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Hiatus

It is now October.

Last month I went to two SF conventions overseas (in Denmark and Germany), contracted a nasty chest infection (better now, thanks), checked the page proofs on three (count 'em) novels, and wrote a novelette.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to take a few days off to recharge. See you next week ...

PS: Feel free to use this as an excuse to talk among yourselves!

85 Comments

1:

Bereft! But enjoy the break. See you on the other side...

2:

"PS: Feel free to use this as an excuse to talk among yourselves!"

Ah... I see how it is. Charlie wants us to drum up some free amusement for him, so he can take it easy and lurk on his own blog for a few days to see what we get up to.

If you haven't already given a few hundred hours of your life over to it, I'd suggest tvtropes.org as an unlimited supply of internet time-wastage.

3:

"PS: Feel free to use this as an excuse to talk among yourselves!"

Last time I remember someone saying this to me was back (many years ago) at school. It was the teacher.

Thing was, he was our chemistry teacher....

By the time of his return we had evacuated the classroom, and I think the corridor ended up closed for a couple of hours as the gases dispersed.

What's the blog equivalent of bucket chemistry?

4:

Well,there's only 20 days to plan our Windows 7 release parties ;)

5:

If you ever feel like reading a *good* article about marketing (of all things) have a look at that one:

http://www.casadogalo.com/marketingmyopia.pdf

Featuring fuel cells, solar energy and GM in trouble.

... written in 1960 ...

6:

Roman Polanski: discuss?

Specifically, how many decentish films does it take before an alarming number of hollywood fucktards back a rapist.

7:

tim: While I agree with the proposition that Polanski is a convicted rapist and fugitive from justice who has some music to face, the term "hollywood fucktards" is a yellow card here: it's one step away from "liberal media". Which is a subject I have some strong views about, and -- as a Volvo-driving married-to-a-vegetarian ABC1 media luvvie myself -- they may not mesh smoothly with those of the sort of folks who believe in a left-wing media conspiracy.

8:

hmmm i should have thought of that, you don't want to fuel the fire on such a widely read/linked forum? That's fair enough, feel free to edit. Just the celeb campaign to "free polanksi" is quite a bit bile inducing.

*the views of this poster are not endorsed by the host*

9:

How things have changed. My great grandmother got married at 13 and my grandmother at 14.

Also, let's not declare a man guilty before he has stood before a jury of his peers in a court of law. I've noticed a troubling tendency these days to ignore such things as habeas corpus and double jeopardy. People can even be jailed just for associating with the wrong type...Old King John would be ecstatic.

10:

Robert: did their husbands get them wasted on drugs and champagne, sodomise them in a bathtub, then hand them back to their parents? This isn't marriage we're talking about.

11:

@Robert
Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and was convicted. He fled after he was released to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

12:

Let's not get into the sticky topic of child abuse please, I had enough of it on another forum when a long term poster was uncovered as an unashamed sex offender.

How about a nice warming discussion of Windows vs Macs? That's sure to keep Mr Stross amused.

Or speaking of people amusing themselves at others expense - what about those folks who fake their deaths on the internet?

13:

I sometimes wonder what skeletons are in the closets of Hollywood.

Look up Fatty Arbuckle.

Maybe his personal history, going back to being a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Europe, should mitigate any punishment for jumping bail and running away. What he did, what he plead guilty to, can't be defended or explained away.

But that's what the scumbags appear to be doing.

14:

One advantage of the internet these days when arguing about old news is the ability to find stuff and point other people to it. Before the arguments about what Polanski did or did not do get any more heated I suggest people read this. It changed my opinion for one because the previous impression I'd had from articles over the years was that he a) hadn't realized her age and b) it was just straight vanilla sex.

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0928091polanskiplea1.html

15:

Forgot the other URL I meant to post. Doh.

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/polanskicover1.html

16:

Let's, please, drop the Polanski thing. This isn't the place for it. Although if you want to discuss why people stick by their friends even after the aforementioned friends are exposed as monsters, that'd be a bit more interesting. Cognitive dissonance ("I know him, he's a nice guy, he can't possibly have done those things they accuse him of") or Stockholm Syndrome or something else?

17:

Enjoy your break. You earned it! I just finished The Jennifer Morgue. Great job! I liked the short Pimpf too!

18:

"why people stick by their friends even after the aforementioned friends are exposed as monsters"

I think it's not just a case of they can't believe that their friend did that stuff but also that they can't or don't want to believe that they could possibly be friends with someone capable of such things. Monsters are the weird loner down the street not the good old bloke you have a pint with down the pub.

19:

>why people stick by their friends even after the aforementioned friends are exposed as monsters

It's strange isn't it. I knew a woman who had been beaten about the head by her partner with a hammer. I saw the forensic report and there were all the classic defensive marks on the outside of the forearms that you'd expect in such a situation. Later on the same guy was convicted of supplying drugs and given a maximum sentence.

His friends and acquiantances stuck with him throughout all of that and cried out about how innocent he was and how he'd been 'fitted up'.

Some people are just not capable of applying logic to a situation and will defend someone they know no matter what.

On a different note what would be a good portable device for entering text? Something PDA/netbook ish sized but with a good keyboard. Reading doesn't matter so much I just want to be able to write when and where the inspiration strikes me. I have considered pen and paper but then the transcription sucks up too much time. Thoughts?

20:

Robin:

with a good keyboard

That really depends on your definition of good.

The best little thing I ever used for simple text was a TRS-80 model 100 (wikipedia)... I wrote a huge number of my college papers on one of these. Runs forever on AA batteries (AFAIR). I've seen them on ebay from $50 and up.

For writing I don't think I could use a smaller keyboard. By way of comparison, my phone is an HTC touch 2, with keyboard. It's among the biggest/most usable PDA keyboards out there, but it's still thumbs only. Fine for short emails, but no way I can 'write' on it.

YMMV

21:

The smallest thing with an integral usable keyboard I've seen is the Sony Vaio P series not-a-netbook-honest machine. Trouble is, it's a gutless wonder (at least the ones they sell outside Japan), not aided by the incredibly stupid decision to stick Vista on it. Even under Ubuntu it'll have comparable horsepower to a sluggish netbook, at double the price. On the other hand, if it must fit in a jacket pocket, the Vaio P fits the bill.

Otherwise you're looking for a MID and an external folding USB keyboard. (Don't go bluetooth unless you like taking one or two minutes to set up your text-capture environment.)

Alternatively: look into EverNote and its offline OCR capability. It comes with a phone client, and may give you an alternative working model.

22:

Heh, I was hoping to get something a bit more modern, that could interface with my PC to upload the writing.

The keyboard on that does look pretty good though. I was concerned with the metrics primarily. I can type on a laptop keyboard but the layout tends to be 'slightly out' comapred to a 'standard keyboard', meaning that when I get going I end up bashing pairs of keys and thus a lot of typos.

23:

Robin: on the PDA front, I recall a folding keyboard for Palm PDAs (unfold the keyboard; install the palm into the connector; go).

I know that you can still get palms (including 100s) for very little outlay. Don't know about the keyboard quality (or availability). It was 'pocket sized' though! And definitely more 'modern'!

I haven't used any netbooks, so can't really comment. I have a thought that I'd feel 'cramped'. I recall similar feelings when using colleagues mini sony's in the 90's.

24:

Charlie @16:

If I had to guess, I'd say that unless you're very handsome or very rich, you don't really get to pick your friends after a certain point. Not your close friends, anyway. It's just a matter of it being more work to go out and establish replacement relationships than to just deny it all.

25:

Why do people stick by "monster friends"?

One possible component: reciprocal altruism. That is, if we happen get caught engaging in peccadillos (not that monstrous behavior IS a peccadillo) and wanted to tell "white lies" to get out of it, we'd hope that our friends would stand up for us, so we stand up for our friends. Not necessarily consciously deciding to excuse the peccadillo, but as part of the hard wired apparatus that suggests possible courses of action to us.

Writ large, and absent self-examination, this tendency could be expanded to the inappropriate defense of monsters.

26:

Ben@24 may have something there.

People place a strong value on friendships.

Abandoning a friend for actions that you have not personally witnessed, even though the friend may have confessed to them is a certain amount of loss.

Keeping a friend who you no longer trust/respect is _less_ of a loss.

This is also why abused partners remain with the abuser: the abused person perceives it as _less_ of a loss to be abused than to be on their own.

Horrible but true.

27:

re: Monster friends... my $0.02

Personally I think we're somewhat hard-wired to be tribal, so we will always autonomously support a tribe member from what we perceive as an external threat - regardless of the scale or nature of the threat.

Like much autonomous behavior, we can override this (by learning *new* behaviors, mostly) -- but from what I've read, such tribal behaviors are never truly eliminated - merely supplanted by recognizing one's membership in a larger, more encompassing 'tribe'. (home >> neighborhood >> town >> state >> country >> continent >> planet >> ...)

So while I think the uncritical support for Polanski is, at best, misguided, I can understand why a member of his tribe would uncritically support him against this external threat.


before the flaming starts - I also recognize that we are all members of multiple tribes simultaneously, which makes our behaviors less directly linearly predictive!


28:

Let me just add, ex cathedra, that the US DoJ has a bad rep for viciously pursuing people in foreign countries and dragging them back to the USA to face trial on hostile soil (at high jeopardy, often without adequate legal counsel).

It's somewhat startling to see them going after a convicted rapist and fugitive rather than, say, an autistic geek who wondered where NASA were keeping their UFO files.

But even a stopped clock shows the right time twice a day.

29:

@28

Vicious in general. The justice system in the states is a slow-grinding tragedy.

30:

Perhaps people are able to have a more nuanced outlook on their friends than just a "one strike and you are out" policy.

I don't know, and have no wish to know any of the details of the case for/against Polanski.

I am however extremely suspicious when people start talking about monsters or monstrous behavior. This has a lot more to do with group solidarity/identification than anything else. Call me a namby pamby liberal if you like, but I see this sort of thing as an extreme of human behaviour rather than monstrous. Of course this does not mean that it was not wrong, or should not be punished, it just means that I don't need to demonise and pretend that I belong to a different species to the perpetrator.

31:

Hey Charlie, I just finished reading The Atrocity Archive. Excellent book! Thanks for a superb contribution to SF. Have a good recharge.

32:

Tonyc@23 I used a folding keyboard with a Handspring PDA for several years. The keyboard was made by Targus and folded into a block about the same size as the PDA. The action was slightly lighter than most laptops I've used but the spacing was touch type normal. In fact I could sometimes outpace the ability of the pda to put what I typed on it's screen and would 'catch up' when I paused.

33:

I have two folding portable keyboards, both made by the same people -- iGo, formerly Think Outside. There's the Sierra bluetooth keyboard, and the Stowaway.

They have different strong and weak points. The Sierra has the same size and feel as a proper laptop keyboard, but requires a desk or table to unfold it on. The Stowaway is more compact, lacks a number/symbol row of keys (it uses two extra shift keys to get at the missing characters which are mapped onto the QWERTY row), but is rigid and self-stabilizing enough to use on your lap. They are, in my experience, the best portable keyboards you can get -- if you can live with bluetooth.

Earlier versions supported the various Palm PDA dock connectors and other PDAs (e.g. some iPaqs) -- I suspect it's one of those that John Wilson used (Think Outside supplied Targus for a while, back when Handspring were in business). I'm trying to get my hand on the semi-legendary variant on the Sierra that has a mini-USB port -- Bluetooth connections are a lot less reliable. But there you go.

There is no perfect one-size-fits-all sub-laptop solution, but I'm currently playing with this.

34:

Charlie @16, up in Maryland, there was a murder-suicide last week -- father killed wife, kids, & dog while they were asleep and then himself -- and the neighbors kept saying they couldn't believe the father would do it because he went to church.

35:

Hmm.. Initially, Id say people have a very strong tendency to give people they know the benefit of the doubt when they are accused of offenses big and small - And this is not a bad thing!- it is basically a healthy defence against being swayed by slander, slander being, after all, much more common than gross criminality.

That this reflective skeptisism and protectiveness sometimes persists in the face of strong evidence of the charges.. Well, sometimes people dont like to back down, even when they are proven very wrong.

36:

everyone on the monster thread...

The comment by Marilee # 34 indicates another nuance - that of confirmation bias (he goes to church therefore he must be good) and cognitive dissonance (despite significant evidence to the contrary, religion does not correlate strongly to moral behavior).

I'd contend that the collision of these result in many of the behaviors (he's a good christian, *they* must be wrong; I've never seen him do that, so he can't have done it; I've known him my whole life!; I know he beats me when he's drunk [or angry or ], but he's a good man when he's sober!)

And before we get all high & mighty, all of us engage in confirmation bias (some of us try to recognize and work around it) and cognitive dissonance (believe our kids are super geniuses, despite all evidence to the contrary -- they're just misunderstood... riiigggghhhht!)

37:

@34
Seems to me, that it's tough luck, even the Lord can't protect people from suicidal despair.What's he good for anyway?

Perhaps the USA have sinned, by taking on all that debt and being greedy(feeding a bubble is greed) and decadent, and now they're in for a ride. Though, greed is no longer sin over there, is it.. ?


@36

Not everyone engages those biases. Some of the more intellectually honest or just people with a lot of common sense *know* that their kids are not really special to anyone but them, or that it doesn't matter how pretty and superficially nice someone is, that veneer can't rule out the possibility of that person being an utter scumbag.

I especially love US media. Villains = ugly, 95% of the time.

I have a sneaking suspicion that all that watching TV is not good for us. Monkey see monkey do... why can't we let things just be and not try to homogenize everything?

38:

On the geek front...

WTF is going on with Linux development? GNU development, I suppose I should say. I swear a couple of applications I use regularly have lost features recently. That's not to mention to the incredible "fun" of setting up a Linux box as a wireless hub. I thought SCSI emulation for CD burners was a pain, back in the day. Now I feel nostalgic for it. And no, I don't need OS X, I need free software developers who aren't stoned. Discuss?

39:

@37:

If all you do is watch TV and not check up on what they say, you'll suck up all the propaganda. Recent example:

Did you know that Iran was a signatory of the Non-proliferation treaty? Did you know this treaty *guarantees* every signatory the right to enrich Uranium?

Any country that has signed the treaty may build enrichment facilities at will. However, the country must announce that to the IAEA who *must* send people over to the country check the installation and *must* approve it, if it sticks with the guidelines. This announcement must be made 6 months before the arrival of any radioactive material.

[Note: The treaty defines obligations for both signatories: a) the signing country (Iran) and b) the IAEA]

In 2003 the IAEA wanted Iran to sign an addition to the treaty, that says, that Iran must announce any plans to build additional enrichment facilities before starting to build them.

In 2006 Iran *announced* to the IAEA that it wants to build an enrichment facility in Qom. (Now guess how the CIA came to know about it.) The IAEA, however, didn't exactly decline the request, but instead asked Iran to first get approval from the UN security council ... which was then debating whether Iran should be leveled or pounded a few inches into the ground. (Yes, that *is* an exaggeration.)

(For those who missed it: the *one* good quality of the non proliferation treaty is that it doesn't matter if the US hegemony (let's be honest about that point in all things nuclear) approves of what you do or not. You have the *right* to use nuclear energy, although it will be surveilled. This stops countries from building nuclear bombs to defend their right to use nuclear power ...)

You could say that the IAEA declined by proxy (which the IAEA mustn't do, in line with the treaty). At this point Iran said, that since the IAEA obviously wasn't inclined to stick to the additional treaty, it will revert to the vanilla non-proliferation treaty. The one that says you don't have to announce anything until 6 months before operations start.

Of course, Iran already said a whole lot of stuff at that point. Everyone knew about the plans and after Iran said they would revert to the vanilla treaty, everybody and their dogs knew that Iran was building an enrichment facility in Qom in 2007.

Now Iran, sticking to the non proliferation treaty, officially announced that it has an enrichment facility that it plans to open in 6 months. Standard procedure is now for the IAEA to send officials to check the facility. And Iran *invited* the officials.

Official story, as the news would have it: Evil Iran build an enrichment facility in perfect secrecy. Only in late 2009 secret services found out about it and Iran couldn't deny its existence any more. The IAEA forced Iran to have it checked and really shouldn't allow Iran to have one anyway.

And that is something *very* different.

As a German, it reminded me of this little story, that everyone is told in history lessons as part of how the German nation was reunited in 1870/1 ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ems_Dispatch

Note that the result was the German-French war.

40:

@39

Hell. I am sort of weaning myself from news dependency, so I just thought Iranians pulled one over the international community with the new facility..

Anyway.. if Iranians kicked the Mullahs out, let them have nukes. Theocracies with nukes, we've had that, and it was a cold war. This time, it'd be an Isreal-Iran cold war, but we'd probably be better off without that.

As to confirmation bias, I once came upon a very funny thing. One award-winning US sf author (writes mostly other stuff now) has a forum. He wrote a post about Iraq seven years on. He wrote in the post that Saddam did not allow WMD inspectors into the country during the run-up to the last war. A complete fabrication, yet it looks like that after seven years, that is what he remembered.

I corrected him on that, no reaction. Maybe someone else posted something. Yeah, they all said they didn't know Saddam was bluffing. I bet they forgot Iran is next door, and without WMDs, Saddam may have lost the 1980's war..

Funny thing, later they kicked me out when I wrote that his claim that abandoning present production of F-22 is tantamount to stopping manufacture of fighter monoplanes in the late 1930's is just bullshit.
F-22 is at least a generation ahead of anything that flies now. They have 180 of them. No matter that it appears to be a hangar queen. In simulated dogfights, it can win against what, 8 F-15's or so.

Comparable machines exist only in prototypes, or in some CAD systems..
Well, it's his soapbox after all. I'm happy to leave them agreeing among themselves how USA is the last, best hope of mankind..

Everyone's got to be a clod in some area, I guess.

42:

TonyC: but from what I've read, such tribal behaviors are never truly eliminated - merely supplanted by recognizing one's membership in a larger, more encompassing 'tribe'. (home >> neighborhood >> town >> state >> country >> continent >> planet >> ...)

-- true, but I always regard protestations that someone cares about the whole human race or the whole planet just as much as/more than their family/friends/fellow citizens with extreme skepticism.

To truly do that -- love everyone equally without loving anyone less -- you have to be a saint; and saints are, thankfully, rare.

What expressions of universal altruism usually really mean is something Dickens nailed cold when he portrayed Mrs. Jellyby and her "Borrioboola-Gha" syndrome.

She was uttery preoccupied with starting a project in Borrioboola-Gha, and equally utterly indifferent to her family and neighbors. "Telescopic philanthropy" as he put it.

People who do this are usually, IMHO, using "telescopic philanthropy", supposed care for strange people far away, as a means to feel good about themselves while they actively despise their neighbors and neglect their duties to them. The extreme example is your Deep Green or radical animal-rights type who hates humanity in the name of loving trees and bunnies.

Real, healthy human sympathy starts from the inside out, not from the outside in. Human beings -are- tribalistic, and a good thing, too.

It's the people who care for mankind in general who end up slaughtering actual people in job-lots, as well -- Lenin, for example, who once remarked that he avoided music because it made him feel sentimental and start caring about individuals.

A man who knew him well -- he had no friends -- described him as regarding human beings roughly the same way as a furnace-master regards iron ore.

43:

tp1024: Did you know that Iran was a signatory of the Non-proliferation treaty? Did you know this treaty *guarantees* every signatory the right to enrich Uranium?

-- just as a matter of curiosity, do you actually think that nations do, or refrain from doing, things simply because they signed a treaty to that effect?

One of the defining characteristics of a sovereign state is that it's not bound by anything but its own will. That includes its conception of its own interests, and its fear of the possible negative consequences of any given act, of course.

Nations are rather like Mafia "families"; they make treaties and agreements with each other when they please, and break them when it seems expedient and they think they can get away with it. Frederick the Great wrote some very sensible remarks on the subject. Treaties are not laws, because there's no sovereign authority above the State to enforce them. No enforcement, no law.

So the real point about the Iranian nuclear program has nothing to do with pseudo-legalities and treaties; it's simply that we (for excellent reasons) don't trust the current Iranian government with nuclear weapons. It's a matter of raison d'etat.

This is not because we have differences and rivalries with them; we have differences and rivalries with China, too, for example.

It's because they're crazy. You know, the aid-to-Hamas, Holocaust-denial, world-is-about-to-end, Allah-gives-us-a-destiny stuff. We think they really mean it.

So they're a threat of an entirely different order because it's conceivable they might actually use them if they get them, even at the cost of their own destruction. Their fondness for apocalyptic fantasies make one nervous.

The Chinese government, while a very disagreeable and ruthless bunch, won't use their nuclear weapons except -in extremis-, and we will be careful not to push them that far, as they will be with us.

They're not crazy; they're a nationalistic, imperialist state which wants to extend its wealth and global power. Sort of like us, only more raw and bumptious and arriviste. Annoying, but one can live with it.

And nobody here gets their knickers in a twist about French (or Israeli) nuclear weapons, even less so than is the case with China. We could conceivably end up fighting the Chinese, though it's very (and increasingly) unlikely.

It's not conceivable that we'll end up fighting the French or Israelis. This despite the fact that we often have sharp foreign-policy disagreements with France, and occasionally with Israel.

(The Israelis actually attacked a US ship once, though that was a long time ago.)

That lack of worry is because France and Israel (and for that matter India) are real countries, members of the family. They live in the same perceptual universe. We wouldn't be much worried if Italy or even Japan decided to make nuclear weapons either.

Considerations of diplomatic -politesse- require us to talk, most of the time and in public, as if Iran(*) were a real country like France or Israel, but come now, we're not diplomats or running for elective office, so we can afford to be honest.

(*) or Syria, or Pakistan, or Burma...

44:

Schmidt: The F-22 is at least a generation ahead of anything that flies now. They have 180 of them. No matter that it appears to be a hangar queen. In simulated dogfights, it can win against what, 8 F-15's or so.

-- true. I think the opposition to closing down F-22 procurement stems from failure to consider the larger strategic picture. Plus in some quarters simple financial considerations, of course.

It would be nice to have say 1000 or so F-22's, but in this fallen world needs are infinite and resources limited, so one must prioritize.

Hence it's probably more cost-effective to spend the money on large numbers of F-35's, as is the current plan. The F-35's are more versatile; they don't do air-superiority quite as well as F-22's, but they do other things much better, and those other things include most of the wars we're actually likely to fight. Full-scale combat against a power capable of making something equivalent to the F-22 is unlikely.

And if push came to shove, we could always make more F-22's. Restarting the production lines would be expensive, but the plans are in the computers and in an emergency you spend. It's unlikely that anyone could manufacture enough really high-tech air superiority fighters to threaten us before we got things restarted.

Both are probably the last generation of manned military aircraft, anyway.

I know that's been said before, but UAV's are increasing so rapidly in capacity and numbers that even the USAF fighter-jock Mafia is having to admit it. There's an inherent advantage to not having a monkey in the machine, if the downside can be overcome.

We've already overcome the downside for low-intensity operations and I don't see any inherently insuperable obstacle for extending that gradually.

45:

As there isn't a topic I guess I can't be going off topic...

Unmanned fighter aircraft mentioned in 44 (or any other attack platform) must significantly reduce the disincentive to start wars. I would think that a major problem with war from the point of view of 1st world nations these days is lack of volunteers to do the fighting (even with ghetto mall subscription) and all the bad PR back home about the occasional dead soldier. The mainstream media and therefore most of the public don't seem to care about the number of dead civilians in the invaded/occupied/freed country so the only cost is a financial one. Worry anybody else?

46:

I noticed in the press the other day another move building by humanity 1.0 against humanity 1.1. The status quo are now thinking of introducing mandatory drug testing for people taking university exams... The "normal" who studies the old hard way is to be considered more worthy than the better performing nootropically enhanced.

This worries me as my own take on the next step that will eventually lead to AI, will develop initially through enhancement of humans and animals (chemical, genetic or technical add-ons to the pre-existing grey matter).

47:

kombipom @45: I take it you've not been following the rapid expansion of military robotics over the past decade?

There's a long way to go, but the ominous signs are already out there: autonomous ground vehicles that can cover significant distances across rough terrain, drones that can attack ground targets, a variety of large and small robots for troops to send into zones that are too dangerous to enter directly, and so on.

Yes, it's going to remove one perceived objection to starting a war ...

On the other hand, Steve (#43, #44), that's a curiously 17th century view of international relations. I think tp1024 hit a very interesting question into view, despite your point about the difference between signing a treaty and observing it -- why wasn't Iran's NPT treaty status being publicly discussed years ago? Why was the discussion in the west framed in terms of "Iran: rogue state outside all norms of international behaviour" rather than "Iran: they signed the treaty, but are they abiding by it?"

I think the answer's very clear: a chunk of the US foreign policy apparat is (a) convinced that international diplomacy is a zero-sum game, and (b) wants to fight a short, victorious war every decade or so for internal political reasons (notably to keep their military/industrial fiefdom pumped up). Add Disaster Capitalism on top and you've got a very toxic situation -- a superpower that actively benefits from starting wars, despite the high capital burn of fighting them. Put it another way: Iraq has cost the US immense amounts of money, but a lot of that money has stuck to certain fingers ...

48:

You can't get a battlefield commission or quickly build a chest full of fancy medals & ribbons in peacetime. Of course, our leaders need an occasional "conflict" to justify huge Military contracts. Fortunately the U.S. always finds new enemies :(

49:

@44, 45, 47:

I agree with the diagnosis of disaster capitalism, plus the general need of large industries to innovate simply to keep money flowing. Note that this applies to the computer industry, as well as the military and prison industrial complexes.

That said, on purely technical grounds, drones make sense, because a) you don't risk your expensive, delicate, highly trained pilot flying the damn thing, b) you don't have to return plane to base to swap out pilots every few hours, and c) they're cheap. I don't like the autonomous parts of this, but if they cut down on the error rate (i.e. civilian fatalities) they might actually support a combat environment that better matches the laws of war. Speaking as a civilian, I'd rather not be a target in any war, thank you.

As for the F-22: WTF. I suspect that, if the F-22s ever fly in combat, they'll be taken out by swarms of cheaper drones. More importantly, this is USAF Vietnam lesson 2.0. The current USAF has forgotten that in Vietnam, there was a screaming need for cheap ground support planes, and the USAF grudgingly got a few out late in the game. We go into Iraq and Afghanistan, get in the same quagmires, the ground pounders are screaming for air support, and the USAF is still acting like they need to dogfight a superpower rather than deal with an insurgency. I have no sympathy, especially if the F-22 really can't fly in the rain. That's sad.

Now if we can make a sustainable cradle-to-cradle engineered drone, we'll have a new face of warfare. That and AK-47s manufactured on autolathes in backyards. Scary thought.

50:

kombipom @45 Unmanned fighter aircraft...must significantly reduce the disincentive to start wars.

I'd think it would be the opposite. More military automation means less risk to personnel. If you're not putting your people in harm's way while hitting the enemy du jour, then the Brass is likely to see that as a good thing. Not that that has ever stopped them before.


Charlie's last bit @47 puts me in mind of a favorite old XTC song:

"Generals and Majors always
seem so unhappy 'less they got a war

Generals and Majors ah ah
like never before are tired of being actionless."

51:

Speaking of Iran, the latest headlines being pumped around the media are driving me batty. 'Iran has data to build nuclear bomb!'

Well, duh. So does essentially any University with a graduate physics department. The information on the designs and materials needed to build atomic bombs (or for that matter thermonuclear bombs) has been no secret for decades, and I'd wager there are some readers here who could build one with access to the materials. (Not I, I don't know the details only the outlines.) Any desktop computer for a couple decades has had the power to do any bits of calculation needed as to critical mass and dimensions, etc.

As I understand it, a basic gun-type uranium bomb is dead simple as compared to the explosive lens based implosion designs needed for a plutonium bomb. Pretty much the only tricky bits in the design are the reflectors and the neutron source for the initiator.

52:

@49

Automated CNC machines are *bleeping* expensive, last time I checked. Not to mention people who know how to program earn something like $3000 per month, which is a lot in lower Silesia.

I don't think automated backyard weapon production is something we need to worry about. Have you ever seen what sort of machine you need to bore and rifle a barrel? It weighs a ton. There is black market production, but it's not as easy as making meth. Which sells better, I bet.

53:

On the other hand, there's a sort of UAV cost scissors; the latest fancy ones cost as much as a GR4 Tornado, but can't do anything that requires a pilot...and crucially, they crash a lot. Indeed, part of the point of UAVs is that you don't need to worry about them crashing and can therefore risk them more. But this means that you need to keep buying more - which only makes sense if they are much, much cheaper.

Something whose USP is that it's expendable has to be cheap, and they are rapidly getting less cheap. Further, the only available form of artificial intelligence is the Amazon.com MTurk kind - teleoperation. So you need nearly-pilots plus a shit ton of satellite bandwidth, and *quality* bandwidth too - live streaming high quality low latency video, telemetry, and control. Low quality streaming is cheap; high bandwidth, but flaky, download is cheap; low quality low bandwidth is of course cheap. But if you need both bandwidth and quality, over a sat too, it's expensive.

(Of course, the latency will never be *that* low when a satellite is involved. You cannae break the laws of physics!)

54:

@53: Good thing that the USAF is into space war, then, isn't it?

I do agree with your comments and the points about drones, and I think there will always be a role for human pilots. Said role might be running some sort of AWACS-style jumbo jet operation full of drone pilots running a hundred drones in a theater, though.

@52: As for AK-47s, you're right, most third world gunsmiths don't need that fancy equipment to make an AK-47. As for making a gun, I recommend rereading Wallace's Malay Archipelago. His comment about Lombok smiths making "handsome, well-finished, and serviceable" guns "from first to last with tools hardly sufficient for an English blacksmith to make a horse-shoe" is a fairly potent reminder about how why skill matters more than high-quality tools.

Still, the fundamental problem is that we've got an industry that only makes a profit if there's a war on. Yes, I know that this particular problem goes back to the Bronze Age (if not earlier), but idealist that I am, I'd love to see the industry cut back in favor of, say, reclamation.

55:

Schmidt @52: I can't remember who or where (northern Africa, I think) but one of the 20thC guerilla armies had mobile gun factories -- mobile enough to break down and carry away on foot. Likewise, you can turn out AK47s by the truckload in a backyard factory. What were you worrying about, again?

CNC machines are fast and turn out items directly from a blueprint, but you can make mostly the same stuff on an ordinary lathe or milling machine. Especially if you've got access to lots of cheap and motivated labour.

56:

@53: Good thing that the USAF is into space war, then, isn't it?

Well, they're into it in the sense that they have some systems that might work sort of if they wanted to disrupt another LEO infrastructure. But they are hugely dependent on their own LEO sat-cloud, and there is no obvious way to defend them in the sense of "defend".

Also, satellites are uninteresting. Information downlinked from them is. Try preventing radio jamming through teh spacewarz!

57:

@53: Ah, but not risking the almost-pilot is a *big* cost savings. It costs a lot and takes a long time to train a pilot--better not to risk them. One major issue the Japanese had during the later bits of WWII was that they just didn't have a big pool of trained, experienced pilots, since most of their really good pilots which they had started the war with had been killed in combat. In contrast, the US was churning out more and more well-trained pilots, so the Japanese didn't stand a chance. That's why they turned to kamikazes; a lot easier to just fly into the enemy than actually bomb them. I *know* the USAF hasn't forgotten that lesson. Of course, this is also completely leaving out the morale reasons already enumerated above.

@56: Well, that might change. Imagine if 'Rods from God' type systems were sent into orbit. Why, the (ground) mess might be just terrible.

@49: Yes, the USAF really, really, *really* does not like tactical missions, especially close air support. I suspect this is because it:
a. Still has a chip on its collective shoulder from when it was the *USAAF* (and is consequently insecure, also explaining why they like to perennially screw around with space war, cyberwar, any-kind-of-novel-theater war)
b. Has been lead either by fighter pilots or strategic bomber proponents since it's founding.

The former explains why it wants to stay the hell away from the Army (they've *still* got a collective phobia of being subordinated), the latter why they ignore anything not deep in the enemy's rear anyways.

@46: I believe that's mostly to level the playing field. To whit, it is hardly a good thing to privilege the wealthy (with access to these experimental nootropics) over the poor (without access). Since they're not universally available (unlike, say, caffeine), they're not allowed. Simple as that. I doubt employers will particularly care whether you're using nootropics or not, and might very well encourage their use (amongst the technical staff, at least).

58:

@56: Um, Alex, you might want to do some reading about what the US Air Force Space Command *actually does* on a day-to-day basis. I'd suggest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Force_Space_Command as a start. Don't forget to read Trevor Paglen's books. It's a lot less about shooting down satellites or dropping Thor's hammer-type weapons. It's a lot more about intelligence and making sure it has enough bandwidth to run all those fancy satellites. While I'm not sure I believe the stories that Vandenburg AFB has more launches than Cape Canaveral, I could believe it. There's a lot of black money in the space force.

59:

Vandenberg must have a lot of invisible launches, then. (Some of theirs have been visible at night 300 miles up-range. I know, I saw one of them.)

60:

http://games.slashdot.org/story/09/10/04/1612227/Learning-About-Real-World-Economies-Through-Game-Economies?art_pos=6

Halting State echo/real world synchrony.

I'm on the other side of the real world at the moment, I like Australia, and I'm struck again by how the Internet alters the experience of a generation or two ago, and how other communications tech altered that of successive generations.

And yet, before going so far away one is prudent to visit relatives and so on, so perhaps it is mostly pace rahter than people that we have changed.

61:

It's range safety. Vandenburg can launch into polar orbits, out over the Pacific. Which is useful for more than just military satellites. Canaveral is also an Air Force facility, launching over the Atlantic. You need both to cover all the possibilities.

Military comsats are in the same orbits as the commercial ones, launched from the same facilities. And there are commercial sensor sats--you've seen Google Earth--in the same types of orbit as the spysats.

(If I remember right, every time NASA launches, they have to pay the USAF for operating the "range".)

62:

Also, given what air forces actually do at the moment - close air support - it's more important, not less, to have a pilot communicating directly with the JTAC controller on the ground with the infantry and seeing the battlefield.

I think a lot of the UAV hype is a legacy of the late Clinton/early Bush years. People imagined that war = conventionally armed cruise missiles. Launched against well-defined, fixed targets from platforms outside the reach of air defences. Just a matter of identifying a lot of aim points and firing off a shipload of Tomahawks.

It didn't turn out like that.

63:

Re 43: Iran as a rogue state ?

Can we really blame the Iranians for using aggressive rhetoric ? Look at their neighbours :- China, Russia, the US (in Iraq and Afghanistan), Pakistan and India all have nukes. Not a nice neighbourhood to live in either.

Meanwhile compare and contrast who has attacked who since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Wars started by Iran - 0
Invasions of Iran - 1 by Iraq. Guess which side then had weapons supplied to it by the West ?

Invasions of neighbours by Imperialist powers :-
Afghanistan by Russia and now the US/NATO
Iraq by the US and allies

Interestingly the Iranians have also had elections and changes of premeier regularly since the revolution. Not many of the neighbours can claim that - Saudi is a kingdom, Afghanistan an anarchy, Pakistan oscillates between millitary dictatorship and democracy.

Can we really blame the Iranians if they feel a bit p**ed off ?

If you where the leadership of I

64:

Steve @ 43: I'm with Mark Priest's reply above. The Iranian government may be loathsome, but there really isn't evidence that it's torch-the-world batshit-crazy. Backing Hezbollah and Hamas is their way of playing to the base. There is really no evidence-- none-- that Iran is interested in fighting a serious war with, well, with anyone. I'd bet against any serious armed conflict (more than 50 battle deaths) within the next 10 years between Iran's military on the one hand and any recognized state on the other-- Israel included-- and without regard to who starts it. The principal objective of the Iranian regime is to stay in power, and the regime is fully aware that a state-on-state military conflict with anyone-- Israel included-- would hurt and not help its pursuit of that objective.

65:

To continue the thought, I submit that the last time the world saw an actual torch-the-world batshit-crazy regime in charge of a state was the Khmer Rouge. I am specifically arguing that Kim Jong-Il's North Korea and Saddam's Iraq are not TTWBC.

66:

Dennis: I tend to agree about the lack of rogue states these days. (But I'd like to note that the behaviour of the US military-industrial-neocon-we-need-a-war-NOW crowd has effects indistinguishable from batshit-crazy in whatever country is the bogey-man du jour. There's some truth to the radical nostrum that the only real rogue state today is the US State Department.) Let's review the state of the threat table:

* Kim Jong-Il's communist monarchy has a foreign policy that is a coldly rational work of genius, insofar as it has raised the strategy of seeming to be batshit crazy in order to achieve one's goals to a fine art.

* Saddam was entirely rational, for "fascist dictator sleeping on a powder keg of ethnic seccessionist factions" values of rational. Now he's gone, we find we miss him (if only because what followed was much, much worse).

* Iran seems to be less fundamentalist and less absolutist than Saudi Arabia (who are officially Good Guys™ -- feh), and apart from poking the Israeli hornet's nest by proxy (using Hezbollah in Lebanon) hasn't obviously gone in for foreign policy adventurism.

* China? A bunch of sixty-something technocrats obsessed with micro-managing the economic transition that Japan made in the 1950-1970 period.

* Libya? Gaddafi's gone soft in his old age (or maybe he just likes the idea of dying in bed, surrounded by his family: it's not an uncommon failure mode for dictatorships).

* Russia? despite paranoid/passive-aggressive throwback tendencies and several hundred ICBMs, they're just don't get the adrenalin pumping the way the old-time Soviets did.

These must be frustrating days in which to be a neocon. Oh for a Martian invasion!

67:

heteromeles @ 54: "skill matters more than high-quality tools."

Well, yes . . . until the product being manufactured requires greater precision (typically in dimensional tolerances) than the combination of tools and operator skill can produce. If interchangeable parts are an important product attribute (the canonical example being firearms, beginning ca. 1800; see also "Eli Whitney"), then the issue becomes one of consistency in maintaining the necessary levels of precision.

For many types of goods, the level of precision that can be attained through hand-crafted "filing by eye" is sufficient to produce perfectly usable products. As the level of precision required for the item to function properly increases, parts interchangeability (and thus item repairability) goes away. Eventually, so does functionality.

As we have seen in Afghanistan (for example), a good backyard metal-worker can manufacture, using relatively very simple tools, a serviceable assault rifle clone. I would have severe reservations about the quality of a set of replacement jet turbine blades the same guy might produce, let alone a complete jet engine.

68:

Leroy @ 57:

Um, you are aware that the notoriously crummy mass-production version* of the SA80 assault rifle was made using expensive machines. Whereas the beautifully effective prototype versions that led to it being approved where individually hand-made by skilled craftsmen. Right?

* apparently the latest remodelling may actually have finally solved most of the problems. To which any soldier equipped with the thing will only reply "about f*cking time".

You're probably right that they wouldn't be able to manufacture jet engines - but why would insurgents want to? They're going to be much more interested in rockets or high power rifles for shooting the planes down than in having their own planes. And rockets and rifles they will be able to make for themselves.

69:

@66: Charlie, I'd agree with most of that except for the US State Department being a rogue state. It's more like an enabler for the military-industrial complex. AFAIK, the number of people employed by the black/classified wing of the US executive branches now outnumbers the number employed by the white/unclassified branches. In other words, there's a huge coalition of people who have careers that are directly or indirectly linked to preparing for wars, fighting this or the next war, or destabilizing other governments for fun and profit. The military-industrial complex is closer to a rogue state, but it's also in the business of maximizing shareholder return per quarter. Some people consider profit-maximization rational. Not sure I do.

The State Department are the diplomats who have to go and make nice. Think of them as the nice wife who has to clean up after her husband gets into another drunken brawl with his "friends."

As for Iran...Sigh. One dynamic that's missing from this conversation is that Iran, like much of the Muslim world, makes a strong distinction between public and private. What happens behind closed doors without witnesses can be very different than what happens in the streets. AFAIK, this is rooted in Islam, where the proof that one is a Muslim comes from words and deeds, and only Allah knows what is in one's thoughts.

As a result, Iranians love American TV and fashions--but only behind closed doors. In the street, it's veils and kowtowing to the government.

I suspect this is a big point of culture-clash, because in the US, there are different standards of privacy, and somewhat different expectations for what leaders are to say.

70:

@69 heteromeles:

Your analogy is quite apt - but I would suggest that the US State Department, as active enablers and apologists for the rogue US military-indistrial complex, are appropriately labelled rogue (IMHO). Or do you consider enablement of rogue behaviors an acceptable and rational first-world practice?

71:

@54

Bullshit. You know, I study engineering. Making a workable assault rifle is not easy. I have yet to seen proof that any blacksmith anywhere can make a copy. The vaunted Khyber pass weaponmakers can make bolt action rifles at best. That's what experts here think.

Sure, the Afghans there show AK-47s among their wares, but it's just for show, not what they made. Maybe they put them together from spare parts, or what not. I'm sure that if you took one of the Khyber Ak-47s apart, and looked at the metal, it'll be of Soviet origin..

Cottage gunsmiths can make weapons with nice finish .. but of questionable quality and accuracy.
Serviceable yes, meaning they'll fire 95% of the time and kill someone standing right in front of them.

I'd love to see a village blacksmith making a chromed barrel. Or just progressive rifling.

Turning out smooth-bored POS smgs is another matter, but making a reliable, long lasting assault rifle is not easy.


As to truck mounted factories, why not. All machines used weigh less than a ton, I think, so it'd work. And it'd be pretty slow process. Traditional barrel-making makes what, perhaps maybe twenty barrels a day on one machine.. Really. Turning a truck-load of guns takes a big factory. Either lots of skilled labour, or seriously expensive machinery.

Backyard blacksmiths, no. A gun is a gun, is not a hammer, ok?

72:

Chrisj @ 68:

Skilled craftspeople using high-end specialized tools (as found in the development shop of any reasonable-sized first-world armaments manufacturer) can routinely match or exceed the quality of regular production runs from the same firm's mass production shop. Both shops have tools that are "good enough" to produce the desired level of finished product quality / precision; the limitations in the production shop are at the operator level. [1]

Whether working in a high-end first-world manufacturing prototype shop, or in his/her back yard, a really good craftsperson can produce functional products, up to the limitations of either the tools or their operator, whichever set of limits kicks in first. At that point, you get real-world restrictions on how sophisticated a product that person can make . . . regardless of how useful that product might be, in current local festivities.

Example: The opposition's new aircraft are too fast / high / agile to reach, with anything short of the newly developed "whizzolator". If manufacturing a functional whizzolator requires more precision than either you or your tools are capable of, it doesn't matter how good your backyard-built rockets and anti-aircraft guns are. They are irrelveant to the current situation.

[1] In addition, of course, to the problems introduced by bad design. In some circumstances, a really skilled craftsperson can manage to work around design faults, to produce a really stunning prototype. [2] This tends to be much less common on the production line, which operates under a very different set of priorities and protocols.
[2] One of my uncles used to do this semi-regularly, while working as a machinist for a major aircraft manufacturer in the Seattle area. He could take a set of working drawings into the shop on Friday afternoon, work all weekend, and have a finished product prototype ready for evaluation on Monday morning. This was not the way the regular production line worked . . .

73:

@70: Tony, if an individual person was exhibiting the behaviors routinely demonstrated by the US, there would be a SWAT team breaking down their door. For countries, well, there's not a country-level SWAT team. That's the problem with Machiavelli: what's rational and acceptable on a national basis is not necessarily rational OR acceptable in a human, and the reason is that we don't have benevolent overlords forcing countries to conform to specific laws, we just have things like votes and public opinion to put some check on them.

As for weapons: Ummm, this is about the F-22, and the fact that it's vaguely reasonable as a deterrent to other superpowers (who are...?), and crap for current wars? The AK-47, whether it can be made by a village blacksmith or not, has (collectively) killed more people than nuclear weapons, and it requires an afternoon to learn to use and care for. The F-22 is basically designed to be a cash cow for a few large companies, and to garner promotions for the officers involved in procuring and deploying it. These are very different weapons for very different markets, and I think the military market is conclusively demonstrating that right now, there's a bigger demand for AK-47s and similar cheap weapons, like drones, IEDs, and RPGs.

74:

Schmidt @71: I'm sure you do study engineering. Not trying to be confrontational, but that doesn't make you an expert on other people's manufacturing abilities. Russian steel tells you nothing, most of Europe's steel came from Russia originally. Ask anyone who owns an Alfa or Citroen from the late seventies. Last I heard, the majority of AK-47s in the world were knock-offs made somewhere else. Including some made by hand in Pakistan, according of the Fount of All Debate:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AK-47#Production_outside_of_the_Soviet_Union.2FRussia

Bear in mind that it's a very very simple design. Those same people couldn't make an M-16, but for the same reason they wouldn't try.

75:

heteromeles@73: I don't think the US behaves any differently from any other sovereign state - it always puts its interests firsts. The differences are that the US is powerful enough that it can usually get its own way without very much compromise and, again because of its power, it is *open* about what it considers to be its interests and the pursuit thereof, it doesn't need to cloak them in diplomatic niceties to the same degree that the rest of the world does. This is not meant to be a criticism of America, quite the reverse: I think it could be argued that the US is the only truly honest player on the international stage.

The thing I can't understand is why we here on this little island have spent the last sixty years denying the above, and pretending that we have a "special relationship" with the US, that could (but of of course never does) transcend America's best interests.

76:

That otherwise intelligent folk buy the "states always put their own interests first" canard never ceases to surprise me: states don't put their own interests first -- what they put first is the interests of whatever faction has its hands on the levers of power.

To take an example that's played-out (hence emotionally neutral to us but still fresh in our memory), the USSR nearly bankrupted itself -- for purely ideological reasons -- keeping its herd of satellite states fenced in. Pre-1953 it could be argued with a straight face that the Warsaw Pact was a buffer zone against a repeat of 1941-42; but the H-Bomb and the ICBM rendered that argument obsolete, and by 1989 maintaining the Pact had become a gigantic and pointless drain on the USSR's economy. However, it was ideologically unacceptable to the Party to ditch the Warsaw Pact, because it would have revealed the bankruptcy of the founding myth of that organization (worldwide progressive revolution led by the vanguard party). In the end they had to let it go -- and 24 months later they were history.

This phenomenon was much clearer back before 1914, when absolute despots could decide their nation's foreign policy on a whim, entirely on the basis of their own self-interest -- as with, for example, the War of the Triple Alliance (which served nobody's interests whatsoever, except for Francisco Solano López, who just happened to be dictator and self-proclaimed emperor of Paraguay).

It can be argued that the EU is a classic example of this -- the ruling elites love it (and it is indeed very good for business), but it's not so popular among the nationalistic, xenophobic, downtrodden masses. Indeed, if the existence of the EU was up for popular vote across Europe, it's possible that a majority would vote for its destruction, and if you asked them why, you'd get some variant or other on "it's undermining our sovereignty, innit". Well, maybe: but the groups with their hands on the levers of power like what it delivers, so it's here to stay. (And I will note at this point that, by and large, I think the EU is a very good thing indeed, at least in principle. I'd much rather see France and Germany arguing over the legally permissible curvature of a banana than building nuclear missiles to point at each other.)

77:

@74

Most European steel from Russia? Sure, and what about France, Germany, Sweden, Eastern Europe ? That's all Russia, innit? I am willing to bet you €10 that you are wrong, and most steel used in Europe during the preceding 110 years was not made in Russia.

BTW, I did not mean 'steel' as in origin of material. I believe a lot of specialized treatments are applied to gun parts, thus looking at the microstructure and tool-marks will tell you roughly who and where built the gun.

And, I have never seen a picture of an actual Pakistani backyard AK-47 knockoff. Neither have the folks at 'Strelecka Revue', where they had an article on Khyber Pass copies. Best they can do there are bolt action rifles, and crummy ones at that. Easy to make a gun that'll last for 500 rounds, making one that'll last a century takes good craftsmen, good materials and serious tools.

And lastly, AK-47 isn't that simple. Blowback SMGs are simple, there are very few home-made gas-piston designs. I have book that reviewed nearly every ocassion of illegal arms production in Czechoslovakia(a country with great tradition of metalworking, unlike Pakistan tribal areas) over the last 70 years(gunmaking was pretty popular during the commie era, as real guns were hard to get), and not one backyard gun-maker made a weapon with a piston. At best, they made nice SMGs and pistols. Though, maybe the people who made gas-operated weapons were too smart to get caught with them, I'll give you that.

78:

Change of subject, inspired by today's story of some Somali pirates mistaking the French flagship in the area for a cargo ship and attacking it (link).

Random idea: how about some first world government buy a few of those cargo ships that are currently sitting in the ghost fleet off Malaysia, outfit them as a set of Q-ships, and send them swanning back and forth in front of these pirates. If enough of them get blown away jumping Q-ships, maybe they'll cut back a bit.

79:

I have a book that reviewed nearly every occasion of illegal arms production in Czechoslovakia(a country with great tradition of metalworking, unlike Pakistan tribal areas) over the last 70 years(gunmaking was pretty popular during the commie era, as real guns were hard to get), and not one backyard gun-maker made a weapon with a piston. At best, they made nice SMGs and pistols. Though, maybe the people who made gas-operated weapons were too smart to get caught with them, I'll give you that.

Er...cool?

80:

@79: That IS interesting. If someone manages to overcome that particular technological hurdle (i.e. producing machine guns in metal shops), things will change.

To me, the ultimate choke-point for firearms isn't necessarily the technology to build a machine gun, it's the fertilizer factories necessary to supply the nitrogen compounds for the propellant (see Alchemy of the Air for a good historical discussion).

Since industrial nitrogen fixation is an energy-intensive industry, if we run out of cheap energy, the results are going to be:
1) massive food shortages (from loss of cheap nitrogen fertilizer)
2) massive munitions shortages (from massive decreases in nitrogen-based explosives and propellants)
--and that just from shrinking the nitrogen industry.

This is one reason why I'm curious how good backyard munitions makers and gunsmiths can get. Industrial warfare as practiced by the US is tremendously energy-intensive. As energy availability becomes more expensive and limited, the face of war is going to radically change. I think the US DoD gets this, and despite being evil, they're going green as fast as they can, and for good reason.

Absent a new source of cheap energy, I suspect that the future of war is going to be more guns and drones, and less artillery and jets. The interesting question is whether sophisticated, low-energy weapons' production can be outsourced to your skilled third-world village craftsman, or whether it's going to require some factory centralization.

81:

heteromeles: I happen to know of some bioinformatics/genetics guys who are taking a close interest in nitrate and phosphate biosynthesis.

The real fun will start if and when someone figures out how to get the right metabolic pathways into S. pastorianus or S. cerevisiae to produce nitrocellulose. It's not trivial, but it's not obviously impossible either. Water plus carbohydrates plus yeast equals smokeless powder: add 3d printers that can work steel -- what could possibly go wrong?

82:

@80

Bullshit. A centralized, panopticon state dictatorship, can get all the energy it needs from nuclear power. Not to mention shitloads of plutonium. Nuclear technology is no rocket science. It's early 20th century level technology, the sophisticaed bells and whistles on it are necessary just so operators won't manage to blow it all up through confusiom, Three Mile Island style.
We love cheap energy, and if push comes to show, greens will be left out, and for that reason we will not run out of it.
Not to mention there is a lot of coal left.

BTW, you know which other mass movement of 20th century idolized pastoral or agricultural societies, longed for bygone times and was severely dissatisfied with contemporary urban life? Hint: they passed the first animal welfare laws..


US military evil.. I had them filed under the "severly misguided but otherwise sort of decent, if not pissed off" folder, sort of like Wehrmacht or Red Army. The actual army is not evil, the civilian leadership is, I believe. They did not exactly rush into Iraq, for example..

@81:
3d printers working with steel? What is next, porcine aerobatic squadrons? Steel melts at what.. 1200°C? There is a catch, and I would fire a gun made with a 3d metal printer only by wire from the next room..

83:

@81: Charlie,

The nitrate/phosphate biosynthesis dudes really, really should talk with the plant physiologists. This isn't news. Both nitrogen fixation and phosphorus acquisition are energy-intensive processes. I happen to know that mycorrhizal fungi (the fungal subcontractors that get P out of the soil for most plants) can take 15-20% of the plant's total photosynthate for the service. And they're so much better than most plants at P extraction that this is a bargain. I haven't checked the nitrogen fixation figures recently, but I think it's in the same range.

This is the reason you don't want nitrogen-fixing corn. Corn has an edge at photosynthesis, but if you divert all that energy to fixing nitrogen, corn will yield grow like wheat at best, and probably much worse. Crop rotation and fertilizer probably work better than trying to get one plant to do it all.

Anyway, aside from being tremendously energy-intensive, nitrogen fixation also requires an anaerobic environment to succeed. This is the challenge, because anoxic redox reactions don't readily carry the energy potential that ntirogen fixation requires. Most bacteria that do nitrogen fixation usually set up some sort of multicellular routine so that some aerobic partner (another bacterium or a plant) feeds the fixing cells the energy they need to do the job.

Bottom line is, N fixation is energy intensive, whether you use a biosynthetic pathway or industrial chemistry. Even if you can get yeast to make ammonia from N2, I'm not sure whether you can get a high enough yield to make it worthwhile. As for phosphorus, I wish they'd stop trying to engineer other fungi to act like mycorrhizae and just use the real things.

84:

Schmidt:
I think you aren't familiar with the state of the art for 3D object creation. People are already doing "printed" objects in steel, titanium, etc. See here, for one example. This process produces mixed steel/bronze material. Subtractive processes are also available, using anything from plasma cutters to abrasive water jets to "carve" a block of metal. I expect the technology will continue to progress.

85:

@84.. bit of necromancy, as I messed up a post 4 days ago..
Yeah. One thing is carving metal, another is making something up from tiny blobs. As to the steel/bronze material the company which prints such objects stresses that it ought not to be put to any more serious use than a paperweight.

I believe it is still a long way away from practical applications when it comes to reliability or tensile strength.. not to mention precision. Most guns are made to pretty tight tolerances.

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