Saturday, April 19, 2014

The "butterfly effect" revisited

Moth by night
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependency on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier. Wikipedia
I remember that the "butterfly effect" was much in vogue in the late 1990s and was often quoted by the chaos theoreticians that were instrumental in designing the risk modeling that ruled finance up till 2008 and signally failed to predict the implosion of the financial system.

I think that today it would be more appropriate to talk about the "moth effect".

Moths are not as conventionally "pretty" as butterflies, but are often stunningly beautiful in a rather sinister way; and yes they flap their wings too and they often arrive in large numbers and eat their way through closets full of wool or gardens full of geraniums. 

Unlike the butterfly, the moth is seen as a plague and a pest... you don't go to the store to buy "butterflyballs", do you?

And then, rather poetically: on balmy, breathless, summer nights, moths often commit suicide en masse in the flickering flames of dinner candles, driven by their love, need and obsession with light... 

The romantic, sinister, light-driven and pestilent moth: a fitting symbol of our time.

The greatest clusters of metaphorical, wing flapping, wool chewing, suicidal moths that I detect today seem to me to be long term products of our economic system, such as the doomsday effect of global warming and the Oozlum bird effects of the advances in Artificial Intelligence. 

Global warming is the long term effect of the industrial revolution and its spread to the entire globe, but so is Artificial Intelligence.
One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.  Stephen Hawking and friends - Huffington Post
But long before it comes to all that, in the near future AI will be putting nearly everyone (except maybe the people who clip the toenails and give blowjobs to elderly billionaires) out of work.

AI is the result of the geometrically accelerating drive for technological innovation, which we are told is wonderful and which will solve all our problems, but which in fact is not really a search for the greatest good for the greatest number, but on the contrary, generally driven by the intense dog eat dog competition of our economic system, where to avoid being eliminated, management and shareholders are constantly looking for greater efficiencies in cutting costs and getting more productivity with fewer people, even if this reduces the number of potential consumers. The now classic metaphor for this is Kodak, which once had 140,000 employees being replaced by Instagram, which had 13 employees when Facebook bought it.

Ironically, this pressure to innovate may finally be what fatally destabilizes our system. DS

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How isolated is Russia?

With Russia facing sanctions from the US and some other countries after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine, India on Wednesday made it clear that it will not support any "unilateral measures" against Russian government. Times of India

Based on the fact that Russia and Ukraine have deep cultural, historical and economic connections, it is time for Western powers to abandon their Cold War thinking, stop trying to exclude Russia from the political crisis they failed to mediate, and respect Russia's unique role in mapping out the future of Ukraine. Xinhua
I have very little time for carefully constructed posts at the moment, so just a few lines hastily put together. 

Reading the news about American and EU sanctions against Russia, I am beginning to suspect that there is something more cooking here than the "story" we are being fed by the MSM. 

It might be noted that in his big speech, Putin thanked both China and India for their support... Can we say that Russia is "isolated" from the "international community" with 1/2 of humanity on their side?... DS

Sunday, March 16, 2014

MH370: Ocean's Eleven meets Charles Manson?

The question nobody seems to be asking about the mysterious, disappearing, Malaysian flight is: was there anything of extraordinary value riding in the baggage hold?
Search efforts for Flight MH370 from space

 What could that be?

Anybody's guess. If this were a "caper" movie, what is in the baggage hold would be its "MacGuffin", which is simply a mysterious object that moves the film's dramatic action. 

By now I would rule out terrorism, if that were the case the plane would have been flown directly into a target or landed in some well-publicized, international, airport where the terrorists would make "demands" in exchange for passenger-hostages. That hasn't happened.

At this point, anything but a heist is, in my opinion, outside of rational calculation... it could be something completely insane, but that by definition defies rational calculation. 

The heist theory:

To be worth the elaborate preparations and enormous risk involved, whatever the MacGuffin is, it must be of incalculable value and yet small enough to be packed unobtrusively in an ordinary container, one of hundreds, say a suitcase, and it would have to be something that didn't set off bells ringing when it passed through the airport scanners.

What about the passengers?

It doesn't look good, I'm afraid. Terrorists crave witnesses, that is the whole point of what they do, but thieves don't. By now the plane has long landed, probably been destroyed and the hijackers long gone with their prize, and the only people that could ever identify them or tell the story of what they did are the passengers. Without witnesses the perpetrators will be presumed dead too, ready to take now identities. It doesn't look good.

The most disturbing thing I have read so far is that after turning off the instruments that would reveal the plane's location, it climbed to 45,000 feet, which is above its maximum recommended altitude and then after a while, dived down to a very low 20,000 feet. At 45,000 feet, all they would have to do is to turn off the oxygen and depressurize the cabin and the passengers would quickly pass out and expire in a few minutes and then down at 20,000 feet, it would only take a few people a short time to toss the remains of the passengers out of the plane's back door... On land it is quite a job to dispose of over 200 human bodies, but scattering them from altitude over the shark infested Indian Ocean, no.

Another heist alternative is that of a military, special-ops mission, but in that case, the MacGuffin would be beyond anything my poor imagination can come up with and the fate of the passengers would be even more dismal... As Machiavelli would have you note, throughout history, great statesmen have been capable of greater cruelty than even the coldest criminal. 

The cruelty of this caper (if that is what happened) is why I call this post, "Ocean's Eleven meets Charles Manson"

I certainly hope and pray to be proven wrong on all this and that the coming days will show my speculations to be utterly foolish, tin-hattedness.  DS

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ukraine: belling the cat

In situations of conflict there is an acknowledged advantage given to those with their back to the wall. With survival at stake the ones with nothing to lose by fighting are at an advantage. In previous posts I've suggested that Americans could better understand the Russian position if they imagined the US reaction if America's access to the Panama Canal was threatened. The United States once invaded Panama for that very reason:
The United States Invasion of Panama, code-named Operation Just Cause, was the invasion of Panama by the United States in December 1989. It occurred during the administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and ten years after the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were ratified to transfer control of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama by 1 January 2000. During the invasion, de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed, president-elect Guillermo Endara sworn into office, and the Panamanian Defense Force dissolved. Wikipedia
It could be argued that Russia's interests are under much more threat today in the Ukraine than America's were in Panama in 1989. Are Russians being unjustifiably paranoid here? Here is how a notable neoconservative commentator urges a "full-throated American support for Ukraine’s revolution".
"Without Ukraine, there’s no Russian empire."
Obviously the Russians would be fools if they took US human rights rhetoric all that seriously, as anything but a smokescreen for America's own "imperialist" goals, which are to isolate Russia in a corner of Asia.

So, it seems clear to me that the Russians are the ones in the "to be or not to be" position.

Are the Europeans going to significantly sanction Russia? Doubtful. It is easy to criticize the EU in Washington, but Europeans have a lot more skin in the game than Americans do.
Given that Europe’s economic relationship with Russia is multiple times that of the United States, securing the region’s cooperation will be paramount to any effort by Washington to secure significant sanctions. Yet such ties will not be lightly jeopardized, observers say, even in the defense of a fellow European nation under threat. (...) On Tuesday, the Estonian newspaper Ohtuleht ran an editorial worrying about the economic links between Russia and Western European economies dependent on its gas supplies. “What government would dare to suggest to its voters to spend the next winter in a cold apartment just because of a peninsula nobody can point out on the map?” Washington Post
And if Europe actually decided to go to the mat with Russia, would it work?
Unlike Europe, however, Russia’s capacity for economic hardship is almost limitless, as has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout history. In any contest over pain thresholds, Russia would win hands down. Jeremy Warner - The Telegraph 
Would the USA lose anything significant by taking the moral high ground and reducing relations between the two countries? Yes, it would and in a very important way. Here is an angle which strangely nobody seems to have mentioned: one of the major objectives of the Obama administration is withdraw all but a token force from Afghanistan. I understand that getting the masses of American equipment out of Afghanistan would be nearly impossible without Russia's logistical cooperation. Here is what the US State Department has to say about Russo-American cooperation there:
The United States recognizes Russia’s contribution to building a better future for the Afghan people.(...) We take note of the significant contribution to international security that has resulted from the arrangements between the United States and Russia – bilaterally and through NATO – to support ground and air transit into and out of Afghanistan. In accordance with these arrangements, over 2,200 flights, over 379,000 military personnel, and over 45,000 containers of cargo have been transported through Russia in support of operations in Afghanistan.(...) The United States and Russia continue to face a common threat from terrorism, including from al-Qa’ida and other groups operating in and around Afghanistan. We are working together to disrupt terrorists’ operational networks and undermine their access to financial resources.  U.S. State Department
If I had to bet, I would analyze it like this. The Russian position is simple, easy for the Russian people to understand. The American position to a great extent is shallow posturing, with very little at stake. The European position is complicated: sending money to Ukraine is like poring sand down a rat hole as the people who have replaced Viktor Yanukovych are said to be every bit as dishonest as he is and any meaningful, economic sanctions on Russia would bring much pain on EU citizens at a time when the entire European project is being questioned by a wave of populists. This brings us to Ukraine. Ukraine's position is purely chaotic, totally fluid and flat broke. There is where I think the denouement will come from... the political/economic implosion of the Ukraine, with Russia shoring up the Russian speaking part. DS 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A note (rant) on the Ukraine

I have to say something about the situation(s) in the Ukraine, I haven't had much time to post recently, being in the middle of moving house, so instead of a neatly constructed post this will take the form of a simple rant.

First reality: any attempt to deny Russia access to the Crimea would be similar to denying the USA access to the Panama canal... In America's case that would constitute an act of war.

There are those that even think Ukraine should join NATO. Great wars have begun on flimsier grounds than that too. Making a mortal enemy of Russia over the Ukraine would be incredibly stupid... The Poles might love that, but frankly, I don't think the Germans will go for it at all. 

I think that I've said before that I consider that George H.W. Bush's defeat by Bill Clinton was a geopolitical tragedy. The difference between the treatment that a defeated German received from Truman and the Marshall plan and what Clinton's America did to Yeltsin's Russia seem astoundingly stupid if you think about it.

Nearly 190,000 Americans died fighting Nazi Germany and a defeated Germany was treated with great generosity.  As far as I know, throughout the Cold War no Russian soldier ever killed an American soldier, we were even allies in defeating the Nazis, but when Russia was down, America led by Bill Clinton, kicked them in the teeth. and because of that the Russians have every right to be totally cynical about America's intentions and every right to consider the USA as a sinkhole of hypocrisy and Snowden's revelations only confirm that view. 

Ukraine is in a ruinous state and neither the EU or the IMF nor the US Congress, for that matter are in any shape to fill its coffers even if the money wasn't immediately drained off by Ukraine's notoriously corrupt oligarchs, who occupy the entire political spectrum. That sound familiar? Certainly there seems to be a growing consensus (even among many American conservatives) that America's policy and financial elites are "mad, bad and dangerous to know.

I think it is simply frivolous idiocy to try to "contain" Russia. This is all being cooked up by the same neocon imbeciles that invaded Iraq... Victoria Nuland is married to the fellow who wrote, "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus". Cutting to chase: anything these people touch is tainted and will lead to disaster. 

End of rant.  DS

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Don't cheapen the Holocaust by making it shopworn

Humanity has seen many genocides since our ancestors killed off all the Neanderthals... 

The Holocaust is different.

How is this genocide different from all other genocides?

There is a qualitative difference between ordinary enraged insanity and the carefully planned and managed destruction of an entire people (one of the founders of our civilization) carried out by one the most developed and cultured peoples of that same civilization.

It is the end of the idea, the hope, the faith, that material progress leads to spiritual progress.

The difference between any other genocide and the Holocaust is that in the Holocaust all the techniques of over a century of miraculous scientific and technical "progress", were applied to the task.

The Holocaust is not just another pogrom, ethnic cleansing or enraged genocide. It is the industrial scale, ice-cold destruction of an entire group of human beings using all the tools of modern logistics, recycling and information management, just as if the victims were nothing more than pigs or chickens going to market. The ultimate in depersonalization, in dehumanization: it is the summit of humanity's alienation from itself. It is the dark side of all the material progress made since the industrial revolution... All modern progress since the Enlightenment devoted to evil. 

Because of the symbolism involved the Holocaust is not the same as, for example, the Turkish genocide of Armenians, or the atrocities of Rwanda. Why not?

Germany, pre-Hitler, represented the cutting edge of technology, science and "kultur": the land of Einstein and Adorno, not "just" Bach, Beethoven, Hegel, Kant, Marx and Goethe.  The Jews themselves, of course, before anything else, wrote the Bible, which is nothing less than the founding document of our entire western civilization. 

So we are not talking about the individual suffering involved, which is not in any way different from that of Armenians or Rwandans, but rather the suicide of any moral authority our civilization could claim to possess. That loss was summed up by Gandhi when he was asked what he thought of Western civilization, "It would be a good idea", the Mahatma replied.

In many senses our modern, western civilization died in Auschwitz

I think while we are on subject, I should go on record as saying that, for all the reasons that I have stated above,  I am in total agreement with the Jewish position that the Holocaust was totally unique and cannot be compared to any other event in history

But, for the same reason of its uniqueness, I think that it is sinfully frivolous to cheapen something as unique as the Holocaust by blandishing it as moral blackmail to cover the carefully organized and methodical oppression, humiliation and displacement of the Palestinian people. DS

Friday, February 07, 2014

Nuland and Pyett's tape

David Seaton's News Links
 “Clear communication expresses clear thinking, while muddled communication reflects muddled thinking” Writing Success Program at UCLA
(The English Language) becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. George Orwell
You've probably heard or heard about this conversation between  US assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, and Geoffrey Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine before reading this post. A couple of questions naturally come up, for example, how did the Russians get access to the conversation and is this a little sample of access they have acquired from Snowden or could they have done this before he arrived on the scene? 

My answer? I haven't a clue... all I can say is that Putin seems to be very, very, lucky these days.

What really brings me to write about it is the language these people use. By this I don't mean Victoria Nuland's, now famous, "fuck the EU", for me that is about the only really simple and declarative, proper English sentence in the entire recording. Here is a sample of what I mean:
Voice thought to be Pyatt's: I think we're in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. Especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister and you've seen some of my notes on the troubles in the marriage right now so we're trying to get a read really fast on where he is on this stuff. But I think your argument to him, which you'll need to make, I think that's the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I'm glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I'm very glad that he said what he said in response. BBC - Transcript
 Here is the quote that has grabbed the headlines and done the most damage:
Nuland: OK. He's now gotten both Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU. BBC - Transcript
Refreshing clarity there... In the following snippet, Ambassador Pyatt outdoes himself in mixed, muddled and mangled metaphors.
Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we've got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it. And again the fact that this is out there right now, I'm still trying to figure out in my mind why Yanukovych (garbled) that. In the meantime there's a Party of Regions faction meeting going on right now and I'm sure there's a lively argument going on in that group at this point. But anyway we could land jelly side up on this one if we move fast. So let me work on Klitschko and if you can just keep... we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. The other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych but we probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place. BBC - Transcript
I think it could be seriously maintained that many if not most of the endlessly repeated and disastrous failures of American diplomacy in recent (and not so recent) years can be explained by the mental activity, or lack of it, of people who produce language like this. DS