Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

22.9.08

Day of Deliveries

It is a day of deliveries! What better way to see in the Autumnal Equinox, which is occurring the moment I am writing this.

First, Annasophia-to-be has decided she wants to be an Equinox Baby (or maybe she just wanted to be born under Virgo). So this morning, at 0300 EDT, CINCHOUSE's contractions intensified in their 30-40 second duration every 3-4 minutes. Not quite the "4-1-1" metric for heading to the hospital (i.e., 4 minutes apart, 1 minute duration, for 1 hour), but after three hours of contractions we headed to the hospital anyway.

So now we are in a labor-and-delivery room, epidural administered (as well as Pitocin, to further encourage the Peanut M&M's arrival), and I'm capturing this for posterity:



In addition to a baby girl on the way, today is also the formal release of the first book I have been a part of -- The John Boyd Roundtable, ably edited by Mark "Zenpundit" Safranski and published by Nimble Books.

So it's truly a "Day of Deliveries"!











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13.6.08

Generations of War: New Post

After a nearly-four month hiatus, I have posted a new piece over at my co-'blog, Dreaming5GW. Check it out.

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14.5.08

Review: tdaxp's Revolutionary Strategies

Überblogger and 'blogfriend Dan Abbott (of tdaxp) has published his first book: Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity: 4th Generation Warfare (4GW) Against the Roman Empire, and the Counterinsurgency (COIN) Campaign to Save It. It's on sale now on Amazon.

Dan, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-contributing colleague of mine at Dreaming 5GW, is a dutiful student of the late Col. John Boyd's ideas regarding conflict, decision making and leadership. He introduced this book on his 'blog earlier this month.

Dan has done a remarkable job applying contemporary theories of warfare and network science to the early Christian / late Roman era. The most notable strength in Revolutionary Strategies is his inventive correlation of the defensive strategies employed by Caiaphas (the chief antagonist of Jesus’s ministries) to those of Diocletian (the late-3rd century Roman emperor who ordered the most severe persecution of the Christian faithful). Accompanying this analysis is a very cogent application of the theories of Boyd (Penetrate - Isolate - Subvert - Reorient - Reharmonize, or PISRR), with modern examples like Vichy France that match the dynamics in the early Christian church.

Both Caiaphas and Diocletian sought to preserve the status quo. For Caiaphas, appeasing Rome was his primary objective: a rogue rabbi who preached of other-worldly gifts would have reflected poorly upon him and his hierarchy. Diocletian clearly understood the management complexities of so vast an empire, and seemed to adeptly address many of the most-pressing ills that plagued the Empire (poor civic participation, an army spread thin on the borders with little to no interior defenses) despite his rampant cronyism (particularly in the establishment of the Tetrarchy). But for the first 18 years of his reign Diocletian was unconcerned about the "Christian threat" – and if it not for Galerius would likely have never ordered the Great Persecution.

Most significantly, Dan’s book opens several new fronts on the debate over the nature of insurgency – and counterinsurgency. For instance, is the ex post facto presumption of “co-option” by the splinter Jewish sect that has become the Christian church practical? Or, rather, was the Christian faith “culturally appropriated” by the Roman empire upon Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century? While Dan asserts the former through the hypernetworking of the Apostle Paul, I believe this is a topic worthy of broader study. For instance, was Paul (née Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee) savvy enough to realize that his peers in Jewish leadership were attracting the ire of Rome? Did Paul’s ministries throughout the Mediterranean seek to increase the rift between Jerusalem and the splinter sect of Christian faithful? And were the Gospels written in a manner to give Rome (and particularly Pilate) a “pass” in the crucifixion of Jesus? (Note that three of the four Gospels were published immediately prior to the First Jewish-Roman War and the subsequent destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.)

Dan also provides another benchmark in the evolving theory of the “generations of war”, to wit his development of a taxonomy to differentiate between the various generational constructs. Though I disagree with his assertions that the “0th” (zeroth) generation connotes a form of “total war” and that 3rd generation warfare connotes “better minds”, Dan brings value by identifying possible relationships across the xGW generations and inviting further dialogue.

This is perhaps the greatest utility of Revolutionary Strategies: proffering novel ideas in order to provoke debate. Just as the spiritual values of the Romans were initially at odds with the splinter Jewish sect we now call Christians, the different cognitive approaches of Islam and Christianity – one society favoring creativity and innovation, the other cherishing rote memorization – will have similar consequences for our own unfolding century.

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9.4.08

REVIEW: Taleb's "Black Swan"

After resting comfortably in my "anti-library" for many weeks, I recently plucked The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb from my dusty nightstand. Since I was embarking on cross-continental flights (albeit with kids), I was looking forward to punctuating the drink-and-peanut monotony of Southwest Airlines (an airline woefully unequipped for flights longer than 90 minutes) with Taleb's insights.

Since my days as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy, where I evolved from an aspiring systems engineer to a "Science Advisor" to a manager leading the "Red Team" at U.S. Joint Forces Command J9, I have been fascinated with the prospect of "adversarial surprise". Like most analytical efforts under the loose employ of the Pentagon (which has roughly one government civilian employee [tail] for every two active duty soldiers/sailors/airmen/Marines [tooth]), this was a cottage industry.

Taleb's insights echo many of our observations in the Joint Experimentation program, particularly regarding the hubris of intellectualism. His skepticism of inductive logic, his emphasis on the importance of context in perceiving information, and his lionization of Doktor Prof. Sir Karl Raimund Popper (whom I had the pleasure of driving from leland stanfurd junior u. to Cal some 20 years ago in my Nissan Sentra) as well as Henri Poincaré are worthy of note.

However, his self-referential anecdotes are reminiscent of a Tolstoy novel, and his clear disdain for planning (née prediction) creates a scotoma that pulls him into the same abyss of solipsism that consumed David Hume.

The depth of his criticisms can be summarized quite succinctly as:
Don't use quantitative methods for qualitative questions.
Nature is benign, so we can ascribe a comfortable level of determinism to our observations. New data, often obtained through technological innovation, requires modification of obsolete theories (e.g., the Ptolemaic model of the universe to the Copernican; Newton's Laws of Motion to Einstein's Special Relativity; etc.). Key to our understanding (though Taleb would probably insist we understand nothing) is the selection of appropriate parameters -- and to not get too enamored with your own theories, especially if it involves any vestige of "free will".

Fallible? You betcha! Yes, we are inclined to fool ourselves. Yes, we try to cram too many variables into our formulae in some vain hope that we'll "get it right". And yes, our institutions -- particularly financial ones -- tend to reward the wrong kinds of behavior (q.v. Prof. Clay Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, in which Clay digs into corporate failures vice successes, finding that Wall Street rewards bad behavior). But Taleb's diatribe against the folly of "epistemic arrogance" has created another confirmation bias that only casually addresses the issue of scale when considering complex topics.

I understand that I am straying far from the "anchor" of many blogfriends (John Robb, Art Hutchinson, General of the Hordes Subadei, ARHerring, zenpundit, Chet Richards) who have offered glowing praise for The Black Swan. Perhaps it's my naïveté (or perhaps that I'm a product of the California public school system), but I honestly don't see our civilization marching toward "Extremistan". Quite the opposite: While our awareness of remote events has increased, and our networks have grown exponentially, I believe that the diffuse topology of our networks actually dampens the impact of an extreme event.

Consider the "Butterfly Effect". Do you really think a butterfly flapping its wings in Jakarta is going to eventually cause a hurricane in New York City? Or do you think the minor perturbation is absorbed locally without cascading into some kind of resonance? Yes, there are examples that illustrate the dire consequences of unplanned resonance. Taleb (who waffles at the end of his book as half hyperskeptic, half intransigently certain) abandons the Gaussian bell curve, yet -- with only a single mention of Albert-László Barabási -- firmly embraces Power Law scale invariance as normative.

Despite Taleb's too-casual treatment of scale, I think he would agree with George E.P. Box's statement (c. 1987) that "...[A]ll models are wrong, but some are useful." Abandoning our dogmatic devotion to certainty is essential in any creative, innovative enterprise -- and can reveal hidden opportunities, and hidden abilities.

This requires that we reexamine how we define "success". In my adopted hometown of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the best Calutron operators (the electromagnets that separated Uranium isotopes for the LITTLE BOY bomb at Y-12 during the Manhattan Project) were not the scientists from Berkeley who designed them, but seamstresses with no scientific training. And how many Americans would consider Tommy Franks or Norman Schwarzkopf as the most successful U.S. commanders in the Mid-East? What about Tony Zinni (who didn't win a major theater war, but may have demonstrated even greater skill by avoiding one)?

While many of us point to 9/11 as a "Black Swan", I can say unequivocally that it had a far less dramatic effect on my life than Continental Flight 196 on March 6th, 1993. Could I have predicted when or how I would meet the woman that would be the mother of my children? Of course not.... But was I open to the possibility, and adaptive enough (when jabbed in the ribs by Helen from Purchasing to move up one row on that flight) to take advantage of this blessing?

That may be the best value of Taleb's Black Swan: to jar us out of our collective comfort zones, to remind us how ignorant we truly are, and to encourage us to "Be Prepared!" Good advice, regardless of whether you live in Mediocristan or Extremistan.

____
Update: Überblogger Zenpundit has graciously linked this review -- and will have his own review posted this weekend. (Thx Zen!)

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5.2.08

Osinga Roundtable: Boyd's Evolution

In an October 1939 radio broadcast, Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union as “… a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The same can be said of the late Colonel John Boyd, whose prowess as a fighter pilot and whose lectures on the relationship between energy and maneuverability revolutionized the U.S. Air Force – but who published no books. Rather, his legacy was left in a stack of acetate vu-graphs (thankfully digitized by Chet Richards) and reams of personal papers. For his studious review of the latter, distilling the mind of Boyd into book form, Col/Dr Frans P.B. Osinga deserves our gratitude. He has played Clausewitz to Boyd’s Napoleon.

In Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Osinga presents us with a fascinating “deep dive” into the evolution of a brilliant thinker – a thinker who devoted his life to applied learning and teaching. Though it is unfortunate that Boyd did not see fit to publish his theories in book form (unsurprising given his professional environment far from the Ivory Towers of academe), it is evident from his 1,500+ presentations that he rigorously developed and willingly shared his ideas. Boyd’s stamina (both mental and physical) to lecture for more than a dozen hours at a time is testament to his devotion and his determination to succeed.

Osinga nicely complements the work of Boyd biographers (most notably Coram, Hammond and Richards) by dedicating the preponderance of his 300+ pages to how Boyd’s thinking evolved – describing his intellectual influences from the expected (Sun Tzu, Clausewitz) to the unexpected (Popper, Kuhn, Polanyi). Particular attention is given to the influence of classical physicists (Newton) as well as quantum theorists and mathematicians (Heisenberg, Gödel).

Boyd embodied the now-popular notion of the “Medici Effect”, a horizontal thinker who integrated perspectives across multiple, seemingly-divergent disciplines into a cohesive whole. His insights have proven applicable to a wide array of topics, and foretold of the emerging science of complexity theory (though I dislike Osinga’s use of the composite term “chaoplexity”, which undermines the distinction between “chaotic” – i.e., non-linear and seemingly random – and “complex” – i.e., a large number of interrelated properties or parameters). Given the swagger of the fighter pilot who bested the “best” in air-to-air combat in forty seconds or less, there is no doubt that Boyd – were he alive today – would be a prolific ‘blogger, and a Chicago Boyz contributor whose inputs would outweigh all of our Roundtable writings combined.

While many associate Boyd solely with the “OODA Loop”, he has given us far more than just a lexicon – just as Tom Barnett’s work is far more than simply “Core - Gap” and “Leviathan - SysAdmin”. Regardless of one’s willingness to accept his ideas, the sheer effort Boyd invested in his research – and Osinga’s effort in compiling the salient points for us – is an invaluable tool in anyone’s intellectual toolbox.

The motto of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is Litera Scripta Manet: “The written word endures.” It is ironic that intellectuals tend to revere the commentator more so than the subject on whom they write: Herodotus over Leonidas, Thucydides over Pericles, Clausewitz over Napoleon. If history is consistent, then in a hundred years the name Osinga may be equally associated with the name of Boyd.


Update: Crossposted at Chicago Boyz.

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21.11.07

Blogroll Updates

Two quick updates on the Blogroll:
  1. Mark "ZenPundit" Safranski has cleaned up his old jalopy of a 'blog, trading it in (with extensive spousal support) for a sleek new roadster. Or, as Soob so eloquently says, "Bold new look, same great taste!" Check it out at ZenPundit.com.
  2. Longtime friend and Boyd archivist Chet Richards, author of Certain to Win, has started a 'blog of the same name. I'm looking forward to Chet's contributions to this medium.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!


UPDATE 071122: Another migration in the Blogosphere: A.E. of Simulated Laughter has now moved to a new site, with a new focus: Rethinking Security.

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21.10.07

Trafalgar Day

One of history's most significant naval battles took place on this day, October 21st, in the year 1805. After years of chasing Admiral Villenueve and Napoleon's "combined fleet" through the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and his fleet of 32 ships (including 25 ships of the line) attacked a numerically superior foe off the Costa de la Luz in southwestern Spain. The battle, named for the nearby Cape of Trafalgar, established the Royal Navy as the dominant naval power in the world for more than a century to come. It also ensured the legacy of Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson as one of the most capable and inspiring commanders in history. His death on the day of his greatest triumph only served to heighten this legacy.

Though the Battle of the Nile (Nelson's resounding victory in 1798, fought almost entirely at night) is a more impressive tactical victory, Trafalgar merits special consideration because of the decisive strategic effect it had on Napoleon's campaigns in Europe -- and the world. While Napoleon and his foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand harbored secret plans for a "North American Empire", their eviction from Haiti (thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Toussaint L'Overture, the most important historical figure you've never heard of) and eventual sale of the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. forced Napoleon's attention east: to Moscow, and ultimately to defeat. Nelson's victory at Trafalgar dashed any hopes Napoleon had of ever attacking Great Britain.

Here's to The Immortal Memory of Nelson!

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12.10.07

Terror Salvo: USS COLE

In August 2000, the USS COLE (DDG-67) guided missile destroyer departed Naval Station - Norfolk in southeastern Virginia for a five-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf. After transit through the Suez Canal, it moored on a floating refueling platform in Yemen's Aden Harbor (near the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula).

Approximately two hours after arriving in the harbor, a small inflatable craft laden with more than 500-lb. (200kg) of C-4 military-grade plastic explosives made its way to the "dolphin" where COLE was refueling. Watchstanders mistook the boat for one of the many harbor craft routinely seen in the area. At 11:18am local time (08:18 GMT) on Thursday, October 12th, 2000, the two suicide bombers on the inflatable craft detonated their shaped charge alongside the port hull near COLE's galley, tearing a 10m-wide hole at the waterline. 39 sailors were wounded, while 17 gave the "last full measure of devotion" in service to our nation.

The seventeen sailors who lost their lives in this attack:
  • Hull Maintenance Technician Third Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter
  • Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer First Class Richard Costelow
  • Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis
  • Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy Lee Gauna
  • Signalman Seaman Apprentice Cheron Louis Gunn
  • Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels
  • Engineman Second Class Mark Ian Nieto
  • Electronics Warfare Technician Third Class Ronald Scott Owens
  • Seaman Apprentice Lakiba Nicole Palmer
  • Engine Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett
  • Fireman Apprentice Patrick Howard Roy
  • Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class Kevin Shawn Rux
  • Mess Management Specialist Third Class Ronchester Managan Santiago
  • Operations Specialist Second Class Timothy Lamont Saunders
  • Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis, Jr.
  • Ensign Andrew Triplett
  • Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley
A memorial page with poems and photos is here. Only through the quick action and extraordinarily competent damage control by her crew did USS COLE remain afloat -- and is still in commission today.

This attack was ultimately traced to al-Qa'ida, in their escalating war against the United States and the forces of freedom and egalitarianism -- a war that was sown in the mountains of Afghanistan during the insurgency against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and began in earnest in America with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

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26.7.07

Dream-Quest of Unknown 5GW


Dan at tdaxp has begun a six-post series on "Fifth Generation Warfare". His first post, set against the backdrop of H.P. Lovecraft's dream city Kadath, is a concise summary of the most familiar of Boyd icons: the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act loop. Like his cohorts at Dreaming 5GW, Dan has crossed into the Cold Waste to free our minds from their attritionist prison so that we can re-orient our perspective for the challenges that lay ahead. After all, how many of us judge the success (or failure) of a campaign by the "body count" reported in the media? And how devastating is such a singular fascination when warfare turns to more cerebral methods?

I encourage you to drop over to tdaxp. Make the climb to Kadath. And maybe you'll discover the silver key to unlock our well-known past, and in so doing find the Sunset City that binds our collective futures on this planet.


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24.7.07

Large Numbers

A famous thought experiment postulates that a monkey, strumming unintelligently on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, would eventually create all of the works of Shakespeare. Although often attributed to T.H. Huxley, a 19th century English biologist, it is a metaphor used in a 1913 essay by Émile Borel to describe large, random sequences of numbers.

During the 2007 Boyd Conference in Quantico, Virginia, LtGen(ret) P.K. Van Riper, USMC, described the rapidly-escalating variance in chess moves. Even though the chess board is a tightly constrained "battlespace" (8x8 grid, 32 pieces), after five moves there are more than 800,000 possible combinations. After six moves, this number increases to more than 9,000,000. And Wolfram's MathWorld shows that the possible number of positions after 40 moves is more than 1E120 -- a "1" followed by 120 zeros. This is nearly a billion-trillion times larger than the number googol (1E100, or the inspiration for the unintentionally-misspelled Internet search engine Google).

To give this number context, scientists today postulate that there are only 1E80 particles in the visible universe. And the age of the universe is estimated at 1.4E10 (14 billion) years.

So let's go back to our monkey. As an undergraduate physics major at Berkeley, one of the first homework problems in my thermodynamics class was a variation of the "infinite monkey theorem": we had to determine the probability of a trillion monkeys, typing randomly without pause at 10 keys per second, to randomly type the words of Hamlet. By assuming Hamlet was comprised of approximately 100,000 characters, and that a typical keyboard has 40 keys (without regard for punctuation or capitalization), the probability of a random string is 1/40 * 1/40 * 1/40 ..., repeated 100,000 times.

Despite having a trillion (i.e., 1E12) monkeys typing continuously at 10 keys per second, our solution was that it would still take more than 1E1000 years -- in other words, nearly googol (1E100) times the age of our known universe -- before reaching a 50% probability.

This is important for anyone charged with analysis or decision making responsibilities. We live in a world where just three significant figures (e.g., 99.9%) is considered accurate enough, and "six-sigma" (six significant figures, "1-in-a-million") is the ultimate achievement in performance. Too often we overlook the dynamics of our complex world, and we tend to dramatically underestimate variance in subsequent effects of actions.

So, if someone suggests to you that they can predict future actions in, say, a battlefield, just remember these facts:
  • The number of chess moves after a 40-move game is 1E120
  • The fastest computers in the world process about 1E15 operations per second
  • There are 1E80 particles in the visible universe
  • We still can't predict the weather accurately -- and nature isn't trying to deceive us!
Caveat emptor...

(H/T to Zenpundit for the post idea.)

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