Friday, January 27, 2006

Control Theory

Tarek Heggy has a long article at Winds of Change about what is needed to revive Arab culture.He discusses the need to accept criticism and to base change on valid criticism and evaluation.

I wrote him a letter suggesting a slightly different approach based on similar principles but bypassing cultural markers and taking humans out of the equation.

Here is what I said:

Perhaps teaching control theory would be the best thing you could do. Not necessarily the mathematics but in words. That puts the ideas outside the realm of people.

Feed back is telling the controller what results it is getting. Comparison with the desired results shows how much change/effort is necessary to get the desired results.

If Arabia learned control theory from childhood it would have a great advantage over the west for a while.

The essence of control is having a desired state and measuring the error and then deciding what to do about it. Which as you pointed out is the essence of modern management. I wonder if MBAs learn control theory?

You also learn about not trying to force a system to change faster than it is able. That leads to instability. We can save that for the second year. :-)

It is possible also to measure the system's capacity for change by giving it small endurable shocks (or just measuring its response to noise). That will be the third year.

Welcome Instapundit readers.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

It will be blogged.

The Weekly Standard has a fascinating article on the blogging revolution in Saudi Arabia. One of the sites they mention is an aggregator of Saudi Blogs called what else? Saudi Blogs.

It seems that as usual in that region of the world women are taking the lead in the realm of social change.

Truly amazing. It may be that just as FAXes and Xerox machines brought down the USSR, the communications revolution may also bring a transformation to the heart of Islam.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Abortion Police

OK. You get laws passed (let us make them Federal for the sake of argument) making abortion illegal.

What is the enforcement regime going to look like? What will the shape of the abortion underground be?


i.e. like Iraq (or the up coming Iran which I favor) what comes next?

All I see are Billy Sunday visions of how perfect the world will be without abortion. What if things don't turn out so perfect? What will the black market for D&Cs look like? RU-485. Birth control pills? etc. etc. etc.

I think the only moral way to end abortion is to eliminate demand. Because as any capitalist knows - supply follows demand. The republicans are the Capitalist party aren't they? Well they do a good job of encouraging capitalism among the criminal classes. Buying and selling instead of stealing.

Where did all this Right Wing Socialism come from? Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy did look at it in academia and found that except for the libertarian influence (big tent) that Republicans were almost as socialist (big state) as Democrats. The objects were different the methods the same.

Doesn't it ever bother you or other Big Government Conservatives?

If government can't deliver health care or stop drug abuse how well are they going to do on abortion? The occasional woman or doctor killed in no knock raids will just be unfortunate accidents I suppose.

I really wished that some day the Republicans got a semi-coherent philosopy in opposition and stuck to it. Goldwater. I voted LBJ and the stupid Republicans have followed me over a cliff I have since reclimbed.

Passing laws is easy. Making Americans obey them is harder. It is a common law country. In essence every man is a law unto himself (within the usual limits). Governments hold only limited sway. Republican used to know this. Well some of them anyway.

Update: 26 Jan '06 1811z

Mahndisa has some thoughts.

Iran is Running Out of Oil

Spengler at Asia Times says that the reason Iran has nuclear ambitions is that it needs the oil of the Arabs because it is running out.

Iran's oil exports will shrink to zero in 20 years, just at the demographic inflection point when the costs of maintaining an aged population will crush its state finances, as I reported in Demographics and Iran's imperial design (September 13, 2005). Just outside Iran's present frontiers lie the oil resources of Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and not far away are the oil concentrations of eastern Saudi Arabia. Its neighbors are quite as alarmed as Washington about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and privately quite happy for Washington to wipe out this capability.

It is remarkable how quickly an international consensus has emerged for the eventual use of force against Iran. Chirac's indirect reference to the French nuclear capability was a warning to Tehran.
Yes it is. Spengler goes on to elaborate on the developing world consensus . Egypt and Saudi Arabia are on board with the usual Israel ought to be denuked caveat. Which is strictly pro forma. France is finding her own way to get on the train (as usual) and Germany is behind the US.

The hold outs are Russia - whose resistance so far has been evident but half hearted. China is the major opposition. Why? China is an oil consumer that likes the oil for arms trade with Iran. I expect a China Security Council veto unless China's oil worries are addressed.

Spengler then takes a further look at Iran's motives:
I do not know whether Ahmedinejad is mad or sane, but even mad people may be sly and calculating. Iran's prospects are grim. Over a generation it faces demographic decay, economic collapse and cultural deracination. When reason fails to provide a solution to an inherently insoluble problem, irrationality well may take hold. Like Hitler, who also was mad but out-bluffed the West for years before overreaching, Ahmedinejad is pursuing a rational if loathsome imperial policy.
Down with imperialism I always say.

Spengler addresses the China question:
By far the biggest loser in an Iranian confrontation with the West will be China, the fastest-growing among the world's large economies, but also the least efficient in energy use. Higher oil prices will harm China's economy more than any other, and Beijing's reluctance to back Western efforts to encircle Iran are understandable in this context. It is unclear how China will proceed if the rest of the international community confronts Iran; in the great scheme of things it really does not matter.
Why doesn't it matter? Because there is not a great resivoir of sympathy for China in America. Or Europe. And old unilateralist George is not listening if they do get in the way. He didn't let opposition keep him from Iraq.

Perhaps what China needs is help improving its energy efficiency. I wonder if that will be on offer. It ought to be. Maybe that was what the recent alternative greenhouse gas conference was about in Asia. Secratary Rice was supposed to attend so it was a big deal. Then she cancelled at the last minute. Did China double cross America on the deal? Did Iran offer a better price? We shall see.

Spengler closes with this thought:
Washington will initiate military action against Iran only with extreme reluctance, but it will do so nonetheless, except in the extremely unlikely event that Ahmedinejad were to stand down. Rather than a legacy of prosperity and democracy in the Middle East, the administration of US President George W Bush will exit with an economy weakened by higher oil prices and chaos on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere. But it really has no other options, except to let a nuclear-armed spoiler loose in the oil corridor. We have begun the third act of the tragedy that started on September 11, 2001, and I see no way to prevent it from proceeding.
He has that exactly right.

America will weather the storm. Energy efficiency will rise further. Supply and demand will get balanced. At a price.

Spengler has a nice map of major oil pools in and around Iran so a visit to the article link would be very informative. In addition he goes a bit deeper into the analysis of the current situation. In other words. Read the whole thing.

Another look into China's motivations from Asia Times.

Click on the following link you want to read more Spengler.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Trends in Iraq

The www is abuzz with Iraq the Model's latest pronouncements. Here are a few links and some more. And a link to Iraq the Model.

Here is the most interesting (for me) section:

Meanwhile, Mowaffac al-Rubai’i warned today from the allegedly continuous negotiations between the Americans and Iraqi militants and he strongly condemned these negotiations which he described as a threat to national security.

While the American embassy today resumed its talks with the Sunni leading politicians, 6 Iraqi militant groups announced that they will unite their forces and join the rest of resident of Anbar and Salahiddin in fighting al-Qeda. The new militant groups included the Islamic army, the Anbar martyr’s brigades and the 1920 revolution brigades.

This change sounds positive and encouraging. Although I always preferred that the government deals with such issues instead of militias because if those militias succeed in their new mission, they will have demands and they will gain leverage in later bargains when they will be asked to drop their arms (that’s if they have a plan to do so in the future).

However, the facts on the ground are not the same and the theory of excluding militias can be overlooked for a while because the government already has no enough power in the areas in question while those militias know their targets and they can reach those targets; they know the battlefield very well and they have the sufficient intelligence for this kind of battle.

Although those militant groups have a bad history of violence and terrorizing the population, the positive new change s that they are expected to coordinate their work with city councils which gives a feeling that they are not very far away from the government’s sight and that they meet with the government on the need for fighting foreign terrorists. But, this service will not be for free and the battle is going to be fierce as al-Qaeda realizes that the new enemy is very well informed this time.
Now what does it mean when you hand over security to an insurgency? Number one it means that you are short of help. How is this possible? The American Army is holding its own and the Iraqi Army is coming along nicely (around 200,000 so far and growing in numbers and profficiency). Now getting insurgencies fighting each other (as many commenters have pointed out) is a good thing. However, it has its downside. As noted above and by B. H. L. Hart in his book "Strategy" there is a downside to using insurgents to fight a war. Insurgents, are generally made up of the criminal elements of a society. They are naturally clandestine and antipathic to the government. The problem is that they are anti-pathic to any government. They almost always leave a long term problem behind.

You can look at the history of France post WW2 or Spain post Napoleon's retreat. Insurgencies leave behind unstable societies. Not just politically but also physically. Brigands abound. Russia had anti-government Armies living in the woods into the 1920s.

So what does all this mean in the bigger picture? Why would America and the Iraqi government put Iraq into such a position? I think the American Army is going to Iran soon. I think they are preparing to go as soon as spring and no later than the end of this year.

Update: 23 Jan '06 0249z

Winds of Change is having a good discussion on Iran. Of course it includes the situation in Iraq and how that impacts the Iran problem.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Frank Fisks Osama

Varifrank is fisking Osama.

Here is one hilarious bit with Varifrank in bold:

Bush said: It is better to fight them on their ground than they fighting us on our ground.

In my response to these fallacies, I say: The war in Iraq is raging, and the operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favour, praise be to God.

And I say to you Osama, you didn’t answer your own question. If we are fighting in Iraq, is that not what Bush set out to do, and you have yet to stop us from doing?

The Pentagon figures indicate the rise in the number of your dead and wounded, let alone the huge material losses, and let alone the collapse of the morale of the soldiers there and the increase in the suicide cases among them.

Don’t’cha dig it when Osama talks in Washington-speak? “Pentagon figures”? Who talks like that? More importantly, note that he talks about the “huge material losses” and the “collapse of morale”. Again, someone is getting a monthly DNC newsletter with a hand written “thank you for your contribution” note attached to it.
You know. Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Military Book Lists

For all you armchair Admirals out there, here is a link to a compilation of recommended reading by each of the services.

I suggest you start out with Strategy by B.H.L. Hart and The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Three Houses and a Bomb Maker

It turns out that (if you can believe the reports) we got a bomb maker with a $5 million price on his head.

So I guess now they are really going to be mad at us. Twice or three times as much at least. Three houses full of people and one of their top guys.

The NYT is going to need a new photo.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Richard Feynman

Kathy Siepp has some very good commentary on Richard Feynman. You should read it.

She leaves out his seminal chapter on relations between the sexes. "You Just Ask Them". From "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman". A delightful read.

And how about the nudes for massage parlors?

The kind of guy guys love to party with. He is OK about being male. He understands the condition. Lucky to have an understanding mate.

For light reading may I suggest his Cal Tech Physics Lectures.

I was reading his chapters on inductance and learned a whole lot. I have been working with inductors for 40 years in my design work and am only now getting a really "feeling in my fingers" understanding of them. I am comforted by his saying that inductors are really hard to understand.

Via Transterrestrial Musings

It's a Hoot

Hootsbuddy's Place is very interesting
go have a visit.

This was prompted by the discussion at Power and Control and at Hootsbuddy's Place on the Iran situation and what to do about their work on nuclear weapons. Which I failed to credit until today.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Irainian Armed Forces Reliable?

Some interesting speculation about the reliability of the Iranian Armed Forces from bubblehead at The Stupid Shall Be Punished. This little aside was initiated by a look at Iranian minisubs (he has some neat pictures)

My experience with the Iranian military is fairly limited -- two deployments to the Gulf. Still, from what I've read, and from my discussions with "allied" officers at the Coalition Village at CENTCOM, I've come to the conclusion that, if the radicals in charge of Iran ever pick a fight with the U.S., we're likely to see fighting between the regular Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guard break out. The Revolutionary Guard are the ones who "believe hard" -- you really can't reason with them. The regular Iranian military, though, seems to be more level-headed, and knows that Allah won't be all that's needed to protect their country against infidel bombing. Like all professional warriors, they don't want to die for nothing. I have no data here -- it's just a feeling.
This is a continuation of a discussion that I participated in over the last few days.

Iran like many dictatorships may be a house of cards.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

WTC cover up?

I have been reading some stuff on the WTC collapse that asks some interesting engineering questions about the NIST reports of the events in the World Trade Center on 9/11 from the time of the plane hits until the buildings went down.

Hoffman's critique points out that NIST's Report, while avoiding even claiming to model the collapses, implies but does not show that it modeled the onsets of the collapses. The Report's section entitled Results of Global Analysis" describes the tops of the Towers first tilting and then moving downward as intact blocks, but there are no images in the Report of its computer models showing this behavior. The New Civil Engineer (NCE), an engineering trade journal based in the United Kingdom, published an article highlighting NIST's failure to publish visualizations of its alleged analysis of "collapse initiation."
More from the UK:
University of Manchester (UK) professor of structural engineering Colin Bailey said there was a lot to be gained from visualising the structural response. "NIST should really show the visualisations, otherwise the opportunity to correlate them back to the video evidence and identify any errors in the modelling will be lost," he said.

University of Sheffield professor Roger Plank added that visualisations of the collapses of the towers "would be a very powerful tool to promote the design code changes recommended by NIST."
Interesting. Right after 9/11 I began hearing a lot of "demolition theory" stuff and dismissed it. Now I'm not so sure.

Of course a lot in any simulation depends on initial conditions - which would be hard to know in detail with most of the evidence gone - but we could Monte Carlo it and see what the range of results might be.

Some interesting photos of the building collapse and these bullet points here:
# The buildings collapsed straight down, and at virtually free-fall speed, as in controlled demolitions, and then the rubble smoldered for months.
# Many people in the buildings said that they heard or felt explosions.
# Virtually all the concrete of these enormous structures was pulverized into very fine dust.
# Much of this dust, along with pieces of steel and aluminum, was blown out horizontally several hundred feet.
# Most of the steel beams and columns came down in sections about 30 feet long, conveniently ready to be loaded on trucks.
The difference between a gravity collapse and explosive demolition with respect to the WTC.

This link got me started: James Fetzer where I got the recent studies of the JFK Zapruder film. (through a slightly different link).

Hitting the Target

There is a lot of handwringing going on these days about the ability to take out the Irainian nuclear production facilities. It may not be too hard if instead of an Israeli one time strike America does it by a sustained bombing campaign of a week to a month. Here is how the targeting might be done:

Uranium enrichment requires a lot of electrical power. A lot of teflon too.

Adjust your targets accordingly.

If the electrical grid to the production facilities goes down, back up generation will be required. Back up generators produce heat. Look for it.

Significant plutonium production produces a lot of excess heat. Use the appropriate targeting devices.

The targets will not be hard to find. Hard to hit? Sure. Not too hard to find at all.

I had some thoughts on the issue of nukes and their proliferation at Joining the Club. JJ Mollo has some interesting links. And a mention of Babylon5. I also discuss Uranium Hexafloride and Teflon at Iran is asking for it.

Inspired by the discussion here. Which Instapundit linked to.

Update: 16 Jan '06 0927z

Chapomatic has an interesting discussion and links to more.

Update: 17 Jan '06 1602z

Hootsbuddy's Place has some comments on the subject. And some great links.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Is It the Water?

Our government's position is that drugs cause addiction. It is kind of like saying water causes thirst. If there was no water you wouldn't be thirsty. Thirst is caused by access to water. If we eliminate access to water thirst can never develop.

So far there is no prohibition against water use. Lucky, huh?

The question then is it the drugs or some underlying condition? i.e. Is it the water or the thirst?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Who killed JFK

Some interesting analysis of the Zapruder film here, and here, and here.

via Belmont Club

Update 12 Jan '06 1516z

I forgot to note this link to The Report.

Good News from the Middle East

The Jerusalem Post reports: Egypt threatens Abbas.

Egypt threatened to withdraw its support for the Palestinian Authority if the PA did not act to control the rampant anarchy in the Gaza Strip, according to a report in the London Arab newspaper Al Quds.

The report claimed that following the incident at the Rafah border crossing in which two Egyptian soldiers were killed, Egyptian authorities delivered the threat to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as part of a specially delivered message.

Egypt also threatened to withdraw its support for the peace process if the PA did not take the proper steps to restore order to Gaza.

Israel Radio reported that there were no other confirmations of the account.
The Palestinians are such charming people. They can't even get along with their friends. What chance is there that they can make peace with their enemies.

I think this also reinforces the idea that Sharon's return of Gaza was a truly brilliant plan. The Palistinians are making fools of themselves and enemies of their friends. As I said. Good news from the Middle East.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Love Is A Drug

According to this recent report

The same brain chemistry that is responsible for addiction also plays a role in the feelings and emotions of new love and leads us toward monogamy, the BBC News reports of research from Florida State University. Yes, love is in your head and not your heart.

At least that's what happens to male Prairie voles, and the researchers think the findings apply to human beings as well. Prairie voles are known for establishing extremely strong, long-term relationships and actually show signs of falling in love just as humans do.

Blame it on dopamine. This chemical, which plays a key role in attracting human beings back to sources of pleasure, such as good food, sex or cocaine, stimulates the brain's reward center.
I have been saying for a while that there is more than one way to get drugs. If you can't buy them you can make your own. Why one way of getting drugs (say eating for instance) is legal and another (buying them on the street) is not is mainly based on prejudice.

Fortunately science is making it harder and harder to maintain our prejudices.

On another interesting note on brain chemistry; it seems that hapiness comes from hard work.
If you want to be truly happy with that deep down feeling of utter and complete satisfaction, just work hard.

That is the surprising word from a research team at Gothenburg University in Sweden which has determined that working to achieve a goal--even more than attaining it--is what gives people true satisfaction and happiness, reports the BBC News.

While winning the lottery does give a temporary high, it won't last, at least not like the thrill of hard work! The Swedish researchers came to this startling conclusion after studying published data on hundreds of people about what makes them happy.
It may be that, contra the French, the anglo-saxons may be on to something after all.

Update: 1609z 11 Jan. '06

Another look into the American character. From A Voyage to Arcturus.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

On Theft

Zorkmiden has some interesting things to say about theft.

The Return of Gaza

Happy New Year All!!

I'm back from a month long sabatical.

I think it is pretty obvious that the Israelis are reaping a large positive harvest from the return of Gaza. Take a look at this story from Reuters.

GAZA (Reuters) - About 20 Palestinian gunmen stormed into a government office in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to protest the arrest of a suspect in the kidnappings of three Britons, witnesses said.
Kidnappings and "protesters", well they used tobe protestors, now they are gunmen storming government offices in protest of the arrest of some of the kidnappers.

The genius of the Sharon plan, which was obvious to me from the beginning, was that the Palis would show their true stripes as a set of outlaw gangs incapable of self government.

Another six months of Pali craziness will seal the deal.

The Israelis have turned the corner in the information war. The only part of the war that was for keeps. (with apologies to all those murdered by the Pali thugs - the individuals are gone but the nation will live)


Update 1617z 03 Jan '06

More excitement in Gaza.
GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian gunmen bulldozed a barricade on the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, disrupted traffic on the frontier and stormed government offices on Wednesday in growing unrest ahead of elections later this month.

The gunmen, renegade members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militant group in President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, went on the rampage after police arrested a local leader on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping of three Britons last week.

After commandeering a bulldozer to cheers from onlookers, gunmen smashed through concrete blocks lining the border near the Palestinian refugee camp of Yibna, witnesses said.