The Future Is White Dudes

Reporter: Here’s my idea. This group at the University of Chicago is working on quantum computing, and they have the coolest setup in a basement closet. So this Einstein-grade science in a humble beginning. Great photos of equipment with lots of wires. Starting from nothing. Make computers unhackable.

Editor: Wow, so great! Ties in with that Nobel Prize for quantum something. At the forefront of one of the world’s hottest technology competitions.

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Nuclear Protection Racket

I have disliked the phrase “nuclear blackmail” since I first saw it. What it usually describes is not blackmail. Last night I figured it out.

It’s a nuclear protection racket. The phrase is harder to shorten, so it probably won’t be picked up by the media, but I would like to see analysts recognize the difference.

Blackmail is the demand for something of value to prevent information from becoming public. Protection is the demand for something of value to prevent damage. Further, the information in blackmail is something that the person being threatened does not want to come out. This is a significant difference. In blackmail, the victim’s actions or attitudes are part of the dynamic. Protection is a bullying demand without cause.

The popular expression of protection in this case would be “Nice world you got there. Too bad if something happened to it.” And, in Putin’s case, the demand is not clear, so he’s likely to keep upping it.

Metaphors matter.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Fear

In addition to Vladimir Putin’s geographical ambitions, a renewed Russian Empire must be feared by the world. That is what it means to be an empire.

Putin is not getting the response he wants.

He’s been trying to spread fear through his nuclear threats, both those against the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and his and his associates’ talk about nuclear weapons. But the West is not cowering in fear.

There is no physical indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons. Preparations will be observed by governments and other folks who are watching. Russia’s actions at the Zaporizhzhia plant seem to be designed to avoid the worst outcomes so that they can steal the plant for the Russian electrical grid.

The tactical purpose of the fear-mongering is to convince Ukraine and its supporters to back off. That hasn’t worked.

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NAFO FTW!

I now have my own NAFO fella.

NAFO is the North Atlantic Fellas Organization, an organization of shitposters who attack Russian disinformation and raise money for the Ukrainian military. Wikipedia has recognized them.

They have scored significant information wins and can be called upon for aid through the hashtag #NAFOArticle5.

Here’s their website. The instructions for getting a fella of your own are there.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

A Podcast And More

The Globe and Mail’s “The Decibel” podcast interviewed me on nuclear weapons. I think it’s a pretty good primer on nuclear weapons effects.

***

I will not link to William Arkin’s article in Newsweek based on his interviews with STRATCOM personnel. It is in honor of this article that I chose the header photo. I am engaging with the article only because people I respect have retweeted it.

There’s a great deal wrong with it, but I’ll stick with three points for now.

  1. In this country, the military reports ultimately to the President. It’s not up to them to argue with him publicly. Further, STRATCOM is not “the military,” as the article implies, but a specialized part of it. It’s not even clear that the people Arkin quotes are representative of STRATCOM.
  2. It’s more than irresponsible to imply that Jake Sullivan has threatened Vladimir Putin with “a decapitation strike to kill Putin in the heart of the Kremlin.” It’s inconsistent with US policy and everything Joe Biden has said on the subject.
  3. The business about an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack hovers on the edge of fanaticism. It’s true that a general nuclear attack might begin with an EMP blast, but EMP alone is not the devastating killer that Newt Gingrich made it out to be.

Arkin is talking to a few people in a very narrow part of “the military,” who have blinkered viewpoints.

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Putin’s speech this morning did less to rattle his nukes than some of his previous speeches. It’s not at all clear that he would use nukes to defend his new “People’s Republics.” Yes, he used those words. I’ll have more to say later, but for now here’s my Twitter thread and one observation from this morning.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Baltic Sea Breaches In Nordstream 1 and 2 Pipelines

Breaches were reported this morning to be spouting natural gas in the Baltic Sea. The pipelines are not currently in use, so this is the gas that was stationary in them. Pipelines are designed so that sections can be shut off, and presumably this has been done.

Seismic observations indicate the breaches were caused by explosions, according to Björn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network. He is quoted as saying that the explosions were equivalent to at least 100 kg of TNT, which is a lot and probably damaged the pipelines badly. TNT is the standard used for this sort of thing, but the explosives used were more likely C4, which is more powerful per unit weight. Its equivalent would be 72 kg. Underwater mines have also been mentioned.

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TONIGHT LIVE – Spacecraft Smashes Into Asteroid

At 6 pm Eastern Time, NASA will livestream the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

If you’re worried about another asteroid impact like the one that killed the dinosaurs, you won’t want to miss this.

It’s a beginning of an answer to the question whether, if we detected an asteroid headed for the Earth, we could divert it.

Nuclear blasts have been a media favorite, but it turns out that whacking the asteroid physically is more likely to be effective.

But asteroids come in two kinds – one that is pretty much solid, and another that is a bunch of rocks flying in close formation, held together by gravity. In the first, the spacecraft crashes into it and transfers energy to alter the asteroid’s orbit. There are some tricky parts to getting the right angle on it to get the result one wants, but otherwise straightforward.

It’s not clear and difficult to calculate what happens if the asteroid is a bunch of rocks. I’m hoping that is the case and that it is a glorious video, with the asteroid deforming and some rocks flying off in various directions. Not clear whether the orbit will change.

I’ve linked to the NASA page with recent news. Sadly, the website is not all that user friendly. I couldn’t even find a link to the livestream from it.

Graphic: Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns & Money

Mental Declassification

I’ve been saying these things on Twitter, but I probably should provide a more stationary, all-in-one-place form for those not on Twitter.

Classification is a system for dealing with sensitive information that could harm the United States if made public. It is a system of instructions for handling that information. Information is classified, and documents containing that information are classified. Other materials, including physical models and the usual elaborations on documents like videos, may be classified. I’ll subsume them all under the word “documents.”

Declassification involves declaring the information no longer of potential harm to the United States. Because it is a part of the system for handling documents, it must be made known to the people who will be handling those documents.

Trump seems to believe an essentialist version of classification, that it is an inherent quality of a document that can be added or removed by his mental actions. This is, of course, absurd.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

What effect will Putin’s war have on Russia? There’s an active trade in historical analogies, but the more I look at those analogies, the more I become convinced that few of them work. They don’t even rhyme.

War in Europe because of an attempted grab by a declining power with no strong allies. It doesn’t fit the Cold War Soviet attack through the Fulda Gap, the objectives of which were never clear – control of West Germany? Disruption of Europe’s prosperity? Perhaps it’s a little like Vietnam, with the technologically favored side being undercut by defenders of the homeland and now a draft of unwilling fighters.

World War I started between major powers who were spoiling for a war and did it very badly. Russia has mobilized three times, I’ve seen more than once on Twitter: World War I, World War II, and now. It went badly for them in World War I.

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