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12/23/2003

Part 2: Mate, Spawn, and Die

Let's set the existence-of-god issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo -- which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead. (Cryptonomicon)


So, roughly 15 or so billion years ago, an event occurred: one that we are still trying to reconstruct, decipher, and find the receipt for. This event was rather significant, to me at least, insofar as the universe (at least the one that I think I may be sharing with you right now) was created during this spectacularly odd incident. Since then, a whole raft of things have happened, but one of particular interest to this discussion is that few billion years ago, a class of self-replicating, self-organizing thingamajigs came forth from the muck in what could be fairly described as the strip-mall-and-condo-portion of the suburban Milky Way galaxy.

There are a number of ways to look at what, exactly, the point of having living creatures around actually is, most of which I intend to leave to the professional god-botherers, logic-choppers, and other assorted denizens of the musty halls of the ivory tower. Naturally, there is a lot of really good material on this subject which explains in great and gory (and mostly true) detail the things that I'll be skimming over or just plain making up. Since I am a Bear of Very Little Brain who is often vexed by complex things, this is more of a narrative than a literal accounting of what RNA and DNA have been up to for the last few billion years.

The specific sense in which I'm interested in evolution deals with the notion that a defining characteristic of a living creature is that it is a spontaneously and continuously self-ordering system. Rather than simply breaking down and decaying in the traditional matter of all material things, or even ticking along as a complex, chaotic system, living creatures are, for at least a while, both self-healing and self-sustaining, and try to the best of their limited abilities to fend off the inexorable onslaught of entropy. To be absolutely fair, there are some sorts of non-living systems which are, in a limited sense, locally self-ordering, such as crystal growth. However, such systems do not heal, and as such are not continuously self-ordering and just plain don't make for good discussion in talks about breaking things and killing stuff.

Heretofore, all systems and things generally approached entropy the same way -- they decayed, decomposed, or otherwise faded away. This, being in keeping with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is not entirely unforeseen. However, the development of systems that were spontaneously locally self-ordering was at the time, I imagine, quite a shock. For the first time ever (and far as we know, the only time), entropy was no longer automatically lord and master of all systems it surveyed. If you think about it, it's kind of like a set of parts that suddenly deciding to assemble themselves into a Lear jet, or something -- or even a less likely event, like the papers on my desk spontaneously filing themselves.

The behavior of these systems is governed by rule sets, or programs. When the first primitive self-healing and self-sustaining gadget emerged from the primordial muck, the programs that ran these baffling mechanical contrivances basically did their thing. Now some of these devices “discovered� (through natural selection) that code sets that produced machines that were self-replicating and carried copies of their rule sets did fairly well, as the inability to replicate makes a given set of rules terribly susceptible to single-point failure. This led to development of replication.

The instructions that governed the behavior of these programs were encoded in these bits of inanimate stuff (components of living creatures being inanimate on their own) suffered the same inevitable decay that afflicts all inanimate objects. Hence, there was always an ongoing process of mutation and damage to the records that held all of the behavior guidelines for the given organism.

This caused greater problems than one would initially imagine. On the one hand, one would like to keep the amount of corruption in the code -- be it from errors in replication or from environmental damage -- down to a dull roar. However, this results in a situation such that if errors in replication never arise, then there aren't a whole lot of ways to change the genetic code and actually evolve. Quite a conundrum, for any would-be evolutionary heavies or other assorted itinerant masters of the planet.

Well, as it turns out, this whole replication thing turned out to be quite a boon. Without getting into details, replication was quite an effective solution to this whole problem of dealing with code corruption while permitting updates and upgrades, by swapping genetic material during the replication process. Hence, these now-replicating creatures developed some of the earliest communications -- the local operating systems for each machine were able to evolve and spread their instruction sets as far and wide as Darwin's system would allow.

With the gradual increase in the number of living things, a sort of proto-economics emerged with the discovery of scarcity. One can easily imagine that creatures seek out the conditions most favorable to their own ongoing prosperity. The main problem being that a whole lot of creatures sought similar environments.

Well, since actual economists weren't going to arrive on the scene for billions of years yet, early creatures had a limited number of responses available, which Neil Stephenson alludes to in the quote at top. They could spam the environment with crude copies of themselves, they could expand into marginal niche environments, or they could get medieval on their neighbors. We've touched on the spamming approach above. Expanding into niches has been pretty successful, but isn't always the best answer, since these niches are quite often marginal and aren't necessarily very conducive to this whole business of going forth and ensuring the dominance of your particular set of programming instructions through procreation. While one beast is busy trying to eke out an existence on an ice floe, another competing program is feeding and breeding in a green pasture somewhere a lot more bucolic.

So that leaves us with the third option -- doing other each other in. Far and away, the most common mechanism for one of these self-ordering machines to do one another in is to radically increase the amount of disorder in an opponent, to the extent that it completely overpowers self-repair mechanisms, causing the unfortunate victim to expire. Having figured out how to heal themselves, the self-ordering organisms discovered that giving entropy a helping shove was a pretty effective means of booting other critters off of the mortal coil.

Now the astute reader will note that not all natural competition involves killing opponents, some, like contention over mates, isn't necessarily fatal (excluding odd cases like Helen of Troy, or Joey Buttafuco). For the time being, however, I am just focusing on critters knocking each other off -- as that is a critical factor driving natural selection. Moreover, if such a mode of competition didn't exist, we wouldn't all be the happy, go-lucky "nightmarishly lethal, mimetically programmed death-machines" that we are, sitting around and reading blogs and whatnot, and I would be deprived of something to write about.

The details of the methodology of lethal natural competition, while critical to a whole bunch of discussions evolution, aren't of a lot of specific interest in the very broad sense we're looking at now. We must remember that in the context of complex, chaotic systems, a small injury is seldom enough to totally disrupt a chaotic system. However, once influences on that system become large and comprehensive enough, the robustness of the chaotic system itself can be overcome. And once that's happened, our formerly hale and healthy complex, chaotic system can usually check right on out and meander off to the watering hole of the hereafter to chat with other failed contestants.

At any rate, individual machines started realizing the benefits of collective action in the microbial world, and started agglomerating into larger blobs of multi-celled creatures. These larger critters did, of course, require more resources, but in the community of single-celled organisms, a multi-celled blob can make itself heard. This was a big step up, system-wise, as now the thing created by these rule sets and programs was actually larger and more complex than the things bearing the instructions. Prior to this, all living organisms were these sort of independent musicians, each carrying their own sheet music, going off to pursue solo careers. Now, these individual things were now grouping together into marauding bands of cells that actually constituted individual organisms. In other words, this was the first appearance of organic systems larger and more complex than the individual constituent components.

Very shortly thereafter, specialization arose. Some of the cells of one of these blobs took it upon themselves to start doing things like being a tough skin or armor, others started to worry about sensory perception and reconnaissance. Other sorts of cells seized upon the problem of locomotion and mobility while still other unfortunates got drafted into the alimentary system and microbial KP. This was an astonishing vote for the viability of multi-celled critters, insofar as these newly specialized sorts of cells (excepting seeds and the like) couldn't generally jump ship and strike out on their own. This, of course, has been a great relief to many college students whose brains and livers would have probably scuttled off for parts unknown if left to their own devices.

So far, all these self-ordering machines are wandering around and operating according to some hard-wired instruction set that each of the critters carried around, generally in their cell nuclei. These instinctive sets of behaviors were a great way for programs to continue their propagation, as instinctive behaviors are incredibly easy to implement -- think about having to teach toddlers to be messy. Along the way, programs that contained instructions arose that were very good at ensuring the continued success of the instruction sets and the survival of the machines that carried these programs. Instruction sets for machines that were less good at ensuring the survival of its carriers either changed to get good at ensuring such survival or were exiled, often forcibly, from the gene pool altogether.

Fairly early on, programs developed differing strategies for doing their respective things. A couple of them are worth touching on. Among these strategies was the notion of cooperation. The rule sets in governing a given type of critter came to “realize� that even if a specific critter could not itself reproduce, ensuring that another organism of the same species was able to reproduce still helped to ensure the overall survival of a set of coding instructions. This was a revolutionary development as it meant a situation had arisen in which one animal might start actively working to ensure that another animal was able to reproduce, simply because the other animal shared sufficiently similar genetic code that the overall instruction set would be able to spread.

This development means we start seeing the arrival of program and instruction sets that govern the behavior of systems larger than the individual multi-celled critters carrying the instruction sets. From another point of view, this means that instruction sets had discovered external systems. These systems were a rather interesting development, as they were comprised of individual organisms (or systems), each carrying a similar set of instructions that allowed the creation of a much larger system. By way of analogy, the rise of one-celled organisms is to multi-celled creatures as multi-celled creatures are to groups of creatures.

On some level, instructions evolved to the point that information and rule sets governing behavior adapted to the point that individual creatures could impart certain knowledge to other members of the same species, particularly young ones. This is how learning and learned behavior arose. This gigantic improvement allowed for the rise of global rule sets larger, more detailed, more comprehensive, and more adaptable than could otherwise be managed by purely instinctual rule sets governed wholly by the information contained in genetic code.

More significantly, it meant that all the sudden a change in behavior could occur in less than one generation -- often much, much less. If you think about it, it's a pretty big deal if you don't have to wait for natural selection to teach folks that sticking one's tongue to a frozen light pole is a bad move. Rather than having to wait for natural selection to go through the incredibly tedious process of winnowing out beasts that did stupid things, animals were able to learn that stupid behavior is bad, without having to communicate that point solely through evolutionary change in genetic code. This was pretty significant insofar as it allowed for rule sets larger and more complex than could be coded in one set of genetic instructions to be created and propagate.

When this ability to learn was coupled with the ability of large numbers of organisms to cooperate, we have now the proper and full arrival of spontaneously self-organizing and self-healing systems larger than the individual creatures of which they are comprised. When combined with the rules governing the behavior of individual beasts, it now made sense to look at a group of animals as an individual organism of sorts. Or, viewed another way, the ability of an individual creature to pass on and ensure the domination of instruction sets was governed by rule sets that operated on both the level of the individual and the group.

The creation of the herd, school, hive, and flock permitted the development of a form of specialization, which allowed for synergistic cooperation among like critters. Granted, the specialization was often quite limited -- some animals specialized in being old and injured, and provided the service of being easy prey while younger, productive animals fled death and so on. In other cases, the young bucks protected the herd against some kinds of aggressors and predators, while females gave birth and raised the new generation of animals. In cases like insect hives, individual insects can become relatively specialized in roles as warriors, drones, and queens.

Overall, perhaps it's not so much the notion that self-ordering, healing, and replicating machines appeared on the scene that is quite as surprising as the fact that all the ordered rule sets that govern these groups gizmos themselves act sort of like living organisms. The rule sets are self-ordering, self-healing, and self-replicating and started to generate systems of living organisms that themselves behave in the manner of organisms, meta-organisms, if you will. As odd as is it to consider a set of parts that spontaneously organizes itself into a jet, imagine that these self-building jets started to spontaneously organize themselves into airlines.

Now cooperation became a matter of both learned behavior and genetic imperative. In a distinct break from a long history of simple life-or-death struggle, some creatures were now compelled to cooperate and ensure that, failing all else, their siblings, peers and offspring were able to give rise to healthy progeny, as it still allowed for the spread of the larger instruction set.

This tendency to cooperate was also offset by the increased competition associated with the fact that each of these groups of animals sought out and competed for the same exact environments.

One thing that bears explicit mention about these self-propagating instruction sets is that the ones that survive for any length of time are pretty damned serious about the business of staying in business. The “will� for these instruction sets to live and procreate is generally stronger than any other imperative guiding the behavior of these sets. Any organism or meta-organism guided by an instruction set that is less than absolutely deadly serious about continuing the survival of itself and its progeny simply becomes a runner-up and has-been in the stupendous badass sweepstakes: i.e., dead.

It has been roughly 3 billion years or so since living creatures appeared in these precincts. 3 billion years is an awfully long time -- almost too large to contemplate. It is a number of years just about equivalent to the number of seconds in a century. And for every day that critters have been populating this globe, they have been engaged in a literally life-or-death Hobbsean struggle, searching for some minor edge or bit of leverage that would simply allow an instruction set to stay in the game for another round. Anything that has evolved from this long, difficult, and quite often violent process, is a stupendous badass, indeed.

EBS: Updates and maintenance

I've, for the most part, kicked out the band of marauding bacteria that had taken residence in my lungs. So, I'm well just in time to leave for Christmas and lay off of blogging for a bit. I'm trying to catch up on blogging housekeeping here, so bear with the absolute lack of theme or thought.

That being said, here's a few new folks who have asked to be nuked back. And nuked back they will be. It's Christmas at Ground Zero for everyone!

So, in no particular order, let's start off with the amazing Doctor Weevil -- the unparalleled purveryor of "Punditry, Pedantry, Poetry, and Pie ('Mmmmm . . . . Pie!')" I've honestly not seen a lot of pie (or pi) blogging on his site, but the man is an ace of the classics and can generally be seen smiting Max Sawicki of the MaxSpeaks blog. Don't bother reading it - Lord knows I won't bother linking to it. Anywho, Dr. Weevil is one of the most polished and erudite bloggers around (and has a most excellent and discriminating blogroll) - go take a peak.

Another re-entry vehicle of goodness to Molotov Cocktail Frank, by Kruglosutochnyi Chris. Good stuff, with doses of sports blogging, incisive political commentary, the occasional Russia bit and, more recently, an exploration of Chris' knee. Guess you just have to read it to get the flavor of the Frank.

We also have Pseudorandom Thoughts, the blog of a gentleman, Ray, at Princeton, who describes himself as a "demented physics major, who has an unholy interest in things political." Good stuff. And a person I am spectacularly glad was able to comment on my recent post about order and systems.

Speaking of which, I would also like to direct you to the Big Hominid's two posts on order and disorder, combined with Ray's excellent commentary, it makes for some thought provoking material. I intend to post a response to that stuff fairly soon, but first, I must digest and recuperate over the Eggnog and bad behavior holidays. But just because I'm being lame doesn't mean that all y'all should avoid the ongoing discussion. Drink, eat, be merry, talk about order and information theory.

And whilst we are on things mathy, I am making the rather odd step of putting somebody directly on as a Smouldering Crater, rather than on the blogroll. A certain "B by Tom Vamvanij" is a great Thai blog, who's author actually does what I should be doing much more often - checking the goddamn numbers. Unfortunately, Tom also officially put the blog on hiatus as of December 3rd (before I discovered it). He has suggested that he may blog once again in future, and if he does, it would be quite worth the visit. In the meantime, he has duly fact-checked my ass and found my calculations to be off. To quote his e-mail:
[Anticipatory Retaliation] wrote:

Before anyone starts up with the conspiracy theories, consider the Birthday Problem. In a room of two dozen people there is a greater than 50% chance that two people will share the same birthday. The Pentagon website notes 6 dates associated with the construction of the Pentagon. If we assume all relevant buildings (WTC 1, WTC 2, White House, Capitol Building, and the Pentagon) have an average of six notable dates each, then we get 30 notable dates, which puts the chance of a coincidence like this at 70.6%.

Your conclusion is counter-intuitive and, for once, intuition is right. This is not a Birthday Problem. You're not trying to figure out the probability that ANY TWO (or more) the five buildings' notable dates may coincide, but rather that ANY ONE (or more) of the dates may be 9/11. The right way to calculate that is 1-(364/365)^30 = 0.08 (8%).

Of course, the conspiracy theorists are still insane. That's an axiom, requiring no proof, mathematical or otherwise.


I will, naturally, be making corrections to the original post, but I wanted to put the correction up here, since it won't do a lot of good to update a buried post.

Hmmm.... elsewise, those of you who read my Taiwan commentary should also check out this much later comment in VodkaPundit. Quite a nugget at the end of the comments here by Trent Telenko of Winds Of Change.

Elsewise, I'll have Part 2 of the MOAS up very shortly.

12/19/2003

EBS: I'm not dead!!

I thought it was a worthwhile accomplishment...

At any rate - you tell me.



versus



Elsewise, I'm still looking for good comment systems. Suggestions welcomed.

12/17/2003

EBS: The Sick Man's Happy Dance

Well, loyal reader, I am still giving refuge to a huge raft of microorganisms. So, blogging and upkeep will be light. In the interim, The Mighty Big Hominid of the Hairy Chasms writes in response to my post below about order and systems. A good read, even if I'm personally too blinkered to delve into it right now.

Elsewise, there are a few folks who will be on the blogroll soon, once I get my head fully reattached. So this could be considered an Anticipatory Welcome.

I also would love to hear comments on the new comment system (Haloscan) versus the old one (Entation) or any other comment system y'all might recommend.

Finally, something I wanted to put together in the aftermath of the great Hussein Happydance, but am entirely too lazy to actually do (especially the pictures) in any reasonable or useful amount of time.

First Gulf War: $X Billion
12 Years of Sanctions and No-Fly Zones: $35 Billion
Second Gulf War: $Y Billion
Supplementary Military and Reconstruction Financing: $87 Billion
The Bastard Offspring of a Skid-Row Bum and a Rat Dragged Out of A Rathole: Priceless

12/15/2003

Part 1: Order and Systems

[Part 1 of the Mother of All Screeds]

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
(Genesis)


From a certain point of view, the only really important characteristics of our physical universe are order and disorder. The difference between these two things is Very Important. The way that they are related and operate is, perhaps, the only thing of real importance in conflict, or even life. The question of order and disorder is a rather large one that we’ll be touching on regularly, but for the time being there a few clarifying remarks that need to be made first.

As the reader who has been kept awake in one too many science classes might note, the Second Law of Thermodynamics indicates that all processes result in a net global increase in entropy (or disorder). This is undeniably true, so when I speak of “increasing order” I am speaking only of an increase in order in a local system, which is offset by a larger universal increase in disorder. Furthermore, I speak of order in a bit more general sense than is customarily referred to in discussions of entropy, Gibb’s Free Energy, reaction spontaneity and whatnot, though entropy is the best and most formal definition of disorder to be found.

The essential distinction between something that is ordered and disordered is whether or not a specific, designated outcome is obtained, rather any one of the infinite number of possible arbitrary random results. Conversely, disorder can be viewed as capricious randomness. For example, one of the most common ways to talk about disorder in conflict is to talk of the proverbial “Fog of War.” In the world of physics, an increase in temperature goes with an increase in disorder, since the molecules that were formerly jostling against each other start crashing around like a room full of Chihuahuas on methamphetamines. Which would be a very disorderly room full of dogs, indeed. In both cases, an increase in disorder is essentially an increase in the amount of arbitrary randomness.

When one examines an engine, there are a virtually unlimited number of ways for all the parts to be attached to one another (particularly if one can weld), but there are only a handful of ways to do so that actually result in a functioning machine. But as any failed shade-tree mechanic knows, there are a whole lot more ways to put an engine together incorrectly than ways to put one together properly. So, essentially, of all the possible random outcomes, only a few of those outcomes result in something meaningful or useful. In putting the parts together in a very specific fashion, we are able to make one single thing (a system) from many things (parts). Without this increase in order, we still have a collection of parts that cannot do much other than collect dust, stub toes, and get grease stains on the carpet. In other words, we have a non-functioning system.

We use our ability to see patterns in the way that the engine operates, and our understanding of the dynamics that govern the interaction of the engine’s components to determine the best way to assemble them to create a functioning engine. The decision to assemble the parts in accordance with our understanding results in a very specific, non-random ordering of these parts, creating a working engine. Thus, the ability to create utility is inextricably linked with the ability to forge order from disorder.

Order and information are also inextricably linked. It is fair to note that something that is ordered contains more information than something does not – i.e., something random. Information flows, data streams for example, are themselves ordered. The order of bits in a data stream is interpreted as information. A random soup of bits and bytes contains no useful information. Thus, the communication of information itself implies the creation of order. One of the most revealing things that one can note about a system is how order and information are distributed and created by that system. In much the same way that politics becomes much less opaque once one understands how it relates to money, systems make much more sense when one understands how they relate to order and information.

The relationship between order and systems is what makes entropy spectacularly important for the understanding of warfare. To understand systems, we have to take an extraordinarily brief glance at the history of our understanding of nature and systems (like order and disorder, this theme will reappear and we’ll be mentioning it from time to time as we proceed).

With the enlightenment and discovery of the scientific method, we really started to change our appreciation and basic knowledge of systems. Without getting into the gory details, with the discovery of the scientific method, people developed the idea that systems were deterministic. Thus, our understanding of systems was limited by our ability to discover the underlying rules at work and the ability to provide sufficiently detailed calculations to work out all the variables and unknowns. This deterministic world of Marx and Newton operates under the notion that given sufficient initial information and adequate computational power, the entire future of the universe could be determined from its starting conditions.

With the discovery of quantum physics and more advanced mathematics, folks came to realize that some things were just fundamentally unknowable. Revolutionary new ideas, like those expressed in the Paradox of Schroedinger’s Cat, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem to name a few, eroded the very notion that systems were deterministic, well-behaved and polite. At this point, since the idea that the outcome of a system could be determined by initial inputs had taken hold the other option that these ideas put into play is that if something is not a deterministic system, then it must be totally random, and hence totally unpredictable.

Along the way, mankind discovered that there are things called complex, or chaotic, systems, which are neither fully deterministic nor fully random. These are chaotic systems, meaning that they tend to be very, very sensitive to initial starting conditions, but also are quite robust in the long term. You may be familiar with the Butterfly Effect: the notion that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Beijing in February might result in an Atlantic hurricane in July. However, this may misrepresent the underlying nature of chaotic systems. While such systems do have an extraordinary sensitivity to any given input, the more-or-less random distribution of inputs means that the system, as a whole, tends to appear to yield only sort-of random-looking, but broadly unsurprising results. The more significant element of the behavior of chaotic systems is their robustness – in other words, we can, with very high confidence predict the general behavior of a chaotic system. Thus, using the example of weather again, we can say, with very high confidence, that Seattle will be rainy in spring 2050, even if we can’t determine with nearly as high a confidence whether or not it will rain there next Tuesday. The fact that we can’t tell that it’ll rain next Tuesday reflects the high sensitivity to initial conditions, but the robustness of the system is reflected in our general prediction of springtime rain in Seattle for years to come.

This is particularly important as we look at how order and disorder (or information and randomness) relate to systems. In a deterministic system, randomness and disorder generally cause the system to start coming unhinged – in keeping with the behaviors suggested by our understanding of Thermodynamics. A chaotic system, however, will act totally unpredictably in the fact of a given specific random input, but will ultimately manage to keep a more-or-less on track despite an onslaught of curves and twists.

As we mentioned earlier, a functioning engine could be said to have its parts and subassemblies organized in an orderly fashion. By the same token, a functioning dog is also a system comprised of parts and subassemblies organized in an orderly fashion. One of the main differences between these two systems (other than the fact that one does not generally encounter engines trying to steal scraps from the table) is that the dog is a chaotic system. The very specific actions of the dog are so unpredictable as to be effectively unpredictable, but the dog-system nonetheless produces a fairly predictable set of dog-like behaviors. That is, the dog is a chaotic system (although this may not be a huge shock to actual dog owners).

Additionally, systems are almost universally nested within one another – at least at relatively human scales – I’m not entirely sure what happens at the level of superstrings or multiple universes, but that kind of stuff is way beyond my intellectual pay grade, anyway. This isn’t to say that all nested systems behave similarly: once in a while systems at different scales interact most unexpectedly. But it is to say that when looking at a system at a given scale, a cursory glance at orders of scale below and above the one of primary concern is generally not a bad thing.

Expanding on an earlier example, an engine, which is a complete system, can be a part of a car. The car, in turn, is part of a transportation network, which, in turn, is part of an economic infrastructure.

Decreasing the scale, we see that the engine is comprised of parts, such as a transmission, fuel-injection system, water pump, and so on. A subassembly, such as a brake, might be composed of still smaller parts, such as a master cylinder, calipers, and brake cables.

When we look at the entire scale, from brake calipers to the economic infrastructure, we see that large systems are composed of an almost unimaginable number of individual parts.

Systems are also quite often recursive. Going back to the engine again, we see that the ability of the engine to run is dependent on the availability, among other things, of spare parts and fuel. Both spare parts and fuel are provided and transported where needed through the same transportation system that the car is itself a part of. The fact that the transport of fuel and parts relies itself on the free supply of parts and fuel is of critical importance.

The thing that is important to note, however, is that a larger system can neither be put into motion nor its various parts assembled correctly without an ordering process. The converse is also true: increasing disorder can cause a system to grind to a screeching halt. This association with disorder and system collapse is why the robustness of chaotic systems is so darned important. Chaotic systems are essentially hedged against minor single-point failures in a way that complex non-chaotic systems are unable to address.

The biggest and most profound system that humans have ever gathered observational evidence to support was that about 15 billion years ago a superhot, superdense soup of primordial subatomic particles showed up on someone’s doorstep and then promptly exploded. From this soup, the universe was created, galaxies coalesced, stars formed, died, and so on. Creating local order, while marching inexorably towards the heat death of the universe, systems were created and were lashed remorselessly with the inexorable laws of Thermodynamics. The great contest between disorder and order had begun with an incredible bang from the mother of all starting guns.

12/12/2003

TBM: Well, a bit of a weekend treat

Tommy, by Rudyard Kipling

[NB: I posted this in response to this recent advertisment from the Kucinic campaign.] (Courtesy Baldilocks)

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!


I find it rather amazing that the same folks who would, presumably, look down on a soldier and denigrate military service as a profession should then hail Mister Atkins as a campaign poster child. The same folks who piss and moan about precision guided munitions and shock and awe then turn around and use the dead for politics? I am always perpetually distressed at this the treatment of Tommy, but when it gets to the point that Mister Atkins only gets credit for being in the 'Thin red line of 'eroes" when he goes for stateside R&R in a pine box, my mind blanks and my stomach churns.

EBS: Updates and weekendry

Couple of good article excerpts at Jane's. They touch on both Taiwan and North Korea. I would be a good guy and go recap, but I'm still sick and not inclined to mess with it.

Elsewise, I was going to welcome a few new to retaliatiory strikes and do some muddling about casualty ratios, but I'm still coughing and I feel like I'm dancing around the edge of possibly genuinely ill, so I'll have to beg the forgivness of my esteemed and dear reader and beg off for the day.

Monday, I'll have the new installment in the warfare saga I'm pounding away at. Hope y'all like it.

12/10/2003

SRBM: The Fifth Taiwan Straights Crisis

Over the last few months, most recently at VodkaPundit, there has been some recent discussion about the prospects of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. I’ve commented on this in passing, but wanted to shed some additional light on my thoughts on the matter.

As a prefatory remark, many of the commenters are absolutely right in that an invasion of Taiwan (as we might recognize the concept ala Normandy) just is not on the list of Chinese capabilities. This, however, might not be the only reasonable place to stop in considering the prospects for conflict.

In particular, the foremost consideration that I feel is occasionally overlooked is what victory and defeat mean for the various parties, in the event of a Taiwanese Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

First, for a post-UDI Taiwan, victory means a final break with the one-China solution. Since they are already in practice, independent, this is a political goal, first and foremost. What it will mean for them to succeed is that Beijing is not able to either establish control through force of arms on the island or to convince Taipei to back down from their declaration.

For Taiwan, a defeat means failure to accomplish both of the above. Additionally, lesser defeats for Taiwan would include massive damage to the economic and industrial infrastructure of the island or the ability to militarily and politically separate Taiwan from its allies, particularly the United States.

For the PRC, the great big prize is gaining physical control over the island. This, as has been pointed out before, is all but doomed to fail in any “straight-up” scenario. As a second, if sufficient force can be brought to bear (or the threat of force) such that Taipei withdraws it’s statement and returns to the one-China formulation, then this would count as a Beijing “victory” as well. The best case of such an outcome, for China, is a Taiwan that has not only renounced independence, but has been stripped of the military and political support of its allies, particularly the US.

A nominal Chinese victory is one in which Taiwan holds on to its independence, but is wrecked and bereft of friends and allies. At this point, Taiwan would essentially Finlandize and grow ever closer to China.

For the US, the best-case scenario is the status quo. In the event of a war involving US forces, then a reasonable victory condition is that the UDI sticks and Taiwan’s independence is both de facto and de jure.

A US loss would be any military confrontation in which the US sustained massive casualties, was unable to prevent China from gaining effective or total control over Taiwan, or a case in which the US backed down from support of Taiwan.

There are a couple of relevant things to consider above and beyond the obvious items that have already been dealt with. For starters, Beijing, unlike Baghdad, has paid attention to CNN over the last 15 years or so. This means that they would not let the US stage unmolested. They have indicated a willingness to attack forward staging areas (or at least deny the Americans use of them).

This could be done in a couple of ways – first is the much-talked-about arsenal of Chinese SSMs. One way in which they could be used to issue, let’s say, the Japanese, a notice that any Japanese base used to support American interference in domestic Chinese affairs would make those bases subject to attack. In so doing, China could potentially really foul up forward staging and regional power projection.

Secondly, the Chinese could use their missile arsenal in a Day One effort to overwhelm air defenses before anyone can move substantial forces into the region. This, followed with a large wave of air attacks could prevent either side from attaining air superiority. This condition, then may allow the Chinese to establish an airhead or seize port facilities, permitting the Chinese to overcome some of their fundamental shortcomings in amphibious assault. Granted, the Chinese odds of sanitizing the Straits of Formosa are just about nil, but a short-term parity, plus a huge number of converted ships, and an insensitivity to casualties may allow them to land a significant number of troops.

It must be remembered that China doesn’t necessarily have to raise its flag over Taipei to “win.” If they are able to eke out a foothold and slow American response and effectiveness, then this might, in and of itself, be sufficient leverage for them to achieve a nominally favorable outcome.

Regionally, US strengths in the region include air and naval dominance – neither of which the Chinese can hope to counter head on. However, by vigorously attacking logistical and staging areas, China can certainly make projection of such forces into the theater much more difficult. The Chinese have also discussed the use of millimeter-wave terminal guidance on their ballistic missiles, making them potentially deadly anti-ship weapons: consider the effects of a few 1000 kg warheads exploding on carrier flight decks. The Chinese also employ cruise missiles in keeping with Soviet naval doctrine – which has neither been implemented nor defended against on a large scale before.

The nightmare scenario that bugs me no end is the notion of the Chinese goading North Korea into an attack while they make a grab for Taiwan. This would absolutely stretch our air and naval forces to the limit, especially considering the amount of time it would take us to move substantial ground forces into the region. Careful coordination between both countries (read North Korean threats of nuclear attack if Japan doesn’t remain neutral) could really push US forces to the limits.

All in all, I still agree with the notion that Taiwan is far from the low hanging fruit on the tree, but since the Chinese need only to take strategic offensive to settle into a tactical defense and turn the entire project into a punitive raid of sorts while fending off US intervention, I would submit that a grand-slam US victory cannot be taken for granted, particularly if one considers the entire regional perspective. One must remember that the Chinese are number two in defence spending (albeit a distant second) and they've spent their waking hours for the last decade or two trying to figure out how to best the US in their backyard. Give them some credit for working on the problem and don't assume that it'll just be Iraq with rice.

Finally, there have been some noises from the Chinese that we would let them take Taiwan because we care more about Los Angeles than Taipei certainly are cause for pause. However, I view the prospect that the dispute would go nuclear as vanishingly small, simply because we retain a strong first-strike capability, while the Chinese are limited to a limited deterrence posture. That being said, there are some interesting deterrence possibilities that arise if we start getting into the question of a North Korean nuclear proxy. But that is a thicket of thorns for another day.

12/09/2003

SRBM: Pornography and Primacy

The thought for the day…

Pornography is the killer app for visual media – that’s a pretty universally accepted truth.

Another pretty universally accepted universal truth is that American preeminence is a function of both its technological prowess as well as its role as an incubator of cutting edge technology.

It is interesting to note how these two items relate. Particularly since the advent of film (television is a bit of an exception, due to the ease of widespread censorship associated with the medium), pornography has been a driver of new technologies, from film to video to the Internet. If you want to see what the next big growth area of media technology will be, look to where the porn dollars are flowing.

Now while this phenomenon may be generally true, the interesting notion is that America’s legacy of Puritanism may play into this somehow. In a society in which pornographic materials are not considered illicit or shameful, then porn essentially becomes just another sort of content. However, the American (and to a lesser extent, western) tendency to make the viewing and possession of such materials shameful, this means that pornography is a healthy growth industry. The same mechanisms that caused prohibition to fuel spending on alcohol, and the drug war fuels spending on drug development and distribution, are also in play, albeit at a much lower level, with pornographic material.

Even the social stigma of purchasing something as pedestrian as Playboy drives up their newsstand price for the entire year to $62, versus $36 for a year of GQ (Hustler, by the way rates at just under $96 per year at the newsstand). Although one may have a smaller distribution, the inclusion of cleavage allows for a massive increase in price. Left on it’s own, this may be of only marginal interest, but I think that the trend towards Puritanism may have another, somewhat subtler effect.

If we assume that the willingness to pay more is a manifestation of other behaviors, we might posit that consumers of pornography are balancing two factors. One the one hand (so to speak) they seek out whatever particular flavor rings their proverbial bell and on the other, they wish to view it in total privacy. Thus, people have been trying to seek out increasingly more risqué material without actually doing so visibly. As a result, these folks have been pouring money into visual media right left and center, thus fueling the amount of capital available for technological development.

The most well known case of this was the manifestation of porn as the killer Internet app. But I think a similar case could be made for film (certainly, the death of the porno theater with the rise of video suggests that the audience tracks the cutting edge), the later rise of both videos, and later DVD, and the explosive growth of the Internet. It would seem that the strong driving motive force provided by pornography would have never been nearly as potent if it hadn’t been supported by the love-hate affair America has with the prurient.

Thus, the puritanical streak of the soul of this country may have indirectly helped to ensure it’s soft power and technological dominance by funneling additional amounts of resources into the development of Amrica's primacy in mass media and communications. The ability of American media to spread to the four corners of the globe may, in part, be fueled by our seemingly insatiable appetite for sex.

As a final clarifying note, I am merely noting that a correlation seems to exist and am suggesting a possible causation, not using trying to make the stronger case that the evidence itself is absolute proof of such a cause and effect relationship. On this matter, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.

12/08/2003

Preface to War and Entropy

It's generally pretty common for things to have a beginning -- presumably so we know where to stick the middle and end parts. Warfare, being a relatively large and complex subject, deciding where to put all the parts is pretty important, particularly if one intends for explanations to make any sense. The problem arises with the notion that things, especially large and complex ones, don't necessarily have their own beginnings, middles, and ends -- or at least ones we might immediately recognize. So, the problem then becomes less a matter of how to order something properly, but rather how to impose a roughly arbitrary order, and hope in so doing patterns about the underlying phenomena are revealed. Which is pretty much what I think I'm trying to do here. For those of a geekish bent, I guess writing about something like this is kind of like X-ray Crystallography, Tensor Mechanics, or Plato's Allegory of the Cave. So, I've been thinking about what kind of light to shine on the subject of war in order to see what shadows it casts so we can deduce the fundamental nature of the thing itself.

Thus, I've decided on a beginning, a source of illumination, as it were, we'll just have to see what middles and ends seem to fit and take it from there. And that beginning is the difference between order and disorder. That relationship is a lot more complex and pervasive than most people really think about on a daily basis. Sort of like economics or something.

Order is particularly important in the operation of systems, and as any systems engineer (particularly those who relish getting paid exorbitant consulting fees) will tell you, just about everything is a system. This has a couple of interesting implications, which we might want to touch on briefly.

The more literary souls out there might note that none of this speaks directly to the whys and mysterious corners of men's hearts that make them incinerate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Interestingly enough, the relationships between order and disorders within and between systems are spectacularly highlighted in both war and biology. So our journey to war will venture through biology, because it starts to cause the subject of war to cast very peculiar shadows. And no, not in the Freudian sense, either.

Once we've done some of those things, we'll drift briefly through politics and culture, to examine the interactions between them and the role of war in the interactions of states. Among other things, I hope to discuss why peacekeeping operations are almost universally an abject failure, while nation building doesn't have to be. Additionally, deterrence, compellance, and communication will be discussed.

Once all the structural stuff is out of the way, I hope to get down to some of the brass tacks on things like why precision and speed are so incredibly critical and the physical reasons that this is the case.

Then, I intend to very briefly (without turning into one of those terrible gearhead-military-tech expositions) talk about existing systems: the whos, whats, whys, hows, and wheres of modern, high-tech killamajigs. This means things like why it is that artillery has its range limitations, why reconnaissance, logistics and sensors are very sexy, why the US only seems to build multipurpose planes these days, and what the hell the French think they're doing with nuclear deterrence. I might not cover all these topics. I might. Beats me -- I just won't know until I start kicking around in those precincts.

From there, I will go into storage and break out the crystal ball and try to shed some light on the next 25 years in the art and science of spreading ill will, discontent, and unhappiness among one's foes. The 25 year break is about as far as responsible military planners will worry about.

Since I'm neither responsible, military, nor a planner, I'm not constrained by a 25 year horizon. We might be able to look at a few flights of fancy that may be of interest much further down the pike.

Naturally, like every other self-important fool stuck in front of a dissertation, I've chosen the Entire Complete Nature Of The Universe as a subject matter. And much like every idiot stuck in front of a dissertation, I'm gunning for All But Dissertation. Blogging is such an odd enterprise: it makes writing a book more a process of creating a string of essays that may or may not be related. Recognizing that, it can make things like tables of contents or even meaningful outlines of future work a bit tentative.

Furthermore, as I indicated above, I don't even know how sure I am about the middle and end bits. So far, the process of writing on this has allowed me to more fully explore the contours of this formidable structure and has consequently changed my understanding of things. So, what I'm saying is that I've really no idea about where we go after here, but I have a hunch, and I think following that hunch might be interesting.

Thus, this preface is a cocktail-napkin sketch of what my specific Carpal Tunel future may hold in store for me. For my esteemed readers -- expect nothing and then be pleasantly surprised -- I have a remarkable streak of setting low expectations and failing to meet them. Along the way, I would most dearly appreciate suggestions, comments, corrections, and even an occasional excoriation if I wander to close to the edge of the cliff. This journey, with all of its false starts, stumbles, and wrong turns will be a public spectacle. Therefore, I encourage the Loyal Reader, Peanut Gallery, and ad hoc copy editors to hold forth with their thoughts and opinions, either by comment or e-mail to serve as my lodestone and guide star, and help keep this epic voyage pointed in the right direction.

People are quite familiar with the proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. In this case, we have a rambling screed of a thousand blog entries that will begin with just one post.

And this would be that post.

EBS: Wizbang's 2003 Weblog Awards

Son of a gun! I guess I'm up for Best Slithering Reptile of 2003. Maybe someone should tell an Ex or two. I'm sure they'd have plenty to say on the matter.

At any rate, you can go nominate me as an exceptionally slithery reptile here.

You can also vote every 12 hours - a truly Chicagoan concession, if I've ever heard one.

Fair warning, in a huge fit of Perot-osity, I've already asked to be disqualified, as, to the best of my knowledge, I was a flappy bird, rather than a slithering reptile, as of December 1st (per contest rules). Evidently, once the polls are open, the nominations are fixed, so there you go. Since I've found out the technicalia involved, I've gone and voted for myself. And on that note, delivering to a promise made to a constituent (no, couldn't be a bribe) this slithering reptile is going to go buy this particular voter a beer.

I would also like to welcome the Mighty Big Captain Ed and cohorts. Unfortunately, despite popular demand, the map had to go on hiatus briefly, but I hope to have it back up soon. How else am I supposed to keep flinging nukes hither, tither, and yon, without it?

12/05/2003

TBM: My, Aren't We Bloggy Today?

Tacitus notes these two articles about a possible gigantic space program on the horizon to put a man on either the moon or Mars.

Just for kicks, check this out - January 18th, 2003 article that speculated Bush was going to announce a Mars mission during the 2003 State of the Union address. (courtesy Futurepundit) The reports suggested that the mission could take place as early as 2010.

I do wonder how the time dovetails with the October 14th launch of a man into space by China and the broader goals of the Chinese space program. It wouldn't be at all unreasonable to see this as part of another space race of sorts. The idea of competition across all fronts certainly has its following in China -- perhaps we recognize that and are responding accordingly.

Here's another tidbit - the announcement may have been moved up from the 2004 SotU to December 17th, in order to cash in on the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Check this and this out for some good detailage.

TBM: From the odd coincidence of the day department...

... a fact that will probably drive moonbats nuts to even greater heights of onanistic loathsemness and summon at least a company's worth of the tin-foil hatted ones.

Construction of the Pentagon started in 1941 on, you guessed it, September 11th.

Rather interesting, considering the Pentagon was a on-the-fly secondary target. I am rather excited about the sheer volume of madness and static that something like this could generate.

Before anyone starts up with the conspiracy theories, consider the Birthday Problem. In a room of two dozen people there is a greater than 50% chance that two people will share the same birthday. The Pentagon website notes 6 dates associated with the construction of the Pentagon. If we assume all relevant buildings (WTC 1, WTC 2, White House, Capitol Building, and the Pentagon) have an average of six notable dates each, then we get 30 notable dates, which puts the chance of a coincidence like this at 70.6%.

On the other hand, for all you Kennedy Conspiracists Moonbats, JFK announced his intention to go to the moon in 1962, on September 12th.

UPDATE the First: All the probability mumbojumbo and everything after the "Before..." was added after the fact.

UPDATE the Second: And it turns out my numbers are all wrong, as kindly corrected by Tom Vamvanij of the hibernating blog B by Tom Vamvanij who pointed out a significant error in reasoning in an e-mail, quoted below:

[Anticipatory Retaliation] wrote:

Before anyone starts up with the conspiracy theories, consider the Birthday Problem. In a room of two dozen people there is a greater than 50% chance that two people will share the same birthday. The Pentagon website notes 6 dates associated with the construction of the Pentagon. If we assume all relevant buildings (WTC 1, WTC 2, White House, Capitol Building, and the Pentagon) have an average of six notable dates each, then we get 30 notable dates, which puts the chance of a coincidence like this at 70.6%.

Your conclusion is counter-intuitive and, for once, intuition is right. This is not a Birthday Problem. You're not trying to figure out the probability that ANY TWO (or more) the five buildings' notable dates may coincide, but rather that ANY ONE (or more) of the dates may be 9/11. The right way to calculate that is 1-(364/365)^30 = 0.08 (8%).

Of course, the conspiracy theorists are still insane. That's an axiom, requiring no proof, mathematical or otherwise.

EBS: Updates

First and foremost, a quick nod to the mighty blog of the Screaming Lord Sutch, entitled "Signifying Nothing." Once again, people with real jobs who should know better have volunteered for a retaliatory strike. Happy to do so, if I may say so myself. Welcome aboard, folks!

In other news, I'm sure you've all heard statements that are something to the effect that 'once you've given birth and brought another life in to the world, you realize how precious life really is, and would forswear violence forever.'

Well, I am the newly proud father of an entire chest cavity full of bacterium, bugs, and judging from the sound of the cough, a small family of tubercular raccoons...

I can't say I'm feeling all that charitable and well disposed towards living creatures right now - especially the infectious variety.

So, all other things being equal, I think I'm going to stick with the intellectual pursuit of the theory of breaking things and killing people. And trying to see if I can actually eject an entire lung through my mouth.

Towards that end, I think I may actually have a tidbit of something from the much talked about and long awaited magnum opus of breaking things and killing people to post couple of weeks. It seems as if I could rapidly be approaching the point of diminishing return, vis a vis reinventing the wheel, so I might actually be forced to do something productive. Granted, the first bit won't be much - basically some introductory stuff. In the interim, I might go pound on some nuclear mythology, or put together a tidbit on Al Q. Or porn. Porn always works. See, I'll bet if I even mention something like the Paris Hilton video, I'll get visitors. Who will then promptly leave when they see steamy sex videos are not linked on this site.

Oh, by the way, I'm not trolling for hits. Nope. Couldn't be. Not at all.

And it's not like an entire post about porn, sex, the internet, and America will generate a lot of people looking for MPEGs of lesbians or photos of enormous breasts. Nope. Not a single perverted soul.

Lord knows that I am wayyyyy above doing something like that. Or like mentioning the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee video just to generate arbitrary traffic. See, I am so darned upstanding that I didn't even just do that. See how moral I am?

And I'm quite modest and humble, if I may so myself.

UPDATE the First: A hearty congratulations to one of the Denizens of Signifying Nothing. You may now address Chris Lawrence as Dr. Chris Lawrence. Well Done, good sir! Well Done!

12/04/2003

TBM: Taiwan Straights Conflict

Steven den Beste writes:

A Chinese plan might begin with a saturation missile strike against Taiwanese air bases, hoping to ground most of the Taiwanese air force. But that would do nothing about American planes, or Taiwanese SAMs or surface antiship missile launchers, or the submarines, and given that Taiwan has anti-missile defenses (Patriots) China could not be sure of crippling Taiwan's air force that way.


This is a bigger problem than might be imagined. Among other things, given the performance of the Patriot system in the first Gulf War, there is a feeling among the Chinese that they would be able to saturate existing TBM defenses. Additionally, the Chinese claim that their advanced missile technology, including solid-propellant motors, maneuverable warheads and advanced targeting systems may make their missile force a much more significant factor than some observers may give it credit for. Manuverable warheads both allow much more accurate targeting during the terminal phase and make them harder targets to hit.

Among other things, the Chinese have put millimeter-wave radar seekers on some ballistic missile warheads, allowing them to home in on objects during the terminal phase of flight. With the December 2001 cancellation of the SM-2 Block IVA (Navy Area Defense) program, our fleets have little effective protection against ballistic missiles.

Furthermore, Chinese doctrine took heed of one of the most important lessons of the first Gulf War: one cannot allow the US to build up massive logistical support unmolested. Rest assured, the Chinese would not permit six months of build up and establishment of defenses. In the event of a Taiwan conflict, they would most certainly try to swamp and overwhelm Taiwanese Theater Missile Defense Units, in a bid to decrease Taiwan’s utility as an American aircraft carrier.

As mentioned above, they would also try to go after our fleets with both ballistic and cruise missiles. We don’t really know how effective they would be, as nobody has really seen high-intensity naval warfare since World War II, although to be absolutely fair, the US is by far and away, the best equipped for such a fight.

Finally, I suspect that the Chinese government would let Japan and South Korea know that any bases used by US forces to support the defense of Taiwan would be subject to attack. How these governments will respond is, of course, up in the air.

The bottom line is that on a very fundamental level, the ballistic missile is as effective as a stealth fighter, insofar as that it is a way to attack distant targets with minimal chance of interception. So the PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) may not be intended to play the air supremacy role that we tend to think of, but rather as an air defense and second-wave element, attacking sites after the bulk of the suppression of defenses has been done by missiles.

12/02/2003

SRBM: The Cannibalization of the Hard Left by Militant Islam

Ok, this is totally off the cuff, so bear with me and feel free to shoot all manner of holes in it. I just wanted to get away from the desk for a minute, so of course I stayed at the desk and simply got away from working.

The always interesting Wretchard of the Belmont Club has put together an interesting post about the hijacking and polarization of the hard left by militant Islam.

To further amplify the themes touched upon, it is interesting to note Islamism's roots in early 20th century fascism. One could argue that the apparently impending alignment between the Far Left and militant Islam sort of mirrors a cross between the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Lend-Lease Act. On one hand, there is a common enough ideological base for both factions to crawl into bed with each other, while on the other hand there is also a very strong sense of impending collapse driving the two together. In concert, both these trends have the potential to draw both parties together that would otherwise just as soon remain strangers. As is, their relationship may be no closer than that of a john and his hooker, but it's still plenty close enough for someone to get screwed.

There has been a lot of talk about the clash of civilizations and the larger War on Terror, but in many respects, this was the inevitable changing of the guard in the struggle between the Three Great Worldviews.

The first fight pitted Democracies and Communists against Fascists, which essentially broke the spine of Fascism in its day. Following this was the Cold War in which the Democracies backed pseudo-Fascist military (or at least manifestly non-democratic) governments to contain and eventually defeat Communism. Now that this is done (and that the only two-time victor is Democracy) the alignment between remainders of the two failed factions isn't necessarily that big of a surprise.

In the discussions of whether or not the US is the new Rome or whatnot, there has been a bit of whinging about the apparent lack of the traditional behavior of small powers aligning themselves to oppose the great power. It is entirely possible that the alignment is occurring, it's just been diminished to the point that it can only be an alignment among non-state actors, given the phenomenally overwhelming military superiority the United States inherited from the Cold War made it impossible for state actors to have a prayer of hard-power victory.

This might go some ways to explain why it is that some people see this as a titanic struggle and some don't: both the Far Left and Islamofascist ideologies are fighting from a position of relative weakness, so they've adopted a patently asymmetrical mode of conflict that may simply not be apparent to some observers. So, on some level, this could be viewed as a large network-centric World War not altogether that dissimilar from the Second and Third World Wars, insofar as they are world-spanning essentially existential struggles.

If this is true, it is rather interesting insofar that it would suggest that the RMA is perhaps a natural (or at least good) response to the challenges of the post-9/11 world. To look at it a simpler way, when the US rolled into World War II, the Germans had employed combined arms and armored warfare in a way that utterly overwhelmed American troops until they got kicked in the jimmies good and hard a couple times. Same with the Japanese and carrier aviation. In both cases we went from jimmy-kickee to jimmy-kicker in a jiffy. By the end of the war we had broken the asymmetry, then matched the symmetry and finally overwhelmed our opponents with a symmetric response. Similar parallels could be drawn for the Cold War vis-a-vis competition in scientific, economic, and other spheres of conflict.

Thus, if the analogy holds true, one could imagine that the development of network-centric, information-dense warfare as manifested in the transformation and RMA doctrines are simply a reflection of the same process of adaptation as were seen in the last two epic existential struggles of the United States. And, if the invisible hand has been any halfway decent Virgil, the fundamental inefficiency in resource distribution in both systems would suggest that we may make it through the Inferno after all. Or the analogy might hold true another way, and Eastasia and Eurasia may deliver a crippling blow to Oceana after all.

UPDATE The FIRST: I am now officially trying to get out of my depth by being clever and trying a trackback thingy to this post. I'm pretty certain it won't work, so that's why I have to try.

UPDATE The SECOND: Well, there are a whole lot of folks, like Andy Sullivan who've been commenting on the alignment between the Left and the Islamists. Haven't seen much commentary on the whole RMA angle, but, hey - I'm sure it'll float up.

UPDATE The THIRD: Discussion of this and the use of the term "idotarian" can be found at Winds O' Change. Interesting discussion and good commentary.

EBS: Playing In Traffic and Comments

One of the most interesting traffic-showcasing ideas can be found here at Outside The Beltway - sort of a neat combination between a Carnival of the Vanities and Reciprocal Linkage. And automated too. Be interesting to see how that pans out. So, yes, being that I wanted to double my readership well into the mid-to-low-single digits, I took my post below above and submitted it. We'll see how that runs. And if I can read instructions well enough to make the damn thing work.

In order to provide my loyal reader (yes, that does mean you) with the wondrous convenience of same-day comment posting, I've switch comment systems. Unfortunately, that also means, I believe, that you don't have access to old comments. Which, yes, does suck, because that's where all the good writing shows up.

If anyone can think of a decent way to keep the old comments around while enabling an actual working comment system, I would be happy to roll through an implement it.

As you were.

UPDATE: A bit of jiggery-pokery to move this post below the day's meat and potatos.

EBS: For your amusement

One day the first grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to
her class. She came to the part of the story where Chicken Little tried to
warn the farmer. She read, ".... and so Chicken Little went up to the
farmer and said, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!"
The teacher paused then asked the class, "And what do you think that farmer
said?" One little girl raised her hand and said, "I think he said:
'Holy Shit! A talking chicken!'"

EBS: Some New Targets in the Big Book

Ok, I've been remiss in updating my blog, so there are a whole new raft of folks who shown up on my screen an earned a retaliatory strike. So, in no particular order...

The Mad Mullah of the Blog*spot Jihad, the incomparable Esmays -- Dean and Rosemary. Dean's world features regular updates, genuinely thoughtful posts that go beyond simple link blogging (even if you disagree with them, they're awfully sincere and don't dissemble). Dean and Rosemary's site also features good commentary well worth checking out.

A tip of the hat to Desktop Mercenary as well, who, in addition to having a nicely put together blog, with , among other things a rather nice vivisection of the Natural Law Party. Interestingly enough, these folks with all their Invincible Vedic Defense put a full-page advertisement pushing this particular flavor of BS on the back cover of Jane's International Defense Review some years ago. I guess confirming that the Vedic methodologies really yield no insight into marketing.

I'd also like to welcome the esteemed Oscar Jr. to the Retaliatory Roll. Aside from having a beautiful blog, he is also one of the keenest meta-blogging observers of the mechanics of the blogosphere. You may have run across some of his previous work before, and if you haven't it's interesting stuff -- honest-to-god statistically reasonable looks at this utterly self-serving form of entertainment and education.

We've also been linked by another blogger posting from the Great White Canukistan. Unfortunately, it seems that Debbye Stratigacos is an actual Murrican (a fierce one, no less) who has, apparently, been exiled away from their brethren in Toron-d'oh.

I recommend the blog, Demosophia, who manages to put together a good volume of cogent and incisive analysis quite regularly. I honestly don't know what specific essays you should read, other than to say that they are all worth, at the very least, a quick glance.

Finally, take a peek at The Whole Thing blog. Solid, substantial, nicely laid out. Worthwhile exposition on the events leaving ripples on the surface of the blogosphere. Good stuff, take a peek or three.

Elsewise, I'm still beating on the first chapter of the Big Project. I hope to do some under-the-hood wrenching on the blog itself. And I've an idea I hope to turn into a short post soonish. And here's a good post on the comic strip "Cathy." (Courtesy the Stupid, Angry Canajun)

So with that, I hope all of you that partook of Tryptophan Thursday enjoyed it. And until next time, cheers!