Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Negative effects of ethnic sub-nationalism in the United States

With Donald Trump emerging as the Republican Party front-runner for the US presidential election, issues pertaining to ethnic sub-nationalism have once again come to the fore.

These issues had come forth during the election of President Barack Obama, but gradually subsided after it became clear that President Obama enjoyed the support of a wide array of groups and the entire ethnic sub-nationalism aspect was quietly buried.

In contrast to those times, the present electoral cycle seems to emphasize discord between ethnic sub-national groups and this has implications for global security. As the US is often used by the people of other nations (such as India) to model the behavior of a large multi-cultural multi-ethnic democracy, any visible failure in the US to check divisive forces has indirect consequences for other nations that seek to replicate the "US model".

The main issue of contention in the current US electoral cycle is the declining quality of life for "White" Americans. I put the word "White" in quotes because this is a self identification category and given the extremely diverse groups of people it contains - it is difficult to characterize this as a monolithic block with common cultural and economic purpose. I find this label to be similar to the label "Hindu" in India, it means too many things to too many people and an clear definition is quite impossible.

That being said, we can divide the "White" population into three basic groups of people:

  1. "White" people of traceable ancestry with significant amounts of social and monetary capital and a history of hereditary wealth transfer. These are the equivalents of the Hindu "upper castes".  
  2. "White" people with less than traceable roots which may be co-mingled with other ethnic labels or groupings. These people also possess significant wealth and own property but do not have significant amounts of hereditary wealth transfer. These roughly correspond to the bourgeois in Marxist terms.  
  3. "White" people that mirror the French sans culottes , with no traceable ancestry, little wealth and living in rented homes. 
The American "White" upper-castes are secure in their wealth. There is little that touches their sense of security except perhaps improperly cut heroin or cocaine. Living in gated communities, they remain disconnected from the economic realities of the surrounding countryside. Again nothing terribly different from India or many other countries.

The situation in the countryside is however quite grim. The boom and bust cycle of the last decade has adversely affected the bourgeois and the sans culottes. The bourgeois have seen the value of their investments (especially property and retirement accounts) decline rapidly. The sans culottes have seen their job security disappear and most are finding it hard to support a lifestyle that emphasizes spending over saving. Collectively speaking these groups are finding their upward social mobility restricted.

The US government has been working hard to do what it can to help the bourgeois and the sans culottes. A vast portion of the US budget is devoted to welfare, social security and medicare. The "socialist" programs provide vital safety net for the sans culottes. In addition to this the federal and state budgets support a significant amount of agro-economic activities with subsidies.

For the bourgeois, the government has basically been bleeding money into the financial networks, programs like TARP (started at the height of the 2008 economic crash) basically funnel money to banks, who then funnel it into the stock market, and those stocks effectively funnel money into the IRAs of the bourgeois.

While such measures would have worked to increase productivity in any other economy, in the US these measures are failing. The most likely reason I can think of for this failure is that the bulk of the money spent by the US government is going towards servicing the needs of older citizens. Older US citizens benefit the most from social security, medicare and draw on IRAs for their living expenses. The unfortunate fact is that these older citizens do not work and therefore do not directly contribute to the productivity of the US.

This failure to induce productivity is significantly increasing the anxiety in the bourgeois and the sans culottes. A majority do not understand that the cause for the failure lies in the structure of entitlement spending and suspicion of the government has grown significantly in this section of the population.

The most common fallacy which it paraded as the likely cause of the ineffectiveness of government spending is that the government money is going to less deserving "others" (i.e. non-"White" citizens) or "immigrants" (allegedly "illegal Mexicans") who don't even "pay taxes".  This notion is completely bereft of facts and as it is so completely a lie - a lot of people actually believe it(*) and this is at the root of the identity politics we are seeing play out in the US electoral cycle today.

The picture that often comes to mind when listening to "White"folk talk about misuse of government funds is that of a UN food delivery truck that approaches a crowd of starving people in some god-forsaken country in Africa. That is how the bourgeois and the sans culottes feel these days - there is an air of desperation. The certainty that entitlements like social security and medicare are going have to eventually be cut down is scaring people and making them act in ways unbecoming of good citizens.

The "White" people v/s non-"White" people dynamic is gaining ground and it is unclear what (if anything) will break this wave of negative sentiments. The Donald Trump campaign seeks to exploit these sentiments for personal gain, but The Donald himself seems oblivious to the consequences of unleashing the American social animus like this. The "Make American Great Again" campaign seems totally (perhaps deliberately) ignorant of the deep social costs of their electoral tactics.

There is a reason we keep the national social animus chained in the basement. When it is let loose, all manner of hell comes forth. The animus in general is capable of great things, but it is also capable of terrible things. Perhaps people in the US just don't get that - I suppose it is only fair - they haven't been through what Germany went through in WWII or Cambodia went through during the Rouge period, or what the Rwandans saw in the late 90s or what Afghanistan saw during the Taliban period. In all those places "Great" things were accomplished but at an unacceptably high cost.

The average American mind simply has no comprehension of this and so led by unparalleled levels of buffoonery - the American voter seems quite content to march to certain doom.

* A complete and utter lie is easy to believe because it is compact and has no baggage of proof. The truth however comes with a lot of evidence, so you not only have to remember the truth, you also have to remember the facts that back it up - this makes it an emotionally and mentally unwieldy piece of information - and that makes it easier to reject.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The emergence of a Stand Alone Complex

The attacks in Orlando and Les Mureaux are part of an emergent Stand Alone Complex [1]

In a "Stand Alone Complex" the only thread connecting the criminals is that the profess a common motivation but there is no actual evidence of any kind of connectivity between their actions.

At the center of the "Stand Alone Complex" is a myth - in these two cases - it is the myth of the righteous warrior who goes down fighting against unbelievers.

This is a powerful myth that exists in many religious and ethnic groups. In the case of the Orlando and Les Mureaux tragedies, the myth is of an Islamist branding.

As there is no relevant information in either the choice of branding and no specific information that alludes to a sizable individual threat, one cannot predict this kind of crime. One essentially cannot predict what will happen in a situation where the individual/s performing the activity themselves do not know that they are going to do it. There is no paradigm for defeating this. No law enforcement option can truly embrace a "cold start" situation.

As the FBI's prior investigations demonstrate - the system of tracking for extremist tendencies is not sufficient to gain usable intelligence.

The only mitigation option currently viable is placing tactical containment on the situation immediately after it starts.

In the case of the Orlando police, it appears that an off-duty officer was able to challenge Omar Mateen after about two-three minutes of the first shots being fired.  As a result of this challenge, the officer contained Mateen freedom of movement and significantly restricted casualties. While the situation took a full three hours to completely resolve, most of the deaths occurred in the first few minutes between when Mateen entered the venue and when he first exchanged fire with an off duty police officer. This high fatality rate can only be attributed to Mateen using an AR-15. It would be difficult for him to achieve such a high kill rate with a lesser weapon.

The Orlando police were lucky that they were able to maintain a perimeter. The Boston police during the Marathon Bombing miserably failed at the perimeter security task and the perpetrators fled the area before police could isolate them. If there had been even one more attacker - the Orlando police would have found themselves quickly overwhelmed as the SWAT (what the Indians call a QRF) didn't reach the site until almost 40 minutes after first contact. US police forces are no better prepared for such a situation than their Bombay Police counterparts were on November 26, 2008.

The need of the hour is not self-serving tweets but a gradual increase in operational readiness of the QRFs that have already been formed.

To recap - there is no way to gain actionable intelligence about such events. The is a faint hope that automatic weapons and IEDs can be kept out of the hands of the mentally ill but the only real hope is that a QRF reaches the site and contains the situation.  Most places today do not have such rapid response capabilities. It is time to focus on building those with great speed.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Can people be prevented from simulating TN designs?

Previously [1][2][3] we reviewed why it is necessary to focus on simulation capabilities in the context of the security of TN weapons critical information. Now let us see what (if anything) can be done to limit the access to such simulation data.

In this post - we explore two scenarios -

a) The Hacked Cloud: A scenario in which an existing cloud computation platform is hacked and simulation data or capability is gained by the hacker/s.

b) The Ground Up Approach: A scenario in which a sufficiently large cloud is setup and a simulation of the physical transport equations is attempted by a group of people determined to secure knowledge of the coupling between the equations.

Scenario A: The Hacked Cloud.

As I had indicated earlier [2], if a cloud used by a large entity (state/corporate) for nuclear simulations could be hacked, then the hacker would have access to enough information to design a nuclear weapon.

Unless the large entity deliberately wanted to proliferate the knowledge, they would undertake serious efforts to protect the data. So the hacker/s would have to first locate the cloud and then work their way through some very heavy defensive measures in order to get inside the cloud and then transmit the data out.

Let us assume for a moment that the tailored access is somehow possible but extremely resource intensive. Then only barrier between such hackers and the design critical information is their ability to know whether the cloud is capable of the desired computation or whether the cloud already has information on it that the hacker/s seek.

The simplest way that the hacker/s might know about such things is through a compromised employee. If one of the people working on the cloud or on the simulation is susceptible - that will be the weakest link the system.

Another way that hackers might learn of the nature of computations on a cloud is by analyzing its pattern of data transmissions. A cloud that is dedicated to the simulations of interest would have a very peculiar pattern of data transmission - it would compute for a very large interval of time and then send out a relatively compact data packet to the sender. This pattern would be very different from a cloud that was processing something else (such as a real time sematic analyzer for a consumer electronics application).

Yet another way a hacker can access information about the functioning of a cloud is by looking at the power consumption by the environmental systems attached to data center. A large energy load from the chiller systems is usually tied pretty closely to the utilization of the cloud. Anyone running a large device simulation would have a very peculiar fluctuation in the power consumed by the environmental system.

It is plausible that the hacker/s could gain sufficient intelligence on the nature of the cloud and its computations and then set up a detailed assault on it to secure the information they desire.

Securing any existing clouds against such attacks is critical to preventing this.

Scenario 2:  The Ground Up Approach:

On the face of it - this approach may seem more resource intensive, but it has certain things going for it. In my opinion this is the scariest scenario of all.

Firstly whoever sets up the cloud has complete control over how it is implemented. This kind of captivity is attractive as they can deliberately tweak it to perform the desired computations more efficiently.

Secondly the cloud can be used without the fear of interference. Apart from a relatively minor set of energy signatures (minimal if the cloud is co-located with a commercial facility) the cloud would be practically hidden.

Whoever uses this approach has to identify the exact set of computations to perform and the right way of performing them, As I discussed in earlier posts, the main aim of the computations is to determine what the relationship between compression and criticality of a nuclear reaction is, so one simply has to define two sets of equations, the first which capture the dependence of the reaction rate on density and temperature. And a second set of equations that describes the flow phenomena and buildup of pressure inside the reaction vessel, Some of the coefficients in these equations are published in open literature, others can be inferred and any couplings between these equations can be addressed through either repeated simulations or a physical model of the coupling itself.

A lot of codes are available to carry out density dependent reaction rate simulations. It is very painful to do a model with many reactions with different cross sections on a piece of paper, but this sort of thing can be handled quite decently in a simulation.

A number of codes are available to carry out fluid dynamics modeling. As most of the reactions of interest happen on the nanosecond or lower timescale, the simulation framework has to correctly account for fluid flow. Also the fluid in the simulations of interest is moving at high Mach number (one has to compare the speed of the fluid to the speed of sound in the same medium) on those timescales. The modeling of fluids moving at extremely high Mach number is problematic as it has to account for turbulence. The main problem in accounting for turbulence is that energy dissipation occurs in a fractal fashion on a variety of length scales. This kind of turbulence can break up a compression front and create mixing between the reactants. There are very few reliable models or codes out there for describing the behavior of turbulence phenomena on nanosecond timescales.

The lack of such codes represents a major technical hurdle that the person/s using the "Ground Up Approach" have to confront. If they choose to build their own code - they will need to validate it against other high Mach simulation frameworks. An efficient way of validating your code against others is to publish it and attempt several benchmark problems. There are number of groups doing this for purely academic reasons and it will be difficult to detect the people doing this for non-academic reasons.

Assuming that a well tested set of reaction rate modeling and fluid mechanics simulation are available, the next set of technical challenges will come from the coupling between these equations. There is a great deal of published literature on how to couple Navier-Stokes equations with transport models like the Poisson -Nernst-Planck equations used to describe high energy density plasma behavior, but these models in the public domain do not contain information about couplings that one might encounter in the context of a high fusion yield TN weapon. It is an open question whether the couplings can be approximated by some density functional coupling approach but whoever wants to do this kind of simulation will have to find a way of testing the couplings.

Currently only a few countries have the ability to test such simulations. There are a few experimental setups where these couplings can be explored in a real-world event.

The unavailability of fluid dynamics codes for high Mach number flow simulation and the difficulties associated with testing the couplings between the flow equations and the other transport equations (mass, energy etc...) in the system is a natural barrier to entry for any party seeking such knowledge.  Unfortunately any strategy that seeks to artificially raise this barrier would likely result in this party making a maximal effort to breach it. As a professional physicist I cannot completely discount the probability that an alternative and innovative way to couple the underlying equations informatively can be found by a sufficiently motivated group of individuals. Once that couplings become known there will be practically nothing standing in the way of these individuals and a simulation of a TN design. There is a need to proceed with extreme caution on this front.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Romanticizing Afghanistan - An idiotic way of looking at Afghanistan

I just watched a segment from Rory Stewart's documentary "Afghanistan: The Great Game".

The segment brought into vivid focus what happens when you romanticize Afghanistan.

A lot has been said about the way in which Afghanistan is the beautiful "unconquerable" land with mystical powers which has brought empires to their knees.

It is all nonsense.

Afghanistan is a mountainous region with very few stable supply routes. In any such region (such as Kashmir, India's North East, Switzerland, and so on) it is very difficult to sustain a military presence. The supply chain is simply too twisted and too fragile to provide the most basic sense of security.
The local populations that inhabit this land have built up local supply and storage options over hundreds of years and they know the land better than any invading entity would. This puts these local defenders at a position of strategic advantage over anyone who transgresses their land.

That is all there is to it - it is a supply chain problem. You don't have to read thousands of breathless Brit accounts of "Awesome Warrior Pathans" and their fearsome "prowess" to get this fact.

Most empires that have successfully occupied Afghanistan for large stretches of time have done so with local collaborators because in each case (Mughal or Persian or Kushan) the supply chain to the nearest stable agriculturally productive region - has always been about 1000 miles long.

Maintaining supply chains inside Afghanistan has become easier with the advent of airpower - but you still have to maintain a fuel and arms supply line - either through Bukhara to the Russian oil fields, or through Pakistan to Indian refineries, or through Iran to various ME oil sources or through the Pamirs to Chinese controlled oil sources in Xinjiang.

The present American posture relies on a Pakistan based transit line for fuel and arms. The ATF in particular comes from one Indian refiner.

The Soviets relied on a supply chain out to Bukhara. Again the entire military posture was sustained based on the output of one refinery in Uzbekistan.

The Brits had a supply chain that ran into the Indus plains and beyond.

And so on.

Unless you think about Afghanistan in clear logistical terms you will become overwhelmed by the irrelevant data about Afghan culture or national myths.

I am saying Afghan culture is neither superior nor inferior to those its neighbors but that like every other culture - All aspects of Afghan culture are malleable - the logistical reality of Afghanistan is not!