Wizards of Oz

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


Return of the U.S. 4th Fleet

The Pentagon announced earlier today that, effective July 1st 2008, the U.S. Navy will reestablish the U.S. Fourth Fleet. FOURTHFLT will oversee operations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America, and will operate out of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSOUTH) headquarters in Mayport, FL.

The inaugural COMFOURTHFLT will be RADM Joseph D. Kernan, present commander of Naval Special Warfare Command and the first Navy SEAL (and, by nature of Special Operations, and expert on irregular warfare and COIN) to ever command a numbered fleet.

From today's Miami Herald:

Fourth Fleet to sail again in Latin America

It's official: The Pentagon formally announced Thursday that it is reestablishing an administrative entity called the Fourth Fleet -- to oversee Navy vessels that sail the Caribbean, Central and South America. Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, who now runs the Naval Special Warfare Command, will be its new commander.

He becomes the first Navy SEAL, or officer who served in the Navy's elite commando unit, to serve as a numbered fleet commander.

No new headquarters are being created because it will operate out of the U.S. Navy's Southern Command satellite in Mayport.

"Reestablishing the Fourth Fleet recognizes the immense importance of maritime security in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere and signals our support and interest in the civil and military maritime services in Central and South America," Adm. Gary Roughead, the Pentagon's most senior naval officer, said in a statement released Thursday.

The organization becomes effective on July 1.


Technically, the Fourth Fleet would answer to the U.S. Southern Command in Miami but supervise the various Navy ships and aircraft that might be assigned to sail south of the U.S. border -- on missions ranging from humanitarian relief to stopping drug trafficking to training with other navies in the Americas.

"This change increases our emphasis in the region on employing naval forces to build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests," Roughead said.

The new fleet restores an institution that was established in 1943 in the South Atlantic as U.S. Navy warships searched for Nazi U-boats. It was disbanded after World War II.

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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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March is Red Cross Month

From the American Red Cross website:
"Honoring a tradition dating back to 1943, President Bush has issued a proclamation recognizing March as Red Cross Month and lauding the 'remarkable achievements and contributions' of the American Red Cross."
Many of us know the Red Cross as the place we donate blood, or take our First Aid and CPR classes. But the Red Cross is so much more.

For instance, the Red Cross, though more than 700 local chapters, is positioned to respond quickly to disasters -- whether it's a single-family home fire or a major catastrophe. Red Cross "Disaster Action Teams" provide food, shelter, emotional support and emergency assistance to those in need more than 70,000 times each year.

The American Red Cross works solely through the generosity of its donors and volunteers, and provides all of its disaster services free of charge -- without any federal funding. I encourage you to contact your local Red Cross chapter and ask how you can volunteer your time. Or, to contribute to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, go to http://www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Together, we can save a life.

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Crossing the Rubicon

To "Cross the Rubicon" is to pass a point of no return -- to commit yourself to something. In late 50 B.C., the Roman senate ordered Julius Caesar (then Governor of Gaul, a military hero whom the Senate feared) to disband his army and return to Rome. Since his term as Proconsul had ended, and the Senate forbade Caesar from running for a second term in absentia, Caesar knew he would be politically marginalized -- and possibly imprisoned -- if he returned to Rome without the immunity of a Consul.

So, on the 10th of January in 49 B.C. (converted to the Gregorian calendar), Caesar crossed the southern border of Cisalpine Gaul and entered Italy with one legion, Legio XIII Gemina. Since armies were forbidden by Roman law to enter Italy proper (primarily to defend against internal military threats), Caesar's actions marked the beginning of the Roman civil war. He is reported to have said "Alea iacta est" ("The die is cast"), hence our modern association of "Crossing the Rubicon" with passing a point of no return.

What's ironic is you can learn far more about "Fiume Rubicone" (literally "River Rubicon") from Webster's Dictionary and Wikipedia than you can from Rand-McNally. On a March 1994 trip to Europe with my then-girlfriend, I harbored a plot to "pop the question" on the bank of the Rubicon -- after crossing it in our rental car while driving from Venice to Assisi. (If there had been 'blogs in 1994, the dawn of the old NCSA Mosaic web browser, I would have probably done like Dan at tdaxp.... :-)

Only by consulting some large maps at the Navy lab where I worked was I able to find the river. And when we saw it in person, I had a brief pang of regret that I didn't ask Renee to marry me while we were on a gondola floating on the Canale Grande in Venice the night before. But since I had a plan, I stuck to it -- the arrow below shows the spot, and the "scenic grandeur" of what was simply an archaic border between Roman provinces (or a ditch by modern standards):

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The Great White Fleet

America became a global power in the latter days of the 19th century by defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War, taking possession of Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and Guam. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt (credited with preparing the Navy for the war, before resigning his appointment to serve as a Colonel in the U.S. Army) understood the importance of naval power to a nation's economic and military strength.

A decade later, as Roosevelt's presidency was drawing to a close, he dispatched four squadrons of four battleships each (and their escorts) from the Hampton Roads, Virginia on a 43,000-mile, 14-month journey that would circumnavigate the globe. This fleet, "The Great White Fleet", began its journey exactly 100 years ago -- and would demonstrate to the world America's global reach and blue-water navy capability.

Tensions with Japan were rising due to Japan's incredibly lopsided victory over Russia's Baltic Fleet in the Battle of Tsushima two years prior -- and their growing sphere of influence in the western Pacific. This led many (including Harpers magazine) to believe that the outgoing president was launching a war against Japan.

However, Roosevelt's intentions were to build goodwill and cooperation -- akin to the modern U.S. Navy's recently-published "Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower".

(The above photo, taken from the roof of the Hotel Chamberlin at Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, shows the fleet passing into the Atlantic at the start of their journey, December 16th, 1907.)

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National Guard Birthday

The oldest organized military establishment in the Americas, the National Guard of the United States, was founded December 13th, 1636. (Yes, 1636 -- less than a generation after the founding of the Plymouth Colony, and only 29 years after the first permanent British presence in the New World began at Jamestown, Virginia). From Wikipedia:

"On December 13, 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had ordered that the Colony's scattered militia companies be organized into North, South and East Regiments--with a goal of increasing the militias’ accountability to the colonial government, efficacy, and responsiveness in conflicts with indigenous Pequot Indians. Under this act, white males between the ages of 16 and 60 were obligated to possess arms and to play a part in the defense of their communities by serving in nightly guard details and participating in weekly drills. After the United States came into existence, state militias would develop out of this tradition."

According to Title X of the U.S. Code, Section 311, the militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and ... under 45 years of age who are ... citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard. This militia is organized into two parts: the National Guard, and the "unregulated militia".

Happy Birthday, National Guard!

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Yorktown Day

About 15 miles to the east of the original Jamestown colony in Virginia (the first permanent British establishment in the "New World") sits the port of Yorktown -- and its deep water access to the York River, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. This is ironic because, in the space of about 30 minutes, one can drive the Colonial Parkway through the National Park Service's Colonial National Historical Park across nearly 200 years of British rule in America.

The Siege of Yorktown (Autumn 1781) was the perfect storm of:
  • strategic miscues (General Charles Cornwallis was sent to Yorktown to secure a deep-water port, but he wanted to "split" the colonies in the middle to shatter their cohesion)
  • operational brilliance (particularly Washington's deceptive maneuver from Dobbs Ferry, New York to the Virginia Peninsula, freezing Clinton's forces in New York to defend against Washington's already-departed army)
  • French naval success (Admiral de Grasse's stalemate against Admiral Graves in the Battle of the Capes allowed Compte de Barras to create a naval blockade in the Hampton Roads)
  • and lucky weather (storms prevented the pinned-down Cornwallis from evacuating across the York River to Gloucester Point)
After three weeks of intense bombardment by Washington and Lafayette, with reinforcements from New York still many days away, Cornwallis realized his tenuous position. On October 19th, 1781, he formally surrendered to General George Washington.

The result was the capture of nearly 2/3s of all British forces in America, and a loss of interest by the U.K. government in the then-six year old war. Prime Minister Lord North began the proceedings that would result in the Treaty of Paris -- and would become the first head of government ever ousted by a vote of "no confidence" in March 1782.

The Yorktown Battlefield is one of the best preserved in the National Park Service, with the interior lines and redoubts available for close-up investigation as well as an outstanding audio-guided driving tour. Anyone who visits Colonial Williamsburg or Tidewater Virginia should plan to spend an afternoon at Yorktown.

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Selective Hearing

Last Friday afternoon, at the Military Reporters and Editors Luncheon, LTG(ret) Ricardo Sanchez -- former commander of the Army's V Corps and the top U.S. commander in Iraq until 2004 -- leveled a series of broadside blasts at the mainstream media, the ineffectiveness of the National Security Council, and the partisan bickering in Washington.

If you read any of the copious media reports this past weekend (like these gems from AP and the NYTimes), you undoubtedly read the most damning accusations of a national "nightmare with no end in sight", that "America has failed". However, of all the vitriol he let slip last Friday, the only parts covered by the major media outlets were those most critical of the war and the Bush administration.

Too bad the media didn't present the full story. Thankfully, the blogosphere is replete with pundits who have called the media on their fundamental failure to adhere to their own ethical standards of truthfulness and fairness.

First, and most importantly, is the complete transcript of General Sanchez's remarks (c/o his hosts last Friday). It clocks in at just over 3,400 words and about 10 pages, but it is well worth a careful read.

A sampling of blogs who have called the mainstream media on their "selective hearing":
As this 'blog is intended to be a forum for challenging our mainstream opinions, [and] for identifying the Wizards in our midst, I encourage you to each view all the available evidence and decide for yourself what message General Sanchez intended.

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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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Reconstruction and Stability Ops

Several Bloggers have described the value of simple solutions for complex problems. Last summer, at the STRONG ANGEL III Humanitarian Relief Exercise in San Diego, I met Vinay Gupta. Vinay has the complexion of a south-central Asian, and the voice of a Scottish Highlander. His innovation, the Hexayurt, is another great innovation to provide rapid, relevant relief to people in need:

Vinay is addressing the most overlooked element of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need: the middle tier of "Affiliation".

While many focus on the bottom tiers (food & shelter; security), and post-modernist look at the top (esteem and actualization), the quickest path to stability is by allowing people to preserve their own affiliations.

The irony is that the relief mechanisms of the world do not allow this. The U.N. drops a 100-lb. bag of rice, and the refugee camp grows where the sustenance is delivered. This creates a spiral of disaffect that creates greater security challenges, and delays the restoration of stability.

A better approach, like those postulated by Vinay, is to provide people the means of achieving the lower tiers of Maslow's hierarchy -- while also preserving their native affiliations.

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