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Michael Phillips revisits an old post about self defense in the context of Israel and anti-Semitism mumblemouthed as “anti-Zionism”, and Gerard van der Leun takes notice in his sidebar. Phillips’s thesis is that Jews have historically been pacifists and passivists, retreating, appeasing, and compromising when attacked, and much of modern anti-Semitism is excited by the fact that Israel does not continue that policy. The reaction among Europeans, especially the Left, approximates O s*t, the damn Jews are shooting back! What the f*k is this?

There is much to be said in favor of the notion. It’s a matter of record that Jews, especially European Jews of the Diaspora, routinely yielded in the face of oppression, going along with (or even promoting) ghettoization and not responding violently to pogroms and lesser attacks. They saw this policy as a matter of survival that fitted with their teachings and traditions, and adhered to it even when horribly attacked. They did, in fact, survive, and that tended to validate the policy on both sides. Jews saw that pacifism resulting in preserving their society and traditions, and the Princes of Europe saw that Jews were people who could be beat upon with impunity. Israel discards that policy; American Jews, largely immigrants from Europe steeped in the former tradition, find the change unnervingly discordant, and the successors to the European nobility discover with alarm that their former whipping-boy is no longer so submissive.

But it would be a mistake to see that as the only explanation. Anti-Semitism has a long and dishonorable history throughout the world, predating by centuries or millenia the establishment of a modern Jewish State. Alarm and resentment when Jews are so uppity as to defend themselves goes a long way toward explaining modern attitudes, but doesn’t explain historical events.

Societies evolve just as species do, and by similar or analogous mechanisms. Species evolution proceeds on Darwinian principles — one or more individuals acquire a new characteristic or trait, by chance mutation; if that new trait allows the individual to reproduce more successfully than the others of the species do, that individual’s offspring will be numerous, and will share the new characteristic; over (extended) time the new trait becomes dominant. Societal evolution is more nearly Lamarckian. New procedures arise by innovation, whether chance or reasoning; if they are “better” in the sense that they promote survival and reproduction of the individual, they are transmitted and become the norm. The difference is the transmission method. Acquisition of the new trait is not confined to the offspring of the innovator, because it can be transmitted to others by teaching based on language.

Species compete with one another in two ways. New traits may evolve to give the species a reproductive advantage, allowing them to become more numerous and “crowd out” competitors; new traits may evolve to give the species an advantage in either predation or defense against neighboring species, again allowing them to survive and gain in numbers. It’s a mistake to reduce Darwinian evolution to “survival of the fittest”. The species we see today are those whose evolution made them fit enough to survive in the environment they encountered over the æons, including other species which also evolved traits sufficient for their survival.

Societies compete in the same two ways. Human societies have only been around for a few tens of millenia, rather than the millions of years in which species evolved, but that is offset by the enormously faster rate of transmission of new traits by teaching using language. Societies which develop societal traits that result in better nutrition and/or reproduction grow; societies which adopt procedures that make them either better able to predate upon neighboring societies or to mount an effective defense against such predation survive and prosper. Human societies also have a means of expansion not available to species: accretion. A society which observes an effective procedure or trait in its neighbors may adopt it, and over time become more similar than not to the neighbor, sometimes to the point of absorption. Just as with species, the societies we observe today are the ones that adopted customs and procedures that made them fit enough to survive in the environment they encountered; societies which did not adopt behaviors promoting survival did not survive and are not present now.

Jewish society long ago adopted customs and procedures which we see, today, as strongly promoting its survival. It would be otiose (and probably misguided) to recite the list, but one that contributes strongly to the modern situation is exclusiveness. Wherever they go, Jews form communities within which they preserve their customs and procedures and avoid adopting those of the society or societies they neighbor or in which they find themselves embedded. This choice is validated the way any other evolutionary happenstance is validated: Jewish society is always a clearly identifiable subset of the general society, and survives and prospers while remaining cohesive. In almost every case, it can be also noted that the other (here unenumerated) traits of Jewish society result in its also becoming more prosperous, healthy, and generally stronger than the surrounding societies — strong enough, in fact, to withstand the most appalling attacks while remaining substantially intact as a society, though individuals may suffer grievously.

One of the bedrock traits of human beings and human societies is envy, jealousy, and general resentment of the more successful. This, again, is conserved by evolution — healthy animals are targets for predation because it is more cost-effective in terms of return (food gained) on investment (the effort of hunting and killing prey); prosperous societies control resources that a successful attacker can take and distribute, making the attacking society stronger. Covetousness is the societal analogue of hunger, the mechanism by which human societies inspire themselves to attack their fat, rich neighbors, thereby improving their own chances.

Species and societies both develop defense mechanisms against predation, but they always concentrate on increasing the cost of predation rather than reductions in their own attractiveness as prey, because competition between species or societies is secondary to health and prosperity within the group. Defenses may take the form of armor (increasing the effort required to kill), speed (forcing the predator to expend energy in pursuit), or active defense (making the attacker absorb “hit points”), among others. Prey may also adopt a passive defense, at the extreme the R-strategy of reproduction, producing so many individuals that the species as a whole will survive regardless of the level of predation.

Jewish customs and procedures are simply better than those of most competing societies, as is visible in the fact that Jewish societies are almost invariably healthier and more prosperous than their neighbors. This quite naturally inspires those neighbors to predation, expressed as covetous resentment. Jewish societies to date have primarily defended themselves by passive means, including the fact that their prosperity is based on “economics”, that is, their prosperity is an effect of their customs; an invader come to take their stuff finds himself empty-handed. This turns out to be an excellent fit with industrial civilization, in which a predator desirous of the factory’s output finds himself having to destroy the factory in order to sequester it; at the same time, the increasing deadliness of weapons (and of large populations wielding them) makes passive, “absorb the hit” survival strategies less and less tenable. Jewish society therefore begins to adopt other defensive methods, including armor (walls and blast deflectors), flight (emigrating to places with less-dangerous societies), and now active defense — shooting back when shot at. Predatory societies are thereby discomfited. Foxes might well be surprised and resentful if chickens adopted firearms to defend the coop.

From Thos. Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address, 4th March 1805:

At home, fellow-citizens, you best know whether we have done well or ill. The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses, enable us to discontinue our internal taxes. These, covering our land with officers and opening our doors to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which once entered is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively every article of property and produce. If among these taxes some minor ones fell which had not been inconvenient, it was because their amount would not have paid the officers who collected them, and because, if they had any merit, the State authorities might adopt them instead of others less approved,

The remaining revenue on the consumption of foreign articles is paid chiefly by those who can afford to add foreign luxuries to domestic comforts, being collected on our seaboard and frontiers only, and, incorporated with the transactions of our mercantile citizens, it may be the pleasure and pride of an American to ask, What farmer, what mechanic, what laborer ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?

How have the mighty fallen.

The National Science Foundation is in a quandary, and has convened a Panel of Experts©®™ to consider the matter. (via Watts Up With That). My input, and yours for that matter, isn’t welcome; we, you see, are the problem.

The quandary is this: their message about Global Warming Climate Change Climate Disruption The Falling Sky is increasingly falling on deaf ears, and Something Must Be Done. Like any other group of evangelists strong in the Faith, their immediate conclusion is that what we have here is Failyoor t’ C’municate, and they seek better techniques for Getting the Message Out. The report so far is amusing in an ironic sort of way, and will no doubt be useful in future, though not the way they expect. Having rejected the notion of going to Bob Jones University or the nearest Baptist seminary for advice, they are re-creating from scratch (and with a strong scientific basis!) the techniques developed ad hoc by Jones, Oral Roberts, and Aimee Semple MacPherson. Future evangelists will no doubt draw on it for further inspiration. In a way it’s too bad they’ve lost Al Gore to the Cause, because whether or not he can execute, he comes from a polity with a solid grounding in the fundamentals.

It’s Al, Brother Al, say Brother Al’s travelin’ Globe-Warmin’ Show
(Halle! Halle!)
The newsie’ll see us, so load up the Prius, and everyone goes
‘Cause everyone knows
Brother Al’s shows
(Hallelujah!)
(Halle Hallelujah!)

People who don’t know and understand how it goes, especially those who see themselves as disadvantaged by it, tend to have an utterly mistaken view of evangelists. They might see a conference of preachers as concerned with Perpetuating the Patriarchy or Keeping the N*s Down, but that is never the case. Whether or not any individual attendee has some other agenda, the discussions will be based on Getting the Message Out, and the philosophical basis will be pure altruism: Brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors are going to Hell if we don’t convince them to cast out the Devil! We must find ways to tell them that so that they understand and come to the True Faith! There’s no doubt that the devotées of Global Warming feel the same way, as you will see from the report of their meeting.

However, just in case one might be paying a bit of attention —

First: You have schoolchildren the length and breadth of this country and Europe waking up screaming and coming sobbing to their parents to demand that they save the polar bears; you have millions of city dwellers lobbying for destruction of the energy sources that keep them alive; you have very nearly the entire Governments of the United States and the European Concert Union acting with the common goal of getting rid of anything and everything that might make normal people’s lives easy and comfortable in the Holy Name of Climate Change. It is hard to see how you might Get The Message Out more effectively! When the news about earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan arrived, some friends and I were partaking of recreational beverages; the talking-head breathlessly told us the news, and with one voice some half a dozen rednecks appended “…’cause of Global Warming!” If a gang of boot-wearing mechanics, welders, and horse-wranglers in a hick Texas town has the message down pat, there’s no obvious way for you to get much beyond that.

In fact, the problem may be that you’ve gotten the message out too effectively. No snow: Climate Change! Too much snow: Climate Disruption! If there’s anything at all that’s disruptive, unpleasant, irritating, or otherwise undesirable, from excessive flooding to one’s SO getting the clap, if it can’t be blamed on raaaaacism it’s all the fault of Global Warming, and there will be bespectacled Real Scientists nodding vigorously as the blow-dried pontificate on the subject. You might well be advised to lay low for a while and let the more ridiculous bits evaporate, meanwhile trying to coordinate a common message with a bit less overreach.

Second: We know damned well that you can’t cool it for a while, because we also know that you’re in the position of the monkey with the candy jar. Grants and contracts, and more important, ain’t it kewl to be on teevee and have people listen to you? Back off even a little, let a few candies fall in the hope of getting your fist out the narrow neck with something still in it, and the Faithful will call in the Alinsky Inquisition to trash you and your reputation, musing the while on the utility of stoning, the stocks, pyres, and the auto-da-fe. It’s just too much to risk.

We also know, from bitter experience, the ways and characteristics of the people who filled the candy jar in the first place. Beyond a few low-level toilers, they don’t Believe — if they did, they wouldn’t be spewing massive amounts of CO2 to attend Climate Conferences, and they wouldn’t be Solving the Carbon Problem by spreading gaseous mercury all over two continents. There is no greater irony at present than the EPA spending thirty years getting heavy metals out of the environment, then turning around and requiring every household to either keep significant amounts of mercury in fragile glass containers or live in the dark. What they want is to be In Charge, to be the one behind deep-tinted windows as the car sweeps past masses of adoring peasants; “Climate Disruption” is a club they think they can use to achieve that, and climate scientists are the handle of the club.

It doesn’t help that a lot of climate scientists expect to be themselves riding comfortably three or four cars back in the motorcade, and are willing to not only go along but lead the effort in that expectation. James Hansen’s NASA puff-piece says explicitly,

The hardest part is trying to influence the nature of the measurements obtained…

With friends like that, you don’t need “climate skeptics” for opposition, but you will get them. Your problem isn’t Getting the Message Out; it’s the content of the Message, and louder, cleverer, or more “public-oriented” ways of Getting it Out will just make things worse.

 

What to do about Space, O what shall we do?

Administrator Bolden of NASA spoke on the subject the other day, and Rand Simberg has links to some responses. Briefly: there is no 2011 budget, so the administrator doesn’t really have any money, and the outlook for the future depends on getting the Congress, especially the Senate, to agree on something and fund it. That looks more unlikely by the minute.

The subject is “Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles”. Keith Cowing has information, including the text of the Senate act in question;  Marcia Smith has some excellent analysis, as usual;  and Jeff Foust weighs in with another look and some informed speculation. The pieces are long, and much of the material is eyes-glaze-over details, either technical or political; for those of us in the cheap seats, what it boils down to is that ambiguity and disagreement from Congress has Bolden tapdancing as best he can. The crux of the argument is whether to walk before running, go for the gold in one fell swoop, or do nothing at all. It would appear that Bolden would prefer the first, but he can’t afford to say so because it would offend a Congress that seems determined on the second — and the actual result may be the third.

Don’t look to the President for help. The classic image of organizational futility is herding cats. Herding Senators would make anyone long for the dear dead days of teaching kittehs close-order drill, but the President is supposed to at least try — and, as we have seen over the last two years, Obama refuses or is unable to do so. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, an elephant is a mouse designed by a Congress lacking any direction or coordination from the Executive, even in the sense of coming together against an Administration of the other political party.

What’s fairly clear is that the Congress, especially the Senate, has no concept whatever of a space program as a space program. Sen. Shelby of Alabama is determined to keep Marshall Space Center open and busy and Huntsville humming; the Mississippi delegation wants the same for Michoud, which dovetails perfectly with Orrin Hatch’s non-negotiable demand, held to firmly for thirty years, that whatever gets built will have solid rocket boosters made in Utah or nothing will get built; other Senators and Congresscritters are anxious to see the money spent where it can benefit their constituents.

Now mind you, none of them would actually object if something got sent into space, but that clearly isn’t the point. What they want is an HLPV (Heavy Lift Pork Vehicle) able to deliver the maximum amount of the bacon to their home Districts and States in the minimum amount of time. If the thing works, they can bask in the mellow glow of credit for it; if it doesn’t work, they can always crucify the incumbent NASA Administrator and a few of the engineers in the full view of the Press; either way the important parts, the SLS (Subsidy Launch System) and MPCV (Massive Pork and Cash Vehicle) programs will remain intact.

It’s no secret to my readers that I don’t think much of NASA. What may not be evident is that I am fully and sadly aware that they didn’t set out to be that way; nobody at NASA actually intended to build a moribund, top-heavy bureaucracy unable to do anything but spend money. If I were going to name a villain, my finger would point directly at Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Sen. Hatch is widely regarded as a “friend of the space program”, and that’s certainly true in the sense that he’s been willing to fight the likes of Walter Mondale to get something funded — but he has consistently extracted his own pound of schweinefleisch in the process, and the result has been consistently problematical. The technical problems it has caused were subject to workarounds; it’s been the attitude and concomitant procedures, the notion that “space” was just high-tech WPA with barrels of pork for all concerned, that eventually made successive NASA administrations throw up their hands and go with the flow.  With friends like that, nobody needs enemies.

The only good thing that might fall out of all this is encouragement of a genuine private space industry. DOD and NSA will still want to launch satellites, and if NASA  hasn’t the necessary the money will go to people who do. There’s trouble there on two fronts. First, Congress doesn’t like private space — the writers of the above pieces describe it as “suspicion”, but what it really is is the uncomfortable realization that if the Government isn’t handing out money the Congresscritters can’t channel it to their preferred beneficiaries, so as to assure a backflow of campaign contributions. The idea of just handing the Air Force money to launch a satellite and having the job sent out for bid, with consequent lack of a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by a beaming Congresscritter being lauded for openhanded generosity, makes their teeth itch. Second, the beneficiaries, if any, are likely to be other than Americans. Stalling and technical ineptitude have already resulted in Space Station supply being outsourced to the Russians, whose bolt-Ivan-in-the-can-and-set-it-off attitude toward development makes them more flexible and less expensive; more of the same is likely to happen if funding gets tight.

Two things are certain: if nobody with the prestige and political heft to get the Senators all in the same book (on the same page is hopeless) shows up, whatever happens will be expensive, slow, and suboptimal; second, if anything American gets built it will have Solid Rocket Boosters made by Thiokol in Utah — Sen. Hatch will see to that. The rest awaits events.

Smitty, Stacy, and others calling for the abolition of the Federal Reserve are treating the symptoms, not the disease. It’s the equivalent of curing gout by having leeches drink the excess blood, or treating schizophrenia by relieving the pressure on the brain.

Now hear this: We have a fiat currency, and we will have fiat currency for the foreseeable future. “Hard” currencies have failures and drawbacks of their own. It’s just been so long since anybody lived under a hard-currency regime that we’ve forgotten why we went to fiat currencies in the first place.

The only choice we really have is who is to manage the fiat currency, and the problem there isn’t that it’s fiat currency, it’s slapping Maserati badges on it and turning it over to incompetents who aren’t quite sure which end has the headlights but are absolutely certain that they need no further training or experience behind the wheel. To be scrupulously fair to Bernanke & Co., it is perfectly possible, even likely, that the combined wisdom and expertise of every economist since the concept became current would not be sufficient to manage the situation created by people who Want It Now and are blithely unconcerned about the cost — Daddy will whip out the credit card, as usual.

People with Great Ideas quite often fail to ask themselves, “What happens after I succeed?” Eliminating the Federal Reserve has exactly nil, nada, zero, zip, no chance whatever of returning us to the Good Old Days of a gold double eagle in every pocket and a chicken freshly killed by a virtuous libertarian hunter in every pot; to begin with, the Good Old Days are largely mythical, based on remembering the chicken and forgetting the chicken shit. There will be fiat currency, and it will be managed, and trading the Federal Reserve for the Bank of the United Nations does not strike me as a well-thought-out transaction.

 

Social advances have been so (relatively) common in the past two centuries or so that they have spawned a movement, sometimes labeled “Progressive”, that posits the indefinite continuation of the trend. Changes in society in ways that we consider more moral, more ethical, or both — abolition of slavery and child labor, women’s suffrage, tolerance of homosexuality, and a thousand others — have become so commonplace that many of us tend to expect such changes to keep happening, and conservatives, who by definition oppose radical changes, are sometimes demonized for standing in the way.

Advances in social justice are often attributed to moral or ethical improvement led by thinkers of conscience. That makes a nice platform on which the intelligentsia can preen in the glow of their Advanced Goodness©®™, but it simply isn’t the case. However vile his predictions may have been, Marx’s main insight will live forever: social upheavals are a response to economic changes rather than improved Goodness. His mistake was to assume that this was only true in a negative sense, that “the Proletariat” would respond to diminishing economic status by pressing for social change, and that was the only factor to be considered. In fact the trend has been the other way since the 1700s at least — social improvement follows economic improvement. The true advances in the past two centuries or so have been economic, and social goods came because the society could afford them, being wealthier.

The clearest example of that, because the most egregious, is slavery. The slaves we see in historical accounts, the bodyservants and urban laborers, were a sideshow — the toiling masses of slaves labored on farms and plantations, growing food to supply the cities and the rise of the artisan, bourgeois, and aristocratic classes. Slavery did not exist because people thought it morally or ethically right; it existed because of economic conditions, specifically agriculture in an era before machine power or decent understanding of biology. We, today, routinely expect that the return from agriculture will be enormous — 500 or a thousand to one, cultivated and harvested by a tiny minority of relatively well-paid people using machines. It is almost impossible for us to imagine crop yields of as little as ten to one — for every ten pounds of crop harvested, they had to have a pound of seed — and that requiring continual backbreaking labor throughout the growth and harvest phases, but that’s how our ancestors lived.

It’s not as if our predecessors thought slavery good or right in any absolute sense. It’s true that there weren’t many who argued against it from a moral or ethical standpoint, but they did what people always do: they rationalized it. One of the bedrock assumptions of human society everywhere is that it is acceptable, or even virtuous, to do bad things to Bad People. It follows that if you want to do something bad you have only to define your victims as Bad People, whereupon you have a free hand. Opponents in war are Bad Guys, so it’s OK to chain them up and make them work. Some ethnic groups are too stupid or too primitive to live as civilized beings, so it’s good and honorable to put them to uses they’re suited for — that one was developed considerably by whites in the U. S. South, but they didn’t invent the concept; the very word “Slav” derives from the Roman perception that those pale-skinned folk from the North and East were fit only for grunt labor. In any case, the very concoction of such a pretext is a tacit admission that its formulators want to do something morally or ethically questionable (at best) to somebody.

But if there were to be an intelligentsia at all, if there were to be anybody anywhere to do art and buy it, to create laws and enforce them, to think about things like emancipation and how the World worked, slavery was necessary, because the society simply wasn’t productive enough. If you went back by time machine and waved a magic wand over, e.g., the Roman Empire, giving everybody an equal share of the wealth of society, the median slave or slave-equivalent would barely see any increment of well-being, and shortly after that everyone would starve. Management, often derided because done badly, is necessary in order for production to occur, and if nobody has enough food or leisure to think about methods, procedures, and goals, production will be limited at best. If anybody at all was going to eat, there had to be overseers to direct the workers; the overseers needed planners and managers, and so on up the ladder. At each stage of the climb the individuals on that rung got more resources than the ones below, in effect a tax on the productive to support management of production; their families shared in the wealth, and at the top there were people with enough food and leisure to become educated and start thinking about moral and ethical issues.

Abolitionists and advocates of Social Justice didn’t free the slaves. Trevithick and Watt and McCormick and a host of others did, by inventing and producing machines that could do the work. The wealth produced by slaves was no longer necessary, because wealth could be produced by other means. People were then free to consider the moral and ethical issues involved, and could begin to abandon the rationalizations that made slavery possible without at the same time staring poverty and starvation in the face. It goes back before machines, too. Serfdom, however vile, is de minimis an advance over slavery, but didn’t become possible until domesticated animals largely displaced human labor — and slavery returned with a vengeance when the plantation system, essentially the Roman latifundia with more effective management, came along and vastly increased the productivity of society on the average.

Abolishing slavery was expensive, because the slaves’ production, their contribution to the overall wealth of the society, went away; it was affordable because the additional wealth created by providing machines to do the work compensated for it. Only a highly productive society, hence a wealthy one, can afford Social Goods, because in every case the practice whose abolition is a Social Good is one that contributes to societal wealth, and the society can’t afford to do away with it until and unless there is enough wealth from other sources to pay for it. Child labor went away because increasingly capable machines contributed enough wealth to pay for the loss, a continuation of slave and serf emancipation; women’s suffrage arrived because better medicine meant more babies survived, and more babies weren’t necessary because society no longer needed child labor. Pick a Cause, any Cause, and you will find that the Downtrodden are making a contribution to society as a whole; the Cause cannot succeed until and unless that contribution is made by some other source of wealth.

If society is to Progress, new sources of wealth to substitute for the contributions of the Downtrodden (however defined) must be continually found and introduced. What we have seen in Western society since the Thirty Years’ War (more or less) is a cycle: people use physical labor, mental agility, and the tools available to them to implement a new source of wealth, or to wring additional production from an older process; some of that new wealth gets fed back to support better management of labor, more knowledge yielding further increments of mental agility, and better and more powerful tools, which result in new sources of wealth or additional production from the old ones; rinse and repeat. The rest of it goes to consumption, including Liberating whatever segment of the Downtrodden no longer need be forced into production because a substitute is available. Details of how that cycle is managed, let alone names (“capitalism”, “socialism”) are much less important than that it be encouraged and supported if enough wealth is to be accumulated to support additional Social Goods.

Much of modern Progressivism appears specifically designed to break the cycle rather than support it. That isn’t the case, of course, except in a very few instances; the majority of people see a Social Good to be implemented and what appears to be the wealth necessary to support it, and insist that it be achieved right away. The problem is not evil, it is impatience and a childish ignorance of the process by which Social Goods may be attained — it is said, and truly, that the real slogan of every revolutionary is “Why Not Right Now?” Impatience leads to rationalization. Taking things away from people is clearly a Bad Thing; Progressives see the wealth that could be used to accomplish Good Things, but which the possessors don’t readily yield; the people who won’t give up the needful are obviously Bad People, and it is virtuous to punish Bad People by doing bad things to them. The problem is not that this, like most rationalizations, is evil in itself, although it is; the problem is that it breaks the cycle of production yielding feedback that encourages more production.

On top of that we see a concerted attempt to reduce or eliminate sources of wealth coming from outside humanity. Saying “machines” is perhaps misleading. Machines require energy to function, and wealth production has largely been shifted from requiring multiple thousands of 200W meat machines — people, slaves and serfs — to getting that energy input from rocks and goo taken from the ground. Clean air and water is a Social Good, which must be paid for somehow. If Saving the Environment requires abandonment of energy input from non-human sources, including eliminating Exploitation of Animals, that energy must come from somewhere, or be given up, with consequent loss of wealth to support Social Goods. The Roman Empire and the Chin Dynasty, among many others, enjoyed clean air and water except in a few instances of extreme concentration, purchased for the privileged few by the toil of multitudes who got very little for their labor. Imagining that Other People will get to be slaves, serfs, and peasants while you enjoy a comfortable lifestyle is shortsighted at best.

Rebels and insurgents need communications. One of the problems with cell phones and WiFi is that they depend on base stations — somewhere there has to be a transceiver that’s hooked to the Internet or the phone switching fabric (or both, or the two may be one and the same), and if you’re a rebel depending on electronic communications you’re SOL when the Big Guy shuts the towers down.

The Economist has an article on guerilla telecommunications, things people can do to restore access when Maximum Leader pulls the plug. Lots of them are pretty clever, and will get you “on the air” in unlikely circumstances. You still need a tower somewhere, though; maybe the neighboring country will provide. But what if the neighbors like your Maximum Leader, or are in cahoots?

A commenter at Moe Lane’s place notes

…a possible capability of the US military (specifically the Air Force’s EC-130J): forcibly offering telecommunications and internet access to restive, rebellious populations.

I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it’s certainly plausible. Military equipment doesn’t shrink as fast as civilian stuff (for good reasons not germane here) but it does shrink, and the smaller, lighter, and more power-efficient it gets the more you can stuff on an airplane, including an EC-130J or an E-3 Sentry. But better yet…

The actual equipment at a cell phone base station is ridiculously small, even though they have plenty of room to spread out in those prefab concrete buildings. It’s a couple of “relay rack” cabinets, not all that different from what you’d see in your server room if you work for a medium-size company or bigger. How hard would it be to shrink it a bit and stuff it into a Global Hawk, or one of the other medium-to-large UAVs they’re building nowadays? Of course there’s always the chance that Maximum Leader’s goons will shoot it down, but that’s just an excuse for a real “no-fly” zone instead of the thinly-disguised air assault that’s currently going on in Libya — and the whole point of Global Hawk is that it’s way up high, hard to get to, and hard to find even if you can get your SU-27 up there.

Subscriptions, number assignment, and the like are problems, but I’ll bet they’re solvable. Maybe less-capable UAVs could airdrop bundles of valid SIM cards, like they did with leaflets in WWII. There are very likely other ways. Not every country in the world uses the American system of phones “locked” to a single provider.

The Fifties SF writer Eric Frank Russell wrote a whole series of stories about the disruptive effect of minor pinpricks in a monolithic system, notably Wasp and Next of Kin (The Space Willies). Charles Stross‘s novel Singularity Sky opens with the invaders dropping millions of free cell phones (and later much else, but that’s pretty disruptive by itself). If we want to give a big boost to rebels and insurgents, assuring them reliable telecommunications free of eavesdropping (by Maximum Leader & Co; of course we’d listen in, in order to keep current with the situation) would be one way to do it — and since it doesn’t involve horrid nasty guns, at least some of the leftoids ought to be able to tolerate it.

It could even be done privately, or semi-privately. Yeah, airplanes are expensive, but not that horribly so in a world where lots of people make $100K and above a year — we see shrieks about OMG a $2 million private jet!!!11!eleventy!!111!, but really, that’s about what Minimum Leader will spill on his vacation in South America. There’s no particular reason why a consortium of like-minded individuals couldn’t put together an approximation using a commercially available aircraft — anything reasonably suitable would already have an autopilot, and UAV software isn’t that hard if all it has to do is a “racetrack” over the affected area. Or, heck, hire the Russians. Aviation is one thing they do really well, and cheaply.

Go for it. The concept is free under the GPL 🙂

A brief summary, with snark. (Via Althouse, who has another relevant link.)

From the comments:

Why are rightwingers so opposed to the intervention in Libya? It’s far more justified than the Iraq debacle…

It’s not so much that we “wingers” are opposed to the intervention as it is that we think it’s amusing that leftoids can characterize it as “far more justified” without breaking into guffaws. Pick any justification, any at all, for Libya, and you can easily find the same one used for Iraq, often with greater force; just as an instance, we have one (1), count ’em, ONE Security Council resolution as legal background, where Iraq had seventeen (17) of them.

Beyond that, though… after WWII there were a group of influential thinkers who imagined war in the future as a matter of remote, push-button activity; their most public exemplar was Gen. Curtis LeMay, who saw mass air raids and the atomic bomb as means by which wars could be won by people visiting death and destruction upon the enemy from the safety and security of air-conditioned control rooms far from the noise and strife. When it started to become evident that that wasn’t going to be the case then or in any foreseeable future, the Whiz Kidz, exemplified by Robert McNamara, came up with the doctrine of “proportional response”, where the idea is to hit just hard enough to get The Other Guys to yield while not doing excessive damage.

Now here we are, lobbing cruise missiles at Libya while the other members of the Coalition zoom around dropping bombs on nice anonymous “targets”. I was in the Navy, once upon a time, and while living on a ship is less pleasant and more stressful than a nice Georgetown apartment, it’s still four walls around, three squares a day, clean sheets, and air conditioning. Missiles go out with a mighty noise, trailing flame and smoke, and down below decks sailors register hits on targets and jump in jubilation; airplanes laden with ominous ovoids launch with a roar of engines and a clank of catapults, and return later with a little less noise, a scree of arresting wires, and bare wings, and their pilots go below for “debriefing” and “bomb damage assessment”. The shades of LeMay and McNamara look on, smiling in benign approval.

It’s push-button war and proportional response combined into one glorious evolution. Nobody on Our Side need get hurt, or even get sand in his (or her) boots; we mean to do just enough damage to Muammar Qaddafi and those who sail in her to get them to refrain from further provocations. We’re “bombing tanks” and “busting bunkers” and “destroying formations”, and looking at the pictures sent back by robots to see how well we did. All that’s left, really, is to plaster Xbox and Wii logos on the gear in CIC and on board AWACs.

The problem with both push-button war and proportional response is that they aren’t conclusive. Wars aren’t over until one side or the other is helpless and accepts the futility of continuing; push-button war can’t accomplish that without generating broad swathes of pale-green trinitite, and that isn’t “proportional”; the whole point of proportional response is to avoid doing so much damage that the Other Guys can’t recover from it. Both procedures drag it out, extend it into long-duration conflict that will inevitably cause more net suffering simply from going on so long. Bombs always leave pockets of resistance, the more so when important targets can’t be hit because collateral damage is “excessive force”; failure to fully suppress the opposition encourages those pockets to regroup and come at you again.

It’s war as a slapping contest between drunks at a bar — hit him hard enough to make him yield, but don’t break his jaw ’cause somebody’ll call the cops. Obama and the Coalition expect to sit out there in the Med, tossing explosive robots until Muammar cries “uncle”. Hey, guys, those “targets” have people in; those “tanks” and “bunkers” and “formations” contain blood, guts, and personal aspirations, and blowing them away by remote control — with animated explosions on LCD screens and “reward tones” from the speakers, no doubt — at the very least denies the humanity of Brown People, reducing them to impersonal ciphers and statistics. We thought you were against that; you’ve certainly shrieked about it loudly enough in the past. Care to define just what’s different this time, what it is that keeps the papier-mache puppets and chanting demonstrators off the streets? We “wingers” aren’t against war, when and if necessary; we’re just dubious about the contrast between your justifications now and ours in the past, not to mention the facts on the ground. Care to explicate? Note: quoting Donald Rumsfeld, even in paraphrase, gets you no points, OK?

Is there a musicologist in the house?

I could use some help (no, not money, though if you’re so inclined I will thank you sincerely). It’s clear that I’m not going to teach myself music theory over the Web in any reasonable time, and I have a music project I would dearly like to see done.

What I want is to re-score the old Mack Davis tune “Oh Lord It’s Hard To Be Humble” for brass band, J. P. Sousa version, then feed it to a synthesizer program like MuseScore and get a playable file. Possible? Reasonable? Pointers? If you think you might be able to do it, comment and I’ll contact you by email to tell you why I want it.

Some Japanese nuclear reactors have problems. This is not news.

Nobody knows how bad the problems are, and the reports range from TEOTWAWKI to reassuringly bland, with a marked tilt in the direction of “OMG how horrible we’re all gonna DIEEEEE!”. Now we’re starting to see an uptick in complaints that they’re not telling us everything, the bastards.

F* that.

Reporting on accidents and catastrophes, nuclear or otherwise, is always and invariably hysterical and wrong. It’s hysterical because Teh Newz long ago concluded that sensation sells eyeballs, and eyeballs sell Depends™ ads. It’s wrong because nobody who knows what’s really happening is talking to reporters.

There are a lot of people around the world who have knowledge of nuclear reactors, some of it quite detailed. The General Electric employees who helped build those plants are mostly still alive and could be tapped as a resource, and many other people have general knowledge about the design, how it works, and what might go wrong. They all have one major deficiency, though: they aren’t there.

In any kind of emergency situation, the only people who really know what’s happening are the ones working feverishly to solve the problem. They don’t have time to talk to ignoramuses with good haircuts, and at any rate few if any have or can have a “big picture”, having the entire capacity of their personal CPUs devoted to the specific subset of the crisis they’re responsible for. Outside experts may have plausible arguments and ideas, but they don’t know — if they did, they’d be inside helping to solve the problem, not outside pontificating.

It’s sometimes suggested that a spokesperson should be appointed to keep people advised. That doesn’t work, because the talking head is just another nosy busybody distracting them from figuring out what the next step is, from the point of view of the people trying to solve the problem. The spokesperson winds up just as ignorant as everybody else, and often suffers from “I’m important!” syndrome because he or she is closer to the action than anybody else not working on it. They thus pontificate from a position of plausibility — but since they don’t know, which is obvious because they aren’t inside the plant scrambling from crisis to disaster, the data they provide is actually more suspect, not less.

So relax, dammit. The people who know what’s going on aren’t talking, not because they’re keeping secrets but because they’re too busy to yak and in any case have only fragmentary knowledge. The people who’re sententiously explaining things on teevee by definition don’t know what’s happening, because if they did they’d have been drafted to help solve the problem and wouldn’t have time to yak. That’s just how it works. Someday those who give a d*n (not many; the crisis will have long passed, and something new to hyperventilate about will have appeared) will find out what happened, and procedures around the world will change to anticipate the possibility that it will happen again. It’s a problem with no solution — assuming that you think it’s a real problem in the first place.

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March 2011
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