Wizards of Oz

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


Home Office Tourney

Blogfriend (and occasional co-imbiber of fine fermented beverages) Zenpundit has tagged me in his "Tournament of Home Offices". Though we only moved in to our present home two-and-a-half weeks ago, I am more than happy to oblige....

First, there is the Library (which CINCHOUSE continues to urge me to "downsize" -- as if I'd never find a need for my "Elements of Classical Dynamics" text from college, or my hardcopy notes from Joint Maritime Ops at the Naval War College circa 1992!):

Then there is the fightin' hole:

The clocks show all the important time zones in the world: Hawaii Standard Time, Tehran, Greenwich Mean Time and (of course) local time of the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in lovely Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The bike is my Mercier Aero II (hoisted on a Minoura Rim Drive Action System for those blustery snowy days, or just about any time between Labor Day and Memorial Day).

The pen holder is a re-linked chain of .50-cal casings from a long-ago Science Advisor developmental test of a remote fire control system. The book next to the monitor is none other than Michael Tanji's edited work Threats in the Age of Obama.

And the beer is an Easy Street Wheat from Odell Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado. There are a lot of benefits from living in the epicenter of U.S. microbreweries....

Of course, what Zen fails to mention about the esteemed Thomas P.M. Barnett office is the map painted on the walls/ceilings:

Hands down, Tom has the rockin'est home office.

I tag Sean Meade of interact, General of the Hordes Subadei, and Prof. Sam Liles of selil (who has the most impressive C2 / Info War library I've seen) to join the fray.

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Threats in the Age of Obama

Blogfriend Michael Tanji's edited work Threats in the Age of Obama has been sent to the printer earlier this week. In addition to Tanji (a former intelligence officer with two decades in various tactical and strategic level assignments), the contributors are a "Who's Who" of international security bloggers:

Zenpundit, Mountainrunner, Ubiwar, Selil, WarAndHealth, TDAXP, PersonalDemocracy, devost.net, Rethinking Security, CTOvision, Mapping Strategy, MissileThreat, Politics & Soccer, Whirled View, ThreatsWatch, Armchair Generalist and Shloky. Oh, and some hack named Shane.

UPDATE: The book is now available on Amazon.

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Roundtable II: "Karl von"

The gang at Chicago Boyz will host a roundtable on Karl von Clausewitz's magnum opus, "On War", in January. I'm pleased to join many of my fellow 'bloggers who took part in the Boyd Roundtable earlier this year, as well as an extremely impressive lineup of other noteworthy 'bloggers in the national security realm.

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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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Nuclear Blogtank

Cheryl at Whirled View has asked:
"What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support."
Since it has become known to The Great and Wonderful Wizard that nefarious forces in the lands of ZenPundit are "contemplating how to leverage the possession of a small number of nuclear weapons to best advantage," we will develop our own strategy in the interest of global peace and tranquility.

Our resources being small, and our arsenal limited, we can not come anywhere close to the Kahnesque scenarios of On Thermonuclear War. And with a severely constrained national ability to reconstitute, our primary objective is the security and preservation of our fissile material.

Therefore, we will pursue a four-fold strategy we call "Deterrence Light":

1. INTERNAL SECURITY: Ensure the secrecy of our fissile material. Maximize employment of decoys and spoofs so as to preserve this material should it ever be needed. In addition, ensure that only the most loyal forces of Oz are entrusted with this powerful knowledge. Should we fail in this most important endeavor, our national investment in this capability will be for naught.

2. EXTERNAL AWARENESS: Inform the world of our technological accomplishment -- and embed in our announcements disinformation regarding the exact disposition of our research establishment and weapons complexes. Deterrence fails when your potential adversaries don't realize the extent of your capabilities.

3. MAXIMIZED ARSENAL: Given that our arsenal has, at most, five weapons, we will seek to maximize our arsenal by producing the smallest practicable weapons -- weapons still with significant destructive power in order to support our strategy of 'Deterrence Light'. To reinforce our standing in the world, we will stage one underground test (in full compliance with international protocols, short of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which we see as the foil of established powers seeking to preserve their exclusivity).

4. DELIVERY OPTIONS: Develop multiple methods to deliver weapons systems unto our adversaries, should the deterrence strategies of 1. and 2. above fail: via land, sea and air/space -- but emphasizing surface routes due to the high assurance (good) despite the lengthy response time (bad). While Oz may not be able to respond immediately to a clear and present danger, we must preserve the ability to respond at a time and place of our choosing -- akin to the Fedayeen Saddam in Iraq following the fall of the Iraqi government in 2003. Moreover, our declared philosophy will be peaceful coexistence with our neighbors and the world -- but a clear warning to our adversaries that their economic and population centers will suffer should they cause our own government or our people harm.

The Kind and Benevolent Wizard is content that the world will see us for our goodness, and not think ill that we should use this technological capability for the assured preservation of Oz and its ideals.

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House of Representatives v. Web 2.0

(image c/o Eric Drooker)

A recent tweet from @Fantomplanet and subsequent post by ZenPundit describe an effort underway in our nation's lower legislative house to restrict Members' rights to use Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with their constituents.

At first glance, the letter from Congressman Capuano [D-MA 8th] to Congressman Brady [D-PA 1st] sounds benign: "... existing tools available within the House ... are not user-friendly or efficient" and "... server storage space within the House is currently insufficient to meet the growing demand for video."

However, the 'desired solution' smacks of totalitarianism: the establishment of "official" external channels (Cong. Capuano's quotes, not mine) that "... would allow a Member to post video material on a qualifying external website and then embed the video on his or her Member site from this external site."

Qualifying external website?!?

Congressman Capuano makes a precarious leap of logic by asserting these practices "... ha[ve] been adopted by other government agencies ...", as if Members -- elected BY THE PEOPLE -- are akin to federal employees working in the service of a single executive. As a constituent, I would be appalled if my Representative were to take his position so lightly (thankfully, Cong. Zach Wamp [R-TN 3rd] has a far greater appreciation of a Member's role than the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts).

If Congressman Capuano (who also happens to Chair Speaker Pelosi's "Task Force on Ethics Enforcement") is concerned about the "dignity, propriety and decorum of the House," perhaps he should re-read the Declaration of Independence:
... That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...
... and NOT the "Governing". Taking artistic license from Mr. Jefferson, perhaps the latter portion of our 232-year-old Declaration could be amended to read:

The History of the present Chairman of the Speaker's Task Force on Ethics Enforcement is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Networks. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

HE has refused his Assent to Blogging, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Members to post Tweets of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large video files on YouTube, unless those Servers would relinquish the Right of Data Management, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.

To arms! To arms! The Censors are coming!

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Great Weekend

We had a great weekend hosting ZenPundit and interact (along with their respective posterity), spelunking in a private tour of nearby Cherokee Caverns, testing our wits at the American Museum of Science and Energy, choreographing a mini-ballet (O.K., that was the girls' doing - hope to have a video uploaded later this week), and eating & drinking wayyyyy too much. Great fun by all!

Sean, this video's for you:

And Mark, a.k.a. Master of First-Person Shooter Games:

We're looking forward to the next 'Blog Summit!

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Blogtinis for Three

Oz is graced this weekend with a visit by Überbloggers ZenPundit and Interact with their families. Martinis up!

Happy Independence Day!

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("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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[Liveblog] HD on Steroids


Another impressive gizmo at the Reagan Bldg: 17 Megapixel large-screen displays projecting HD video, showing ZenPundit-like power. So the image on the screen (here, former mentor and ONR Program Officer Mr Ben Riley from DoD/AT&L) looked sharper and more crisp than the real life view.

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In Memoriam

Though it has culturally become the "beginning of summer", Memorial Day's roots are far more somber. President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (November 1863) is considered by some to be the first observance. Less than two years later, as the American Civil War was drawing to a close, two acts of charity many miles apart sowed the seeds for our present-day observance: In Waterloo, New York, a druggist named Henry Welles promoted the idea of decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers with wreaths; and in many communities across the nation Women's Auxiliaries of the North and South shifted their attention from care to families and soldiers to preserving and decorating the graves of the fallen -- regardless of their "side".

In 1868, General John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order #11 establishing May 30 as an official memorial day to pay respect to all those who had died, in war or peace. My 'blogfriends at Small Wars Journal have reprinted General Order #11 in its entirety here.

Other 'blogfriends who have commemorated this day include:

Armchair Generalist (noting the impending 9/11 Pentagon Memorial)

Blog them Out of the Stone Age (linking a CBS News piece on Arlington)

Opposed System Design (A brief, poignant post)

Chicago Boys (Lexington Green links to Branagh's brilliant Henry V soliloquy)

ZenPundit (quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

Danger Room (Noah Schachtman cites LCol McCrae's In Flanders Fields, a Remembrance Day staple in Canada)

Selil (Prof. Sam Liles on the meaning of "service" and "hero")

And most moving of all, our dear friend Melissa (aka BeeDiva) tells us about the father she never knew.

As you enjoy this day, please pause for a moment to pay homage to those who gave their last full measure of devotion so that we can live in liberty.

Update: Two more 'blogfriends have marked the day:

Hidden Unities (Anchors aweigh!)

interact (Sean critiques post-9/11 safeguards and the sorry state of military procurement)

Update 2: Two more 'blogfriends (O.K., three - but two share a site):

Abu Muqawama (AM himself laments the general public's lack of awareness of our military's service)

Abu Muqawama (Kip offers a poignant essay on what Memorial Day means to him)

tdaxp (Dan graciously links back to this post)

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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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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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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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123 Meme (c/o ZenPundit)

'Blogfriend ZenPundit (undoubtedly in a pique of reciprocity from my recent "Christmas Meme") has tagged me with his 123 Meme. The rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Within arm's reach to my left is Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. From page 123:

... They also instill an intense sense of loyalty and influence the behavior of those remaining inside the company to be congruent with the core ideology, consistent over time, and carried out zealously.

Please don't misunderstand our point here. We're not saying that visionary companies are cults. We're saying that they are more cult-like, without actually being cults.

I tag five of my cohorts from Dreaming 5GW:

"The Skeptic", Curtis Gale Weeks
"The Enthusiast", PurpleSlog
"The Dreamer", Dan tdaxp
"The Voyager", Subadei
Adam Elkus

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Bloggers for Nuclear Policy

Überblogger ZenPundit has vectored me to a "group blog request" by Cheryl at WhirledView on nuclear weapons policy. This topic was an early passion of mine, while an undergrad physics major at Berkeley in the closing days of the Cold War, so I am happy to participate.

However, I disagree with Cheryl's premise that current U.S. policy is "stuck in the Cold War"; the National Nuclear Security Administration's just-released "Complex Transformation" plan seems like the right plan for continuing to convert our nuclear stockpile to one that is relevant and sustainable for the 21st century.

Three topics I'll cover in this post:
  • Great Power War
  • Stockpile Management
  • Future Challenges
Living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (a city founded solely because of the Manhattan Project in World War II), there are daily reminders of the role this city played in bringing a terrible war to an end. The old guard posts still stand on the Oak Ridge Turnpike and Scarboro Road, and the three facilities with cryptic alphanumeric names (X-10, K-25, Y-12) still adorn signs and maps.

One thing that becomes clear, touring the various historic sites around Oak Ridge, is the magnitude of effort needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. This is not something where a couple centrifuges can be turned on in a basement and voilà! you have material to build a bomb. The undertaking is complicated, laborious and time-consuming -- and this is a good thing. The skill sets needed to preserve and maintain a credible stockpile are scarce -- and this is not so good of a thing (I'll cover this in "stockpile management" below).

This creates a taxonomy of "Nuclear Powers":
  1. Those that have it
  2. Those that want to have it
  3. Those that don't want it
  4. Those who can never make it
Obviously, those in the first category want to preserve their "exclusivity" -- because after all, the logic of nuclear warfare is that you can never logically use them. This led to policies like the Baruch Plan after World War II (which the Soviets rejected because, in their opinion, it would have preserved the U.S. nuclear monopoly) and today's proper emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation (a great success to date, in my opinion).

Since "great power war" has faded in likelihood, some nations have active nuclear research programs -- ostensibly so they can join the "great power club" and garner increased international standing. This demonstrates the continued effectiveness of deterrence within the nation-state system (where even the most despotic rulers are still governed by some semblance of rational self-interest).

The fourth category ("those who can never make it"), therefore, is the most worthy of attention. A transnational terror organization lacks the resources to develop their own program, so they would have to resort to theft in order to obtain a weapon. (Note that I am deliberately focusing on nuclear weapons, not the other varieties of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" like chemical or biological.) Therefore, in order to minimize the likelihood of an al-Qa'eda-like organization obtaining a nuclear weapon, we should focus our attention on stockpile management.

Since the end of the Cold War, many old weapon systems have been dismantled in order to diminish the U.S. arsenal -- both to abide by international treaty obligations, and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. This requires a labor force with the same skill sets necessary to manufacture weapons: not just physicists and engineers, but master machinists, pipe fitters and other skill trades. This is an area where international cooperation should continue to increase -- especially between Russia (which has the largest cache of weapons in the world) and the United States.

Therefore, the three "core values" of a relevant nuclear policy for the 21st century are:
  1. Maintain a credible deterrent (because it's the dominant "control mechanism" in international politics)
  2. Preserve the industrial base (both for demobilization of existing stock as well as for continued research and development)
  3. Continue emphasizing non-proliferation
We can never put the nuclear djinni "back in the bottle". So long as we live in a world ruled by conflicting interests, total disarmament will never be a practical solution.

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Tagged: Christmas Meme

Local friend Citizen Netmom has been tagged by LissaKay to provide a "Christmas Meme" profile, so I'm following her lead. Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of "Getting to Know Your Friends."

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Gift bags - the ultimate convenience in gift-giving!

2. Real or artificial tree?
Artificial pre-lit. (See comment on "convenience" in 1. above.)

3. When do you put up the tree?
Me? Never. My bride? Usually just after Thanksgiving.

4. When do you take the tree down?
After our annual Epiphany Party in early January.

5. Do you like egg nog?
Not as much as what you can put *in* the eggnog.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
A BMX bike when I was 12 years old.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes (a small porcelain one).

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
At an office "gag gift exchange", I ended up with a plastic hand pedestal that was supposed to be a remote control holder. We kept it in the closet until the follow year's gift exchange.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Despite my comments on "convenience" above, this is one area where we go all out -- mail is the only way for us. Our family photo is planned months in advance (this year's card was from a February trip to Mexico, complete with Santa hats in the luggage), cards are ordered shortly after Halloween, and labels printed the week before Thanksgiving. We have made a habit (perhaps bordering on Obsessive-Compulsive :-) of mailing them the day before Thanksgiving -- sort of a green flag for friends and family of the start of the holiday season.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Black Friday. My lovely bride, however, starts the day *after* Christmas for the next year.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My bride's crockpot turkey (never dry!). And my Grandmother's & Aunt Peggy's Secret Toffee.

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
Sarajevo 12/24 by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We usually travel -- we have family and friends scattered throughout the country.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Yes (though it might take me a while). Don't forget Olive! (As in "Olive, the other reindeer..." :-)

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
One selected gift on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas morning.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Some people let themselves get too stressed out -- so courtesy seems to be too rare this time of year, ESPECIALLY on the roads and parking lots.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
Classic white lights, gold trimmed ribbon, with lots of sentimental-value ornaments.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
Milk and cookies, of course. And some carrots on the lawn for his reindeer.

22. Least favorite holiday song?
Anything with "singing" animals.

23. Favorite ornament?
Our Macy's-New York City "Curious George" ornament (showing George climbing the Empire State Building in a clear glass globe) from their 75th Anniversary Parade.

24. Family tradition?
Besides what's already been described here (decorations, cards, gifts), we have an emerging tradition of performances. Both kids play in holiday piano recitals, and Renee always performs with the church choir in their Christmas performances. Also, Shelby has performed in The Nutcracker three of the past four years now -- and Jarrett has said he wants to be a "party boy / mouse soldier" in next year's Nutcracker.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Eve services?
Yes, a couple times (once in San Diego, when my mother-in-law visited us there; and another time in Minnesota at her church).

I will be passing this "tag" on to the following blogfriends (updated to link to their replies):

Sean Meade

Can't wait to see what they post... Merry Christmas to all!

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[Moblog] Zen and Me

I am having authentic pierogies and brewskis (plus some excellent split pea soup) in west Chicago's Franklin Park / Mannheim Road with Überblogger ZenPundit. My flight back to Tennessee leaves in another two hours, so Zen was kind enough to pick me up at O'Hare (amidst weather reports of freezing rain) and bring me out for a great dinner.

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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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Race Day

I was not a runner until I was sitting for a job interview with Col. Max Barth, USMC, the Asst. Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in Camp Pendleton, California about 12 years ago. I was 28 years old, interviewing for an I.T. system administrator position. He asked, "You look like a runner -- are you?" My response ("Oh, yes sir!") did not include my mental note: 'Better buy some running shoes...'

Three years later, while we lived in Hawaii, a friend suggested I sign up for a 5k race. Then a 10k race. Then a "mini-triathlon" (the Mountain Man Tri), where I learned that I'm an O.K. runner and cyclist -- but a really lousy swimmer. As I rounded the last buoy (in the calm windward waters near Chinaman's Hat by Kailua town), I took some solace that there was someone behind me -- until he started picking up the buoys and clearing the race markers!

Our move to Virginia in 1999 saw my interest grow in longer races. Encouraged by colleagues at U.S. Joint Forces Command (like then-CPT Rich Greene, one of the finest soldiers I have ever known), I joined the USJFCOM J9 team for the 2000 Army Ten Miler. Then, as the photo above shows, I ran my first marathon -- the 25th Marine Corps Marathon -- that same month.

Mind you, I am not nearly as accomplished in athletics as Überbloggers Matt at MountainRunner (who casually runs marathon distances at night in the mountains of Southern California) and Mark at ZenPundit (a powerlifter who can bench press twice my steadily-increasing body weight). I'm pleased with my 4-hour-plus marathon pace, hope to someday ride a "Century" (100 miles), and am even more pleased to encourage friends like Mike Vegh who are setting new distance records for themselves.

As soon as I post this, I will be on my way to the Atomic Duathlon -- a 5k run, 30k ride, 5k run race from the Melton Lake Reservoir, across Bethel Valley (of Oak Ridge National Lab fame) and Bear Creek Valley (home to the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Complex), then back to the lake. The fun part will be cresting Haw Ridge and Chestnut Ridge (a topographic map is here).

I hope to finish in 2:15:00 -- I'll post later on my results (as well as a postmortem of Cal's homecoming loss to Oregon State and the parity of college football programs nationwide).

Addendum (posted at 5:00pm EDT): I finished about ten minutes later than my target, with an official final time of 2:25:06. My first 5k run was right on target (25:40), my bike ride close to target (1:17:00), and my transitions faster than expected (both under 80 seconds, which included a shoe change). Where the wheels came off was on the second run -- my legs were reluctant to shift from "bike mode" to "run mode", so my pace slipped to about 11:00/mi. Then, at the turn-around, I met another "Clydesdale" (the 200+ lb. class I signed up for) -- a retired Marine with bad knees. So we walked (and occasionally ran) and talked about the Corps for the last mile and a half. Since I was well out of "medal contention" (the 3rd place Clydesdale clocked in just under two hours, as did the top 40-45 males), no worry. I stuck to my hydration and nutrition strategies (with two Gu vanilla bean energy gels before the start, two more during the ride, and about 60 oz. of Gatorade Fierce Grape cut with 1/2 part water) and feel great. Now if only I could swim better and get serious about triathlons....

College Football: Cal-OSU Post-Mortem

OSU (in this case, the Beavers of Oregon State) came to Berkeley's Memorial Stadium yesterday, bringing with them one of the top rushing defenses in the nation (allowing just 43 yards rushing per game). Their lightning-fast defensive line and linebackers threatened to thwart a big part of Cal's offense -- and, when coupled with the ankle injury suffered by starting QB Nate Longshore two weeks ago in Oregon, made this a very good match-up.

Both QBs stepped up to their respective challenges: Sophomore Sean Canfield (Beavers) looked more poised and capable than he has at any time in his collegiate career, and red-shirt freshman Kevin Riley (Golden Bears) demonstrated superb mobility and tactical decision-making in rallying Cal from a 10-point deficit in the closing minutes. Great decision-making, that is, until the final play of the game. Down by three, in easy field goal range on the OSU 15 yard line, with just 0:14 on the clock and no time-outs, Riley decided to scramble instead of throw the ball away (and stop the clock). The quick OSU defense tackled him inbounds short of a first down, and the final seconds ticked away before the ball could be set for a snap. So much for a shot at overtime and a #1 ranking....

With LSU falling to #17 Kentucky, we have a curious state of affairs in the season's first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings -- with the Bulls of the Univ. of South Florida laying claim to the #2 spot. The good news is that it's a toss-up in the PAC-10 (which has demonstrated an SEC-like "bludgeon each other" mentality this season) for the coveted Rose Bowl berth. One of the commentators on Versus last night (which has had the good fortune of televising some of the best upsets this season) said "Cal is the Chicago Cubs of the PAC-10." I couldn't agree more -- Cal has the longest "Rose Bowl Drought" of all teams, with their last appearance in 1959. (And though the Univ. of Arizona Wildcats have never gone, they only joined the conference 30 years ago.) Just another reason to malign the "Broken Computer System" BCS, which has the option of putting non-PAC-10 teams in the Rose Bowl.

Cal has a tough month coming up, with away games at UCLA (always a fierce rivalry) and #12 Arizona State, then a homestand against the Washing State Cougars and the Trojans of 'SC. Roll on you Bears!!

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Middle School Football

Yet another benefit of living in Oak Ridge: Middle School football! In Oak Ridge, our two middle schools are four-year schools for grades 5-8 (ages 10-13). Both middle schools (Jefferson and Robertsville) feed into Oak Ridge High School, and both boast student bodies of about 600.

They also have organized football teams. The photo above is from this month's City Championship, in which my daughter's school (the Robertsville Rams, in red) thoroughly trounced Jefferson. In fact, Jefferson's net offensive production for the final three quarters of the game was minus-six yards. Final score: Robertsville 38, Jefferson 6.

Add to this an outstanding music program (starting with 4th grade strings), a phenomenal science curriculum (including not just one, but two Advanced Placement physics classes -- along with 17 other AP classes offered -- at ORHS) and national recognition for sustained excellence in education, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better public school system anywhere else.

On the topic of education reform, Überblogger ZenPundit has begun a two-part blog entry on "building an innovation-intersectional idea society" (Part I of II is linked here). I'm doubly pleased that my review of John Kao's latest book Innovation Nation helped catalyze such an outpouring of creative synthesis of a variety of ideas from the ZenPundit.

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Public Education, Reprise

At this morning's weekly breakfast meeting of the East Tennessee Economic Council in Oak Ridge, hosted at the Y-12 National Security Complex by BWXT/Y-12 President and CEO George Dials, George told the collected community and business leaders that fully half of his skilled labor force (e.g., machinists) is eligible to retire. While there are more than enough physicists and engineers to go around, there is a dearth of master machinists, pipefitters, electricians and other skilled craftsmen to meet the growing demand -- both at Y-12 and in the burgeoning nuclear power industry. George has often said, "You don't want a physicist to fix your plumbing!" (Dr. Thom Mason, Director of the neighboring Oak Ridge National Lab, is a physicist. :-)

So, how many high schools have abandoned teaching "shop" in favor of computer science? Probably too many... (Even vaunted Oak Ridge High School has canceled Auto Shop; that teacher is now teaching Engineering.) My previous post on "Great Public Schools" has elicited a great dialog between some 'blogfriends. In response to an offline question, Überblogger ZenPundit (who has also commented on the previous post) offered the following assessment of education in America. It is reprinted here with his permission:

Speaking analytically and from close to 20 years of firsthand professional experience, the public school system's fundamental problems are an anachronistic orientation (Agrarian calendar, industrial mass production, and Taylorist model, hierarchical control), a breakdown of the home to school social contract and iniquitous, unreliable & irrational funding mechanisms disconnected from the system's legally required objectives. There are other problems, naturally, but those are the major systemic stumbling blocks to wholesale improvement.

That being said, it is not obvious to me that the primary alternatives to public education are any better when measured with identical yardsticks (surprisingly, often they are worse). Those that are (usually idiosyncratic programs of high quality) suffer from a lack of scalability. You just can't set up a top-notch Montessori program for 75 million kids - in fact, it's tough to do so for 75. Anything that is scalable - like curricular reforms and high standards featured by many charter schools - can be done more efficiently in public education for reasons of economies of scale. The only reason it isn't done is lack of political will and budget.

Homeschooling works best when the parents are exceedingly motivated and well educated, and their children are young and intellectually curious. Many home schoolers abandon the effort when their kids hit junior high and high school and the subject matter becomes more specialized - these kids either come to me performing well-above grade level (about 25-30%) or below grade level due to significant gaps in content knowledge because Mom really didn't understand fractions or the Civil War or whatever and skipped teaching it.

Catholic schools vary in quality these days just like public schools because the number of members of religious orders teaching in them (highly educated folks working cheap) has declined severely. In Illinois for example, St. Ignatius College Prep is a top high school but the average Catholic high School here is staffed by secular teachers who weren't good enough to find jobs in the public school system. What Catholic schools offer as a system that public schools do not is a culture, discipline and a sense of identity that some people find valuable (and a leg up in applying to Notre Dame, DePaul, Gonzaga etc.).

Other private schools, military academies etc. tend to be highly specialized in terms of mission.

Essentially, instead of judging which system is best, I'd look at what specific schools are available in your area and select the one that is relatively better than the others. If they are about even, save yourself a bundle of cash and use the public school system - unless safety/discipline is a concern.

Has the pendulum swung too far toward the "knowledge worker", and away from the skill crafts that build the infrastructure of our society? And what can we do to reclaim the "social contract" between parents and educators? I fear that my grandchildren will be left with a non-competitive economy competing against a hungry, agile, cheap global workforce.

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Great Public Schools (Yes, in America!)

While the U.S. collegiate system is the envy of the world, our primary and secondary schools have become punching bags for the media, politicians, and disaffected parents. This week's U.S. News & World Report even has an article on "education consultants" who, for a fee, will help parents find "good grade schools". This same article decries our nation's "sagging SAT scores", with a USA Today-esque graphic helpfully showing the downward trend in Reading (508 two years ago to 502 today), Math (520 two years ago to 515 today) and Writing (497 last year, when this module was introduced, to 494 today). Maximum possible is 800. Überblogger ZenPundit has blogged extensively on the topic of public schools.

This is why we're so glad to live in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Who'd have thunk that one of the best public school systems in the nation would be nestled in the hills of southern Appalachia? In fact, both Newsweek and Expansion Management magazine have consistently ranked Oak Ridge as among the best school districts in the nation -- with Oak Ridge High School garnering accolades from them as well as the Wall Street Journal as one of the best high schools in the country.

Note that these are public schools, paid for by the city (through sales and property taxes), the state (through franchise and excise taxes) and the federal government (through income taxes and other revenues). And even citizens outside of the Oak Ridge district can send their kids to our schools: annual tuition is about equal to what the "education consultants" in the USN&WR article mentioned above charge for simply finding a good grade school.

Is this because of our city's founding as an integral part of the Manhattan Project during World War II (city motto: "Born of War, Living for Peace") and its close proximity to one of the nation's finest National Labs, or because of proactive citizens and School Board members like blogger Citizen Netmom, or because of the forward-leaning Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation? Or some combination of all of those (and other) factors?

This much I know: U.S. test scores may be failing -- but not in Oak Ridge. Our prowess in math and science may be slipping -- but not in Oak Ridge. And as a product of the California public school system (from elementary through undergraduate), I am proud to learn new vocabulary words like onomatopoeia from my 10-year-old daughter.

Click for a summary of Oak Ridge Schools awards and honors.

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Duty and Service

The blogosphere has been replete with dialogue on "service" and "duty" -- and the perception of grass-roots activism within the State. Noteworthy bloggers who have recently addressed this topic, in addition to my post last week, include Dave D. at Small Wars Journal, General of the Hordes Subudei Ba'adur, Purpleslog at D5GW, as well as both Chirol and Younghusband at ComingAnarchy. Even TIME magazine has made "The Case for National Service" a cover story topic.

Interestingly, there has been a good deal of honest (and sometimes contentious) replies to these posts. Some admit their personal lack of service, while others see the resurgent public interest in community service as a lack of confidence in "central governments". Could it be the looming anniversary of 9/11 (and last week's KATRINA anniversary)? Or the impending U.S. presidential election and a definitive change of administration?

I'm curious what visitors to Oz think. Care to comment?

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Cresting "The Hill"

At 8:35pm EDT tonight, I will complete my fourth decade on this earth. Since we've heard the iconic Raquel Welch declare that "60 is the new 40", does this mean "40 is the new 20"? I guess I need to go back to campus and find a kegger or two... :-)

To kick off my "Cresting 'The Hill'" weekend, last night I decided to climb the hill -- literally -- by riding my trusty steel-frame Moab mountain bike over Blackoak Ridge on the Dept of Energy "North Boundary" Greenway. Usually I'm able to crest the 400' vertical climb (7-8% grade for about 1-1/2 miles) without much trouble; this time I had to stop three times. Feeling old and decrepit as I stored my bike, I noticed that the rear tire rim (which I had removed earlier to replace the tube) was rubbing against the still-hot brake pad. So while I take solace in the fact that my physical stamina is as good as ever, my mechanical skills have clearly atrophied...

(BTW: The photo in my profile, as well as my "hyperlocal" personalized WIRED cover for the July 2007 issue, show my Moab in much better operational condition.)

In the Blogosphere, Dan tdaxp and Tom Barnett yesterday made similar posts on the quest by some for the "compassionate" side of conflict. Dan's is the second installment of his six-part "Dreaming 5GW" series, this time delving into the deliberate and explicit thought processes needed to conduct war: war, that is, except in the 5th Generation. Paralleling Zenpundit's recent post on Superempowered Individuals (exceptionally intelligent "lone wolf" actors who dispassionately leverage and exploit society's complex systems) Dan underscores the implicit and esoteric nature of the 5th Gen. warrior's ethos.

Tom's post is a critique of James Taranto's July 26th Op-Ed in the WSJ, decrying the circular logic apparent in the Democratic Party's platform on U.S. interventionism abroad. Tom, one of the most optimistic people I've ever met who always sees opportunity for growth and betterment, aptly notes the dichotomy between his lifelong registration in the Democratic party and Bill Clinton's self-deprecating psychoses in Rwanda and elsewhere as he whines that he should have done something. Tom has truly embraced the entrepreneur mantle, which (as our mutual boss Steve DeAngelis has written) demands optimism.

I believe these posts are very positive developments in our collective understanding of conflict. Regardless of how we segregate the historical evolution of warfare, the basic tenets of "Just War" doctrine remain apt in any conflict. [Donning flame-retardant coat in expectation of a thumping critique from 4GW and 5GW theorists...]

As for birthday festivities, Household 6 presented me with a very cool "Life is Good" technical t-shirt after a morning run with Deichman the Younger (who, at 6, demonstrates far greater physical abilities than I did at 16). With the New York City Marathon barely three months away, it's time to get serious about training -- and to consume as much carrot cake as possible to ensure my glycogen stores remain fully stocked! :->

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