seem intellectually dishonest, at least when taken together. What are the odds that libertarianism is the most moral AND the most effective system? Isn't that merely grasping for justification to force my own morality on others?

Well, what kind of a God would create a universe where the most moral system is ineffective and unstable? If it is ineffective and unstable, isn't it almost immoral by definition? If God ordained that it shouldn't work, then doesn't that make it immoral?

Maybe. Anyway, I'm sure I've forgotten things, but I thought that the public choice theory might be new to some people. Later.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Traveller

I'll be traveling from Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, and it seems like there's something to be done on Saturday. I doubt I'll post.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Asceticism

Sparked by a post at Kevin's blog... A circuitous rant which culminates in a hint at something that must be fleshed out in a long essay later on.

I am a stoic, more or less, and so I am ascetic. I find it odd that people buy designer clothes, but I do have some Business 2.0 clothing myself, and aside from the necessity of bedecking onesself with gew gaws to impress the semiliterate apes with whom one is forced to deal... we are all conditioned to feel better when we dress up.

Buying designer baby clothes, however, seems entirely unnecessary. Buying baby health insurance seems unnecessary. Spending 80000 bucks on ICU for an infant seems unnecessary. It's evolution. Stuff happens. I'm sorry. I know that I'm a cold and uncompassionate person, but a dead baby goes to heaven or gets recycled or something. There's no need to feel sorry for it. The only reason people go to such insane lengths is that our protective instincts are not controlled by the reason God gave us. Evolution demands that we protect our offspring. Evolution makes us love our offspring. When I have some, I will also be subject to that semi-rational force of nature.

But from the standpoint of evolution, which underlies our base instincts and familial affection, it is better to toss the body and have another baby (depending on factors like income, the mother's health, et cetera). Since our emotions and reason both come from evolution (God), why should we bow to one and not the other? It is a lack of discipline.

People buy so much worthless crap for babies. I can understand a car seat, although those are overpriced.

Here's some circumstancial evidence for you. It started in the Northwest, I think, and is spreading. People "can't afford" kids.. nevermind that Ethiopians can afford children... so they have dogs.

People spend thousands of dollars per year on crap for their dogs. Even the skinflints among them suspend their sense of comparative shopping and go nuts at Petsmart. If anything, this is more ludicrous than..

Look, dogs DON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. Also, they are DOGS. Yeah, food, clean water, maybe some shots or heartworm pills depending on location... I say tie em up in the back yard with a dog house or shed... I know I'd rather sleep outside than with some of these people.

And I like dogs. I really do. The thing is, they are animals and have limited inputs and outputs. Yeah, some are smart. Oh well. So are Ethiopians, and I don't see anyone feeding them, much less buying them bomber jackets. Yes, they make bomber jackets for dogs. No, I don't know why. Yes, people buy them.

I guess part of the problem is people treat their dogs better than I treat myself. They anthropomorphise animals, then feel compassion, then try to make their dogs happy. Nowhere in this process does the force of reason come into play.

I hope I'm offending some of you, because everything I see offends me. Then again, I have a thick skin.

Babies, now, we have a reason to care for them. They are anthropo, so there's no need to morphise them. ? . ...

I promise, a 4 month old doesn't know who Mickey Mouse is. Intellectual stimulation is great, but must you purchase the most expensive plush toy there is? Couldn't you go with Bob the Rabbit and save the money for its college education or something? Also, isn't it a bit early to start brain washing the kid into mass culture?

Don't even get me started on alcohol... Of course I assume that anyone reading this is comfortably middle class, or at least not amongst the hordes of white trash with whom I was whelped.

Creature comforts are fine. Most people have no reason to live anyway, other than the pursuit of the next bauble. Of course, what I really mean is the mindless quest to oversatisfy obsolete instincts by hoarding shiny things, displaying wealth to attract mates, overeating to build fat stores for potential famine, engaging in casual nonreproductive sex in a vain effort to reproduce...

But don't put creature comforts like Baby Gap ahead of your duty to the future of the human race.

The real point: We have a declining birth rate, a fragmented culture, and we incentivise the wrong things. In the immortal words of NoFX:

Mensa membership exceeding
Tell me why and how are all the stupid people breeding
Watson, it’s really elementary
The industrial revolution
Has flipped the bitch on evolution
The benevolent and wise are being cornered, ostracized, what a bummer
The world keeps getting dumber
Insensitivity is standard and faith is being fancied over reason

Darwin’s rollin over in his coffin
The fittest are surviving much less often
Now everything seems to be reversing, and it’s worsening
Someone flopped a steamer in the gene pool
Now angry mob mentality’s no longer the exception, it’s the rule
And I’m startin to feel a lot like Charlton Heston
Stranded on a primate planet
Apes and orangutans have ran it to the ground
With generals and the armies that obeyed them
Followers following fables
Philosophies that enable them to rule without regard

There’s no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated
Political scientists think the same one vote that some monkeys are inbred
Majority rule... don’t work in mental institutions
Sometimes the smallest softest voice carries the grand biggest solutions

We need the next phase in the philosophy of western civilisation.

Aristotle
Aquinas
Descartes
Mill
Burke
Locke
Smith

And there it ends, with a theory of natural rights and the foundation of mass behavior. What is needed in the long run is a philosophy that, when shared by all individuals, results in the optimum society.

In the short run we have to save Western Civilisation. Ideas to follow at a later date.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Intelligent Design

My real work, which is not related to my career as of yet, consists of trying to develop improved engineering methods and systems. When I read the endless debate between adherents of an unprovable religion and proponents of an unprovable theory, I want to smash my head against a wall.

Howevuh, I can explain some things that I haven't seen anywhere else. There are plenty of folks like myself who see no conflict between the theory of evolution and creationism. I just don't see it. At all.

People think that life can't arise from dead stuff. Well, it can. Life is merely a self-perpetuating physical system. Dead stuff can take any form, although rocks are far more likely to arise naturally than toasters. There is nevertheless a tiny chance that a toaster could be formed by the random collision of debris. In the entire universe, in 16 billion years, it seems entirely possible.

A benzene ring is more likely. Benzene is just a hydrocarbon. DNA is just glorified Benzene with nitrogen and oxygen thrown in. A simplified RNA strip could self-assemble from a sea of chemicals quite often, in the grand scheme of things.

The key here is that the creation of a self-perpetuating system from chaos is unlikely, but once done once, the system replicates. Soon the sea is swimming with strands of RNA, which are catalyzing bizarre and useless reactions. One day one of them makes a protein shell, and the rest is history.

You're Crazy! you say. That wouldn't happen without the influence of God! That's why we have ID! Okay, fine. I never said that God wasn't involved. You see, the entire process was based on random chance.

Who controls chance? When a particle must decide what state to decohere into, how does it decide? All things work to the glory of God.

God doesn't need to intervene in any physically detectable way or violate the laws of physics. Using quantum mechanics, he can produce manna, guide evolution, and raise the dead without even bending the laws of nature.

Now, I know you're not going to fully understand my point, because I haven't explained it well. Let me press on regardless.

There seems to be a big argument about punctuated equilibrium and speciation and all sorts of things like that, and the main point of IDers is that creating new features for creatures requires the intervention of God. I disagree. God made the system to design itself. Evolutionary design is the most fun you can have without going to international waters.

Basically, you have a system that spontaneously generates random changes to itself in its next generation; you end up with 49 variations and one perfect copy of the original. If the 49 don't work, the perfect copy repeats the process. If some of the 49 work, or work better, you take the top, say, 10 designs, combine them (recombinant DNA), make more random design changes (mutations) and repeat the process until it's time to go to market. So far, the problem with this approach is that the final design usually cannot exist outside of the environment it was evolved in.

A friend of a friend made a software algorithm by this method which was extremely efficient. The problem was it only ran on his computer at a certain temperature range, because it relied on a defect in the chip.

What IDers don't understand is that using this method of design is far more brilliant and beautiful than merely designing something the old fashioned way. They want to defend God, but they reduce him to the level of an inept engineering assistant who requires 4 billion years of failed attempts to create the species he wants.

The input used to increase complexity is radiation from the sun; the positive changes are passed on to the next generation, while negative changes cause death. Evolution is genius. It is the greatest idea I've ever seen.

Next Point - Irreducible complexity

A lot of people seem to think that an eye is an eye, and what's the use of half an eye? So an eye couldn't evolve on its own, and needs God's help. Well, God could cause an eye to evolve by controlling the quantum decoherence of particles in the path of solar radiation, but I doubt that He did.

An eye is an eye only because we say it is. What does an appendix do? I don't know. Why don't they evolve away? Maybe they will.

On a genetic level, evolution is not eyes and ears. It is chemistry. It is a soup of particles without definite spatial coordinates. Well... anyway, that's not the point. The point is that it is nondeterministic design. There is not really a gene for an eye, or a combination of genes for an eye. There are genes that produce proteins that create an eye, but these proteins also have other functions. The genes themselves may have other structural purposes within the DNA.

A mutation is a change in DNA, but this change may not produce a new protein. It may alter one, or it may cause another gene to activate less frequently, or it may cause 4% of a certain RNA sequence to be corrupted 9% of the time, which causes the RNA to accumulate and poison a certain organelle in the appendix during the fifth week of gestation, thus eliminating the appendix and shifting resources to more important things like neurons.

By that ridiculously complex process, the child may be smarter and more fit for survival.

The point I'm trying to illustrate is that the relationship between genes and the physical body is not as cut and dried as we would like to believe. A mutation may not produce any noticeable result, but if it has a positive effect, then the statistical results of evolution will cause the mutation to be passed on more often than not. Then, after a billion years, we might come along and classify such a system as an eyeball so that we can better understand it. Future IDers might look at a more evolved appendix-destroying system and say that its complexity and brilliance demonstrates an Intelligent Design.

Evolutionary design is intelligent. It is a system that produces arbitrary results, then screens them. Over time, it creates by random chance complex mechanisms that astound mortal engineers. The process creates the product. God creates the process.

Even today, the average engineer does not design the product. He relies on a method or system that has been developed by trial and error over hundreds of years.

It's like economics, or management, or public choice theory. Design a good law once, and you accomplish nothing; elect a good legislator once, and you accomplish nothing; create a system that rewards good legislators, make it self-protecting, and you have created good legislation forever.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I thought it was actually a pretty good Haiku

Sun rises on words
spewn at noon in poor verse
but night falls on mirth. - Effeminem (Moi) #165

In high school we played word games - sad, I know- which I rather excelled at. We would speak only in questions, or only in haiku. Once someone dared me to write a five page paper on immigration completely in haiku form, which I did. Then there was the time we spoke only in questions in the form of haiku. The next class was English, and I think I won the game by asking a moderately insightful question, directly related to the discussion, in the form of a haiku. There were gasps of awe and appreciation and possibly mild swearing.

My preference for haiku may be because I tend to be concise. I write in aphorisms, like Nietsche, that poor misunderstood man. I also try to tie up the loose ends of what I'm saying. Oh well.

Maybe it's because I am uneducated in such things, and don't know the proper structure of a sonnet or... ahhhh.... mm... other.. structure.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Field Marshal Mathers

I hate to second-guess our military. I once got flamed by the nuts at Atrios because I said we sent the optimum number of troops to Iraq. I said, sure, a hundred thousand more troops would be nice, but they're not worth the cost. By cost, I mean incapacitating our national defense, opening the Korean DMZ, allowing a hundred uneasy truces to deteriorate, and generally ushering in the apocalypse for a doubtful gain in tactical advantage in Iraq.

A hundred thousand more troops would be nice, I said- and I got one comment that said "1-800-Go-Army." Pretty ironic, if you know me, which I assume that you don't.

Anyway, I've commented on, but not really criticised, the DOD. However, after my last year or so of studying their advanced technology programs, contract award policies, and longterm strategic planning, I have to say that this is NOT the way I would do things.

First, we set the criteria for success.

1) We must maintain the ability to fight two regional wars. That is an arbitrary standard, but it seems reasonable. This ability will allow us to defend ourselves in an all-out war against half the planet.

2) We must be able to project force anywhere on Earth, as in the current Iraq model.

3) We must be able to rapidly field smaller forces to achieve objectives in emergencies. For example, we must be able to rescue any of our embassies within three days, if they have been captured.

4) We must stay one generation ahead of everyone else in terms of conventional weaponry.

5) We must improve our guerrilla warfare abilities. This means a more effective information architecture. The Jitters program would be nice.

6) We must maintain our ability to threaten Mutually Assured Destruction against any nuclear threat.

There are other objectives, such as the ability to ramp up to total war status quickly. Whatever.

Currently, the DOD is spending too much money trying to stay generations ahead in conventional warfare, and doing it poorly. The procurement programs themselves are extremely inefficient, due to poorly worded development contracts that reward failure. The programs are also poorly directed.

Advanced weapons development should be continued. DARPA does a good job, but there is no need to expand it further. Contracts must be designed to reward companies that produce the product on time and to specification. Those that don't shouldn't be paid. A potential five billion dollar loss will make the Industrial complex work a little harder.

The DOD should also be able to spend its money, end programs, and close bases without congressional earmarks, but that would reflect good will and competence on the part of Congress. The DD(X) destroyer is a technological and strategic leap ahead of anything else in the water, but will probably be too expensive to produce because of political shenanigans. That's a 10 billion dollar or so problem.

The DOD underestimates the importance of ground troops. Ground troops can survive nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and conventional explosives. They can be invisible to radar. A squad can destroy an enemy tank. A squad can capture an enemy building. Soldiers are the most flexible and most intelligent of all weapon systems. We should direct some of the Big Toys money towards soldiers. This has the advantage of a short term increase in guerrilla warfare effectiveness. It will also increase the trained reserve of citizens in the 28 to 40 age bracket, in the event of a major war. Might also increase national solidarity, though I'm not a huge fan of patriotism personally.

Information architecture in the military is fairly good, although we are still years away from the total information awareness network that is envisioned. Basically, every radar, microphone, and camera on every UAV, soldier, satellite, and aircraft would be networked to create a virtual model of the battlefield, which would then be available to all US forces. The technology to make this useful to individual soldiers in battle is extremely far away, but it can be introduced in parts, starting at the top. Anyway, I think this effort should be accelerated. It promises to marry guerrilla warfare with conventional warfare, and integrate airpower with artillery and infantry in a seamless way.

So I would shift focus slightly toward gadgets for soldiers, like the thermobaric rocket and the personnel radar, and away from giant programs like the 747 Laser Cannon and the F-22. It would be a better ROI.

We need more cargo planes. We have to be able to airlift some sort of armor capability, and the C-130 is not going to last another 50 years. Ideally, we would be able to airlift an entire battle group (infantry, armor, artillery, and support) at once from Germany or the US. I'm not sure what the optimum size of this capability would be. Battalion? Regiment? We currently ship most of our equipment by sea. That's fine, unless you have an emergency. When the enemy is a sitting duck, completely lacking offensive capability, like Iraq, sealift is fine. In the next war, it won't be fast enough.

The Pentagon is currently thinking about developing a long-range hypersonic strategic drone bomber. Now, that would be great. It really would. I guess our strategic bomber force could use an upgrade, considering we don't really have one. Why not? Well, we have ICBMs. We want to be able to respond to a first strike or initiate one, and a hypersonic drone bomber still won't be as fast as an ICBM. The HSDB would be nice to have- we could take out Iran from the comfort of Cheyenne Mountain. I have to ask, though: is this really the best use of our resources? I ca't help but think that enemy fighters might be a match for a drone bomber. Without hypersonic drone fighters for escorts... Sigh.

Meanwhile, our reserve forces are serving multiple tours in Iraq with antique HMMWVs, which were never intended to serve as light armor. This is evidenced by the fact that they don't have armor.

Militant Capitalism

at its finest.