Quick Roundup 528

Monday, May 03, 2010

Five Years!

It's hard to believe that The Undercurrent is already five years old.

That means it is also the fifth anniversary of my first appearance in print as "Gus Van Horn."

It isn't the car bomb that scares me.

It's the craven foreign policy that makes things like this inevitable that does.

The Islamists have nothing of military use that we aren't giving them, including their sorry lives.


I have recently updated the Gus Van Horn FAQ and my contact information. These are permanently linked as "About" and "Contact," respectively.

Yes. That was my voice coming from the amen corner.

At PowerLine (via Dismuke):

The most disturbing thing about the Wall Street Journal piece is the statement by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is in charge of recruiting Republican candidates for the House, that he has "a group of Republicans who say, 'I want you to win 37 seats,'" rather than the 41 needed for clear control. Such thinking, to which McCarthy does not subscribe, demonstrates a lack of concern for the welfare of the country.

To the extent that Republicans wish to avoid responsibility for controlling the House in 2011, they betray a lack of fitness to control it thereafter.
And that unfitness reflects their unprincipled nature and consequent lack of direction. Read it all.

As I said...

An Interesting Idea

John Drake, considering an earlier post here against the precautionary principle, considers the notion of "proactionary principles." I don't think the new term is really necessary, but it is definitely worthwhile to contrast the approach to life represented by the precautionary principle to actual rationality.

When I first saw this post, my initial thought was that it is too easy, in rejecting the error of the precautionary principle, to go to the opposite extreme and be needlessly "cutting edge" in everything one does. That's true in a sense, but mistaken in that that would be to treat rationality as a mean between extremes, which it most definitely isn't. (I note here that, by now, I'm talking more about the thought Drake's post provoked than necessarily what he was saying. I'm certainly not accusing Drake of making the mistake I just thought of.)

"Should I buy an iPad?" and other such questions can't be viewed in a one-dimensional fashion like ,"How cutting-edge or how conservative should I be?" (Which isn't a legitimate question, anyway.) There are such obvious questions as, "Do I really need an iPad?" and less-obvious follow-ons or corollaries like, "Can I really even answer that question now?" New technologies and discoveries are not simple -- which makes them great and risky at the same time. They are great because of the enormous effort required to come up with them, and risky because there's always a chance that the innovator missed something that hasn't become apparent yet and will come back to bite you. (This can work the other way, too. Sometimes, an innovator doesn't completely see just how useful his invention is. Sometimes he can't: I doubt the Wright Brothers could have have predicted the rise of FedEx, for example.)

This was something I learned in the nuclear navy, where we still had analog instrumentation and joked about being "the last high-tech bastion of the computer illiterate" back in the early nineties. The highly conservative approach (to put it mildly) to innovation infuriated me at first, being a scientist by temperament more than an engineer. But the fact is that a nuclear submarine is a highly complex system: You want to be damn sure there isn't something flaky about an instrument whose inopportune failure hundreds of feet underwater and thousands of miles from home could sink a ship and kill a crew. You want to let others -- for whom failure of that component is a relatively painless option -- ferret out those things before you take that plunge. Because you don't want it to be your last plunge!

Or, returning to the iPad -- or even something like Twitter -- there may not even be a readily apparent use or any use at all to you. Late adoption in those cases delegates such exploration (not to mention any risk) to others and can reveal something new to be a great boon -- or something best avoided. And you saved time by this form of delegation to do other things than play with what may have been a toy (for your purposes) before the new uses emerged. Conversely, if some new invention seems like a godsend and there is no conceivable downside, you'd be a fool not to adopt.

So now, where I used to feel impatient with slow adoption of new technology (and I imagine that some engineers might roll their eyes at early adopters in general), I consider context. I am not sure there is any such thing as a new (or old) technology being inherently better or worse for an individual relative to the old or absent (or new). I also doubt that there is such a thing as a "happy medium" or a "proper attitude" (that applies to all men) toward any given single (actual) technological innovation (apart from the acknowledgement that an actual innovation will improve the lives of some men directly and others indirectly). Technological advancement in general is good for all men, but whether a particular new advance is directly useful, wasteful, or indifferent to any given man is a matter of his context, which must be evaluated rationally. (And even then, if an iPad is more than just a toy, even if I, personally, decide I don't need one, it can benefit me indirectly by making others more productive.)

Evaluating new technology can be highly complex because you have to evaluate the new technology itself and evaluate your own needs before you can answer the question of whether you ought to adopt it. Is some new technology really an advancement? Have all the bugs (or implementations) that could matter to you been worked out? Do they even have to be? Is it clear that it can improve your life? Is it worth it to you to invest the time or money in adopting it?

Okay. That's enough of that bit of mental mastication for now...

Lobotomizing the Economy

Galileo Blogs:
Imagine a quack who could pass a law telling a dentist how to pull a tooth. Financial "reform" will be equally painful, although the pain will be spread over decades and be much harder to detect.

Alumni Boycott and Class-Action Lawsuit to Come

Well, no, not really, but I can dream. (Note for the humor-impaired: I am not seriously advocating a class-action lawsuit against Princeton.)

Stella Zawistowski, in "No, Princeton, I will not give you money:"
Reason number one: Paul Krugman, a professor of economics who doesn't understand that a massive government entitlement cannot possibly reduce the national deficit (blithely ignoring all of the funny math Democrats used to pretend that it will), among other basic principles that even I, who switched my grading option in Princeton's Economics 101 class to pass/fail to avoid getting a C on my transcript, understand. Reason number two: Peter Singer, a professor of ethics who thinks that being moral consists of making sacrifices, that anybody in need has a right to what you have earned, precisely because you have earned it and he hasn't.
Yeah. That's an ironclad case if I've ever heard one.

-- CAV


: Added link to Galileo Blogs.
5-4-10: Corrected spelling of Stella Zawistowski's name after successful ruse to get her to post a comment here.


John Drake said...

Glad I could help inspire your chewing. Its always enjoyable to read your thoughts.

To the extent that I agree with More, it is that business decisions to innovate should not be based on cultural whims, but upon projected value (to the extent they are known) with appropriate protections against known dangers (to the extent they are known). I agree, the concept may not be necessary, but I was looking for a concise conceptual rebuttal to the precautionary principle. The Proactionary principle was the best I found. I'm certainly open to alternatives though.

Gus Van Horn said...

I do agree that it would be nice to have a short, snappy way to begin a rebuttal of the precautionary principle, although you will always end up having to explain what you mean, anyway. (Which is probably at least part of the point, anyway.)

No bright ideas for such a term from this end at the moment, although I'd personally avoid drawing attention to Max More: If you succeed in provoking thought from someone who had agreed with the precautionary principle, he might Google "proactionary principle" later, only to find some Extropy site on the web, and decide something like, "That Drake guy made a lot of sense at first, but he turned out to be some kind of nut."

THAT would be worse than saying nothing! Heh!

John Drake said...

Point well taken.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thought you'd see it my way!

Stella Zawistowski said...

Pssst...it's Zawistowski (everyone seems to pronounce it as you've written it, though, without the first S -- wonder why that is!).

Life was simpler when my last name was Daily :)

Gus Van Horn said...

Apologies! I distinctly remember checking that, and yet I still goofed it up!

Anonymous said...

C. Andrew said...

It isn't the car bomb that scares me.

My brother was an FAC but blew his knee out in training before his group deployed. He still follows the war in Afghanistan. Something that dovetails with the effects of craven foreign policy;

Apparently because our ROE in-country is so screwed up we're allowing Taliban survivors who are learning Special Forces tactics by allowing them to survive and pass that knowledge on. He heard that there was a combined SF/Ranger op that got repulsed in attacking a taliban village stronghold where the following tactical lessons learned were demonstrated.

Opposing forces were picking their shots; no longer doing "Spray and Pray."

Multiple spotters were being used for indirect fire including some time on target ability.

Defensive positions were interlocking in SF style - something that they had not previously encountered from the Taliban.

He said it was similar to what we did to the Japanese in the Pacific. In 1942, the Japanese were killing marines in job lots because they'd been doing this kind of warfare for almost a decade. The marines learned the costly lessons and turned that around on the Japanese and by the end of the war there were significant differences in marine casualties vs the Japanese and those of transferred european troops vs the Japanese.

Not my area of expertise but I thought it was interesting. I wonder if the (artificially) prolonged aspect of Vietnam had similar results?

Gus Van Horn said...

"Not my area of expertise but I thought it was interesting. I wonder if the (artificially) prolonged aspect of Vietnam had similar results? "

Not my area, either, but I would hardly be surprised.

I never considered how drawing a war out too long could result in it effectively becoming a training exercise for the enemy.


Bad news, but still worth knowing about. Thanks for mentioning that.