Updates to past posts, and an open thread to post comments and questions about gepolitics

Summary: Today we have updates to past posts, interesting recent news about important themes.  Also, please use this as an open thread to comment and ask questions about geopolitics.

By Drew Friedman, New York Observer, 21 August 2012


  1. More news of the robot revolution
  2. The rumor-mongers were wrong (again) about US carriers attacking Iran
  3. Ayn Rand back in the news!
  4. The rumors were wrong. Prince Bandar is alive!

All of these stories are about observation, learning, and adapting. Things we used to do so well, but appear to have forgotten.

(1)  More news of the robot revolution

During the past two years the FM website has run many posts about the robot revolution, the next wave of automation in manufacturing and especially services. Better vision, mechanical skills, sensors, ability to interact with humans, and what sci-fi author James Blish called “semi-intelligence” = another structural shift in unemployment.

Slowly it comes into view of the general public: “Skilled Work, Without the Worker“, New York Times, 18 August 2012 — Excerpt:

This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.

… The falling costs and growing sophistication of robots have touched off a renewed debate among economists and technologists over how quickly jobs will be lost. This year, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made the case for a rapid transformation. “The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications,” they wrote in their book, “Race Against the Machine.”


In their minds, the advent of low-cost automation foretells changes on the scale of the revolution in agricultural technology over the last century, when farming employment in the United States fell from 40 percent of the work force to about 2 percent today. The analogy is not only to the industrialization of agriculture but also to the electrification of manufacturing in the past century, Mr. McAfee argues.

“At what point does the chain saw replace Paul Bunyan?” asked Mike Dennison, an executive at Flextronics, a manufacturer of consumer electronics products that is based in Silicon Valley and is increasingly automating assembly work. “There’s always a price point, and we’re very close to that point.”

… Such advances in manufacturing are also beginning to transform other sectors that employ millions of workers around the world. One is distribution, where robots that zoom at the speed of the world’s fastest sprinters can store, retrieve and pack goods for shipment far more efficiently than people. Robots could soon replace workers at companies like C & S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest grocery distributor, which has already deployed robot technology.

Rapid improvement in vision and touch technologies is putting a wide array of manual jobs within the abilities of robots.

Posts about the robot revolution, the next wave of automation, and how it will reshape our world:

  1. The coming big increase in structural unemployment, 7 August 2010
  2. The coming Robotic Nation, 28 August 2010
  3. The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee, 22 September 2010
  4. Economists grapple with the first stage of the robot revolution, 23 September 2012
  5. The Robot Revolution arrives, and the world changes, 20 April 2012


(2)  The rumor-mongers were wrong (again) about US carriers attacking Iran

The usual rumor-mongers fed ominous news to the credulous again about US forces massing against Iran.

Both of these feed the fears of the gullible, reporting routine carrier rotations as attack preparations.  Zero Hedge has run breathless articles 11 times this year so far:  4 in January, 4 in February, once in March, and twice in July.

We correctly called these for what they were in Hegemon at work on Iran, doing what hegemonic powers do. No war needed – or likely., 17 July 2012 — “Fear-mongering by the usual sources about war will probably again be wrong.”  Today we have two carriers near Iran.

(3)  Ayn Rand back in the news!

Ayn Rand is an a apostle for America’s dark side, illuminating the hypocrisy of its Christian core.  Now Paul Ryan drags her philosophy from the shadows into the light for all to see.

For further insights we turn to: Bob the Angry Flower gives the big spoiler to Atlas Shrugged – the Sequel:

Click to enlarge!

(4)  The rumors were wrong. Prince Bandar is alive!

Prince Bandar, rumored dead in a blast at Saudi intel HQ on 22 July. These was discussed in Assassination of an important Saudi Prince! By Syria. Or Iran. Or both. Or it might be a fake story., 1 August 2012. Now we can put the rumors to rest.

First, a quasi-official denial: “Thierry Meyssan and Prince Bandar bin Sultan“, Arab News, 4 August 2012 — Excerpt:

Last week, Thierry Meyssan wrote on Voltaire that Prince Bandar was killed along with his assistance Mishaal Al-Qarni in a bomb blast on July 26. The same day, Prince Bandar appeared with Prince Khalid bin Sultan at a function. He was also present at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ reception for princes in Jeddah. This shows that the propaganda against Prince Bandar only aims to stir instability and anarchy.

The Voltaire Network admitted their error the next day.

Last week we got another form of evidence — “Princes group photo” at the Islamic Solidarity Summit, 16 August 2012:

From left, Prince Ahmed, Minister of Interior, Prince Abduz Aziz bin Abdullah, Deputy Foreign Minister, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah Region, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Intelligence Chief, during the conference. — Okaz/Agencies photos


20 thoughts on “Updates to past posts, and an open thread to post comments and questions about gepolitics”

  1. FireSideCollapse

    Given your (assumed) military background and interest, I think you might find this article interesting, and should add to the information background of your site. “The Specter of Military Defeat“, John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report, 15 August 2012.

    1. Thanks for the reference!

      From this brief article. I suspect the author has little knowledge of history, or military history. But the book he cited sounds interesting.

      If you are interested in military history, I suggest starting with one of John Keegan’s early book, Mask of Command, or The Price of Admiralty — depending on your personal interests!

    2. FireSideCollapse

      I don’t see how he’s lacking knowledge in history, or military history for that matter. It seems pretty apt and factual base. Here’s another article where he goes into the systemic weakness of our current technologically dependent military. “The monkeywrench wars

      1. I don’t want to waste much time on Greer, but I’ll give two specifics. His description of pre-WWI UK military strategy was grossly wrong. Britain was a naval power, designed to hold a global empire. It was not a continental land power.

        Also, let’s step back and think of broader context of writing about history. We don’t have a New York Times to learn about ancient world events. We have only tiny scraps of information about wars — let alone battles — three thousand plus years ago. To take a more recent event (only 2400 years ago), we rely on a few sources for our understanding of the Peloponnesian Wars. Some future generation might build a time TV and discover that Thucydides was a bs artist, and our understanding of that war was totally bogus.

  2. FireSideCollapse — When I was at the Pentagon in the early 70s, everybody had read Clarke’s “Superiority.” But we knew full well that he was lampooning the inflexible bureaucrats of an earlier time.

    Greer makes a most interesting point:

    If you have to fight an enemy armed with an extremely efficient military technology, one of the most likely ways to win is to find and target some previously unexploited weakness in the technology itself.

    Like the story about the Sea Peoples in his first piece, however, what he’s talking about is not technology per se but failure to adapt in time to affect the outcome of the conflict. That is, you have to be able to exploit the weakness you’ve found (or better yet, created) before the other side can adapt. It’s not like the Sea Peoples had just invented the javelin. According to his summary of Robert Drews’ book (in the first link), the Egyptians were able to adapt, while the Hittites and the Mycenaeans were not.

    In modern strategy, we call this “operating inside the OODA loop” of your opponents. If you scroll through the comments to Greer’s second piece, you’ll see a reference to Boyd.

    So Greer’s hypothesis appears to be that we will encounter a military threat that can operate inside our OODA loops to inflict a severe military defeat (in the conventional sense), that is, one that we cannot explain away, as we so far have Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

    Believe it or not, a lot of people in the defense community worry about just that. It was a primary theme of the military reform movement and still bothers folks like Doug Macgregor. Personally, it’s not something that keeps me awake at night when you look at all of the other problems we face.

  3. Don’t know if you ever touched on this, but would you consider abortion a wedge issue of America’s “culture wars” or an important issue deserving of its prominence?

    1. That’s a great question. However, it’s outside my field of interest. Guessing: the GOP represents a minority whose views on abortion differ greatly from the majority’s. In fact, I suspect there’s some hypocrisy there (ie, some — not all — abortion opponents might feel differently if their 15 eyar old daughter was raped and carrying a baby with Down’s Syndrome). So abortion works to the GOPs advantage so long as it fires their base, but the larger majority does not pay attention. When that happens, it works against them.

  4. What has the political evolution of the person behind the Fabius Maximus blog been like? You’ve mentioned being a registered Republican as well a either a volunteer or fundraiser in the past. I’m curious as this would greatly help me understand some of the logic behind your posts.

    1. That’s a good question. But of the long pile of things I have to write about, that’s at the bottom of my list.

      A principle of the FM website is that the material stands on its own, without any appeal to authority of the author — or additional context from the author’s background (as one does in biblical exegesis or literary deconstruction).

    2. Here’s some context you might find of use for my writing (not the others on the FM website)

      I try to clearly distinguish between facts and values, and between knowledge and guessing. Hence the frequency of the phrases “I believe”, “IMO”, “I suspect”, and “my guess”.

      I focus articles on the hidden side of debates. For example, that in 2003 (and thereafter) we were losing in Iraq and Afghanistan — and that today there is debate among scientists about the basics of climate change (there is a consensus, but not on the questions of operational use for public policy).

      I try to have as few opinions as possible. Hence the tight focus of most articles (note that commenters frequently give rebuttal to issues not discussed, believing that if you believe A you must also believe B (because those are all aspects of the tribal dogma).

      Broad statements about society cannot be proven. So the standard structure of a post is to present the broad theory, then a very specific bit of history or news as an illustration.

      These posts are just introductions to a debate. There is always a For More Information section with links to more data and expert analysis.

      The topics discussed here are mind-blowingly complex. Even these too-long posts (1000 – 2000 words) just skim the glaze on the surface, each chapter in the FM website’s analysis. Read them as chapters in a book, with links to other chapters at the end (and in the FM reference pages on the right-side menu bar).

    1. Hoyticus asks a great question, similar to what he asked in another thread: “Why is the American Left so weak?”

      Unfortunately the answer is the same. It’s a great question, but “why” is so often the most difficult of questions. I don’t have a clue as to the answer. A related question: why is America so much more conservative than other developed nations with regards to most public policy issues?

      Although this is not an answer, this might be some kind of cyclical dynamic. The Right ran this nation during the Gilded Age. Then came the progressive era, the the counter-trend. Then the New Deal, and the Left ran much of America until Reagan (ie, Nixon was one of the 3 big liberal Presidents of the 20th C; see details here). That political shift to the right was the real Reagan Revolution (there was no unusual economic swing; the “Reagan miracle” is a myth), and it continues today.

      Where this goes we cannot see. So far it looks to take America on the rocks, with crazy people at the helm.

  5. I had several questions I wanted to ask but have been rather down since learning that Neil Armstrong the first man on the moon died today. That must have been a truly a terrible thing for him to have been the first on the moon and then live to see America’s entire Manned Space Program canceled. I literally and physically grew up in the middle of the Space Program and seeing how truly great America was I will ask this. Do you think America will ever be that great again?

    1. There are lots of great questions on this thread. I hope you folks can pitch in with answers, since these are over my pay grade.

      My guess is that we’re in a slump. We can save the Second Republic. And if not sometime in the future lies the Third Republic, build on the lessons learned from the first two. The spiritual force of our forefathers circulates in the soul of every American. We need only to realize what we were, and can be again.

      The first step to reform is not knowledge. Not logic. But rage, contempt at what we have become. From that other things can flow, good or bad depending on our character.

      Weber points us toward Nietzsche as the common source for serious thinkers of the twentieth century. He also tells us what the single fundamental issue is: the relation between reason, or science, and the human good. When he speaks of happiness and the last man, he does not mean that the last man is unhappy, but that his happiness is nauseating. An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.

      Weber’s science presupposes this experience, which we would call subjective. After having encountered it in Nietzsche, he spent the greater part of his scholarly life studying religion in order to understand the non-contemptible, those who esteem or revere and are therefore not self-satisfied, those who have values …

      — From The Closing of the American Mind, chapter “Values”, Allan Bloom (1987)

  6. What is your opinion of Michael Lind, one of the cofounders of the New America Foundation? In many of his Salon columns he advocates many of the same actions you do.

    1. This is a useful question, the kind that helps people sort through the massive flow of info and insight provided by a large world and new communications.

      As said above, I try to have as few opinions as possible (It’s the easiest way to minimize mistakes when one writes a lot). Esp to questions like this. I don’t know his work well enough to have a reliable opinion, just an impression.

      The Smackdowns page is too long, as it is.

    1. No connection at home to broadcast or cable TV.

      I watch a few TV shows on DVD. Miami Vice, for tips on style and clothing (both Crocket and Tubbs). Miami Vice, NCIS, NCIC-LA, and X-Files to learn about modern law enforcement methods. For example, criminals should not use young girls as human shields. Federal agents will shoot through the girl, killing you both.

    2. Bill Maher is a pseudo-skeptic; he adopts some positions that appear to be a result of critical thinking (most notably his views on religion) yet, in others, he loudly plays the role of gullible fool. Specifically he appears to be a fan of patent remedies for cancer, and a believer that vaccination is a bad idea. That makes me think that he doesn’t really do much thinking or researching of his topics and is probably just reaching for shock value.

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