Ramblings; Wireless; Close Air Support; Ptolemy

Chaos Manor View, Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father’s Day

My new Bluetooth gadget for my hearing aids needed charging again, and then the actually rather simple though unintuitive procedure to link it to the hearing aids themselves; after which it worked properly, and I can turn it on or off with the remote controller. That makes for rather a lot in my shirt pocket: iPhone 6, Hearing Aid Remote Controller, and the small Microphone unit – so I expect I’ll just get a larger man-purse to keep those in. I’ve been carrying one “just big enough” for my wallet and a Kindle, which really means not quite big enough.

Alex and Eric spent the early part of the afternoon permanently solving the wireless problem in Chaos Manor; I’ll no longer have a plethora of wireless networks. Now I have the Kindles and the iPhone 6 on just one wireless net; I don’t have to turn one connection off and log on to another if I go in the back room. We also changed the password to something more secure if harder to remember. I’ll let Alex tell you how they did it:

“We installed older Ruckus wireless networking gear from Location Connect (www.LocationConnect.com), our on-site networking company. Since this same gear provides wired and wireless networking for 20 to 20,000 people, it’s overkill, but it does the job well here.

“The biggest difference between pro-level Wi-Fi gear and your home router is cooperation, or perhaps hand-off. The ZoneDirector controller manages device hand-off between Access Points (APs), transparently connecting them to the best signal as the user moves through the house, office, concert hall, or wooded field (There’s a story in that last…)

“The ZoneDirector also scans to avoid interference, finding the best available channel for each AP. ‘Best’ changes over time, as new interference sources (Next door neighbors, phones in hotspot mode) pop up. Ruckus also uses beamforming to maximize signal to each device, not just ‘Blast max power always’ as common in consumer gear. This increases range and reliability.

“This solution replaced five different consumer APs, each with similar (but not identical) SSIDs, which meant manual roaming and dropped connections. Consumer gear doesn’t support handoff, and doesn’t do anywhere near as good a job of minimizing AP-to-AP interference. We simply turned off the wireless on each old AP—it’s important to actually turn the wireless off, not just turn off SSID broadcast, which won’t remove the interference, instead making it invisible.

“We’re using Powerline to connect different parts of Chaos Manor. We had much more trouble with the Powerline networking (Via the house wiring) than the Wi-Fi: The four different breaker panels interfere with Powerline networking between various eras of construction. That meant we couldn’t connect the Green (TV) Room and Dad’s office directly. We did find that an AP in the kitchen covers the Green Room just fine, which wasn’t the case with the Powerline-and-Wi-Fi unit it replaced. We’ll get an Ethernet cable run direct from the cable room to the back room next, so the TV, cable box and any future gear will be ready. That will also let us install another Ruckus AP back there, too.

“While installing gear in the Cable Room, we found the old core 24-port Gigabit switch was massive overkill for current requirements. It also had one bad fan and one dying, so an 8-port fanless gig switch was a better choice, and may increase overall network reliability. We combined two other switches into one while we were at it.

“So far, the results are exactly what we expected: Seamless roaming, fast speed, much better range, and overall management. I’ve been updating the ThinkPad V500; downloads from Microsoft and Lenovo have gone as fast as the cable modem will run. Dad no longer thinks about whether my iPhone will surf—it just does. Ditto the Kindle Fire. The single network connects in both yards, too.”

I’m looking forward to sitting in the breakfast room, the back yard, or the Green Room and checking e-mail. So far, Everything Just Works.


And while I was catching up on reading another conference that I used to follow but dropped out of partly due to the stroke, I found some material from May/June last year on the Middle East and Russian situations that I may or may not have published here; in any event it’s mine, and it seemed reasonable to post it again because it’s still relevant.

I’ve been reading Emma Sky’s The Unraveling (https://www.google.com/search?q=trinity+sunday&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=emma+sky+unraveling) which I’ve mentioned here before (https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/losing-the-technological-war-trump-and-jeb-bush-a-10-and-close-air-support/). This Liberal – in culture and politics so far as I can tell – civil service volunteer to the Foreign Office describes Iraq after the US invasion and victory, and the reading is important. I wish every Congressperson, Senator, and Senior State Department official would read it before we get any more notions of reforming the world, or the end of history. She pretty well confirms my view of the US/Brit occupation of Iraq. Great intentions; great expectations; not quite the results hoped for.


Warthogs, Stukas, and CAS Specialization


Agreed, we could use Stukas and still get the Close Air Support job done. Or, for that matter, F-16’s, or F-35’s. All could be used to get the job done (though none would be as efficient at it as A-10’s – armor and structural ruggedness very much matter flying down in ground-fire


The heart of the matter is not that any particular aircraft is essential for effective CAS. Rather, it’s essential to have pilots whose full-time job is CAS. Specialists.

Precision mud-moving is unglamorous, exacting, and dangerous. Doubly dangerous when done by amateurs, to both the amateurs and to the customers. My read of history is that giving CAS as a secondary job to air-to-air specialists means it will get done badly, when it gets done at all.

Keeping the Warthogs forces USAF to keep a core of CAS specialist pilots. Retire the A-10’s, and CAS will inevitably end up as an afterthought in the air-to-air squadrons’ training. Until, that is, a year or so after the next time we really need CAS. Which will be a year too late for too many of the soldiers that needed it.


Agreed; as we addressed in Strategy of Technology, weapons alone do not win battles; there must be doctrines and tactics and the troops must know them. I am doing a chapter on Close Air Support for the new edition of SOT we will release. In some ways it is the most important technological mission we have. USAF knows how to win air supremacy; it does not know how to exploit it. The P-47 was a very effective weapon in WW II, more so that heavy bombers, but only after achieving air supremacy, and then its effectiveness was discovered in part by accident.


The following excerpts are my contributions to a closed discussion of about a year ago, Before The Stroke, when I had time to say more before inability to type drove me nuts with frustration. I have indicated the essence of other discussants, who will neither be quoted nor identified. I want to emphasize that although we greatly disagreed on much, the discussion was civil and mutually respectful.

I open with my reply to a senior intelligence official who was not on the Russian desk at the time and who gave his views of Vladimir Putin. I replied.

Pournelle: Putin is playing dangerous games, but it is not wise to treat him as a pure villain. He doesn’t think of himself as a villain, but as a patriot. That makes a difference.

One thing about Ukraine, although there are two brands of Ukrainians, the vast majority of the population thinks of itself as Slavic. With Ukraine it’s a matter of using the Russian populations to gain strategic territory.  It’s different with the ‘Stans.

Then there were some comments condemning Cheney and advisors on their using WMD as justification, and implying that the Pentagon knew there were no WMD in Iraq. I said:

Pournelle: We didn’t need WMD’s to justify going into Iraq the second time, but it wasn’t unreasonable to believe he had them.  His own generals believed he had massive stocks of chemical weapons.  Iran believed he had them.  I’ve heard that even the Israeli’s believed in them.  And of course from the point of view of one trying to sell the invasion to the American people, WMD’s trumped the actual reasons anyway.

For the record, I opposed Gulf I and Gulf II, and I never believed the $300 billion estimate of the Gulf II invasion costs.  As I said at the time, invest that sum in oil refineries and pipelines and some nuclear power plants and you can let the Arabs drink their oil.  I suspect that didn’t go over well with the oil industry reps.

If you want to win battles, it helps if you are fighting Arabs; but if you want to rule in tranquility, Arabs and Afghanis are not the people to choose for your conquests.  Alexander the Great could have told you that, and in fact did…

= = =

There came more comments condemning the occupation, and implying that “The Pentagon” knew what it was doing.

Pournelle: Actually the situation was quite well controlled, until they chose Bremer, a career diplomat, to be proconsul, instead of sending a politician or even a good old boy friend of the President.

Saddam’s generals had their troops in barracks, and they believed the broadcasts by the US Army that the generals would have an honorable place in rebuilding the New Iraq.  Whatever Washington thought about Chalabi The Thief, those on the ground knew he wasn’t going to be welcomed.  Given centuries of history of simmering civil war between Sunni and Shiite, the only way Iraq could be governed would be by those outside that conflict: meaning Baathists in Iraq.  Who else was there?  And the generals were all Baathists.  Something could have been arranged.  Iraq is used to being governed by people from outside Iraq, after all.  Persians, Turks, Kurds —

But Bremer and the State traditionalists wanted “Democracy”, which actually meant “Let the majority Shiites have a go at governing and let the Sunni see how that feels,” but Bremer didn’t know that.  His sense of history is rather poor as you can tell by reading his apologias. He was startled by what happened to him.

But once that army was disbanded it would have taken a hell of a lot more occupation troops to govern Iraq without civil war, and we weren’t about to send enough of them.

The wish for implanting a stable democracy in the Middle East has burned in the hearts of State for a very long time, and the fact that the Jews were able to do that seemed to encourage the notion that the Arabs would also be able to; a conclusion that doesn’t much follow from the evidence.  So attempting to establish democracy created chaos, and most of those on the ground knew. And then there were those who wanted to make fun of the Army from the safety of their desks, and

Let’s just say that Bremer was probably not the proconsul needed if the goal was to have a stable government in Iraq and keep the violence to a minimum.

Germany had surrendered and we had enough occupation troops to keep order while everyone desperately rebuilt.  Alla same with Japan.  But we sent fighting professional  legions to Iraq, not occupation troops and American GI Joe conscripts,, and few military historians have found that the qualities that make winning professional armies are the same as those that make for good police work or government and educators or..

Ah, hell, I’m rambling.  Back at Gulf I when there were still people listening to us old Cold Warriors we tried to explain all this, and Bush I did keep the objectives low, turn Kuwait over to the Royal Family that spent their exile in the London casinos and get the hell out.  Bush II wasn’t much listening to anyone and particularly not old Reaganites….

There follows the Liberal criticism of Cheney and company believing their own propaganda.

Pournelle: I do not know what propaganda they are supposed to have believed.  The WMD were seized on as a justification; they weren’t needed to justify the invasion, if you assume there was any evidence whatever that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks.  That part I don’t know anything about, but it is clear from reading the books from the decision makers that they thought they were justified in wringing Saddam’s neck, and this was a fairly popular notion in the United States.  His sons were running amok, taking women off the streets and killing their husbands for objecting. By that time Saddam made one think the Syrians lucky in their choice of dictator.  But evidence of any intention of attacks on the United Stated, or harboring Al Qaeda is not so clear; apparently it was enough to convince key democrats in Congress to support the invasion.

My own view was that short of something I didn’t know about , they had no good reason for an invasion, and in any event once they accomplished a regime change their work was done: the idea would be to convince people that harboring the enemies of the United States was not a good idea.  I doubt very much if anyone in DOD or the National Security Council thought much beyond the point of Saddam fleeing his capital.  I do know there were fans of Chalabi the thief, but that was not the majority.

But State and some others had this “End of History” notion that the fate of the world was for everyone to adopt liberal democracy; and this view was very strongly held by the professionals in the State Department. So the military didn’t know what to do with a victory although some of the generals did begin to make some arrangements with the Iraqi generals about devolving government onto their shoulders.  We had done this successfully in Gulf I although we didn’t stay there all that long; but while we were there things went pretty well, with people like the Marine Reserve Colonel Couvillon (then a Major) who became a province governor and ran his province well — his troops were American reserves meaning they all had normal professions and weren’t professional soldiers, so they had some notion of how an economy might work.  Anyway that experiment didn’t run long enough to be well tested.,  But after all, we did so well in rebuilding Germany and Japan into liberal democracies so why not Iraq? Most senior Foreign Service Officers had advanced degree from good American universities.  We had the military power.  All we had to do was use it wisely.

Alas, Bremer and his FSO brethren believed that down to his fancy boots.  He was also contemptuous of the troops who had won his victory and allowed him to take his office.  No one wanted to die for his principles, so the Army did what armies have always done when they have an unpopular commander:  they fought for each other and for their junior officers, and to hell with the official objectives.

But I do wonder what propaganda you believe that the NSC people believed.  They thought that the objective was to throw Saddam out.  None of them had been elected to run a foreign country or establish a stable democracy where there has never been one.  (The closest thing was Lebanon in the old days when Beirut was the Paris of the Orient, and that worked because of a very careful power sharing agreement among Shiites, Sunni, Druze (considered heretics by both Sunni and Shiite), Marionites, Greek Orthodox..  They had an elaborate power sharing scheme for doling out offices by affiliation, and it worked quite well, but it sure wasn’t democracy).

Enough, I suppose.  I have opposed every US expedition over there except the initial Afghan expedition, and I wanted that brought home as soon as we could raise a flag in Kabul.  Leave with a warning that if you harbor Americas enemies we’ll be back. Meanwhile, here’s a billion in foreign aid, goodbye and it’s been good to know you.  But the nation building enthusiasts saw Afghanistan as an opportunity to show what we can do…

I don’t believe in nation building. We haven’t the time or patience or absolute supremacy that takes.  It worked in Germany and Japan because we did have that.  We would never have it in Afghanistan or Iraq.  And we could thank God, daily, that the USSR didn’t surrender to the west when Communism came apart…

I can accept competent Empire, but it’s a difficult and tricky path requiring building puppet kings and keeping your Legions out of the fight while your auxiliaries — the defeated enemy armies — do the fighting while looking over their shoulders in fear of the Legions, and American intellectuals generally haven’t the heart for doing it. But mostly I agree with Washington and Adams. The US military is for the protection of American freedom.  If we have to go slay a monster, we do it and come home. Europe for the Europeans…  Near East for the —  heh. Jews, Arabs, Shiites, Sunni, Kurds, Turks, Aryan Iranians, and myriads of tribes.

= = =

Yes; but the end of history, and the notion that democracy was on the move, was not a left or right wing historical heresy.  I suppose in a sense it’s a Marxist heresy stemming from the Trotskyites who became neo-conservatives, but it has adherents among straight out Marxists and Progressives.  I don’t know how much it caught on with the National Security Council people; none of those who talk to me caught it.  But it did argue that we knew what we were doing, all we needed was to throw out Saddam and don’t do stupid shit, and things would go in a good direction.

That seems to have been the Progressive belief back in the Arab Spring days:  we stay out of it, and all will go well.  We help bring down Khadafy, who did his damnedest to convince us that he had Finlandized and would do whatever we wanted, in hopes that if we wouldn’t shore up his government we’d at least help him find honorable exile — anyway, we helped bring him down and thought all would be well, but it didn’t happen that way.  And the Mamelukes bailed us out in Egypt, so there is still one country over there that recognizes Israel –but just barely, and it sure ain’t democracy.

The notion of the inevitability of democracy seems absurd on the face of it, but it certainly has some heavy weight advocate — and had even more including much of the Foreign Service back in 2002.



Ptolemy and the Moon

The size of the Moon was not especially interesting for 2000 years for a reason that startles Moderns: astronomy was not considered a branch of physics. It was a specialized branch of mathematics (like optics and music). (Also IIRC it was Mars whose size was inexplicable; see infra.) The only requirement on astronomical mathematics was that it accurately predict eclipses, sunrise, Easter, retrograde movement, etc. for the sake of the three practical applications: making calendars, casting horoscopes, and (later) navigation on the high seas.
That astronomy should somehow also match the actual physics was a relatively new idea. After all, the Ptolemaic model was at odds with Aristotelian physics and the epicycles were not thought of necessarily as a physical fact, but only a computational convenience. However, the Renaissance had revived the Pythagorean notion of numbers as efficient causes. This struck Aristotelian empiricists as mystical woo-woo. Even today you will find those who claim the motion of bodies is <i>because</i> of the law of gravity rather than that the laws are merely a description of the motion of bodies.
Copernicus handled the Moon by placing it on a double epicycle — an epicycle around an epicycle was unprecedented — and his treatment of the Martian obit was most unsatisfactory, largely because the Martian orbit is especially eccentric and Copernicus insisted on pure Platonic cycles.
Only after the invention of the telescope did the minority view triumph that astronomers could make <i>physical</i> discoveries and not simply invent new calculations.


Geirion’s Redemption, an Underfable (and Brunner tribute)

Geirion’s Redemption

             an Underfable by Nathaniel Hellerstein

Once upon a time, after chaos but before order, the magic brook Geirion had great power, for its water revealed fearsome visions. These visions terrorized the folk round about; terror implies attention, which implies belief, and belief is the food of elementals such as Geirion.

But one day a traveler in black arrived, intent upon his single-minded mission of bringing order out of chaos. He quizzed a local about the magic brook; the local, perplexed, wished out loud to know the brook’s true nature; and the traveler said, “As you wish, so be it.”

The local suddenly realized that all of Geirion’s visions were false. He and his friends took to consulting the lying brook to rid themselves of baseless fears; under their mockery, the elemental’s power waned.

Later the traveler returned to witness Geirion’s last three lies. First the magic water revealed a vision of Utopia, where all is right and all are happy; where there is no injustice or want or failure or confusion; where all problems are solved, all desires are satisfied, and all tears are dried; where the lion lies down with the lamb, and even lunch is free.

But the traveler threw a pebble into the water, bursting the false vision, and he said, “You are bitter, Geirion. Have you no sweeter lies?” Then the water revealed a vision of Dystopia, where there is no law nor truth nor even hope of its own annihilation; where down is up, and war is peace, and foul is fair; ever plummeting yet never crashing; where bleeding never stops, and even figures lie.

The traveler broke this false vision with another pebble, and he said, “There, there. And what of yourself?” The magic water revealed a vision of that same brook, sometime in the future, showing a vision.

The traveler in black said, “As you wish, so be it,” and waved his staff of light. From then on Geirion never showed another vision, but was instead merely a beautiful forest stream of pure water.

Moral: Truth is free of power.

Comment: This tale is a tribute to John Brunner’s “Traveler In Black”. Dystopia is a terrifying illusion, and Utopia is even worse.


John Brenner and I disagreed on much, but I very much admired him and Traveler In Black.


Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality







Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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