Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Little Ice Age

From an article at the New York Times:
During the 17th century, longer winters and cooler summers disrupted growing seasons and destroyed harvests across Europe. It was the coldest century in a period of glacial expansion that lasted from the early 14th century until the mid-19th century. The summer of 1641 was the third-coldest recorded over the past six centuries in Europe; the winter of 1641-42 was the coldest ever recorded in Scandinavia. The unusual cold that lasted from the 1620s until the 1690s included ice on both the Bosporus and the Baltic so thick that people could walk from one side to the other.

The deep cold in Europe and extreme weather events elsewhere resulted in a series of droughts, floods and harvest failures that led to forced migrations, wars and revolutions. The fatal synergy between human and natural disasters eradicated perhaps one-third of the human population.

... Earth scientists have discerned three factors at work globally during the 17th century: increased volcanic eruptions, twice as many El Niño episodes (unusually warm ocean conditions along the tropical west coast of South America), and the virtual disappearance of sunspots, reducing solar output to warm the Earth.

The 17th century saw a proliferation of wars, civil wars and rebellions and more cases of state breakdown around the globe than any previous or subsequent age. Just in the year 1648, rebellions paralyzed both Russia (the largest state in the world) and France (the most populous state in Europe); civil wars broke out in Ukraine, England and Scotland; and irate subjects in Istanbul (Europe’s largest city) strangled Sultan Ibrahim.

Climate alone did not cause all the catastrophes of the 17th century, but it exacerbated many of them. Outbreaks of disease, especially smallpox and plague, tended to be more common when harvests were poor or failed. ...

But the cold did take a more direct toll. Western Europe experienced the worst harvest of the century in 1648. Rioting broke out in Sicily, Stockholm and elsewhere when bread prices spiked. In the Alps, poor growing seasons became the norm in the 1640s, and records document the disappearance of fields, farmsteads and even whole villages as glaciers advanced to the farthest extent since the last Ice Age. One consequence of crop failures and food shortages stands out in French military records: Soldiers born in the second half of the 1600s were, on average, an inch shorter than those born after 1700, and those born in the famine years were noticeably shorter than the rest.

Few areas of the world survived the 17th century unscathed by extreme weather. In China, a combination of droughts and disastrous harvests, coupled with rising tax demands and cutbacks in government programs, unleashed a wave of banditry and chaos; starving Manchu clansmen from the north undertook a brutal conquest that lasted a generation. North America and West Africa both experienced famines and savage wars. In India, drought followed by floods killed over a million people in Gujarat between 1627 and 1630. In Japan, a mass rebellion broke out on the island of Kyushu following several poor harvests. Five years later, famine, followed by an unusually severe winter, killed perhaps 500,000 Japanese.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Significant Advance for Quantum Computing

Science Daily reports:

An international team of researchers, directed by researchers from the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and with participation from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, has managed to create an entanglement of 103 dimensions with only two photons. The record had been established at 11 dimensions. The discovery could represent a great advance toward the construction of quantum computers with much higher processing speeds than current ones, and toward a better encryption of information.

The states in which elementary particles, such as photons, can be found have properties which are beyond common sense. Superpositions are produced, such as the possibility of being in two places at once, which defies intuition. In addition, when two particles are entangled a connection is generated: measuring the state of one (whether they are in one place or another, or spinning one way or another, for example) affects the state of the other particle instantly, no matter how far away from each other they are.
Scientists have spent years combining both properties to construct networks of entangled particles in a state of superposition. This in turn allows constructing quantum computers capable of operating at unimaginable speeds, encrypting information with total security and conducting experiments in quantum mechanics which would be impossible to carry out otherwise. 
Until now, in order to increase the "computing" capacity of these particle systems, scientists have mainly turned to increasing the number of entangled particles, each of them in a two-dimensional state of superposition: a qubit (the quantum equivalent to an information bit, but with values which can be 1, 0 or an overlap of both values). Using this method, scientists managed to entangle up to 14 particles, an authentic multitude given its experimental difficulty.

Elitism is the Problem

Chuck Baldwin writes about why--at least at the national level--there is no difference between the political parties:
The reality of the situation is that a very real caste-system has developed in this country. Once most of them (Republican or Democrat) are ensconced in Washington, D.C., they see themselves as having become part of the ruling class. From then on, everything that happens--and I mean EVERYTHING--is designed to augment the pleasure, prosperity, and power of the ruling class. In a word, this is ELITISM. The problem is not liberalism or conservatism; the problem is elitism.

Have you noticed how much time and money is spent on campaigning? Even after a politician wins office, he or she continues to campaign. Constituents are bombarded constantly with mailers, phone calls, emails, television and radio addresses, etc. What motivates most politicians? Defending freedom? Reducing government overreach? Preserving the Constitution? Maintaining the Bill of Rights? No, no, no! A thousand times, no! The only thing that motivates the vast majority of our elected office holders is staying elected. Why? So that they might enjoy the perks of power for the rest of their lives. ...

... Elitism dominates the politics of both major parties inside the Beltway. It also dominates the newscasters and talking heads--from both the left and the right--that you are watching on television.

Bob Costas rails against our right to keep and bear arms, while every day of his life, he is protected by a host of armed security personnel. The same is true for the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough. These multi-millionaires (and billionaires, in some cases) sit in their ivory towers completely insulated from the problems that the rest of society must endure every day.
He then goes on to describe the hypocrisy of Feinstein, who has no problem with the NSA spying on everyday Americans, but was outraged to learn that the CIA was monitoring Congressional staffers using a CIA database; and has no problem with domestic surveillance of citizens by government, but, again, was outraged when an RC helicopter appeared outside her office window. Baldwin observes that this hypocrisy is merely an example of the elitism that has poisoned our government.

"The Collapse of Complex Societies" (Part 2)

      This is a continuation of my review and commentary of Joseph A. Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge Press, 1988). Here are the links to Part 1,  Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

File:Framework complexity of the Pater Noster lighthouse.jpg
Complexity (Source)
      In Part 1, I covered the first chapter of Tainter's book, which provided an overview and explanation of what constitutes "collapse." But, briefly, Tainter uses the term to describe a sudden decline in the socio-political complexity of a society. In his second chapter, titled "The Nature of Complex Societies," Tainter delves into characteristics and features of complex societies (i.e., states) versus those of simpler societies (i.e., chiefdoms, tribes, and bands), and explores contending hypotheses of why and how complex societies form.

      Tainter initially describes two prime concepts necessary to understand complexity within a society: inequality and heterogeneity. Tainter defines "inequality" as "vertical differentiation, ranking, or unequal access to material and social resources." (p. 23). "Heterogeneity" "refers to the number of distinctive parts or components to a society, and at the same time to the ways in which a population is distributed among these parts." (p. 23). A society with large or high levels of heterogeneity is complex; one with a low level is not. Tainter compares, for instance, between a hunter-gatherer society with only a few dozen distinct social roles, versus the tens of thousands of unique occupational roles in a modern society, with a concomitant number of distinct social roles numbering in the millions. Tainter maintains, however, that there is no direct correlation between inequality and heterogeneity. That is, a primitive society with low heterogeneity may have a high level of inequality. However, complex societies tend toward high levels of inequality.

      Tainter also notes (and I assume this will become more important as we progress into the book), that complex societies tend to be "nearly decomposable systems"--that is, "they are at least partly built up of social units that are themselves potentially stable and independent, and indeed at one time may have been so." (p. 23). Thus, "[t]o the extent that these states, ethnic groups, or villages retain the potential for independence and stability, the collapse process may result in reversion (decomposition) to these 'building blocks' of complexity." (pp. 23-24).

     There are numerous features that distinguish a simpler (and necessarily, smaller) society from a complex society. Probably the most significant of these features is that at the tribal, and even chiefdom level, the society is organized on a kinship basis. While a tribe or chiefdom may occupy a territory, the territory is not the focus of the societal structure. Conversely, states are organized and, to a large extent, defined by their territory.  "States tend to be overwhelmingly concerned with maintaining their territorial integrity. This is, indeed, one of their primary characteristics." (p. 27). Membership in a state does not depend on kinship, but whether one lives within the territory governed by the state.

      Another principle difference is leadership. Tainter observes that leadership in the simplest societies tends to be minimal: "Hierarchical control is not institutionalized, but is limited to definite spheres of activity at specific times, and rests substantially on persuasion." (p. 24). Moreover, "[l]eaders, where they exist, are constrained from exercising authority, amassing wealth, or acquiring excessive prestige. Where there are differences in control of economic resources these must be exercised generously." (p. 24). Thus, political power, such as it exists, requires the accumulation of a surplus of resources (e.g., food or other goods), "and to distribute these in such a way that one establishes prestige in the community, and creates a following and a faction." (p. 25). In observing more complex societies, such as chiefdoms, the authority of the leader is still restrained. "The ruler is limited in his or her actions by the moorings of kinship, and by possessing, not a monopoly of force, but only a marginal advantage." (p. 25). Similar to the tribal society, "Chiefly generosity is the basis of politics and economics: downward distribution of amassed resources ensures loyalty." (p. 25).

    Conversely, in states:
... a ruling authority monopolizes sovereignty and delegates all power. The ruling class tends to be professional, and is largely divorced from the bonds of kinship. This ruling class supplies the personnel for government, which is a specialized decision-making organization with a monopoly of force, and with the power to draft for war or work, levy and collect taxes, and decree and enforce laws. The government is legitimately constituted, which is to say that a common, society-wide ideology exists that serves in part to validate the political organization of society. And states, of course, are in general larger and more populous than tribal societies, so that social categorization, stratification, and specialization are both possible and necessary.
(p. 26) (citations omitted).

      In short, "[t]he features that set states apart ... are: territorial organization, differentiation by class and occupation rather than by kinship, monopoly of force, authority to mobilize resources and personnel, and legal jurisdiction." (p. 29).

     Tainter cites one characteristic that is shared between simple societies and complex societies--the need for the governing authority to to establish and constantly reinforce legitimacy. By "legitimacy," Tainter means "the belief of the populace and the elites that rule is proper and valid, that the political world is as it should be." (p. 27). He writes:
It pertains to individual rulers , to decisions, to broad policies, to parties , and to entire forms of government. The support that members are willing to extend to a political system is essential for its survival. Decline in support will not necessarily lead to the fall of a regime, for to a certain extent coercion can replace commitment to ensure compliance. Coercion, though , is a costly, ineffective strategy which can never be completely or permanently successful. Even with coercion, decline in popular support below some critical minimum leads infallibly to political failure. Establishing moral validity is a less costly and more effective approach .
(p. 27) (citations omitted; underline added). He also notes that coercion does not require the positive application of force, but by the threat of withholding goods or other benefits. (p. 36).

      When reading Spengler's Decline of the West, there is the constant reference to culture--those principles, philosophies, religious beliefs and outlooks, that provide a foundation for a civilization. Tainter does not ignore that, but suggests that one of the principle methods of reinforcing legitimacy is to reinforce this basic culture. He writes:
Complex societies are focused on a center, which may not be located physically where it is literally implied, but which is the symbolic source of the framework of society . It is not only the location of legal and governmental institutions, but is the source of order, and the symbol of moral authority and social continuity . The center partakes of the nature of the sacred. In this sense, every complex society has an official religion. The moral authority and sacred aura of the center not only are essential in maintaining complex societies, but were crucial in their emergence. One critical impediment to the development of complexity in stateless societies was the need to integrate many localized, autonomous units, which would each have their own peculiar interests, feuds, and jealousies. A ruler drawn from any one of these units is automatically suspect by the others, who rightly fear favoritism toward his/her natal group and locality, particularly in dispute resolution. This problem has crippled many modern African nations. 
The solution to this structural limitation was to explicitly link leadership in early complex societies to the supernatural. When a leader is imbued with an aura of sacred neutrality, his identification with natal group and territory can be superseded by ritually sanctioned authority which rises above purely local concerns. An early complex society is likely to have an avowedly sacred basis of legitimacy, in which disparate, formerly independent groups are united by an over arching level of shared ideology, symbols, and cosmology. 
... Sacred legitimization provides a binding framework until real vehicles of power have been consolidated. Once this has been achieved the need for religious integration declines, and indeed conflict between secular and sacred authorities may thereafter ensue. Yet as noted, the sacred aura of the center never disappears, not even in contemporary secular governments. Astute politicians have always exploited this fact. It is a critical element in the maintenance of legitimacy. 
Despite the undoubted power of supernatural legitimization, support for leadership must also have a genuine material basis. Easton suggests that legitimacy declines mainly under conditions of what he calls 'output failure'. Output failure occurs where authorities are unable to meet the demands of the support population, or do not take anticipatory actions to counter adversities. Outputs can be political or material. Output expectations are continuous, and impose on leadership a never-ending need to mobilize resources to maintain support. The attainment and perpetuation of legitimacy thus require more than the manipulation of ideological symbols. They require the assessment and commitment of real resources, at satisfactory levels, and are a genuine cost that any complex society must bear. Legitimacy is a recurrent factor in the modern study of the nature of complex societies , and is pertinent to understanding their collapse.
(pp. 27-28) (citations omitted).

      Tainter does not discuss (at least at this point) what constitutes the "sacred" in Western Civilization generally, or the United States in particular. However, if we are to apply Tainter's work to our own civilization or state, it is important to understand what underpins "legitimate" government, and what constitutes the "center." It would be easy to point to Christianity as the "sacred" "center", and it is true that many (or most) European countries have an official state religion. However, it is a more difficult argument to make in regard to the United States because the United States has never had an official religion.

      So what is the "sacred" in the United States, and what gives the government its moral legitimacy? I would suggest that the "sacred" in the United States is the concept of self-governance, rule of law, and majority rule--sometimes referred to as"liberty", "freedom," or "democracy"--which is centered in the Constitution. (Alas, for a physical "center," we must look to Washington D.C., and the various edifices that symbolize our ideals of a republic, and our monuments--i.e., temples--to those men significant to "liberty" in the United States, such as Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson). Thus, it is the perception that a leader or law or policy is in conformity with the Constitution, particularly, and the concept of liberty, in general, that give that leader, law, or policy "legitimacy." In fact, I am sure of this conclusion by the frequent, although incorrect, assertion that private conduct should be governed by the Constitution. (For instance, how often do we see examples of people criticizing the private censure of speech by arguing that everyone has "free speech"). I would argue that something similar exists in any stable republic or constitutional monarchy, such as we see in Europe--moderated by traditional edifices of "moral" authority such as the state religion or royalty, if it exists.

      In any event, Tainter continues in his analysis by examining various theories of how complex societies arise. I won't get into the merits or detractions of the theories because even Tainter finds any one of the theories to be deficient--heaping extra scorn on theories advanced by Marxists. (Marxism has been so thoroughly refuted as an economic, political or historical theory that it is hard to understand why it has any adherents outside of the uneducated, illiterate and stupid). What Tainter seems to suggests is that state formation is the result of necessity (that is, cooperation to overcome some challenge or threat), resulting in the creation of an elite, which, between further necessity and self-aggrandizement, generally solidifies power. This view, however, understates the importance of technology in my mind. A state cannot exist without a surplus of fundamental goods, and the creation or retention of a surplus relies on technology. Technology, in turn, requires an elite (be it craftsmen or administrators) to build and maintain it--and to protect it from outsiders. It appears to be a self-reinforcing mechanism. Thus, I would suggest that technology be added to the list of factors producing a complex society. 

      However, it is the "problem solving" nature of societies that Tainter believes to be significant in understanding their collapse. (p. 37). Tainter concludes:
Complex societies are problem-solving organizations, in which more parts, different kinds of parts, more social differentiation, more inequality, and more kinds of centralization and control emerge as circumstances require. Growth of complexity has involved a change from small, internally homogeneous, minimally differentiated groups characterized by equal access to resources, shifting, ephemeral leadership, and
unstable political formations, to large, heterogeneous, internally differentiated, class structured, controlled societies in which the resources that sustain life are not equally available to all. This latter kind of society, with which we today are most familiar, is an anomaly of history, and where present requires constant legitimization and reinforcement.

The process of collapse, as discussed in the previous chapter, is a matter of rapid, substantial decline in an established level of complexity . A society that has collapsed is suddenly smaller, less differentiated and heterogeneous, and characterized by fewer specialized parts ; it displays less social differentiation; and it is able to exercise less control over the behavior of its members . It is able at the same time to command
smaller surpluses, to offer fewer benefits and inducements to membership; and it is less capable of providing subsistence and defensive security for a regional population. It may decompose to some of the constituent building blocks (e . g . , states, ethnic groups, villages) out of which it was created.

The loss of complexity, like its emergence, is a continuous variable. Collapse may involve a drop between the major levels of complexity envisioned by many anthropo­logists (e. g . , state to chiefdom), or it may equally well involve a drop within a level (larger to smaller, or Transitional to Typical or Inchoate states). Collapse offers an interesting perspective for the typological approach . It is a process of major, rapid
change from one structurally stable level to another. This is the type of change that evolutionary typologies imply, but in the reverse direction.
(ppp. 37-38).

      Before leaving this chapter, there are a couple other points I would like to emphasize. Tainter makes an amusing observation, though, as to the relative importance of a ruling elite:
It seems obvious, for example, that the costs and benefits of stratification are not always as balanced as integration theory might imply. Compensation of elites does not always match their contribution to society, and throughout their history, elites have probably been overcompensated relative to performance more often than the reverse. Coercion, and authoritarian, exploitative regimes, are undeniable facts of history .
      Also, the ad-hoc nature of leadership in simpler societies is something that should also be noted, because it would provide a model of how governance would arise in post-collapse groups. As any student of American Indian culture is aware, tribal leadership was often split between two or more chiefs. Generally one person (or group of persons) would provide leadership for religious matters, another for what we would probably call civil matters, and another for warfare. Major decisions were often subject to approval by a council. A "war chief" may only be a temporary position. I would note, in this regard, that the general thesis of James George Frazer's The Golden Bough was the evidence of a split of authority in ancient Old World cultures between a hereditary queen (over civil and/or religious matters) and a temporary king (over military matters) who only served as long as he was physically able to carry out his duties of leading warriors.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Earth's Deepest Cave Mapped ...

... according to the Daily Mail. The cave is the Krubera cave, located in the Arabika Massif on the edge of the Black Sea in Abkhazia (a disputed territory bordering Georgia). The cave is 8.3 miles deep. (I would suggest that it is the deepest known cave). Here is the map from the article:
Mapped: Intrepid explorers have charted every twist and turn of the terrifying Krubera cave that measures 7,208ft (2,197metres) deep. The final segment was revealed by a brave diver and camps are marked on the map where explorers have rested

Driving Russia into the Arms of China

David P. Goldman warns that sanctions against Russia will drive Russia to deepen its ties to China:
A specter is haunting Europe, and that is the specter of a Russian-Chinese alliance at the expense of Europe. China is dynamic, and its dynamism is transforming the “Silk Road” countries that lie across Russia’s southern border. China is building high-speed rail and high-speed internet south to Rangoon and eastward to Istanbul, intent on transforming its neighbors into an export market for high-value-added manufacturing and high-tech products. It’s one of the most remarkable ventures in world economic history, and the most underreported story of the year. My conservative friends have been predicting China’s economic demise every year for the past dozen, and have been wrong each time. They notice the elephant dung, but ignore the elephant.

China’s appetite for Siberian resources, including hydrocarbons and perhaps including water, is limitless. The Russians and Chinese have every reason to suspect each other. But if they put their differences aside, the economic synergies would be extensive. What should worry the West is the prospective synergies in military technology as well. Russia is rolling out the S500 air defense system. We shuddered at the prospect that Russia might provide its 20-year-old S300 system to Damascus or Tehran; we really don’t know how much better the new iteration is, but it might be a great deal better. Chinese rocketry already is good enough to sink any American ship within several hundred miles of its coastline. We really don’t want them to get together.

That’s precisely what may happen if the West succeeds in “isolating” Russia ....

Peace Deal Between MILF and Philippines

The  Moro Islamic Liberation Front (with the unfortunate acronym, "MILF"), one of the largest Islamic terror groups in the Philippines has signed a peace agreement:
The pact makes the MILF and the government partners in a plan to form a southern autonomous region for the Philippines’ Muslim minority with locally elected leaders by mid-2016. 
“What is being presented before us now is a path that can lead to a permanent change in Muslim Mindanao,” Aquino said at the ceremony, attended by more than 1,000 people. 
The Bangsamoro region would cover about 10 per cent of territory. The planned region has a majority of Muslims, but there are clusters of other communities.
MILF has been fighting for independent since the 1970's. So why sign a peace treaty now? It has to do with the concept of hudna. From the Middle-East Forum:
To better understand Islam, one must appreciate the thoroughly legalistic nature of the religion. According to sharia (Islamic law) every conceivable human act is categorised as being either forbidden, discouraged, permissible, recommended, or obligatory.

"Common sense" or "universal opinion" has little to do with Islam's notions of right and wrong. Only what Allah (through the Quran) and his prophet Muhammad (through the Hadith) have to say about any given issue matters; and how Islam's greatest theologians and jurists – collectively known as the ulema, literally, "they who know" – have articulated it.

According to sharia, in certain situations, deception – also known as 'taqiyya', based on Quranic terminology, – is not only permitted but sometimes obligatory. For instance, contrary to early Christian history, Muslims who must choose between either recanting Islam or being put to death are not only permitted to lie by pretending to have apostatised, but many jurists have decreed that, according to Quran 4:29, Muslims are obligated to lie in such instances.
This extends to making treaties with an enemy:
This concept is highlighted by the fact that, based on the ten-year treaty of Hudaibiya , ratified between Muhammad and his Quraish opponents in Mecca (628), ten years is theoretically the maximum amount of time Muslims can be at peace with infidels (as indicated earlier by the Encyclopaedia of Islam). Based on Muhammad's example of breaking the treaty after two years, by citing a Quraish infraction, the sole function of the "peace-treaty" (hudna) is to buy weakened Muslims time to regroup for a renewed offensive. Muhammad is quoted in the Hadith saying: "If I take an oath and later find something else better, I do what is better and break my oath (see Sahih Bukhari V7B67N427)." 
This might be what former PLO leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat meant when, after negotiating a peace treaty criticised by his opponents as conceding too much to Israel, he said in a mosque: "I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish in Mecca." 
On several occasions Hamas has made it clear that its ultimate aspiration is to see Israel destroyed. Under what context would it want to initiate a "temporary" peace with the Jewish state? When Osama bin Laden offered the US a truce, stressing that "we [Muslims] are a people that Allah has forbidden from double-crossing and lying," what was his ultimate intention? 
Based on the above, these are instances of Muslim extremists feigning openness to the idea of peace simply in order to bide time. 
If Islam must be in a constant state of war with the non-Muslim world – which need not be physical, as radicals among the ulema have classified several non-literal forms of jihad, such as "jihad-of-the-pen" (propaganda), and "money-jihad" (economic) – and if Muslims are permitted to lie and feign loyalty to the infidel to further their war efforts, offers of peace, tolerance or dialogue from extremist Muslim corners are called into question.
Moreover, this isn't the first time MILF has agreed to peace treaties and subsequently resumed fighting. This timeline, although it only runs from 1990 through 1999, chronicles a previous agreement to create a autonomous zone and subsequent "cease-fires" and so forth, that have never held. (See also here). It is also notable that this comes just months after a major loss by MILF forces against government troops in the city of Zamboanga.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Anti-Gun Democratic Politician Arrested for Gun Running

California state senator Leland Yee has been arrested on various corruption charges, including arms dealing. He was arranging the transfer of military arms from a Russian arms dealer to Muslim terrorists in the Philippines. Mr. Lee is a strong opponent of private gun ownership in America. (See also the Los Angeles Times article).

"The Collapse of Complex Societies" (Part 1)


    I am currently reading Joseph A. Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge Press, 1988). I do not currently have any plan or idea as to how many parts this analysis will be, but I will provide and update links as the series progresses.

      Tainter confides at the beginning of his book that he is not going to present his thesis up front, but gradually build to it during the course of the book. However, from reading what others have written about the book, I understand his thesis to be that societies form to solve certain problems; and if they continue to grow, they will over time add additional layers of complexity to deal with other problems, until finally the society is overtaken by the law of diminishing marginal utility. That is, the cost of each added layer of complexity provides less and less benefit, until the cost of an additional layer actually costs more than benefits it provides. At some point, the society will be faced with a problem it cannot solve, and, perhaps quite suddenly, "collapse." Of course, at this point in the book, I cannot determine if this is a correct summary of Tainter's theory, but it is what other sources indicate. It does match Tainter's initial statements in the book that one cannot understand what causes societal collapse unless one understands what causes the creation of complex societies.

      Like some of the other works I've discussed in other posts, Tainter assigns certain specific meanings to terms. The primary one, in this case, is "collapse." Tainter uses the word to describe a sudden decline in the society, as opposed to a gradual decline. Tainter views collapse as a political process, although it may impact economy, arts and sciences, technology, demographics, or other measures of society. Thus, Tainter states: "A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity." (p. 4). He therefore requires that a society have reached or been developing toward a level of complexity for two or more generations; and the collapse must be rapid--no more than a few decades--"and must entail a substantial loss of sociopolitical structure."

      Although Tainter provides a time frame (not more than a few decades) to differentiate between collapse and decline, his examples, at least to me, make the difference ambiguous. For instance, he describes the British Empire's retreat and consolidation as "retrenchment," but the end of the Western Roman Empire, the Hittites, the First Dynasty in Egypt, the Maya, the Minoan, the Indus Valley, and several other examples, as a "collapse" even though many of those nations or civilizations were in decline for decades or centuries before their "collapse." (See pp. 5-18). For instance, Minoan civilization went into decline after the explosion of Thera, but lasted another couple of centuries.

     The use of the term "complex society" also requires some comment. Tainter does not assigns it a particular meaning, but seems to treat it synonymously with "state" or "nation state", but it is not clear, at least at this point, if he intends it to include "civilization." Obviously, a civilization may be larger than a state--and may survive a collapse of a state that belongs to that civilization. For instance, we would probably all agree that there is something that can be termed "Western civilization" that encompasses at least the nations of Western Europe and, although I think this is somewhat debatable, the United States. Yet, obviously, nations states have appeared, and disappeared or been reorganized within a civilization. Similarly, we speak of Classical Civilization (meaning, primarily, the Greeks), although there were numerous Greek city-states.

      Tainter notes:
Collapse is manifest in such things as:
a lower degree of stratification and social differentiation; 
less economic and occupational specialization, of individuals, groups, and terri­tories; 
less centralized control; that is, less regulation and integration of diverse econo­mic and political groups by elites; 
less behavioral control and regimentation; 
less investment in the epiphenomena of complexity, those elements that define the concept of 'civilization': monumental architecture, artistic and literary achievements, and the like;
less flow of information between individuals, between political and economic
groups, and between a center and its periphery;
less sharing, trading, and redistribution of resources; 
less overall coordination and organization of individuals and groups; 
a smaller territory integrated within a single political unit.
(p. 4). However, he also acknowledges that not all collapses will demonstrate all of these features, and some will have other features.

      He also observes:
Based on the sketches of the preceding pages, and an excellent summary by Colin Renfrew ( 1979: 482-5 ), the characteristics of societies after collapse may be summarized as follows.
There is, first and foremost, a breakdown of authority and central control. Prior to collapse, revolts and provincial breakaways signal the weakening of the center. Revenues to the government often decline. Foreign challengers become increasingly successful . With lower revenues the military may become ineffective . The populace becomes more and more disaffected as the hierarchy seeks to mobilize resources to meet the challenge. 
With disintegration, central direction is no longer possible. The former political center undergoes a significant loss of prominence and power. It is often ransacked and may ultimately be abandoned. Small, petty states emerge in the formerly unified territory, of which the previous capital may be one . Quite often these contend for domination, so that a period of perpetual conflict ensues. 
The umbrella of law and protection erected over the populace is eliminated. Lawlessness may prevail for a time, as in the Egyptian First Intermediate Period, but order will ultimately be restored. Monumental construction and publicly-supported art largely cease to exist. Literacy may be lost entirely, and otherwise declines so dramatically that a dark age follows.
What populations remain in urban or other political centers reuse existing architecture in a characteristic manner. There is little new construction, and that which is attempted concentrates on adapting existing buildings. Great rooms will be subdivided, flimsy facades are built, and public space will be converted to private .
While some attempt may be made to carry on an attenuated version of previous ceremonialism, the former monuments are allowed to fall into decay. People may reside in upper-story rooms as lower ones deteriorate . Monuments are often mined as easy sources of building materials . When a building begins to collapse, the residents
simply move to another.
Palaces and central storage facilities may be abandoned, along with centralized redistribution of goods and foodstuffs, or market exchange. Both long distance and local trade may be markedly reduced, and craft specialization end or decline. Subsistence and material needs come to be met largely on the basis of local self-sufficiency. Declining regional interaction leads to the establishment of local styles in items such as pottery that formerly had been widely circulated. Both portable and fixed techno­logy (e .g. , hydraulic engineering systems) revert to simpler forms that can be developed and maintained at the local level, without the assistance of a bureaucracy that no longer exists.
Whether as cause or as consequence, there is typically a marked, rapid reduction in population size and density. Not only do urban populations substantially decline, but so also do the support populations of the countryside . Many settlements are concurrently abandoned. The level of population and settlement may decline to that of centuries or even millennia previously.
... In a complex society that has collapsed, it would thus appear, the overarching structure that provides support services to the population loses capability or dis­appears entirely. No longer can the populace rely upon external defense and internal order, maintenance of public works, or delivery of food and material goods. Organization reduces to the lowest level that is economically sustainable, so that a variety of contending polities exist where there had been peace and unity. Remaining popula­tions must become locally self-sufficient to a degree not seen for several generations.Groups that had formerly been economic and political partners now become stran­gers, even threatening competitors. The world as seen from any locality perceptibly shrinks, and over the horizon lies the unknown .
(pp. 19-20).

      Tainter acknowledges that the collapse will often lead, at least temporarily, to a Hobbesian type world where only the strong survive, and there is a conflict. He, in fact, notes specific incidents of this in Britain, following the withdrawal of Roman control, and the situation in 1918 Istanbul after the collapse of Turkish control. However, I find more significant a matter he mentions only in passing, which are the Minoan, Mycenaean and Hittite civilizations. Although the Minoan civilization had been replaced nearly 200 years earlier (as evidenced by changes to language and other cultural artifacts), the centers of that civilization continued until approximately 1200 B.C. At that time, the Minoan, Mycenaean and Hittite civilizations all collapsed. Writing about the Mycenaeans, Tainter recounts:
After about 1200 B . C . disaster struck. Palace after palace was destroyed. There followed a period of more than 100 years of unstable conditions, repeated catastrophes afflicting many centers, and movement of population. The uniform Mycenaean style of pottery gave way to local styles that were less well executed. Metalwork became simpler. Writing disappeared. The craftsmen and artisans seem to have everywhere vanished. Fortifications were built across the Isthmus of Corinth and at other places. At Mycenae, Tiryns, and Athens water sources were developed within the citadel, cut through solid rock at great labor. The rock-cut well at Athens, at least, seems to date to the time of the troubles. Trade dropped off, and one author has suggested that the subsequent preference for iron implements was due to a sharp decline in copper and
tin trade .
The number of occupied settlements dropped precipitously, from 320 in the thirteenth century B.C. , to 130 in the twelfth, and 40 in the eleventh . In some areas, such as the southwest Peloponnese, settlement increased at this time, and it seems that some of the people of the devastated regions may have migrated to less troubled areas. Yet only a small part of the population loss can be accounted for in this way. Estimates of the magnitude of overall population decline range from 75 to 90 percent. Even areas that escaped devastation, such as Athens, suffered ultimate political collapse . By 1050 B.C. Mycenaean Civilization, despite brief local resurgences, was everywhere gone, and the Greek Dark Ages had begun (Stubbings 1 975a, 1975b; Hooker 1 976 ; Chadwick 1976; Desborough 1 972, 1 975; Betancourt 1976; Snodgrass 197 1 ; Mylonas 1966; Taylour 1964).
This is reflected throughout the Mediterranean littoral. Based on other sources, I understand this to have been the not yet understood collapse of a Canaanite civilization or empire.

See also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Stranger Danger" Aversion

     Liberals think that anyone owning a gun is a potential killer; every man with reproductive organs is a potential rapist or molester; and so on. The media plays this up, exaggerating the danger to children to such an extent that children now hardly go outside to play, and certainly not without an adult to watch over them. Thus, the obesity epidemic, and the lack of trick-or-treating at Halloween. But, I digress. 

     The Daily Mail reports on an experiment to see how many people in a shopping mall would stop to help a "lost" child:
Hidden cameras recorded Uma, seven, and Maya, five, who took it in turns to look lost.
Astonishingly, over the whole hour only one person, a grandmother, took a moment to find out if there was a problem. All of the 616 other passers-by completely ignored the girls.
Heartbreakingly for the mother of the sisters – who was watching from a hiding place nearby – passing couples even split apart to walk around either side of the 'lost' girls and people wheeling suitcases took evasive action to avoid Maya and Uma, not thinking to check if they needed help.
... Experts said the reluctance of the passers-by was partly explained by people being busy, and partly a fear – especially among men – of any help they offer a child being misinterpreted. 
But the NSPCC said a child's welfare was more important than worrying about being labelled a 'stranger danger'. 
A spokesman said: 'We have got to get a message out to adults that they have a responsibility to protect children and that must supersede any concern you have for other people's perception of why you are reaching out to help that child.'
Two points: First, these comments are from the same people that are largely responsible for creating the fear in the first place, and can be discounted for that reason. Second, at least under general common law principles, you don't have a legal responsibility to help or protect another person's child unless you assume the responsibility. Simply observing them to be in danger does not create a duty. And, in this case, the children were not even obviously in any sort of danger.

     An attached commentary to the story observes:
Shaming? I'll say these pictures are shaming. But the shame goes far beyond the 616 people who ignored these girls. 
The shame belongs to an entire nation that, within two generations, has turned on its head the golden rule that was drummed into me as a child: when in trouble, ask a grown-up. 
Today, the child does not dare to ask – and the grown-up does not dare to answer. ...

... It is impossible to believe that in a civilised, compassionate society there weren't many passers-by who wanted to help – yet too great was their fear of being thought to be a 'kiddie-fiddler', either by other passers-by or indeed by the little girl herself.
Pernicious as this fear is, it is growing apace. I have a friend who organises large festivals where, inevitably, children get lost. 
Yet instructions to staff have become super-stern in recent years: if you see such a child, no matter how great their distress, you may not approach – and you certainly may not touch, so the instinctive cuddle you ache to offer is a no-no. 
Instead, they have to radio the location of the child to a central control, who will dispatch an 'accredited' member of staff to the scene. And if that means the child screams and panics for another 20 minutes? So be it.
     When my oldest son was younger, I volunteered to help coach his football team. It wasn't a matter of just showing up to help at the practices. I had to go to the police station to be fingerprinted and issued a special pass that I had to wear at all times I was assisting with coaching. And my role? Well, the coach wasn't allowed to interact with the children unless another adult was present, so I was just there to be that "extra" adult.

     When I was assigned by my church leader to help in Cub Scouts, the first thing I had to do was go through training that taught scout leaders to never be alone with a child (unless it was our own) for any reason (plus a whole lot of other prohibited matters), and to report any leader or volunteer that did so. All leaders had to submit their names for a background check as well. This training and background check were a yearly requirement. And I was just an administrator, not someone that worked directly with children.

     At my church, although a woman can teach a class of children by herself, a man can only teach a class of children if another adult is in the room with him.

     This is the society we live in. Men are presumed to be predators. It is demeaning and insulting to men. Yet, it also creates exaggerated caution when dealing with children. So, I agree with Dr. Helen Smith on this one--you can't teach men to stay away from other children, then suddenly expect them to change their behavior based on less than adequate information on whether a child needs help. I can't blame the people--especially the men--that passed these children by without helping them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In the Future Everything Will Be About Race

The Atlantic has published a piece by Noah Berlatsky called "Star Wars and the Four Ways Science Fiction Handles Race" that amazingly discovers that every major science fiction film is about race and bigotry. For instance, did you know that "Star Wars encapsulates a pop-culture tradition of space operas that can easily invent spaceships and robots and aliens, but that helplessly acquiesce to old, stereotypical treatments of gender and race"? (Actually, the word is "archetype" and "myth" rather than stereotype--as in the movie was heavily influenced by the Hero With a Thousand Faces). Or that the bugs in Starships Troopers represented oppressed natives?  Because, of course, a book or movie can't be about a comparison of political systems, or imagining a culture where the right to vote is reserved to those who earn the right, and a bug just can't be a bug. Interestingly, the one aspect where the movie is blatantly discriminatory is its treatment of Mormons, yet Berlatsky doesn't even mention that.

In a statement sure to bring a chuckle, Berlatsky writes:
Much more thoughtful is Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in which differences between human/android (or, by metaphor, whites/non-whites) are presented less as absolutes than as profiling tools for law enforcement.
Although the book actually is about exploring what it really means to be human. Or this statement:
For example, in Aliens the human exploratory force includes a number of non-white characters, while the nightmare monsters are stand-ins for the Viet Cong.
I guess I never noticed the Aliens' black pajamas and communist rhetoric (although, I have to admit they did act like liberals--destroying everyone they encountered).

And Star Trek, praised by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., for its progressive stance on racial integration, (including the first mixed-racial kiss on television) has now just become yet another example of racism:
It can be heartening to think about a future in which racial difference is no longer the weight it is now, as in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. But tokenism's refusal to directly confront racism can also end up backfiring. The white guy in the original Star Trek leads the diverse crew with the black woman as the space secretary, or the black best friend stands off to the side somewhere,...
Never mind the Uhura was one of the top officers on the ship, and responsible for communications--not a secretary. (The secretary was actually played by a blonde).

What is probably going on here is a projection--Berlatsky life view is apparently centered around his racism, which he necessarily believes everyone else must be the same. I'm sure a good psychiatrist could help.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Arms of Morpheus

The Daily Mail has an article about getting the most from your sleep. For instance, since each stage of the sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes, plan the amount of your sleep at night around a 90 minute cycle--i.e., that you wake up at the end of a 90-minute cycle.
In other words, if we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up, on the average, after a multiple of 90 minutes.
This means that you will feel most refreshed when you awake at the end of a 90-minute sleep cycle because you will be closest to your normal waking state.

To maximise the chances of this happening, work out when you want to wake up, then count back in 90-minute blocks to find a time near to when you want to go to sleep.
Let’s imagine that you want to wake at 8am and wish to go to sleep around midnight.

Counting back in 90-minute segments from 8am would look like this:
In this example, you should aim to fall asleep around either 11pm or 12.30am in order to feel especially refreshed in the morning.
The article discusses the importance of napping, and says that a 30-minute afternoon nap at least three times per week can improve memory and alertness. It even has a table showing the ideal time to take a nap based on when you wake up.

Finally, it provides a quick overview of snoring issues:

Roughly 40 per cent of men and a quarter of women are snorers — causing problems both for their partners’ sleep and their own. But there are simple steps that can help minimise the risk of an interrupted night.

First, it is helpful to find out what kind of snorer you are.

The results of this quick test will help us discover whether the problem is with your nose, mouth, and/or tongue.
1. Close your mouth. Now shut your left nostril by gently pressing on the side of it. Keeping your mouth closed, take a deep breath through your right nostril.

Now repeat the test, but this time close your mouth and right nostril, and then take a deep breathe through your left nostril. Finally, still keeping your mouth closed, take a deep breath through both nostrils. Did you feel like your nostrils were congested, and therefore breathing was difficult, during any of these exercises?
2. Open your mouth and try to make a snoring sound. Now close your mouth and try to make the same sound. Are you able to make the same snoring sound with your mouth closed? 
3. If you can make a snoring sound with your mouth closed, stick your tongue slightly out of your mouth and gently grip it with your teeth, ensuring that your lips are sealed around the sides of your tongue. Now try to make the snoring noise again. Is the sound of your snoring reduced? 
If you answered ‘yes’ to question one, then you have a blocked nose. If just one nostril appears blocked then this might be due to a physical abnormality, such as a twisted septum or polyps. You might find it helpful to try using adhesive nasal strips to pull your nostrils apart, and so help prevent them narrowing when you are asleep. 
If both sides of your nose appear blocked, and you don’t have a cold, then you might be suffering from an allergy.

If your nose only tends to become blocked at night, you might be sensitive to the type of allergens produced by the dust mites that tend to inhabit old pillows and mattresses.

If you think this might be the case, try washing your bedding frequently at a temperature of at least 60C, avoid putting old blankets on the bed, and place your pillows and — if possible — your duvets into plastic bags and then put them in your freezer for 24 hours at least once a month, which kills off the mites.
If you answered ‘no’ to question two, then there might be an issue with your mouth. If this is the case, then you probably sleep with your mouth open, and often wake up with a dry throat. You may benefit from a ‘chin strip’, which is essentially a strip of tape that runs under your chin and helps stop your mouth falling open while you sleep. 
Finally, if you answered ‘yes’ to question three then your snoring might well be due to your tongue vibrating. Typically, you will have an unusual bite, wherein your lower teeth are behind your upper teeth when you close your mouth. If this is the case, you might want to think about using a ‘mandibular advancement device’. This is a plastic gum shield that is designed to fit into your mouth, help push your jaw forward, and increase the space at the back of your throat. It’s quite possible that you might be one type of snorer, or be a combination of any two, or even all three. 
In addition to these techniques, you might want to try losing weight, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol, and trying to sleep with your head at a 35-degree elevation by placing a foam wedge under your pillow. Also, it is important to avoid sleeping on your back, as your tongue and soft tissue in the throat are likely to fall backwards and obstruct your airway.
 Read the whole thing (including the side-bar) for some additional tips and tricks, including information on sleep apnea.

The Closest Earth Like Planet Yet

Using the Kepler images, Mr Barclay said he believes he has found a new star system consisting of five planets orbiting an M1 dwarf star.

M dwarfs are stars that are much smaller and dimmer than Earth’s sun, and aren’t bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Also known as red dwarfs, these stars make up around 70 per cent of all the stars in the galaxy and range in size.

By comparison, our sun is called a G dwarf, and these type of dwarfs account for only 5 per cent of stars in the universe.

The outermost planet in Barclay’s five-planet system is said to be 1.1 times the size of Earth and is called a goldilocks planet because it orbits within the M1 dwarf’s habitable zone.

Although other Earth-like planets have been discovered previously, Barclay’s unnamed goldilocks planet is believed to be the closest in size to our own.

Why Terrorism Fails--A Couple More Examples

     In my weekend post on Why Terrorism Generally Fails, I noted the failure of terrorists to target selected targets. So, I wanted to note an example. Although technically not terrorism because the threats came from the government, here is an example of targeting a particular person (a politician running for reelection) to influence the passage of a law:
Prosecutorial discretion—deciding whom to go after and whom to ignore—is an open invitation to corruption. And this corruption can have consequences beyond the individuals involved. Had Senator Ted Stevens not been convicted a week before he narrowly lost reelection in 2008 in a trial that involved “gross prosecutorial misconduct,” he undoubtedly would have been reelected and the Democrats would not have had the sixty votes in the Senate they needed to ram ObamaCare through.
     I had also noted that terrorists fail to map the paths of power, which can sometimes be very direct. For instance, this Hot Air article from last year observes that top CBS, ABC, CNN executives all have relatives working as advisors for the White House. This recent article at the Powerline Blog (discussing the development of the Keystone pipeline) notes:
“Green” energy is also controversial because it has been used to enrich government cronies. Let’s take, for instance, the billionaire Tom Steyer. Steyer has made much of his fortune by using his government connections to secure support for uneconomic “green” energy projects that have profited him, to the detriment of consumers and taxpayers. See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. As is explained here, Tom Steyer is a bitter opponent of the Keystone Pipeline. His financial interests, in “green” energy and perhaps also in pre-pipeline oil sources like BP, stand to benefit if Keystone is killed.

Haven’t heard much about Tom Steyer, you say? Maybe that’s because he isn’t heavily involved in politics. Heh–just kidding. Steyer, as you probably know, is one of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party and its candidates. This year, he has pledged to contribute $100 million to the campaigns of Democratic candidates, as long as they toe the line on environmental issues–which includes, presumably, taxpayer support for “green” energy and opposition to Keystone.
And then there is this from the same article:
So we have a contrast that couldn’t be clearer: the Washington Post published a false story about support for Keystone because it fit the Democratic Party’s agenda. It covered up a similar, but true story about opposition to the pipeline (and about “green” politics in general) because that, too, fit the Democratic Party’s agenda. I don’t think we need to look any further to connect the dots.

And yet, a still deeper level of corruption is on display here. Juliet Eilperin is a reporter for the Washington Post who covers, among other things, environmental politics. As I wrote in my prior post, she is married to Andrew Light. Light writes on climate policy for the Center for American Progress, a far-left organization that has carried on a years-long vendetta against Charles and David Koch on its web site, Think Progress. Light is also a member of the Obama administration, as Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy on Climate Change in the Department of State. The Center for American Progress is headed by John Podesta, who chaired Barack Obama’s transition team and is now listed as a “special advisor” to the Obama administration. Note that Ms. Eilperin quoted Podesta, her husband’s boss, in her puff piece on Tom Steyer.

Oh, yes–one more thing. Guess who sits on the board of the Center for American Progress? Yup. Tom Steyer.
Tom Steyer understands the importance of mapping paths of power and influencing key officials. Terrorists don't understand this linkage--or if they do, they do not exploit it.

(H/t Instapundit)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Michelle Obama--Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Michelle Obama has been caught prattling on about the party line, even though it is obvious that she, and other liberals, do not practice what they preach:
On the second day of a weeklong trip to China with her two daughters and her mother, Mrs. Obama, the first lady, spoke to an audience of Americans and Chinese at Peking University, and in the middle of an appeal for more American students to study abroad, she also talked of the value for people of hearing “all sides of every argument.”

“Time and again, we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard,” she said.

The United States, she said, respected the “uniqueness” of other cultures and societies. “But when it comes to expressing yourself freely,” she said, “and worshiping as you choose, and having open access to information — we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet.”
Hence the IRS scandal, re-writing the FOIA rules, spying on everyone, and requiring Christians to pay taxes and compel them to provide products and services in support of abortion, Gaia worship, gay marriage, etc.

(H/t Weasel Zippers)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Are You Sick of Hearing About Same Sex Marriage?

Doug Mainwaring reports that it is by design--a plan to get people to accept same-sex marriage because they are sick of hearing about it.
Let's return to an earlier statement: "The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome."

The most recent Pew Poll found that public acceptance of same sex marriage is now up to 54%. Does this really reflect an enthusiastic embrace of the notion of same sex marriage? -- Or -- Is a vast swath of the population just sick and tired of hearing about gays in the news day after day for the last few years?

Maybe they're also sick and tired of irrational accusations of bigotry and homophobia every time they try to enter into a reasoned discussion about same sex marriage. Many who have been shut down for trying to engage in intellectually honest conversation, have concluded, "Why bother? Just let them have what they want. Maybe then they'll fade away."

Fade away? Don't count on it. There is never an end to progressive ideology. Statists never have enough power and control. This will never end until the very institution of marriage is obliterated from human civilization, in which case, we will no longer actually have a civilization.

Government Health Guidelines Are Wrong

After decades of trying to convince us that we need to be vegetarian, new studies are showing that the conventional government issued health guidelines are wrong. From the Guardian:
Could eating too much margarine be bad for your critical faculties? The "experts" who so confidently advised us to replace saturated fats, such as butter, with polyunsaturated spreads, people who presumably practise what they preach, have suddenly come over all uncertain and seem to be struggling through a mental fog to reformulate their script.

Last week it fell to a floundering professor, Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation to explain why it still adheres to the nutrition establishment's anti-saturated fat doctrine when evidence is stacking up to refute it. After examining 72 academic studies involving more than 600,000 participants, the study, funded by the foundation, found that saturated fat consumption was not associated with coronary disease risk. This assessment echoed a review in 2010 that concluded "there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease".

Neither could the foundation's research team find any evidence for the familiar assertion that trips off the tongue of margarine manufacturers and apostles of government health advice, that eating polyunsaturated fat offers heart protection. In fact, lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury spoke of the need for an urgent health check on the standard healthy eating script. "These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines," he said.

Chowdhury went on to warn that replacing saturated fats with excess carbohydrates – such as white bread, white rice and potatoes – or with refined sugar and salts in processed foods, should be discouraged. Current healthy eating advice is to "base your meals on starchy foods", so if you have been diligently following that dietetic gospel, then the professor's advice is troubling.

Why Terrorism Generally Fails

   Anyone that has even a modicum of knowledge of the history of terrorism and irregular warfare knows that such campaigns generally fail in and of themselves. Here, I want to focus on terrorism and use a few specific examples to show how and why terrorism can be successful or lead to failure. What I hope to illustrate is that terrorist groups often suffer from vague "pie-in-the-sky" goals, and inchoate or unrealistic strategies, resulting in ineffective and counterproductive results.

     The definition of terrorism, as used in the criminal code, actually provides a good framework for understanding success or failure within the terrorist paradigm. The FBI notes:
There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). 
In other words, terrorism is the use of force to influence public policy, except where that force or violence is exercised by the State (i.e., the whole lawful/unlawful dichotomy). The definition gives both the strategy (to influence public policy) and the means (force and violence).

     History and experience shows that the most successful method to influence policy, at least in a republic, is to target and influence particular individuals. For example, the lobbyists of K-Street map out the paths of power and learn who are the key officials. They understand that changing the direction of policy is a long road, requiring a favorable opinion or finding from one official, providing pre-written legislation or rules, helping one politician with a re-election campaign, but perhaps helping the opponent of another. They understand that it can be more important to influence staff and advisors than the actual decision makers. The public, at large, is not important except for the purposes of elections.

     I would propose that terrorist organizations that act like lobbyists--except using threats and force rather than money--would be more successful than terrorists who believe that their goals can be accomplished simply by blowing up targets based on either their visibility or ease of access.

The September 11, 2001, Attacks

     We all know the general facts of the 9/11 attacks--a team of 20 terrorists (one of which was unable to participate) used U.S. airline security against us to hijack 4 airliners. I say that they used our security against us because security at the time prevented passengers from bringing anything aboard that could reasonably be used as a weapon, while at the same time indoctrinated passengers to be passive in the event of a hijacking. Armed with box cutters (i.e., a razor blade in a small plastic or metal handle), they took control of four aircraft. Two were used to crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and one was nearly retaken by passengers, forcing the terrorists to crash it into a field. Although nearly 60,000 people worked in the Trade Center, the total killed was less than 3,000. While the government's knee-jerk reaction certainly had a negative impact on the economy and our civil liberties, the actual attack--even if we had ignored it--would have had little impact to the United States as a whole (yes, believe it or not, New York City is not as important as New Yorkers believe).

     There is a certain amount of confusion about Osama Bin Laden's goals for the 9/11 attacks because his stated goals became a moving target in the years following the attacks. For instance, this Forbes article, relying on a 2004 statement from Bin Laden, claims that Al Qaeda's goals were to drag the U.S. into a war that would bankrupt the United States. (See also here). Other long after the fact statements similarly indicated that the purpose of the attacks was to draw the United States "out of its hole" making it easier to attack U.S. forces and unite Muslims against the United States. (See also here). However, this is inconsistent with Bin Laden's statements prior to the attacks about his goals. Obama's earlier statements show that his initial criticism of the United States was its prolonged presence of military bases in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and its support of Israel. Also, he believed that the United States was morally weak, and that a strong attack would prompt the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East. This Vanity Fair article lays it out pretty clearly:

The first thing to recognize is that, despite the carnage and the shock, the 9/11 attacks represented a strategic blunder by al-Qaeda. When news of the first plane’s hitting the World Trade Center reached them, bin Laden’s followers exploded with joy. But shrewder members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan realized that the attacks might not be the stunning victory that bin Laden, and many in the West, took them to be. Vahid Mojdeh, a Taliban foreign-ministry official, immediately understood that the game was up: “As soon as I heard the news,” he recalled, “I realized that the Taliban were going to be terminated.” Abu al-Walid al-Masri, an Egyptian who was an early bin Laden associate, explained that, in the years before 9/11, bin Laden had come increasingly to the view that America was weak: “As evidence he referred to what happened to the United States in Beirut when the bombing of the Marines headquarters led them to flee from Lebanon.” Bin Laden also cited the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia, following the “Black Hawk Down” incident, and the pullout from Vietnam in the 1970s. When I traveled with Peter Arnett to meet with bin Laden in Afghanistan, in 1997, he stated as if it were a self-evident fact that “the U.S. still thinks and brags that it still has this kind of power even after all these successive defeats.” Bin Laden had come to the delusional conclusion that the United States was as weak as the Soviet Union had once been. 
Several of those in al-Qaeda’s inner circle had argued that large-scale attacks on American targets would be unwise. Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian army officer, and Abu Hafs, a Mauritanian religious adviser, opposed the attacks either because they feared the American response or because they were worried that such operations would alienate the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, whose sanctuary al-Qaeda enjoyed. Noman Benotman, a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, traveled from London in the summer of 2000 to meet with bin Laden in Kandahar. He stated bluntly that attacking America would be disastrous. “But they laughed,” he recalls, “when I told them that America would attack the whole region if they launched another attack against it.”
There is not a shred of evidence that, in the weeks before 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leaders anticipated or made any plans for an American invasion of Afghanistan. They prepared instead only for possible U.S. cruise-missile attacks and bombing sorties. A letter written by an al-Qaeda insider in 2002 gives a sense of just how demoralized the group was following the American overthrow of their Taliban allies: “Today we are experiencing one setback after another and have gone from misfortune to disaster.”
Members of al-Qaeda were right to be dispirited: Before 9/11, the group had acted freely in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda conducted its own foreign policy independent from the Taliban, taking the form, beginning in 1998, of multiple strikes on American government, military, and civilian targets. Before 9/11, al-Qaeda was an organization of global reach. The 9/11 attack itself played out around the world, with planning meetings in Malaysia, operatives taking flight lessons in the United States, coordination by plot leaders based in Hamburg, and money transfers from Dubai—activities overseen by al-Qaeda’s senior command from secure bases in Afghanistan. Almost all of this infrastructure was smashed after 9/11.
     The basic strategic blunder made by Bin Laden is that he misunderstood the nature of his enemy. In fact, I would suggest that the world-views between most Americans and a fundamentalist Muslim like Bin Laden were so great that Bin Laden was incapable of understanding his enemy. Bin Laden mistook American's general attitude of "live and let live" as a sign of weakness. It was, and is, incomprehensible to a fanatic like Bin Laden that someone could actually not care what his neighbor did or believed as long as the neighbor left him alone. In Bin Laden's world, a Muslim with the ability to force his neighbor to believe or act a certain way would do so--it was inconceivable that someone with power would choose not exercise it. (I suspect this is why Muslims in the Middle-East so readily believe conspiracy theories about Israel and the United States). Obama believed Americans were cowards, and that he could influence them by striking at them directly--and he learned that what he thought was a paper tiger was actually a sleeping tiger.

     You don't poke sleeping tigers..... That is why other groups or nations wanting to act against the United States' interests are careful about not arousing the general public. Putin, for instance, may not understand "live and let live," but he at least understands that one does not want to rile the American public to any great degree. Thus, he knows that he can get away with small aggressions here and there until he reaches his goal. Terrorist activities aimed against the United States similarly must be gauged so as to never cause significant fear or hatred among the public at large. I would express this more broadly as a principle of not alienating the populous.

     Another equally grievous mistake by Bin Laden is that he didn't understand who he needed to influence. He apparently thought that the American public had influence and control over foreign deployments. The American public may care where wars are being conducted, but the U.S. has had foreign military bases for much of its history. Consequently, Americans are blase about foreign deployments and extra-territorials military installations. Who Bin Laden needed to influence were the bureaucrats and officials that made decisions on the location of  bases and troop deployments. He needed to map out who made decisions, who those decision makers relied on for advice and opinions, and then work on influencing the decision makers or those on which they relied.

     Finally, I believe Bin Laden erred by selecting targets for their symbolic value to his compatriots over any actual value in advancing the organization's goals. I understand the need for boosting morale, but Bin Laden chose targets whose destruction did nothing to impair the United States, but assured the destruction of Bin Laden's organization. ("Al Qaeda" currently is not one organization, but a brand name used by many different organizations with only the most loose affiliations).

The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings

     Wikipedia has a summary of the events, which I won't repeat here. What is important is that the bombings killed a relatively large number of people (191) and was three days before a general election. Although the bombings were believed to be the work of Al Qaeda, the link was never established. The popular perception is that the bombings contributed to a surprise victory by the Socialist Party in Spain, which promptly withdrew Spain's troops from the Middle-East. (See here and here). Professional Security Magazine gives a good background and further notes the impact of the bombing:
Many Spaniards blamed Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s staunch support of the US-led war in Iraq for making Spain an Al-Qaeda target. Others were angered by what they saw as the government’s politically motivated insistence that ETA was to blame for the attacks at the same time that links to Al-Qaeda were emerging. 
Legislative elections were held in Spain three days after the 11-M bombings, on March 14, 2004. At stake were all 350 seats in the lower house of the Cortes Generales (Congress of Deputies), and 208 seats in the upper house, the Senate. The governing People’s Party (PP) was led into the campaign by Mariano Rajoy, successor to outgoing Prime Minister José María Aznar. 
In a result which defied most predictions, the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, won a plurality of seats in Congress of Deputies, and was able to form a government with the support of minor parties. The People’s Party (PP) support for the war in Iraq, and its handling of the Madrid bombings, undoubtably combined to cause its election downfall. 
Immediately after his election, Mr Zapatero vowed to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq unless they came under UN command by June 30, 2004 when their mandate expired. On April 19, 2004 Zapatero announced the withdrawal of all 1,300 Spanish troops in Iraq. The withdrawal began on April 20th 2004 and was completed within just six weeks.
      It is not clear whether the terrorist attacks were intended to influence the election, or if it was an unintended consequence. However, it is an example of an attack that was successful because of its timing--it to an unpopular issue and raised it to the forefront of the minds of voters--but was not so devastating that it created a public mood for revenge.

The Mexican Cartels--Success and Failure

      Although the drug cartels in Mexico are not considered terrorists in the public's minds, they do, in fact, engage in a significant amount of terrorism. The difference between the drug cartels and a typical terrorist organization is that the cartels do not see the world through an ideological lens--that is, they are more likely to see the world as it is rather than as they think it should be (e.g., under a delusion that the masses are just waiting to rise up and support a particular movement). The amount of money that comes via the drug trade also enable the cartels to act without resort to violence, such as through bribery.

     In fact, the cartels are able to deliver a "one-two-punch" in influencing officials because they can reward an official with money if the official cooperates, but also hold out the promise of physical violence if the official does not cooperate. This is a powerful technique because it makes it easier for a targeted official to internally justify his actions.

     The drug cartels have a limited agenda--moving drugs. They target key officials, police officers, administrators and so on. Some are assassinated. Some are threatened. Some are bribed. But all with the purpose of advancing their criminal enterprise. Where they have limited the targets of violence to these officials, they have been largely successful. That is, they have altered the political and law enforcement landscape to the extent that they are largely unhindered in their transportation and distribution of drugs. For instance, as this article at Homeland Security News relates:
Rafael Cardenas testified that it cost him almost $1 million a month between payroll, rent, vehicles, and bribes when he ran the Rio Bravo territory. He also had to recruit, train, and equip his own gunmen. When his men were killed in action, their salaries were paid to their families. 
Cardenas also paid off law enforcement, the press, members of the military, and corrupted U.S. officials. “In order to have your plaza well, all organized, you have to pay all the police agencies,” Cardenas told jurors. Cardenas also told jurors that paying off the local police in Rio Bravo cost $20,000 per week.
This NPR article from 2010 noted the increase in assassinations of mayors and policy by the cartels, concluding that the purpose of such attacks was to weaken local government. An In Sight Crime article from 2012 notes the growing involvement of cartels in elections:
In a recent piece for Nexos, security analyst Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez pointed out that while criminal groups have long had an interest in building links with the different levels of government, recent developments have made them focus on elections all the more. One is that gangs today earn more money from extortion and from retail drug trafficking, which is known in Mexico as "narcomenudeo." Unlike international drug trafficking, which can be carried out without much involvement from the authorities, the police are far more likely to be aware of extortion and retail drug sales. Government tolerance -- or better still, collusion -- is needed. 
Another issue is the democratic opening in Mexico: unlike 20 years ago, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had ruled Mexico for six unbroken decades, today criminal groups have to deal with the three major parties contending for political posts. That means that profitable and long-standing relationships between a group and a political party in a given area can be rendered useless with a single election, which is a grave setback to a gang's interests. 
In this sense, meddling in elections is a logical policy for gangs, not unlike private-sector campaign donations to candidates promising a lower corporate tax rate. And, just as large companies sometimes make contributions to more than one candidate in the same race, criminal groups also hedge their bets by donating cash or performing services for a variety of different candidates. That way, they have a measure of protection regardless of the outcome of the election.
The article goes on to observe:
Organized crime interferes in elections for various reasons. First off, there are cases in which criminals intimidate candidates to support their own interests -- generally with the purpose of having passive authorities that allow them to go about their business -- or work against the candidate or candidates whose profiles aren’t favorable. In other cases, the criminal organizations intervene in these processes as “electoral machinery,” selling their support to one candidate (whether with money, the mobilization of votes, or through attacks against the other candidates or their supporters). This second case -- which brings a deeper involvement of criminals in public life -- is a type of activity characteristic of mafias: protection against competition, which is offered to businesses and unions just as it is to candidates and political parties.
This Washington Times article also relates:
Los Zetas has used beheadings and dismemberments to punish rivals or betrayers, establish turf, terrorize citizens against testifying and press political leaders to collaborate. But random killings also have become the gang’s trademark — a demonstration that no one is beyond their reach, that they can kidnap, torture and kill anyone they choose. 
Many of the gang’s targets have been Mexican military and police personnel, but U.S. law enforcement authorities also have come under attack. 
As early as 2008, the FBI warned U.S. authorities that Los Zetas was attempting to gain control of drug routes into America and had ordered its members to use violence against U.S. law enforcement officers to protect their operations.
     Where we see failures on the part of the cartels is where they lack intelligence to identify key officials or personnel; or have become indiscriminate in their violence, thereby creating a public backlash. The first failure shows up most significantly with the cartels inability to influence key military personnel in Mexico and in the United States simply from a lack of knowledge of the identity of these persons. They don't know who is operating the drone that is patrolling the border, or the radar operator on an AWACs, or the person who sets the patrol routes. The second failure is evident in the rise of self-defense forces that are successfully pushing the cartels out of whole regions because the people have been the subject of too many deprivations.