Colin Powell; What Makes America Great?

(CNN) Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle.

America’s greatness is measured in great individuals. When they are occasionally in possession of the public trust, together we touch greatness. Colin Powell was one of them. At times, greatness is embodied in the unshakable resolve of a Washington or Lincoln. Colin Powell’s greatness was of another, more subtle kind.

Powell considered himself a principled custodian of the public trust. When he realized he had betrayed that trust, he owned up to it, which resulted in his dismissal as Secretary of State. But the bar to great leadership  is higher than simple sacrifice. It requires effectiveness. Powell realized that consensus is crucial to democracy, and compromise is crucial to consensus.

If he had been asked, “Who owns the dream?” I think he would have replied, “No one. And everyone.”   To those who think they own the dream of America, look to Colin Powell.

Lead on, Colin Powell.




(CNN) Prince William slams space tourism and says billionaires should focus on saving Earth

(CNN) Prince William slams space tourism and says billionaires should focus on saving Earth.

Bravo, Prince William! Space tourism is an ego trip; a hyper-expensive view out a window, well mimicked in virtual reality – except for the chance of an exotic death.

Carbon based life is unsuited for space exploration. Androids, resistant to radiation, who will not require air-water-food life support systems, will take our places.  Androids will have the ability to experience, and relate experience, which is the only thing robots currently cannot provide. And they are expendable.

Until this rapidly approaching future, the extreme cost of manned space flight should be reserved for more than flights of fancy. The Tsiolkovsky/Goddard rocket equation enforces a huge carbon cost, with no solution on the technological horizon. This severely circumscribes the economic exploitation of space.

Freed by androids of the huge incremental carbon-cost burden of life support, some small subset of hopes for economic exploitation may be viable.

Or maybe not. The odds favor Prince William.

US intelligence community UFO report; Steam Powered UFOs; Getting Metaphysical, Part 3

We continue from

In Part 2, which advances the Chinese drone hypothesis, I cautioned, “Whether or not this explanation approaches correctness, it has an important purpose. It must be thoroughly disposed of before moving against Occam’s Razor, further down the list.” Perhaps I should have explicitly addressed sightings of something resembling a submarine at  periscope depth. An entity which can field UFOs of such amazing ability would hardly need submarines, nor enjoy the corrosion of salt water.  Which is easier to envision:

  • An intelligence failure relating to submarines and drones circa 2003?
  • Physics so far out of the box, we haven’t a clue?

Let’s assume that the Chinese drone hypothesis has been hammered on and deprecated. We would want to pipe-dream some ideas and make a category list:

  • Within the state of the art.
  • Impractical.
  • Not within the state of the art, but someone is  spending money on it.
  • Has been observed at large scale in the universe, but not on the scale of human engineering.
  • Allowed by theory, or thought to be. This is frequently a mistake of naive interpretation.
  • Metaphysical, informed speculations on aspects of the universe not accessible to us.

All of these, except for the last, involve energy. The concept of energy as a thing dates to 1740 due to a brilliant French woman, Émilie du Châtelet, doubtless inspired by Isaac Newton and  the 1712 steam engine of Thomas Newcomen. Development of James Watt’s improved engine began in 1763, so du Châtelet was a true visionary.

Steam engines were used to do work, the expression referring to the replacement of human bucket brigades to bail water out of mines.  For a given amount of fuel, how much work could a steam engine perform? In 1824, Sadi Carnot determined the best we can do. A steam engine requires a source of heat, and a source of cold. The greater the difference between hot and cold, the more work for a given amount of fuel energy.

What is surprising is that Carnot’s limit is a hard limit for every heat engine, steam, diesel, gas, jet, rocket. Each of these has its own limit, which is always less than Carnot’s limit. The limit says nothing about nuclear energy, but when a reactor makes steam to power a turbine which powers a generator, Carnot’s limit is in force.

In 1776, Watt’s engine was about 2% efficient. By 1900, it was 17%. Currently, the largest, most modern stationary gas turbines/combined cycle break 60%.  Improvement of 1/4% per year in 245 years. This is endgame for heat engines.

At best, 40% is waste heat, what you feel when you touch the tailpipe of a car. With jets and rockets, the waste is much larger because without a shaft to turn, expanding hot gas does the work. (NASA) Newton’s Third Law: The exhaust goes in one direction; the plane or missile goes in the opposite direction.  Action, reaction. Planes and rockets, except for gliders, have reaction engines.

All hot objects radiate infrared light. Reaction engines glow brightly in infrared. The Navy UFOs had no glow. Now refer to the category list, within the state of the art. At first glance, electric propulsion, a motor which turns a propeller or turbine, defies the limits of heat engines. This is an illusion; the bill is paid in waste heat at the generating plant.

But If a battery and motor have sufficiently low electrical resistance, a propeller or turbine can turn without a blazing heat/IR signature.  The waste heat is magically left back at the generating plant. Efficiency in the drone itself of 80% is possible. A submarine can unnoticeably discharge massive waste heat from  onboard generators into the ocean.

This is the motivation behind Part 2:

  • Propulsion is provided by cold-air turbines spun by massive neodymium rare-earth permanent field motors.

An electric turbine would have much lower performance than rockets and jets. No known form of propulsion can explain the alleged performance characteristics of a Tic-Tac.

So we’ll next continue with the impractical and speculative.




The wish that Facebook did not exist may have achieved some level of popularity among social thinkers, who associate it with the recrudescence of hate and mental health disorders of adolescents  In his 1922 book  (Wikipedia) Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann anticipated some of this, by description of how public opinion is formed. Read the Wiki; I vouch for the accuracy.

Lippmann’s description is intricate. Since you’re going to read the Wiki, and hopefully the book, what follows is guiltless simplification. Each of us understands a tiny bit of the world. To form our opinions about the greater world, we rely on a hierarchic structure of increasing expertise. Your opinions, and mine, are to a greater or lesser extent reliant on a chain of trust relationships.

At some point, perhaps in the lead-up to World War I, Lippmann divested the idea of pure democracy, replacing it with “engineered” public opinion. It was his solution, which he saw as extant practice,  to what he described as the inability of the voter to understand more than a small piece of the world, and therefore a good thing.

It is surprising that Lippmann’s reputation could survive repudiation of the myth of democracy. But in 1922, censorship and segregation were institutions even in D.C. Free speech had been abridged for two years by the Sedition Act of 1918.  J. Edgar Hoover was just beginning his assault on freedom. Perhaps Lippmann’s rep survived because he never attacked the institution of democracy, but only the way it works.

A century later, we might take a fresh look at Public Opinion. We might consider validity of the myth of how democracy works less important than preservation of the institution. We are preceded by Winston Churchill, who said,  “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

We begin with reality of the group mind, not as  the helpful superintelligence of (Wikipedia) collective consciousness, but of the atavistic human, the crowd run amok, the groupthink of hatred, of awakening the Beast in Five Million Years to Earth.

Unless you have the gift of natural nobility, it takes conscious effort to free yourself from the Beast, while developing the capacity to interact in a positive way. Some people finish thoroughly socialized, while other acquire just the veneer. Though teens are in delicate flux,  many adults come undone. The evil peer, and groups of such, are just a click away. There have always been group minds; Facebook is the first  network cyborg, melding millions of minds by digital agency.

In 1942, Isaac Asimov anticipated a related trouble with the Three Laws of Robotics. But this was not anticipated: a cyborg of which we are the atomic parts. We had in mind Richard Brautigan’s 1967 poem All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, which could be retitled, “Hey Alexa!” Our predictions missed because in the old days, a computer was completely passive until you toggled a program, and hit the run button. Today, Facebook pushes your buttons, as you unknowingly contribute your synapses to the group mind.

All this came about with abandonment of Lippmann’s hierarchy of influencers. Now the world is full of lateral connections. Instead of asking someone who you think knows more than you, you ask someone who thinks like you. And he asks you; you ask”them”, they say to him…ad infinitum.

Facebook is a distributed computing entity with biologic and nonbiologic elements. If it were my machine, I’d pull the plug, wipe the disks, and take care there isn’t a hidden virus to resuscitate the monster on the next power-up. The murderous computer:  Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey – Deactivation of Hal 9000.

Not likely; the mighty cyborg that is Facebook will break Asimov’s Laws to prevent it. So what else can we do? The amplification algorithm can be changed:

  • Amplification can be reduced by negative feedback.
  • The product of amplification can be softened by substituting from increasingly distant friends.
  • The output of the amplification algorithm can have random substitutions.
  • AI can drastically tighten content filters. The cost: false positives for objectionable material. It’s worth that cost.

In combination, this is a less user focused approach, which favors diversity.  Legal scholars should also consider the liability angle.

The stakes are so high. We’ve already seen a bit on January 6:

Five Million Years to Earth







China’s Taiwan Strategy: Beagle-Rabbit Hypnosis

(CNN) China could be ready to mount a ‘full-scale’ invasion of Taiwan by 2025, island’s defense minister says.

When I was a child, I had a dog, a collie-terrier mix.  Her sprint resembled a greyhound’s, a talent she used with ferocious terminal strategy to depopulate the local rodents.  She never caught a rabbit. Although she was faster, the combination of speed and awareness of the lagomorph could not be contested by her instinctual abilities.

The neighbors had a slow moving, short legged beagle, who consistently caught rabbits. Although the way a dog approaches prey is largely instinctual, her skill resembled a thoughtful strategy. To the human observer, she would simply walk slowly up to a rabbit that appeared paralyzed. She had some instinctual knowledge of how slowly she must move in order not to excite the flight instinct of the rabbit, a form of hypnosis.

Fables are fictitious. The above is true. It is instructive on how China might gain Taiwan without invasion.  Though China may exercise the rat-catcher option, destroying Taiwan to remove the threat of an adjacent, culturally compatible democracy, other options exist.

Beagle-rabbit-hypnosis  is made feasible by geographic proximity. In this scheme,

  • Military display has primarily psychological purpose, as misdirection, and to weaken the will.
  • Force is applied in measures below the threshold that would provoke a significant retaliation.
  • Repetition habituates the adversary, raising the response threshold.
  • The object is military investment of Taiwan, from which digestion can be completed by economic coercion.

In the military tactic of investment, an adversary position is surrounded, cut off, often left in the rear as the front line advances. The naval form of this, conceived in the  1921 war plan of Earl Hancock Ellis, was key to  U.S. strategy in the World War II Pacific theater, where it was called leapfrogging. A century later, military strategists on both sides are preoccupied with use of this strategy, and defense from it.

If there were another island beyond Taiwan that China could leapfrog to, the danger of investment would be obvious. With China’s proximity, a virtual form is possible, a zone surrounding Taiwan in which commercial  shipping is subject to coercion:

  • A few ships are damaged or sunk by deniable methods more sophisticated than Iranian attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
  • Insurance becomes unaffordable, which U.S. naval escort cannot remedy.
  • China offers  “escort” in return for  hefty payments, which are not covered by insurance.  Shipping resumes.
  • In the next phase, China requires all shipping to and from Taiwan to transship through China. Initially, this is by reflagging vessels.
  • Tariffs, origin and material restrictions follow, accompanied with continuing military displays. Death by a thousand cuts is a Chinese invention.
  • In the darkest hour, China offers inducements.
  • Taiwan’s weary electorate concedes; absorption proceeds.
  • This is the theater of carrot and stick, which you are encouraged to embellish freely.

(Jamestown Foundation, 2020) Taiwan Opinion Polling on Unification with China, Figure 3, explains why this is possible. In Taiwan, unification is not a treasonous idea. Though unification has become a minority opinion,  it is a significant minority:

  • 32.04% under “ideal conditions”
  • 20.53% if “under attack.”

As long as unification remains part of Taiwan’s schizoid political dialog , Beagle-rabbit-hypnosis is viable for China. It hampers Taiwan’s attempt to show a deterrent face. The legacy of past Kuomintang repression shows in broad detestation of the self-defense forces. Unhappy conscripts train like boy scouts, with little or no weapons training. The idea that the youth of Taiwan will pick up the gun for national survival is somewhat speculative.

Schizoid sentiment has severely impacted U.S. arms sales. Security for advanced technology is considered impossible. Multiple pilots have defected with their planes. (Militarywatchmagazine) How Taiwanese Veteran Pilots Defected to China With Their American Jets. In 1992, the U.S. declined to sell the F-15, then the world best, but was willing to risk the F-16. (USC U.S. China Institute, 1992) Bush Announces Sale of F-16 Aircraft to Taiwan.

In 2018, Taiwan requested the F-35, which was denied, so Taiwan settled for 66 more F-16s, which rank much lower in relative capability than they did 30 years ago. The F-16 may be a viable option for Pakistan fighting India. It is not viable in a conflict with China, in which the kill ratio would approach zero.

The pattern repeats: inferior soldiers, airplanes, submarines. New projects to produce indigenous fighters and submarines will result in a tier of inferior weapons. Reasonable milestones of maturation to reliable mediocrity cannot be met by 2025;  it takes a decade or so. Yet this cannot be remedied by arms sales. The risk of transfer of U.S. weapons technology to China  via Taiwan is real.

The leverage of Beagle-rabbit-hypnosis  is additive to considerable interdependence:

If you want to replace the Taiwan electorate’s fatalism with optimism, it’s up to us to improve these figures.

This is an unpleasant sketch. Some part of Taiwan’s  culture is aligned with the Western democracies, while putting bread on the table is aligned with China. Which comes first, empty bellies or empty heads?

Whether China can be deterred is an open question. In any case, U.S. strategy, focusing on military defense of Taiwan while neglecting soft power, is misaligned to the threat of the sketch. Von Clausewitz wrote, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” In recent years, the multifarious reciprocal has been observed of Russia and China:

Politics  is the continuation of war by other means.