Where There's A William

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Archive for the month “August, 2009”

Strategy in Real Life

Earlier today, Instapundit linked to an interesting blog post regarding the nature of boycotts. I often remark on these pages that I study Sun Tzu’s treatise on strategy and the Bing Fa; the question(s) raised in the linked-to piece offer an excellent example of the objective I seek from doing so, in particular our blogging colleague’s closing statement:

“I just wish someone could give me a simple answer on just how, when and in what way these things are actually supposed to be used.”

The basic concept of strategy is that of position, the relative measure of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as well as in comparison to other’s position. From this evaluation, we can each judge our own capabilities and make informed estimates regarding others. Only following such a determination are we able to make detailed tactical selections (in this example a boycott action). Once a list of potential tactical actions has been compiled, it becomes necessary to consider the ethical/moral qualities each potential tactic entails (which consideration seems to loom large for friend blogger). Finally, once all of the foregoing has been taken into account, one must make the determination as to which possible alliance acceptable to one’s individual position will best permit a given tactic’s having the desired effect (and it is only at this point in the process that a particular tactic such as a boycott might actually be confirmed as a viable option).

Simple enough, if not at all simplistic. 🙂

If symbolic appearance is acceptable then, by all means, go for what makes you feel good. If measurable effect is your objective however, as you can see, a good deal more will be required from you. Most tactics only work well when employed as part of a coordinated action leading to a specified objective (which itself is but a way-point along a more extensive journey). That said, it should be considered that a purely symbolic gesture from a sufficient number of positions (ie: people) can serve as justification for subsequent alliance to more substantial purpose. In the end, I think, what it all comes down to is a question of how much of your position (your personal assets, your personal time-line of existence) you are willing to invest to achieve a particular advancement* of your position? There are other important questions, of course, but they tend to all be more or less dependant upon your answer to this particular question (which will itself vary as circumstance does; the bing fa presents it’s own ethical standards, but they are not all inclusive nor intended to be).

*Any choice of action always comes at the cost of not doing something else. Much of the time our best strategic choice is to do nothing, or at least nothing overt, so as not to draw active opposition onto our present position (maintenance of which routinely requires effort from us in any case). Implicit to this decision will be the relative importance of this particular tactic compared to the rest of your positional considerations (family, job, religious precepts, friendships and other alliances, etc).

There’s rules now? with Addenda and Update

Apparently so. Who knew …

Addenda: I always thought it was more of a guideline.

Update: In possibly related news, some murderous old git has died as a result of too much rich living. Judging by the behavior of those most involved, his estate must have already been satisfactorily carved up in anticipation of the day. Pity that; without some public drama from that quarter we can only expect the return of Michael Jackson to the daily news cycle that much sooner.

A minor flux in the Force – Updated below

Anybody got a clue why Eric S. Raymond’s blog page keeps coming up 404 these last couple weeks (deliberately not linked, try for yourself; mine and his bookmark could be the problem)? His home page doesn’t offer anything obviously explicative. A quick search of his name doesn’t link to any recent news reports or blog posts offering enlightenment (the most recent is from the 19th of August this year referencing one of his books). I am aware that there have been threats made on his life in recent months, but anything of that nature ought to have attracted public comment somewhere I would have thought.

In the hope you’re still extant Eric, was sup?

UPDATE: For the handfull of people who might not actually want to trawl through the very helpfully provided link in Comments, esr is aware of the phenomenon and efforts are apparently underway to correct it. Other than an apparent technical glitch with his hosting service, all seems to be as well as normal in esr– world. Hopefully my periodic jones for the truely long-form discussion/rant of a given topic will be easily satisfiable again soon.

Huh. My first Insta-link. That wasn’t too bad. No server trembles or anything.

The Fallacy of "Post-Scarcity"

The boys (and girl) at The Speculist are producing a series of audio interviews over the course of the summer with a variety of guests discussing some aspect of anticipated change in the future. On their Fast Forward Radio program’s latest episode, the topic was “The Coming Era of Abundance” which somehow seems to often be portrayed as being a “post-scarcity world”. No offense to anyone (particularly Stephen and Phil), but the very notion of scarcity in this context is a strawman argument.

Abundance is a result of human capability, whether individual or societal, whereas scarcity is the result of a corresponding lack of capability or an artificially imposed condition, whether deliberate or unintended consequence. Conflating the two conditions simply works to further confuse an already speculative topic.

Leaving discussion of abundance for the moment, the condition of scarcity isn’t quite as obvious a concept as might be supposed. A scarcity of something has to be recognised as being determined within a set of often quite arbitrary conditions, the very arbitrariness of which is often not recognised or taken adequately into consideration when making the valuation of availability. Because a given quantity of some material or capability might exist under particular conditions is not a reasonable measure of availability, nor even of value necessarily.

I contend that scarcity is almost always an imposed condition, the result of either an act of will by some other or a deficit of ability within oneself. Considered in these terms, the possible advent of future technology as commonly discussed on the Speculist blog should more properly (or at least more fully and practically) examine how the particular technology will supersede the pre-existing and societally entrenched mechanism it displaces. Such a disruptive grounding of the discussion is necessary to fully understand the changes such technology implies as well as to prevent the conversation drifting off into utopian fantasies and illogicality’s (a sub-set of a different genre). Often overlooked in any examination of a given technology is how it’s course of development and acceptance by human society is effected by the actions of the adherents of pre-existing or alternative technologies. Providing a discoursive mechanism whereby people can take such resistance into account is a still-to-be-arrived-at format that continues to hamper such discussions as those hosted on the Speculist blog and Fast Forward Radio program.

One of the most common such fallacies that distort future technology considerations is the general lack of understanding regarding the concept of “money”. Money is arguably the most intuitive and nuanced construct humans have (by comparison, the concept of “deity” usually best compares to a super-parent construct suffering from bi-polar disorder to the nth degree). Money is a (so far) universal system of classification and communication that pre-dates all known human records; indeed, the earliest records found in the Mesopotamian and Indus regions are all concerning classification of people and things by various measures and communication regarding their disposition by some figure of assumed authority. More properly still, by some figure speaking as agent for some figure of authority (the vast majority of whom seem to divide their time between enjoying said authority and seeking more, but decidedly not in accounting it all themselves [see: enjoying above]). I submit that the advent of money was the Singularity event that catapulted humanity onto its present course of evolutionary development. Needless to say, any event which doesn’t eliminate the human need to classify and communicate won’t displace this concept from human society or intellectual pursuits.

Scarcity occurs because some human(s) gain advantage to themselves by imposing such a condition upon others – OR – some human(s) fail to perform the actions necessary to satisfy such a demand and deny the opportunity to themselves and others. These two human traits will continue to exist whatever technology humans might also contrive; failure to account for their influence will only cause disruption and distortion to the development process and further continue the imposition of scarcity as well.

The ability to manipulate the molecular structure of matter to satisfy our particular desire of the moment seems a logical extension of current scientific research and the veritable definition of “abundance”. This only holds true, however, to the extent our existing societal structures don’t impose inhibiting influence on the development process. Reduction of scarcity equals a commensurate reduction in the degree of influence and outright control that can be imposed upon groups by individuals. Similarly, providing the means to achieve individual abundance offers a single instance of opportunity to the provider. Neither of these near-universal human considerations is obviated by the development of technology or recognition of a human need – however genuine – that development satisfies. Recognition of opportunity and a desire for personal security isn’t limited to potential despots after all.

To any possible technologic development, there will be both direct and indirect opposition as well as passive acceptance and outright indifference to contend with. Any examination of future potentialities that fails to adequately take these conditions into account simply fails. Blogs like the Speculist and their Fast Forward Radio production are on-going examinations of human technology development and, as such, remain ever a work in process. I recommend their efforts to everyone and anticipate continued development of the examination process they utilize to contemplate the future.

Bullish on the Future’s Market

The below quotation is an excerpt from the latest e-mail from my daughter:

“… and as of last week….i have taken 8 test and they all say yes…..so i will find out on thursday if they are accurate…..and that you will be a grandfather….”

I don’t think I will end up too far from the trunk when I take this pre-confirmation opportunity to publicly declare an upgrade of my personal Grandfather-tude status from “pending” to “incipient”.

The Amazon account is in for a shift of emphasis in the near future it would seem. I’ll have to see if I can arrange for Saturday delivery.

Some Words About Words

To start, consider the following definitions:

Strategy: a sequence of deliberate and spontaneous events that are initiated to achieve a pre-determined goal or objective, such events commonly characterised by their deceptive or even duplicitous nature. Individually termed a “stratagem”.

Tactic: an event or method used to achieve an aim or task; the means by which a stratagem is enacted.

Plan: the formal itemization of a given entity’s capabilities; most often utilised as a mechanism to compare two or more disparate entities against, or in support of, each other.

Training: the mental and physical exercise necessary to develop or maintain the particular skills required to enact a tactic; commonly structured as individual activity within a group as part of a complex and variably orchestrated combination of events taking place both simultaneously and sequentially. Such activities are often impossible to directly control or activate on an individual basis, so training emphasises the ability to self-direct and self-initiate action within pre-determined parameters.

Study of strategy is my hobby (it takes all kinds, you know). In my less productive moments, I frequently ponder the underlying philosophy contained within Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (go here for a free .pdf download: http://scienceofstrategy.org/main/?q=content/art-war-pdf-download-translation-only). And, as do most people I presume, I routinely seek to better my understanding of the world around me while bettering my position therein. From the truly mundane advancement from figuring out my new cellphones camera function (I don’t think it’s actually possible to photograph the inside of one’s pocket, but I expect I’ll put that to the test soon enough) to the more practical development of job-related skills and knowledge, it should be obvious that my interest has much broader applications than mere war. The four definitions I offer above are the result of my study and are based upon the proposition that strategy is an individual discipline and not a militaristic exposition.

Taking them in reverse order of presentation:

Training ought to be self-explanatory, but it should be emphasised that training is not really synonymous with “education”. The well educated likely are not trained in numerous aspects of applying the content of their syllabus, while the obverse doesn’t actually apply either; the well-trained machinist likely being insufficiently educated to read da Vinci’s description of his invention in the original being only one possible example. Training is the process through which large numbers of people and groups gain sufficient mastery of particular concepts and actions so as to demonstrate the ability to reliably perform them to a stipulated degree of proficiency under stressful and chaotic conditions (it being reasonably assumed that more convivial conditions will not make performance more demanding).

If you ever feel the urge to declare your affection for a plan‘s having “come together”, immediately assume that your “plan” is out of date and erroneous. Should you ever begin to feel certain that you have a good understanding of an enemy’s capabilities and/or intentions, consider said enemy to be succeeding at his strategy rather better than you intended. Similarly, the degree of confidence you might experience in your own groups preparedness is likely influenced by the cumulative creativity your allies and colleagues have resorted to in their reporting. To wit, a plan is only an approximation of capabilities (one of the most oxi-moronic statements in human history has to be: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”. Of course not, he’s the enemy! He’s supposed to deceive and mis-direct you, not to mention act unpredictably.), having the principle purpose of guiding training content and schedule selection. A plan tells you what a given ally or enemy (the classification being both variable and only marginally reliable at any given moment) is thought to be pursuing, in possession of, or capable of accomplishing as of the time the discovery was made. Tempus fugit for everybody pretty much equally, so take it as a given that things has changed in the interim.

Tactics is where we get down to actually implementing all those training scenarios and mostly being disappointed by our own side only (“the enemy” being quite expected to not disappoint by doing something unanticipated). This is when everybody gets to discover whether or not a given participant actually did train “harder than the real thing”. The concept of “tactical doctrine” is the mechanism whereby large and often complex organisations classify and categorise different tactical options both as to compatibility in support, or effectiveness in opposition, to a given circumstance or objective. Mastery of such doctrinal procedure is the measure of professional competence, but it is the successful application of such when innovative response to unanticipated threat is required, that is the hallmark of great leadership.

Finally, strategy is the philosophy (there’s that word again) used to organize and coordinate the method and direction whereby a position is advanced, relative both to its previous circumstance and to the position of others. Now seems an appropriate time to observe that every nation (or other political demarcation), corporation (or other business structure), affiliation (or other fraternal, political, social, religious or-any-other-category-of-group association) as well as each and every individual person alive on Earth (can we all agree to leave ET to the ministrations of John Ringo and his fellow Bain-iacs for the nonce?) is a separate and variably allied or opposed position. All of them pursuing advancement by their participants.

To sum up; a strategy employs tactics to achieve an advancement of position, commonly through varied association with other positions, by means of also variably shared training, derived from the plans developed to ascertain the positions of all involved on their own merit as well as relative to one another. If what you are saying doesn’t bear some substantial degree of alignment with the sentiment just expressed, then maybe the words you are using don’t mean what you think they mean.


Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue

For background and context, readers are directed to: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/08/maybe-bacevich-has-point-introducing-afghanistan-strategy-dialogue.html.

To begin, the primary question is worded in a misleading fashion. Restated as: In the present war, is the Afghanistan Campaign in the interests of the United States and its allies?, it becomes clear that any such strategy must take into account US and allied intentions throughout that region of the globe and not be artificially limited to Afghanistan-centric concerns only.

It should also be acknowledged that, should it be decided that US and allied war aims are not best furthered by continuance of the Afghanistan Campaign, the US retains the capability to re-stage the 2001/02 intervention should post-withdrawal circumstance require. That said, by creating a regional alliance with India and Iraq, the US could find itself in a position to actively engage the government of Pakistan as well as some future government of Iran in the creation of a regional partnership. Such a structure would provide ample resources to relieve the US of much of the personnel burden as well as provide extensive and varied training/basing options for US and allied assets (not necessarily limited to military assets only) across the region.

The suggested alliance would have the explicit aim of countering instability issues among the member countries as well as to provide permanent staging facilities from which to support current and future war aims throughout that part of the globe, specifically to include military incursions into the African sub-continent. Additionally, creating the necessary logistical infrastructure within the partner countries would explicitly be undertaken to develop and expand related societal infrastructure using indigenous populations and resources to the greatest extent practicable.

Based upon the US experience with the Euro-centric NATO alliance, I anticipate that such an alliance as the one suggested herein ought to provide a 40 to 60 year long engagement effort. The over-riding objective being to create an unreceptive environment for those who seek to oppose US and allied war efforts and objectives, development of regional national capabilities to viable self-reliance levels will offer a gradual reduction in dependance upon US financing and technology contributions as the alliance matures.

On Precedence and Seniority

As part of this post, RobertaX makes the following statement in a parenthetical footnote:

2. No, I’m guessing. But the USN is the Senior Service, after all.

In her comments section I observed that this wasn’t actually true. Since I think her subsequent comment a bit ambiguous, I offer the following excerpts from the wikipedia pages for both the US Army and Navy

The United States Army is the branch of the United States armed forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military and is one of seven uniformed services. The modern Army has its roots in the Continental Army which was formed on 14 June 1775,[1] before the establishment of the United States, to meet the demands of the American Revolutionary War. Congress created the United States Army on 14 June 1784 after the end of the war to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The Army considers itself to be descended from the Continental Army and thus dates its inception from the origins of that force.

Congress formally authorized creation of the Continental Army more than a year prior to the actual Declaration of Independence. Congress formally replaced the Continental Army with the United States Army on 14 June 1784.

The US Navy wikipedia page is composed quite differently to that for the Army, so the quotes are more extensive:

In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, the establishment of an official navy was an issue of debate among the members of the Continental Congress. Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it easier to seek out support from foreign countries. Detractors countered that challenging the British Royal Navy, then the world’s preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking.[5]

Commander in Chief George Washington commissioned seven ocean-going cruisers to interdict British supply ships, and reported the captures to the Congress. This effectively ended the debate in Congress as to whether or not to “provoke” the British by establishing a Navy as Washington’s ships had already captured British ships, somewhat a provocation.

While Congress deliberated, it received word that two unarmed British supply ships from England were heading towards Quebec without escort. A plan was drawn up to intercept the ships—however, the armed vessels to be used were owned not by Congress, but by individual colonies. Of greater significance, then, was an additional plan to equip two ships that would operate under the direct authority of Congress to capture British supply ships. This was not carried out until 13 October 1775, when George Washington announced that he had taken command of three armed schooners under Continental authority to intercept any British supply ships near Massachusetts. With the revelation that vessels were already sailing under Continental control, the decision to add two more was made easier;[9] the resolution was adopted and 13 October would later become known as the U.S. Navy’s official birthday.[10]

The Continental Navy achieved mixed results; it was successful in a number of engagements and raided many British merchant vessels, but it lost 24 of its vessels[11] and at one point was reduced to two in active service.[12] As Congress turned its attention after the conflict towards securing the western border of the new United States, a standing navy was considered to be dispensable because of its high operating costs and its limited number of roles.

The United States would be without a navy for nearly a decade—a state of affairs that exposed its merchant ships to a series of attacks by Barbary pirates. The sole armed maritime presence between 1790 and the launching of the U.S. Navy’s first warships in 1797 was the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS), the primary “ancestor” of the U.S. Coast Guard. Although USRCS Cutters conducted operations against these pirates, the depredations far outstripped the abilities of the USRCS and Congress ordered the construction and manning of six frigates on 27 March 1794;[11] three years later the first three were welcomed into service: the USS United States, USS Constellation and USS Constitution.

From this we can see that Congress formally authorized a national army on 14 June, 1775 and a national navy (if you consider 2 ships to qualify as such) on 13 October, 1775. Since these are the dates both branches of the military regard as “official”, I stand by my assertion regarding the question of “senior service” within the US military hierarchy. I seem to recall from my own service that the Navy, at least, pretends not to notice such petty distinctions and the Army just assumes its “natural” superiority in the scheme of things. Until it needs a ride somewhere.

I don’t really expect any of this to settle the question, of course, but it does make for slightly more substantial filler than available elsewhere. 🙂

There’s a lot of that going ’round these days it seems

And not in a good way either.

While I can make no claim to any degree of expertise regarding Irish national political or social structures and standards, as is also the case with Great Britain, the similarities the US shares with either country often make for fascinating reading. In the linked to example, one Gavin Sheridan stretches the bounds of copyright more than a little wherein he illustrates that the size of the pond has nothing at all to do with the size of the mess it’s denizens can create. I won’t further risk international relations (read: I’m too lazy) by reproducing his literary device; suffice it to say that with only a bit of minor editing his observations could be applied just as devastatingly to our own domestic US political and economic circumstance.

RTWT as they say. Of a certainty don’t just take my word for it all, I found his work via Twenty Major for God’s sake.

Certificate of Strategy

Charles Johnson is having way too much fun kicking the “Obama Birth Certificate” kooks while they’re down. Hard to blame him really; they do keep showing their asses after all.

Pity really. The whole question regarding how, and by whom, a potential candidate is proven to be eligible for the office sought is an under-examined one in my experience prior to this last political campaign season. I remain convinced that the American polity deserves a public hearing on the process with an eye toward achieving greater national consistency and transparency regarding any future candidates standing.

On that note, let me just say that due to his having been legally elected, formally confirmed and duly sworn into office, Barack Hussein Obama is the President of the United States. Period. The time to have raised this question was during the campaign; now is well and truly too late.

And, baring tragedy or some utterly unlikely action on his part, Mr. Obama will remain so for the entirety of his term. The Constitution is quite clear regarding the terms and conditions under which a sitting president may be legally removed from office, and most of those conditions are limited to his actions while in office. Since the courts have already declined to hear arguments on this issue numerous times, it seems unlikely that a criminal conviction arising from this allegation will be forthcoming either, so that option seems off the board too.

That all said, I do think the continuing interest stemming from the campaign allegation(s) regarding Mr. Obama’s circumstance at the time of his birth demonstrates that this issue does seem to contain an electoral anomaly. Even now, it remains unclear precisely which elected official (and by what mechanism) bears the responsibility to confirm (and to what standard of proof) that any given seeker of elective office within these United States qualifies for such candidacy. An examination of how the process actually does work would seem to be a necessary and illustrative first step in resolving said anomaly.

Mr. Obama’s strategy in the present circumstance is actually quite impressive in my judgement. While not directly addressing the issue himself (or even especially via his official or even semi-official representatives), the President encourages his political opposition to expend their energies (and monies) on a moot issue – at least as regards the presentation of any threat to his tenure in office. Sun Tzu noted that; “the supreme general is he that defeats his enemies without engaging them in battle”. President Obama, through no apparent effort on his part (yes, I realize the press consists largely of his supporters; so what?), is presented with a surprisingly large percentage of the principal opposition party’s membership who seem willing to waste their time in office over this immaterial effort. Not too surprisingly, he also seems quite willing to let them keep on doing so. Proving that somebody with his confidence listens to Rush Limbaugh; “When a fool is doing something stupid, get out of his way!”

Should the rest of the country finally decide we’ve had enough of the silliness over this issue now (and I have to say, the spectacle is really starting to tire – the clowns in the circus are ever only on stage for brief periods of time for this very reason), perhaps the Senate could organize hearings with an eye towards soliciting the states to pursue a constitutional amendment that formalizes both a standard of proof and mechanism for detailing same should such an action be the best way to ultimately resolve this question.

I imagine Mr. Obama would treasure that irony all the rest of his days.

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