Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Republican debates, Beaucoup Harem, Chinese launch and the value of dumb engineering

Sorry, folks, but these topics are very closely entangled with each other. But I will try to keep it simple...
ending with a quick comment on the visit of Pope Francis. 

One step at a time. Republican debates first, since they are on everyone’s mind already right now.

I was slightly alienated by how Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina rose so much in the polls immediately after the last debate, after I was struck by two very depressing sights at that debate.

The first was when Fiorina was talking about Planned Parenthood. What a shock! My wife Luda and I were both watching.

IN SOME WAYS, my ex-wife Lily is more like Hilary Clinton, and Luda more like Fionrina. Lily’s facial expression often has a gentle and loving side, as does Hillary’s, and she is more on the humanitarian side – though of course both have learned some lessons of survival in the real world.  Luda is more on the technical side, having served (and survived) as a line manager in the Soviet Union, and obtained what are recognized as two PhDs in the US, one from the Institute for Nuclear Energetics and one the Institute for Physiologtically Active Substances. Lily was a Democrat, and Luda has been mostly Republican, usually staunch, from the “Texas of Russia.”

And so... when THE MOMENT happened with Fiorina, it was interesting that Luda and I were both equally appalled, even though we had been somewhat more optimistic about her before that.

Luda was shocked: “She says she is upset about Planned Parenthood harvesting body parts of fetuses for transplants, especially brains. BRAINS? Transplanting brains? What else does this woman believe?” So... I guess one big difference here is that Fiorina has survived in a technical world, advancing her own career by liquidating what was left of Bell Labs, quick advancement as a reliable apparatchik, but not understanding even the basic facts of life. Luda woul be upset if I would identify her with that kind of ignorance.

I was shocked in a different way. As Fiorina started speaking about this subject... her eyes glazed over in a way which was familiar to me. In truth, she reminded me instantly of one of the Bad Nuns I encountered in Catholic School.  Catholic nuns, like almost any large human community, have a lot of diversity. I spent second grade, third grade and the first half of fourth grade in Catholic school and I will never forget a lot of what I saw. I remember a Very Good Nun, who radiated warmth and love, and pointed to a picture of “Jesus Christ – the Sacred Heart” with a powerful red heart depicted, and all the right constructive feelings. But I also met a nun who could remind me now of the worst stereotype of a green-eye-shade obstructive clerk (like the one in the bardo of Beetlejuice) – a truly horrible picture, whose wimpet seemed to look at times like the black wings and talons of a cruel predator... like the wicked witch of the west. Psychiatrists also knoew that kind of face, but I won’t get too technical here. Let me just say – when I saw THAT FACE, that insane and dangerous expression, on Fiorina’s face, it was all over for me. And I was very turned off later when Fiorina was catty clever enough later on to project a false image of herself as a mistread innocent girl who really knew Trump despised her for her ugliness. That was a lie she got away with projecting on TV – because in fact, Trump had seen THAT FACE before, not a matter of beauty, but exactly as Trump said, of persona. It is sad that so many people did not fully see what Trump meant by “persona” – but having seen that look on scary faces before... well, I would give that round to Trump. Trump has other issues, as does every candidate... but if people don’t sense real insanity, we could be in for trouble.

But even more, I was disappointed at people’s response to Jeb Bush’s defense of his brother – defending the Iraq war both against Trump and against Carson.

Here we are, seeing the fruits of that war...  the decision by “W” and by Cheney to push into Iraq. That push is exactly what changed Iraq into the powerful new base it is today for ISIL, for one very serious branch of the Third Caliphate movement and the Moslem Brotherhood, but only one of several branches, which collectively threaten our very existence. This is serious stuff, folks. It is not the ONLY major “existential threat”: we are facing, but it is high on the list, and every year since 2003 I have seen more and more evidence that we should take it seriously. As with climate change, I would say to most people in the US: “You are only worried because you don’t have all the information. If you did, you would be scared out of your wits. (Unless you practice very special disciplines to stay sane even under the worst of circumstances, as I do.)”

The truth is, that George W was an unwitting patsy, and Cheney a somewhat more willing partner, of  forces which consciously WANTED this outcome, the outcome of the first open announcement of the policies and pretensions of the Sunni Third Caliphate movement and beginning of the end of the old era led by the West and by the Pacific Rim. Now that we can see what a horrible result ensued... it is scary indeed that Jeb Bush TODAY, with the benefit of hindsight, so intensely refuses to face up to reality. If he does not face up to reality... the bad guys are working very hard again to  drop the second, bigger shoe... to try to create a new war of US and Israel versus Iran and Russia, hoping to see both obstacles to their world dominion destroy each other and open a path. Am I just imagining that Arabs, mere Arabs, could be able to read Sun Tzu or  manipulate politics in such a cynical, manipulative way, seeing the long picture? Are rigid religious fanatics actually capable of such plotting? For those who know a bit of history, it is laughable that anyone would even ask such a question! I did recently pass on some details to folks associated with Israel who should have figured this out... but there are also some intense sensitivities and ruthless Caliphate apparatchiks we have to be aware of, even in Great Patriotic US companies like Halliburton, headquartered in Dubai and selling serves to oil producers in that area, first, their biggest customer... and yes, their people even suborned a few key networks in places like NSA and FBI... not the agencies as a whole, but a few well placed authorized people are contributing a lot to their long-term plans. I wish I did not have such first-hand data as I do.

So... the last thing we need is another blind patsy in the White House. I did not oppose the Iraq War as clearly and emphatically as I now know I should have, in principle... but when we see what happened, I can at least learn. And in all fairness... maybe my Quakerly approach (just like Blair’s!) might have had more hope than the shrill cries of those who Just Said No (even though they were right). Who kinows?

Any connection with the other three topics in my headline?

Well, to deal with this threat in a truly deep and Quakerly way, one first remembers the basic Quaker principle: “There is that of God in everyone.”  If we and the leaders of the Third Caliphate movement are all to some extent part of the same noosphere, if They are US in some level... can we first at least try to understand where they are really coming from.

I need to avoid saying all I think about that subject here and now, because it is too long.  There are many, many thoughts in the Middle East which have crystallized into the Third Caliphate movement. Among the deepest most important thoughts: (1) fear that the West is on an irreversible path to oppress and robotize the human spirit, and destroy even simple things like the feelings one gets sipping tea with one’s friends or the sense of reality of God; and (2) belief that in a world tending towards chaos, sharia offers a kind of social contract (with analogies to the Twelve Tablets of Tome, and resonance with Locke’s concept of social contract and some concepts related to Weber’s legitimacy and Schelling’s tacit solutions to partially cooperative games).  Certainly remembering and understanding Mohammed, in three dimensions and in color, is one important part of understanding our common human heritage.

But the sad fact is that the sharia which has come down to us in history was manipulated to serve the interests of corrupt local rulers (as in the first almost entirely pusillanimous and corrupt caliphate, the Abbasid caliphate), just as Constantine rewrote the Christian Bible and injected garbled thoughts from Aristotle in ways which deeply compromised the spiritual character of Western Christianity. Long before Locke, Mohammed knew that we do need comprehensible social contracts to avoid the very worst of social entropy, and he did his best subject to the constraints of the time (like the power of local warlords), but in the end we would need a new kind of social contract to protect this world from the instabilities which threaten to extinguish it, body and soul and all. Yeshua talks a lot about that now... The stability analysis is ...  more than one paragraph... but deep and true respect for the female half of humanity, and the nonhuman part of the earth, is a key part of it.

But then: what of Beaucoup Harem?

Lots of Fiorina types would be instantly insulted and politically righteous here, even though they don’t like what they call “Boko Haram.” “First,” they would say,”That is not the true name of that movement.” Sorry, folks, but the true name is in Arabic, not English. Arabic is one of many languages on earth which does not use the Latin alphabet; there is always a somewhat arbitrary choice of TRANSLITERATION when one goes to English. For example, in Chinese, “Dao” and “Tao” are equally legitimate ways of writing the same Chinese word (more or less, let me not write a book on THAT), and “Shih” and “Xi” are the same name (as I was brutally reminded of in May). Even from Russian... it was a little sad when financial folks said “your wife has been using an alias. Is she Ludmilla or Ludmila, and why is she using an alias?” Arabic does not write vowels... and it is clear that “beaucoup Harem” is the name, not just in consonant pronunciation, but in what it really is about.

If sharia ever did anything to truly protect normal innocent people... the most well-established point there is the way that people who just take what they want, not respecting the rights of who they take it from (whether infidel or faithful), the rule is that they get their hand cut off. So these lonely, horny uneducated folks in parts of rural Nigeria  decide they won’t take it any more, and they just grab attractive young girls, en masse, and kidnap them.

So here is the point: if there is anything at all in any followers of sharia beyond self-serving hypocrisy and a banner for racism... those folks should be standing up very loudly and demanding that all of Beaucoup Haram have their right hands cut off, immediately, for the act of greed, envy and theft they have carried out, a deed much worse than mere theft of fruits in a marketplace. It is a real test, and Mohammed himself would certainly support that test very emphatically.

A big subject – but let me move on to the two other headlines for now, both just two of the threads emerging from a nice discussion yesterday with some visiting space people. (We also discussed how the same old Bad Guys  active in the US are truncating US space capabilities, both civilian and military, public and private.)

First: Chinese launch capabilities, and low cost access to space in general. We discussed how we know the reliable technology path to get us to a cost of only $200/pound to low earth orbit (LEO), which culd be achieved much sooner than most people imagine. In fact, George Mueller of NASA Greenbelt published NASA reports back in the 1960’s (!) which would probably have worked in getting us there decades ago, using technology then classified, if only Richard Nixon had not overridden him, relying instead on wealthy stakeholder friends in Utah and obedient folks at OMB who knew how to warp the beancounting to be distracted by all the wrong numbers. Really awful politics has gotten in the way of the US ever doing what it could have done even long ago...  but some of us are still trying. At a meeting at Rayburn a few months back, I even said: “The US probably has not yet lost the ability to reduce large-volume recurring launch costs by factor of 10 or 100, but we are not doing anything even to preserve that ability. How will we feel, then, if China does it first, and tells us only when they are ready to spring a Sputnik like surprise? How will we feel  when we learn they can orbit 10 to 100 times as much mass (more like 100) FOR THE SAME dollar, for all the many  purposes they might be interested in? When, overnight, China owns 90 to 99% of all human infrastructure in space?”

So: how real is that possibility? That’s a guessing game, to be sure! A few years ago, I gave a rough guess... about 30% probability of such a surprise. Do we really want to keep risking that? But it was 30% ONLY allowing for possible collaboration with other nations, such as Russia, EU or India.

Why not China itself? And why am I not more concerned? China has certainly been very creative, and leaped well past the US, in many crucial areas. We do not fully understand yet just how far ahead they may be in areas like batteries, certain strands of cyberwarfare, intelligent systems and high power lasers, for example. So why not launch? Why is China doing so well in some areas, but not others?

Part of it lies in the difference between the free market world centered in south China, versus the political/military orthodoxy centered more in the north.. though Hunan province in the south is still an important wild card. (Wild? Well, Mao came from there. I know so much more about Hunan province now than I did before I started travelling to China again n 2004 or so!) Part lies in respect for titles.

It is said that China has databases which, even more than the databases of NSA, contain intercepted copies of just about anything of technical or scientific interest from anywhere n the world. I remember when NSF discovered that they had very quietly hacked into the main servers of the Engineering Directorate, on a long-term basis, getting just about everything. They have a major supercomputer in Tianjin (about a hundred miles south of Beijing, site of a major recent mysterious explosion which raised lots of questions), modeled on a supercomputer developed in a building in Changsha (capital of Hunan) which I have ridden by a few times.
But exactly like NSA (and like me!), they have this problem: “How can we learn to drink form a firehose?” So yes, they may well have all the technical specs ever digitized needed to get to low-cost launch, but WHICH of the many files do they actually read and study?

If they are truly diligent and serious and poilitically correct members of the orthodox (northern) political class, they will of course have much more respect for a title like “President of the US” than like “senior scientist, NASA Greenbelt,” a title which doesn’t sound any better than many many thousands of others. And so they are keeping up with Richard Nixon’s brilliant design thoughts, and probably have never really deeply studied George Mueller. Sources have told me of a massive “sputnik surprise” military spaceplane project in Sichuan province (where they hide things they don’t even want the Russians to know about), based on diligently copying the specs of the old US National Aerospace Plane (NASP) program , which failed brutally due to interventions at the design/procurement stage by “wise” lobbyists (some of whom were peer reviewed by my old program at NSF!) more concerned about getting the money than about US capability. (Slightly psychopathic... but I will not violate the Privacy Act.) That’s not much better than spending billions to try to implement Nixon’s wet dreams! Will they unleash the more creative and skeptical private sectors of southeast China? Not when they see national security as such a big deal, with Great Firewall of Chin and all that keeping out new ideas.  How then could China do so well in some other areas? Well, Hunan is part of the answer, and other special circumstances have been involved. Part of the story is also how Friends of the Caliphate have held the US back in certain strategic areas, making it easier for China to coast ahead.

Which is directly related to the important big subject of Dumb Engineering.

Here is a quick caveat: I do not classify IBM Watson as an intelligent system. (In fact, I have published mathematical definitions and roadmaps, and Watson does not qualify – but I understand that different folks can use words to mean different things, sometimes even honestly though usually not these days.). It does not pose the kinds of risks that a true Termnator kind of system would. It poses risks more like rule by overgrown overempowered dumb voicemail systems.

As I see what kinds of malevolent psychopathic people have infiltrated so many spheres of life around the world these days... I am now much more reluctant to push real intelligent systems, yet baffled by the problems that creates. Probably it is harmless to push more towards what I call “vector intelligence,” explained in my 2014 paper delivered in Beijing at the IEEE World Congress on Computational Intelligence (posted in the computer science section of http://arxiv.org). But again and again, I run into application areas where a higher level of intelligence seems warranted... if one uses intelligent systems at all.

And so: maybe I need to go back to control technologies more like those which my former colleagues Kishan Baheti and Pramod Karhonekar advocated, dumb linear “robust control,” for those applications where a level of intelligence higher than vector intelligence would be best. In simpler applications, like pollution control in cars, intelligent systems developed by Ford, Toyota and others have shown an order of magnitude better performance than the more ancient methods published by Kargonekar, but what of the intelligent grid and intelligent control of cohorts of robots or phased array power beaming? Perhaps it really was a wise act of God” that Lamar Smith and Kargonekar cancelled NSF efforts i those areas, in favor of more conservative technology.

But how can we advance plug-in cars and big solar farms, for example, in a world of dumb control? Well, there are three main changes we need to survive in the grid of the future. At the distribution level, it would probably be enough to add a bit more control authority (as Deepak Divan is already doing, with support from ARPAE now) and to reinvent the moderate new algorithms already used at the transmission level of the system. For the transmisison level, I recently heard folks from EPA saying “We just need to certify the availability of frequency control reosurces in the power electronics of wind turbines and such.” More concretely: vector intelligence at the level of individual power converters or wind turbines or turbogenerators (like the classic work of Harley, Wunsch and Venayagamoorthy, or even Shuhui Li and Wunsch with wind) could be used to provide that kind “of “resource”, with fast control of power electronics, so that old fashioned human balancing authorities can make good enough decisions to keep the grid from collapsing. And then... a third need is for more intelligent “demand response,” IF ONLY Americans can really learn all they can from the great watershed “Mannheim Project” in Germany using the open software platform OGEMA.

And so a combination of local vector intelligence, human leadership and old fashioned linear robust control should be good enough even for the more interesting challenges of space solar power... and I guess it’s high time I started to move into that class of hybrid design.

Without bigger changes in the technology of real intelligent systems, biology and advanced physics... we are at risk of losing it all at a later stage of the game of human survival. I have had nightmares about what might happen in the future... yet there are clear and present nightmares active here and now in the US and elsewhere.. another juggling game to move ahead in parallel with progress in dumb engineering.


Speaking of nightmares – what could Francis possibly say to folks in Congress, a dilemma for him? In his shoes, I think I would quote Jesus a lot.. and urge people to really think more seriously about some important things which Jesus (and also Paul) said... and urge them not to underestimate...

Poor Fiorina types, not understanding the difference between Jesus and Aristotle, or the ways in which celibates and political opportunists misunderstood Aristotle, somewhat sincerely somewhat but somewhat as a way to seek power.

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