Archive for January, 2010

What is science?

James Lewis describes Science as a Glorious, Skeptical Enterprise.

Bad ideas get trashed in good science. If you doubt it, just read James Watson on the heated fight with Linus Pauling over the structure of DNA. Craig Venter outraged the competition by discovering the human genome three years before they expected to get there. Or see what Isaac Newton said about Leibniz. It gets nasty.

That’s for healthy science, which is not a list of orthodox beliefs, but more like an endless, running debating club. You could tell that global warming was in trouble the moment that James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate astrologer and enforcer of The Faith, said that “climate deniers” should be put in jail.

But from there Lewis illustrates an apologia for creationism which rather destroys his argument. He suggests it is proper science to teach creationism as a part of the history behind Darwinism and then tosses in veiled references about how DNA understanding has “found to be flawed” and similarly vague references to unanswered questions. The basis, that science depends upon skepticism and debate, is supportable but the idea that there are no standards or ‘rules of debate’ that is implied by his creationist examples is not.

There is the ideal – that the debate is impersonal, logical, and solidly fact based – and then there is the reality that many scientists are gifted people with strong emotional attachments to their ideas and that emotion can sometimes boil over into occasional outbursts. The problem with Hansen’s ‘should be jailed’ comment is not that is was said but rather that it was a bit more than just an incidental personal outburst.

Where Lewis treads in quicksand is where he fails to acknowledge the demarcation between appropriate and inappropriate. That line is critical to intellectual integrity. It is a line that is often smeared in modern issues related to questions about the world we live in. Examples of stepping over the line into quicksand can be seen in the current IPCC report problems regarding glaciation, Amazon deforestation, and conflict of interest. It can also be seen in Lewis’s efforts to rationalize teaching creationism as biology.

A good ‘scientific’ debate stays within the bounds of measure and context. When it escapes these bounds, it ceases to be science.

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Catastrophe relativism

The Sky Is Falling (fable) is an old fairy tale whose age tells you something about proclivities for doom and gloom anticipation. The recent IPCC scandals about glacial ice and other environmental catastrophic predictions is just an example. Trying to get a realistic handle on global warming and other such phenomena to place them in an appropriate perspective can be difficult with all the Chicken Little like cries. Not many stop to realize that the global warming claims are all based on a matter of a degree Fahrenheit or so over a typical lifetime and try to contrast that sort of change in changes you experience over your lifetime.

See level changes with dire predictions of massive flooding of big cities is another claim. Put in perspective, this also loses the catastrophic edge. PhysOrg reports The sea level has been rising and falling over the last 2,500 years:

“Over the past century, we have witnessed the sea level in Israel fluctuating with almost 19 centimeters between the highest and lowest levels. Over the past 50 years Israel’s mean sea level rise is 5.5 centimeters, but there have also been periods when it rose by 10 centimeters over 10 years. That said, even acute ups and downs over short periods do not testify to long-term trends. An observation of the sea levels over hundreds and thousands of years shows that what seems a phenomenon today is as a matter of fact “nothing new under the sun”, Dr. Sivan concludes.

It is worth noting that not only the ‘common man’ suffers from Chicken Little’s anxiety. Even distinguished climate scientists have succumbed and joined the parade as can be seen by their attacks on skeptics and defensive rhetoric. It does not take much of a step back to consider the basis for the predictions of catastrophe in light of easily available references to see just how extraordinary they are.

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Debasing the debate: the Ellie Light astroturfing case

Patterico has a good description of a deceitful propaganda effort in Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing. The case involves letters to the editor. Someone noticed essentially the same letter in a number of newspapers and did a bit of investigating. What makes this case interesting is that it is unusual in its attempt to avoid the usual mass-mail campaigns by keeping the distribution light and falsifying the sources.

The recent SCOTUS decision about corporations and the first amendment is also pertinent. It appears, from the nature of the letter writing campaign, that there is an organized group behind the effort. An organized group of people is the fundamental nature of a corporation. While the SCOTUS decided that such groups could voice their opinion, it did not say that they could do so behind a veil. Here it appears that the same people who were so dismayed about the SCOTUS decision are also the ones behind this mail campaign and they do hide behind a veil to disguise the source and nature of their efforts.

Clearly, the credibility of the letters is undercut once the reader realizes that the letter writer is passing along other people’s thoughts verbatim. It is indeed plagiarism, although authorized, because it is not “quoting” with attribution but rather disguising another’s writing as one’s own. …

… it’s allotted space given to someone to try to persuade. Large political organizations motivate people to do this because it works. And it works with the element of deception.

It’s a small deception, to be sure. Venial, not mortal. But deception nonetheless. …

Finally, I have received all sorts of recent tips and theories as to who “Ellie Light” might be. This may well be useful information, if we learn it — but I urge people not to get too carried away with that question, such that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Which is the need to work to eliminate deception from our political discourse.

Transparency in politics was a major election campaign point of the election winner. This is yet another case where the expression of ideology and the behavior in practice don’t seem to mesh together very well.

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Gore v Brand re nuclear energy

Reason wonders How Green Are Your Nukes? and describes the views of Stewart Brand and Al Gore in recent books. Brand tends to favor nuclear energy because it excels at providing base load capability, has a low earth footprint, has a low global warming contribution, and is a large scale effort needing governmental support and regulation.

Al Gore, who criticizes “the grossly unacceptable economics of the present generation of reactors.” He opens his chapter on the nuclear option by calling it a “radioactive white elephant”—that is, an object that costs more to maintain than it’s worth. This turns out to be one of two chief arguments Gore makes against nukes. The second is the risk that nuclear fuel might be diverted to produce atomic weapons. Like Brand, Gore acknowledges that nuclear power is safe and that the issue of how to store nuclear waste could be solved. … somehow Gore’s cost consciousness gets lost when he considers his pet solutions, such as solar power. Elsewhere in the book, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate does a lot of hand waving

The discussion concludes that “The best way to figure out which technologies are the most economical is to set a price on greenhouse gas emissions and let various energy sources compete against each other. No subsidies needed.” The only problem here is that costs of energy sources include much more than the technology and infrastructure costs. Political activism has resulted in significant regulatory and litigation burdens that taint simple cost evaluations. If it was left to the engineers, the problem would be solved. But meeting energy demand has put engineering in the background and daydreams and fantasies and ideology paramount. That does not bode well for any road to solving problems.

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Energy issues

PopSci says Wind Turbines Leave Clouds and Energy Inefficiency in Their Wake and has an interesting picture of offshore Denmark wind turbines creating cloud wakes. That might be a factor involved in global warming as clouds change the albedo in a way that cools the atmosphere.

David MacKay. a physics professor at U Cambridge offers a free book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. The stimulus was from reading various books about energy and wondering “How could two smart people come to such different conclusions? I had to get to the bottom of this.” He notes the lack of numbers except to aggrandize a particular point.

Perhaps the worst offenders in the kingdom of codswallop are the people who really should know better – the media publishers who promote the codswallop – for example, New Scientist with their article about the “water-powered car.”

What is interesting is that a physicist who starts a book by declaring such a numbers problem starts off with a graph that uses absolute measure to aggrandize a point. That is a a graph of atmospheric carbon dioxide over time as parts per million rather than proportion of the atmosphere. The graph is also flawed in that it only covers the modern era. Then he proceeds to castigate a straw man skeptic. Such flaws appear in the first few pages and indicate why the book might be popular in the politically correct “man is a cancer on the planet” crowd. It is very sad when a book falls hypocritical in only its first few pages. With that in mind and a proper skeptics eye open for critical reading and careful interpretation of the ‘hard data’ provided, the book might be worth reading.

It should also be noted that it appears that MacKay does not weigh economics of resource extraction and its impact on demand and ingenuity very highly in his early discussion, either. Since such impact is well established, assertions of ‘fact based’ reality tend to ring hollow as well.

Take care because not only readers but also writers can find expression to fulfill their desires and ideologies, even scientists who are trained to detect such problems. The recent CRU climate discussion and the IPCC glaciation errors only underscore this human failure in much of the modern dialog about topics related to science by scientists of high esteem.

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The nuclear option is unclear by thrown mud

There is a solution to the growing need for energy that protects the environment and maintains energy independence. McClatchy describes the political situation in Lobbying, global warming portend U.S. nuclear renaissance. This source for grid power has been embroiled in fear based politics for decades. The ghost in the closet is not among those usually discussed:

Still, many environmental groups worry about the safety of nuclear power. … Opponents also question why nuclear power needs federal subsidies. … The waste issue remains perhaps the biggest stumbling block.

That ghost is the fear of nuclear Armageddon that was based on cold war realities express in the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine. The word nuclear is smeared in such a way that only medicine seems to have avoided the taint.

As with many of these fear driven issues, facts and reality do not seem to be very popular. A decades long history of exemplary safety coupled with improvements in design that enhance safety does not seem to register. The ironies of the regulation burden and the burden of an uncertain political environment seem to be oblivious to those wondering about a need for governmental support. Waste management is muddied up by fears that recycling will be a terrorist target and exposure risk exaggeration.

Meanwhile, the old plants that were built before the mud slinging hit critical levels of obfuscation are plugging along. They provide utility companies with a dependable and reliable source of energy and have done so for decades. This reality may be sinking in for those who are trying to see down the road through all the mud on the windshield.

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Citizens United, fear, hyperboly, and hard positions

The recent SCOTUS decision that freedom of speech applies to organized groups of people as well as individuals has some folks in a froth. Even the court had vocal and vociferous disagreement. Lisa McElroy describes Citizens United v. FEC in plain English Re-argument, a special session, and Stevens’ oral dissent. Fabius Maximus thinks that The sky darkens over America, as we (the little people) are made smaller than we were last week.

It’s difficult to accurately describe the horrific consequences of the Supreme Court decision in “Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission”. I oppose most limits on election spending, but this goes to an extreme in the other direction. It’s the equivalent of empowering free speech by allowing people to falsely scream “fire” in a crowded theater. Conservatives have justified it by just making stuff up about it, the usual form of dialog in 21st century America. It’s not the end of America, but does make the task of reform much more difficult.

Some think it is the left that has this view but that begs the question of why the ACLU and AFL-CIO both supported the decision. The key is the perception of the corporation. If you see corporations as evil, greedy, rich, morality and ethics depraved entities that are a cancer on society and that elections are totally dependent upon who has the most money, then, yes, allowing corporations to spend money selling their viewpoints to the public could indeed be seen as Fabius Maximus describes.

On the other hand, if you see corporations as entities formed of individuals and governed by those individuals operating within the nature of contract law, and you note that money doesn’t always win elections, then perhaps the quote might be considered a bit hyperbolic. It is quite a stretch to claim that allowing a voice is the same as screaming fire in a crowded theater.

The feelings are very strong on this one and touch deeply held values. That means that reason and reality have a tough time entering the debate.

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The world is upside down

Norman Podhoretz says It’s Not Rush Limbaugh Who Should Apologize. That particular observation can be applied in many circumstances where people take off on Limbaugh without much care for reality. In this case, it centers on Limbaugh’s commentary regarding Podhoretz’s new book Why Are Jews Liberals?. That book provided another opportunity for Limbaugh to speculate about the reasons that the Jew community tends to vote leftist.

Of course, any Limbaugh talk about a minority that has its advocacy groups can create a knee jerk response and Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League provided it. Foxman declaired Limbaugh an anti-semite and demanded an apology. But, as Podhoretz notes “if an apology is owed here, it is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League who should apologize for the defamatory accusation of anti-Semitism that he himself has hurled against so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.”

The world is upside down. People vote for the enemies and attack their friends. One way to understand this paradox is to discuss it as Limbaugh does. But those defending an upside down world cannot tolerate such examination of their view of reality. That does not bode well.

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Rhetoric of reverse accusation

Jeffery Folks describes the technique in The Left’s Rhetoric of Accusation

“What better form could a rebuttal take than entangling the accuser in his own accusation?” Minogue concluded (New York, 1985, p. 216).

The rhetoric of reverse accusation has a long history, going back to the writing and speeches of Karl Marx himself.

This is known as the tu quoque logical fallacy. It is a means to maintain the offense and to divert the ‘debate’ away from unpleasant realities. Folks provides examples that illustrate just how popular it is in modern political dialog.

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Stewardship of the baby boomers

Jom Mahoney describes The Quiet Man at American Thinker. It remembers April 30, 1975.

It wasn’t America who abandoned her allies, leaving hundreds of thousands of people to the vengeance of a ruthless enemy. It was America’s elite: her politicians, diplomats, and most of all, her media that condemned them to their fate. That helicopter is an image of their failure, their treachery, and their mendacity.

The shame and guilt is theirs, not America’s.

On the contrary, it was America who welcomed the survivors of that disgraceful day. It was America, and everyday Americans, who sponsored them as they established themselves in a strange land, with its strange language and culture.

Blame shifting is a common game but it is not an honest one. When a country’s elected leadership acts, those acts are those of the country and not the leaders. This is true of any organization. The ‘baby boomers’ have not shown good stewardship and that is a burden that cannot be set aside.

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Shallow and wishful thinking

Two examples in the news this morning highlighting insidious propaganda and its effect. Avatar May Be Global Smash, but USMC Not Amused at Daily Tech reports that Col. Bryan Salas, United States Marine Corps Director of Public Afffairs, wrote an open letter criticizing the film and its director saying it “takes sophomoric shots at our military culture and uses the lore of the Marine Corps and over-the-top stereotyping of Marine warriors to set the context for the screenplay. This does a disservice to our Corps of Marines and the publics’ understanding of their Corps.” – The director, James Cameron, has a habit of such views of the military as can be seen in Aliens, for example. It is the near stereotypical 60’s anti-war view that is stuck in some people’s mind no matter the evidence to the contrary.

Then there’s Pat Buchanan at CNSNews wondering Why Are They at War With Us? . He cites bin Laden’s reasons: US presence on Muslim lans, support for Isreal, and US reactions to Muslim aggression but then does not consider their validity. This is like those who presume the Crusades was a stimulus and not a response. His conclusion is that terrorism “is payback for our intervention. This is the price of empire.” His view is that the only reason we suffer casualties is because we engage the fight. There is the “Nothing justifies the massacre of Sept. 11. But these are the political goals behind the 9/11 attack” that says much about perspective.

In neither of these examples is reality honored. Cameron creates a military to suit his fantasies and Buchanan creates a history to suit his predilections. It would be one thing is these folks were a fringe but their followings indicate that such escapes from reality are all too real for all too many.

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A geek describes the academia problem

Slashdot cites David Gerard

I question their metrics and they try to back it up with lame attempts at statistical reasoning. I really can’t blame them since they were probably told in college that logic and reason are superior to evidence and observation.'”

This is a precedence idea. It is not that logic and reason are not good, it is that evidence and observation (i.e. measure) is better. Logic and reason must adjust to what can be measured and not vice versa. Logic and reason must be honest with reality.

The failure to get this precedence right is behind many major issues such as climate change, energy availability and cost, nutrition and health, terrorism and crime, and the dialog between science and religion. In some respects it is a blessing that so many can set aside reality and live within their fantasies as that is a luxury of the secure and wealthy. For those who cannot escape, the reality of evidence and observation takes its proper role in their existence.

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Radio spectrum as a public resource and femtocells

The radio spectrum, as used for TV and audio broadcasting or for cell phones or for radar or for many other purposes, is considered a public resource. This is because it does not respect property lines or other artificial demarcations between ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ For that reason, governments control the use of the spectrum, especially at frequencies and power levels that easily escape a locale or can cause damage.

Airport scanning devices that allow security personnel to see underneath clothing has recently been in the news. One idea is that these things violate child pornography laws. The frequencies involved are picked just so they will penetrate clothing but no farther like X-rays can.

Personal appliances such as wifi routers, cordless phones, Bluetooth, and wireless thermometers use frequencies and power ranges that limit their range to allow many of these things to exist in a neighborhood and not interfere with each other, much.

The latest gadget to create concerns about stealing spectrum involve telephony – cell phones. The transition from analog to digital TV was forced by the government to, in part, free up some valuable radio spectrum to use to expand broadband I’net access and allow other similar communications. PhysOrg shows the concern in a manner rather typical of their alarmism bent in MagicJack’s next act: disappearing cell phone fees:

It’s sure to draw protest from cellular carriers. The new magicJack uses, without permission, radio waves for which the carriers have paid billions of dollars for exclusive licenses.

For a background on what is going on here, see Femtocells, VOIP, and cordless phones synthesis?. What the PhysOrg comment alarmism misses is the fact there are currently cell phone repeaters that use these frequencies in a legal and appropriate fashion. The issue isn’t the use of radio spectrum, it is the provision of another means, a competing means, of access to the back end of the telephone network.

In some respects, this is analogous to the efforts of the recording industry to restrict distribution of copyrighted material using pre I’net and digital media paradigms. The progress is slow because the opening of new avenues of distribution and ways of selling seem difficult to understand in an operational sense. Reports such as that at PhysOrg show this mental blocking exists in other areas where there is rapid technological change. They can’t even identify the underlying issues in the problems they anticipate. Their view of the future is hide-bound and poorly based on lessons of history or reason.

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Political use of the aura of science at the CDC

A unhealthy dose of fear (commentary by Dan Gainor, Washington Times) is about the FUD mongering that has become so popular.

Once again, the CDC wanted to alarm people just enough so that agency bureaucrats would have a compliant public willing to take their advice. And again, reality wasn’t quite so alarming.

For at least a decade, CDC has been making suspect claims about what it views as vices – food, alcohol and tobacco. One CDC classic concluded its findings “suggest higher alcohol taxes and higher minimum legal drinking ages are associated with lower STD incidence among certain age groups.”

Inch by inch progress against the remaining real challenges to public health isn’t going to land congressional funding boosts after gushers of fawning publicity. Changing the subject and even changing the definition of public health fixes that problem for the CDC. That’s why the CDC’s public health mission quietly transforms into political health manipulation.

Sound familiar? The analogies to climate research are there. The taint of money, so often used to impugn, is here but, since it is government money, it is to be ignored. Warnings of extreme danger and catastrophe being used to implement policy and law are here, too. The persistence is another factor in common.

— We know what’s good for you and, if we can’t scare you into being what we think is an ideal person, we’ll legislate you into one. — It is an old and ancient human proclivity and we have not escaped it yet.

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Things are so bad, that is, if reality is worth anything.

It sometimes seems there is a cancer within, a pessimism that is often at odds with the evidence, a pessimism that can be a self fulfilling prophecy. Such a view seems to meet some internal emotional need. The cure may be to lift one’s eyes and look beyond the buffeting of the storms one encounters and get a broader picture placed in the context of reality. Thomas Barnett talks about some of this in WPR Article | The New Rules: The Naughties Were Plenty Nice.

Why are we so convinced that the last 10 years, the decade of the Naughts, have lived up to their name by coming to naught? … First and most obviously, there is a Western-centric tone to all this hyperbole. … What does humankind gain by lifting hundreds of millions out of chronic poverty, if tens of millions of Western middle-class-niks are condemned to a decade of wealth stagnation? Should we good people be denied our rightful retirement age simply to accommodate all these colorful types in regions far, far away? …

Ask the average person on the street today and he or she will tell you that the entire world is consumed by war — perpetual war, even — when, on a per capita basis, we are indisputably living through the most peaceful era in human history. No other period even comes close. …

Now we get to the heart of our fears concerning the Naughts: the “suddenly” discovered transfer of global power — allegedly “zero-sum” — from West to East. … The first thing you must do to even find yourself asking this question is purge from your mind all memory of the bad fiscal habits acquired by Americans and Europeans across a quarter-century economic boom, and accept as truth the premise that all that technology innovation and wealth creation was a complete lie! …

Or simply realize that we Americans have plenty to be thankful for, plenty to be proud of, and plenty to look forward to — so long as we remember that we are facing a present and a future that we long sought to create, but not dominate.

For those still stuck in the terrible naughties paradigm, see what Say Anything has in response to a Reason video that exemplifies the EOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) illness in Were The 2000’s The Worst Decade Ever?. Another perspective at the Christian Science Monitor is A New Year’s resolution: Don’t accept US decline

The airwaves and netwaves are full of reviews of the decadem horribilis – a decade of terror attacks, two hot wars, hurricane Katrina, a great recession, a record federal deficit, and more. … There’s no denying that these past years have been tough for many in the United States, … The US is still the world’s largest economy … Corporate spending on R&D may have slowed, but peek inside engineering schools and home offices. Innovation is humming. The Wall Street Journal reported recently a surge in “tinkering” as plummeting prices on materials and equipment allow individuals to turn their ideas into inventions. Engineering schools are reporting more students wanting to do hands-on work. “Hackerspaces,” where tinkerers can share ideas and tools, are blossoming across the country. … Americans also want to help others. Community service has soared over the last 20 years.


Too often, I think, we end up thinking that everything is awful not because things really are awful but rather because that’s what various factions want us to think. Because that’s what best serves their purpose.

Whatever the reason or motivation for all of the doom and gloom and pessimism, a bit of intellectual integrity might be worthwhile. A concentration on problems can help in finding solutions but an obsession with problems can be an illness. There is much to be thankful for and many blessings to be acknowledged.

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Understanding stategery in Iraq

The modern ethos tends to not only impugn war but does so by simplifications that tend to focus on individual horrors. What gets neglected is why wars are fought and how they are won. Strategy Page has an interesting description of the Iraq war that provides a broader, strategic, explanation. (The U.S. Army Gets Transformed By Accident)

The real changes came when it was decided to bait the Islamic terrorist enemy out into the open, by threatening their base; the Middle East. This is one of the oldest strategic moves. When you can’t force the enemy to face you in battle, go occupy something he has to come out and fight for. One of al Qaeda’s major goals was to drive all non-Moslems, especially military personnel, out of the Middle East. So by invading Iraq, the U.S. not only removed one of the worst tyrants on the planet, but forced al Qaeda to man up and step up. They did, and were slaughtered by the thousands. In doing so, al Qaeda destroyed its standing in the Moslem world. That’s because al Qaeda allied with one of their enemies, the secular Baath party. Saddam had used Baath to rule Iraq since the 1970s, and Baath decided that a terror campaign against the majority Shia Arabs would get them back in power. Al Qaeda believed that once the foreigners were driven out, they could take all the credit and crush Baath. But the large number of civilians killed (by Baath and alk Qaeda suicide bombs, or Shia and Sunni death squads), appalled the Moslem world. While it was fashionable to blame the United States, this was Islamic radicalism doing what it does, covered in the media courtesy of the U.S. military (which provided enough protection for the Western media to allow the story to be publicized.)

There are those who ignore the points at issue in the Congressional resolution authorizing the Iraqi invasion, and the UN resolutions, in favor of just one cause: WMD. There are those who use the invasion of Iraq as just another example of Western imperialism, just like colonial Africa. There are those who just see war as killing and destruction, a process and not a product. The primary fault in all of these camps is that they do no discriminate between those values and concepts that set Western Cultures apart from despots and dictators. They are blind to the whole story and to growth and change in society as it learns and adapts. That growth and change is what sets Western Cultures apart from other human cultures and it is also where the hope lies for getting past the miseries of cultures that cannot get past base human behavior.

What Strategy Page points out is how strategy based on ancient concepts can drive modern efforts in guiding strategy that depends upon tactics enabled by modern concepts and innovation. In turn, this adaptation creates organizational and structural changes that have much broader implications for all.

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A modern ethos re piracy

The Somali piracy problem provides an example of the modern ethos that is also evident in the hue and cry to close Gitmo or the criminalizing of the Christmas airplane bomber. Strategy Page says the Pirate Paradise Prevails.

Then there’s the political cost. The nations that own the ships, or supply the sailors, have a PR problem each time one of their ships, or citizens on the crew, is captured. There is a popular outcry for something to be done (to stop the piracy). But the pirates know that, as long as they keep the body count real low (very few crew are killed in the attacks or while in captivity), there will not be huge public backing for attacks on the few coastal towns that serve as bases for the pirates (and anchorages for the captured ships). That would be bloody, and no nation wants to go to war with the Somalis (who fight each other, when there are no foreigners to go after.)

It used to be that piracy was not tolerated. That was a hundred or more years ago. Pirates would loose their ship and equipment and often be summarily executed. These days, if caught by a sufficiently powerful force, they are gently pried away from their prize and reunited with their land base and ship. That means the risks are small and the rewards are significant for Somali pirate activity. It seems that the modern ethos is without referent and cannot see any victim other than a perpetrator. Those victimized are separated from the crime and their damage seen as a separate issue. Dots are not connected and, it seems, studiously so.

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Special clubs for advanced nations

The nuclear club is one in which many small and despotic countries aspire to gain membership. It signifies a degree of wealth and capability that sets one apart from the second (or lower) tier. There is another such club, one that isn’t so much in the public notice but which is perhaps more significant. Membership in that club requires an ability to manufacture modern jet engines. China has just joined this elite advanced technology club. Strategy Page reports that China Wins a Big One in that “The Chinese Air Force is satisfied enough with its locally made WS10A jet engine, to put it into production.”

The WS10A is something of an acid test for China, as it is a powerful military engine, and a complex piece of work. … That’s a major victory for Chinese industry, as only half a dozen countries can produce high-end jet fighter engines, and now China is one of them.

While it is noted that “the Chinese stole as much of the technology as they could and designed the WS10A,” the lesson is that manufacturing jet engines is not a capability that can be borrowed or stolen easily. There is much more to the capability that involves everything from metallurgy to organization and management. The lessons learned and the techniques and technologies developed will bootstrap many other aspects of the Chinese economy in helping to bring it up to modern standards of productivity and quality. That may bode ill for those who are fearful but for those of an optimistic bent, a wealthy country is a country less paranoid about others and less concerned with envy. Matters of trust and integrity also become more significant as this level of capability cannot exist without them.

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