September 29, 2006

On a lighter note...

Man, I love The Daily Show. Who is this Carl Monday asswipe and why hasn't he had his microphone rectally inserted sideways yet?

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The U.S. Military, Entropy, and Thermodynamics

The U.S. Military, Entropy, and Thermodynamics

I often find myself struggling to explain to friends and acquaintances who aren't familiar with the U.S. military or the study thereof what, precisely, I mean when I tell them that the U.S. military is no good at creating order. When I say something like "The U.S. military is not intended for, nor any good at, imposing peace or order," I tend to get a confused and/or disbelieving stare. This is not, I have found, due to any fundamental lack of understanding, just (from my experience) an inability on my part to explain what I'm saying clearly enough. I continually try to learn to express myself with more clarity. This is a tiny step in that process, nothing more.

The U.S. Military is, as an organization, extremely proficient at the projection and channeling of situational entropy. By this I mean that U.S. forces have, through historical pressure and tradition, become very good at disrupting opposing positively-controlled forces, plans and structures. That is, in fact, their raison d'être. For the purposes of this argument, I'll start with World War Two.

They weren't the best at it, there; the Wermacht was. However, the U.S. military did one thing very well, something that even the German General Staff was forced to admit: it learned. It became adept at taking admittedly inferior quality equipment but eventually superior numbers and utilizing them to disrupt German plans. Finally, it learned to grind away at German situational planning and operations until (coupled with the massive drain on Germany made possible by Soviet resistance and incursion) the German machine broke.

The entire prosecution of that war was an attempt to roll back - to break up - an opposing set of positive-control forces and plans, the German invasion of Europe and the Japanese expansion into the Pacific. The U.S. military sought not to impose a situation, but to disrupt another imposed situation.

The Korean war - same situation. The U.S. and U.N. forces were fighting to reverse a positive-controlled invasion of South Korea. Major reversals occured (for reasons political and military) when the U.S. led forces traversed north of the original start line and began to impose their own order over the original situation, triggering Chinese intervention.

Vietnam saw the U.S. forces mostly victorious when fighting to defeat an attempt to topple a sitting government through irregular forces, albeit not without major confusion and collateral damage. The Viet Cong were for the most part defeated before the large-scale intervention of the NVA (this is a gross oversimplification and is not meant to base academic arguments on). Once the south Vietnamese government collapsed, however, the U.S. found itself in a position of attempting to impose structure and order on chaos - trying not to defeat a postive-controlled incursion anymore, but rather to impose a preferred structure on what had devolved into an anarchic or hostile area. At that point, the fight became untenable. Although local operations of the NVA could be defeated and disrupted, there was little point if the ground that was being defended could not be called 'ours' in the first place.

During the first Gulf War, the U.S. and allied forces were seeking to reverse a military occupation of Kuwait - a very limited and defined goal - by disrupting and/or destroying a classically organized positive-control organization. The Iraqi Army, once smashed, retreated from Kuwait and the Kuwaiti regime was restored with little apparent local objection - the U.S. military was not called upon to impose structure once the invaders were ousted.

Hence, I tend to think of the U.S. Military as 'entropy channelers.' These forces are at their best when utilized to create and inject disorder and destruction into an opposition's favored orderly structure, be it a military command structure or a sequence of events or even a government or social order. Telling the U.S. military to smash a particular target is a high-probability-of-success mission.

The problems come when telling the U.S. Military to 'keep order.' That's not what they do. I think (and this is purely a guess) that the confusion may arise from the fact that the military is seen by those not experienced with it as a highly ordered organization, so of course it should be able to produce order. That is incorrect. The military is artificially highly ordered internally for a particular reason, namely, that its job is to operate in environments of extreme disorder that, in fact, it itself tends to be tasked with creating. It maintains these 'pools of order' not by creating order - to stretch a mangled metaphor, that would violate the laws of thermodynamics - but by migrating the disorder to the environment outside the military organization itself - usually to the region immediately in front of its guns. This is why militaries are such difficult neighbors even in peacetime - ask the Okinawans if you don't believe me. Disorder can't be magically destroyed. It can be suppressed for a time, perhaps - but only at the cost of having it manifest elsewhere or at another time, with a 'penalty' increase in intensity or duration.

I think of it like the problem of refrigeration. Refrigerators (or air conditioners, if you prefer) don't make cold. They simply pump heat to another place - and in so doing, they generate more heat. The reason this is okay is that there is usually a place where you don't mind if things heat up - such as outside your window.

In the case of the entropy a military generates, as George Bush is so fond of reminding us, that disorder makes us unsafe no matter where it is.

The 'entropy fallout' a military organization generates from keeping its own house in order is bad enough. That's the sort of thing that I mentioned with the Okinawa reference - increased incident levels near military bases as military personnel simply displace suppressed tendencies to a safer area of expression. Note, please: I'm in no way saying military personnel tend to be more violent or less safe than others. In fact, the reverse may well be true. All I'm saying is that given the rigidity with which behavior is controlled in the military environment, it seems only natural that feelings of anger, frustration, or conversely rough expressions of exuberance would manifest in the nearest environment which did not feature rigid top-down control structures.

Now, tell the military to go somewhere hostile and prevent anything from happening in its bailiwick. Say, the Green Zone in Baghdad. Take a place which is a hotbed of tensions and factional splits, which may not initially have anything to do with the U.S. military, and tell that military to 'keep order.'

The only way the U.S. military can keep order is to suppress incidents. If it's smart, it will try to prevent incidents by suppressing the precursor conditions to incidents. It will try to reduce entropy and ensure as much positive control over the area as possible - or it will be forced into this by attacks on civilians or its own personnel. As soon as this happens, the disorder will simply be displaced to the nearest area where control isn't so tight - and that penalty factor will apply.

At that point, the U.S. Military is no longer doing what it is good at - disrupting and channeling entropy for its own use. It has morphed into its own best target - an organization dedicated to suppressing and managing chaos, to whom the successful disruption of routine and order is a defeat. In other words, to whom its own core competency has been designed to defeat, not support.

And that's precisely where we seem to have gotten ourselves, despite warnings from military leaders, civilian analysts, and even politicians that we were headed in this direction. Because we have a tradition of civilian control of the military in this country, the military does what it is ordered - even when it is clear to those in charge of that military that they are being told to do something patently self-defeating and destructive by those with no idea what they're doing.

That's one thing that makes our system both glorious and such damn hard work. It's working, but it's working to eat away its structure again - and like after Vietnam, it's going to be left to those of us who knew better all along to grit our teeth and fix it despite the fact that those who broke it in the first place will be sitting there preening and telling us how much worse things would have been without them there to 'save' us.

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"What's wrong with those people...They all look the same to me."

Guess who that quote is from, when, and what it's about? I'll wait.

Okay, if you guessed 'Trent Lott', 'Today', and 'the Iraqi people' then YOU GUESSED RIGHT!

What an excellent recommendation for our nation. Ignorance, bigotry, and stupidity - not just in general, but concerning the war his party started in another country and sent American troops to fight and die in. Oh, but nobody 'in the real world' cares about that, according to him; when asked if the Iraq war was discussed in the Thursday morning meeting between President Bush and the GOP leadership at the Capitol, he said (you can't make this stuff up):

"No, none of that," Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. "You're the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in the real world don't for the most part."
Hat tip CNN for the quotes.

America, you get the government you deserve. Deserve better, please.

If a single minority voter votes for this fucker, ever, I swear you deserve to have him and his bigoted loser cronies shit on your head laughing for all eternity.

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September 27, 2006

Kip Hawley is an Idiot

This incident just makes me determined to up the Google rank of the title of this post. Seriously, I'm considering printing "George Bush is an Idiot" on every single item the TSA might have to look at next time I fly.

One of the worst parts? Even if the TSA itself thinks this is over the top, the fucking idiot of a TSA screener who got upset about it will never be disciplined because that might "send the wrong message" or some similar nullspeak. So the slope gets slippery.

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September 26, 2006

Straws atop the camel

Things like this make me think of the incredible damage the Rumsfeld/Bush/Cheney troika are doing to one of the bulwarks of the United States' security - the absolute trust in the notion of civilian control of the military. While I in no way think General Schoomaker or his colleagues would consider disobeying an order from their command chains, the fact is that as the article indicates the Military has begun to see (or, worse, has long seen) the current civilian administration as a primary cause of many of its troubles - and the situation is getting worse, not better. Although we can expect loud and angry noises from the GOP-controlled Congress, they (and the Vice President) are busy admitting that they don't bother to read reports on the situation.

How does this make us safer?

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John M. Ford

I remember as a younger person reading one of those new-fangled franchised sci-fi novels. This one was for Star Trek, the franchise Sci-Fi leader, and was a bit different. It didn't chronicle the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Enterprise - at least, not really. Nope. It was about a Klingon. Not only that, a Klingon who lived forty years before NCC-1701 left the builder's ways.

It was riveting, and it opened my eyes to the potential of a universe richly detailed by television both good and mediocre being taken up by professional writers. Not only taken up, but stretched in a new direction, in this case expanded backwards in time, as well as from a different point of view.

That book was titled The Final Reflection, and it remains one of the finest pieces of Star Trek-related writing I have ever come across - and yes, I'm a Trek nerd, and I have examined a fair stack of it. It was written by John M. Ford.

He wrote another, later, titled How Much for Just The Planet? which was almost a Shakespearean comedy version of Star Trek. Also excellent, but it didn't stay with me.

He seemed to produce gem-quality work on a haphazard timeframe, i.e. 'when it was ready' and 'when he felt like it.' I didn't run across his short stories until later, when recent collections of them were published (Heat of Fusion, Leaving the Twentieth Century, etc.) He wrote an excellent piece of nearly literal Space Opera titled The Princes of the Air; he wrote my favorite magic/tech crossover book ever, The Last Hot Time. He revealed his fascination with railroads to me in Growing up Weightless.

I see, via Neil Gaiman's blog, that John M. Ford - who, I found out from reading about him, was properly addressed as 'Mike' - passed away a few days ago. I never met the man, but his works still leave my shelf for a good read every few weeks. I'll take a moment of silence, and a quick moment to push myself to keep writing - not to match him, but to follow his lead.

Goodbye, Mr. Ford, and thank you.

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September 21, 2006

Oh, look! A New Crop of Scumbags!

Lovely. I would just love to know where the money for this crew comes from. Anyone? Anyone?

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September 20, 2006

Yep, totally secure, folks.

Never mind that the suicide VBIED (car bomb to you and I) is a favorite of the 'terrorists' which the Administration would like you to believe we need to be prepared to defend our Homeland against. A couple 16-year-olds in a stolen car apparently have no trouble gaining access to key U.S. military bases long enough to do...well...the same things they're doing in Baghdad. Hmmm.

Now, I'd love to know why in fact they were stopped. Was the car disabled by the pursuers, or did their "ramming the pursuing cars" do the damage?

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You just can't make this stuff up.

Via Glenn Greenwald, an excellent post explaining, with cogent example, the complete absence of anything resembling thought or reason in the Right Wing/Christian punditocracy.

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September 14, 2006

Scientology Fun!

This deserves a google pagerank boost. I've had run-ins with the Scientologists before. Those that aren't pathetic are simply dangerous. Well, I take that back - they're all pathetic. Some are dangerous. Scientology is a classic example of the human need to absolve the self of all responsibility in favor of external authority and explanation, no matter how ridiculous. It is an example of the danger of carefully crafted mental distortion applied to large numbers of the venal, the willing and the merely weak.

Don't listen to me talk about it, though. Google 'em. And watch the video.

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September 12, 2006

Question everything

It's a terrible sign when things like this make you sit back and wonder. I have to say I find just as many problems with this narrative as with the 'official' one - but that alone makes me sad. It drives home the fact that I don't believe what I've been told, and haven't since the event. This may make me 'fringe' and it may make me 'partisan' and it may make me whatever people want to label me. The problem is that in order to accept the tale as it has been told, I have to discard logic in too many places.

I still don't believe in tight, overarching conspiracies of evil. I have a much easier time accepting venality in opportunism and mistaken good intentions. But the thing that really roils my gut is not what I think did happen but the sheer fury of the certainty that I don't know what did. Given the import of the events, and given what they have been used to justify, that's unacceptable.

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Who has left this hole in the ground?

Keith Olbermann lays it down again.

"We have not forgotten 9/11, Mr. President. You have. May this country forgive you."

Watch this now, please.

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September 11, 2006

A Technology I Mused About

A while back, I mused about how to secure a video stream against tampering or modification. I was concerned with the production end; that is, with making changes to the actual video which would provide proof of integrity as well as other metadata for legal use later.

Others who are actually qualified have been working on this problem. This gentleman has been approaching from the other end, that of forensic examination of unmodified data; at the moment, his work involves still imagery but he appears to be moving into video.

So there is interest in proving video (un)modified. I will acknowledge that the applications are much larger when applied to 'standard' video. Still, I can't help thinking that if there is enough doubt to create this field of study, then a 'verified video stream' might be worthwhile.

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Departed, a mentor.

I received sad news today. A gentleman I considered a mentor and friend, Dr. Glenn Gotz, passed away a couple of weeks ago. Glenn hired me as a summer intern at the RAND corporation several years ago, and has been a cheerful and supportive presence in my life ever since. He was an enthusiastic person, a gregarious person, a people person, a smart man, and one of the best reasons I had to want to finish my Ph.D. I'll miss him sorely, as will most all of us lucky enough to have been touched by his vigor.

Peace, Glenn.

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Jason Fortuny? THE Jason Fortuny?

So this dipshit who 'pranked' a bunch of people on Craigslist by posting an explicit sex ad and then publicly posting all the responses (including contact information) has, apparently, been quietly removing his own published contact information from the Net. Bad form, Jason! Very bad form. However, Andy Baio at points out that the Internet Archive version of his homepage and resume survives intact, naturally. I'd feel guilty about posting his personal information to the internet, except, um, wait...I didn't! He did! Whoops. Let's all post links there and up the Googlerank of the archive version.

On another note, I was tickled to look at the 'content' of the resume of this 'network administrator' that everyone's been talking about. I was so impressed that he can 'learn new technology in hours rather than weeks like other technical people!' Still, it left me wondering - if he's a modern network administrator who can learn new tech in hours, how is it he never seems to have heard of Linux, Unix, the Macintosh, or any of the software or standards that run networks? Oh, wait - 'Ethernet, routers, T-1 lines.' Okay. Somewhere beneath 'IDE, SCSI, DAT drives.'

Ah, silly me, I missed the header. "Graphic artist + network administrator." Well, that should tell me what his priorities are.

Although come to think if it, I know several graphic artists who appear to know a hell of a lot more about networks than he does. I do hope his graphic design skills are better than his network administration skill set, at least judging from its apparent scope.

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September 5, 2006

WTF is bixxerfouping?

...I don't care. I have ordered a small friend to call my own.

His color code is 3-25-18.

Cheridy says "i just love how he's got four little feet, ears, face, bellybutton and -nipples-."


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LART - this year's model.

I need to put brackets over my desk. I have found the One True LART.

It is here.

Thank you Gizmodo.

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A Mighty Wind

One of my parents' current obsessive causes seems to have made Wired.Com via an AP story (they live in one of the towns mentioned). I follow their fight with half an ear and one eye - after all, their home is partially my home too. One bit of information I find amusing is that in nearly every story about these proposed wind turbine projects, you can determine the degree of support for the wind project by the amount of information suppressed.

The AP article is to the 'support' side of the line, which is probably to be expected if it is being run in Wired magazine - after all, renewable power = good, right? Well, yes, renewable power is good. The main problem is how you get it.

In particular, the piece of information that is being left out of that story is the size of the damn things. They're roughly twenty stories tall. The plan calls, therefore, for over two dozen twenty-story tall wind towers to be erected. Where they are to be placed, mind you, is on top of a Green Mountain ridge, which has no structure on it taller than a fire watch tower - and no structure which currently breaks the ridgeline. This ridge is overlooking Interstate 91, which means that it is set in the middle of the more populous corridor' along that region of Vermont as you approach the Northeast Kingdom - which does make sense from a power-delivery point of view.

However, consider that. I don't think there's a single building in Vermont that's twenty stories tall. Now imagine you live in a peaceful rural community, in what is still a very, very pretty ridge-bordered valley in Vermont. So pretty, in fact, that numerous high-priced bed & breakfasts and country inns are placed strategically around the area, some along the top of that very ridgeline (although offset several miles south) for the views. You're a Vermonter, a solid, tough, independent type with a distrust of 'flatlanders' - the local sobriquet for those from south of the southern Vermont border and in fact anywhere else - and the town you live in is so poor, it doesn't even have a general store. No industry whatsoever.

Now imagine someone tells you that a company based in one of the richest suburbs of Boston wants to put up two dozen twenty-story tall industrial objects on the highest, most picturesque and visible ridgeline in the country. These turbines will require anticollision lights for aircraft, of course. They will need concrete and steel footings and basemounts the size of small skyscrapers, all built of reinforced concrete and steel on the top of your so-far-relatively unsullied forested-and-field ridge.

Now realize that these turbines will produce maybe enough power for a couple of counties. 15,000 homes? Bupkes. This is not a California desert valley, with guaranteed winds due to daily solar convection, either - this is merely the highest point of a ridge system, with a general airflow pattern - and not a very strong one.

Does the deal look quite so good?

Well, let's have another look: "...supporters in Sheffield, which voted 120-93 in December in favor of the project, still hold out hope." Supporters? What supporters? Ah, well, remember another incredibly important thing about these towns: they are, as towns, incredibly poor. They have little tax base save for their inhabitants. Suddenly, an out-of-state company wants to buy up some land that is likely nearly unsaleable because it is unfarmable and difficult to get to and has no services - and they're probably willing to pay cash on the barrelhead in quantities that, in this town, are simply enormous. In Newton, Massachusetts, they probably wouldn't buy a bathroom redecoration, but whatever.

Now, it is certainly in the interests of the landowners to accept this offer. This is their privilege, and more power to them - I would expect them to support this project. There are of course industries that would benefit - contractors to do forestry work, roadbuild, clear, put up maintenance structures, work on the electrical delivery grid, etc. Sure.

Now, of course, you have the town clerks, who are looking at huge increases (in relative terms) in their towns' tax takes for the first couple of years, at least - in other words, the years they can forsee being in office and 'making a legacy.' Sounds like a godsend.

But what about that farmer in the article who has to wake up every day and look out across that ridge? What about the people who live within twenty miles of that ridgeline who enjoy their relatively unsullied night sky who will have to look at the crazyquilt of anticollision lights and strobes? What about the ornithologists, professional and amateur, who spend months at a time in that part of Vermont watching those particular ridgelines because of those same airmass movements carrying birds, who will now be looking into the face of what are essentially enormous twenty-story tall Cuisinarts?

They're not the ones with the budgets. But their concerns matter too.

For a rendering of the ridge with and without the turbines, see this web page.

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