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On distinguishing between radicalism and activism in words

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — with an assist from the young Isaac Newton ]
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This is one of those micro-events that crop up if you frequently read from diverse sources, haphazardly piling one thing atop another:

SPEC DQ burne house or church

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Here’s what I’m thinking. Taken at face value these two statements seem pretty similar: tidy up the archaic spellings in the first, the contemporary ellipsis in the second, and tweet them — you’d have the same basic threat in each case:

I’ll burn you guys and the roof over your heads.

The problem here is fundamental to our times and to the way we handle potential recruits to, and returning fighters from, IS / Daesh

how can you tell the merely radical sounding from those who will in fact put their radical ideas into violent practice?

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Verbal threats can easily indicate one state of affairs or the other. Consider these facts:

  • Whoever it was that made the threat in the lower panel over the phone to Pastor Carlton Lee of Flood Christian Church in Feruson, someone indeed made good on the church part, setting the cinder block structure ablaze and burning it to the ground on Monday.

  • Whoever it was who threatened to burn his parents’ home over their heads and them with it in the upper panel seems not to have done so, but went on to discover the law of gravitational attraction, write the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, co-discover the calculus, and hold the presidency of the Royal Society before dying at the over-ripe old age of 84.
  • **

    Newton.

    624px-Newton-WilliamBlake

    Sir Isaac, I mean, Newton. That second quote came from Sir Isaac Newton, alchemist extraordinaire, listing his youthful sins — Newton who, by the way, calculated that the beginning of the reign of Christ would not occur before 2060, writing:

    And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of lived [sic] kingdoms, the period of 1260 days, if dated from the complete conquest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end A.C. 2060. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. Christ comes as a thief in the night, & it is not for us to know the times & seasons wch God hath put into his own breast.

    **

    So — would you lock up the young Newton and throw away the key? Or track down whoever phoned that threat to the pastor in Ferguson? I wouldn’t send them to Cambridge and expect too much of them ..

    Words can certainly be inflammatory — in some cases they result in flames..

    Lind on “the Navy’s Intellectual Seppuku”

    Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

    William Lind had a very important piece regarding an extraordinarily ill-considered move by the Navy brass:

    The Navy Commits Intellectual Seppuku 

    The December, 2013 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains an article, “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity” by Lt. Alexander P. Smith, that should receive wide attention but probably won’t. It warns of a policy change in Navy officer recruiting that adds up to intellectual suicide. Lt. Smith writes, “Starting next year, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with minimal studies in the humanities … As a result of the new policy, a high school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2 (engineering, hard sciences, and math), since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from this restricted pool.”

    ….The engineering way of thinking and the military way of thinking are not merely different. They are opposites. Engineering, math, and other sciences depend on analysis of hard data. Before you make a decision, you are careful to gather all the facts, however long that may take. The facts are then carefully analyzed, again without much regard for the time required. Multiple actors check and re-check each others’ work. Lowest-common-denominator, committee-consensus decisions are usually the safest course. Anything that is not hard data is rejected. Hunches have no place in designing a bridge.

    Making military decisions in time of war could not be more different. Intuition, educated guessing, hunches, and the like are major players. Hard facts are few; most information is incomplete and ambiguous, and part of it is always wrong, but the decision-maker cannot know how much or which parts. Creativity is more important than analysis. So is synthesis: putting parts together in new ways. Committee-consensus, lowest-common-denominator decisions are usually the worst options. Time is precious, and a less-than-optimal decision now often produces better results than a better decision later. Decisions made by one or two people are often preferable to those with many participants. There is good reason why Clausewitz warned against councils of war.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Rarely have I seen Lind more on target than in this piece.

    Taking a rank-deferential, strongly hierarchical organization and by design making it more of a closed system intellectually and expecting good things to happen should disqualify that person from ever being an engineer because they are clearly too dumb to understand what resilience and feedback are. Or second and third order effects.

    STEM, by the way, is not the problem. No one should argue for an all-historian or philosopher Navy either. STEM is great. Engineers can bring a specific and powerful kind of problem solving framework to the table. The Navy needs a lot of smart engineers.

    It is just that no smart engineer would propose to do this because the negative downstream effects of an all-engineer institutional culture for an armed service are self-evident.

    Thoughts on CNAS “Preparing for War in the Robotic Age”

    Friday, January 24th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    My reading at CNAS, which had once been frequent, declined with the waning of the Abu Muqawama blog. While formerly I usually scanned through CNAS reports on a regular basis after reading what Exum and his commenters had to say, toward the end I only visited when Adam and Dan had new posts up.

    At the gentle nudging of Frank Hoffman, I decided to read the latest CNAS product;  I’m pleased to say with the release of ” 20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age by Robert Work ( CNAS CEO and former Undersecretary of the Navy) and Shawn Brimley (CNAS Executive V.P. and former NSC Strategic Planning Director) CNAS has rolled out an intellectually provocative analysis on an important emerging aspect of modern warfare.

    Work and Brimley have done a number of things well and did them concisely (only 36 pages) in “20YY”:

    • A readable summary of the technological evolution of modern warfare in the past half century while distinguishing between military revolutions,  military-technical revolution and the the 80’s-90’s  American “revolution in military affairs“.
    • .
    • A more specific drill-down on the history of guided munitions and their game-changing importance on the relationship between offense and defense that flourished after the Gulf War. 
    • .
    • An argument that the proliferation of technology and information power into the hands unfriendly states and non-state actors is altering the strategic environment for the United States, writing:
    • .
    • “Meanwhile in the 13 years since the last 20XX game, foreign nation-state C41, surveillance and reconaissance systems, and guided munitions-battle network capabilities have become increasingly capable.  Indeed, these systems now form the very robust and advanced “anti-access and area denial”  (A2/AD) capabilities envisioned in the 20XX game series. The effect has been that the dominance enjoyed by the United States in the late 1990’s/2000’s in the area of high end sensors, guided weaponry, space and cyberspace systems and stealth technology has started to erode. Moreover the erosion is now occurring at an accelerated rate.”
    • .
    • Positing the near-future global proliferation of unmanned, autonomous, networked and swarmed robotic systems replacing( and leveraged by diminishing numbers of) expensive manpower and piloted platforms on the battlefield and altering the age-old relationship between a nation’s population base and the traditional calculation of its potential military power.
    • .
    • An argument that “warfare in the robotic age” will mean substantial to fundamental shifts in strategic calculation of deterrence, coercion, the use of force, operational doctrines and the evolution of military technology and that the United States must prepare for this eventuality.

    This report is well worth reading.  In my view there are some areas that require further exploration and debate than can be found in “20YY”. For example:

    • While the power of economics as a driver of unmanned, autonomous weapons is present, the implications are vastly understated. Every nation will face strategic investment choices between opting for simple and cheaper robotic platforms in mass and “pricing out” potential rivals by opting for “class” – fewer but more powerful, sophisticated and versatile robotic systems.
    • .
    • The scale of robot swarms are limited primarily by computing power and cost of manufactureand could be composed of robots from the size of a fly to that of a zeppelin. As John Robb has noted, this could mean billions of drones.
    • .
    • The US defense acquisition system and the armed services are ill-suited for fast and inexpensive introduction of robotic warfare technology – particularly if they threaten to displace profitable legacy platforms – as was demonstrated by the CIA rather than the USAF taking the lead on building a drone fleet.  Once foreign states reach parity, they may soon exceed us technologically in this area. A future presidential candidate may someday warn of  a growing ” robot gap” with China.
    • .
    • Reliance on robotic systems as the center of gravity of your military power carries a terrific risk if effective countermeasures suddenly render them useless at the worst possible time (“Our…our drone swarm….they’ve turned around…they are attacking our own troops….Aaaaahhhh!”)
    • .
    • The use of robotic systems to indiscriminately and autonomously kill is virtually inevitable much like terrorism is inevitable. As with WMD, the weaker the enemy, the less moral scruple they are likely to have in employing lethal robotic technology.
    • .
    • For that matter, the use of robotic systems by an authoritarian state against its own citizens to suppress insurgency, peaceful protest or engage in genocide against minority groups is also highly probable. Is there much doubt how the Kim Family regime in north Korea or Assad in Syria would make use of an army of “killer robots” if they feel their hold on power was threatened?
    • .
    • International Law is not currently configured for genuinely autonomous weapons with Ai operating systems. Most of the theorists and certainly the activists on the subject of  “killer robots” are more interested in waging lawfare exclusively against American possession and use of such weapons than in stopping their proliferation to authoritarian regimes or contracting realistic covenants as to their use.

    All in all “20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age provides much food for thought.

    In good, really good company

    Friday, January 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameronmildly NSFW if your office can’t handle Leonardo, which IMNSHO we should be able to manage now in this 21st century CE — and besides, it’s the weekend ]
    .

    Well, we here at Zenpundit have a particular interest in creative thinking, and this last evening I unexpectedly found myself in excellent creative company…

    …in a months-old blog-post by an old friend, an astrophysicist by profession who goes by the name Cygnus on the web — presumably after the constellation that harbors Deneb, and also Kepler-22b, the “first known transiting planet to orbit within the habitable zone of a Sun-like star” (WikiP, since I know no better). Cygnus means “swan” in Greek, and Zeus became a swan for his own imperious purposes when he saw LedaHelen of Troy being one of their offspring (see eggs in Da Vinci‘s image below), with the Trojan War ensuing.


    .

    Here’s then, is the A-Z of creative folk, as Cygnus pulled it together last April as part of an “A-Z- Challenge” — I’m honored and awed to be named in the company of such as Andre Breton, Donald Knuth, George Carlin, Octavia Butler, Samuel R Delany, Dame Frances Yates and the rest:

    **

    For April 2013, my theme for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge was “An A to Z of Masters of the Imagination that You Oughtta Know About.”  In other words, on each day I profiled a person whose brains were just overflowing with weirdness and creativity.  Here’s a list of the posts:

    **

    So that’s Cygnus’ list — quite a dinner party! You’ll recognise some members of your own constellation of creatives here, perhaps — feast on some of those you’re not yet familar with! Cygnus blogs about games and such at Servitor Ludi.

    As for me, I’ll simply offer you William Bulter Yeats‘ great poem Leda and the Swan, to celebrate the company I just found myself in, and close out a memorable evening:

    Leda and the Swan

    A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
    Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
    By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
    He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

    How can those terrified vague fingers push
    The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
    And how can body, laid in that white rush,
    But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

    A shudder in the loins engenders there
    The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
    And Agamemnon dead.
                                     Being so caught up,
    So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
    Did she put on his knowledge with his power
    Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

    Fukushima: which is worse for you, radiation or paranoia?

    Monday, January 6th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — frankly, I’m more concerned about the spiritually and socially corrosive impact of fear, myself ]
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    **

    I know, technically radiation and paranoia are incommensurables. But still…

    Blog-friend Cheryl Rofer posted today at Nuclear Diner, pointing out the fallacies in some recent reports about Fukushima, spreading like wildfire on the web:

    I particularly like the “Fukushima melt-through point” in one of the illustrations in that apparently original source, reproduced here. That’s referring to the China Syndrome, in which the melted reactor core melts down through the earth. But once it gets to the center, does it keep climbing, against gravity, to that “melt-through point”?

    How much outrageous or stupid stuff does it take to discredit a source? For me, the misuse of the tsunami map and the belief that a core could melt clear through the earth, against gravity, are quite enough.

    Boom!

    I recommend Chery’s whole piece, both to read and to circulate. And she includes a number of other more specific sources worth takeing a look at, including:

  • Radiation Basics
  • True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster
  • Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.
  • Three Reasons Why Fukushima Radiation Has Nothing to Do with Starfish Wasting Syndrome
  • **

    So: which does more harm to us in the long run, radiation – or paranoia?


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