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Agreeable disagreement, disagreeable agreement

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

[jotted down quickly by Lynn C. Rees]

  1. Politics is the division of power.
  2. The power divided is a variable mix of violence and influence.
  3. The division of power tends to favors those who best wield violent power.
  4. The reason of man exists for victory, not truth.
  5. Victory is measured in agreement, the number of minds who fuel a division of power.
  6. Agreement is peace, a thinning in politics.
  7. Disagreement is conflict, an escalation in politics.
  8. Agreement, once agreed, tends to stay agreed.
  9. Agreement that stays agreed is the most effective way to convert agreement into violence.
  10. The ultimate measure of victory is how well it converts agreement into violence.
  11. Man tends to stay agreed with what he already agrees with:
    • it is the most powerful fuel for the politics of others he agrees with.
    • it reduces power lost by making new agreements.
  12. Man tends to agree with whatever agrees with increases in his own division of power.
  13. Maintenance of the objective, concentration of power, and keeping the initiative are powerful contributors to victory.
  14. Refusal to disagree with what he already agrees with tends to keep:
    • man’s eye single to the glory of his objective
    • man’s power concentrated
    • man from losing the initiative
  15. Yet politics divides power by converting disagreement into agreement.
  16. The intensity and mix of disagreement dictates the intensity and mix of violence and influence needed to convert it into agreement.
  17. Influence is the refinement of argument.
  18. The reason of man exists to refine less effective argument into more effective argument.
  19. Where the argument of influence fails, the argument of violence might succeed.

Aurora, Samarra, Vermont…

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

[ By Charles Cameron — the gun issue, complexity, human beings being humans and the world we live in ]

As always, I’m a fence-sitter bridge-builder, not wanting to take sides, preferring to talk with them.

The irritating beauty of these two quotes is that either one taking separately might seem like a “case closed” argument in favor of guns or gun control — but taken together, they show the world to be a dappled place.

Here’s the lead-in to that Vermont quote:

One facet of Vermont life is neither famous nor quaint: Vermonters are armed to the teeth. Guns are absolutely everywhere. Rifles. Pistols. Shotguns. Muzzle-loaders. Semi-automatics. 50 caliber tripod-mount “semi” automatics that could take out aircraft. Every firearm you can possibly imagine. Vermont could be the most armed part of the world per capita, as rife with firearms as Afghanistan, but with trees and cheddar cheese…

Things are weird that way: just when you think you’ve got them figured out, there’s an exception to the rule… a black dot in the white part of the yin-yang symbol… an anomaly that challenges the easy paradigm.

Dappled, as Hopkins puts it.


Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

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 complex: scientists using microscopes and a suite of 128 computers recently (and triumphantly) managed to simulate the genome of one of the smallest micro-organisms in the world, Mycoplasma genitalium (neat name, that):

Alexis Madrigal (another neat name, btw) writes:

“Right now, running a simulation for a single cell to divide only one time takes around 10 hours and generates half a gigabyte of data,” lead scientist Covert told the New York Times. “I find this fact completely fascinating, because I don’t know that anyone has ever asked how much data a living thing truly holds.”

One cell. One division. Half a gig of data. Now figure that millions of bacteria could fit on the head of a pin and that many of them are an order of magnitude more complex than M. genitalium.

Yup. So think how complex the world is. No wonder we name things, divide stuff up into categories — use quite a large chunk of our brains for making distinctions.

But then think how complex the humans studying M. genitalium (still like that name, but this’ll be the last time I mention it) themselves must be… As Madrigal (really a nice name, you can almost sing it) goes on to point out:

Or ponder the idea that the human body is made up of 10 trillion (big, complex) human cells, plus about 90 or 100 trillion bacterial cells. That’s about 100,000,000,000,000 cells in total. That’d take a lot of computers to model, eh? If it were possible, that is.


Complexity looks at complexity with a view to modeling it. Simple, you think? Complex, you’d say?

The world’s a subtle place, and I might just go live in Vermont.

But people get shot in Vermont too, from time to time — there’s always a black and bleeding bullet-hole in the white half of the yin yang symbol — this world is hopelessly dappled.

And you know that story Somerset Maugham tells about Samarra?

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Idries Shah tells a version of the same story as “When Death Came to Baghdad” in his Tales of the Dervishes, but with Samarkand rather than Samarra as the fatal destination.

It just might be the same with Vermont.

Ronald Reagan Roundtable: “full of jovial doom” by Charles Cameron

Friday, February 11th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Yesterday I made my post on the ChicagoBoyz roundtable about President Reagan’s enthusiasm for prophecies of the end times:

Knowing of my interest in matters apocalyptic, you wouldn’t expect me to pass up President Reagan‘s connection with Ezekiel and the Revelation of John of Patmos on an occasion such as this, would you?
I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of people who believe in prophecy having their fingers on the triggers of nuclear weapons. Ronald Reagan was one such, and didn’t press the trigger — a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. Perhaps it was his “jovial” approach to “doom” that made the difference.
The story is actually quite fascinating…

and (quoting the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a group which advocates for nuclear disarmament):

According to his wife, Nancy, “Ronnie had many hopes for the future, and none were more important to America and to mankind than the effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons.”
President Reagan was a nuclear abolitionist…

Since that time, Lex has strongly critiqued my post, I’ve responded, and y’all are cordially invited to chime in…
But I didn’t want to clog that more serious business with what one might term “apocalyptic trivia” – even though such things can be interesting in their own right as samples of humor, conspiracy etc – so I’ll follow that up today with one of my DoubleQuotes here on ZP.

Book Review: Magic and Mayhem by Derek Leebaert

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy From Korea to Afghanistan by Derek Leebaert

As I mentioned previously, I enjoyed Derek Leebaert’s earlier Cold War history, The Fifty Year Wound, so I was pleased to be sent a courtesy review copy of his latest work, Magic and Mayhem:The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan. Leebaert, a professor of government who teaches foreign policy at Georgetown university, does not disapoint; Magic and Mayhem is a lively and highly provocative excoriation of of the dysfunctional political culture of making foreign and national security policy in America.  While I found many fine points of disagreement with Leebaert in Magic and Mayhem, his broad themes constitute a healthy challenge to a dolorous status quo in Washington.

In Leebaert’s view, American foreign policy suffers from being crafted under two related evils: a culture of “magical thinking” and a cadre of professional alarmists, the “Emergency Men” who constitute a kind of self-appointed, adrenalin-addicted, national security ecclesia who exploit the magical thinking of the public and labor under its delusions themselves. It is this dual embrace of ends without a priori examination of means or ways and a lust for action that leads our foreign policy elite to embrace all manner of costumed charlatans with polished English language skills who are allegedly willing and able to be America’s “partner” in dangerous neignorhoods. From South Korean autocrats to African kleptocrats to figures of a more recent vintage. Leebaert writes:

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, with his Western-style technocrats and talk of democracy, was immensely appealing to Washington after the Taliban was ousted.  For more than seven years, reports the Times Dexter Filkins, Karzai was a “White House favorite – a celebrity in a flowing cape and dark grey fez” a dramatic outfit that he had designed himself but that had no origin in Afghani dress…..

….”We thought we had found a miracle man” moaned one diplomat. On closer inspection, the sorcerer proved unconvincing as the opium trade and corruption flourished.

I have always wondered where the hell that cape came from.

Leebaert takes aim at a wide variety of targets. I definitely do not agree with his assessments of everything and everyone who has caught his ire, but it is a list that is breathtaking in expanse; a parade of names and terms that includes, but is not limited to:

George Kennan
Douglas MacArthur
Paul Nitze
Robert McNamara
McGeorge Bundy
Peter Rodman
Donald Rumsfeld
Richard Holbrooke
Henry Kissinger
John McCain
Arms Control
John F. Kennedy

Richard Nixon
Curtis LeMay
Defense intellectuals
Lyndon Johnson
Maxwell Taylor
Dick Cheney
Cyrus Vance
George W. Bush
Oliver North
Revolution in military affairs
Richard Perle
Crisis management
MAD theory
Strategic/Security Studies
Walt Rostow
Wiliam Westmoreland
Robert Kennedy
Bernard Lewis
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Lawrence Summers
George Tenet
Robert Kaplan
Samuel Huntington
John Abizaid
Stan McChrystal
Barack Obama
David Ignatius
Thomas Friedman
David Brooks
US Public Diplomacy
Jimmy Carter
Michael O’Hanlon

That, by the way, was not comprehensive.

It would be a much shorter list to cite those statesmen of whom Leebaert approved – men like Henry Stimson, Dean Acheson, Matthew Ridgway, Omar Bradley, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, George Schultz and Ronald Reagan. The book is not flawless. There are minor factual errors. Not every person or doctrine in Magic and Mayhem is considered in depth.  At times, Leebaert comes across as glib or superficial in his criticism, but predominantly, as with the cases of Kissinger or Rumsfeld, his bitter jeremiads are skewering their targets.

Leebaert argues for a considered retreat from policy alarmism and the cult of emergency, and for a reduction of ambitious American policy grandiosity that would flow from recognizing and respecting the agency of other nation’s leaders and peoples. Implicitly, a call not so much for isolationism, as for restraint and a sense of proportion, coupled with a dimunition of status and power for national security “celebrities” and the cottage industry of think tank consultancy for which they stand.

Magic and Mayhem is a book that was written to demystify shibboleths and smash idols.

Missile Defense Defense

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I begin by stating I do not have the technical competence required to make an independent assessment here.

Recently, the NYT published an article quoting leading missile defense critic,  MIT Professor Ted Postol:

Review Cites Flaws in U.S. Antimissile Program

Mr. Obama’s announcement of his new antimissile plan in September was based on the Pentagon’s assessment that the SM-3, or Standard Missile 3, had intercepted 84 percent of incoming targets in tests. But a re-examination of results from 10 of those apparently successful tests by Theodore A. Postol and George N. Lewis, being published this month, finds only one or two successful intercepts – for a success rate of 10 to 20 percent.

Most of the approaching warheads, they say, would have been knocked off course but not destroyed. While that might work against a conventionally armed missile, it suggests that a nuclear warhead might still detonate. At issue is whether the SM-3 needs to strike and destroy the warhead of a missile – as the Pentagon says on its Web site.

“The system is highly fragile and brittle and will intercept warheads only by accident, if ever,” said Dr. Postol, a former Pentagon science adviser who forcefully criticized the performance of the Patriot antimissile system in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Naturally, the Pentagon disagreed with Dr. Postol, but their response was unusually blistering this time (and ignored by the Times):

Missile Defense Agency Responds to New York Times Article

….This sea-based interceptor missile is designed to intercept and destroy short to medium-range ballistic missiles using “hit to kill” technology, which means that the interceptor collides directly with the target missile or warhead, and destroys the target using only the force of the collision.  The allegation that target intercepts were reported as successful when they were not successful is wrong, and the data presented by the authors in the article is flawed, inaccurate and misleading.

In each successful intercept test the target missile was destroyed by the Aegis BMD/SM-3 system due to the extreme kinetic energy resulting from the “hit to kill” intercept.  In each instance, the mission objective of “hit to kill” of the unitary or separating target was achieved. 

Postol and Lewis apparently based their assessment on publicly released photos gleaned from a sensor mounted aboard the SM-3 and postulated what they perceived to be the interceptor’s impact point although they had no access to classified telemetry data showing the complete destruction of the target missiles, or subsequent sensor views of the intercept that were not publicly released so as not to reveal to potential adversaries exactly where the target missile was struck.

Actually, the publicly released videos, which can be seen at www.mda.mil/news/gallery_aegis.html, and from which the still photos were extracted, show infrared images from both interceptor and airborne sensors demonstrating the complete destruction of the target missiles.

All of the tests cited by the authors as “misses” were tests involving short-range unitary targets, when the warhead remains attached to the booster rocket.  These tests were correctly described by the Missile Defense Agency as successful intercepts, because they successfully intercepted the target.  Post-test analysis from collected telemetry showed that the interceptor’s kill vehicle impacted the target body or warhead within inches of the expected impact point that was calculated to maximize damage against a variety of warhead types.

….The authors of the SM-3 study cited only tests involving unitary targets, and chose not to cite the five successful intercepts in six attempts against separating targets, which, because of their increased speed and small size, pose a much more challenging target for the SM-3 than a much larger unitary target missile. They also did not mention the fact the system is successfully intercepting targets much smaller than probable threat missiles on a routine basis, and have attained test scores that many other Defense Department programs aspire to attain.

I mention all this because my amigo Shane Deichman, who like Postol, is a physicist and a former scientific adviser for the DoD (Postol for the Chief of Naval Operations, Deichman for JFCOM) and is currently working at the National Missile Defense Agency, felt that the rebuttal scored a direct hit on Postol’s claims about the system tests ( which might explain why it did not get cited by the NYT, though in fairness, the Times did quote the agency spokesman). I trust Shane’s judgment but I’m not able to expound on it, so he is cordially invited to add any comments here that he might wish that might further the reader’s (and my own) understanding.

Comments are, of course, open to all.

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