September 2007


I’m off to Basic and Officer Candidate School. To friends and family who read this, thanks.
(more…)

Many guerrilla war tactics are not new. They’ve just grown more effective because economies are far more sophisticated and more vulnerable.

Infrastructure is one vulnerable network. The rest of the economy relies on communication, transportation, and energy networks. Information and resources flow through these networks. If critical nodes fail, or the links are severed, it causes a cascade failure throughout the economy.

Our infrastructure is built as a scale-free network. These types of networks are robust against a large number of random internal errors. However, hostile agents can observe the structure of scale-free networks and identify critical hubs. Scale-free networks are extremely fragile when under external attack.
(more…)

Religious men of the 19th century believed that a benevolent God would only create a moral nature. How does one explain carnivores? At least they killed swiftly and prevented longer suffering from starvation. This was a form of just killing, so goes the reasoning. But they were at lost to explain the extreme cruelty Ichneumon Wasp. Stephen Jay Gould describes the nonmoral nature of this wasp. Wasp females paralyze other insects, then they lay their eggs inside the host. When those eggs hatch, they eat the immobilized but living host inside out, bit by bit, and kill it slowly.

The nation-state is playing host to its parasitic killer.
(more…)

The Industrial-era nation-states were a marriage of convenience. The central government took too much power from local states. It’s distant and unresponsive yet it gobbles up money and runs up an unsustainable debt. So why not break-up? In today’s world with free trade and currency unions, why bother with the central state anymore? Power is shifting back to the regional communities.

Even in Europe, the nation-state is facing breakup.
(more…)

Syria is supposed to have taken nuclear material or weapons from North Korea (or Iran), Israel tracked it and destroyed it in the airstrike last week.

Maybe. But it’s looking more and more like it.

MIT Technology Review has an article on Joshua Epstein and artificial life models. (registration required)
Epstein:

“Artificial society modeling allows us to ‘grow’ social structures in silico demonstrating that certain sets of microspecifications are sufficient to generate the macrophenomena of interest.”

In other words, after 250 years we’re back to the Invisible Hand. A small number of factors motivate and inform individual decisions about gathering scarce resources and how to use them. All “complex” social behavior is a result of a large number of simple interactions.
(more…)

Empires have been the most historically stable form of government. The purpose of historical empires was to create and secure an economic zone.

Empires were not about the acquisition of land, much less looting. It just extended a unified political and legal system over new territory and provided the means to defend it against criminal and foreign predatation. Societies need an economy of scale and specialization needed to create a complex economy.
(more…)

I want to make a conjecture about international relations. This is a work-in-progress model that combines two theories – Complex Adaptive Systems and Self-Organizing Criticality to explain power law distributions of major events and social structures.

These two theories may describe the non-linear dynamic systems in human relations. Men self-organize into scale-free networks to gain resources and meet their needs. Humans and the environment interact in such a way that major events are phase transitions which follow power law distributions. The phase transition happens when a socio-economic change reaches a critical point and cause an avalanche in the “sandpile.”

If so, this could be a theory of history. If not, I’ll try again…
(more…)

Ian Bremmer has a good article about the limited prospects for Russian-Chinese cooperation.

The Great Powers are looking at Central Asia and the Pacific as the economic center of gravity. There are new exploratory alliances starting – The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Quad Initiative. Basically, the Quad controls the Pacific and the SCO controls Central Asia. Yet this has not hardened into a bipolar rivalry like the old NATO-Warsaw Pact standoff.

Both alliances have common interests in protecting trade and suppressing Islamist insurgencies throughout the region. Over the long term, there are more potential conflicts. The Russians and Chinese may not be able to continue cooperation for much longer.

There is also considerable interaction between the states. China wants to trade very little with Russia – most of Chinese trade is going to the US, EU, and India. Likewise, India maintains ties with everyone and it buys cheap Russian military equipment. Economic interdependence doesn’t ensure peace but it helps keep tension in perspective.

R. Stephen White debunks the misinformation claiming nuclear power is not “safe.”

Safety is judged incrementally, not categorically.
(more…)

Ayman al-Zawahiri appears to be taking over Al-Qaeda. He’s always been the primary strategist for AQ.

The US and the Arab States are trying to contain Iran through conventional means while Iran is trying to break that containment through 4 Gen Warfare. Iran has been waging a Proxy War against the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran sponsors Hezbollah and Hamas to fight and tie down Israel.

This is like a micro-version of the Cold War
(more…)

As al-Qaeda is steadily destroyed and the Sunni Insurgency cooperates with the Americans, the Shia Tribes are turning on the militias.

The Sahwat continues.
(more…)

Here’s one more good essay on Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks. More black swans, basically.

Heuristics gives us good estimates of probability, especially for simple actions. It is pure inductive logic, so it is not exact and we can make many errors. Cognitive bias makes us believe these errors and fallacies.

These errors cause us to underestimate some risks and overestimate others. Misleading Vividness makes us think that homocides and accidents kill as many people as disease, even though disease is far deadlier.
(more…)

We’re back to zapping people with electricity to make them happy or else.

At his signal, two volts of electricity, enough to power a wristwatch, course through the wires and radiate outward from the tip a few millimeters in every direction. Millions of neurons bask in the electricity, and the effect is fairly immediate. Hire feels warm at first, a bit flushed.

You may have heard a few bad studies recently.

Girls like pink and red more than boys because girls had to pick berries. Err? Except like pink is a cultural trait that is not universal. More at Bad Science.

Jessica has the sexiest walk. Fraud study.

Will Saletan debunks a “rigged study” where the authors contaminated a trivial test with many assumptions and extrapolations that are unsupported by any evidence.

The Absence of Evidence is evidence of absence.

In probability theory, absence of evidence is always evidence of absence. If E is a binary event and P(H|E) > P(H), “seeing E increases the probability of H”; then P(H|~E) < P(H), “failure to observe E decreases the probability of H”. P(H) is a weighted mix of P(H|E) and P(H|~E), and necessarily lies between the two.

Think of probability as a spectrum between 0% and 100%. If you look at a thing and find evidence of it every time, you approach 100% probability. But if you do not, you become less certain, and it approaches 0% probability in the absence of evidence.
(more…)

This is a brief conceptual model of “Long Wars” as socio-economic phase-transitions. I’ll draw an analogy with sandpiles. The wars are the avalanches on the slopes of the sandpile.

Wars like the Peloponnesian War and World War I elude easy explanation. Thucydides tried to explain it, but the local causes seem insignificant to the scale of the multi-decade long wars.

Instead, the wars are caused by a large number of small events because of changing economies and political ideas.
(more…)

This is just a thought. Congress is the most imperial branch of government in the US. They represent a domestic constituency who holds them accountable for domestic policies. In international relations, they are not held accountable by their constituency nor do they engage in any form of diplomacy.
(more…)

Here’s a fun idea. What if China or Russia use special forces to carry out attacks on economic infrastructure or assassinate individuals in the US… and get us to blame Al-Qaeda?

The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact did just that during the Cold War. The Stasis secret police in East Germany carried out assassinations and terrorist attacks in the West and shifted the blame onto a Leftist terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. The attacks copied the terrorist style but it was a bit too professional to have been done by amatuers. Now they have proof – the Stasi and KGB waged an unrestricted shadow war in the West and avoided responsibility.

All old things are new again. Mexican Intelligence is tracing the Pemex oil line attacks by left-wing radicals back to Hugo Chavez. Disguised disruption campaigns, what fun.

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.