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Back OnLine

tumblr_lqln1td4rH1qf2i1ho1_1280OK, we’re back.  A technical issue (crappy server security) on our old web hosting service led to us having to find a new hosting company on short notice, but all is well now.  Regular posts will resume with Rule Five Friday tomorrow.

The young lady pictured here works for neither the old nor the new hosting company, nor did she have anything to do with resolving our technical issues.  Her appearance here is purely gratuitous.

Your patience is appreciated!

Rule Five Friday

2014_12_05_Rule Five Friday (1)For our Friday edification (and maybe warning) here’s another piece from the inestimable Dr. Victor Davis Hanson:  War Clouds on the Horizon.  Excerpt:

In the decade before World War I, the near-hundred-year European peace that had followed the fall of Napoleon was taken for granted. Yet it abruptly imploded in 1914. Prior little wars in the Balkans had seemed to predict a much larger one on the horizon — and were ignored.

The exhausted Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were spent forces unable to control nationalist movements in their provinces. The British Empire was fading. Imperial Germany was rising. Czarist Russia was beset with revolutionary rebellion. As power shifted, decline for some nations seemed like opportunity for others.

2014_12_05_Rule Five Friday (2)The same was true in 1939. The tragedy of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was not that it had been too harsh. In fact, it was far milder than the terms Germany had imposed on a defeated Russia in 1918 or the requirements it had planned for France in 1914.

Instead, Versailles combined the worst of both worlds: harsh language without any means of enforcement.

The subsequent appeasement of Britain and France, the isolationism of the United States, and the collaboration of the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany green-lighted Hitler’s aggression — and another world war.

Could we be headed into a third global conflict?  Dr. Hanson thinks there is a distinct possibility:

The ancient ingredients of war are all on the horizon. An old postwar order crumbles amid American indifference. Hopes for true democracy in post-Soviet Russia, newly capitalist China, or ascendant Turkey long ago were dashed. Tribalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism are the norms in the Middle East as the nation-state disappears.

2014_12_05_Rule Five Friday (3)Under such conditions, history’s wars usually start when some opportunistic — but often relatively weaker — power does something unwise on the gamble that the perceived benefits outweigh the risks. That belligerence is only prevented when more powerful countries collectively make it clear to the aggressor that it would be suicidal to start a war that would end in the aggressor’s sure defeat.

What is scary in these unstable times is that a powerful United States either thinks that it is weak or believes that its past oversight of the postwar order was either wrong or too costly — or that after Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, America is no longer a force for positive change.

A large war is looming, one that will be far more costly than the preventive vigilance that might have stopped it.

Yr. obdt’s concern is this:  America is weak, weaker than it has been since before the Second World War.  While we still maintain the shell of military might – in the post-Cold War world America has known a degree of unchallenged military supremacy unknown since the fall of the Roman Empire – it’s only a shell.  We can’t sustain it; we lack the industrial capacity or, worse, the will as a nation to sustain a lengthy struggle.  Were the WW2 Pacific conflict in progress today, one can only imagine the evening news broadcasts and frantic web videos showing carnage in far-away places like the Solomon Islands and the cries to “leave the west Pacific to Japan” and bring our Marines home.

2014_12_05_Rule Five Friday (4)And there’s more; a third world war will proceed with catastrophic speed.  One of the few constants in the history of war is that celerity has increased with technology.  WW1 armies fought bitterly for months over a few miles of ground, while in WW2 Allied armies smashed from Normandy and the Caucasus to the gates of Berlin in a few months.  Imagine a third world war fought in the modern world – where nonuniformed irregulars take advantage of commercial air travel and flow across porous borders with the greatest of ease.

America’s heavy industrial capacity is much reduced, and in a new world war, we will not have the luxury of time to ramp up.  The oceans no longer provide a barrier to aggressors, and our borders have become a sad joke.

But Americans are far more concerned with the coming Sunday’s football and Kim Kardashian’s ass than with the legions of thugs across the world who want to destroy America and kill Americans.  It’s Rome all over again, and too few of us see it coming – our political “leadership” least of all.

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Rule Five Friday

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (1) (853x1280)Are we on the brink of creating artificial life?  Excerpt:

With 100 billion neurons and 37 trillion cells, the human body is simply too complex to be artificially designed by modern computers.

But in the quest to create artificial life, what if we started a lot smaller? That’s what team of scientists has done, creating a replica of the simplest form of life we know.

The worm Caenorhabditis elegans has just 300 neurons and around 1,000 cells – and now a robot has been created that mimics the actions of this simple organism.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (2) (861x1280)The OpenWorm project, a global effort including researchers from the US and UK, is attempting to create the world’s first digital animal.

Earlier this year they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a worm you can download onto your computer.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this.  First, the implications of digitizing a worm brain are far, far different than the implications of digitizing a human brain.  Ditto for the moral and ethical implications.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (3) (1280x845)Fortunately, the complexity of a human brain is also far more involved than a worm brain, making the differences in the project probably more of kind than of degree.

But what if we could do it?

That’s where the two ways of looking at this come in, here where humans are concerned.  You could use the process to make a copy of your own brain – a back-up, as it were, to be activated on physical death.  On the other hand, what if you could eschew physicality altogether, and go completely digital?  A disembodied sprite, wandering the Intarwebs.  Would you be an odd sort of living virus?  2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (4) (862x1280)Would you be able to interact with the living?  With other cyber-beings?  Would you still have rights, obligations, responsibilities?

I’m inclined to answer “no,” to those last three, because the copy of you would not be you – it would only be a programmed simulacrum of you.  It’s hard to see how a purely digital “person” could in fact be a person in any legal, moral or ethical sense.

But back to the worm; the linked article concludes:

The robot is very basic for now, and does not possess the ability to perform more complex functions such as eating.

It’s an important step, though, to creating artificial life that can think for itself.

2014_11_28_Rule Five Friday (5) (861x1280)While this worm is a very basic form of life, it may be a precursor to making much more complex animals.

This will be a huge undertaking, though – even a mouse has 22 million neurons in its brain.

‘The mere act of trying to put a working model together causes us to realise what we know and what we don’t know,’ John Long, a roboticist and neuroscientist at Vassar College in New York State, told New Scientist.

In other words, creating a simulation of any mammal brain, much less a human brain, is a long, long ways off.  Still the stuff of science fiction (of which, as all True Believers may know, yr. obdt. is a fan and an author.)

But while it may be a long ways off, it may not be too soon to start thinking about the implications.  Besides, it’s entertaining.

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Rule Five Friday

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (2)An interesting tidbit from the Left Coast:  Crime-Fighting Robots Go On Patrol in Silicon Valley.  Excerpt:

A new kind of security guard is on patrol in Silicon Valley: crime-fighting robots that look like they’re straight out of a sci-fi movie.

At first glance, the K5 security robot looks like a cartoonish Star Wars character.

“The vast majority of people see it and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cute.’ We’ve had people go up and hug it, and embrace it for whatever reason,” said Stacy Stephens, co-founder of Knightscope, headquartered in Mountain View.

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (1)They are unarmed, but they are imposing: about 5 feet tall and 300 pounds, which very likely will make someone think twice before committing a crime in their presence.

“The first thing that’s going to happen is the burglar is going to spot the robot. And unfortunately, criminals are inherently lazy. They’re not looking for something that’s going to be confrontational, they’re looking for something that’s going to be an easy target,” said Stacy Stephens, co-founder of Knightscope. “They see the robot and maybe they move down to the next place down the street.”

Or they will knock it over.  Or throw a blanket over it.  Or spray-paint over its optical sensors.

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (3)Or, they will just steal the robot.

Seriously, as described this just doesn’t seem like a terribly bright idea.  The designers of RoboCop Mk I may get away with this in Silicon Valley, but how about Newark?  Chicago?  Detroit?  Right down I-5 in Los Angeles?

In any of those locales as well as dozens of others, the response from the local criminal element is certain to be laughter.

If someone messes with the robot, apparently this happens:

2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (4)If someone decides to attack the robot, it could get uncomfortable. When first confronted, they let out a loud chirp and notify the control center. The chirps will get louder and louder as the threat persists.

“A very, very loud alarm,” said Stephens. “Think of a car alarm but much more intense.”

Oh dear.  Loud chirps.  That’s certain to put off a criminal.  And how far away is this control center?  How far away are any actual humans who would be able and equipped to respond to RoboCop Mk I’s chirps of alarm?

The very real concern here is that the robot will be used as justification for reducing human police presence in any given area, 2014_11_21_Rule Five Friday (5)which is a catastrophic mistake.  Until we have autonomous robots capable of intervening in crimes-in-progress – and this, mind you, requires robots capable and programmed in the use of force (violating the Three Laws of Robotics?) then these are just expensive, fancy mobile security cameras.

Also:  Can they go up curbs?  Stairs?  Enter buildings?  Open doors?

The linked article concludes:

The makers of the robot said they have a long waiting list of about four dozen companies waiting for a K5. They expect to put many more of these robots in place sometime next year.

Privately  owned companies may spend their money however they wish, but one hopes that no tax dollars at any level are spent on these.

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Rule Five Friday

2014_11_14_Rule Five Friday (1) (1280x843)Is there cause for optimism in this era of ever-increasing government?  The Ludwig von Mises Institute’s Jeff Diest thinks so.  Excerpt:

If you believe the state is harmful rather than benevolent; if you believe that the state threatens individual rights and property rights, rather than protects them; if you believe that the state decreases our chances for peace and prosperity; if you believe, in sum, that the state is an overwhelming force for ill in our society, a force that makes all of us far worse off, why in the world is it unrealistic to work toward its elimination?

2014_11_14_Rule Five Friday (2) (860x1280)Notice that the charge of being unrealistic, impractical, or overly idealistic is never applied to medicine or crime prevention. Nobody says to the cancer researcher, “you should be more realistic, cancer and infectious disease will always exist. Why not just work on making the common cold a bit less severe?” Nobody says to the criminal investigator, “gee, organized crime and violence are just part of human nature, it’s useless to try to prevent them. Maybe you should just focus on reducing bike thefts.”

So why should we be apologetic or timid or less than fully optimistic in our fight against the state? We should not. Like the cancer researcher, like the crime fighter, we should be bold, we should be optimistic, and we should be vigorous in our opposition to government. We should be every bit as certain as Murray Rothbard was in the eventual success of our mission.

Note that Mr. Deist pushes the libertarian ideal a bit farther than most; personally, I’d be happy if the people in the Imperial City would not only remember that our Constitution exists, but also actually try reading it.

2014_11_14_Rule Five Friday (3) (858x1280)I’d also like to see some semblance of a moral society as well.  Now, when a lot of folks talk about morality, they link it in with religion; the two may at times be complimentary but they are not inextricably linked.

When I think of a moral society, I think of a society in which (for example) I am not required to labor longer and harder, to pay an increased tax burden, for no other reason than to shelter some of my fellow citizens from the consequences of their own poor decisions.  There is a word for such involuntary servitude, and it’s not a pretty one.  But we accept it, as a matter of course, in our modern, increasingly statist society.

There are things that are the legitimate functions of a national government; the military, border security, foreign trade and so on.  Sheltering my fellow citizens from the consequences of their own bad decisions is not one of those legitimate functions.  The requirement that I do this reduces my own individual liberty by forcing me to labor longer and harder, not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others.

Remember John Galt’s oath?  “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Deist concludes:

2014_11_14_Rule Five Friday (4) (861x1280)So propose liberty, and make the case for optimism. After all, despite the state and its depredations we still lead magnificent lives compared to virtually every human who ever walked the earth — kings and queens included. If we let the state make us unhappy or pessimistic about our future, we will have failed not only our children and grandchildren, but our ancestors as well.

He is correct here; these days it is popular to hear folks wax rhapsodic about the “good old days,” and television programs like Game of Thrones glorifies a medieval lifestyle that, in reality, was horrible for almost everyone, with even the nobility living in unspeakable filth, with double-digit infant mortality, a shocking number of women dying in childbirth, and plagues rampaging unchecked with horrible regularity.

But we can do better.  We should.  Deist is partly correct, technology will continue to push us farther down the road, but it will take more than that; it will take the rediscovery of liberty.

Because make no mistake, most of us have lost the concept.

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