On Victory; and some observations on advancing technology; MIT reconsiders


View 758 Monday, January 14, 2013


I have this from Colonel Couvillon

I pick this up from the middle of the article:


" Simply put, the troops proved unable to win, a shortcoming painfully evident in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

Bacevich, a former US Army Colonel and West Point grad, makes the same damn mistake that US apologists always make. They forget that to WIN a war one has to DEFEAT the enemy AND his supporters… That means to subjugate the enemy populace and make them bow to your demands and power. When the enemy populace becomes your ally and turns on their government/leaders; or at least rejects our enemy – and yes, that means oftentimes innocent people die in the meantime, then you WIN. The US does not do this, to our great failing. All the talk of rebuilding, making democracy, support, help, assistance, etc. can happen after that point.

The troops didn’t prove unable to win… they were withheld from doing what is necessary to achieve total victory.

David Couvillon

Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired.; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Avoider of Yard Work

In The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega y Gasset tells the story that Napoleon was reviewing his troops. They marched past in their splendid uniforms, and the Emperor said to Talleyrand “See my soldiers! See their bayonets, how they gleam!”

Talleyrand replied, “You can do anything with a bayonet, Sire, except sit upon it.”

Ortega’s point was that rule is not so much a matter of the firm hand as of the firm seat. The history of Afghanistan from Alexander the Great to the present is well known, and demonstrates that gaining a firm seat in that land was beyond the reach of everyone including Alexander, the Persians, Tamerlane, Babur the Tiger, the British Empire, and the Russians, and that no tactics would prevail. No one tried dispossessing the population and replacing it with colonists, but 21st Century Americans were unlikely to do that in any event – and it is not impossible that even that would fail. Colonial empires that used that strategy have fallen to rebellion…

The history of Mesopotamia was no more encouraging, and worse, there had never been an “Iraq” in the first place. Iraq was created by jamming together three provinces of the Ottoman Empire. One of those provinces was a portion of what had once been Kurdistan, whose people wanted unification with their relatives in the Turkish and Iranian Kurdish provinces. The Kurds have been warriors for all known history, and under their great leader Saladin liberated Palestine and most of the Middle East from the Crusader Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem – and began the process of reunification of the Muslim world. Beginning with the allegiance of the Kurds he went on to become Sultan of Egypt and take the rulership of Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Palestine and other provinces, before the Mongol invasion and later the Turks established a new Caliphate.

I agree with Colonel Couvillon that there is no substitute for victory. Indeed, Colonel Bacevic would have been required to learn in Beast Barracks at West Point Macarthur’s dictum” "From the Far East I send you one single thought, one sole idea — written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo — There is no substitute for victory!" Every plebe must recite it many times.

It is possible that in Iraq we might, with the help of the Baath Party and the regular troops of the defeated Iraqi Army, have imposed some kind of enduring state with which we could ally in Iraq. It would have been expensive, and it would certainly have been the kind of state that Plato and Aristotle called a timocracy or rule by military honor. The classic theory is that such societies degenerate into oligarchies, and are inferior to the rule of the best, but they are greatly to be preferred to other degenerate states. Whatever the possibility of creating a stable ally in Iraq through a rule of honorable warriors, it was ended the moment that our proconsul disbanded the Iraqi army and unleashed a horde of armed but unemployed young men.

Had we understood that the objective in both Afghanistan and Iraq was to instill in the population and leaders the notion that life was better without America and an enemy, much might have been accomplished; but a failed attempt to install liberal democracy before the complete defeat of the enemy was doomed from the beginning, and American politics pretty well guaranteed that we would not pay the price in blood and treasure for such a complete victory. I had thought that we went into Iraq to assure two things, Iraq as a stable opponent of Iran, and the flow of Iraqi oil into Western markets. Both those goals may have been possible before the dissolution of the Iraqi army, but not later. And in Afghanistan we had achieved the goals President Obama has proclaimed as victory – that Afghanistan did not harbor the enemies of the American people – in months without the intrusion of masses of troops seen not as allies but as occupation forces.

Of course it is instructive to reflect on what we might have done, but it is more important to think clearly about what we must do now.


Technology marches on. Is the Second Law of Thermodynamics now at risk?

Another odd consequence of negative temperatures has to do with entropy, which is a measure of how disorderly a system is. When objects with positive temperature release energy, they increase the entropy of things around them, making them behave more chaotically. However, when objects with negative temperatures release energy, they can actually absorb entropy.

"We have created the first negative absolute temperature state for moving particles," said researcher Simon Braun at the University of Munich in Germany.



I note that some jobs previously exported to China and the oriental Tigers have been returned to the United States – but they are now done by robots. Sixty Minutes last night showed a $22,000 robot, good for three years, that will work tirelessly without health care benefits. It can be programmed by guiding it through a repetitious task (shades of Heinlein’s Door Into Summer!).

Assume that it will work two shifts a day, and that it requires “health care” of a value equal to its cost. Assume further that it requires a human attendant to care for six of those robots. (Skilled workers attended at least as many mechanical looms during the early Industrial Revolution, each doing more work than a single master weaver could have done by hand). Thus one worker supervises six of these. Assume he is highly skilled and costs $75,000 a year, or $225,000 for three years. The machines cost $44,000 each for three years, or $264,000. They do the work of 6 for not much more than the cost of one highly skilled worker. Assume that the job is simple enough to be assigned to someone less highly paid than the skilled supervisor, but also factor in the costs of having employees (including pensions, health care, and other government mandated benefits).

Now assume Moore’s Law applies to the cost of the robots and their care. Also assume that the robots continue to get smarter and more productive.

Science fiction tried to explore this sort of world in many stories. Some assumed that smart people stopped having kids, but the general population did not, with the least intelligent (those who didn’t understand how birth control works) having the most. Assume liberal democracy. Now go read Cyril Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag.” There is also Kornbluth and Pohl, Search the Sky, another take on much the same view.

There are others.

But a society in which half the population is essentially useless and knows that it is unemployable may not be stable.

It’s lunch time.

For a long time the maxim “You never appreciate how smart a moron is until you try to program a robot” was a fairly accurate observation. Apparently that is no longer the case. Would you buy that for a quarter?


While contemplating the advances in robot productivity and their elimination of the “skilled worker” factory jobs that created the blue collar middle class of our golden days, contemplate the population declines. Fewer and fewer workers must support more and more retirees and pay for their increasing-with-age health care. We’re going to need the robot productivity just to stay out of bankruptcy.  We have no idea of where the population will stabilize, but it may be a wild ride getting there.

And as robots get smarter, will they be able to write science fiction novels?


MIT is now rethinking its role in the Swartz case.


“I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many,” Reif said in the statement issued Sunday. “It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.”

Critics, including Swartz’s family, blamed Massachusetts prosecutors and MIT for unjustly punishing Swartz.

On Saturday, the family issued a statement that included the criticism, stating, “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The U.S. attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”

Reif said he has asked Hal Abelson, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, to “lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present.”

“I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took,” Reif said.