Saturday, August 30, 2008

Now, That's Funny ...

..., I don't care who you are.

Or aren't.

There's no way the campaign will even acknowledge this bit of synchronicity, but that doesn't stop the rest of us from having a good laugh.

And then there's this. Anything else, maybe, but the left will never forgive her for this:

Rigel Kent Says:

Palin’s smart, tough, capable, gorgeous and a red head?

My God, she’s a Heinlein character come to life.

I think I might just have to vote for McCain now.

August 30th, 2008 at 12:33 am

Bill Ayers may get called out of retirement after a few weeks more of this.

And that's not funny.

Thanks to Rand Simberg and TamaraK for the much needed good laugh.

Update: I haven't had to experience it as of yet, but one thing I'm not looking forward to is all the " ...Palin comparison." smarminess from the punditry class over the next couple months. The novelty will wear off and people will begin to take note of the lady herself as time goes by, but 'till then ...

One other observation. Todd Palin must have the iron resolve and self control of an actual saint. Hosting tea party's and the like is all good for a laugh, but I'd have long since consigned some talking head to a lifetime of dental treatments via a proctologist. 'Yo, Chris, Keith, I'm just sayin' is all.

Update Deux (8/31): See what I mean?

Although, I have to say, this isn't too bad an example of what I'm talking about. At least this blogger stuck to published facts and sources to illustrate his admittedly biased viewpoint. Well, sort of ... Nobody looks quite that good with a real case of bed head. Which also ought to be regarded as "Praising with faint damns" ought'nt it?

Update Tres (9/01): See! See!?! See what I'm talkin' about?

This can't end soon enough.

Friday, August 29, 2008



Well, the guy never carried much of a tan anyway.

I'm certain the Democrats will wear this one out fairly quickly. Watching the rest of the .gov femmes have serial conniptions ought to provide at least several months of entertainment, though. Query: if Nancy Pelosi's face splitttsss* during a televised speech, would anybody not watching closely actually notice?

All I can say is, Thank Ghu at least somebody running for national office has some actual executive branch-type experience going into the race.

*Sorry, couldn't resist the now-antiquated Bill Cosby reference (a bit from the performance titled Fatherhood, as I recall).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why I'm a blogger and not a reporter

I suppose most people are at least generally aware of the recent confrontation instigated by Alex Jones with Hot Air blogger and sometime Fox News reporter/commentator Michele Malkin yesterday in Denver, CO; see here for a written report by Charles Martin of events from one participants perspective and here for a largely unedited video recording of the incident by Stephen Greene (aka VodkaPundit) who happened to be on-scene working as a Pajamas Media reporter as events unfolded.

While I am certain that Alex Jones chose the tactic he did because Michele Malkin is a 5' nuthin' Filipina and the living incarnation of the definition "petite", and that Alex Jones would never, for any reason, even consider attempting something similar involving myself (being that I am the diametric opposite of said definition) as the object of his invective-laden assault, I still feel it incumbent upon me to note that, were he ever to do so here in Texas - the state we both reside in, I absolutely would shoot him DRT.

And, I fully understand that a Lone Star version of Denver's Smirky Mc DoNut, as described briefly in Mr. Martin's report, would no doubt be the first to insist I accept his offer of accommodation as a guest of the Governor immediately thereafter.

We who go to all the trouble to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm do so for nearly as many reasons as there are number of us, but one of the most common is to generally accept a greater share of responsibility for our own security and safety. I submit to all and sundry that the behavior exhibited by Alex Jones in the PJM video is a classic example of "threatened and in fear for my life" as anyone might hope not to ever personally experience.

I believe that about the second time he directed his assaultive behavior in such a close, in-your-face fashion, and had he done so to me in a similarly aroused mob atmosphere, I'd have killed him without a moments hesitation.

Which causes me to re-raise a question I briefly skirted about with Kevin Baker some months ago; to what extent does our recreational shooting training influence our behavior in an actual defensive gunfight situation?

Using the PJM video as a reference, at what point in the course of events would you consider the self-defense requirement to have been met (if at all) and thereby feel justified in shooting the attacker? No fair cheating and using Michele Malkin's unarmed action as a guide; this question is for concealed carry license holders, presumed to be subject to a near-identical assault, in a state that recognises their license and thus can be presumed to be armed at the time.

I bring this topic up because I believe that we all run an under-appreciated risk of unnecessary legal jeopardy by not periodically including some form of specifically "defensive shooting"-oriented training and/or regular practice session as a part of our normal shooting experience. My problem is, I'm not fully confident what such a regimen ought to realistically (as well as legalistically) consist of.

I am certain that reliance upon the tactics and techniques inherent to Steel Challenge, IDPA and the like probably would offer as much opportunity for a potential prosecutor as it would my defender.

Here in Texas (and I'm willing to bet this is common in other states, too) a private citizen is entitled to defend his life and (with certain stipulations) his property from direct attack. But only to the point of safeguarding said life and property, wherein lies the rub.

A defensive shooting training exercise would have to explicitly include a mechanism for breaking direct contact with an attacker (never mind the old "best defense ..." chestnut) in order for such a gunfight to be consistent with a defensive action. I submit that the shooting disciplines I previously cited teach the diametric opposite of such a principle. Please understand, there's nothing wrong with that in it's own context, until an attorney is using it to demonstrate your willful disregard for the life of the decedent and why the jury should award the plaintiff 110% of everything you will ever earn in perpetuity. In that circumstance, maybe a defense attorney could make a telling counter-argument to a jury out of a training regimen that specifically includes dis-engaging from attack if safely possible for you to attempt. Being able to question witnesses as to your training in and practice of such a defensive discipline might usefully improve your image with a jury as well.

The possibility of being able to actually train not to shoot idiots like Alex Jones as part of an effective "combined arms" philosophy to personal concealed carry seems useful to me also. The superior strategist is one who defeats an enemy's attack at the least cost to himself.

Any thoughts ... ?

Update (9/01): Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs site has a post up by "Zombie" regarding yet another recent near-riot in Denver last week. In addition to the apparent propaganda effort made by the Rocky Mountain News to spin this minor side-show to an equally minor arrest, there's the question of how the police handled the threatening crowd scenario as opposed to what occurred in the separate incident involving Michele Malkin.

For better or worse, I believe that this sort of organised, structured and well-practiced behavior is more than likely going to be the standard of conduct to which all individuals forced into a similar circumstance will be compared. The stunning disparity between a department of trained professionals degree of resources and training to that of virtually any individual not withstanding, I expect the presence of firearms and a state license to carry same will be the over-riding factors in most people's minds when it comes to assessing the degree of civil guilt and/or responsibility for a given outcome.

We shooters with concealed carry licenses need to better prepare ourselves for the full range of responsibility that accompanies the personal protection we seek to secure for ourselves. Specifically, to include surviving intact the legal fight that will almost inevitably follow any gun fight.

A pyrrhic victory isn't. Don't build a strategy around such an obvious point of failure.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Instant Meme

I have often linked to Kevin Baker in the past and expect to do so in future. This time, I quote him in full:

Freudian Slip?
Former Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson -- yes, that Charlie Wilson -- was speaking at an anti-war rally when he, um, flubbed a line:
"We should be led by Osama bin Laden," he said, then quickly corrected himself. "I mean Obama and Biden."
Osama bin Laden, Obama and Biden, hey, it's a mistake anybody could make.

And will keep making all the way 'till election day.

Obama bin Biden 2008!

I'm suddenly feeling a little less sick to my stomach over this year's election.

From Real Clear Politics via Glenn

This one needs to be spread far and wide.

A couple quick clicks later, I found this at professional writer James Hudnall's blog:

Quote of the Day
“We should be led by Osama bin Laden,” he said, then quickly corrected himself. “I mean Obama and Biden.”

Charlie Wilson (of that bogus Tom Hanks movie fame)

Gosh, we have a new name for the hope team. Obama bin Biden : Hope and Change for the Republican Party’s fortunes.

Somewhere between the two, I think we've found the T-shirt for this years political season:

OBAMA bin BIDEN 2008
Hope and Change
(for the Republican Party)

Kevin? Hud? Who can get a Zazzle deal struck first?

I'm a 2XL BTW.


Update: So, Hud went with the T-Shirt while Kevin opted for the bumpersticker.

Now, if we can only keep that utter nanger Nancy Pelosi talking for a couple more months there's a quite reasonable chance for McCain to inherit an evenly divided legislature too.

In the present circumstance, political gridlock is good.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

... and speaking of gas,

Brian Wang has an intriguing post on a new bio-diesel process at Next Big Future. The newly formed Ever Cat Fuels company has begun construction on a bio-diesel plant that seems a marked improvement over the established process.

In a comment to Brian's post I said:

The Ever Cat website specifically states that the process does not "require a large footprint". I wonder how scalable this is in the other direction - to the 20 to 30 gallon/batch range say? That's the sort of application that would bring this development into widespread use the quickest, I suspect. Half a dozen neighbors contributing the "components" for a percentage share of the result? I think I'll contact Mr. Wendorf at Ever Cat and enquire ...

I wrote Mr. Dave Wendorf at the Ever Cat-provided e-mail link and will post any response I recieve.

What an opportunity!

I'm half tempted to apply for this, but I suspect a foul temper and gassy ass don't actually qualify as "powers".


Thanks to James Hudnall for the laugh.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Magnatising News!

An interesting development from Intel is reported at, wireless transmission of electrical power with no shocking involved.

Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner demonstrated a Wireless Energy Resonant Link as he spoke at the California firm's annual developers forum in San Francisco.

Electricity was sent wirelessly to a lamp on stage, lighting a 60 watt bulb that uses more power than a typical laptop computer.

Most importantly, the electricity was transmitted without zapping anything or anyone that got between the sending and receiving units.

"The trick with wireless power is not can you do it; it's can you do it safely and efficiently," Intel researcher Josh Smith said in an online video explaining the breakthrough.

"It turns out the human body is not affected by magnetic fields; it is affected by elective fields. So what we are doing is transmitting energy using the magnetic field not the electric field."

There has long been speculation that Nikola Tesla's numerous wireless power transmission patents involved using the Earth's magnetic field in some way. Similarly, the debate over the possibility for Zero Point electrical power generation arises from a contrasting approach to the same electro-magnetic principals.

Apparently there is something to all that after all.

The technology could also be built into plugged in computer components, such as monitors, to enable them to broadcast power to devices left on desks or carried into rooms, according to Smith.

"Initially it eliminates chargers and eventually it eliminates batteries all together," analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group said of Intel's wireless power system.

"That is potentially a world changing event. This is the closest we've had to something being commercially available in this class."

Previous wireless power systems consisted basically of firing lightning bolts from sending to receiving units.

Now, how soon can I expect to re-charge my (I wish!) Tesla Roadster from the streetlights as I'm driving?

Friday, August 22, 2008

T Boone, Pickens Our Pockets

They seem just a tad suspicious of all this up in Lubbock.

Myriad obstacles remain for billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens to market Panhandle water to thirsty cities elsewhere in Texas, but one intermediate hurdle appears to be a slam dunk.

Pickens still must lay a pipeline to deliver water to a buyer that's yet to be secured.

But this week he secured a November election for a proposed freshwater supply district in Roberts County. Only five people will be eligible to vote, and all either work for him or support him and live within the proposed district's boundaries.

A bit further down the page there's also this:

Though Roberts County Judge Vernon H. Cook voted Tuesday to approve a petition for the district and to call for the election to confirm it, he questioned the method.

"I feel like it's an abuse of the system," he said of only Pickens' people casting ballots. "I have all kinds of concerns about the way the legislation is structured, but I don't think we have a real legal recourse on it."

I have to be careful not to exceed fair use standards, so only one more quote:

Monty Humble, an attorney working for Pickens, said freshwater supply districts can get low-interest bonds for infrastructure beyond the boundaries of the district if they are revenue bonds.

The district also comes with eminent domain powers that reach beyond its boundaries.

So, T. Boone "gives" property to a few of his employees with the specific understanding that they'll vote the way he wants them to regarding T. Boone's private water district.


Presuming all goes as expected (not to say paid for or anything), then next year T. Boone can run a pipeline (or pretty much anything else he chooses) through anyone else's property without so much as a "By your leave ...". I know how much I trust Mr. Corporate Raider to show restraint and consideration for anyone else's concerns.

That's more than just a fresh breeze runnin' up your kilt, pardner.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Now, this seems like a promising start

That would be this modest result from Texas A&M.

Brian Wang takes a look:

"Our goal with this technology is to achieve as much as a 2 percent contribution to the nation¿s gasoline demand by 2022 through the building of 200 more bio-refineries," said Benjamin J. Brant, President and Chief Technology Officer of Byogy. "We firmly believe the TEES technology combined with the Byogy team offers this possibility."

Rand Simberg links to a more fulsome article at who notes:

The focus at the initial plant would be on using urban waste, which the plant would grind, sort and then convert into gasoline. The fuel produced by this process could immediately be used as a drop-in substitute to the current petroleum gasoline supplies with a seamless integration into the existing fuel distribution infrastructure. Nothing needs to be changed at retail gas stations, pipelines, regional fuel terminals or in any motor vehicle.

Note that this is not E-85 (or any other percentage) ethanol/gasoline mixture. While that effort also contributes to expanding available fuel supplies, there are unique problems with that particular response that are avoided by this A&M development.

The principles of strategy teach that a multitude of options provide the greatest opportunity for individual advancement over the broadest range of personal circumstance. On the other hand, positional strength is also achieved by eliminating to the greatest extent possible any alternative for a competitor to threaten a position from.

For this reason (among others), positional advancement efforts tend to be cyclic in nature in that they tend to alternate between efforts to consolidate a position (strength through mass) and efforts to diversify positional advancement opportunities (strength through multiple options).

A casual glance at the history of energy and fuel in the US illustrates the broad outlines of this process over the course of the 20th Century. As the current trend towards greater diversity progresses into the 21st Century, we can expect to see further disruption of the societal and economic mechanism's established to accommodate the earlier trend at consolidation (principally to petroleum and coal). With added opportunity comes greater risk; expect social conservatives to form odd alliances in reaction to this last factor.

As ever, determine your own position and measure the risks of advancing it via the available options as you decide is best. In any case, understand that the process is neither immediate nor the outcome obvious.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's for lunch?

Being diabetic, I mostly stick to grilled (baked, actually) skinless chicken in flatbread (I like these best). I spotted something new in the store last week and decided to give them a try.

I have to question the claim that one of these constitutes a meal for two full-size adult people. Still, at a total of 54g Total Carbohydrates per package, these sandwiches offer a suitable alternative to build-your-own for the insulin challenged crowd. I think addition of a mildly spiced condiment provides a desirable enhancement, but the basic taste is quite acceptable straight out of the box (well, microwave).

Added plus, you don't have to Jerk any Jamaicans. :)

Pork chops you say? Ahhh ...

A likely story.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Basking in the reflected glory

I have mentioned B. J. Norris on these pages before. If you are a fellow shooter, I hope you will join me in noting that the young man is doing rather well this weekend:

Phil made an awesome come back to take Limited, with JJ second and myself in third. Overall I’m pretty happy with my performance with the Limited gun, and I have a slight edge over Dave heading into tomorrow in the SteelMaster race.

Given that BJ is every bit of 19 years old (and due to be married the end of this month), I hope all the others attending this weed-end get together appreciate how much better he's going to get as he fully matures into competition.

If things progress well for him today and tomorrow at The Steel Challenge, I hope that Tam and Kevin will take the opportunity to give Mr. Jarrett a modest wind-up for his modest efforts. :) I suggest taking an understanding approach to the whole "glory is so transient" thing. Periodic mention of "Can you believe he's only 19?" and similar will also no doubt have a telling effect come skill demonstration time.

Probably best not to enquire where all that was this week-end though. Moderation in all things, you know, particularly in the presence of heavily armed {cough}former{cough} world champion shooters. Most especially when he's still so far up the downward slope that most shooters can't even see that high.

Anyway, congratulations to BJ for his results so far and I hope he'll remember to post Saturday's outcome before he gets back home.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Tale in the making

As even the most casual of glances at the sidebar to the right of this page will make obvious, I am a fan of science fiction and, with certain reservations, of outright fantasy. Like most other readers, I occasionally have "good story ideas"; unlike (I assume, it's a solitary process by it's nature) most of my subject-matter peers, I also try to write these out.

I've decided to outline this process here. Perhaps this will effect my achievement of a more complete story, perhaps only a slightly better understanding of how I need to alter my process. In any case, what follows is my not-quite-random collection of the story inspiration and generation process as I experience it, an important distinction. Actual authors, pretty much by definition, do something entirely else as well.

IN THE BEGINNING (of my personal literary journey) there was Jules Verne, specifically his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I was 7 at the time. It took me the entire two weeks the library allowed a book to be checked out for me to finish. Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein soon appeared over (and exponentially expanded) my intellectual horizon, along with a healthy helping of Louis L'Amour for even more speculative diversion.

Today's exercise arises from my casual interest in Immanuel Velikovsky's catastrophic history thesis, the concept of an "electric universe" and the notion that we humans are on the verge of becoming the physical manifestation of our ancestor's literal subjects of worship. Or, to put this in more "traditional" sci-fi-speak, is it to be many universes or straight up time travel?

Let's see what we've got to work with.

Whenever possible, steal from the best, I say. Jerry Pournelle has extensively covered much of the general material relevant to my story. Of particular significance is the e-mail exchange with Steve Stirling, aka joat-simeon (an amalgamation of the names of two characters from the novel he co-wrote with Anne McCaffrey The City Who Fought), on the first Dark Age that ended the Bronze Age period of human history. More on this anons ...

The reasonably near-term development of human capabilities as well as our technological accomplishments also comes into play ... you know, the god-like abilities who's pending arrival we all take more-or-less for granted? For examples and ideas, I rely on websites like Brian Wang's Next Big Future, Brian Westanhaus' New Energy and Fuel and the consortium that is Al Fin (in their many manifestations) for details and plain-language explanations of technology and scientific developments.

Of course, there are the many books examining the varied applications of the philosophy of bing fa and the science of strategy from Sun Tzu's seminal work The Art of War by Gary Gagliardi. These especially will always reflect heavily on any central character I imagine.

[Editorial Side Note: A regular problem for me is avoiding making my characters too much in agreement with my own beliefs and inclinations. How to approach in a positive manner a character I basically don't like or radically disagree with?]

Let me touch on one other matter while in preparatory mode; story rights. Basically, this is either a legal issue for my putative publisher to assist in defending or it's a non-issue. Which is the actuality to date. One has to have published something for there to be anything to which one can lay claim to rights to, don't you know. I hope this won't prove too controversial an assertion, but there really are no completely original stories left to tell concerning the human condition (there's a pretty convincing argument made that W. Shakespeare covered the lot - all since is mere reiteration). The best one can hope to achieve is an entertaining re-examination of an issue or circumstance - hopefully with some novel combination of obstacles and realistic-seeming mechanism's to advance the tale. If anyone else draws inspiration from my speculations here they will still be telling their own take on a well-established sci-fi convention. If I am ever able to complete my version, then that story will be different in ways unique to me.

Forthwith, the story:

Circa mid-2030's, we find a mixed US Naval and Marine Expeditionary Force (which largely consists of engineering specialists) playing host to a scientific team testing experimental stealth technology as that applies to ships under weigh. Somewhere in the mid-S. Atlantic, the assault ship (think aircraft carrier with internal well deck to launch LCAC hovercraft and other assault boats) and an escort vessel (a US Coast Guard cutter detached for foreign service and designed for littoral operations) take station upon each other at a distance of 100 yards separation. The science team initiate their test to distort lightwaves around the vessels to make them effectively invisible from observation by satellites monitoring from NEO.

Cue the heavy music and - hopefully not too predictably - it all goes dramatically wrong. Both ships and the water they are sailing through (to a distance of ~2,000 yards) "change" to (it is later learned) the exact point in Solar celestial orbit that the Earth inhabited X-thousand years in the past (however many millennium that works out to be - I'm assuming ~ 10k years).

The question of "who were the pre-Bronze Age people who's ultimate society failed so spectacularly as to be known as the First Dark Age" is thus answered. Or, at least, who their ancestors were.

Is it time travel? Is it travel into an alternate universe? Is their some measurable distinction between the two that makes any practical difference to the protagonists? All are distractions and entirely beside the point, but getting to that realisation contains rich fodder for the many characters potentially available (about 2200 total between the two ships).

I'm thinking that a useful device might be to scatter as many brief references to individuals as possible into the narrative introducing or examining the effect of some bit of technology or capability present aboard the ships. Whether or not that person re-appears will depend upon where (and how long) the story ends up going, but I don't want to find myself later limited by not having a plausible character or mechanism to effect an eventuality.

There are limits, of course.

No strong AI for one, that's too much like magic for my purposes (thank you, Sir Arthur). Another is the ability to manipulate the chemical/physical bonds at the molecular/atomic level to create materials or effect changes in people. I think it plausible to assert that there exists a tendency for artificial materials to revert back to their natural state over a sufficiently long period of time. Thus, the science team, sailors and Marines aren't really ageless or especially physically superior to the historical norm without regular maintenance and continued upgrades to both themselves and their equipment.

Any of the crew or scientists aboard has the technology to download much of the Library of Congress into internalized memory-storage and interface technology and access it in usable fashion, but that doesn't equate to a physical ability to accomplish such a learned task without suitable (if largely virtual) training and practice of the physical skill sets involved.

The Marine Corp tradition of all Marines being riflemen first notwithstanding, the Marines aboard are a Combat Engineering Battalion with a heavy leavening of Civil Affairs specialties and Navy independent-duty medical Corpsmen. They possess an extensive collection of the basic skill sets required to survive and prosper without external support in addition to the basic capability to overcome direct human efforts in opposition. Their primary mission is to force access to a littoral region, overcoming both deliberate and natural obstruction as circumstances warrent.

Finally, in an effort to pre-position disaster relief capability, there exists an extensive store of supplies on-board both ships as well as a useful (if limited to one-off production) rep-rap capability combined with raw material mining sea water technology (which is limited in scope as well).

So, how to tell this complex tale? I envision a central character modeled to arguable degree upon myself. Quelle surprise and all that; go with what you know, I say. Thus, Our Hero (a character trait yet to be firmly established) will be in his mid-80's chronologically, be physically extraordinary for a non-enhanced human in his early 30's and have a wealth of experience and knowledge almost unparalleled in human history.

He also won't even come close to being the most capable individual aboard either ship by any metric except, possibly, for diversity of actual personal experience. Despite his quite dated military experience, he is a technician on the science team, all of whom have somewhat ambiguous positions within the ship-board hierarchy in any case. They are "civilians", but have assimilated military ranks as DOD contractors. They can be made to fit in, but none too comfortably for all involved. As a senior technician, our man is equivalent to a CWO-4 (the most senior rank of Warrant Officer).

There seems ample room in all of that within which to work, but there yet remains a problem. The perennial question, "What next?"

Frankly, my knowledge of Bronze Age and early (or any other period, to be honest) Greek history owes more to cinematic rather than cerebral pursuits. The story as outlined so far is all preparatory to something else happening, else it has no real point to the telling. I could always cheat and go with the, "..., but that's another story" ending, but that really doesn't satisfy. Besides, all the old Greek (and other) legends and mythology is basic to the circumstance, isn't it? Who built the Cyclopian Walls, the appearance and dis-appearance of just-off-shore islands, the origins of the Oracle of Delphi, the various "gods" and their interactions with humans, Ezekiel's Biblical accounts of "supernatural" encounter; history is a succession of potential examples that can be made plausibly relevant to a small group of "ordinary", "modern" humans forced into interaction with only just barely pre-historic humans.

I suppose this would make for a reasonably plausible vehicle to examine the possibilities our current medical and materials science discoveries suggest may become available to we the as-yet unenhanced. If anabolic steroids and cannabis are so terrible, what to make of all this? Something there, maybe ...

I think I have the basic components down, any actual writers want to venture comment?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sunday, August 3, 2008


I've been talking on the telephone for over 40 years now. You'd think I might have developed some degree of relaxation with the process by now, wouldn't you?

I finally caught a Fast Forward Radio show on Blog Talk Radio from the guys at The Speculist and was able to call in. Aside from a penchant to stutter and lose my train of thought, I think I got across the basic concepts of strategy as a life philosophy and not just a military/political oddity.

Gary does this so much better ...

One thing I would like to add that didn't really fit into the show format is that strategy as developed from Sun Tzu's The Art of War might very well have been written with a technological future in mind.

By this I mean that, to the extent that strategic science can be summed up as positional advancement, the concept of "futurist" entails imagining the so-far hypothetical process by which technology can be the mechanism to achieving a position we individually desire to attain.

Finally, being seen to be capable of overwhelming violence serves the end of succeeding without having to resort to force. Most of the time ... Occasionally you do have to actually be seen being overwhelmingly violent to illustrate the lesson.

Humans will never escape the potential for war, but we can all work to be so good at it that we don't have to actually fight most of the time.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Will There Be War?

When I was a teenager, Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein were the two principle influences on my questionable intellectual growth. As a young man of 30ish, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle ran a close race with Dean Ing for the same position in my personal literary pantheon. All of them were also enormously entertaining while doing so, I might add.

About the time I began considering which branch of military service most attracted me, Dr. Pournelle, along with two other PhD's (Stefan Possony and Francis Kane) wrote The Strategy of Technology. Fellow fans of his fiction probably haven't read this one as Jerry Pournelle has subsequently explained:

A generation of students used this book, but a new generation can’t find it; the copies still in use in the War College are Xeroxes, the book long being out of print. Meanwhile, new threats loom on the horizon. The Seventy Years War is over; the Technological War continues relentlessly. It is possible that this book is needed now more than ever.

Dr. Pournelle further notes:

Most of the examples in this book were chosen for their impact on thoughts about the Cold War and the threat of Soviet communism. They are now historical rather than current, and a proper revision of this book would use examples from current threats; alas we haven’t time to do that; nor have we time to do a proper chapter on space and space weapons.

What follows is my effort to contribute to whatever lesson a revised copy of The Strategy of Technology might someday offer.

I think it must be a truism that what you stipulate when formulating a postulate influences the outcome of any thesis. More simply put, what you assume going into a discussion determines the conclusion you arrive at. In The Strategy of Technology, the author's (hereinafter addressed to Dr. Pournelle personally) offer the following definition of strategy:

According to the traditional concept of military strategy it should mean the art of employing military forces to achieve the ends set by political policy. This definition was formulated by [Sir Basil Henry] Liddell Hart in 1929 and it hardly differs from that of Clausewitz. Raymond Aron follows it almost word for word. France's leading strategist of the 60's commented:

"In my view this definition is too restrictive because it deals with military forces only. I would put it as follows: the art of applying force so that it makes the most effective contribution towards achieving the ends set by political policy...

"In my view the essence of strategy is the abstract interplay which, to use Foch's phrase, springs from the clash between two opposing wills. It is the art which enables a man, no matter what the techniques employed, to master the problems set by any clash between two opposing wills. It is the art which enables a man, no matter what the techniques employed, to master the problems set by any clash of wills and as a result to employ the techniques available with maximum efficiency. it is therefore the art of the dialectic of force, or, more precisely, the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute.

In our judgment it would be hard to better the above definition provided that we understand force to include the broader concept of power and force. Examining the definition shows us several important aspects of the Technological War and its strategy.

To quote from the quote "In my view this is too restrictive", not to mention being thoroughly misleading. In reality, strategy is not limited by purely military and/or political considerations. Nor should it be premised upon the tactical considerations or technological achievements of the day.

In essence, strategy is simply the concept of positional advancement.

In strategic terms, all humans each occupy a unique position. Strategy then becomes the effort to advance one's position relative to all other positions (to include the one's position relative to itself). This can be accomplished via various means and devices, but the fundamental premise remains constant, whatever the strategic environment or climate (which only incidentally includes actual weather) might prove to be. Limiting the framework of discussion to a military/political application limits the tactics and opportunities available to achieve advancement. It also promotes continued misunderstanding of strategic principles and their practical application in resolving the dilemma's we all face as part of daily life. The outcome of which results in increased strife for all of us to have to contend with while seeking to advance our own position.

In the specific example, Dr. Pournelle describes technology as being the mechanism whereby outright war is avoided:

This is the unique feature of the Technological War. Military superiority or even supremacy is not permanent, and never ends the conflict unless it is used. The United States considers the Technological War as an infinite game: one which is not played out to a decisive victory. We are committed to a grand strategy of defense, and will never employ a decisive advantage to end the conflict by destroying our enemies. Consequently, we must maintain not only military superiority but technological supremacy. *The race is an alternative to destructive war, not the cause of military conflict.*

If your intent is to promote militarily oriented industry, this is an excellent argument to take up. As effective strategy, not so much. Essentially, this is the Clausewitzian fallacy writ large; that the side with the biggest/best used cannon wins (to include the logistics capability to do so, of course). From a traditional Western/European military perspective, the good Count makes a defensible argument. As a strategy he's much too limited in his consideration of the efforts that influence - that shape, in current parlance - the battle long before the field is taken by anyone. With or without cannon.

The Cold War outcome Jerry Pournelle and his fellow authors urge in this text isn't in dispute. The contribution of US technology to achieving that outcome is less clear however. The ultimate failure of the Soviet Communist system has at least as much to do with it's inherent instabilities as does all but the most extreme actions of others. The tactic of technology to drive the Soviet economy into failure isn't a strategy, any more than the quality and quantity of hammers available is a carpenter. Tactics are the mechanism used to achieve a strategic advancement and thus often become emblematic of strategy. Confusing the emblem for the substance is a mistake I believe the authors have permitted themselves in the present example.

The answer to the titular question is: Of course! As Jerry Pournelle himself has pointed out elsewhere in his writings, there are very few "master chess player" strategists about here in the real world. People misjudge or simply don't understand how to achieve what they strive for and thus conflict with other's wrapped up in their own efforts is inevitable. As Sun Tzu said, "The epitome of Generalship is to achieve victory without fighting", and there is very little room at the top of any heap. It should also be noted that the "best general" doesn't always win. Robert E. Lee, Hans Guderian ..., the list is a long one of superior generals who nonetheless fought on the losing side.

In closing, I wish to point out the strategic context, as I understand that to be, of this quote from Chapter 1 of The Strategy of Technology:

THERE ARE at least two kinds of games. One should be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the game.

James P. Carse Finite and Infinite Games

Strategy, the universal striving for individual positional advancement is an infinite game, played by any number for all time. Tactics are the expression of the finite games we all play, serially or as a group, to realise those desired advancements. Technology has a pivotal role in most strategic endeavors, especially as technology becomes more endemic to daily life. However, unless your life can be summed up on a bumper sticker, your strategy is more than the total of your tools.

One final comment if I may. I find it slightly disingenuous of Dr. Pournelle to fault the students of his own treatise because he thinks their actually using what he taught in Mesopotamia, rather than the plains surrounding Kursk, to be somehow misplaced or misguided. By reputation at least, strategy is largely an exercise in manipulation and misdirection. Every once in a while though, you have to actually reach into your bag of technology and hammer the crap out of somebody just to drive home the lesson that you actually do have such things and will use them when and as you think necessary.

It can't all be bluff; sometimes you've got to show the guy you're not even playing against yet that you actually do have the cards.