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It is more important to have equations in your beauty..

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — musings on PAM Dirac and Hedy Lamarr ]

PAM Dirac once famously said, “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations that to have them fit experiment.” I was reminded of that quotation while musing over this DoubleQuote in the Wild celebrating the birthday yesterday of Hedy Lamarr — stunningly symmetrical movie star and frequency-hopping inventor:

Hedy Lamarr DQ Wild

To the left, the beauty herself, and to the right, the equations in the beauty — if one may take the liberty of saying that thoughts are “in” their thinker’s body — shown here in the form of the patent application Lamarr and composer George Antheil submitted fora “a system for the radio control of airborne torpedoes”.

I put that last phrase in quotes because that’s the way a New York Times piece described their joint invention. Me, I haven’t the foggiest about their inner workings, whereas the outer face of Hedy Lamarr I can see with utmost clarity.

As opposed to carnivores, militarily speaking

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — discussing the Iran deal, Gershom Gorenberg introduces me to some Israeli slang ]

Source: izquotes.com


Gershom Gorenberg is a friendly acquaintance from Center for Millennial Studies days, and his book The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount is one I admire, and one that is becoming more and more relevant as the days and years pass. In an article for Prospect, What a No Vote on the Iran Deal Would Mean, he cites “veterans of [Israel’s] military and intelligence agencies” as “the most prominent dissenters from Netanyahu’s position” on the Iran agreement, detailing:

There’s Shlomo Brom, ex-head of strategic planning in the Israeli general staff, who has debunked precisely the myths about the Vienna accord that fill Schumer and Sherman’s statements. Ami Ayalon, former commander of the Israeli Navy and ex-head of the Shin Bet security service, has stated that “when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option.” Yuval Diskin, another former Shin Bet director, this week tweeted in Hebrew that he “identifies absolutely” with Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column on why Israelis should support the accord.

He then admits bias — an unusual but welcome touch..

Yes, I’m picking my experts (though if space and patience allowed, I could list many more).

and gets to the remark that triggered my writing this post:

What Ayalon, Brom, Diskin, and colleagues who have expressed similar views have in common is that — to use Hebrew slang — they’re not “vegetarians.” They know there’s sometimes no choice but to use military force.


There’s a ratio here that would please my fellow designer/explorer of a Glass Bead Game variant, Paul Pilkington, author of three lovely small books on the Glass Bead Game [1, 2, 3] with a fourth in the works:

carnivore : vegetarian :: militarist : pacifist

— or something along those lines.


Ron Hale-Evans, another GBG variant designer and the founder of the Ludism site, in his Kennexions variant on the Bead Game would take just such a ratio, and apply to it the rules by which the Norse poets derived their “kennings” — cunning sleights-of-phrase by which they applied poetic epithets in place of common nouns.

As cantuse‘s post Dragonsilver: The True Nature and Purpose of Lightbringer tells us:

A kenning is a phrase that generally refers to any compound word that describes in figurative language something which could be expressed in a single-word. The principle derives from Old Norse epic traditions.

Ron suggests that “such an analogy provides four kennings possible (or at least permissible)”. In the case of the pacifist / vegetarian analogy, for instance, a carnivore would be kenned as a “vegetarian militarist”, a vegetarian as a “carnivore pacifist”, a militarist as a “pacifist carnivore”, and a pacifist as a “militarist vegetarian”.

The phrasing my seem awkward at first, but the kennings based on the analogy:

sea : whale :: road : horse

gave the Norse poets the poetic turns of phrase “whale road” for the sea, “sea horse” for the whale, “horse sea” for a road, and “road whale” for the horse, all of which make a fair amont of sense. And once you get the hang of it, you can think not just in ratios but in kennings, as the mind adapts to seing the binary oppositions (vegetarian / carnivore) as well as the paralellisms (vegetarian / pacifist) as a matter of course when encountering phrases such as “carnivore pacifist”.

Ron, if you’d care to update or correct me on Kennings / Kennexions, please feel free to do so — Paul, likewise with my use of ratios.


Since analogy lies at the heart of both cognition and creativity, it would be interesting to see what impact the habit of thinking in Paul’s ratios or Ron’ss kennings, if taught in schools, would have on creative thinking and, frankly, mathematics. I have the suspicion that..

ratios : kennings :: algebra : geometry

— but what do I know?


And what of the Iran nuclear deal, and all those Israeli natsec experts?

A Bit of Summer Reading

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

dead wakestraight to hellGhost Fleet

The Fate of a ManBachCalvin Coolidge


Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Straight to Hell, True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals, by John Lefevre

Ghost Fleet, A Novel of The Next Work War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole

The Fate of a Man, by Mikhail Sholokhov

BACH, Music in the Castle of Heaven, by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, by John Derbyshire

The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.

Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book  had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.

Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.

Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.

BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).

Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.

My China study continues, adding Edward Rice’s Mao’s Way, along with CAPT Peter Haynes’ Towards a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking on the Post-Cold War Era—-both are thus far very good. Also thanks to a friend, I recently spent some quality time with the late master naval strategist, Herbert Rosinski’s The Development of Naval Thought. This is my third or fourth pass through a very good little book.  If naval strategy holds any interest, this little book is not to be missed.

Are you reading any unusual titles?

Pete Turner on “Collecting Instability”

Friday, June 12th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Collection Center Collects Instability

Pete Turner of The Break it Down Show had a powerful post that encapsulated what is wrong with the American approach to intervention in foreign societies, both in terms of our aid and development programs as well as COIN and military assistance of various kinds.

Collection Center Collects Instability 

….A good example of what we did involves things called Collection Centers, which our government built to afford Afghan farmers a place to showcase products to vendors. The Center is supposed to create greater revenue for farmers. Despite the best of intent, and a lot of hard work, the program was and remains an utter disaster.

Why has the program been such a flop?

We, the US, came in and established these centers without ever considering how the existing system worked. We never bothered to determine how changing the system might be accepted or rejected, or cause harm to those we intended to help. We didn’t consider if the Afghans even had a system (which, of course, they did).

Instead of defining the existing system and assessing whether or how our tool might address a need, we just came in and started changing things It didn’t work, and we barely cared that it didn’t; and we reported the opposite.-

An aside–the if you read the report, look for mentions of Afghan involvement in the process. You won’t find it.  

I spoke with an Army Major in charge of the program and asked him about the existing local market chain from grower to consumer. He admitted that he didn’t know about it. When I asked why he was trying to change it, I was met with silence.

We also never considered if we were creating a harmful situation for farmers, and that ignorance caused unexpected and undesirable outcomes. At the most basic level, Taliban fighters notice “western” influence. A farmer who uses (though they never actually did) the collection center is exposing his allegiance with the US and therefore putting his family and himself in jeopardy. Further, the farmer buyer relationship is established relationship. Changing the nature of their transaction is reckless in such a conservative, Taliban influenced place. What we can’t do is create a situation that is perceived to increase uncertainty for farmers.

We built these centers throughout Afghanistan. At every instance, covering multiple units, I observed the same poor US decision-making. We never bothered to involve our Afghan partners in the decisions and never allowed them to guide us on how to work within their system. We forced these centers upon the people of Afghanistan, and wasted more than money and resources in the process. We wasted opportunities to actually improve the lot of the farmer, which makes de-legitimizing the Taliban fighters more challenging.

Read the whole post here.

Turner wore many different hats in Iraq and Afghanistan but in one extended tour in Zabul, Pete worked closely with political science Professor Richard Ledet, who in addition to his scholarly expertise, was uncannily good at donning local attire and blending in with Afghan villagers.

Dr. Richard Ledet

Turner and his partner Jon, interviewed Ledet recently on their program:

What happens when an institution attempts to make changes intending to improve the lot of others? What if they ignore culture and fail to communicate with the people designed to receive a benefit from the change? We address these questions in ourepisode with Dr. Richard Ledet.

We are fans of Rich. He’s a warrior, professor, surfer, hunter, all-around brilliant, rugged dude. His current gig is working as a Poli Sci professor at Troy University in Troy Alabama. Rich and I worked together in Afghanistan studying how effective or “affective” our work was as US assets helping Afghans. It’s not common for Poli Sci professors to get so close to the ground truth, and then to be able to test our policy and strategic programs as they implemented at the lowest level. This experience, we believe, is fascinating and applies directly to the real world.

Listen to the interview here on The Break it Down Show.

Language, language, please!

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron – unclear language gives an out-of-focus snapshot of reality, estimative language hopes to facilitate precision ]

Take a quick look, then skip to the rest of this post & come back later. Unless you already know this thing by heart, and perhaps nurse an inordinate hatred for it. In which case you can skip the whole post — we may even see eye to eye already..

NIE what we mean when we say estimative language


In light of the above, I was a tad surprised to read these words in Time this morning:

“Documents were also found and they prove, without any ambiguity, that the individual was preparing an imminent attack, in all probability, against one or two churches,” Cazeneuve said.

Somehow the combination of “without any ambiguity” and “in all probability” didn’t quite mesh. But the original speaker was French, so I did whatever diligence I could muster, and found this, selon Minister Cazeneuve:

Les perquisitions menées à son domicile ont permis de retrouver, outre de l’armement et du matériel de vidéo, des écrits « établissant sans ambiguïté que l’individu projetait de commettre un attentat, vraisemblablement contre une ou deux églises », a précisé Bernard Cazeneuve.

Apparently Le Monde viewed Cazeneuve as having “clarified” the matter, bringing it to precision.. And I suppose that means we should read the Minister’s words as indicating that the intention to attack was proven “without ambiguity” while the targeting of “one or two” churches was — my French is rusty, so I asked Larousselikely, convincing, or plausible.

All of which is by way of remarking on the necessity for — and inherent problems arising regarding — what’s called “estimative language”. Problems which may be doubly obscure in translation.

Unless someone suggests a “plausible” reference from Walsingham, Marlowe or Shakespeare, a decent starting point for consideration is to be found in Sherman Kent’s 1964 Words of Estimative Probability:

It should not come as a surprise that the fact is far from the ideal, that considerable difficulty attends both the fitting of a phrase to the estimators’ meaning and the extracting of that meaning by the consumer. Indeed, from the vantage point of almost fourteen years of experience, the difficulties seem practically insurmountable.

For a more recent take on the matter, and to see whether we’re surmounting the insurmountable yet, there’s always the chart at the head of this post, taken from the 2007 NIE on Prospects for Iraq’s Stability — something we should still be worrying about eight years later, no?


No sense in beating about the bush: poets can handle this sort of thing better than layfolk, but then – what’s the use? Who can read poetry any more?

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