Fall Seminar on Catastrophic Risk

I am planning a study group at Harvard University (in Boston) for the Fall semester, on catastrophic risk.

Berkman Study Group -- Catastrophic Risk: Technologies and Policy

Technology empowers, for both good and bad. A broad history of "attack" technologies shows trends of empowerment, as individuals wield ever more destructive power. The natural endgame is a nuclear bomb in everybody's back pocket, or a bio-printer that can drop a species. And then what? Is society even possible when the most extreme individual can kill everyone else? Is totalitarian control the only way to prevent human devastation, or are there other possibilities? And how realistic are these scenarios, anyway? In this class, we'll discuss technologies like cyber, bio, nanotech, artificial intelligence, and autonomous drones; security technologies and policies for catastrophic risk; and more. Is the reason we've never met any extraterrestrials that natural selection dictates that any species achieving a sufficiently advanced technology level inevitably exterminates itself?

The study group may serve as a springboard for an independent paper and credit, in conjunction with faculty supervision from your program.

All disciplines and backgrounds welcome, students and non-students alike. This discussion needs diverse perspectives. We also ask that you commit to preparing for and participating in all sessions.

Six sessions, Mondays, 5:00­-7:00 PM, Location TBD
9/14, 9/28, 10/5, 10/19, 11/2, 11/16

Please respond to Bruce Schneier with a resume and statement of interest. Applications due August 14. Bruce will review applications and aim for a seminar size of roughly 16­20 people with a diversity of backgrounds and expertise.

Please help me spread the word far and wide. The description is only on a Berkman page, so students won't see it in their normal perusal of fall classes.

Posted on March 13, 2015 at 2:36 PM • 86 Comments

Comments

ThunderbirdMarch 13, 2015 3:40 PM

Is society even possible when the most extreme individual can kill everyone else? Is totalitarian control the only way to prevent human devastation, or are there other possibilities?

Wow. I've often pondered those exact questions, except I'm not articulate enough to phrase them that well. I hope you'll publish something about whatever you conclude.

Also, if you wanted to give a talk about it when you get back to the Twin Cities area I'd totally attend!

Montana HarkinMarch 13, 2015 4:09 PM

Bruce, It would be great if you could post the sessions online. This topic is so applicable now, not just to software, but many other areas of study. Thanks for the heads up!

ArchonMarch 13, 2015 4:28 PM

@keiner

Bruce Schneier fact: Dunbar's number squares itself when Bruce is the person in question, because he told it to.

EricMarch 13, 2015 4:36 PM

Yeah, it would be nice to see the syllabus or related materials/notes as the group develops!

Clive RobinsonMarch 13, 2015 4:55 PM

@ Bruce,

Is the reason we've never met any extraterrestrials that natural selection dictates that any species achieving a sufficiently advanced technology level inevitably exterminates itself?

I hope that question is equivalent of the course strawman...

Put simply the basic laws of physics as far as we currently know the preclude travel faster than the speed of light, but even then the closer you get to it the more energy is required, such that shifting anything bigger than a few grams becomes prohibitive with what we currently understand are workable power sources.

Then the next problem is worse than the SETI issue, "where do you send it"... you need to be fairly certain any probe is going to have something to meet and report back from.

The earth has only been radiating intelligible signals for just about a century and most of those will be too weak to be heard outside our solar system. And guess what the signals we are radiating are getting lower in power and so complex in modulation and also in encryption they won't be meaningfull.

With twenty years information bandwidths will be so wide that most signals won't reach the edge of our atmosphere before hitti g the noise floor.

Thus if any extra terestrials are like us they will only push out signals that can cross interstellar distances for just about fifty years...

For SETI to have even a small chance of picking up signals an extra terestrial race would have to send out a signal comparable to a suns output for several thousand years... we don't have the excess economic capacity to do that, nor are we ever likely to in the foreseable future, and to do it would require the will of most of the people on this planet, which as a political issue we can not see ourselves ever doing.

Thus it would require some major major changes not just to society but to our fundemental understanding of the universe...

What is the likelyhood that any sufficiently advanced race is going to want to use such a significant energy expenditure on what may well be an endless goose chase?

But if you consider Darwinism part of being the fitest would be the ability to rationaly control your resources. So such wastage of power would not fit the profile.

Even if a species did not destroy it's self, it would be using the resources at it's disposal to ensure it's own future survival. We can not guess what society will be like in a hundred years, nor what mankind will be like in a thousand years, so how can we even remotely predict what an extraterrestrial species would be like past our own current state of development...

X10March 13, 2015 5:44 PM

how much of our current electronics technology will survive the next carrington event of 1859? digital banking will collapse if a solar super flare hits the US. Primitive societies will fare better than one that depends on electronics with out putting faraday cages on everything.

Sancho_PMarch 13, 2015 7:11 PM

OK, but look at the other end of the stick:
We have that lethal weapon already, and we use it excessively, day by day.
Totalitarian control doesn’t help, on the contrary, some democratic/totalitarian regimes use their power to multiply part of this weapon (= populace).
The weapon is called civilization (= consumer demand).

Or call it “Impact”:
I = Population x Affluence x Technology (Paul Ehrlich & John Holdren, roughly 1970)

“Technology level” alone isn’t the end.
Combine it with with our mantra of growth to see the inevitable.

A child’s book, 10yrs old but true - don’t show it to your kids, they may hate you then:
http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520238794

Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained SockpuppetMarch 14, 2015 12:57 AM

@Clive Robinson,

Fascinating subject!

Put simply the basic laws of physics as far as we currently know the preclude travel faster than the speed of light....

Suppose we built a space ship that travels at the speed of light. What would happen if it hit a small pebble on the way? We can't steer it! And since it's going at the speed of light, sensors won't help either.

For SETI to have even a small chance of picking up signals an extra terestrial race would have to send out a signal comparable to a suns output for several thousand years... [1]

So if you have a powerful laser emitter, and you beam it for a few seconds then stop. Do you think the beam will continue traveling, or will it disappear the moment you stop transmitting it? I think if an extra terrestrial sends a signal strong enough for say a few days and then stops it'll will still reach us after several thousand years. Technically speaking, we see (and hear) things that happened in the past. If a person standing 340.29 meters away from you and speaks, you will hear a sound that occurred 1 second in the past. If you look at a star, say Deneb, you are looking at about 1400 years in the past of that star.

What is the likelyhood that any sufficiently advanced race is going to want to use such a significant energy expenditure on what may well be an endless goose chase?

I wish you hadn't asked this question! The likelihood is high if that race is made up of dirty-minded ganders or misguided alien drakes ;)

[1] I took it to mean the signal was sent for a duration of several thousand years -- not a signal of a power equivalent to the total output of thousands of years worth of sun energy. (I know power = energy / time)

tyrMarch 14, 2015 1:13 AM


The way to eliminate homo sap is just do nothing
but continue on the current course. Governments
are already panicky because statistically minute
incidents trigger massive over reactions. 10000
troops occupying France just in case something
might happen.

Risk management is supposed to be about minimizing
risks it isn't about eliminating all possibility
of risk.

Mad scientists were a heavy duty meme in early SF.
They are a favorite boogey man to scare the average
clodhopper but with the exception of Edward Teller
humanity has failed to deliver one. What you need
to watch out for is the colourless Bureaucrats of
the Eichmann variety, they will carefully craft the
paperwork and blame it on some obscure policy as
they are only following orders. That's the worst
danger, people who blindly follow orders they know
are wrong, blame it on company policy or government
regulation.

You don't have to look any further than the current
bunch of clowns who think dancing on the Russian
bear toes is a fun game to play. I saw a documentary
once of the empty and abandoned Russian weaponized
Anthrax plants. If you think that all disappeared
into thin air during detente you need to make an
appointment with the psych doctor. Nobody talks
about this stuff they are all bemused over Nukes.

In the meantime we are strip mining the oceans as
fast as we can go. How long can you breathe air
with no oxygen content ? We are busy killing off
our own species using stupidity as a substitute for
foresight. It is very fashionable in the first
world urbanites mind to feel that they will easily
survive any collapse of the current system if they
have enough money. The biosphere doesn't need us, it
has a nice section of shale reserved for us if we
don't start paying attention to what is really of
importance. Air that's breathable, water that isn't
a toxic soup of carcinogenic crap, food that isn't
made from inedible garbage shaped and flavoured like
the real thing. The last numbers on Autism were 1
in 68 kids with it, and changing the diets has
reversed some of them, which means the food is
missing some of what you need to be a functional
person.

Every body in a position of authority sits around
hoping their consensus meetings will tell them what
to do before it is too late. The education system
makes docile followers but it hasn't produced any
leader of note for years.

In the meantime any black swan event, asteroid, comet,
solar flare this way, crop failure, volcanoe event,
will topple our house of cards almost instantly.

New Orleans was a classic example and it was minor in
the event range. The local government ran out of its
ammunition using it on people who were trying to
survive. They were so ridiculously unprepared that
any taxpayer had to wonder why they even existed.

We have raised a couple of generations of people who
will starve to death in a potato field because they
can not identify a food plant by sight. That is an
amazing heritage to leave behind as a so called
intelligent species.

It's an area worth thinking about and taking some
personal action on, liketeaching your kids what the
food plants look like and how to avoid getting an
infection.

Clive RobinsonMarch 14, 2015 3:36 AM

@ Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained Sockmuppet,

So if you have a powerful laser emitter, and you beam it for a few seconds then stop. Do you think the beam will continue traveling, or will it disappear the moment you stop transmitting it?

That's a daft question to ask me, you know I know the answer is, it will continue in it's direction and deviate due to reflection and gravity, unless it's absorbed or it's dispertion drops it below the noise floor.

What you appear to have forgotten is the pulse of light is realy a packet of fixed duration, and once it's passed you by it's gone forever, unless it echoes back in some way, in which case it is very unlikely to be coherant, just "noise like" in the background with every other signal.

Thus the problem is where do you point this finely focused tight beam packet of light and for how long before you move it to a new position?

That is how do you know there is going to be some inteligence to pick it up in the length of time you transmited it in that direction whilst it is still passing them?

If you think you have an answer I'd be interested to hear it.

Also think about the problem with SETI, it's a receive only operation, what are they going to receive if every ETI has a "reveive only" policy...

Arthur C Clark, pointed out decades ago that what we should be looking for is not an "is there anybody out there?" signal but the EM noise of civilization. The worlds greatest and longest range man made signals are "mains hum" from part of the 25% wastage of electricity transmission across the face of the globe. The problem is imagine how big the receive antennas would have to be to get the equivalent gain of the VLB systems being proposed... the earth quite literally is not big enough.

Thus we need another aim point to look for... it turns out that "nature provides", light from our sun gets absorbed by but also reflected by our atmosphere and what is in it. We think that "life" has a fairly unique signiture. Our observations are getting to the point of not just being able to spot plannets in distant solar systems, but also work out if they are in the important "goldie locks" zone... hopefully it won't be very long before we can also get their atmospheric signiture.

Oh I'm told that the planet not only needs to be in a certain size range it also requires a moon in a certain proportional size and distance ratio to the planet as well... this is going to be a very very small proportion of the exteraterestrial planets we ever discover and we are only ever going to be interested in those close enough for us to be able to usefully use for study etc.

Clive RobinsonMarch 14, 2015 3:54 AM

@ tyr,

The last numbers on Autism were 1 n 68 kids with it

How do you know that this is not the next evolutionary stage?

Actually as Simon Baron-Cohen has pointed out "everybody is a little autistic" and thus falls on the spectrum.

Most interesringly are the "high functioning" people on the spectrum, over 90% of our original modern technology was designed by them, and a considerable fraction of those are also left handed.

We know from Functional MRI that "lefties brains are not wired up right" so perhaps we should ask not "if the meek shall inherit the earth" but if it is time for "brains to beat brawn" as now being more fit for Darwinian "survival of the fitest"?

Oh there is also the question of "Is intelligence anti Darwinian?" For much of history the ability to have as many children as possible was seen as the way for your DNA to survive. However if you profile the number of children against parental IQ and socio economic position you get a very interesting result, unlike the general world population trend that is increasing exponentialy, their population is decreasing in that it is less than 2 children per couple, but increasing marganily due to the numbers of children entering that socio economic and IQ range...

Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained SockmuppetMarch 14, 2015 4:44 AM

@Clive Robinson,

For 60 Hz, a quarter wave antenna will need to be about 11,887.2 Km in length. The Earth's diameter (12,742 Km) is just about enough for a quarter wave antenna. For a 50Hz (as in the UK, for example) signal, the same antenna will need to be 14,264Km in length; larger than earth's diameter. So you are correct, of course! Maybe intelligent extra terrestrial civilizations have bigger planets or different ways of detecting signals.

you know I know the answer is

Yup, I knew you knew.

If you think you have an answer I'd be interested to hear it.

I don't have the slightest idea!

Also think about the problem with SETI, it's a receive only operation, what are they going to receive if every ETI has a "reveive only" policy...

The other problem is that advanced extraterrestrial races had problems with privacy issues and their TLAs, so they learned how to muffle signals real well.

this is going to be a very very small proportion of the exteraterestrial planets we ever discover and we are only ever going to be interested in those close enough for us to be able to usefully use for study etc.

True, we have little chance of discovering extraterrestrial intelligent life. And if they're intelligent, they'll not waste time trying to reach out to us especially after this incident :)

Bong-smoking Primitive a Monkey Brained SockpuppetMarch 14, 2015 5:06 AM

@Clive Robinson,

You mistyped my name, and I copy-pasted what you wrote. I'm a Sockpuppet -- not a Sockmuppet! Perhaps I should retire the alias you gave me. I was planning to use it for "dirty" / borderline posts, but I still couldn't...

A Nonny BunnyMarch 14, 2015 5:17 AM

Is the reason we've never met any extraterrestrials [...]

The reason we've never met extraterrestrials is likely that distances in the universe are too big to traverse.

The reason we've never heard from them is that sufficiently advanced communication is indistinguishable from noise. (You're not using bandwidth efficiently if there are obvious patterns; obvious patterns beg for compression)

The reason we've never seen (evidence of) them is because our telescopes and analysis is not yet good enough.

Fortunately the latter may change.


A Nonny BunnyMarch 14, 2015 5:56 AM

@Clive Robinson

Thus the problem is where do you point this finely focused tight beam packet of light and for how long before you move it to a new position?

That is how do you know there is going to be some inteligence to pick it up in the length of time you transmited it in that direction whilst it is still passing them?
If you think you have an answer I'd be interested to hear it.
Considering the vast distances, we could perhaps do a pilot project limited to stars within a 50 lightyear radius from earth. This amounts to some 130 stars ( http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/50lys.html )


It seems quite doable to ping them all several times a year at regular interval. Though the question remains whether any planets there are habitable, let alone inhabited. If we can filter stars for habitability, you could cut down the number of candidates and/or increase the range further. But even for stars within 50 lightyears, you'd already have to wait up to 100 years to get a reply. I don't know if humanity has the stomach for such long-term projects.

Perhaps in the future, when technology allows it, we could build a sort of ring around the sun that blocks out the sun in a regular pattern. Giving a sort of lighthouse effect.
That way you have a signal with the output of the sun at the cost of shoving enough debris in orbit to cause noticable brightness dips.

A Nonny BunnyMarch 14, 2015 6:10 AM

Just to put some numbers to it.
According to this article on quora, you'd need 3GW to be noticable to the naked eye at a nearby star. (Nearest star is ~ 4ly away), but 3kW would be noticable to an equivalent of the Hubble telescope.
Extrapolating to 50ly, that gives me 469GW and 469kW.

So I guess I can stand by my statement it's doable; phew.

Clive RobinsonMarch 14, 2015 6:34 AM

@ Bong-smoking Primitive a Monkey Brained Sockpuppet,

My apologies the copy part of C-n-P on this smart phone is difficult to use with the size fingers I have... it did not fully copy it and thus I typed the last part using the on screen keyboard, and again my fingers have a few probs with that as the M key being directly adjacent to the Del key.

So this time I took care to copy fully, and low and behold it looks like you have already changed your puppet name...

I don't remember calling you "Bong-smoking" but hey I'm sure you have a link to prove it, but then that would "blow your cover" ;-)

Clive RobinsonMarch 14, 2015 7:16 AM

@ A Nonny Bunny,

Considering the vast distances, we could perhaps do a pilot project limited to stars within a 50 lightyear radius from earth. This amounts to some 130 stars

Yes as I indicated with,

    ... this is going to be a very very small proportion of the exteraterestrial planets we ever discover and we are only ever going to be interested in those close enough for us to be able to usefully use for study etc

It's only the close ones, but even then we are unlikely to pay them a visit or them us at our current understanding of physics.

However, a question arises is the speed of light a hard limit that cannot be beaten in some way?

The diameter of the universe and the supposed big bang date don't match... which suggests something is wrong... However there is a traditional explanation for this,

http://scienceline.org/2007/07/ask-romero-speedoflight/

But views as always are changing. Thus a question to consider is if inflation can exceed the speed of light presumably so can deflation, does this inflation / deflation have to be uniform in all directions with respect to space/time and can it be influenced?

If not then the speed of light potentialy has a loop hole... there are many other questions that potentialy loop hole Einsteins view of the universe, rather more than we can think how to test...

The theoretical physics community has a number of conflicting and down right weird views and they are continually changing... Finding a loop hole to Einstein's view would be both interesting and probably worth a medal or two ;-)

Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey Brained SockpuppetMarch 14, 2015 9:51 AM

@Clive Robinson,

No worries, I made a typo in the same name I pointed out that you made a typo. Not the first time it happems to me...

Sorry to hear about your favorite author. It's a only a matter of time before we head "there" as well.

Death is a cup, and everyone will drink from it... And tomb is a door, and everyone will enter it

Not the best translation of a poetry, but the message is conveyed. It's my way of saying "my condolences"...

I don't remember calling you "Bong-smoking"

You did too, but as you pointed out, I can't prove it :) I was thinking I will be the devil's advocate and post the other point of view. I was also thinking to use this name to post only on weekends (my version of the Friday Squid). If I say something that pisses off the moderator, he can ban me, and my puppeteer would be safe (even though he knows who he is.) Think of it as "Tokenization" -- an annonyming alias that only a few can de-tokenize ;)

BuckMarch 14, 2015 1:06 PM

@Clive Robinson

For SETI to have even a small chance of picking up signals an extra terestrial race would have to send out a signal comparable to a suns output for several thousand years...
@A Nonny Bunny already beat me to it, but I was also going to suggest modulating the output of an existing sun. Perhaps a repeating sequence of Fibonacci and/or primes could be perceived as intelligence... On the other hand, there remains a distinct possibility that the signal will only be received as yet another sign from the heavens...

Bruce SchneierMarch 14, 2015 1:49 PM

"Yeah, it would be nice to see the syllabus or related materials/notes as the group develops!"

I hope to post all of this.

Bruce SchneierMarch 14, 2015 1:50 PM

"'Is the reason we've never met any extraterrestrials that natural selection dictates that any species achieving a sufficiently advanced technology level inevitably exterminates itself?' I hope that question is equivalent of the course strawman..."

Is evoking the Fermi Paradox every anything but?

Bruce SchneierMarch 14, 2015 1:52 PM

Aside from extermination, another possible endgame for humanity is the Borg. If we remove individual motivation, everything becomes easier.

Clive RobinsonMarch 14, 2015 2:59 PM

@ Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey Brained Sockpuppet,

Sorry to hear about your favorite author. It's a only a matter of time before we head "there" as well.

Terry was also a friend we met when I used to be one of the organisers of the UK Association of Computer Clubs and we "talked tech" when his Amstrad CPC played up. A mottly crew of us used to gather from time to time nearly thirty years ago, he based some of his charecters on us (one of the "Wyrd Sisters had an alternative book shop), and for my sins a slightly rude joke I told him at a house party in Oxford ended up in a manuscript and has since been translated into thirty odd languages. Sadly due to the preasures of working in the Oil Industry and abroad we lost touch a few years later as often happens when peoples lives get work complicated. I bumped into Rhi, his daughter a few years ago, quite by accident, but I don't think she recognised me, but it was an inappropriate time to say "I haven't seen you since you were a kid" or "how are mum and dad" so I let the oportunity pass.

As you note "It's a only a matter of time before we head there as well." Something that I've been reminded of several times in the past year or so as others have gone before. Though like Terry as a Humanist I've no notion that there is a "there", or why there should be one. A conversation we had on more than one occasion, that pushed my beliefs that way, just one of the lasting effects he had on me.

As Rhi tweeted "AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER. Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The End".

https://mobile.twitter.com/rhipratchett/status/576138192094695424/photo/1

Clive RobinsonMarch 14, 2015 3:17 PM

@ Bruce,

Is evoking the Fermi Paradox every anything but?

Silentium universi, or as Shakespeare put it "Wherefore art thou?" :-)

I wonder if your students will use this page as a crib...

WaelMarch 14, 2015 3:44 PM

@Clive Robinson,

Though like Terry as a Humanist I've no notion that there is a "there", or why there should be one

There is always a "there" no matter what your beliefs are. Death is a change of state. If someone believes there is heaven, hell and purgatory, then that is the possible range of the "there". If someone believes there is no diety and death is the end of the human for ever, then the "there" is disintegration into the elements of earth, and the range is {water, gas, metals, etc...}.

tyrMarch 14, 2015 4:06 PM


To continue on a ctastrophe rant.

http://inthesetimes.com/article/17748/david_brooks_poor_people

Here's a nice pointer to a major problem.

Evolution is a process, not a gudeline for progress. Lots of
it continuing as we speak. Autism blocks what has made us
into a successful species, the ability to empathize and then
cooperate.

Everybody I know who had interactions with PTerry has had
good things to say about him. I only read his books and
he is going to be sorely missed.

We'd be a lot better off looking for the signature of the
Dyson sphere or sweeping nearspace for spores than we are
assuming we can find a radio civilization. We might as well
try detecting a decent Italian restaurant among the stars.

I have no objection to SETI as long as it is one of many
ways to approach the problem. Assuming it is going to give
us a magic answer is pretty lame. We put high power radio
out starting in 1925, since then we switched to narrowcast
and now pass most of our major traffic on fiber optics and
low power sat comms, so the process was one loud burst then
lots of narrow frequency chatter finally muting down to the
low information signalling used by specialists (encrypted
single sideband mostly). This is what we feel we can detect
as an intelligent civ cycles its way to using Bell nonlocal
communications ?

If we can't do it, it must be impossible, is a viewpoint
that has been around for a long time but the entire span
of civilization around you shows you in no uncertain terms
that it is a lie.

SkepticalMarch 14, 2015 5:15 PM

Sounds fascinating. It's a topic both stimulative to the imagination and one which invites useful analytic exploration.

I'm curious as to whether you have an initial definition of catastrophe in mind? Are we limiting to extinction-level impact events only? Would WW2 qualify as a catastrophe? 9/11? The tsunamis of 2004 and 2011? Unrestricted nuclear war between the US and Russia? Limited nuclear war? Nuclear terrorism? A repeat of the 1918 influenza epidemic (on today's population scale and connectivity)? The Syrian Civil War? The Rwandan genocide?

We can delimit events as catastrophes using criteria of:

(1) magnitude of impact (number of casualties, amount of direct damage, amount of damage due to knock-on effects and opportunity costs)
(2) number of factors causal of the impact
(3) duration of time over which impact occurs.

The impact of WW2, for example, had multiple causes and a duration of several years.

The impact of the tsunamis had a single primary cause (though many necessary conditions and contributing causes) that occurred in a much shorter duration.

If impact is the primary, or even only, criterion, then depending on the lower bound of range of magnitude of impact sufficient to qualify an event as catastrophic, there may be quite a diversity of types of catastrophe.

I realize that you may well already have a very definitive framework in mind, but just thinking "out loud" about how we're delineating the problem set.

Dirk PraetMarch 14, 2015 6:17 PM

@ Clive

If not then the speed of light potentialy has a loop hole

Of course it does. Zephram Cochrane will prove that on April 5, 2063.

Also note that Einstein's c is a constant as measured in a vacuum, but there are different sorts of vacuums possible, all of which have an associated vacuum energy that - at least theoretically - can be changed. When vacuum energy is lowered, e.g. in a Casimir vacuum, light itself has been predicted to go faster than the standard c value. This is known as the Scharnhorst effect.

On a related sidenote, CERN released a press communiqué a couple a days ago that the upgrade works on the LHC have been completed and that among many other improvements, it will now be running at a collision energy of 13 TeV (up from 8 TeV). The first circulating beams of protons in the LHC are planned for the week beginning 23 March, and the first 13 TeV collisions are expected late May to early June.

SkepticalMarch 14, 2015 7:28 PM

@Clive: His passing, and his challenges towards the end, are both sad. I am of your viewpoint concerning our fates when our symphony of synapses has played its final notes, but there is something to be said for Wael's perspective as well. We live for a moment, we revel in the gift, we hopefully contribute to others, and to those still to come, while we are here. And then we are gone, but parts of us remain, including perhaps in that great common cause in which so much of ordinary humanity is engaged.

Re SETI - were we to assume that there were even merely an appreciable chance of contact, it would be an unconscionably irresponsible endeavor. Nature is not kind and evolution is a truly horrific process - I would not wager much on any such contact being beneficial. We have challenges sufficient here for several centuries more, at least, before the supercomputer finally gives us the answer to that last and most important question.

@tyr: Other than the US, almost no member of NATO meets its 2% minimum GDP defense spend commitment. The notion that the EU, or NATO, poses any offensive threat to Russia is laughable. The problem today in Eastern Europe is the Russian use of hybrid warfare to destabilize Ukraine and intimidate other former members of the Soviet Union. No one wishes Russia bad fortune - indeed I would regard an increase in Russian strength, stability, prosperity, and progress as good not only for Russia but also the world. But neither ought the West stand silent while Russian foments and feeds a civil war in Eastern Europe. The propaganda from Russia would have you believe that the West wants to "put the bear in a cage" and then declaw it. Actually all the West desires is that the bear not maul its neighbors and perhaps improve its institutions to better serve its own people - thereby opening the doors to many fruitful, profitable, and progressive ventures with the West.

Russia, as it comes into its own as a nation straddling East and West, must realize that the principles for which the West opposes its hybrid warfare in Ukraine are the same principles by which Russia's security is assured. Russia need fear the US military no more than might Germany or Finland; the Cold War is over.

Putin, moreover, must build and imbue with strength institutions powerful enough to maintain order but flexible and transparent enough to serve well the Russian people and to do so with integrity and fidelity. The real fight for Russia's security and future prosperity is within Russia, and it is one that Putin, should he choose to take up that fight, as he sometimes speaks of doing so, can use for both his own political advantage and security even while inscribing himself as a truly great figure in Russian history.

Russia and the United States were both drawn into World War 2 by a surprise attack - into a war which many in both countries sought to avoid. And for decades after, an uneasy peace was kept in Europe as American and Soviet military forces faced one another and trained for a war in which both would lose. Today, the Warsaw Pact a part of history, and under the aegis of American security guarantees, most of NATO spends little on their military forces; they perceive no threat of attack by another state, and clearly they do not desire to themselves attack another state. An independent, democratic Ukraine further stabilizes Eastern Europe, further reduces tensions between Russia and former Soviet states, and in all further enhances Russian, European, and American security.

Putin has viewed the board so long from one direction that he is missing the opportunity to take a far superior position, and instead is fighting along old lines, with old tactics, not seeing that his present strategic objectives are inferior to alternatives in every respect. Just as the great chess matches of the Cold War were not simply about what happened on the chess boards, but about the context surrounding the matches, so too should Russian strategy take into account what a true peace within Eastern Europe, with the democracies of the West, offers. Putin is focused on the board, and plays the middle-game on the board well, but the board is not the true game, and the true match is not a zero-sum proposition.

Circumstances change. What were threats, what were sound strategic objectives to mitigate those threats in earlier centuries, are no longer. Putin can put his tactical skill, and that of those around him, to better strategic ends. Just as in learning judo, one learns to see opportunities in circumstances to which one might have been blind had one only known more conventional tests of strength, there is an opportunity to forge a better strategy here that I fear Russia is not seeing. It is a strategy in which Russia maintains access to vital ports and routes, but in which Russia benefits from a stabilized, independent, set of Eastern European countries, freeing its military to train, prepare, and equip itself for the conflict scenarios of the 21st century, not those of the 20th or the 19th. It is a strategy in which Russia recognizes the the benefits of a close relationship with the community of democratic nations - a community which has never gone to war with one another, with which peace and territorial respect is assured, and in which Russia recognizes the true risks of rising powers with authoritarian governments, enormous populations, and an opaque politico-military structure.

Russia is alienating its natural allies, and increasing its reliance on nations with which it is far more likely to engage in conflict.

The result is bad for Russia, for Europe, and for the United States. I can think of only one nation that truly benefits.

Misperceptions like these are, in my view, what put us at greatest risk of that most horrific, most destructive, most constant of human catastrophes - an unforeseen war that no one wants, but from which many will reap the ashen harvest of shattered lives and death.

WaelMarch 14, 2015 7:47 PM

@Dirk Praet, @Clive Robinson,

Small correction:

Of course it does. Zephram Cochrane will prove that on April 5, 2063

Became:

Of course it does. Zephram Cochrane proved it on April 5th, 2063!

Someone believes the Speed of gravity is faster than the speed of light. Also, my mode of transportation (under my name's link) can go pretty fast ;)

AnuraMarch 14, 2015 9:01 PM

Expanding on my comment from a few weeks ago in another thread:

https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2015/02/the_obsolescenc.html#c6689541

Let p = the number of people thst can make the human race extinct
Let q = the probability that an individual would make the human race extinct

The probability that we will soon go extinct because of a malicious individual is given by the following equation (assuming people who seek power are no more likely to abuse it than the average person):

s = 1-(1-q)^p

Now, if we assume that q is non-zero, and p increases over time than we will eventually be screwed. To mitigate the risks, we have to focus on either p or q. Reducing q is going to be difficult, so my answer is to focus on p. If we assume that technology gets more and more advanced in the future, to the point where anyone can build complex machinery and even computers in their home, there are only a handful of things we can do to stop this:

1) Do not allow people to buy the equipment. Basically, halt technological and economical progress

2) Prevent people from obtaining the knowledge. Don't allow anyone to share the knowledge under the threat of the law

3) Get humans away from each other. Have people live on space stations, spread out through the solar system in relatively small groups; tens of thousands of people rather than billions. This limits the damage any one person can do.

to;dr: we are all dead.

WaelMarch 14, 2015 9:43 PM

@Skeptical,

We live for a moment, we revel in the gift, we hopefully contribute to others, and to those still to come, while we are here. And then we are gone, but parts of us remain, including perhaps in that great common cause in which so much of ordinary humanity is engaged.

This is the sublime way of looking at things. It's an abstract concept to selfish people, a cover for hypocritical politicians, and an object of pride for boastful ones.

Dirk PraetMarch 14, 2015 10:05 PM

@ Wael, @ Clive

Someone believes the speed of gravity is faster than the speed of light.

Interesting paper. I must have missed that when you first posted it. The author seems to be taking things a step further than the classic Einstein-Podolski-Rosen EPR paradox. In the introduction, he's indeed referring to the problem of gravitational interactions seemingly being instantaneous, or what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance". A 2008 experiment by Nicolas Gisin determined that in any hypothetical non-local hidden-variables theory the speed of the quantum non-local connection is at least 10,000 times the speed of light.

Then again, it's sort of comparing apples and oranges. For all practical purposes, c applies to transmission of information or matter, whereas gravitons - if they exist - are predicted to be massless and spin -2 bosons. I know of no current FTL-theories that violate special relativity or causality.

@ Skeptical

I'm still completely baffled by your analysis of the Ukraine situation. It's the EU and the US that destabilised Ukraine, forcing Putin's hand. Not the other way around. Their current minister of finance is even a US citizen who got her Ukrainian citizenship just days before being appointed.

WaelMarch 15, 2015 12:44 AM

@Dirk Praet, @Clive Robinson,

Historically, in physics, hidden variable theories were espoused by some physicists who argued that the state of a physical system, as formulated by quantum mechanics, does not give a complete description for the system; i.e., that quantum mechanics is ultimately incomplete, and that a complete theory would provide descriptive categories to account for all observable behavior and thus avoid any indeterminism -- the second WiKi link you gave

Seems this supports my view of Randomness :)

...applies to transmission of information or matter, whereas gravitons - if they exist - are predicted to be massless and spin -2 bosons. I know of no current FTL-theories that violate special relativity or causality.

There is something that comes close In optics and waveguides:

In some unusual circumstances, called cases of anomalous dispersion, the rate of change of the index of refraction with respect to the wavelength changes sign (becoming positive), in which case it is possible for the group velocity to exceed the speed of light (vg > c). Anomalous dispersion occurs, for instance, where the wavelength of the light is close to an absorption resonance of the medium. When the dispersion is anomalous, however, group velocity is no longer an indicator of signal velocity. Instead, a signal travels at the speed of the wavefront, which is c irrespective of the index of refraction.
However, this is useless, since information transfer is always at or below 'c'

Gerard van VoorenMarch 15, 2015 5:22 AM

@ Anura,

The probability that we will soon go extinct because of a malicious individual is given by the following equation (assuming people who seek power are no more likely to abuse it than the average person):


s = 1-(1-q)^p

The problem with the formula is that it rules out accidents and incidents. Flight MH370 [1] is an example of that. But the end result is still the same.

Let's assume that mankind will be wiped away with nukes. What is the probability that a nut case is responsible for that and what is the probability that 'being forced by procedures' ends up being the cause?

... there are only a handful of things we can do to stop this:


1) Do not allow people to buy the equipment. Basically, halt technological and economical progress

2) Prevent people from obtaining the knowledge. Don't allow anyone to share the knowledge under the threat of the law

I am skeptical on both. It is just not human nature.

3) Get humans away from each other. Have people live on space stations, spread out through the solar system in relatively small groups; tens of thousands of people rather than billions. This limits the damage any one person can do.

I am even more skeptical about people not living on earth. I am probably short sighted but we even can't solve simple things such as significantly increasing the life span and capacity of batteries.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_370

Clive RobinsonMarch 15, 2015 6:41 AM

@ Wael,

There is always a "there" no matter what your beliefs are. Death is a change of state.

Yes it's the point in life where the K wave happens and entropy follows the more expected course. However I was thinking of the part of us that is not the accepted corporeal being, that part that makes us considerably greater than the sum of our parts. In a number of cultures that did not have contact with Hebrew and later Christian culture via Rome, the notion of "a place to go to" to escape the oppression of life does not exist. Some simply believe that you "live on" through those you touched and in who's memories you remain. Thus the saying "Think kindly of me when I'm gone" has a real meaning in those cultures. But in the Western culture, people mainly men have been remembered not for their "kindness" but their "greatness" which historicaly has been measured in how they inflicted their often less desirable charecteristics on others by the power they had.

But that is changing and history is now paying attention to the ways of the past in "folk memories" enabled by our ability to capture and communicate information as individuals that technology is giving us. First the book and then the camera and later the cylinder/record, has enabled us to capture more of the "who we are as ordinary people". Technology is now at the point where it is possible to "life blog" every thing you see, hear, say and to a limited extent do for a fairly small sum. The technology for everybody to record touch, taste and smell will almost certainly follow within a few years as the demand rises. Oddly I suspect the demand to be more for taste and smell than touch, because it's more directly wired into our brains and will give us the power for anybody to turn a sip of water into the rarest of wines without the normal hangover.

Currently books are still the most powerfull of our storage and communication of information tools, as we read them they go directly into our thoughts and alow the individual to put the flesh on the charecters they wish. Importantly they are capable of reaching millions with a permanence that few realy realise.

Books are also a distilation process extracting the essense of thought in a way other mediums have yet to achieve. Importantly though they are relatively easily made and distributed, they are hard to destroy and almost impossible to call back or censor once released. Their multiplicity is such that the will almost certainly survive the wanton destruction of unique objects we currently see IS inflicting on antiquities, or the stealing back of electronic books by those who control not just the distribution channel but the users personal library device as well. But also evade the pernicious future censors or revisonists fingers a problem we see currently with the WWW happening on a daily basis.

I hope real physical books will continue to be a part of human existance and for those successful authors their "Kindly Greatness" will live on. Importantly it will be for the joy they bring to people, not for the power they use to oppress. And it's a view I know both Terry and Douglas shared.

One of the few things I ever saw Terry get riled up about was that of the snobbishness of the self apointed elite in publishing who would ignore the genre that were and still are the books that pay for their positions. Most people I know can tell you who Shakespeare, Tolkien, Flemming and Rowling are and even name their works, but it you give them the surname of the Man Booker prize for fiction winner from just a couple of years ago nix. Who honestly knows who Keneally is and the book they authored a third of a century ago, it is still the most successful of the Man Booker winners, but the real success was much later and for other reasons.

Like Terry, Douglas saw the pretension of the publishing and media elites and their prizes, and used The Silver Bail of Peace of the Wikket gate to parody it as the "Rory award for the most gratuitous use of the word f**k in a serious screen play", awarded to a nonentity who used it annoyingly to try to get people to recognise him at a party.

I guess their real greatness and living memory is in the pleasure they give through their observations on life focused through the written word. Not immortality as every thing ends eventually but certainly staying in peoples thoughts for generations to come, for the simple gift of happiness. But also because their words will change all who read them, all be it subtly the readers outlook on life will change, enabaling them to see the wrong in life and laugh at it, and in so doing free themselves and others. Because the ultimate weapon in life is laughter be it out loud or just in the mind, against it power falls from the grasp of tyrants as they are ridiculed and belittled in peoples minds and voices.

Nick PMarch 15, 2015 10:46 AM

@ Dirk

"A 2008 experiment by Nicolas Gisin determined that in any hypothetical non-local hidden-variables theory the speed of the quantum non-local connection is at least 10,000 times the speed of light. "

See, that's why they need to quit wasting all this money on optical computing research. They should move straight to quantum, non-local transistors for a 10,000x speed boost. Then, Javascript web sites might finally run at native speed.

A Nonny BunnyMarch 15, 2015 11:09 AM

@Buck

@A Nonny Bunny already beat me to it, but I was also going to suggest modulating the output of an existing sun. Perhaps a repeating sequence of Fibonacci and/or primes could be perceived as intelligence...
Though, you have to wonder if wasting the resources needed to accomplish such a project would be perceived as intelligence ;)
(Still, it'd be cool.)

@tyr

Autism blocks what has made us into a successful species, the ability to empathize and then cooperate.
There are many things that have made us a succesful species. And there's strength in diversity.
Some amount of autism can be an asset for certain types of jobs. For example, from the linked article:
Many individuals with autism and Aspergers syndrome exhibit attention to detail and the ability to concentrate on repetitive tasks for long periods of time, which makes many of them uniquely qualified to perform tasks related to software testing.

I'd also like to note that the apparent rise of autism in recent times might very well be due to changed standards for diagnosis and increased recognition, rather than actual increased prevalence.
Our species has always had a percentage of oddballs, but we always invent new ways to label them and deal with them.

@Dirk Praet

It's the EU and the US that destabilised Ukraine
Really? It had nothing to do with the stifling corruption of their government and a population that was fed up with being ignored and/or trampled on? Huh. Well, guess you learn something new everyday.

I hardly think Ukraine needed (or needs) anyone's help to destabilize. Though I dare say neither the West nor Russia shoving them around is helping much.

BuckMarch 15, 2015 12:28 PM

@A Nonny Bunny

Though, you have to wonder if wasting the resources needed to accomplish such a project would be perceived as intelligence ;)
At a certain level of technological capability, it would become a waste of resources to not construct Dyson spheres. It's then probably not too much of a stretch for dual-use as a signaling station... The question then becomes: would we want to announce our presence throughout the universe?

Clive RobinsonMarch 15, 2015 12:30 PM

@ Dirk Praet, Wael,

Hmm "first contact" with a drunk that just wanted enough money to chase "beach bunnies" for the rest of his life... He sure got the rough end of the deal on that with unwanted fame and having to be seen as a respectable person to look up to...

As we know in the "local frame" both GR and SR say you can not go faster and it would take near infinite energy or time for a non massless object to reach c. However we know from inflation that in the non local frame galaxies are moving away from us IIRC around 1.8 c...

Now there is an interesting observation for you distance can appear to have interesting effects even in your workshop. For a short while I had access to a non sampling oscilloscope that had an analogue storage tube, that would show a 10Ghz sinewave signal across it's ten CM screen. What's odd about that some will be thinking untill they realise 10GHz is a 3cm wavelength... That is the tube appeard to be able to write to the screen at over 3c...

The important word there is "appeared", it's the old "hose pipe" issue. Imagine you have a hose pipe that sprays out water at a velocity V, if you move the hose tip side to side at a velocity less than V then nothing there is exceading V. However ten feet away the water is sweeping across the fence at considerably greater than V which at first blush should not be possible. However it the tip of the hose is observed and the eye follows the water squirt in the air, the squirt bends like a snake. Again which at first blush does not seem possible. Then you remember that in fact the water squirt is not realy a solid but a vast number of independent molecules in a liquid. Each molecule in the stream is infact moving at V or less in the direction the tip of the hose was pointing at the time the molecule left, and continues in that direction. So what is actually happening is that say in any given moment the number of molecules in the cross sectional area (CSA) of the hose tip is N however on reaching the fence the CSA has in effect been stretched side to side by a factor S, thus the number of particals from the original CSA now cover an area of S.CSA therefore the density has dropped to N/S.

The same trick works if you rapidly scan a laser beam across the surface of the moon from a projecter on the earths surface in say the JPL. Is their anything to be gained? Well not realy any information modulated on the beam is actually impressed on the individual photons, and we know they arive at the velocity they left the projector at JPL, so the information is still traveling at c and no faster (take a little as the path is not a true vacuum).

So common sense says that neither matter or information can travel any faster than c even though the beam at the target can cestainly be swept faster than c.

Now a simple question if a galaxy is moving away from another galaxy at more than the speed of light can we still see them or will they both be invisable. The answer unsuprisingly is yes which is what you would expect from the sweep example above. But what about if a galaxy was moving away from us faster than the speed of light? The answer supprisingly is not what you would expect and without going into time dilation the answer is that SR does allow for this because the frame is non local.

Now for the interesting thing, what if you can design a device that compresses space in front and expands it behind what happens in the space inbetween. The simple answer is the resulting buble or disc is the local frame and works as expected but outside of the buble is in a non local frame, thus there is a possability of FTL travel.

The Miguel Alcubierre, drive / metric is such an idea, but it has one or two catches just as wormholes have. Not least of these catches is that you need a bucket or two of exotic matter, of the negative mass variety... which leads us back to the casimier effect.

Oh and there is the issue of FTL being a time machine which buts up against the CP conjecture... that basicaly says "if you try messing with time something will go wrong, and stop you"...

WaelMarch 15, 2015 8:18 PM

@Clive Robinson, @Dirk Praet,

But what about if a galaxy was moving away from us faster than the speed of light? The answer supprisingly is not what you would expect and without going into time dilation the answer is that SR does allow for this because the frame is non local.

Did you mean General Relativity? I like your other examples with the exception of the laser and the moon which I thought about many moons ago (pun honestly not intended)

Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained SockpuppetMarch 15, 2015 8:41 PM

@Skeptical,

Sorry to harp on this, but...

I am of your viewpoint concerning our fates when our symphony of synapses has played its final notes

I take it the instrument is a "Harp"? Some unlucky people don't have the talent either[1]

And these customers don't seem they want to play any notes ;)

[1] An unlucky person got hit by a car and died. On its way up, his soul got hit by a plane :)

BuckMarch 15, 2015 9:29 PM

Oh, the poor harpists... Yet, I'm still convinced that they'll realize it some day! :-D

WaelMarch 15, 2015 10:14 PM

@Buck,

Yet, I'm still convinced that they'll realize it some day!

If they haven't already ;)

Clive RobinsonMarch 15, 2015 11:28 PM

@ Bong smoking.....

The version of the joke I know is,

On day an unlucky person got hit by a car. As his soul ascended he passed some Eagles riding thermals, and cried out "Agh Eagles". The Eagles in their turn looked at the soul, but were to polite to return the greating...

@ Wael,

GR it is, and the moral is, don't type something have an idea, go back and edit it, but... then forget to proof it.

@ Skeptical,

Thank you for the thoughts.

@ Buck,

At a certain level of technological capability, it would become a waste of resources to not construct Dyson spheres

The problem is not only trying to keep them centered around the sun with corona ejector, but also protecting the sphere from the particles involved.

As a surival stratagem it makes more sense to send out robot ships to planets with likely habitability then depending on what reports come back send either slow ships with people or seed ships. If done right mankind can spread out by a process of "leap frog".

Bong-smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained SockpuppetMarch 16, 2015 12:15 AM

@Clive Robinson,

Agh Eagles

Agh Soul == A#Hole? That's Sofa King funny! :)

WaelMarch 16, 2015 12:29 AM

@Clive Robinson,

don't type something have an idea, go back and edit it, but... then forget to proof it.

Hehe! Doesn't work for me even when I review it. Perhaps code-cutting isn't so bad after all!

Clive RobinsonMarch 16, 2015 4:14 AM

@ Bong Smoking...,

I see you have a penchant for cartoons. Perhaps this might be to your liking,

pic.twitter.com/NmgFMY7gk2

SkepticalMarch 16, 2015 7:38 AM


@Dirk: It's the EU and the US that destabilised Ukraine, forcing Putin's hand. Not the other way around. Their current minister of finance is even a US citizen who got her Ukrainian citizenship just days before being appointed.

Here's a leaked cable from then US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, dated 28 May 2008:

... it is critical that we not lose sight of our longer-term goals of solidifying democracy, hastening Ukraine's integration into European economic structures, promoting continued military and security structure reform, and supporting Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations and request for a NATO MAP. Ukraine is an island of tolerance in an increasingly authoritarian neighborhood with a real chance to succeed in its ultimate ambition to join Europe. If it fails, it is likely to be to Russia's advantage. The Kremlin has made no secret of its opposition to Ukraine's westward path and of its tacit approval of continued political chaos and uncertainty.

How little has changed.

As to an American in the Ukrainian cabinet, the current Ukrainian cabinet also includes an experienced health official from Georgia and a specialist in emerging market investment from Lithuania. Are Georgia and Lithuania also behind the civil war in Ukraine? The purpose of appointing experienced practitioners is to reduce the influence of corruption within the Ukrainian Government.

Let's also understand the implication of Taylor's memorandum. Solidifying Ukrainian democracy, and supporting aspirations for closer union with the EU, means Ukraine progressing further as an autonomous, tolerant, democracy.

When Ukrainians, revolted at the sight of students being beaten by Berkut officers, joined the protests en masse, the US did little more than appeal for calm and, apparently, hand out cookies to peaceful protesters (and, to be sure, not all were).

Afterward, instead of working to ensure that Ukraine could hold fair elections, in an atmosphere of security, Russia immediately worked to annex Crimea.

And after the rapid annexation of Crimea, when the Ukranian Government was attempting to hold the country together, and make progress, the Russians fomented separatist movements, armed, trained, equipped, embedded with, and perhaps even led them, and provided indirect fire support as well.

Russia has poured heavy arms, including mobile air defense systems, and numerous special operators into Ukraine with the express purpose of fostering and continuing a civil war until it achieved its objective of separating Eastern Ukraine from Western Ukraine.

I understand Putin's rationale for this. It is mistaken. He is focused on a strategic objective that no longer comports with Russia's true national interests.

MarcusMarch 17, 2015 8:00 AM

A long time ago (in internet time, 8 years now) I put this question into an equation in an online magazine

L= 1 * N / D * V

Where:

L = personal liberty of average citizen

D= destructive force of the technology, ranging from inconvenience (internet virus) to death

N = the number of disgruntled actors needed to create the technology

V = the number of victims that would be effected by deploying the technology.

"Technology" in this context means "terrorist weapon"..

So filling in some of the variable with common cases we are familiar with:

Humdrum murder with a gun :
L (Liberty) effected downwards by a slew of laws covering gun ownership, registration, distribution, and limits of manufacturing, the last geared to limiting V (number of victims) by banning automatic weapons and anything like it or above it in killing power. But notice how DIY gun printing is effecting N, (the number of people needed to create the technology). The result will likely be a ban on certain types of information (DIY plans) and the concomitant lessening of liberty.

Computer virus writing:

L is effected by laws banning transmission and deployment , but not creation. The reason is that D - destructive capability is low (historically) even though V (number of victims) is high and N (number of terrorists) at one, is maximally low. If D (destructive capability) were to go up with , say, attacks on SCADA type infrastructure, then we would see a reduction in L, perhaps mandated govt access to all computers without individualized suspicion, a kind of rolling audit and a complete defacto destruction of the 4th Amendment.


Nuclear or biological attacks

L is effected directly and personally only for a subset of the population who *could* be a member of N (the number of people it takes to create the technology). Their L is severely constrained by being "read-in" as it were and thus becoming subject to security checks and revocations, restrictions on freedom of speech, surveillance etc. etc. D (death) is high V is maximal (everyone dies) but N is also very high (so far) .. it takes a lot of equipment, years of training, and basically nation-state levels of support and infrastructure to execute on this kind of weapon).

Of course, THAT scenarios is what is changing and so people are talking about what I used to call The Failed Species Hypothesis. Operationally defined, it is:

If an alien had observed a million creatures like is in various worlds all over the universe, would it recognize in our particular mix of selfish aggression (selfish genes seeking to maximize only their own personal reproductive fitness - thus, ISIS and the slave women, but also rockstars, Petraeus and Larry Ellison ) and high intelligence a "doomed" species.. one that in 900,000 out of a million observed cases self destructs soon into its mastery of technology?


Because that is THE problem, right? We are wired to really not care about the suffering of others in any real way. Capitalism could have given everyone a comfortable lifestyle, but Jeff Bezeos wants to be rich(er) at the cost of the miserable wages and working conditions of Amazon warehouse workers.

Bezeos does this because he is hard wired to equate - completely outside of any conscious reflection or ability to effect any change - the accumulation of wealth and power with an increase in the fitness of his genetic position. More power and money means more mating opportunities, at least to the unconscious but hardwired parts of our brains that concern themselves with this equivalence and which drive this kind of human behavior.

As any good sociobiologist knows, one can never make too many copies of our glorious selves and those copies can never have too many resources available to them in order that their chances of survival might be maximized.

This is just who we are and we barely make a mental note of it when go about the business of parsing the normal everyday events of the world.

And we're this way because of our genes. Not to be fatalistic, but to solve a problem you have to first understand the problem.

Security, even fascist level security (which is no security at all, but rather the final triumph of selfishness over egalitarianism) is a stop gap measure holding back the flood of "reproductive fitness" driven maximizing destruction. (of someone other than then maximizer, perhaps even everyone other than the maximizer, but spare the virgins and women under age 12....)

To solve the problem we need to understand why some people are Bezeos and some people are The Teacher Who Believes Math Equals Love:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2015/03/09/376596585/the-teacher-who-believes-math-equals-love

or Terrence Tao
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Tao

Because the continued existence of our species probably hangs in the balance. We can't go on making people who think it's a fine thing, or at least OK, get rich (maximize their fitness) by say draining the gold out of Africa on the backs of 12 year old open pit miners who die of silicosis at 30 and we can't go on making people who tolerate those first people when they have the legislative power to stop them.

Looking at why our brains and experiences and by implication our genes and our society, the way we are is where our defense dollars should be spent. Panopticon-style efforts are implicitly rooted in the permanence of a Hobbsian view of humans, who nevertheless can be deterred from their natural impulses given enough surveillance and the resulting certainty that they will be caught. There's too much to unpack in that view to go into here, but it's enough to say that there is no evidence that it's true.

It may work for shoplifting and income tax evasion, but for terrorists fighting an eternal war on an unseen plane of spiritual existence against very-real-world enemies, it's barely s speedbump on the way to total societal dissolution.

We cannot win this war by attacking phenotypes, by attacking bodies; we need to get to the genotypes that give rise to those phenotypes.

We're not that great. We're not that admirable. That includes you and me. That thought and its implications is a direct insult to the most powerful people in the world today. Specifically, it's felt as a n insult and a threat to the people who spent the days of their lives seeking power, fame and money and who think they and their acquisitive instincts and the world it gives us are not defective, but quite the contrary.

That fact is the great blocking issue to stopping the problem this course seeks to explore. eve if we fit the the alien's operational definition of a Failed Species, I still do not want to see us fail. However grim our objective position is , we can find the technological means out of our predicament if we look in the right direction and begin to consider doing the right science and deploying the right technology against the right problem.

Dirk PraetMarch 17, 2015 10:23 AM

@ Skeptical

That cable actually says it all: the US for strategic and economic reasons wanted Ukraine in the EU and in NATO. The "solidifying democracy"-part is a joke. The US doesn't give a rat's *ss about democracy and will happily embrace any dictatorship, junta or other totalitarian regime as long as they place nice with them.

Unfortunately, and for entirely comprehensible reasons, Putin decided not to stand for it, annexed the Crimea and provided material support to separatist rebels in the East. Net result: yet another destabilised state with an army in shambles, run by a puppet government of oligarchs and kleptocrats. How the Ukrainian people have benefited in any way from this fine example of misguided, self-righteous US foreign policy that totally misjudged Putin's resolve on interference in his backyard, remains a mystery. As to Russia's true national interests, those are probably up to the Kremlin to decide, not Capitol Hill.

Suffise it to say that - as usual - we totally disagree on the matter. I don't condone what Putin is doing, but the US should have stayed out of Ukraine. They had no business there.

MarcusMarch 17, 2015 11:27 AM

@Dirk Praet
@ Skeptical

The real issue with the Ukraine is that the two peoples there, the East and West loathe each other and have for a long time.

The construct "the Ukrainian people" is a verbal and lawful construct but not one that is realized in the actual people's minds themselves.

The solution is not complicated- split the country into East Ukraine and West Ukraine with shared access to important geographically bound resources, mainly certain ports.

This is what they BOTH want, or at least is acceptable to both but Russia and the US prefer to not even put that n the table because, as you say, they prefer to maintain an conflict so they can hopefully improve their position during as a result of the power struggle .

The solution of splitting up nations whose peoples are warring and do not identify with each other has plenty of historical and even recent precedent and the long term outlook is "success" or "not that bad", where success means stability without constant war or terrorism.

MarcusMarch 17, 2015 1:03 PM

OK yes I'm a new poster and yes I am posting too much and yes I know it's a faux pas but I have been thinking about just this topic for a long time and hopefully no reasonable person can count this as trolling or spammish. Obviously as an anonymous commenter on someone else's blog, there is no self promotion involved.


I'll try to clean up my typing and check for errant or missing words. Offering opinion into small view text boxes on web pages is not a forte. At best you come off looking like someone still mastering English.

The course is extremely relevant because Fear Of Total Annihilation FOTA is absolutely without a doubt driving all controversial actions by national security apparatus today. It's the reason for the dragnet, goin'fishin' surveillance both in and out of this nation.

The NSA and the executive know it's only a matter or time, that is, of foreseeable technological progress, before just anyone can wield enormous destructive power. Remember, they're not the police; and they're not there to solve crimes after the fact. Their job to cut criminals well off before they can hurt society.

That necessarily entails building systems today to stop tomorrow's problems. Thus PINWALE and PRISM and all the rest. This necessity clearly is motivating all the apparently unconstitutional aspects of their activities.

It is not possible that collecting all the meta-data of all telephones within the US all the time and storing that data indefinitely is Constitutional. This and your emails and surfing habits and purchases and postings online, not to mention stuff that never leaves your computer, are clearly the “papers” referred to in the 4th Amendment and to pretend otherwise is to argue in bad conscience.

Further, Keith Alexander has said that all encrypted communications- again not excluding American's- WILL be seized and held forever, or until broken and read, which ever comes first. Since encrypted communications are the only way for anyone to have a private conversation online with distant friends, it does appear that the NSA feels it has the right to know everything you're saying in private and personal conversations, even absent individualized suspicion.

One wonders if the NSA feels that they are merely graciously grandfathering in locked doors or even front doors generally, out of respect for tradition. If houses had been invented today, I have to conclude that the NSA would insist that each one be bugged, after all, a lot of bad things go on behind closed doors.

It is therefore doubtful that anyone of any sophistication in the government believes they are not violating the Constitution. But they're doing it not because they have contempt for the Constitution or Americans but because there is\no other way to defend America, in their view. The Constitution is not, in the famous words of Judge Jackson, a suicide pact.

People working within the national security apparatus are just supposed to get this. They['re just supposed to get that there is not way to stop tomorrow's terrorists and stay within yesterday's founding documents. The Constitutional violations have been done now with the blessing of multiple Congresses, two successive Executives and any number judges who seem to be operating as little more than acquiescent, low-level functionaries.

They, collectively, have done and permitted these things to come to pass because they believe to not do and permit them would lead to even worse outcomes for the nation and thus worse outcomes for the integrity of the Constitution, the 4th amendment of course included.

What's more, going forward, the forces driving this tradeoff – again they're chiefly technological- are only going to become stronger and consequently the pressure to further encroach on traditional rights will be even more intense. So we have what amounts to an irresistible force meeting an immovable object: a reality-based analysis and the resulting fear-driven policy-making meeting the U.S. Constitution.

Here in no order are a random assortment of ideas, tentative conclusions, and imaginary ways forward.

0) The wielding of advanced technology by terrorists with Bronze Age world views had already begun on 9-11; it's not just something which might possibly happen sometime in the next 30 years. The Twin Towers were a kind of technology that co-located 20,000 people into a single point of attack, while simultaneously limiting their exit options. The particular flights were selected by the terrorists so that they would be maximally filled with jet fuel at the moment of impact. Skyscrapers are an inherited form of building that predates globalized international terrorism. Whole swaths of our infrastructure are the same. Few parts of our technology have been constructed with the constraint that terrorists should find it difficult to leverage that technology against us.


1) The societal upheaval and widespread alienation of large parts of our own intelligentsia, yourself (Schneider) apparently included, is not something we should suffer lightly. The root cause of this dislocation is the fact that *we do not all agree on the scope of the threat* because we aren't all reasoning from the same set of facts.

Given a shared, un-mainpulated, reality about the threat profile and consensus on a set of core values that we do in fact now share, only the most fanatical libertarians or authoritarian of conservatives won't be able to reach consensus about basic civil liberties, the reality of need for security in the face of future threats and how to co-join the two in a way that is still very much American.

We have to develop a shared set of realities via an extended, public debate before we can fashion a largely-agreed-to set of policies we can all feel comfortable with. We don't have any of that.

2) Our govt. should be taking a much more active role in promoting an ongoing debate regarding any supposed tradeoffs, opening it up as broadly as possible to everyone who wants to participate. Using everything from talk shows to repeated and sustained opinion polling to engagement with all civic organizations should be used to get and sustain this conversation, possibly for years ongoing. We are have to talk about this and examine it and debate it and reason about it. The current policy of keeping it under wraps is spoiled forever, thanks to Snowden, O.K., but there was just no way it could have been kept under wraps Snowden or no Snowden.

It was already clearly leaking and I lay the blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of the national security establishment, whose job it was to see this even this coming and be prepared to do something about it other than stonewall and lie. If the reality of modern technology forces upon the nation a revision of our Constitution, if that is what reality is telling us, and they knew that reality, then it was their job to prepare the nation for that reality. They failed.


3) along these same lines, the NSA appears to be completely tone-deaf, just living in a bubble with respect to how the combination of massive recording of innocent American's activities, easy-peasy friction-free warrantless access to citizen's most intimate details and outright lying to Congress and the American people - all without legal consequence- has dangerously effected Americans' perception of the NSA and the national security state generally.

They provably had no real idea how it was likely to effect even their own employees, including some of their most dedicated long timers. It appears not to have occurred to them, in any compelling fashion anyways, that what they're doing is offensive and unAmerican in a visceral, basic way, not to mention, illegal (!) which itself it another kind of offensive.

It's important to tell the whole truth as it actually is. So let's not mince words and pretend not to understand. Clapper knowingly, calculatingly and with the express intention to deceive, lied to Congress. He did this at the behest of the Executive. He did this despite having been given the questions he was going to be asked days before his Congressional testimony and so having been given an abundance of time to address Wyden OTR or in closed session prior to his Congressional appearance.

Specifically and pointedly, his lying had nothing to do with “making the least truthful statement he could” (under the circumstances, an open session of Congress) and everything to do with lying to Congress and the American people in order to deceive them.

The extent to which the NSA has determined that simply lying about every aspect of national security still isn't clear. The entire topic of the course, as I understand it, does advanced technology in the hands of terrorists doom civilization? - seems to have treated as the Unspeakable up until now, as though taking about it or acknowledging it would give the terrorists a hint as to where to put their efforts. It['s still not clear to me that K. Eric Drexler's career wasn't destroyed over his willingness to openly talk about these scenarios, for anyone who might have followed that debate that the drama that surrounded it. This is an approach to security that does nothing for us but breed suspicion, destroy the careers of people we desperately need and delay the inevitable ad possibly seismic changes society needs to make to advance itself towards a free and secure future.


4) Another possible conclusion is the Constitution or large parts of it has come to the end of its useful life. The Framers could not and did not foresee a world in which a group of ten determined microbiologists and $150,000 worth of investment could wipe out 4 / 5 of the human population. It wasn't written to deal with a world like that and we need to revise it dramatically and soon.

But this involves us in The Debate we're not having (see above).

Alternatively, a kind of beneficent dictatorship is the best we can hope for going forward as events overtake us completely and reactionaries jump at the chance to devolve our republic into fascism.

5) A possible happy path forward is technological. We are clever enough to find ways to produce both indisputable, incorruptible privacy and the highest level of security at once.

The thing is, any such happy path would not be legislative except as a fait accompli, but rather technological, grounded in physics, mathematics and time and resource limitations, that sort of thing. The end result would be you can neither violate anyone's privacy or Constitutional rights nor commit any serious crime while also avoiding detection.

For now, all that I see happening is people are breaking along ideological grounds, possibly driven by some inherited tendencies.

Reactions form themselves in a kind circle with anti-government libertarians on one point then a little further around come the engaged, the concerned, the thinking people who are not however sociopathically selfish, then over to the snoozy indifferent, then the pundits and talking heads whose business it is to tell snoozy what to think, then round to the earnest people in the NSA and the rest of the security establishment who have access to and engage with a set of facts we'll shorthand as How Bad It Really Is, then round to contractor-type opportunists who see in this a chance for plunder, and finally back to a kind of realpolitik instrumentalists and authoritarians who sit right next to the extreme anti-government libertarians with whom they share just absolutely everything, save their bullshit rhetoric.

I sincerely hope that every bit of this course is videotaped and all printed material made available. It represents the first time the right starting point for The Debate we desperately need to have has been openly discussed, at least that I am aware of. It can have a life and reach and utility and influence that only grows with time if it can be freely used as the starting point for Americans' own local discussions about what it is we need to do about the inevitable rise of technologically enhanced terrorism.

tyrMarch 17, 2015 7:30 PM


@ Marcus

Things are always a lot more complicated than any
surface viewpoint can cover. There is also a lot
more to the art of thinking than using stereotypes.

The spooks have a real problem, too many have been
looking at their track record of deeds over the
years. This makes it impossible to hide behind by
glossing over and over classifying. The hand
writing is on the wall and the budget cuts are on
the way. you don't defend a country by becoming
an internal enemy and no amount of handwavium is
going to cover that up.

If you read the disinfo boys here you'll easily
see that history, even within their lifetime isn't
their strong suit, neither is their nasty habit of
trying to lie to those who are more intelligent.

A government justifies itself to the governed via
mutual benefit, something that should be hung in all
bureaucrats office where they can see it. Those who
suffer from hubris need to spend some time in ruins.
You don't even need to leave your continent to find
the wreck of some empire that was too full of itself
to last.

The USSR is a good case study, it represents the abject
failure of centralized planning. The USA is another at
this time government control is firmly in the hands of
the same people who wrecked the economy, impoverished
its citizens and moved its manufacturing base off-shore.
No amount of TV propaganda can cover up the mess.

Given sufficient totalitarian edicts they might be able
to sweep the homeless under the sod, turn all the brown
into slaves in the prison system, and saddle the rest
with horrific debt. At some point the world will notice
that they outnumber their overlords and fight back.
We have a number of our elites who are afraid to travel
for fear of being arrested for war crimes they know
they are guilty of. That's a proud legacy for history
when you think of USA as a beacon of all that is good.

One black swan nobody brings up, that is the random
actor who does things without any deeply ideological
reason. It is part of the problem of creating people
who do not care.

J on the River LetheMarch 17, 2015 11:13 PM

Couple thoughts.

1. Drake formula is thought by many to be far too simplistic. Variables could be as high as 200 hundred in number. I think there may be only on advanced civilization per Galaxy if lucky.
2. Fermi paradox/Great filter. Where are they? Some thoughts by Tim Urban http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html. Summed up as " We’re rare, we’re first, or we’re fucked". I hope the moderator understands and let's that post.
3. SETI is a kind hearted misguided lost cause as executed. Any signal that we are sending out METI? Or trying to listen for is being lost to background noise within probably 100 light years.
4. Physics as we understand it is just that. We are clever primates but FTL may not be a real speed limit. We can only say we don't know.

Is someone watching us? Maybe. I am both hopeful and pessimistic about METI. Physicist Kaku talked of multimode communication being used by aliens. That seems very possible, but how can we find it, let alone decrypt it? Talk about a one time pad from our perspective!

Another problem is the nature of man. Pocket sized weapons of mass destruction is the illustration. There are Buddhist terrorists! How bad is man if he can piss them off to that extant? If they are watching, I hope they leave us alone. We are a dangerous to ourselves and others. Gentle guidance? Sure, but no en mass revelation. (I see no evidence of contact now)
Reminds me of the famous chimpanzee experiment of typewriters typing Shakespeare. Someone did an experiment. Result? The chimps typed 5 pages of letter S, shit in typewriters, and tore them to pieces.

We may be chimpanzees with typewriters to them. Or worse just scratch monkeys.
I would welcome indifference given the possibilities.

SkepticalMarch 18, 2015 7:06 AM

@Dirk: That cable actually says it all: the US for strategic and economic reasons wanted Ukraine in the EU and in NATO. The "solidifying democracy"-part is a joke. The US doesn't give a rat's *ss about democracy and will happily embrace any dictatorship, junta or other totalitarian regime as long as they place nice with them.

To join the EU, one must meet certain criteria, first of which is the existence of stable democratic institutions that protect rule of law and human rights.

From a purely strategic vantage, the US desires that Eastern European nations develop into stable democracies because democracies tend to maintain peaceful relationships with other democracies. It better ensures European stability and economic development.

But you can't really understand US foreign policy unless you understand the role that its preference for democratic institutions plays in its policies. Everything from Roosevelt's handling of Stalin to the Cold War to US attempts at nation-building become incomprehensible.

Unfortunately, and for entirely comprehensible reasons, Putin decided not to stand for it, annexed the Crimea and provided material support to separatist rebels in the East.

This is the unacceptable part. Putin doesn't get a military veto over whether a democratic European nation wants to move towards the EU. That is not conducive to a stable or progressive state of affairs in Eastern Europe. Instead it's conducive to a continuing state of instability, intrigue, corruption, and military tension.

Net result: yet another destabilised state with an army in shambles, run by a puppet government of oligarchs and kleptocrats. How the Ukrainian people have benefited in any way from this fine example of misguided, self-righteous US foreign policy that totally misjudged Putin's resolve on interference in his backyard, remains a mystery.

Ukraine has not benefited from Russia's foreign policy. US foreign policy in Ukraine has been to support - peacefully - democratic institutions and economic development. What is mysterious here is your instinct to blame the US for what Russia is doing.

I don't condone what Putin is doing, but the US should have stayed out of Ukraine. They had no business there.

The US ran foreign aid programs in Ukraine, and encouraged - just like Europe - Ukraine to develop better rule of law, stronger democratic institutions, and more effective anti-corruption.

Russia has sponsored a civil war.

And by the way, I think it's up to the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people as to whether they wish to accept US and European aid (as they did), not you and not Moscow.

MarcusMarch 18, 2015 2:15 PM

@tyr

The FBI has a mnemonic – MICE. It stands for Money Ideology Compromise or Compulsion and Ego. It's meant to represent the reasons people commit crimes (some people extend it to all human behavior,; I don't). LE is actually pretty good at understanding their subject matter- criminal behavior- as you might expect and if you dig down into the publicly available PDFs no their sites and elsewhere, you can learn a lot.

What you're talking about is Ideology- ideologically driven violence. It's really the one we have the least control over as a society and is therefore the most worrisome.

The others, Money, well obviously most of our society's laws are concerned with the lawful distribution of money (I did not say equitable, I said lawful...) and the bulk of most people's lives is spent staying within the well parameterized, legal ways to make money. Society is successfully arranged so that the pursuit of money does not necessitate a criminal lifestyle (but see local pockets of economic disenfranchisement where this system breaks down, no justice, no jobs, high criminality..)

Compromise or Compulsion covers the instances where the person feels compelled to commit violence. It includes a sense of duty- patriotism (or economic insecurity) in the case of a soldier or an affiliation - familial or gang related or perhaps, a group which expects an action on the part of its members. The point is the violence is expected from the people around him.

Ego is just what it sounds like – someone's ego has been bruised or they have something to prove. So sexual jealousy- which is the cause of most civilian murders- falls in this category as does revenge killings and also murder taking place within the context of power struggles in organizations. The unifying principle is, it's personal.

But Ideologically driven violence is really bad. It's hard to predict the conditions which will give rise to it or which people will succumb. In fact the entire category, and this is just my opinion, is really a bit hand wavey. People ALWAYS append a reason to their actions, that is, the brain inevitably frames whatever actions the person emits as rational and self-directed;, even when the person herself really has no idea why she did what she did. It's as if the brain were a compulsive behavior-accounting machine, giving “reasons“ for its owner's behavior which in reality are little more than post-hoc fabrications made up on a rolling basis.

While it's far from the only evidence that the brain works this way, some of Michael Gazzaniga's recounting of his patients over the years nicely illustrate this phenomena at work. For example, a patient has a brain disease that causes them to believe they are located elsewhere in space and time. They believe they are at a beach house and it's 1954, say, when really, they're in a mental hospital in 1980. If you challenge their reality and ask them about something incongruent with their beliefs, like - “OK, if you're at your beach house, then what are those elevators doing here?” they'll say something like “oh, you can't believe what those cost to put in.”

You see how the parts of the machine work when the machine breaks. You see how the parts of conscious experience inform each other when consciousness is broken. Until then, it was just a black box that worked.

So when we say someone did something for ideological reasons, what are we really referencing other than what comes out of their mouth as a reason for their violence? What if ideological violence is really just a boringly instrumental option to the evolutionary (and unconscious) mind, one amongst many options that might be considered, just an unremarkable and possibly cost effective way of obtaining resources? What if it's that … basic ...and the ideological overlay comes from the necessity of the brain to give an accounting, a “reason” for its actions to some other part of itself and to other brains, lest it be seen as merely randomly dangerous everyone

Seen in this context, ideological violence is just a very long-playing agreed-upon lie we present to each other; offered and accepted in order to temporarily pacify our actually well-founded fear of one another.

If ideologically driven violence is just nothin' special instrumental violence, that is, violence in service of bettering the personal material positions of each member of the group and not in service to some great cause, then a strategy that might work to disintegrate the group would be to direct that propensity for violence towards a different target, specifically someone within the group. Since each person in a hierarchy holds something the one below him covets, increased power and control and the access to resources it implies, and each member below someone in a hierarchy is therefore an implicit threat , and since we're a self selected bunch of people who seek power, well, the question starts to look like how do groups like this ever cohere long enough to even become a threat?

In fact, the CIA knows that one of the best ways to break up a group of terrorists is to just get them fighting amongst themselves. I think they call it “exploiting rivalries” or something like that. Outside agency aside, sometimes it just happens spontaneously. In Adam Curtis's BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, he documents one such jihadi group whose reign of terror slowly wound down because its members couldn't stop killing each other. They kept *sniff sniff* detecting impurity emanating from the some unlucky member. This went on until finally there was, absurdly, only three members left. An old folk group named the Chad Mitchell Trio had a song called the John Birch Society in which literally everyone was accused of being a Communist. “There's no one left but me and thee..” they sang “...and we're not sure of thee...”

Of course it's easy to see the impurity of others, to see their thinly disguised and ulterior motivations if you look hard enough, but that would be because their motivations actually are impure and thinly disguised. And the exact same brain mechanism displayed by the woman who wants to tell you how much the elevators cost to put into her beach house, you are spared, jihadi, from seeing into your own motivations; your brain believes it's own cover story. Since identifying and killing the impure is the excuse they give themselves to advance their personal positions, everything above follows, and the more virulent the jihadi, the faster it follows.

It's the everydayness and sort of widespread potentiality of ideological terrorism that is scary. People so engaged are NOT from impoverished backgrounds, generally speaking, although they may be from impoverished nations, especially nations which are democratically impoverished, i.e. no real justice system. In fact, the average terrorist, just like the average dictator, doesn't come from the most disadvantaged classes. He (and it's almost always a he) comes from the local middle class or is well to do. Harvard has educated a long list of students who went on to become distinguished thugs and dictators once they returned to their own nations, a fact Harvard omits from their handbook to prospective students.

bin Laden certainly lacked for nothing materially nor even for female companionship (supposing that's what he actually preferred) (and see climactic scene of the SouthPark episode “bin Laden Has Farty Pants” for another theory of his motivations) and his first lieutenants were drawn from the educated classes, optometrists, doctors, that sort of thing.

The exact same thing is true in developed nations. The terrorists are drawn from the class of people who don't suffer particularly from material want. They're just “offended” or “outraged”, for “ideological” reasons. The desire to improve yourself at the expense of others never sleeps, is never satisfied, is never done., at least in some people, some lot of people.

Worse, lots of seriously dangerous people essentially lie in a dormant state, waiting for circumstances to empower their worst impulses. They disguise themselves amongst mainstream groups. Some of these people, who are frighteningly close to initiating or at least countenancing terror, are often seen shaking the lunatic tree with completely reckless abandon in their speeches and broadcasts, apparently hopeful to see what will fall out. These are well known personalities who are effectively immune from prosecution owing to their celebrity. Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin and her suggestion that perhaps what we need is a return to “2nd Amendment remedies” (against the government). Now we're talking about someone who was this close to being this close to being the President. McCain served his country courageously, but I still can't find it in my heart to forgive McCain for that or ever take his judgment seriously again.


So all this intersects with this course offering because the basic question of the course, as I understand it, is “How Bad Is It, Really?” How close are we to V and D being near maximum and L simultaneously going to 1? (earlier post above). How close are we to essentially creating a one man army, which we can shorthand as “The Army Of One Problem”?

Well, if ideological terrorism is just a veneer or an evolutionary strategy to acquire more of what evolution cast us to want to acquire, then the problem is potentially much bigger than we think it is because the pool of candidates is disturbingly large.

In fact, it appears that whole swaths of humanity really don't give a shit about anyone but themselves and make no apology for it, and some subset of those people are energetic and ambitious enough to douse themselves in the incendiary of ideology. Ayn Randers, liberrtarians, fascists, dictators, Nazis, Christian Dominionists, jihadis, and just otherwise unaffiliated assholes and one-off cults like Aum Shinrikyo the list goes on and on and it all points to how many ordinary people who have nothing real to complain about in their life circumstances nevertheless want to destroy, dismantle and kill their way to power, to control and resources. I am not saying this could describe any of us, I am saying it describes a lot of us. There's a difference.

It's like we're sharing the planet with aliens.

In the Movie “Gremlins 2, The New Batch” Grandpa Fred (played by Grandpa from the original Munsters) broadcasts an impromptu interview with one of the invading Gremlins who are wreaking havoc on human society:

“An entire race of strange beings has invaded the planet,” he says into the camera, “and in an even more bizarre twist, one these creatures is somehow able to talk and he's going to talk to us, right now. Creature, what is it that you want? “

“Fred, what we want is what everyone I think wants and what you and your viewers have: civil-i-zation.”

“Yes, but what sort of civilization are you speaking of creature?”

What kind of civilization indeed.

MarcusMarch 18, 2015 2:17 PM

This idea that lots of people are very very bad intersects with the whole NSA debacle because from one perspective, it explains their interest in “collecting it all”. If plenty of middle class people could be terrorists given a little provocation and you have to identify them before they can act, then what you need is what any scientist would need- access to Big Data on your population of interest. Access to very large amounts of data that you can use to test theories against. That's sure what I would want.

Most scientific activity is ultimately spent just affirming some null hypothesis. Most theories are wrong and most experiments show no effect. But it's not useless activity, it's necessary, it's a necessary and highly informative part of doing science. “These two things are NOT related.” That is (well, can be) hard won knowledge. Why there isn't a Journal of Null Hypothesis Confirmations is kind of a political thing. No one wants to create an atmosphere where generating experiments that show no effect is rewarded. It's just too easy. Of course this leads to p-hacking and all the rest but OK now I am digressing.

The point is, without having data to run experiments on, how can you ever get better at anything? If your goal is to learn to pick the signal out of the noise, you need the signal, OK we all agree on that, but you also need the noise. You need the noise that might be a signal, but isn't.

If your surf heedlessly around to extremist websites, fearless of getting yourself profiled straight into the scheduled- for-termination bucket by HAL 9000, as I do, you'll see the people on both the left and the right in this country (USA) complain that the FBI is labeling them as a terrorist for, say, having a Rand Paul bumper sticker or being a vegan or being a gold bug or stocking up on food or what have you. It's not true, these things are just data point that are not dispositive in any way. In professional gambling, the players look for “tells” or subtle signs in the demeanor of the opposing player that indicate the player is bluffing, or that they are NOT bluffing. Players counter this strategy by wearing dark glasses to hide their pupils, remaining motionless and expressionless, and wearing get ups which disguise and distract the observer from any subtle “tells” they may not otherwise be able to control. We are all walking around with tells. You already know this. Is he available? Is she a lipstick lesbian?

The reason we have these tells is because if you want to get anything done, you have to unite with other people, and you have to signal your position or intent to those people somehow. People signal their mindset and intentions and preferences in everything they do and if it's your job to understand people and what they might do then you have to look at the tells. What else are they supposed to do? If you can't collect data, you have nothing to reason against, you have no way to do hypothesis testing and no way to reject the null. You have no path to doing science.

I don't claim to have sorted anything out. On going mass accumulation of personal details is, duh, not without dangers. Those dangers are so scary, maybe you're better off not thinking them through too clearly. Perhaps the dangers are so profound they can only be justified if we actually do have an Army Of One Problem, that is, we have no choice and civilization itself really does hang in the balance.

We know so much about what LEOS do now it's almost an exercise in Pure Reason to fill in the missing parts, and some of those parts are terrifying. For example, when the NSA reported on violations by its own employees, one of the listed violations was called LoveInt or Love Intelligence whereby an analyst would access and essentially stalk an ex or a potential girlfriend or boyfriend etc. etc.

What the report didn't mention but you can be absolutely sure was also a listed violation, perhaps with a cutesie name, was HateInt, where an analyst stalked and gained information on people he hated- competitors for romantic interests or people he has a grudge against.

The reason it likely was left out of the report was because it was WAY WAY too explosive and would only stoke the paranoia people already feel about surveillance. I am guessing here, this pure conjecture with no first hand knowledge, but as I see it it's just not possible for the world to be what it is and also not have this be true.

Did some scumbag with a clean record who also hated your guts in college go on to become an NSA analyst? Did your worst enemy become an FBI agent? Have any idea, any inkling at all what someone can do who has invisible, untraceable, unaccountable access to your daily comings and goings? Who can position himself to trade informational favors with local police and has their full faith?

Have fun standing up in court saying you have no idea where the drugs they found in your car came from after a parallel construction with you as the target has been initiated on “secret but unimpeachable authority”. Ditto your surfing habits. Ditto that bank account you knew nothing of. Or the money in one you did know about. This is the chilling effect in its rawest form. Speak out or offend anyone in power and an unseen force beyond your ken will crush you like a bug. The belief that, wait...strike that... post-Snowden, it would be the certain knowledge that records on you are being accumulated, daily and can be accessed by what amounts to just anyone with a desire to do so and two cents of social engineering in their pocket is terrifying. They don't even know what he took. So there's your “audit trail” for you.

Give me six hours of electronic records of an innocent man, and I will find something in them with which to hang him, even if I have to put it there myself.

Its not the government that's doing it to you, it's some invisible asshole who got a hold of the levers of power the government created. This is why,, everything else considered, all the benefits included, we perhaps don't want to create these levers. That is unless we have a real life Army Of One Problem.

Pushing a little further into sheer terror, consider that the no-fly list is a binary end result – either your name is on it or it's not- but that end result is itself decidedly NOT a result of any binary process. It's got to be something more like an accumulation of “points” you can “earn” by doing no one knows what. So it stands to reason and we might even reasonably conclude- we all have a terrorist score attached to our name. You're not nobody. And worse, it's likely, your score is not zero.

That terrorist score includes the books you ordered from Amazon, the videos you watched and rated, the websites your surfed, your persistent interests and abilities and whatever hearsay or made up testimony anyone who's ever known you ever puked up in any fashion either to the police or online in Facebook or wherever else electronic conversations happen. So it's not enough to watch what you say, where you surf, what you read, who you IM, and what you watch, what you say in front of your Samsung TV, phew...you better make sure no one anywhere is talking about you too.

Worse still, the algorithm to determine your Individualized Risk Assessment (I swear if it's really called that I merely guessed my way here.. I swear it..) can change at any time and you can be assigned a new number. So hope and pray that the people who bought the same or similar books that you bought don't go rogue; that or that somehow The Algorithm isn't “like that”.

Nothing that's been revealed in the Snowden cache yet indicates that there exists anything like any Individualized Risk Assessment attached to your name and if there is that it has any effect on your life's opportunities outside of say, joining The Company. But what if that isn't true? What if in subtle ways your opportunities in life are shaped and limited and thwarted through “background checks”, initiated perhaps without your knowledge, whose contents come to include derogatory information which would never stand up in say, a court of law? The EEOC spells out in painstaking detail when and how long can be denied which jobs due to say,, a criminal conviction, but what about more subtle decisions being made using more tenuous information through informal channels? The law says effectively nothing. The EEOC be damned. What if the government is doing this and has been doing that for some time?

I have exactly nothing sorted out. But I know this. The biggest factor driving and even legitimizing what we'll shorthand as the Whole NSA Thing is the fear that we have now or will shortly have an Army Of One Problem. Do we?

Sancho_PMarch 18, 2015 5:45 PM

@ Skeptical

“From a purely strategic vantage, the US desires that Eastern European nations develop …”

Aren’t there enough problems to solve within the US?
Since Roosevelt, is there any nation where the “US desire” had a positive impact up to the present?
Regarding “US foreign policy”, is there any pattern to be seen but clumsy imperialism?

Any country where Americans are still respected and/or welcome after their intervention?


“US foreign policy in Ukraine has been to support - peacefully - democratic institutions and economic development.”

Unexpectedly (to the US) this peeved their neighbor and relatives, but finally initialized a peaceful discussion in the parliament, accompanied by minor fireworks.
However, the naiveté of the EU (represented by three foreign ministers) almost stalled this democratic movement in that “European nation” (???).
By signing an unanimous agreement between the major parties, their president and the EU members the situation seemed to calm down.

- Wait, Ukraine and the EU? Agreement?
F**K the EU!
Eventually the mob could be convinced to oust Yanukovych and the agreement, to start civil war, and to split this “island of tolerance in an increasingly authoritarian neighborhood” into east and west, again and forever.

Thank you, US foreign policy.
- Who’s next, please?


@ Dirk Praet

I concur with all you wrote but ”Putin … annexed the Crimea …”.
The term “annexed” here isn’t fully clear to me, as it may be “add, append” or “take over”.
When you mean “annex” as the US Nacis did with Hawaii then I’d oppose it in context of the Crimea.

tyrMarch 18, 2015 6:47 PM


@ Marcus

Far too many invisible boogeymen for my liking.

I understand prudence, rationality, and science.

However I'll quote my favorite viking movie,
"Go and hide in a hole if you wish, you won't
live one instant longer."

Malice of others in authority is an unsolvable
problem until more people read Vilfredo Pareto
and Take BF Skinners advice about understanding
human behaviors and how to influence them.

Those who are ot of good will have no scruples
about studying how to influence others, if you
want evidence visit a child oriented website
with your blocking software off. You will now
have 56 trackers locked on to you for being a
little girl. Google only uses 11 for grownups.

That tells you a lot about the current state of
the web, and it also tells you a lot more about
the reason the world is a mess.

Reich (Freuds student) wrote an in depth analysis
of Fascism, it is worth a read because it points
out that Fascism is not rooted in some outre way
in the fringe elements of society. The trouble is
not with the outlying fringe it is inherent in the
ordinary. Society is like a pressure cooker and as
long as there is free circulation of movement in
classes no unacceptable pressures cause an explosion.

You cannot screw the lid down tight enough to avoid
the consequences, since it is the worst way to act.


I found this on open culture

Wrightwood. Cal.

21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley



Dirk PraetMarch 18, 2015 9:54 PM

@ Sancho_P

When you mean “annex” as the US Nacis did with Hawaii then I’d oppose it in context of the Crimea.

End of February last year, Russian troops took over the Supreme Council of Crimea and installed the pro-Russian Aksyonov government. Half of the military almost immediately defected to the Russian side. They subsequently declared Crimea's independence and held an unconstitutional referendum. This de facto annexation was in violation of international law as Russia was a signatory to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Although 96% of Crimeans voted for leaving Ukraine and joining Russia, the Ukrainian government was well within its rights not to acknowledge the independence of the Republic of Crimea.

@ Skeptical

the US desires that Eastern European nations develop into stable democracies because democracies tend to maintain peaceful relationships with other democracies.

And how exactly does supporting neo-nazis contribute to developing a stable democracy? Both Victoria Nuland and John McCain had their pictures taken with Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, one of the key figures in the Euromaidan protests that lead to the overthrowing of the legitimate Yanukovich government. Their 3-fingered party logo is a revised Nazi salute, and the previous one, a Wolfsangel, was a symbol used by the Waffen SS during WW II. So either Nuland and McCain are complete idiots who didn't have a clue who they were dealing with, or the US didn't really mind a bit of fascism and anti-semitism as long as it "served the good cause".

But you can't really understand US foreign policy unless you understand the role that its preference for democratic institutions plays in its policies

But it's definitely not a prerequisite. A small (but non-exhaustive) list of past and present dictatorships supported by the US: General Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Idi Amin of Uganda, Colonel Hugo Banzer of Bolivia, Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, P.W. Botha of South Africa, General Humberto Branco of Brazil. Raoul Cedras of Haiti, Vinicio Cerezo of Guatemala, Chiang Kai-Shek of Taiwan, Roberto Suazo Cordova of Honduras, Alfredo Christiani of El Salvador, Ngo Dihn Diem of Vietnam, General Samuel Doe of Liberia, Francois Duvalier of Haiti, Jean Claude Duvalier of Haiti, the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia, General Francisco Franco of Spain, Hassan of Morocco, Yahya Khan of Pakistan, Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez of El Salvador, Joseph Mobutu of Congo, General Manuel Noriega of Panama, Turgut Ozal of Turkey, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, George Papadopoulos of Greece, Park Chung Hee of South Korea, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, General Sitiveni Rabukaof Fiji, General Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala, Halie Salassie of Ethiopia, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal, Anastasio Somoza Jr of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza Sr of Nicaragua, Ian Smith of Rhodesia, Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, General Suharto of Indonesia, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo of Dominican Republic, General Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina and General Mohammed Zia Ul-Haq of Pakistan.

... US attempts at nation-building become incomprehensible.

The smashing successes in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya come to mind. Identifying yourself as American in any of these countries is probably ill-advised.

What is mysterious here is your instinct to blame the US for what Russia is doing.

It's called "cause and effect", a concept that is poorly understood in US foreign policy.

The US ran foreign aid programs in Ukraine, and encouraged - just like Europe - Ukraine to develop better rule of law, stronger democratic institutions, and more effective anti-corruption.

The US poured at least $5 billion into Ukraine with only one intention in mind: ousting the pro-Russia government and replacing it with a pro-EU/US one. If it was all about democratic institutions and human rights, the USG would be doing the same in Saudi Arabia, a country that has a far worse track record on those than Ukraine did.

SkepticalMarch 18, 2015 10:59 PM


@Sancho: Regarding “US foreign policy”, is there any pattern to be seen but clumsy imperialism?

The US sends money to NGOs, and wants Ukraine to join the EU. It doesn't send weapons; it teaches democratic procedure, political parties, and so forth.

Russia by contrast sends weapons and corruption, and when that doesn't work, sends soldiers and advanced heavy weapons as well, all for the purpose of destabilizing Ukraine, which they've accomplished in magnificent fashion. The US sends advisors on parliamentary procedures; Russia sends advisors on special warfare.

Yet you want to criticize the US! Remarkable.

Any country where Americans are still respected and/or welcome after their intervention?

The US hasn't intervened Sancho. The Russians have.

As to whether the US is still welcome in nations where it has intervened, that depends on the nature of the intervention and the manner in which it was concluded. In cases where the US stayed, helped build, or rebuild, democratic institutions, and the populace was peaceful, the US is very welcomed. So, nearly all of Europe and much of East Asia is very welcoming. In Iraq, the Kurds are deeply welcoming. Let me ask, which do you think had a more favorable view? The former Warsaw Pact countries towards the Soviet Union, after the fall, or Western Europe, the freedom of which had long been guaranteed by the American military.

Right now most of those former Soviet bloc countries are frightened of continued Russian intimidation and influence - they very much want to be a part of the EU, and of NATO.

Oddly I did not see any Western European nations racing to join in a military alliance with Russia as a means of escaping American influence.

So, let's just for a second live in reality, acknowledge that since 1947 the freedoms of Western Europe have been purchased by both the blood and sweat of its own citizens, but primarily by the blood, sweat, and indeed the pledge of nuclear war, of the United States.

Yet you call the US a clumsy imperialist. It's rich. The US has spent trillions defending, in part, your freedom of self-determination - the ability of your country to choose its own way - and it has, with voluntary agreements from all involved, stationed forces in Europe to make plain to any aggressor that to attack Europe would be to attack the United States.

It is a pledged we made, and it is a pledge we maintain today.

And yet you find it unbelievable that the US actually desires Ukraine to become strongly democratic, less corrupt, and self-determinative (which the US has supported for every other state in Europe, and which the Russians have opposed for every other state in Europe).

The world never ceases to surprise! :)

SkepticalMarch 19, 2015 12:18 AM


@Dirk:

And how exactly does supporting neo-nazis contribute to developing a stable democracy? Both Victoria Nuland and John McCain had their pictures taken with Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, one of the key figures in the Euromaidan protests that lead to the overthrowing of the legitimate Yanukovich government.

My God! A picture! Such international support for a movement has not been seen since... oh, wait, sorry, it's actually not international support at all. It's someone taking a picture while US diplomats, and visiting dignitaries, meet various Ukrainian officials and party leaders.

The leaked phone calls, among other things, indicate that the US views the radical right as potentially problematic, and is encouraging the democratic moderates.

It's really a little bizarre that you're continuing to question whether the US has any preference for democratic states.

Look up "democratic peace theory" when you get a chance. It's become an important component of US foreign policy.

But it's [democracy] definitely not a prerequisite.

No. We live in a world where a viable democracy isn't a realistic alternative, and so the USG will deal with whom it must. This can be disastrous - autocrats are not the most trustworthy or constant of men - and is generally the choice of the lesser of two evils.

You give a list of small governments from the Cold War, in which (with a few exceptions) the US had no democratic alternatives. There are a couple of cases where the US undertook covert military action on the view that, regardless of the form of government, the nation in question would rapidly come under the thumb of the Soviet Union. Personally I think the US could have handled that aspect of the Cold War much better. But, remember, these were decisions made under the tension of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Every nation, in a fight, especially a global fight, must sometimes make compromises.

Now, against those cases, which were largely governed by the lack of alternatives, you must weigh the vast sums of blood and money that the US poured into saving and then rebuilding Western Europe and Japan, and the immense resources - and lives lost - spent since then in continual defense of those areas.

The smashing successes in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya come to mind. Identifying yourself as American in any of these countries is probably ill-advised.

You're not following.

Ask yourself why the US even bothered to attempt a democratic government in Iraq or Afghanistan (Libya wasn't really a US show). Why the US bother to attempt to establish one in the Philippines, for that matter, after the Spanish-American War?

In all three cases the US dramatically underestimated the resources needed to accomplish its political goals, but it nonetheless spent considerable - enormous in fact - resources in the attempt.

Had the US not cared at all about democracy, it would have been a simple matter to support rule by another system. But, the US does, and this sometimes drives foreign policy in idealistic directions.

Incidentally, I've never had a problem identifying as an American in Vietnam.

It's called "cause and effect", a concept that is poorly understood in US foreign policy.

Sorry, the US didn't "cause" Russia to do anything. The US didn't "cause" the people of Ukraine to do anything, for that matter. Certain people decided to do something. And then Russia decided to do something. We can discuss whether Russia's decision was predictable, but it remains Russia's decision.

After Russia decided that the prospect of new elections and a Constitution that scaled back the President's powers was such a threat to its national interest that it had no choice but to seize Crimea and then engage in special warfare in Eastern Ukraine, the US did become directly involved. But US involved has been after the fact, and limited to economic sanctions and diplomatic negotiations.

The US poured at least $5 billion into Ukraine with only one intention in mind: ousting the pro-Russia government and replacing it with a pro-EU/US one.

No, Nuland was referring to the entirety of American aid to the Ukraine since the early 90s. It was spread out among many programs to teach principles of democratic institutions, organizing, and political practices.

The "ousting" of pro-Russian parties tended to occur by popular vote. The Orange Revolution, you'll recall, was sparked by outrage at widespread election fraud. A recount was won, and, as it turns out, the pro-Russian government was indeed ousted - but ousted by the votes of the Ukrainian people.

If it was all about democratic institutions and human rights, the USG would be doing the same in Saudi Arabia, a country that has a far worse track record on those than Ukraine did.

The US is in fact pressuring Saudi Arabia to diminish the power of more extremist clerics, to change some of the things they teach in their schools, to begin the steps towards a more tolerant society. But Saudi Arabia is a very different country than Ukraine. A demand that Saudi Arabia hold elections next year would be disastrous if followed, both for Saudi Arabia and the world.

What makes foreign policy difficult is the number of variables - the personalities and institutions and interests involved, and the harder to discern role that norms and values play among them.

Democracy IS a strong preference of the United States - but it's not the only US value. In times of great peril, or when there is simply no other alternative, it is permitted to walk with the devil across the bridge, as the Balkan proverb that Roosevelt became fond of quoting has it. But it's true of all nations, and all persons.

Indeed, when the US became more actively engaged in a global struggle with the Soviet Union, some key US advisors remarked on the dangers of supporting certain regimes even if those regimes were the only alternative. Those advisors thought that the US would undermine its moral force by doing so - that it should be wary of emphasizing the hard power aspects of Cold War (which were naturally the aspects of greater concern) to the point of unduly minimizing the soft power aspects of the Cold War

Today, the Cold War over, we still confront such dilemmas, though in a different context. And, perhaps, we are less willing to work with dictators who do not show any inclination towards reform, and indeed show an inclination towards greater brutality.

And, research produced near the end of the Cold War and in greater quantities since, has provided ample support for democratic peace theory - the idea that democracies tend not to go to war with each other. This finding has only reinforced an already existing American belief about the nature of democracy - that it was enlightened self-interest for more nations to be democratic - and so it is unsurprising to find it part of the rationale behind American foreign policy.

Foreign policy is always limited by the possible, by domestic political constraints, by resources available. No nation with a broad and complex foreign policy can always choose partners it finds ethical, nor simply make decisions without any thought of ultimate consequences (as Hans Morgenthau liked to quote, the road to hell is paved with good intentions).

So, to sum up, the US views a democratic Ukraine as in its own interests. It also views a democratic Ukraine in the interests of Europe (as does Europe). And as do the people of Ukraine. Only Russia believes that it should hold in effect a military veto over whether Ukraine chooses to become sufficiently democratic, governed by rule of law, and protective of human rights, to join the EU. And if Russia is permitted to do that, without consequence, then the West will have ceded the independence of Eastern Europe, yet again, to Russia.

This we will not do. Russia will not find much space between key European nations and the US on the matter.

Worst of all, this entire affair is avoidable, because it is not in Russia's own interests to pursue this course. It would pose no threat to Russia even if Ukraine were, someday, to progress sufficiently and join the EU. This is not the 1930s. WW3 will not be fought on the plains of Eastern Europe in tanks. There is no fascist state in Europe eager to take territories by force. Putin is playing a strategy that fits in the 20th century; perhaps blinded by many well-meaning, and wise, advisors who nonetheless see too much of the past in the present, Putin fails to understand that the board has changed.

Indeed, the only power we've discussed here to have taken territory by conquest in recent memory is Russia.

vas pupMarch 19, 2015 12:42 PM

@Skeptical:"My God! A picture! Such international support for a movement has not been seen since... oh, wait, sorry, it's actually not international support at all. It's someone taking a picture while US diplomats, and visiting dignitaries, meet various Ukrainian officials and party leaders."

Dear blogger, let say prospective POTUS (aka Mrs. Clinton) took her picture with leader of Svoboda - organization that has as its icons Mr. Bandera and Mr. Schuhevich which fought on the side of Nazi during WWII, and their follows participate not only in military actions, but in 'sonder commanda' (ethic cleansing)type operations in Ukraine and Poland against civilians including genocide of Jews (e.g.Lviv pogrom in 1941). Then may be you and all Jewish community of US (regardless of party affiliation) never ever vote for her in prospective election. I guess if Mr. McCain and Mrs. Nuland were aware about this in details, they would think more that twice to be in such company.

I hope you get my point. I mean when you official representing US abroad (elected or appointed) you probably should watch you actions and pictures for God sake. Unfortunately, such pictures not disturbing electorate as picture taken within some adult content.

Sancho_PMarch 19, 2015 3:17 PM

@ Skeptical

The US(G) may teach ”democratic procedure, political parties, and so forth” to their own.
Nobody outside is interested in philanthropic lessons of national capitalism, corruption, bribery and crime, thank you.
We have that already and want to get rid of it.

You can only teach by example and tolerance, not by subversion.

Re “democratic procedure”: So the US respects + supports the desire of east Ukraine?
Crimea? (97% as @Dirk Praet pointed out - there was no legitimate gov at that time)
- Great, if it only hadn’t cost so many lives to understand what the US really wants!

… You mentioned the Kurds - OMG, Turkey is next?


”The world never ceases to surprise! :)”

Time has changed. Today the world doesn’t associate America with chocolate and liberty.
Reiterating Hollywood narratives won’t bring the myth back to life, sorry to say.

Dirk PraetMarch 19, 2015 8:44 PM

@ Skeptical

There are a couple of cases where the US undertook covert military action on the view that, regardless of the form of government, the nation in question would rapidly come under the thumb of the Soviet Union.

The US has a long history of overt and covert (military) interventions in countries where they felt their interests threatened. In fact, no other nation on the planet has done so more often in the previous century, both during and after the cold war. So how is this any different from what Russia is now doing in Ukraine ? Because the US are the good guys and Russia the big Satan? That's double standards.

The "ousting" of pro-Russian parties tended to occur by popular vote. The Orange Revolution, you'll recall, was sparked by outrage at widespread election fraud.

Err, are you confusing the peaceful 2004-2005 Orange Revolution with the 2014 Euromaidan clashes ? The former led to a vote recount that eventually brought Yushchenko to power. The 2010 election - declared fair even by international observers - brought back Yanukovych. He was ousted in February last year after violent street protests spear-headed by neo-nazis and disgruntled oligarchs, financially and logistically backed by the EU/US. Feel free to label this "foreign aid" and "democratic process". I call it direct interference and destabilisation of a democratically elected government.

Look up "democratic peace theory" when you get a chance...Sorry, the US didn't "cause" Russia to do anything.

I am familiar with the doctrine. In terms of US foreign policy, it's essentially a not even thinly disguised euphemism for toppling selectively targeted regimes seen as anti-American and putting pro-US leaders in their place.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, tensions between Europe and Russia reached an all-time low, with the Baltic states and many Eastern-European countries formerly controlled by the USSR crossing over to NATO and the EU. Russia, reluctantly, let them.

It was not until 2008 that relations turned sour again when the US/EU decided to expand further into former Soviet states, the EU moving forward with its "Eastern Partnership" and NATO announcing that both Georgia and Ukraine would become NATO member states. This was categorically unacceptable to Putin, and from a Russian perspective the equivalent of what Canada or Mexico joining the Warsaw Pact would have been for the US.

Whether the US likes it or not, Putin has made it very clear that he will use any means available to stop Ukraine from joining the West. Which leaves two options on the table:

  1. Further EU/NATO expansion into Eastern Europe is shelved and the region returns to the pre-20008 status quo, perhaps with Ukraine as a neutral buffer state.
  2. The US, on general principle and pushed by DC hawks and lobbyists, persists in its "democracy promotion" campaign and a proxy war with Russia ensues. Ukraine goes down in flames, a lot of people die, and Europe, for all practical purposes, is back to the days of the cold war. As a bonus, a rift is created in NATO and the transatlantic alliance between the US/UK on one side, and France and Germany on the other. Because nobody in Europe wants such a scenario that even NATO generals have warned against.

To sum it up: Russia did not make a move against the US, Western or even Eastern Europe. The US/EU tried to expand into former Soviet states and that policy backfired in a way they'd never expected. Personally, I don't care too much who's running Ukraine. And that goes for most Europeans.

But there sure are a lot of folks out here that are not looking forward to the days of the cold war revisited because some self-righteous idiots in DC and Brussels for strategic reasons saw fit to go "spread democracy" in countries that nobody has ever perceived as a threat or even part of Europe, for that matter.

SkepticalMarch 19, 2015 11:39 PM


@Sancho: Nobody outside is interested in philanthropic lessons of national capitalism, corruption, bribery and crime, thank you.
We have that already and want to get rid of it.

Part of instituting democracy, Sancho, is reducing corruption. And yes, quite a few people are interested in having such NGOs support their efforts for a more democratic society. Sorry that you're not one of them. But they where they go by invitation, not by force.

You can only teach by example and tolerance, not by subversion.

You can teach small groups of people things without resorting simply to examples. These NGOs generally engage with small groups of people, and teach them certain skills or knowledge.

Re “democratic procedure”: So the US respects + supports the desire of east Ukraine?
Crimea? (97% as @Dirk Praet pointed out - there was no legitimate gov at that time)
- Great, if it only hadn’t cost so many lives to understand what the US really wants!

Or maybe a large government next door seized the airways, filled the air with scary rumors, hustled together some angry men, and ogranized, armed, and trained them into militias that would taste blood.


SkepticalMarch 20, 2015 12:16 AM


@Dirk: So how is this any different from what Russia is now doing in Ukraine ? Because the US are the good guys and Russia the big Satan? That's double standards.

Who said that everything the US did during the Cold War was right? As to why it's different now, there is no Cold War. There is zero legitimate security reason for Russia to do this.

Err, are you confusing the peaceful 2004-2005 Orange Revolution with the 2014 Euromaidan clashes ? The former led to a vote recount that eventually brought Yushchenko to power. The 2010 election - declared fair even by international observers - brought back Yanukovych. He was ousted in February last year after violent street protests spear-headed by neo-nazis and disgruntled oligarchs, financially and logistically backed by the EU/US. Feel free to label this "foreign aid" and "democratic process". I call it direct interference and destabilisation of a democratically elected government.

It's true that in many cases street protests against violent regimes are led by those most accustomed to violence. But then, these street protests bring together people from many different walks of life. In Tunisia, in Egypt, it was the Ultras and their penchant for fighting the police, that initially led the physical fight, for example.

But in any case that wasn't the US - you've been blind to the events of the last 5 years if you think a nation isn't perfectly capable of rising in mass protest, and then taking it up a knotch when they see the regime overreacting.

Nor did the US make the decisions of the Ukrainian Parliament in choosing (with arguable legality) to impeach him (they were a few shorts shy of a quorum on the one hand - on the other hand, there was a national emergency and it was imperatve to resolve the matter).

That, again, was all Ukraine.

It's curious the extent to which you think that the US is playing puppet master in Ukraine, fomenting a protest here, a shooting there, a toppling of the government, etc. I'm not sure whether this is because you have outsized views of what the US can do or it's because you don't know much about Ukraine and so, in your mind's eye, they're less vivid than the US.

I am familiar with the doctrine. In terms of US foreign policy, it's essentially a not even thinly disguised euphemism for toppling selectively targeted regimes seen as anti-American and putting pro-US leaders in their place.

Democratic peace theory attempts to explain why democracies do not go to war with one another. There are various attempts, some of them good, but the evidence for the underlying presumption - that democracies tend not to go to war wtih one another - is quite strong and well accepted at this point.

This forms a large part of the reason that the US views stable democracy, assuming a society is ready for it, as that most conducive to global peace and prosperity.

It was not until 2008 that relations turned sour again when the US/EU decided to expand further into former Soviet states, the EU moving forward with its "Eastern Partnership" and NATO announcing that both Georgia and Ukraine would become NATO member states. This was categorically unacceptable to Putin, and from a Russian perspective the equivalent of what Canada or Mexico joining the Warsaw Pact would have been for the US.

Dirk, this could have been written by a Kremlin apologist. You speak as though NATO and the EU "decided to expand further into former Soviet States", as though Georgia and Ukraine were helpless victims.

In fact, Ukraine and Georgia both sought to join NATO for the protection it offered against Russia (you'll remember who was in power then). NATO considered, but rejected, their applications, mostly because of the adverse effect it would have on its relationship with Russia.

Whether the US likes it or not, Putin has made it very clear that he will use any means available to stop Ukraine from joining the West. Which leaves two options on the table:

Further EU/NATO expansion into Eastern Europe is shelved and the region returns to the pre-20008 status quo, perhaps with Ukraine as a neutral buffer state.

That's not an option given Putin's continued meddling in Ukraine. And, frankly, even if Putin were to stop, I think Ukraine would be clamboring for NATO membership at every opportunity.


The US, on general principle and pushed by DC hawks and lobbyists, persists in its "democracy promotion" campaign and a proxy war with Russia ensues. Ukraine goes down in flames, a lot of people die, and Europe, for all practical purposes, is back to the days of the cold war.

Proxy war?? The only party to have provided weapons, soldiers, and heavy artillery to a belligerent has been Russia. Let's be real about this. The US is not fighting a war. Europe is not fighting a war. Ukraine is fighting a quasi-civil war, partly against genuine separatists and partly against Russian invaders.

As a bonus, a rift is created in NATO and the transatlantic alliance between the US/UK on one side, and France and Germany on the other. Because nobody in Europe wants such a scenario that even NATO generals have warned against.

In the meantime Ukranians clamor for an EU or UN peacekeeping force (which they're actually doing), while Russian-backed separatists have launched hundreds of attacks since Minsk 2. Both Germany and France have made clear that further sanctions would be forthcoming if the cease fire does not hold.

To sum it up: Russia did not make a move against the US, Western or even Eastern Europe. The US/EU tried to expand into former Soviet states and that policy backfired in a way they'd never expected. Personally, I don't care too much who's running Ukraine. And that goes for most Europeans.

Yes, Russia didn't make a move against the US.

It made a move against Ukraine.

Yes, Russia didn't prevent the US from doing anything.

It prevented Ukraine from doing something.

You don't get it. The Ukrainians wanted a turn - a matter contested, but in general - towards Europe, and away from what they associated as the corruption and domination of Russia. This is what sparked Russia's military intervention. The perfectly valid plan of a struggling nation to find better economic fortunes through more robust democratic systems and stronger ties to democratic allies.

Dirk PraetMarch 20, 2015 10:11 PM

@ Skeptical

As to why it's different now, there is no Cold War.

And us over here in Europe would very much like to keep it that way. In essence, you (and the USG) keep ignoring the many strategic and economic interests Russia has in Ukraine: significant portions of the country are populated by ethnic Russians (Crimea, Eastern regions), Russia's Black Sea naval fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol, half of gas sales to Europe go through Ukrainian pipelines and its industries overall are tightly integrated into the Russian economy. In recent years, there have also been several natural gas discoveries off the coasts of Romania, Ukraine and around the Black Sea. So yes, and from a geopolitical point of view, I do understand Putin taking issue with Ukraine moving over to the West.

Your reasoning is however interesting in the sense that it reveals a recurring and fatal flaw in US foreign policy when dealing with non-US friendly regimes: the utter inability to properly assess local/regional sensitivities and interests as well as consequences of US actions under the misguided belief that the only opinion that really matters is that of the USG.

you've been blind to the events of the last 5 years if you think a nation isn't perfectly capable of rising in mass protest, and then taking it up a knotch when they see the regime overreacting.

Not at all. As I said before, the Orange Revolution was a popular uprising. Euromaidan was not. The US may not have been the puppet master in the sense that it orchestrated and organised the coup - as Putin claims -, but its financial and logistic support to anti-Yanukovych forces both embolded and empowered them to overthrow a legitimately elected president.

I'm not sure whether this is because you have outsized views of what the US can do or it's because you don't know much about Ukraine

The guy from the shop where I get my protein and whey food supplements is from Ukraine with an ethnic Russian background. There's also a couple from Kiev at one of the local pubs. I get along just fine with all three of them, especially because one of them plays a real mean game of pinball. They tell very interesting stories you never hear in our MSM. Who are your sources on the ground ?

Dirk, this could have been written by a Kremlin apologist. You speak as though NATO and the EU "decided to expand further into former Soviet States" ...

I prefer the term "independent analyst". And I actually quoted John Mearsheimer, Senior Professor International Relations at the University of Chicago. He was one of three key presenters at a round table conference on "Defining a new security architecture for Europe that brings Russia in from the cold", held in Brussels on March 2nd.

And, frankly, even if Putin were to stop, I think Ukraine would be clamboring for NATO membership at every opportunity.

Given the circumstances, the only sane course of action is to decline the request unless some retard on general principle wants an all-out war between NATO and Russia. Remember Article 5.

The only party to have provided weapons, soldiers, and heavy artillery to a belligerent has been Russia.

Re-read what I said: a proxy war will ensue (future tense) if the US decides to stay the course, send in "advisors" and arm Ukraine. This may put some domestic pressure on Putin as soon as the body bags start coming in, but it's just as likely that the entire nation will rally even more behind him. There are no winners in either scenario. Even Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, US army commander in Europe, doesn't believe such a war can be won. The net result is Ukraine going down in flames and relations between Russia and the EU damaged beyond repair. The only party to benefit hereof is the US military-industrial complex. Everybody else loses.

You don't get it. The Ukrainians wanted a turn - a matter contested, but in general - towards Europe, and away from what they associated as the corruption and domination of Russia.

What the Ukrainian people - as any other people - want is a competent government, free of corruption and nepotism, that brings about economic prosperity and social justice. Yanukovych and his government were horribly corrupt and incompetent. But so were Yushchenko, Timoschenko and the other politicians that took over in 2005, to the point that they were sent home in the 2010 elections that brought back Yanukovych.

Euromaidan did not bring democratically elected leaders to power, but US/EU-backed oligarchs, kleptocrats and technocrats that care as much about democracy as their pro-Russia predecessors did. Net gain for the Ukrainian people: zilch.

SkepticalMarch 21, 2015 6:26 PM


@Dirk: In essence, you (and the USG) keep ignoring the many strategic and economic interests Russia has in Ukraine: significant portions of the country are populated by ethnic Russians (Crimea, Eastern regions), Russia's Black Sea naval fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol, half of gas sales to Europe go through Ukrainian pipelines and its industries overall are tightly integrated into the Russian economy. In recent years, there have also been several natural gas discoveries off the coasts of Romania, Ukraine and around the Black Sea. So yes, and from a geopolitical point of view, I do understand Putin taking issue with Ukraine moving over to the West.

None of that is sufficient to justify an invasion. Populations were not threatened, Ukraine was hardly about to hold Russia's oil or gas transports hostage, and there was no question that Russia would have been able to renew its lease.

The question is not whether Russia has any interest in Ukraine. The question is whether there was a threat to those interests sufficient to justify an invasion.

The answer is no - unless you think Germany is also justified in invading Ukraine because of the dependence it, and the eurozone generally, has on oil and gas imports through those pipelines.

Your reasoning is however interesting in the sense that it reveals a recurring and fatal flaw in US foreign policy when dealing with non-US friendly regimes: the utter inability to properly assess local/regional sensitivities and interests as well as consequences of US actions under the misguided belief that the only opinion that really matters is that of the USG.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, Australia, et al disagree with you.

It's a bit shocking to see how casually you seem to accept Russia's use of military force to dissuade an Eastern European nation from turning towards Europe. You can understand why many find this extremely troubling.

Not at all. As I said before, the Orange Revolution was a popular uprising. Euromaidan was not. The US may not have been the puppet master in the sense that it orchestrated and organised the coup - as Putin claims -, but its financial and logistic support to anti-Yanukovych forces both embolded and empowered them to overthrow a legitimately elected president.

Yanukovych's fall had everything to do with his response to protesters, general dissatisfaction, and ultimately the decision of the Ukrainian Parliament. The US certainly sought to influence, peacefully, the aftermath. In western Ukraine, the aftermath involved elections. Where Russian forces operated, the aftermath involved civil war or annexation.

I prefer the term "independent analyst". And I actually quoted John Mearsheimer, Senior Professor International Relations at the University of Chicago. He was one of three key presenters at a round table conference on "Defining a new security architecture for Europe that brings Russia in from the cold", held in Brussels on March 2nd.

Ah, the same Mearsheimer who argued that Ukraine should retain a nuclear deterrent to avoid Russian domination.

Oddly, Mearsheimer now also believes that Ukraine is such a core strategic interest of Russia that closer economic ties between it and the EU would somehow threaten Russian security, justifying and motivating Russia's military intervention.

And what Mearsheimer thinks is that the West is naively following a theory of international liberalism, leading it to take provocative actions as viewed by Russia who reacts predictably (as predicted, he'd say, by his theory of offensive neorealism). In other words, the problem of the West is that it pursued a policy based on the expansion of democracy, human rights, and free trade, rather than viewing the world as an anarchic international system dominated by regional hegemons, each of which would resist by force any diminishing of their respective power.

The varieties of realism do get some things right, but it's curiously blind to entire dimensions of human affairs.

Now, as to whether Putin believes Mearsheimer's claims is an interesting question.

Unfortunately, Putin's actions left the West with very little choice themselves but to respond. I think if he had stopped with Crimea, Russia would be in a better position today. Eastern Ukraine was and remains a dubious and dangerous venture. A much better approach would have been to use Russia's leverage in Ukraine to push decentralization, and then forming tighter networks with those regions naturally attuned to Russian interest and influence. But that approach would have not been as beneficial to Putin in domestic politics.

This all gets much worse.

Because Putin has utilized this entire affair to ratchet up his own support, and has tied all of this to a frankly paranoid, anti-American, anti-Western framework, I do not see how he can possibly pivot and improve Russian relations without removing a vital component of his domestic political strategy.

In other words, in Russia needs to be hostile to the US because the current Russian leadership needs that hostility to maintain power. And now we're back in George Kennan territory.

I hope that Putin is adroit enough to turn this away from such hostility, as it is greatly detrimental to Russia over the long run, but we will see. I lack insight into his actual motivation or thinking, beyond the handful of public statements of his that I sometimes read, and scattered reporting in the press.

Given the circumstances, the only sane course of action is to decline the request unless some retard on general principle wants an all-out war between NATO and Russia. Remember Article 5.

Ukraine was always an unlikely entrant into NATO, in part because of its instability and in part out of sensitivity to Russia.

The real question for many policy-makers in the West, I believe, was whether Russia would allow former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe to remain independent absent explicit NATO commitment.

All the West have ever desired, since the very start of the Cold War, is that these nations be independent and democratically determinative of their own destiny. The US in particular, rightly or wrongly, has long viewed liberal democracy and trade as the solution to what were centuries of warfare in Europe. Ultimately the goal is for the stable peace that accompanies such arrangements to ensure that the US never again need fight another European war, never again need bury its dead in European cemeteries, never again need offer for sacrifice entire divisions simply to make clear to a hostile authoritarian system the extent of US commitment to a free Europe.

So the US does not desire conflict in Europe. The US did not seek it, the US did not encourage it, and the US fully understands the dangers such a conflict raises. It is precisely because of that understanding that US continues to make such preventive efforts in Europe. And should such preventive efforts ever fail, should the unthinkable happen yet again, there is no doubt that the US would fight with the same intensity and complete ruthlessness with which it would defend its own soil.

One would think, after the last century, after the second world war, after the reconstruction of Western Europe (though funds were offered to Eastern Europe as well), after the defense of it that the US maintained throughout the Cold War at the risk of its own existence, steadfastly through the hours of maximum danger, and even to this very second, not impinging upon the independence and democratic self-determination of those nations but rather protecting it, that there would be no doubt as to US intentions.

Re-read what I said: a proxy war will ensue (future tense) if the US decides to stay the course, send in "advisors" and arm Ukraine.

Staying the course involves continuation of sanctions contingent upon Russian action, not an escalation to lethal support.

This may put some domestic pressure on Putin as soon as the body bags start coming in, but it's just as likely that the entire nation will rally even more behind him. There are no winners in either scenario. Even Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, US army commander in Europe, doesn't believe such a war can be won. The net result is Ukraine going down in flames and relations between Russia and the EU damaged beyond repair. The only party to benefit hereof is the US military-industrial complex. Everybody else loses.

A decision to provide lethal support would be insignificant to the US economy and to major US defense companies. That's not a factor.

The effects of such an escalation on Ukraine, on Europe, and on Russia, are factors.

What the Ukrainian people - as any other people - want is a competent government, free of corruption and nepotism, that brings about economic prosperity and social justice. Yanukovych and his government were horribly corrupt and incompetent. But so were Yushchenko, Timoschenko and the other politicians that took over in 2005, to the point that they were sent home in the 2010 elections that brought back Yanukovych.

Yes. Closer relationships with the EU help on those matters, because such relationships reward anti-corruption efforts and discourage official corruption. One cannot say the same, presently, about relationships with Russia.

Euromaidan did not bring democratically elected leaders to power, but US/EU-backed oligarchs, kleptocrats and technocrats that care as much about democracy as their pro-Russia predecessors did. Net gain for the Ukrainian people: zilch.

Due to the refusal of separatists to allow participation in the election in certain regions, the results of the election certainly favored pro-Western parties. That's not a result of US or EU backing, but a result of Russian military involvement. The result served Russian ends by further severing Eastern Ukraine (Crimea was lost by that point) from the Ukrainian Government.

The US and Europe have both worked quite hard to aid efforts in Ukraine to monitor elections and ensure that they were fair.

The reality is that once Russia saw that Yanukovych could not possibly retain power, they activated a military campaign. By contrast, the US and EU urged moderation, unity, and a democratic process.

The implication for Ukraine is stark, and the truth will out, however buried beneath Russian propaganda it may be for some.

tyrMarch 22, 2015 1:56 AM


Has anyone watched Bitter Lake yet ? It seems to quite
relevant to this topic even if you're not an Adam
Curtis fan.

His main point seems to be that if you buy into a myth
about good versus evil you will suffer horrendous
consequences because of your lack of understanding.

He is about the only journalist who paid attention to
the historical record of Afghan vs Brit and considers
it relevant. It is also a good look at what sews the
seeds for future problems.

BuckMarch 22, 2015 9:06 PM

@tyr

Do you think Good v. Evil has anything to do with Truth v. Lies, or do they operate on separate planes?

Dirk PraetMarch 22, 2015 9:14 PM

@ Skeptical

It's a bit shocking to see how casually you seem to accept Russia's use of military force to dissuade an Eastern European nation from turning towards Europe.

I have said before that I don't condone Putin's actions. The point I'm trying to make is that they were predictable. If I get into an affair with your wife, we cannot preclude a violent reaction on your behalf - however unjustified - on the general principle that she has the right to make her own choices and that you will just stand by idly. Especially in a context where previously you had already lost your job to me. The thing here is that Russia does find its actions justified, and that anyone with half a brain could have seen them coming.

Yanukovych's fall had everything to do with his response to protesters,

His totalitarian approach certainly sealed his faith, but it is pretty stunning how you keep downplaying the role of the US in the events leading up to those fatal clashes. US Senator John McCain in December 2013 did address protesters on Kiev's main square declaring their destiny was with Europe (despite an official EU communiqué that talks were on hold), and still is one of the most outspoken supporters of US military support to Ukraine. And there was Assistant Secretary of State Victoria "F*ck the EU" Nuland and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt walking hand in hand around protester camps. More telling however is the leaked phone call between those two, revealing some really close ties to the opposition and a clear game-plan at different levels, amongst other things trying to influence who was going to be in the new government and who not. I guess $5 billion and some additional promises does buy you some leverage.

If nothing else, the call does show that the US played a much more active role than it's willing to admit publicly.

In other words, the problem of the West is that it pursued a policy based on the expansion of democracy, human rights ...

We both know that this is a fairy tale. By your own admission, the US will "walk with the devil" if that serves their interests. And short of some verbal critique, they will do exactly nothing to push regime change on US friendly nations (e.g. Saudi Arabia) or countries where they have no practical interests (e.g. Tibet), whatever the state of democracy and human rights there.

A much better approach would have been to use Russia's leverage in Ukraine to push decentralization, and then forming tighter networks with those regions naturally attuned to Russian interest and influence.

Ukraine is a unitary state made up of 24 oblasts or administrative units with little to no autonomy, with the (former) Autonomous Republic of Crimea being the only exception. It is important to understand that there are important political and social divisions between the northern-western-central and southern-eastern portions of the country. What we now know as Western Ukraine consists for a major part of former Polish and Romanian provinces annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 and 1940.

It is not a coincidence that this is the part of the country where a majority of the population is in favour of joining the EU, whereas it's exactly the other way around in the south and parts of the east. For the entire country, it's a 50/50 split at best. In short, and contrary to what we are led to believe in western MSM, there was NO country-wide consensus on joining either the EU or NATO.

What you're proposing could indeed have worked in the context of a decentralised state with semi-autonomous regions able to make their own decisions on political and economic directions. But this just wasn't the case, and even if Putin some way or another would have been able to force Ukraine into such a reform, he would have drawn equal flak for trying to break up the country. Granting more autonomy to the contested eastern regions is however part of the Minsk treaty.

Because Putin has utilized this entire affair to ratchet up his own support, and has tied all of this to a frankly paranoid, anti-American, anti-Western framework,

We are indeed seeing a return to the days of the cold war in both western and Russian media. Have you read the downright preposterous Bloomberg article on Eugene Kaspersky's alleged KGB ties and sauna habits, by the way?

In other words, Russia needs to be hostile to the US because the current Russian leadership needs that hostility to maintain power.

Putin's lowest approval rating ever was 47% end of 2013, which is more or less on par with Obama's best scores. In the early months of 2014, Levada polls showed it was up to 68% again, and last month, it was a whopping 86%. In short: Putin didn't need the Ukraine crisis to stay in power, but it certainly hasn't hurt his domestic popularity.

So the US does not desire conflict in Europe. The US did not seek it, the US did not encourage it, and the US fully understands the dangers such a conflict raises.

Nobody said that. They just failed to properly assess Putin's reaction to US/EU meddling in Ukraine, and which led to an armed conflict. Who's right and who's wrong doesn't really matter much to any party currently suffering from it.

Staying the course involves continuation of sanctions contingent upon Russian action, not an escalation to lethal support.

Then what about the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 and the Ukraine Security Assistance Act of 2014 ? There's quite some bipartisan support in Congress to actually arm Ukraine.

A decision to provide lethal support would be insignificant to the US economy and to major US defense companies.

A recent report by The Brookings Institution, The Atlantic Council, and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, authored by eight former senior US diplomatic and military officials, recommends that the US commit funds to upgrade Ukraine’s defense capabilities, specifically providing $1 billion in military assistance this year, followed by an additional $1 billion each in the next two fiscal years. I wouldn't exactly call that insignificant. That's about the annual Belgian defense budget.

The reality is that once Russia saw that Yanukovych could not possibly retain power, they activated a military campaign.

Yanukovych and his minions were as unpopular in the Kremlin as they were in Ukraine. Putin activated a military campaign when he realised that the transitional government would be made up exclusively of anti-Russian forces no longer willing to deal with him, thus losing complete control over the entire country, including the Crimea and other parts that were against association with the EU and NATO. Things would have gone down entirely different if the EU, and especially the US, had reached out to the Kremlin to negotiate a deal acceptable to all parties involved - like the decentralisation you proposed -, but they instead chose to completely ignore Russian interests and sensitivities in the matter, which blew up in everyone's face.

tyrMarch 23, 2015 3:43 PM


@ Buck

See the work of Tony Wright.

In general any belief in Capitalized Concepts
is a result of serious mental problems which
then result in serious behavioral problems.

Anyone who seeks closure needs to take a long
look at Godel and ponder the signifigance.

Occam razor answer, No to your question.

BuckMarch 23, 2015 8:17 PM

@tyr

I must admit that I find Penrose's take on Gödel to be incredibly fascinating...
While reading about "Left in the Dark," Hameroff and his' Orch-OR theory immediately sprung to mind!

Kaleigh KeleyJuly 18, 2015 1:03 AM

For a 50Hz signal, the same antenna will need to be 14,264Km in length; larger than earth's diameter. So you are correct, of course! Maybe intelligent extra terrestrial civilizations have bigger planets or different ways of detecting signals.

Light Frequency Wave Length Calculator

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