Belmont Club

Wretchard at Belmont Club is a great writer and analyst. Read this post right away.

It is interesting to compare Marine preparations to assault Fallujah in April 2004 with those apparently under way today, just months later. The Marine methods of April would have been instantly familiar to any military historian: hammer and anvil, seizure of key terrain; feint and attack. Today, many of the military objectives in the developing siege of the terrorist stronghold are abstract. They consist of developing a network of informers in the city; of setting up a functioning wireless network; of getting close enough for smaller US units to deploy their line-of-sight controlled UAV and UGV units to create a seamless operational and tactical environment to wage “swarm” warfare; of getting artillery and mortar units close enough to play hopscotch over everything the network decides to engage. To the traditional methods of warfare the Americans were adding a whole new plane which only they could inhabit.

It looks like large organizations can adopt strategies to beat a small, dispersed, loosely connected foe. Thank goodness the leadership had the willingness to let go of traditional tactics and lear new ones on-the-fly.

Adam Smith and Charles Darwin

This brief entry from Cafe Hayek about the Scottish Enlightenment is, ah, enlightening, especially when read in the context of emergent behaviors.

About Stewart’s intellectual biography of Adam Smith, Gould has this to say: “[Darwin] imbibed the basic belief of the Scottish economists that theories of overall social structure must begin by analyzing the unconstrained actions of individuals … The theory of natural selection is a creative transfer to biology of Adam Smith’s basic argument for a rational economy: the balance and order of nature does not arise from a higher, external (divine) control, or from the existence of laws operating directly upon the whole, but from struggle among individuals for their own benefits.”

Read the whole thing; it’s short and sweet. (I know a family of Scots, and let me tell you, the intelligence and creative thinking displayed by Smith and Adams has not dwindled over the intervening generations.)

Tolerating violence in schools

Walter Williams has something to say about school violence toleration. Here are the final parargraph:

I say it’s cruel and unreasonable to permit school thugs to make schools unsafe and education impossible for everyone else. Short of measures to immediately end school violence, parents at the minimum should be able to transfer their children out of unsafe failing public schools. Or, do you believe, as the education establishment does, that parents and children should be held hostage until they come up with a solution?

I love that last line, “…do you believe, as the education establishment does, that parents and children should be held hostage until they [the education establishment] come up with a solution?” I think the same phrasing, i.e. “being held hostage”, applies to the whole public system.

When a school’s administration is failing, they whine that they need more money and favors, and that the children can’t be allowed to go anywhere else because that would jeopardize the school itself; that is nothing more than hostage-taking for the benefit of the administrators and the organization. I say the **children** are the important part of that situation, not the government education system — let the parents save their kids from failing schools with vouchers.

Nationalized Legal Care

In response to the idea that the Gummint should nationalize “health care” (it’s really “medical care” but nobody ever says it that way) we have a great bit from code: theWebSocket; about how we need to nationalize legal care.

We could set it up like this: A new governmental organization, call it the Legal Security Administration, would be formed and paid for through payroll taxes. Lawyers will be given a set amount of money by the LSA to provide legal services for their clients. They will be rewarded when they bring a case in under budget by being able to keep whatever is left over from the preset reimbursement, and take the loss when they fail. These fees will be 60 cents on the dollar of what it costs to provide the services. Lawyers will initally complain that they can’t make money at fees paid, but they will be told to just make it up in case volume. Those fee levels will be the basis for what they charge their private-pay clients, and price gouging will be severely punished.

Read the whole thing.

Bill Cosby and Education

Bill Cosby is one of my favorite people ever. He’s up there with Ben Stein. Cosby has been in the news this year and last for being a hardass about black kids raising themselves up out of poverty and despair through education, not by claiming victimhood. He continues to speak about it.

Mr. Cosby toured four schools with former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who is running for mayor. But instead of talking politics, Mr. Cosby stuck to his no-nonsense message to inner-city black children that at times has made him the target of criticism.

“Study. That’s all. It’s not tough. You’re not picking cotton. You’re not picking up the trash. You’re not washing windows. You sit down. You read. You develop your brain,” Mr. Cosby said at Fred D. Thompson Middle School, where 65 percent of the 700 students meet low-income criteria for free or reduced-price lunches.

Not only is he funny when he wants to be, but he is dead-on right when he speaking about a serious and critical matter. He puts his money and his time where his mouth is, too. Wonderfulness. 🙂

Poor Sick Zoe

Primary Dog Zoe is violently ill. She seems to have a bout of ruinous puking and diarrhea every 3-4 months since I’ve had her (Sep/Oct 2003). This time I think it’s my fault, though.

On Friday, I had the occasion to grill up some porterhouse steaks. I kept the bones in the refrigerator, and on Sunday roasted them over the grill, then simmered them for two hours to make stock. After that, I gave one bone to each of the dogs; that was Sunday night about 10pm. They consumed the bones, plus the remaining meat and fat, and seemed OK for it.

But Monday night about 8pm, Zoe was quivering and quiet, obviously unhappy but not “saying” anything. I took her out, and massive poop ensued — two sets, the second more volumiunous than the first. But then she seemed fine; she perked back up, started playing again. I went to bed about 11:30 and put the dogs in their kennels (lately I keep Backup Dog Wendy in her kennel overnight because she likes to start nipping at Primary Dog and me around 4:30 am, but if she’s caged then she just stays asleep — I keep Primary Dog in kennel then so Backup has company). About 2:30, Backup Wendy starts whining; after about two minutes I yell “No!” and go back to sleep; by 3:30 she’s doing it again, so I go out to investigate, and poor Zoe has puked and shat in her kennel. I feel pretty guilty; I think it was the steak bone, too rich for her, that caused her grief. 🙁

So now I’ve finished rinsing and bleaching the kennel pan, the pillow is in the wash, and Primary Dog is outside. Next thing to do is give her a bath and get all that junk off her. No bed, no sleep; no no no, bed bed bed, for Paul until the dogs are OK.

BusinessPundit and Bush

I think this article from BusinessPundit sums up my thoughts about Bush quite nicely.

I am no fan of Bush. I support stem-cell research, which he doesn’t. I was against the prescription drug bill, the steel tariffs, the campaign finance reform bill, and the farm subsidy bill. While I don’t think Bush is stupid, I don’t think he is sharp enough to be President either. But could I vote for Kerry? I don’t think so. To me it has come down to voting for the “tax and spend” Democrats or the “cut taxes and spend” Republicans. Does anyone care about shrinking the size of government? Nope. Does anyone care about introducing accountability into the public school system so that Americans don’t fall behind the rest of the world? Not really (though they will both pay lip-service to it). So to me it basically boils down to the war on terror, which means as of now, Bush will get my reluctant vote.

The Environment of Emergence

For emergent behaviors to appear, they need a context or environment in which the elements can act.

It’s no surprise that Al Qaeda and their like are successful againt nation-states. They are the very model of a spontaneously self-organizing phenomenon when it comes to asymmetrical warfare: small groups of individuals who do not necessarily take orders from a single central commander, other than a shared ideology and common goal (the destruction of the West).

(Let the rambling commence.)

Until just now, I thought it would be nearly impossible to eradicate their cancer from the world in less than 20 years; how do you fight a dispersed threat like this in anything other than an intergenerational fashion? However, I have recently realized that an emergent phenomenon must “emerge” within a context or environment; that environment can be beneficial or harmful to emergent behaviors. Change the environment, either by disruption or destruction, and the emergent behaviors must necessarily dissipate, deform, or die off — perhaps in unexpected ways, but the behaviors cannot be expected to be the same after as they were before.

That’s one way for a large centralized power to fight a dispersed threat: go after the enabling environmental factors that give rise to and support terrorist cells. On the international stage this means one thing: either a nation is with the terrorists, or it is with the U.S. fight against their evil. If a nation-state actively eradicates the cells that exist and reforms their policies to be unfriendly to emergent terrorism, that is the environmental disruption needed to be “with” the U.S.

Of course, another way to alter the environment is to destroy it — c.f. Iraq in almost all areas except the Sunni triangle, and even that will be coming along soon. That destruction has a disruptive effect as well; you can’t think that Iran and Syria are smiling — they know we mean business, and must either be friends or foes. Look like Iran, at least, is going for “foe” status — insh’Allah their people will rise against the mullahs to free themselves.

(Let rambling cease, for now.)

The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)

This is from the New York Times (free registration, etc) — The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road). The article not about emergent systems, per se, because it’s hard for a road to self-organize. 😉 But the article does have some important things to say about technology and feedback mechanisms.

Son of a gun! The link goes to the archive, and you have to pay $3 to read the stupid article. Google archive reveals only a link to the NYT archive. I hate that. >:-|

Well, then, from memory: somewhere in California, they’re relieving highway traffic congestion by setting up toll lanes. You pay the toll with a car-mounted electronic transponder that charges against your toll balance as you pass through the checkpoint. This by itself is nothing new.

What’s new is that the toll automatically changes every six minutes based on the traffic throughput. As more cars pass through, the toll increases; as fewer cars enter, the toll decreases. This is perfect from a scarce resources (lanes), marginal utility, and individual decision making standpoint: you get to choose what’s more important, your time or your dollars, and that choice is likely to be different at rush hour than it is at midnight. The feedback mechnism of the changing price allows more people better service, even those who do not pay the toll; this is because the toll-payers are no longer on the main thoroughfare, which frees up lane space for the non-toll drivers. Pretty neat.

Update (2004-11-04): I found this link to the full text. Should I copy and paste it in its entirety? I think perhaps. 🙂

Continue reading “The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)”