Wizards of Oz

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

21.2.10

Review: SENATOR'S SON


Nearly 25 years ago, as a freshman college student balancing a science major with the obligatory credits in the Humanities, my English 101 professor introduced me to the concept of “verisimilitude”: the likeness or resemblance of a creative writing effort to reality. While this was a difficult feat for me in my writing assignments, it is something that Luke Larson has effortlessly achieved in his first novel, Senator’s Son.

Luke was a journalism major at a rival PAC-10 school, courtesy of an NROTC scholarship to the University of Arizona, and as a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps served two tours in Iraq (both in al Anbar province – first in 2005 during the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government that was to draft a permanent constitution, and again in 2007 during the Iraqi national referendum and the start of General Petraeus’s “Surge”).

Senator’s Son wastes no time hurling the reader into the breech. Written in a tempo prestissimo style, this rapid-fire novel gives you a no-holds-barred perspective of modern counterinsurgency from multiple perspectives: the families at home with a dissociated populace; the wounded warriors battling the demons of recovery, opiate pain-killer addictions and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the careerist bureaucrats that infiltrate every large organization; and most importantly the junior officers and non-commissioned officers who must make up for “higher’s” planning inadequacies and strategic myopia. Larson’s use of a 2047 scenario in the southwest Pacific, with a lone Senator holding the deciding vote on whether or not to commit U.S. military power abroad, helps to reinforce the strategic consequences our actions today can have on future generations.

Set in 2007 Ar Ramadi, a city of nearly a half-million that serves as the provincial capital of al Anbar province just west of Baghdad, Senator’s Son is the story of the platoons of GOLF Company. GOLF is a Marine company (part of a Marine battalion tied to an Army brigade) responsible for sweeping missions in south Ramadi in the days prior to the 2007 Iraqi national referendum (and a few months prior to “The Surge”). Their early ventures from the “Snake Pit” (a heavily fortified Marine firm base) poignantly demonstrate the complexities of contemporary warfare.

The force protection concerns are palpable – one can almost smell the raw sewage flowing through the ruined streets of a dying city, and feel the peering eyes of snipers tracking you in their sights. Every piece of litter is a potential Improvised Explosive Device, and every sound a threat. And like Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” theory in late 1990s New York City, the reluctant shift from a hardened, up-armored patrol mindset to one of cooperative engagement with a foreign culture underscores the essence of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine now codified in FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5: Counterinsurgency.

Like real life, there are few “happy endings” in this book. Each platoon commander in GOLF has his own strengths and fallibilities: from steadfast Bama’s bravery and bigotries to the maverick Greg’s ingenuity and independence. And each must face his own demons in the prose that Larson deftly weaves.

At a minimum, Senator’s Son is a brilliant primer on leadership: how to learn which rules are worth breaking, the importance of adaptability when there are no black-or-white situations but only gray, and the primacy of relationships.

But it is also a tribute to those who answer a call to serve – whether they serve in their own communities as volunteers, or have the privilege of wearing the Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor of a Marine (like my grandfather, a mortarman with CHARLIE-1-6 in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and my grandmother, a clerk-typist at Hunters Point-San Francisco who met my grandfather after his malaria washed him out of the Fleet Marine Force). Senator’s Son is a testament to the resilience of those who carry the burden of personal sacrifice with such humility that we can take our own freedom for granted.

This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about the greater world beyond our neighborhood – and the role that power (be it the “hard” power of weaponry and kinetic energy, or the “soft” power of relationships) can play in shaping the world for better or for worse.


(cross-posted at Antilibrary and Zenpundit)


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3.7.08

Decisionmaking

("On They Came" by Mort Kunstler, c/o The Framery)

There has been much dialogue in the 'blogosphere lately regarding information, from Andrew Exum's recent critique of JP 3-13: Information Operations at Small Wars Journal (h/t MountainRunner) to Chet Richards on "Orientation" (the central concept to Boyd's OODA loop) and "Virtual Water Coolers". Earlier posts by ZenPundit, John Robb, Shlõk, Don Vandergriff, Kotare and Coming Anarchy's brilliant series on the Principles of War are excellent contributions to the topic of "decisionmaking", which I believe is the cornerstone of command and leadership.

What makes good leaders? Is it success? Luck? Perseverance? Or is the "harmonious association of powers" that Carl von Clausewitz described in On War (Book I, Chapter III: "The Genius for War")?

Consider the image above. On the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863, Maj. Gen. George Pickett and his division of 5,500 Confederate soldiers formed the right flank of a three-division assault across the gently rising slope from Seminary Ridge toward Cemetary Ridge in the fields south of the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. His shout, "Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia," is inscribed on a monument at Gettysburg National Military Park. By the time Pickett's men had crossed Emmitsburg Pike and neared the Copse of Trees by the "Bloody Angle", more than half of his division would fall: 3,000 casualties in a matter of minutes, including 15 regimental commanders, six colonels and two brigadier generals.

What prompted a gifted leader like General Robert E. Lee to risk such a venture? Did the loss of Stonewall Jackson to friendly fire two months earlier at Chancellorsville neuter Lee's maneuverist spirit (a spirit that was alive and well with Hood's Texans, who defied direct orders and seized Devil's Den and Big Round Top on the Union left on July 2nd)?

Or did Bobby Lee see something his subordinates didn't? Did his rational calculus consider (a) Ewell's inability to take Culp's Hill on the Union right, (b) Longstreet's misinterpretation of his orders, thinking Lee only wanted him to turn the Union left rather than assaulting it to build on Hood's success the previous day, (c) the lack of coordination across a 3-mile-wide battlefront amongst his artillery, cavalry and infantry that dashed his hopes for a three-pronged assault, and (d) the near-breakthrough in the Union center (at the Copse of Trees) by Anderson the previous day?

The point is, complex adaptive environments have no unique solutions. Martin van Crevald, in Command in War, described two options for organizations needing to act with imperfect information: either increase its information processing capability (the choice of our modern U.S. military) or redesign the organization to allow it to operate effectively with less information (the essence of Boyd's Discourse and his "Organic Design for Command and Control" and the German concept of Auftragstaktik).

Based on the advice available to him on the scene, and his perception of the unfolding battle, Lee made the best choice he could at Gettysburg for the strategic interests of the Confederacy. Similarly, General George Meade (Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac) made great use of his subordinates (particularly Reynolds and Hancock) and -- knowing the Confederate States Army had moved into Pennsylvania -- chose the best line of defense with the Pipe Creek Line in northern Maryland.

Our challenge today is managing an ever-growing bitstream of data, and balancing our own cognitive load so that we are able to make effective decisions in high-stress, high-consequence, time-constrained environments. Some tools are useful in the context of social relationships and temporal "snapshots" (e.g., Twitter) while others give spatial correlation of resources ("Common Relevant Operational Pictures"). But none are adequate for all requirements.

The basic question we need to ask ourselves is: How much control do we really need? The most effective leaders are able to inspire their subordinates to strive for a common goal, then get out of their way. While information technology is beguiling in giving managers the chimera of perfect awareness, that awareness is a mirage on an ever-changing landscape of perception. Instead of focusing on what our subordinates are doing, or who should NOT see what we know through anachronistic classification practices, we should rather be managing our OWN cognitive load in order to anticipate emergent opportunities. MountainRunner sums up the debate nicely in his review of Exum's IO piece:
Understanding the value of shaping and managing perceptions is critical today just as it was critical throughout history. The difference is today fewer people are needed to mobilize for strategic effects, arguably making the precision and result of influence activities that much more important. We can’t afford to ignore this or get it wrong, but then we don’t have to get it absolutely right on the first cut. We must move ahead and realize that everyone is a strategic corporal and everything we do has information effects, some more than others.
Hear, hear!

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24.6.08

On Information

A Twitter "tweet" from @Selil earlier this evening roused a long-dormant post idea. Since Twitter is a "micro-blog", its constraint of just 140 characters limits its utility to low-bandwidth, big-idea (or mundane-activity) broadcasting. Prof. Liles's "big-idea" (in response to @mtanji of Haft of the Spear and CTLab fame) was:
"C4isr as the battle space. More than the Arquilla network centric warfare concept. Beyond hacking. Sun Tzu and Clausewitz"
I certainly agree with Prof. Liles that there is more to the information domain than John Arquilla and net-centric warfare (which always struck me as an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophesy -- despite the fact that network superiority has no deterrent value). Where I differ is in the proposition that C4ISR is a "battle space".

C4ISR, or (as ADM Giambastiani liked to refer to it during his tour as my boss at U.S. Joint Forces Command, "C2 + C2ISR"), is simply a tool. The technology only provides a medium by which information can be shared, the same way that Roman signal towers allowed information to be conveyed rapidly across great distances millennia ago.

Part of the Tanji-Liles dialog emphasized the lack of any truly "revolutionary" capabilities in recent decades. I'm inclined to agree -- from a purely technological perspective. Our modern technology -- though impressive -- has not ushered in a unique "Information Age". In fact, today's technologies have not created wholly new capabilities; they have simply enriched capabilities that have existed for centuries. Rather than living in "The Information Age", I believe we are actually living in the fifth "information age":
1st: Verbal exchange of information (oral communication)
2nd: Physical representation of information (Sumerian writing)
3rd: Portability of information (papyrus)
4th: Mass-production of information (Gutenberg's movable type press)
5th: Information freed from physical form (telegraph, telephone, Internet)
The most significant effect of proliferating information technology and communications capabilities has been to neuter the initiative and empowerment of subordinates -- stunting the audacity that makes (or breaks) battles. Rigid hierarchies coupled with pervasive communications grids -- with "Net-Centricity" -- are demonstrably less effective than ones with "weak" links (q.v. Linked by Albert-László Barabási).

Consider the "Operational Level of War" -- the level between "Tactics" and "Strategy". Many organizations of the U.S. Department of Defense invest inordinate numbers of labor hours in developing an idea that peaked in Napoleon's time (when it was called "Grand Tactics").

Napoleon's logic was simple: he commanded an army so vast that its interior lines could exceed the distance of daily information propagation. (Information in the late 18th/early 19th century could propagate at approximately 100 miles per day.) But when technology increased the bandwidth of information transfer (as well as the speed, thanks to decoupling it from physical form and allowing velocity=c), the intermediate layer that once served as a proxy for the Imperial edict (i.e., empowerment of the on-scene commander to act on behalf of the Emperor) has remain entrenched.

Modern C4ISR tools have served to perpetuate this folly, giving today's commanders a beguiling sense of "Situational Awareness". MIL STD 2525, the military standard for unit symbology merged with theater-scale maps, can give a commander a "realtime snapshot" of the entire physical battlespace. But as the scale increases (since warfare is not scale invariant), the trade off between "relevance" and "intelligibility" becomes akin to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: as one becomes more precise, the other becomes dangerously less so.

The temptation to treat warfare like a game of chess (with its ordinal moves and perfect battlefield intelligence) is fallacious. ARHerring, a co-contributor at Dreaming5GW, recently opined about the nature of chess on multiple boards -- a closer approximation to the adaptive and complex nature of war. Clausewitz's description of "Genius" in battle is the antithesis of a reductionist thinker who seeks the unique solution to a given problem. Complex adaptive environments can have multiple solutions -- but an even larger number of incorrect options.

Therefore, a better description of an effective military leader is not simply "charisma", but "network fitness": per Barabási, the ability to "attract" links in order to influence their perceptions. This applies not only to COIN, but also to Information Warfare (h/t mtanji) and the renascent field of Public Diplomacy championed by Mountainrunner.

Update: Michael Tanji and Tyler Boudreau (h/t John Robb) sound off.

[Crossposted at Dreaming5GW]

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17.5.08

Thermodynamics & Resilience

Author and blogfriend John Robb (of Global Guerillas) has done some fascinating "horizontal thinking" lately, tying the concept of "resilience" to thermodynamics. Yesterday's 'blogpost (entitled "Dissipative Structures") combines entropy and complexity -- with special attnention given to the concept of "scale" in complex systems.

John has raised an important point -- one that I echoed in his comments section at GG. If we presume that organizational and political structures exist because they make it more efficient (i.e., less entropic) to live, then we can also presume they will gradually become extinct when people have better options to pursue. "Resilient Communities" may just be one method by which we are able to satisfy Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. From John's comment section:

On the topic of thermodynamics, remember that entropy can be controlled -- but it takes work to do so (otherwise it would be impossible to make ice, an organized lattice of hydrogen-bonded water molecules, from a disorganized liquid).

Organizations are formed in order to accomplish tasks more efficiently. While it is a staple of GG and your own JR blogs (and BNW) to note the declining role of the nation-state, it is worthwhile to remember WHY our nomadic species settled into agrarian communes: because it was more efficient. Therefore, urban centers arose because that was the BEST way to accomplish the tasks required in a civilization dependent on industrialization. Similarly, nation-states were the most efficient mechanism for providing for common defense while creating -- and regulating -- markets in the post-Renaissance era. The former political structures based on the church and the "Divine Right of Kings" were discarded, and we adapted to the new norms.

Have nation-states recently exceeded some threshold of efficiency? Or are there better examples for how we can organize to live, work and play without further disruptions to our environment?

RCs may just be one case -- and I hope you will more fully develop this theory in your forthcoming RC book. It probably deserves and entire section, rather than just a lone chapter.

The premise should be how can we best abide by the 1st Law of Thermodynamics (Energy is always conserved) while also allowing the core social structures to thrive within our environment.


Zenpundit has provided a handy reference of John's work toward his second book (on "Resilient Communities"). Check it out and join the fray.

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16.5.08

Dubious Post of the Week

Earlier this week Stan Wasserman at Harvard's "Complexity and Social Networks Blog" posted a rant about how he's " ... beginning to despise the word 'social' in 'social networks', 'social networking', 'social software', and so forth ......"

My comment (which has not yet been posted, since they moderate blog feedback) was that he'd better rethink the name of their blog. I suppose "Complexity and Network Science Blog" has a nice ring to it... :-)

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17.4.08

Redundancy vs. Interdependency

John Robb has shared some of his early ideas as he brainstorms for his forthcoming book on "Resilient Communities". This recent post describes the need for local capacity in "personal fabrication", opining that "in the longer term, [disruptions don't] need to occur." Communities possessing the ability to create (at low cost and small scale) locally desired goods could, in John's words, "... advance economically and in quality of life faster than communities dependent on traditional centralized sources of production."

The following day, Tom Barnett linked a Bloomberg article under the heading "Early signs of the growing food hyper-interdependency" and Shlõk posted a short piece on "Piggybacking on Existing Infrastructure" (calling it a bad idea).

These two articles underscore the competing notions of of "economic specialization" (which is the at the core of interdependency) and "local redundancy". In an ideal world, with infinite resources, local capacity can be built to suit local needs. However, when resources are finite, the concept of "opportunity cost" becomes paramount: What can I not do if I do this?

For disaster planning, we tend to overestimate the availability (and capacity) of local infrastructure: first responders on the scene, relatively intact communications infrastructures, availability of critical resources like water, ice, medicine. After Hurricane KATRINA in August 2005, however, we saw the impact of lost infrastructure: first responders who had evacuated themselves, cell phone towers with their power generators flooded, impassable transportation grids unable to deliver needed supplies.

I have argued in this 'blog for greater self-reliance -- but how far can we go? What are the practical limits of building and maintaining a local infrastructure that can satisfy all local needs? And would such "islands of self-sufficiency" lead to greater sectarianism?

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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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7.4.08

Scale and (Over)Simplification

Following up yesterday's post on "Complexity and Scale", and the alarmist notion that society is bound to collapse because of its increasing complexity, let me turn the tables and describe a worrisome trend: that of oversimplification in the face of complexity.

Prof. Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Insitute (NECSI) has done pioneering research into the dynamics of complex systems. The first textbook on the subject was written by Yaneer in 1997, and a more-accessible (i.e., less math) introduction on applying complexity science to real-world problems (Making Things Work) followed in 2004. One of the most fundamental concepts in complex systems is the trade-off between complexity and simplicity when related to scale. Greater complexity at a large scale means greater simplicity at a fine scale, and vice versa.

Where we get into trouble is when we ascribe simple models that are inadequate for the complexity at a given scale. For instance, a hierarchy is limited in its inherent complexity to the complexity of its leader. Yet we persist in building simple hierarchical organizations (e.g., CPA and its successor organizations in Iraq) when the dynamics of the environment call for a more modular, diffuse network of organizations. Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety (c. 1956) asserts that, for a system to achieve stability in the midst of perturbations, its number of control variables must be greater than the number of possible states in that system.

Therefore, the most efficient organization in a dynamic, complex large-scale environment is not a Napoleonic hierarchy with a single overarching authority -- but rather a distributed, loosely connected network of specialized subnets that are empowered to act in response to system perturbations. Pop quiz: does the latter statement better describe the organizational paradigm of the coalition forces in Iraq, or of the various other force structures there (Mahdi, Badr, AQI, etc.)?

It is interesting to note that General Odom's recent Senate testimony (h/t Abu Muqawama) associates the decline in violence since General Petraeus's " ... reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strong men who distrust the government and occasionally fight among themselves. Thus the basic military situation is far worse because of the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political bosses." Increased complexity at a higher scale due to the diffusion of military authority to lower scales.

The implications for the conventional force structure of the U.S. security infrastructure are profound. To borrow terminology from Tom Barnett, not only does this mean "Leviathan" can't do "SysAdmin" -- it means that the idea of a centrally-organized SysAdmin is doomed to failure.

Now that the study of self-organized criticality is 20 years old, which describes when a critical point in a dynamic system acts as an attractor, perhaps we will see commensurate change within our organizational models. For instance, the "Incident Command System" of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (which was derived from interagency evolution in response to wildfires, which was in turn derived from the military's deliberate planning process) defines standards to facilitate rapid organization, information sharing and decision-making.

Organizational models that facilitate effective (and appropriate) exchange of information, and -- most importantly -- allow the organization's evolution in the face of cooperation and competition are more effective in contending with the complexity of our world.

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6.4.08

Complexity and Scale

A post on KurzweilAI.net last week caught my eye. It excerpted a recent article in NewScientist entitled "Why the demise of civilisation may be inevitable", which declares that society's increasing complexity also increases its fragility -- and the energy needed to sustain it. What the gang at KurzweilAI.net missed is the nature of scale in complex systems dynamics.

In fact, this is the second time in a month that KurzweilAI.net has come up short. The other time was a report on a pandemic influenza detecting chip -- conveniently appearing just prior to a Pandemic Influenza Tabletop Exercise I recently participated in. But their report was wrong about current capabilities: first responders can identify various strains via an emergency polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in 2-3 hours, not "days or weeks" as reported on their 'blog.

KurzweilAI's alarmist reporting on social complexity -- and the concomitant "solution" of "reducing" society's complexity by reengineering our institutions at a smaller scale -- shows scant attention to the essential role scale plays in complexity. To wit, if a phenomenon appears random or unpredictable at a fine scale (e.g., turbulent flow), it can be predicted at a large scale. Conversely, phenomena that are unpredictable at a large scale (e.g., ethnic violence) can be predicted at a fine scale. [The link is to the Ethnic Violence page at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and to a paper published in the journal Science last September presenting their models. These models showed a 90% correlation between single-parameter predictions (after wavelet filtering) and reported incidents in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and even higher correlations in India.]

The underlying assumption of KurzweilAI (and Ms. MacKenzie at NewScientist) is that complexity is directly proportional to scale: the larger the scale, the greater the complexity. Similarly, the smaller the scale, the less the complexity.

However, when you decouple scale from complexity, you begin to see a better fit with our observed reality. Conventional military operations (à la Schlieffen Plan, the Fulda Gap, and OPLAN 1002, to name a few) entail massive amalgamations of forces for the express purpose of simplifying the commander's perspective. Rather than drowning in the minutiae of individual soldier movements (or even platoon or company-level engagements), theater commanders -- with the helpful MIL-STD-2525 symbology, similar to NATO APP-6A -- are able to think in terms of Corps and Division elements (and, lately, Brigades -- the primary warfighting organizational element of the U.S. Army). Therefore, large scale -- but low aggregate complexity.

When the battlefield loses its conformity, though, the scale decreases -- while the complexity increases! Consider which of these two scenarios are more "complex":

1) U.S. Army V Corps blocking the Soviet 8th Guards Army in the Fulda Gap, or ...
2) U.S. Army V Corps serving under the Coalition Ground Forces Commander in post-OIF Iraq.

Many have described the inherent complexity of loosely-coordinated small forces combating a monolithic adversary, most notably the contributors to the Small Wars Journal, John Robb, and the gang at Defense & the National Interest. Perhaps the Kurzweil crew would benefit from paying more attention to these "ideas at the intersection".

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29.2.08

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Big changes are afoot in Oz. First, and certainly most importantly, Lady of Oz is expecting:

The little cashew is due in late September, so we're hoping for a cool Tennessee summer.... And since I'm probably twice the age of your average blogger (i.e., shlok + tdaxp = Oz), this is doubly joyful -- and doubly daunting!

As if adding a third child isn't enough for 2008, I have moved on to other professional opportunities. It was a fun year-and-a-half with Enterra Solutions -- I learned volumes from Stephen DeAngelis and Tom Barnett, and am thankful for the opportunity to hitch my wagon to their star. However, my role in Tennessee and the company's explosive growth in other areas (e.g., Kurdish Iraq) were not a good fit.

So, effective tomorrow, I will join Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam and his extremely impressive team at the New England Complex Systems Institute as their Director of Program Development. Since I have long believed that "Complexity Theory" will be for the 21st century what "Quantum Theory" was for the 20th century, I am very excited to help apply new scientific methods to everyday challenges.

In addition to joining NECSI, I am also launching a new company: EMC2 LLC, a consulting and team-building firm that seeks to fill a void between high-level emergency management and local (individual, family and company) disaster preparedness.

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

Strange fascination, fascinating me ... :-)

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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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22.10.07

Terror vs. the Marines: Beirut

At 6:22am local time in Beirut (4:22am GMT) on Sunday, October 23rd, 1983, a yellow Mercedes-Benz delivery truck (taking the place of a hijacked water delivery truck) approached the U.S. Marine Corps compound near the Beirut International Airport. Marines from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (1/8) were deployed there as part of an international peacekeeping force (Multinational Force in Lebanon) to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the previous year.

The flatbed truck turned onto the access road toward the Marine compound, circled a parking lot, and accelerated toward the sentry post. Since “suicide bombing” was a relatively new development in the post-kamikaze age (perfected by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in the previous few years), force protection measures pale in comparison to today: there were no “Jersey barriers” obstructing direct access into the compound, the only barricades were sewer pipes behind a raised gate, nearby perimeter fencing was simple barbed wire, and “Rules of Engagement” for the sentries were so restrictive that they could not load and raise their weapons until the truck had already crashed into the lobby of the four-story cinderblock barracks building.

Nearly 12,000 pounds of explosives were detonated by the driver, lifting the building from its 15’ circumference footings and causing it to collapse into rubble. 241 U.S. servicemen died that morning, including 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel, and 3 Army soldiers – the deadliest single-day toll for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

Almost simultaneously with the attack on the Marine Barracks, an identical attack was made against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 6th Parachute Infantry Regiment, killing 58.

In 2003 a U.S. District Court judge declared that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for these attacks, since Hezbollah was entirely dependent on Iran in 1983. Just last month (September 2007), the same District Judge ordered that Iran pay $2.65 Billion to the families of the killed servicemen.

Today, 1/8 continues to proudly serve our nation as part of 2nd Marine Division under II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF). They are currently under the able leadership of LtCol Mike Saleh, USMC, deployed to Al Anbar Province in western Iraq as “Task Force 1/8”.

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19.9.07

Climate Change: Yes, but Why?

Personal opinion: I believe too many people are accepting what the mainstream media feeds them regarding climate change without digging into the data.

Is climate change happening? Certainly -- the receding polar ice is indisputable evidence of increasing temperatures. Where the train runs off the rails is when we try to ascribe causality.

We too easily accept the conclusion ("accusation"?) that humankind MUST be the cause -- that the increase in alleged "greenhouse gases" must be why temperatures are increasing, so therefore let's cut emissions -- reduce coal burning power plants -- buy E85 vehicles
-- spend BILLIONS on carbon scrubbers and other retrofits to "dirty" systems.

But too few are questioning the models that present that data. Too few are asking about those funky "weighting" factors to make the models fit the data (e.g., why methane gets a 1.1 multiple but CO2 gets a 1.4). I've asked a few climatologists, who have answered they don't know. Which proves the dictum, "All models are WRONG, but some are useful." In fact, one can correlate the data showing Republicans in the U.S. Senate to observed sunspot number. Gotta be a causal link, right?

Then I ask why, if CO2 is the cause, we haven't seen similar increases in atmospheric temperatures at higher altitudes over time. Wouldn't it make sense that the "greenhouse gas blanket" that traps heat would trap more heat at the ambient altitude of the gases? (And don't cite the planet Venus as "evidence" of CO2's infrared transport capacity -- Venus's atmosphere is nearly 90 times as dense as Earth's,with no carbon cycle for surface reclamation of carbon emissions, and their daily rotation is slower than their "year" around the sun.) Same answer from the scientists -- nobody was willing to assert causality when challenged with specifics (instead a couple retreated to "confidence levels", the refuge of the risk averse who don't really know for sure what they're talking about).

Prof. Freeman Dyson, harshly maligned by climate change ideologues, has some good points in A Many Colored Glass that challenge the popular theories. But Dyson's main point is that there are not enough "heretics" in science -- that we need more people to stand up to popular opinion and challenge presumptions, at risk of their own reputations. I'm reminded of the late U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, who would tell his subordinates that they will come to a choice: they could either be somebody (and fit in the "corporation" with its individual rewards) or they could do something (and make a real difference).

Of course, it's easy to accept as fact the slick presentations of a former-politician-cum-businessman. But ask yourself, next time you see "An Inconvenient Truth", why the preponderance of data shown only goes back 80 years. And why polar caps on Mars are receding at an even faster clip than on Earth. And why there is such intolerance of debate -- especially by noted professionals who suggest decertification for meteorologists who disagree with human-based causality.

Bottom line: we are good at reductionist analysis -- breaking problems into tiny pieces and solving each one in turn. But we are lousy at the complex interactions of billions upon billions of entities. And if you want to see for yourself the paucity of research in the infrared transport properties of greenhouse gases (or any gas for that matter), check out this query from Google-Scholar showing a grand total of six articles -- including one related solely to Venus, and one to financial transactions.

So, take the leap. Remove the veil. And ask the hard questions, rather than simply accepting what the Wizards tell you.

...-.-

Endnotes: I do not work for the oil industry (or any energy-related industry, for that matter). I have no vested interest in any kind of policy (or lack thereof) regulating carbon emissions. We have over 100 trees on our property, so our calculated "carbon footprint" is negative (and certainly far less than fellow Tennessean Al Gore's, even with his "purchased offsets"). And a hat tip to Dr. Ed Smith Jr., from whom I grabbed the photo at the top of this post -- it's Earth, but it's upside-down and sideways.

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