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Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

On behalf of Charles and Scott, I would like to wish all the readers a happy and safe holiday!

What all these measures will not address is the mindset

Monday, December 24th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — concerning the implications of the phrase “all things visible and invisible” ]

In the upper panel above, you can see a bunch of “guns and ammo” displayed on a table, and in the lower panel, a bunch of “hearts and minds” similarly displayed. Putting that another way, you can see guns and ammo but you can’t see hearts and minds — they’re invisible, you can only intuit them.

And therein lies the reason we focus so much on the quantitative and so little on the qualitative: we can see and count the one, the other is invisible and unaccountable.


I thought the paragraph that follows was terrific. The article I’ve taken it from happens to be about a multiple rape of a teenage girl this July in India, and it was posted on the Times of India site. If that’s an issue of importance to you, the article is Why Indian men rape by Anand Soondas. It’s not the whole article that I’m pointing you to, though — it’s just this one paragraph:

We at The Times of India in our edition today laid out a 6-point action plan to make India safer for women – harsher punishment, sensitization of the police force, setting up of fast-track courts, better patrolling, cleverer use of technology like GPS and CCTVs and a data base of public transport personnel – but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.

More specifically, I want to address you to its concluding phrase: What all these measures will not address is the mindset.

I want to re-purpose that paragraph. I want to remove the specific problem and proposed solutions, and to see the paragraph as a form, a vessel into which all manner of liquids could be poured.

The form would look something like this:

What follows is an n-point plan to make the world a better place — do x, do y, do z, do abc if it comes to that — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.

What all these measures will not address is the mindset.


We almost always think about ways to fix the world, but forget that any and every fix has to work its way through not just our own mindset — though that can be a problem in itself — but also the multiple mindsets and differing culture sets of multiple others.

  • Do this, that and the other in Afghanistan — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other about Syria, about Egypt, about the Middle East, the Arab Spring — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other to combat global warming — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other about the possession and use of firearms — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other, and the world will be a far better place.
  • The thing is, you can’t simply deploy other people’s hearts and minds, the way you can deploy your own troops and materiel.

    The circle in the swirl

    Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — the one prediction that never fails to amaze is “surprise”! ]


    There are two great paeans to diversity that my mind constantly recurs to: the Svalbard global seed vault, with its more than 750,000 distinct varieties of seed deposited in “black boxes” by various national genebanks — and the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins‘ great poem, Pied Beauty:

    GLORY be to God for dappled things—
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.

    The world is fundamentally dappled: look where you will, you will find general rules — and unexpected exceptions. The whole Syrian opposition business is dappled, it’s a mixed bag, it’s subtle.

    I dunno, maybe this can be my motto: keep it subtle, stupid.


    Seen from another angle… variety is, as they say, the spice of life.

    Or as the Qur’an puts it (49:13):

    O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most godfearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-aware.

    Finding a novel use for my two-quote format..

    Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — on straight shooting, but more about logic than guns ]


    If you tie me down across some railroad tracks (no, that’s not me) and I can feel a train coming and you say you’ll cut me loose if and only if I vote for or against “gun control” I’ll hastily but reluctantly admit to being for it.

    The haste, you’ll understand, comes from my not wishing to be cut in three or four by the onrushing train, while the reluctance comes from my sense that my political opinions, such as they are, are usually more indicative of my generally kindly nature than of any rigorous analysis of likely first, second, third and nth order impacts of whatever it is we’re discussing.

    But okay, my sympathies are with gun control — while my awareness of my own ignorance prompts me not to put much stock in those sympathies.


    But then I come across this article in Forbes, which disturbs me enough to prompt me into a new idea, a novel use for my SPECS or DoubleQuotes format.

    I’ll use that format to present you with two paragraphs from that article, one of them slightly abridged, which follow one another directly. And my question for you, as you read them, is how can the authors get from the top paragraph, with all its questions and cautious qualifications, to the one immediately below it, with its claim of unquestioning certainty.

    I’d say that the paragraph that immediately follows the first one doesn’t follow from it at all, logically speaking — I’d say there’s a non sequitur in there. And for me, that’s a novel use of the two quotes format — to suggest that someone is taking an impermissible leap.


    Because as far as I can see, the only way to get from the first paragraph to the second is via a leap of hope — a determination, present from the beginning, to arrive at a fixed conclusion, in this case, that firing guns is addictive.

    As I’ve said, I have some sympathy with gun control legislation — but I don’t much like it when sympathies masquerade as science, even when I share them.

    So what do we call that kind of leap?

    Leaping to a hasty conclusion? Jumping the gun, perhaps? Jumping the shark?

    Foust on “False Fears of Autonomous Weapons”

    Friday, December 21st, 2012

    Hat tip for a strong recommendation from Adam Elkus:

    Josh Foust has a very sensible piece up about the seemingly endless furor about “killer drones” (we never called our warplanes “Killer F-16’s” or guided weapons “killer cruise missiles”).

    The false fear of autonomous weapons 

    ….Many of the processes that go into making lethal decisions are already automated. The intelligence community (IC) generates around 50,000 pages of analysis each year, culled from hundreds of thousands of messages. Every day analysts reviewing targeting intelligence populate lists for the military and CIA via hundreds of pages of documents selected by computer filters and automated databases that discriminate for certain keywords.

    In war zones, too, many decisions to kill are at least partly automated. Software programs such as Panatir collect massive amounts of information about IEDs, analyze without human input, and spit out lists of likely targets. No human could possibly read, understand, analyze, and output so much information in such a short period of time.

    Automated systems already decide to fire at targets without human input, as well. The U.S. Army fields advanced counter-mortar systems that track incoming mortar rounds, swat them out of the sky, and fire a return volley of mortars in response without any direct human input. In fact, the U.S. has employed similar (though less advanced) automated defensive systems for decades aboard its navy vessels. Additionally, heat-seeking missiles don’t require human input once they’re fired – on their own, they seek out and destroy the nearest intense heat source regardless of identity.

    It’s hard to see how, in that context, a drone (or rather the computer system operating the drone) that automatically selects a target for possible strike is morally or legally any different than weapons the U.S. already employs.


    Most of the anti-drone arguments are a third hand form of opposition to US foreign policy or Counterterrorism policy for a variety of reasons, sometimes tactical and strategic, but mostly just political. Saying you are against inhuman drone strikes sounds a hell of a lot better than honestly saying that you would be against any kind of effective use of military force by the US against al Qaida and the Taliban in any and all circumstances. I can’t imagine Human Rights Watch would be happier if the US were using F-16’s and B-52’s instead.

    Or commandos with small arms for that matter.

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