Thursday, May 13, 2010

They're made out of meat

Funny short story that is part of the latest edition of the intro philosophy anthology I'll be using next fall:


"They're made out of meat."


"Meat. They're made out of meat."


"There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."

"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they're made out of meat."

"Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."

"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long. Do you have any idea what's the life span of meat?"

"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."

"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."

"No brain?"

"Oh, there's a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat! That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"So ... what does the thinking?"

"You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat."

"Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"

"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?"

"Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."

"Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."

"Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?"

"First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual."

"We're supposed to talk to meat."

"That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.' That sort of thing."

"They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"
"Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."

"I thought you just told me they used radio."

"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."

"Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"

"Officially or unofficially?"


"Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."

"I was hoping you would say that."

"It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?"

"I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say? 'Hello, meat. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"

"Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can't live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."

"So we just pretend there's no one home in the Universe."

"That's it."

"Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You're sure they won't remember?"

"They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we're just a dream to them."

"A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat's dream."

"And we marked the entire sector unoccupied."

"Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"

"Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again."

"They always come around."

"And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone ..."

Large-scale counterinsurgency warfare to be downplayed in future

A very interesting McClatchey piece with italicized comments questions, reactions (FWIW*) inserted here and there:

WASHINGTON — Nearly a decade after the United States began to focus its military training and equipment purchases almost exclusively on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military strategists are quietly shifting gears, saying that large-scale counterinsurgency efforts cost too much and last too long.

This raises the historical question: as a percentage of gross government spending, what is the DOD slice now during an era of large scale COIN warfare as compared to a comparable time of large scale conventional warfare? Would a comparison of the 40s to the double aughts be a fair comparison? If I'm not mistaken, the percentage was higher in today's bucks then than it is now. As for length of time for such wars to succeed, that does seem to be a commonality in counterinsurgencies, or at least successful ones.

The domestic economic crisis and the Obama administration's commitment to withdraw from Iraq and begin drawing down in Afghanistan next year are factors in the change. The biggest spur, however, is a growing recognition that large-scale counterinsurgency battles have high casualty rates for troops

(as compared to what? In historical terms, troop casualty rates have been historically low in the two present conflicts, as compared to most major wars the U.S. has been involved in.)

and civilians,

(once again, as compared to what? Advanced communications technology and more restrictive ROE would seem to belie this claim, as compared to WWII era civilian casualty levels)

eat up equipment that must be replaced and rarely end in clear victory or defeat.

(Once again, this last claim seems to rely on a historical survey of irregular warfare/counterinsurgency and the track record is not only lacking in success, but it is lacking in instances of large scale operations. It is mostly populated with instances, data points, historical episodes, that are best described as cases of small scale, as opposed to large scale, COIN. Not quite apples and oranges, but something that would give a statistician cause for pause.

In addition, military thinkers say such wars have put the U.S.'s technologically advanced ground forces on the defensive while less sophisticated insurgent forces are able to remain on the offensive.

The writer mean by "defensive" to point out that the ROE are far more restrictive than those used by the enemy. That is a consequence of the overall strategy to win the confidence of the indigenies. But, I dare say, even if that were not a primary aspect of our strategy, we would still, by virtue of our traditions, be more restricted in our application of force than is the enemy. And, in any case, even if we downplayed COIN as a primary strategy for a war, beginning to end, something like COIN has to be implemented after one has "cleared." To hold, and maintain, and eventually turn over governance to friendly indigenous forces, one has to implement something like the hearts and minds approach, even if not in name. A rose is a rose. Keep in mind, that where this approach was used in Vietnam, success was attained. We simply chose to leave too soon, and stuck with conventional warfare for the most part.

Counterinsurgency "is a good way to get out of a situation gone bad," but it's not the best way to use combat forces, said Andrew Exum, a fellow with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. "I think everyone realizes counterinsurgency is a losing proposition for U.S. combat troops. I can't imagine anyone would opt for this option."

Many Pentagon strategists think that future counterinsurgencies should involve fewer American ground troops and more military trainers, special forces and airstrikes. Instead of "fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here," as former President George W. Bush once defined the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Pentagon thinks it must train local populations to fight local insurgents.

The model of Vietnam seems apropos here again. But, was that not a case of fighting, training etc.. "over there"? Also, in order for trainers to succeed in propping up viable local forces/government, and in order for airstrikes to be a part of a strategy that has long term success, it would seem that the area of interest will have had to been previously cleared and held. Otherwise you will involve yourself in a protracted period of aperiodic strikes and other actions, but will not have made any real headway to removing the ongoing threat. (I have in mind some examples that are about to be mentioned in the piece, Yemen in particular)

The military calls it "foreign internal defense," although some have a pithier name: counterinsurgency light.

The new kind of counterinsurgency is "for the indigenous people and a handful of Americans," said Joseph Collins, a professor at the National Defense University, a Pentagon-funded institution that trains officers and civilians.

Or, perhaps the Vietnam model, the Petraeus model, without the large footprint presence of troops and the clearing? Seems so. For...

The newer approach is on display in Yemen and Pakistan, countries in which the U.S. faces entrenched extremist organizations with ties to al Qaida.

And, one should hasten to add, that there are troubling ties between the governing institutions of these countries and the extremist organizations, or at the very least a disturbing, but entirely predictable propensity to tolerate the extremists, the governments playing a complex double game with us. This is something we have tolerated for quite some time. Point here being, that the threat is not likely to dissipate if we continue to acquiesce in this. It is also arguable that this article is not even terminologically correct. This approach is less COIN light, than Realpolitik light, or better yet back-to-the-future strategery.

In Yemen, where leaders have distanced themselves publicly from the United States, the U.S. has quietly dispatched military trainers to work with Yemeni government forces and has provided air support, largely for observation. In addition, the U.S. sent Yemen $70 million in military aid.

Nothing new here. We give this aid, they refuse to extradite Anwar al-Awlaki. Cole bombers released...move on. Nothing to see here. The Yemenis are our friends we have to be "realistic" about the games they must play to appease the home crowd...

In Pakistan, the Obama administration has authorized a record number of unmanned airstrikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and promised $7.5 billion in aid over five years. In addition, defense officials said roughly 100 special forces trainers were working with the Pakistani military.

....Ditto the Paks

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recognized the changed thinking in an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

"The United States is unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan and Iraq anytime soon — that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire," he wrote. More likely, he said, are "scenarios requiring a familiar tool kit of capabilities, albeit on a smaller scale."

And with what I suspect will be the same ambiguous record of success. What if, in a decade's time, we see Afghanistan and Iraq as minimal sources of jihadi attackers, while Yemen and Pakistan continue to produce at present levels? What then should we say about the relative success of large scale, clear-and-hold COIN heavy versus "COIN lite" or "Realpolitik Lite" ?

(Now, just to be clear here, I know that the Gates statement can be taken in two different ways: 1. Gates is reading tea leaves, and thinks it unlikely that we will find ourselves involved in COIN heavy, or, 2. Gates is giving voice to a strategic choice that has been made, a volition; we will not engage in COIN heavy. I suspect there is a little of both going on here, and that he is projecting a COIN lite future for us, (which is really a bit of back-to-the-future more than anything else.) And, back-to-the-future has a track record; ambiguous at best.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently ordered a review of how the military should train and equipment itself in the future, acknowledging that it's shifting course.

"The chairman wants to look at the capability and size of the military" after Iraq and Afghanistan, spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said. "No one has codified the requirements."

The economic downturn is driving much of the change within the Pentagon. Military spending has risen steadily since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

When former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, the Defense Department budget was $291.1 billion, or $357.72 billion in today's dollars. The current budget is $708 billion for defense costs and funding the wars.

Pentagon planners say budget cuts are inevitable, and that the change in strategy will help make them.

Read: We are about to get cut because other areas of the federal budget are going to grow, and grow fast, so we have to plan in accord with that economic reality. So, instead of COIN heavy, we have to fall back on COIN lite..Realpolitik lite, at least when it comes to the War on Islamic radicalism.

"We now have to figure out what works. We used to have a practically unlimited budget. Not anymore," said a senior military officer, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly. "There is no more room to experiment."

After most major conflicts in U.S. history, defense spending has dropped to prewar levels within two years, accounting for inflation, said James Quinlivan, a military analyst at the RAND Corp. The ends of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't likely to make spending drop that quickly, Quinlivan said.

With no clear defeat of groups such as al Qaida, defense spending is likely to remain higher than it was before 9/11, he said.

Yet, considerably lower than present..

Moreover, because of Afghanistan's rugged terrain, it will cost the U.S. more to send troops there, and to get them out, than it did in Iraq, he said.

The wars now account for $159 billion of the Defense Department's budget. There are 96,000 troops in Iraq and 87,000 in Afghanistan.

The shift to a lighter form of counterinsurgency also incorporates the Obama administration's national security view, which calls for getting troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. forces are set to begin leaving Afghanistan in July 2011, and a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is to be complete by the end of that year.

So, we'd better have stabilized things by then, or we will forced to fall back on COIN lite, and will probably have failed as a result, in our long-term goal of reducing the threats from these two parts of the world.

It also, military strategists said, allows the United States to prepare better for a future war that would be fought against another country, not against relatively amorphous terrorist groups.

We need to be prepared for conventional warfare as well as irregular warfare, and that too costs. Tighten your belts COINDINISTAs.

U.S. officials acknowledge that since 9/11 there's been little training for the kind of coordinated land, sea and air battles that have characterized most of the United States' previous conflicts. While no one wants to predict where such a war might be fought, military strategists say that U.S. troops could be involved in battles between India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, and China and Taiwan.

The last time the military discussed a major strategy shift was during the first months of Rumsfeld's tenure, when he proposed streamlining the military to use less manpower and more technology. That discussion of shrinking the military ended in the months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that technology alone couldn't defeat the burgeoning insurgency there. The order by Bush to increase the number of troops in Iraq, the so-called surge, ended that approach.

Revamping the military itself won't come cheaply. Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, told Congress earlier this month that he thinks it will cost the Army as much as $36 billion to reset itself to be fully prepared for other kinds of warfare. He estimated the job wouldn't be done until 2013.

Still, there are doubts that a change in strategy will defeat armed groups that threaten to take over "failed states" such as Somalia and Yemen. Using trainers and airstrikes requires a strong local government that can lead such trained forces, said Collins, the NDU professor. That's hard to find in the countries that are most susceptible to groups such as al Qaida.

Well..yeah. That's the whole point of COIN heavy.

The Pentagon's new strategy also could founder if there were another major attack on the United States.

Still, officials point out that the attempted Christmas Day attack, allegedly by a Nigerian man, on a flight bound for Detroit pointed up how limited U.S. options are to respond to a terrorist action.
"Could we have attacked his little Nigerian village or the town in Yemen where he was training?" said one senior Pentagon official, who spoke only anonymously because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters. "That would not have done anything. We have to be smarter. There are more cases like this than Iraq and Afghanistan."

With advanced weaponry, and remotely piloted aircraft we can do what we've been doing of late; taking out the facilitators/trainers of the underwear bomber and others of his ilk. The hard question though is this; absent the regime change in Pak and Yemen, do we really believe we are accomplishing much of anything in drying up the threat from Islamic extremists? I don't think so, even though I do cheer when we help these folks assume room temp.

A huge military response may not have any better results than a smaller undertaking would. Nearly nine years after the U.S. invested thousands of troops and billions of dollars in counterinsurgency, Osama bin Laden remains at large.

The 'huge' response costs money, lives and time, and we obviously cannot serially take down all our Janus faced 'friends', but that does not take away the fact that replacing those regimes with indigenous forms of consensual and democratic governance may be the best long-term solution to our national security problems emanating from that part of the world. Unfortunately, to say that this is the best solution is not to say that we can successfully carry it out, either in the short term or the long term. There is an historical instance of success in enterprises such as this, the Roman example really stands out, but boy, was that a long term project!

*For What It's Worth