July 2007

Jeffrey D. Sachs calls attention to Neglected Tropical Diseases – or NTDs. This diseases afflict Africans especially.

Currently, developmental aid focuses too much on vague economic structural reform or big-name diseases like HIV. Yet it’s the little things like dysentery and parasitic worms that wreck societies. Many of these ailments can be cured with very cheap medicine and treatment

The FAA is experimenting with a GPS system to track aircraft instead of ground-based radar.

This is a good solution to problems with ATC. There has been an increase in near-misses, overworked controllers, and problems with radar. This causes congestion around airports.

The GPS can reform the system. It helps pilots navigate and it gives controllers accurate information about traffic.

The Army armed UGVs with rifles. In the past, the Army used the ground robots to defuse IEDs, scout buildings and sort through rubble. It was only a matter of time until someone figured out how to mount a weapon on them and use them for combat missions. These are literally remote controlled M249 SAWs.

The Air Force went through a similar transition with the Predator UAVs. At first, they were a simple recon drone designed to supplement air operations. Then they armed them with Hellfires. The newest UAVs like the Reaper virtually replace fighter-bombers.

I’m seeing another pattern across a range of wars that might be useful. After Islamists establish their radical states, the population turns against them in short order. Other types of militant organizations are not having much better success.

Radical Islamists lose the support of the local Muslim population everywhere they installed a government: The Taliban in Afghanistan and many parts of Pakistan, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, The Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, the GIA in Algeria, and so forth. These groups establish a radical form of theocratic government, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, and terrorize their political opponents into submission.

Hamas is the latest group to wear out its welcome in record time. Their approval has plunged to 15% in Palestine, and more than two thirds of Palestinians want to hold new elections.

It’s fashionable to say that journalists are politically biased. They are, but that’s not the point. Journalism is damaged by sampling bias.

Journalists report anecdotes as if a few scattered samples are an indication of statistical trends. Making matters worse, journalists select which events to cover and which to ignore, creating a distorted view of reality. They string together these anecdotes to form an artistic narrative to sell to audiences.

Journalists confuse randomness as meaningful. They insert emotional appeals and taint our interpretation. It’s a false narrative, obviously.

The New York Times reporters on the ground, like John Burns and now Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack are reporting on the sea change in Iraq. Gen. Petreaus’ COIN strategy has improved the security and political position in Iraq.

It’s my observation that the US needed a COIN strategy back in 2003. The inability to hold positions after clearing them allowed the network insurgency to grow unchecked.

Non-state actors need financial income to sustain operations. If they lack a state sponsor, they must develop their own economy. So they turn to criminals. Insurgents provide legal sanctuary for criminals in return for taxes.

This is a growing pattern since the end of the Cold War. The loss of Soviet and Chinese sponsorship forced militants to turn to gangsters. There are a few exceptions, like Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah.

This means criminals have gone to war to hollow out the nation-state. This has an unexpected effect. Criminals don’t want the insurgents to win either. As time goes on, pragmatic criminals take over militant organizations and push aside the ideologues. They just want lawless areas.

Time may not exist at all, as it turns out. We’re seeing an illusion. Sorta, at least within quantum mechanics. Time is still real enough on the macro-scopic level.

“One finds that time just disappears from the Wheeler-DeWitt equation,” says Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France. “It is an issue that many theorists have puzzled about. It may be that the best way to think about quantum reality is to give up the notion of time – that the fundamental description of the universe must be timeless.”


Democracies are describes as having three virtues: Freedom, Prosperity and Peace. Democracies have a fourth virtue that most people remain silent about. It is not polite to say it outloud.

Democracies win wars. They are very belligerent states too.

Light and Matter are good introductory texts. It’s well written, so it does not just throw formulas at you like the junk textbooks in college.

Alan Sokal pulled a prank on the humanities by publishing a fake postmodernist article called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the humanities journal Social Text.

The fake journal article was supposed to be peer-reviewed and vetted for accuracy. Since this was a humanities article, that means they spell-checked it. Sokal makes wild speculations that twists theories like General Relativity into lunatic ideas. Humanities has no empirical foundation, so it turned into art and pseudoscience.

Scientists invented super-strong  Carbon-based Paper.

NYTimes describes advances in robots technology and artificial intelligence. New robots are recognizing their environment, like people’s faces, voices and objects. They are trained to mimic human responses to environmental conditions.

It’s not exactly real artificial intelligence, but it shows us how far robot technology has advanced.

Operation Arrowhead Ripper is far more extensive than the combat phase. Al-Qaeda was quickly routed and the Americans took the city. The next stage is to create the ground-work to hold the city. What Americans do not realize is that combat operations represent a very small portion of war – perhaps less than 5%. Soldiers must be skilled diplomats and management experts so they can negotiate settlements and lead reconstruction projects as part of the COIN strategy. The vast bulk of the operation consists of “non-kinetic” operations.

US Officers are negotiating with the Diyala Tribes and have helped form the Diyala Salvation Front, using the Anbar model. The tribes provide neighborhood watches (militia), intel, and police to provide security. Americans are also winning over wavering insurgent groups and helping to assimulate them into the government.

The Military is best utilized to engage in sub-state diplomacy. Militaries interact with non-state actors that professional diplomats at the State Department snub their noses to. Soldiers negotiate with local tribal leaders, city mayors, and insurgents. The Political operations of a counterinsurgency are always carried out with military forces.

President Musharraf has invaded Waziristan. Musharraf has to make a show of force after Zawahiri and the Taliban attempted to start a civil war to overthrow the Pakistani government.

The Taliban has created a state within a state. The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan poses a threat to the Pakistani state. The Pakistanis tried a ceasefire agreement and moved to contain the Taliban to this region. The Taliban leapfrogged over military containment and sponsored religious radicalism throughout many Pakistani madrassahs. The battle at the Red Mosque in Islamabad

President Musharraf has struck a deal with former Prime Minister Bhutto. He will allow her to return to Pakistan and run as Prime Minister. Musharraf will reduce his dictatorial powers over the country and will reach out to share power with the democratic opposition.

Beliefs are based on probabilistic information.  Bayes Theorem says that our intial beliefs are updated to to posterior beliefs after observing new conditions.

This is highly subjective, and is somewhat controversial compared to more objective probability theories in statistics. Bayes Rule states that our initial beliefs have a high margin of error. As we observe more conditional events, we grow more certain of the probability. This is the tool we use to measure incomplete knowledge and uncertainty. It’s part of the inductive process of learning.

I simply want to make the point that Intelligence analysis uses Bayes’ Theorem and is very subjective. I hope to clarify the some misunderstandings about how probability estimates are determined. The results are often very counterintuitive.

Miltiades’ Speech before the battle of Marathon is a significant event for ancient Greek history. The Persians landed an invasion force which threatened all of Greece. Athens faced the choice to submit to Persian rule or fight. The Athenians were outnumbered. Their allies did not contribute forces. And even if the Athenians won the battle at Marathon, subsequent Persian invasions could have destroyed Athens.

The Athenian generals held a vote to decide on their course of action. According to Herodotus, the vote was split evenly. Half of the generals decided to fight at Marathon, and half decided against. Miltiades gave a speech to win over the cautious generals by arguing that their strategy was actually riskier.

The Zulu rise in the early 19th century was due to a paradigmatic shift in military tactics. The Nguni tribes were pastoralists who settled there disputes in small scale wars, mostly using skirmisher tactics.

The Zulus, mostly under the leadership of Shaka, transformed their military. The principle change was the adoption of shock tactics. Zulu infantry used the assegai stabbing spear instead of javelins.

The Soviet economy failed for many reasons. One key reason is that centralized command and control economics suppresses adaptation. No one in the system can add new technology or adapt to environmental circumstances. One example of this is the Soviet refusal to create plastic bags for bread.

Moscow was a city of 9 million in the 1980s. It needed 2,500 tons of bread every day. Bakeries made the bread the night before or morning of and sent it to the shops. The loaves only stay fresh for one day, so any delays would result in stale bread. Since this was the Soviet Union, there were many, many disruptions and delays.

The bread was wrapped in paper, if at all. The Soviets almost never used packaging. In the US, plastic bags and packaging were in widespread use and this extended the freshness of bread and made transportation easier.

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