Category Archives: Other Issues

Posts on many other important geopolitical issues.

A key to understanding the news: the unexpected rules in our age of wonders.

Summary: We’re in an age of wonders where the news overflows with unexpected events, things not predicted by even our greatest experts. Today we discuss two common responses to this, both ineffective: blindly accepting experts’ explanations that it’s all understood, and throwing away their advice as imperfect. There is a third and better way.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“History doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes it just screams, ‘Why don’t you listen to me?’ and lets fly with a big stick.”
— John W. Campbell Jr., Analog Science Fiction/Fact Magazine (1965).

"Machinery of the Stars" by alexiuss

“Machinery of the Stars” by alexiuss seen at DeviantArt. Posted with the artist’s generous permission.

Learning from the past — the lessons of history — boosts our odds of success in the present. But it’s equally important to see breaks with the past. Instead of flagging these, experts tend to bury them in explanations that conceal their role as valuable markers on the road to a different future. It’s the equivalent of asking about that Detour sign on the road and getting a lecture about the Vienna Convention about Road Signs.

Instead here we attempt to isolate such anomalies, examining them as clues to possible discontinuities in the normal trends of society. It’s an unpopular message. People want explanations, however bogus, to banish fears of uncertainty. It’s one of the primary services experts sell. Unfortunately, our world cannot be understood without understanding its strangeness, especially now — since we have so much of it.

Perhaps the most obvious oddity of our time is in economics. The developed nations appear locked into a slow-growth mode since the 2008 crash (US real GDP growth of ~2.4%), despite massive monetary stimulus on a scale never before seen. Central bank assets in the EU and USA have growth to ~25% of GDP — 64% of GDP in Japan — while interest rates have fallen to zero (below zero in Europe, something considered an absurdity until it happened) and inflation rates declined below central banks’ “floor” targets (despite widespread confident predictions that they would rise).

For a rare admission of uncertainty see “It seems nobody knows what’s going on with the economy,” Andrew McAfee (PhD business, Prof at MIT School of Management), The Financial Times, 26 February 2015. This would be extraordinary if by an economist.

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The war of the sexes heats up: society changes as men learn the Dark Triad

Summary: Revolutions begin in the shadows, emerging only when they grow too large for society to ignore. So it is with “game”, the science of seduction. Today let’s look at a revolution in the war between the sexes. It’s one of our weekend posts about American culture, keeping you informed about things not yet in the mainstream news.

During this whole century the progress of artillery has been a duel between the maker of cannons and the maker of armor plates to keep the cannon balls out. You build a ship proof against the best gun known: somebody makes a better gun and sinks your ship. You build a heavier ship, proof against that gun: somebody makes a heavier gun and sinks you again. And so on. Well, the duel of sex is just like that.

— A pick-up artist explaining life to a feminist in George Bernard Shaw’s play “You Never Can Tell” (1895). See the follow-up to this in the comments.

About “Game”

Like the art of war, relations between men and women are a constant remixing of methods. As with war, during the past century science has forced breaks with the past. Nukes made it suicide to wage traditional State-to-State war, driving the shifts described in “Unrestricted Warfare” (e.g., to 4GW, cyberwar, economic war). Similarly, technology brought women to equality in the labor force while allowing them to control their fertility — changes expressed ideologically as feminism. These unleashed trends that we don’t yet understand.

The reaction to feminism has begun, as every force produces an opposite reaction. Like all revolutions and counter-revolutions, it began in the shadows as the ancient methods of pick-up artists became systematized after WWII.

Decades of slow evolution brought “game” to maturity in the mid-1990s. It’s the science of seduction, a crude applied psychology derived by men on the streets. Like alchemy, it’s a mixture of sense and superstition used by people working without theory. It began, like most revolutions, with an insight: men realized that they break the conventions and act as bad boys — against their own natures — and increase their odds of success with women.

Like most innovations in interpersonal relations — new forms of dancing (e.g., the waltz), divorce, abortion, the pill, rock music, postal boxes on the street — moralists have condemned it as a step on the road to iniquity. Feminists have gained the high ground in control of society’s institutions, and watch with outrage as men act in defiance of the new social norms.

As with alchemy, science follows the amateurs in the field.

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See Libya burn. We helped set it afire.

Summary:  In 2011 our hawks confidently led us to intervene in Libya, supporting the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi. As was quite obvious even then, we were again supporting Islamic fundamentalists destroying a secular regime, again unleashing chaos from which nothing good can result. Journalist and Middle East specialist Nicolas Pelham walks us through a Libya aflame. Let’s review the results of our past meddling as we begin new interventions in Iraq, Ukraine, and Syria.  {1st of 2 posts today}

“You just have not seen enough people bleed to death.”

— Rebuttal in March 2008 by a US geopolitical expert (known for his knowledge of the Middle East; retired military) to my concerns about our intervention in Libya. With our help, many Libyans have gained this special kind of insight. Now we watch Libya burn:

Libya burning

A fighter of the anti-Islamist Zintan Brigade watches smoke rise after rocket attacks on a fuel tank in Tripoli (August 2014). By Hani Amara/Reuters.

“Libya Against Itself”

By Nicolas Pelham
From The New York Review of Books, 19 February 2015.
Posted with the generous permission of the author and NYRB.

Review of The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath, edited by Peter Cole & Brian McQuinn.

Gentle Islamism?

Mahdi al-Herati is sipping his lemon tea in the open-air café beneath the grand Italian porticos of Algiers Square in Tripoli. He seems a little too casual to be either an international jihadi or the elected mayor of the capital city of a country supposedly rescued from Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and sliding into civil war. Still, Herati is both, although he prefers to call himself a Libyan revolutionary. Since becoming mayor last year, he tells me, he has invited his counterparts in Dublin and Rome to “twin” with Tripoli under its new rulers, the group called Libya Dawn. He has taken other steps to counter Libya Dawn’s reputation for Islamism. He speaks of his efforts to drum up support from local writers and actors for an arts festival he has planned promoting Tripoli as a cosmopolitan Mediterranean capital of culture.

Herati plans to reopen the movie houses that Qaddafi closed in an earlier revolution. His men protect the national museum, he says, which is crammed full of ancient pagan statues. A new spa for women is opening. And yes, he tells me, his festival will include female as well as male performers and spectators. The capital, he says with only an occasional look over his shoulder and at his two security guards, is safe.

The Libya Dawn coalition Herati belongs to overran the capital after six weeks of bombardment last summer. Many of its leaders are former militiamen from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the jihadi movement that after fighting the unbelievers in alliance with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan turned their guns on Qaddafi and his army. But allied with them are such unlikely bedfellows as merchants from Misrata, a Mediterranean port dependent on trade with Europe, and the Imazighen, or Berber revivalists, whose leaders are either secularists or adherents of a small reformist sect, Ibadiyya, dating back to the first decades of Islam, that opposed the supremacy of the Prophet Muhammad’s Arabian tribe and elected its own leaders.

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Tips to find the experts that help you see the world more clearly.

Summary: Today’s post continues our discussion about experts. Here are a few tips to help distinguish reliable and useful experts from those that dominate the news media, plus some warnings.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

“Nature is objective, and nature is knowable, but we can only view her through a glass darkly — and many clouds upon our vision are of our own making: social and cultural biases, psychological preferences, and mental limitations (in universal modes of thought, not just individualized stupidity).”

— Stephen Jay Gould, Full House (1996)

How to pick out the real experts?

How to pick out the real experts?

We can only understand the world — even imperfectly — by seeing it through the eyes of experts. Journalists showcase experts, usually a selected coterie (note how the same few show up repeatedly in a newspapers’ article on each subject). Unfortunately, journalists’ criteria for choosing experts don’t well meet our needs. The catchy sound-bites they favor tend to come from the over-confident and arrogant, especially those that endorse the current narrative. Caveats, uncertainties, and long explanations — these are things seldom found in the news.

How can we find better sources to rely upon? How can we use them most effectively?

Evaluating experts

In my experience, one hallmark of a reliable expert is their recognition of uncertainty. The experts I trust recognize how quickly the world changes, its complexity, the severe limitation on the data we have about it, and the crude state of our theories.  These traits distinguish headline-grabbing experts from economists like Nouriel Roubini, Brad Delong and Paul Krugman, physicists like Robert Hersch, climate scientists like Roger Pielke Sr and Judith Curry, and others.

How they grapple with uncertainty makes them more interesting to read, in contrast to the boring black and white certainties that dominate the news.

These experts have another useful characteristic distinguishing them from journalists’ favorites: they admit errors. Half of what we know is wrong, and top experts work to find which of their beliefs lie on each side of that line. From example, Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) runs posts about “smackdowns” of his work, which practice I copied in the Smackdowns page (top menu bar). Krugman often runs columns about his errors.

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Women in combat are the real Revolution in Military Affairs

Summary: Women combatants appear in many of today’s conflicts around the world, a change in warfare with few precedents in history and perhaps the biggest change since the use of nukes. Recent examples include fighters in the Eritrean Wars, Middle East suicide bombers, soldiers in western armies, and in the Kurdish forces. With few historical precedents, except in near-mythological tales, large numbers of women in combat represents a real revolution in military affairs. Here we sort through the news for an introduction to this powerful trend.

Warrior Women

Fact catching up to fantasy.

Contents

  1. War by women in the developed nations
  2. The test for women soldiers lies in future wars
  3. War in the less-developed lands
  4. The democratization of warfare
  5. How will this revolution change war?
  6. For More Information

 

(1)  War by women in the developed nations

First let’s look at women’s increasing role in the military forces of the developed nations.

Some have gone all the way: “8 Other Nations That Send Women to Combat“, National Geographic, 25 January 2013 — Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway. In these nations women serve in roles that include “engaging an enemy on the ground … while being exposed to hostile fire and a high probability of physical contact with the hostile forces personnel” (per a 2010 British Ministry of Defense (MOD) study).

The number of nations doing so is increasing. As in the UK “Women soldiers to serve in front-line combat units” — “Senior Whitehall source says that MoD is ‘leaning towards making the change’ to allow women in front-line combat units after a six-month review” (The Telegraph, 5 December 2014).

But things might not be what they seem, as Martin van Creveld explains in Men, Women & War (2002):

This argues it is all a great illusion: that the influx of women into the military, far from representing a world-historic step in women’s unstoppable march towards liberation, is both a symptom and cause of the decline of the military. The process was triggered by the introduction of nuclear weapons over a half century ago. Since then the armed forces of no developed country have fought a war against a major opponent who was even remotely capable of of putting its own national existence in danger …

The more superfluous they have become — indeed precisely because they have been becoming superfluous — the more society and its leaders feel able to treat them not as fighting machines but as social laboratories …

For more about his theory see his article “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000.

(2)  The test for women soldiers lies in future wars

The test of van Creveld’s theory and of western nations’ commitment to gender equality in combat, comes when women return in large numbers of body bags. So far none of those nations have had large numbers of women casualties.

Women have died serving America in our post-9/11 wars, but in small numbers (reflecting limitations on their roles) — as shown by this Congressional Research Service report (OIF and OID are Iraq; OEF is Afghanistan): women are 2% of military deaths so far vs roughly 11% of total US troops serving there.

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Why we have not gone into space, & why we will.

Summary: In the 1960s many bright people, from scientists to science fiction writers, predicted that we would have a large presence in space by now. They correctly predicted we would have the technology. Why do we have nothing but a few small robot explorers? What will eventually draw us into space? This is a follow-up to Men in space: an expensive trip to nowhere. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Robert Heinlein predicts the future.

Robert Heinlein wrote “Where To” in 1952, giving predictions about the year 2000. He was bullish about space.

By 2000 AD we could have O’Neil colonies, self-supporting and exporting power to Earth, at both Lagrange-4 and Lagrange-5, transfer stations in orbit about Earth and around Luna, a permanent base on Luna equipped with an electric catapult — and a geriatrics retirement home.

… If you’re willing to settle today for a constant-boost on the close order of magnitude of 1/1000 G we can start the project later this afternoon, as there are several known ways of building constant-boost jobs with that tiny acceleration  — even light-sail ships.

{Total time for a constant boost roundtrip to Mars and to Pluto at two low rates of acceleration:}

  • 1/100 G………………50 days………………50 weeks
  • 1/1000 G……………150 days……………150 weeks

I prefer to talk about light-sail ship (or rather ships that sail in the “Solar wind”) because the above table shows that we have the entire Solar System available to us right now; it is not necessary to wait for the year 2000 and new breakthroughs.

Ten weeks to Mars, a round trip to Pluto in 2 years and 9 months. Ten weeks — it took the Pilgrims in the Mayflower nine weeks and 3 days to cross the Atlantic. … England, Holland, Spain, and Portugal all created worldwide empires with ships that took as long to get anywhere and back as would a 1/1000 G spaceship. … Even the tiniest constant boost turns sailing the Solar System into a money-making commercial venture.

In 1980 he updated that article, writing “By the end of this century mankind will have explored this solar system and the first ship intended to reach the nearest star will be building.”

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The number of children killed by guns in America makes us exceptional, not better.

Summary:  We take pride in our exceptionalism, the ways we’re unique among the developed nations. We tend to assume that these represent advantages, as if different means superior. Our far higher rate of gun deaths, many of whom are children, show the falsity of that belief — and point to ways we can learn from our peers.  This is post #1 of 2 today.

Kelbie Ray Nelson

Kelbie Ray Nelson

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Kelbie Ray Nelson, 13, died the day after Christmas in Blackfoot, Idaho, playing with a gun at his grandmother’s house.

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Introductions

For your viewing pleasure on Pinterest: 33 Accidentally shot at WalMart, photos of 109 Children under 14 killed in 2013, 90 photos of Children under 15 killed in 2014, and the growing roster of photos of Children under 15 killed in 2015. You also might enjoy the generic category of GunFails in 2014 and GunFails in 2015.

For something different peruse a list of 69 mass killing events during the past 3 decades (mostly home-grown Americans, not jihadists — so it’s OK).

 Two articles from the endless stream

America gets hysterical from SARS in 2003 (774 deaths) and a few cases of Ebola in 2014. A few terrorist attacks prompt massive pants wetting, and a surrender of our rights. But we accept the annual carnage from deliberate and accidental gun use as a sign of our exceptionalism. And so it is; we’re exceptionally mad about guns — as these articles remind us.

(1) Are Gun Accidents ‘Very Rare’?“, David Frum, Daily Beast, 20 February 2013

In 2007, the United States suffered some 15,000-19,000 accidental shootings. More than 600 of these shootings proved fatal. … The total number of Americans killed and wounded by gun accidents exceeds the total number killed or injured in fires. The number killed in gun accidents is 20% higher than the total number killed in all U.S. civil aviation accidents.

In 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to ban drop-side baby cribs because these cribs have been blamed for “dozens” of infant deaths over the entire previous decade. The 600+ accidental gun deaths in any single year amount to 50 dozen.

… The Centers for Disease Control reserve the term “very rare” for accidental deaths from vaccines, the number of which is zero, or close to it. If more than 600 people a year were dying from vaccines, we’d have a national uproar, if not a revolution.

(2)  As usual, the little ones get to pay for our folly: “Children and Guns: The Hidden Toll“, New York Times, 28 September 2013 — The Times gives heart-rending tales of children’s deaths, amidst horrific data about the totals and terrifying news about the NRA’s work to obstruct efforts to keep us ignorant about the cost of guns in America. Excerpt:

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