He was a very different person than when he wrote “Imagine”

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Today is John Lennon’s birthday. What most people don’t realize is that by 1979 Lennon was embarrassed by his former radicalism, according to Fred Seaman, who was his assistant at the time:

John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on Jimmy Carter.


I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who’s an old-time communist… He enjoyed really provoking my uncle… Maybe he was being provocative… but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he’d been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naivete.

Be aggressive, audacious, and possibly even reckless

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Techniques of Systems Analysis eventually moves past offense to “consider what happens when the enemy drops bombs on us — an unpleasant but necessary part of our study”:

We believe that it is reasonably correct to say that western military leaders (historically) have a bias for the offense. It is easy to see why this might be. For example, the Air Force probably wants its enlisted men and junior officers to be aggressive, audacious, and possibly even reckless. A pilot who is instructed to fly through an anti-aircraft barrage is in no position to compare the military worth of evasive action versus accuracy in dropping his bombs. If he is told to make the comparison in a cool calculating way, there is likely to be a great deal of highly emotional evasive action and very little straight line flying. In order to balance the reasonable regard that people have for the value of their own lives, military organizations train and select people to emphasize the offensive spirit. (Actually, of course, responsibility for other people’s lives can be even more paralyzing. And, therefore, even leaders must be trained to have an offensive bias.)

Even though this offense-mindedness is desirable in operating people, it can have very regrettable results when it invades the planning and policy levels. It is often said that defense alone will not win a war. While this is patently true if taken in a ridiculous sense, wars have in fact been won and will be won in the future by emphasizing defense as much as, or in some sense more than, the offense.

We hear many warnings about Maginot-mindedness. It may be that most of these warnings are based on a misunderstanding of the lessons of history. We should first realize that the French built the Maginot Line as a reaction against the excesses that offensive minded generals committed in the first World War; secondly, that it was, probably, a good idea. If the French had built their Maginot Line without any holes, and used it properly to enable a relatively small number of soldiers to defend a larger fronter, they could have concentrated troops where they needed them — to conduct offensive operations. It is one of the purposes of a good defense to enable one to pursue offensive operations when and where needed. A good defense not only prevents the enemy from destroying one’s offensive capability; it causes him to divert and use up larger resources in his offense. This presumably weakens his defense.

The full transcript doesn’t feel like the edited trailer

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

I don’t closely follow Mike Cernovich or Vice, but it is interesting to contrast the full interview transcript against the heavily edited trailer Vice put out:

The poor should lead a reckless life

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

While looking at probabilistic models and high- versus low-confidence measures, Techniques of Systems Analysis makes a point that seems especially apropos today:

The rich, having paid their money, just want the expected to happen. They are, in fact, willing to invest large parts of their fortunes just to decrease fluctuations. The poor, on the contrary, should lead a reckless life. It is only by great good luck that they can do anything at all. On the whole, their salvation lies in increasing the fluctuation, in making the situation chancy and uncertain.

Modern war seems to be of a somewhat different character from the classical ones

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

The toy problem presented in Techniques of Systems Analysis starts with a reasonable criterion of efficiency — the average damage inflicted:

This might be sensible if we were going to fight a series of wars, one after the other, and we wanted to maximize the total damage done in all of these wars. Modern war seems to be of a somewhat different character from the classical ones. Our major interest is probably in winning the next one and letting later ones take care of themselves. In particular, the first blow may be so overwhelmingly decisive that we may wish not to maximize the damage done on the average on this first blow, but wish instead to maximize our probability of achieving a satisfactory level of damage.

At first sight, these two objectives may not seem very different. As a matter of fact they often are. In particular what we do depends on what level of damage we consider satisfactory. If, for example, we try to operate in such a way as to maximize the probability of achieving say 30% damage, we will concentrate our attack on one field and lose completely our capability of achieving 60% damage. On the contrary, if we try to maximize our probability of achieving 60% damage, we must attack both fields. This may reduce appreciably our probability of achieving at least 30% damage.

Deterrence vs Win the War

Before discussing in detail exactly how incompatible the two objectives are, let us consider one reason why one might want to achieve 30% or 60% damage. It is generally recognized that the major objective of the armed services today is not to win the war if it breaks out but to prevent war from breaking out. One way to do this is to make it clear to the enemy that he cannot win the war. If we can convince the enemy that if he starts a war he will be destroyed, irrespective of whether or not he destroys us, then it presumably will not pay him to start a war. We say that he is deterred from starting a war. This deterrence mission has been publicly stated to be the primary miss of SAC.

Presumably one way to achieve this kind of deterrence would be for our forces to destroy a sufficiently large portion of his forces so that his later attacks will be too small to overwhelm us completely. This would correspond to having as an objective not maximizing our probability of winning the war handsomely but only maximizing the probability that he will not win the war handsomely. We shall assume that this last objective corresponds to achieving 30% damage.

The other objective, winning the war handsomely ourselves, would correspond to a 60% level of destruction. That is, we shall assume that if we destroy this percent of the enemy’s forces, our active and passive defenses are sufficiently effective to cope adequately with whatever he can then send against us.


We might figure, given that the war has broken out, that there is not much to be gained in mutual suicide. Unfortunately, in the real world one cannot make this decision after the war has broken out because the decision involves doing things which cannot be changed at the last moment. If one takes deterrence seriously, on might well plan on what is practically a contingent mutual suicide in the hope that the plan will prevent the contingency from occurring.

Brain drain is real

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Brain Drain via Lymphatic SystemIn 1816, an Italian anatomist reported finding lymphatic vessels on the surface of the brain, but for two centuries the dogma has remained that the brain is an exceptional organ, with no way to remove waste:

Then in 2015, two studies of mice found evidence of the brain’s lymphatic system in the dura. Coincidentally, that year, Dr. Reich saw a presentation by Jonathan Kipnis, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Virginia and an author of one the mouse studies.

“I was completely surprised. In medical school, we were taught that the brain has no lymphatic system,” said Dr. Reich. “After Dr. Kipnis’ talk, I thought, maybe we could find it in human brains?”

To look for the vessels, Dr. Reich’s team used MRI to scan the brains of five healthy volunteers who had been injected with gadobutrol, a magnetic dye typically used to visualize brain blood vessels damaged by diseases, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer. The dye molecules are small enough to leak out of blood vessels in the dura but too big to pass through the blood-brain barrier and enter other parts of the brain.

At first, when the researchers set the MRI to see blood vessels, the dura lit up brightly, and they could not see any signs of the lymphatic system. But, when they tuned the scanner differently, the blood vessels disappeared, and the researchers saw that dura also contained smaller but almost equally bright spots and lines which they suspected were lymph vessels. The results suggested that the dye leaked out of the blood vessels, flowed through the dura and into neighboring lymphatic vessels.

To test this idea, the researchers performed another round of scans on two subjects after first injecting them with a second dye made up of larger molecules that leak much less out of blood vessels. In contrast with the first round of scans, the researchers saw blood vessels in the dura but no lymph vessels regardless of how they tuned the scanner, confirming their suspicions.

They also found evidence for blood and lymph vessels in the dura of autopsied human brain tissue. Moreover, their brain scans and autopsy studies of brains from nonhuman primates confirmed the results seen in humans, suggesting the lymphatic system is a common feature of mammalian brains.

“These results could fundamentally change the way we think about how the brain and immune system inter-relate,” said Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., NINDS director.

Dr. Reich’s team plans to investigate whether the lymphatic system works differently in patients who have multiple sclerosis or other neuroinflammatory disorders.

It is to be feared that it may have become too popular

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Techniques of Systems Analysis presents a toy problem of allocating resources to planes and bombs in order to attack a couple potentially sheltered airfields with area defenses and local defenses. There are increasing returns to more planes attacking a particular airfield, as they can saturate defenses, but there are decreasing returns to hitting a particular airfield with more bombs:

It is probably clear to the reader that any reasonable person, including for example the ancient Greeks, could have followed our qualitative reasoning and understood, that when one is poor

  1. most of the money should be spent on decreasing attrition (buying planes)
  2. that one should concentrate on one target,

and conversely that when one is rich

  1. one should spend more money on bombs because the enemy’s defenses are automatically saturated by the number of planes in the attack
  2. that one can now afford to attack both targets.

The exciting thing that we have done is to make the above qualitative remarks numerical; that is, we have change what we called an “intuitive judgment” into what we called a “considered opinion.” How exciting this is can be seen from the fact that the ability to make this type of calculation and end up with Charts 17 and 18 is as much of an intellectual invention as the steam engine or the telegraph is a technical invention.

Techniques of Systems Analysis Charts 17 and 18

In fact, the concepts needed for this kind of analysis were invented in roughly the same time period as these two gadgets were. Moreover, they were not used for this kind of a question until late in the nineteenth century. In fact, it is only in the post World War II period, which saw a great expansion in the intellectual tools, computing ability, and suitable problems for this kind of analysis that it really became popular as an aid to the military planner. It is to be feared that it may have become too popular. Many people got so excited about the possibilities that they went overboard and claimed entirely too much for the technique.

One trouble was that people did not generally realize that even modern computing methods are not really powerful enough to evaluate complicated systems without the aid of a good deal of skillful “intuitive” supervision and guidance and, even more to the point, that the problems of uncertainty can swamp or negate a good deal of straightforward analysis. In many cases it was necessary to idealize the problem so much to make it tractable to analysis that the resulting considered opinion was less valuable than almost any reasonable intuitive judgment which was based on an examination of the unidealized problem.

Inaccurate shots could still plunge into areas where people were huddled

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

The New York Times managed to get someone experienced with guns and combat — former Marine infantry officer C.J. Chivers — to explain how the gunman’s vantage point and preparations opened the way for mass slaughter:

The possibility that Mr. Paddock used tripods, which two law enforcement officials said were in the room, indicates that he understood how to overcome some of the difficulties of his plan. Special mounts designed to fit the underside of a rifle and sit atop camera tripods allow the gunman to fire more accurately while standing. Military snipers use tripods in urban spaces, often setting themselves back from a window so neither they nor their weapons can be seen from the streets below.

These preparations, along with the downward angle of Mr. Paddock’s gunfire and the density of concertgoers, would make the shooting more lethal than it might otherwise have been, and more difficult to counter or escape.

When the gunshots started, videos showed, those in front of the stage dropped to their stomachs — often an adequate first measure when under fire. But on Sunday night, the decision potentially put them at greater risk.

Mr. Paddock’s position overhead gave him a vantage point over objects and obstacles that would typically protect people from bullets flying from a gunman at ground level. It also meant that inaccurate shots — the sort common to rapid or hurried fire, which typically sail high or strike the ground short — could still plunge into areas where people were huddled.


Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of Clark County, Nev., said that at least 16 rifles, ranging from .308 to .223 caliber, and a handgun were retrieved from Mr. Paddock’s hotel room. A federal law enforcement official said that AR-15-style rifles were among them. The authorities did not detail all of the guns, or which weapons Mr. Paddock fired.

Several pounds of a nonflammable exploding target used for practice were recovered from Mr. Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about an hour outside Las Vegas, Sheriff Lombardo said. Ammonium nitrate was found in Mr. Paddock’s car in Las Vegas, the sheriff said, but he did not say how much was recovered.


The duration of the bursts, as recorded, suggest that Mr. Paddock cared little about the military’s prescriptions for automatic fire. Sustained rapid fire is difficult to control and causes many weapons, especially light weapons, to overheat quickly.

I wouldn’t think to use a light camera tripod for full-auto fire.

The workmanship is better than the materials

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Concept is that which is believed, doctrine is that which is taught, and a model is that which is analyzed, Techniques of Systems Analysis explains:

Broadly speaking, it comprises the assumptions of the study.

Very often staff papers will start with a listing of assumptions. Then one may find upon reading the paper that many of the assumptions that actually influenced the results were not listed while many of the listed assumptions were either irrelevant or were ignored.

If a mathematician or scientist makes a model of a situation, he is generally successful in making the assumptions he is going to use very explicit and then in relating his conclusions to these assumptions in a fairly direct way. It does not follow that he is necessarily better in making assumptions — only that his mistakes will be more evident. One can be technically good at deriving conclusions from assumptions and yet very poor at making realistic assumptions. To quote Ovid, it often happens that “the workmanship is better than the materials.”

Competent, honest people often don’t do very well

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

According to Techniques of Systems Analysis, almost any honest, technically competent person could turn out worthwhile and interesting results — in the simpler, narrower field of Operations Research:

This last statement does not carry over at all to the much broader problems faced in Systems Analysis. Here we no longer have a definite context with specific equipment. Sometimes we don’t even have definite objectives. Rather we are trying to design a system capable of meeting contingencies which will arise five to ten, and sometimes fifteen, years in the future. We must not only design this system, we must also decide under what conditions it will be used and what we shall want to do with it. The recommendations of the Systems Analyst are mainly concerned with “beliefs,” research, development, and procurement, and only incidentally with operations.

Under these circumstances, competent, honest people often don’t do very well; this does not, of course, mean that we want incompetent or dishonest people. It does mean that, in addition to technical competence and honesty, a certain sophistication is necessary.

To make the role of the Systems Analyst clearer it seems worth while to make a distinction among at least three kinds of conclusions — what might be called intuitive judgment, the considered opinion, and the technical or scientific “fact.”

The first is essentially based on the individual’s experience and background. It is the basis of the day-to-day decisions of executives, businessmen, and in fact almost everyone. While it may be informed, the machinery by which it has been arrived at is not explicitly shown. It is essentially as good or bad as the man who is making it.

The second we have called the considered opinion. It differs from the intuitive judgment in that the logic behind the judgment is made explicit — this usually means that it is quantitative. In the best case it is arrived at by a reasonable and impartial examination of the known facts with due and explicit allowances being made for uncertainties. In the worst case, it may be an extensive and misleading rationalization of a prejudged position. In both cases it usually claims to be “rational.” The value of the opinion still depends on who is making it; however, insofar as the machinery is clearly shown, and not hidden by a mass of charts, calculations, and technical verbiage, the audience has some change of make its own considered opinion from the information presented.

(It should be clear to the reader that we have taken some liberties with common usage in making these definitions. For example if somebody spent some days in trying to decide some crucial choice problem and after much internal debate and struggle made the remark, “Well I have done a good deal of cogitating and it is now my considered opinion that I should…,” we would probably say he has made an intuitive judgment.)

To make the contrast between our definitions of intuitive judgment and considered opinion clearer, it is worth mentioning that in previous times there wasn’t much room in human affairs for considered opinions. In most situations there were experienced men available to make off-hand decisions, or the pace of events was so slow that people acquired experience almost without trying. Even when people tried to make opinions explicit, the best they could usually do was essentially a simple or complicated listing of the pros and cons with little or no explanation of how to balance the pros and cons quantitatively. In addition there really wasn’t much place for any process of arriving at conclusions that tends to take 3 to 12 months and uses “analytic” rather than “practical” processes, except in the fields of criticism, commentary, or reform. The contrary seems to be true today — hence, a major reason for what is called Operations Research and Systems Analysis.

The last kind of opinion is the scientific or technical “fact.” While such “facts” are much more subject to controversy than the general public suspects, it is still true that they can usually be clearly separated from the individual and are in some sense “objective.” In particular, insofar as the opinions are based on experiments, logic, or calculations, other people will invariably have repeated the steps and come up with the same answers, or the results will not be believed.

Mass shootings are a bad way to understand gun violence

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Mass shootings are a bad way to understand gun violence:

First, they’re rare, and the people doing the shooting are different. The majority of gun deaths in America aren’t even homicides, let alone caused by mass shootings. Two-thirds of the more than 33,000 gun deaths that take place in the U.S. every year are suicides.

And while people who commit suicide and people who commit mass shootings both tend to be white and male, suicide victims tend to be older. The median age of a mass shooter, according to one report, is 34, with very few over 50. Suicide, however, plagues the elderly as much as it does the middle-aged.

Second, the people killed in mass shootings are different from the majority of homicides. Most gun murder victims are men between the ages of 15 and 34. Sixty-six percent are black. Women — of any race and any age — are far less likely to be murdered by a gun. Unless that gun is part of a mass shooting. There, 50 percent of the people who die are women. And at least 54 percent of mass shootings involve domestic or family violence — with the perpetrator shooting a current or former partner or a relative.

The historical trends for different kinds of gun deaths don’t all follow the same course. While data suggests that the number of mass shootings similar to the Las Vegas event has gone up, particularly since 2000, homicide rates have fallen significantly from their 1980 peak and continued on a generally downward trajectory for most of the 21st century. Meanwhile, suicides are way up, with the biggest increases among women. The trends are different because the situations are different and the people are different. Maybe different solutions are warranted, as well.

Experience has been a better guide than theory

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Techniques of Systems Analysis explains the success of Operations Research — the simpler, narrower precursor to Systems Analysis — during World War 2:

Even allowing for pardonable exaggerations, the analysts often came up with suggestions that were quite different from practice and yet often demonstrably better. This, in spite of the common and well-founded belief that in the past “experience” has been a better guide than “theory” in this kind of work.

The reason for this success is fairly clear. We might, for example, contrast the situation during World War II with that during the Napoleonic Wars, and ask ourselves if scientific personnel could have contributed much to Nelson’s conduct of the battle of Trafalgar. The following quotation contrasts the situation Nelson found to that faced by the professional officer today. It also indicates some reasons why a civilian analyst is sometimes in a better “psychological” position than the professional military officer in approaching new long range problems.

The professional officer, stimulated always by the immediate needs of the service to which he devotes his life, becomes naturally absorbed with advancing its technical efficiency and smooth operation. This task has become ever more exacting with the increasing complexity and rapidity of change of military technology.

Nelson, whose flagship on the day of Trafalgar was forty years old yet in no wise inferior in fighting capacity to the majority of the ships engaged, could spend his lifetime learning and perfecting the art of the admiral without fearing that the fundamental conditions of that art would change under his feet.

Today the basic conditions of war seem to change almost from month to month. It is therefore difficult for the professional soldier to avoid being preoccupied with means rather than ends, especially since his usefulness to his immediate superior hangs upon his skill and devotion in the performance of his assigned function. And if there is one thing above all that distinguishes the military progression from any other it is that the soldier always has a direct superior.

Nelson and his contemporaries could have had forty years’ experience in handling the equipment they were fighting with. In fact, they could have had effectively even more. They could draw not only on their personal experience, but on the experience of others through personal contacts or writings. Under such circumstances the analytical process does not usually yield results with will compete with those that can be obtained by an experienced man using ordinary judgment and inventiveness.

World War II was quite different. Nobody really had much wartime or even peacetime experience with the equipment because so much of it was relatively new. In some cases it did not exist before the war and the military didn’t even have the benefit of exercises and discussion. Under such circumstances, a theoretical or analytical approach, particularly if it can be made quantitative, will often prove to be fruitful. In fact, it was found that almost any honest, technically competent person could turn out worthwhile and interesting results.

The U.S. Army neglected Megamission Three

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

The armed services have three megamissions, Jerry Pournelle explains (in 1994):

Megamission One: “Today” Carry out the assignments given by the President and Congress.

Megamission Two: “Tomorrow” Procure today the weapons systems needed to accomplish Megamission One ‘tomorrow.’

Megamission Three: “Day After Tomorrow” Today identify and stimulate development of the technologies needed to accomplish Megamission Two ‘tomorrow’.

In 1920, he points out, the U.S. Army neglected Megamission Three:

Those in control of military planning failed to recognize the growing importance of airpower in future conflicts. A few forward thinkers dissented; to them it was obvious that by 1940 airpower would be decisive. Their vision was proved correct when German air support overcame the French artillery defenses of the river lines long enough to allow armor to cross. France fell within 45 days of a breakthrough that simply could not have been achieved without airpower. From that time on air supremacy was an important, and usually decisive, element of military victory.

Spacepower today is similar to airpower in 1920: within 20 years space supremacy will be a decisive element of military victory on land or sea. The power that has access to space and can deny access to its enemy will have an advantage at least as great as air supremacy or sea supremacy.

Moreover, space supremacy can probably be converted to air and sea supremacy. As an example for discussion, consider the system this author has described under the name “THOR”. Thor consists of orbiting steel rods perhaps 20 feet long by one foot in diameter. They contain minimal terminal guidance capability, and a means of locating themselves and their targets through GPS. They can strike fixed targets with CEP approaching 25 feet. Few elements of air and naval power are invulnerable to bombardment by kinetic energy weapons from space. No ship can withstand the impact of 20 feet of steel rod at velocities greater than 12,000 feet per second. Airfields won’t fare much better.

The major cost of Thor and other more likely space bombardment systems is the launch cost. Thor also requires intact GPS and space observation systems. Costs of both are driven largely by launch costs. A great many potentially decisive weapons come to mind given low cost access to space.

Low cost access to space is a matter of technological development, not of breakthroughs. It takes about the same amount of fuel to fly a pound from Los Angeles to Australia as it does to put that pound in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). There is no intrinsic reason why space lift costs should exceed airlift costs by more than a small multiple, if at all. The United States is not the only nation capable of developing systems capable of routine economical access to (LEO), nor is there any reason to suppose that every nation that develops that capability will be devoted to peace. Space supremacy can be used as a powerful instrument of international blackmail.

In summary: spacepower will be as decisive in 20 years as airpower was in 1940, and development of key space technologies is as important for our future as development of aircraft technologies was in 1920. A vital element of future spacepower will be capability for routine and economical access to space.

Over time it became too intellectual

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Jerry Pournelle had some thoughts on think tanks:

RAND was a think tank, and over time it became too intellectual for General Schriever and Air Force Systems Command. Schriever, who built the modern Air Force and who understood megamissions very well, caused the creation of the Aerospace Corporation, which was to be “practical” rather than theoretical. Schriever ordered two major studies of the future of the Air Force: Project Forecast, which dealt with winged aircraft, and Project 75, which was a study of missile systems. Both were intended to answer the megamissions question. For more on megamissions see my lecture at the war college. Colonel Francis X. Kane was the Director of Project Forecast. Project 75 was done at Aerospace with Bill Dorrance as Director; I was the Editor of the study. Both were very influential in the development of USAF weapons systems.

RAND and Aerospace Corporation worked together. RAND considered Aerospace a bit too rough and ready, too operations oriented with too little regard to matters intellectual. Aerospace people thought of RAND as too theoretical with too little regard for practical matters. The Air Force generally required RAND critiques of major Aerospace studies, and most RAND Air Force studies required similar participation from Aerospace before the final report could be written. This cross fertilization was often useful and sometimes very much so, but it could lead to considerable frustration as well.

RAND had managed to establish the principle that RAND people were always on duty thinkers, and thus should fly first class when on company business since they were expected to work during the flights. This sometimes meant that a RAND intellectual would be flying first class while the spouse sat back in steerage with the Aerospace troops when we all went to a major conference. (In those days families often went to major conferences, paying their own way while the staffer got a paid ticket.) Aerospace Corporation staff were also expected to work while on the road, but weren’t authorized first class tickets. In practice, at least in my case, we did so much travel that we got upgrades from the airlines, so the RAND first class privilege wasn’t as important as it might have been.

There were other major government owned think tanks, mostly on the East coast. MITRE and Lincoln Labs were the two I worked with.

RAND published a wide variety of documents on many important matters. Herman Kahn’s Techniques of Systems Analysis, a RAND document, was the best (indeed nearly the only) systematic introduction to systems analysis/operations research in publication for some years, and remains one of the best even today. RAND did studies on such matters as “hostile trade”, a study of Japanese economic warfare in previous centuries.

Everyone used to enjoy visiting RAND in Santa Monica, and the Indonesian rijsttafel restaurant down the street.