Showing posts from December, 2021

Banning Robotic Weapons

Autonomous killer robots aren't just science fiction anymore, and a lot of people would like to ban them. A recent major conference in Geneva failed to agree though. I don't think that the prospects are very good, at least partially because it's a ban that would be very hard to enforce.  Killer robots don't need a vast industrial base like nuclear weapons.  They can be built in modest warehouses using cell-phone brains and other widely available components.  Those that proved decisive in the recent war over Nagorno-karabakh were built by Israel and Turkey, and lots of others are in on building them, notably the US, China, and Russia.  Another obvious reason for skepticism is that they appear to be a military game changer, probably as big a one as the tank and the machine gun.  Nagorno-karabakh proved that they can be devastating against tanks and entrenched troops, as well as logistics.  Because they are sma

Review – Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

  Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by  Steven Pinker   The ideals of the Enlightenment, says Pinker, are reason, science, and humanism, and their pursuit has led to remarkable improvements in the human condition.   A blurb by Bill Gates calls it “My new favorite book of all time.”   I am a bit less enthusiastic. He has a beef with those who don’t agree.   Religion gets a brief dismissal, but his true scorn is reserved for some of his liberal intellectual colleagues, especially those of the left.   Marxism and some related religions of the left get their juice from the real and imaginary diseases of capitalism, and especially from Marx’s conviction that the internal contradictions of capitalism would lead to a fatal pass.   Pinker makes the case that that apocalyptic hope is a mirage. The book is listed at 556 pages, but it seems longer, even though the last 100 pages consist of notes and index.   I found the repetitious style and interminabl

Future Trouble

Turning and turning in the widening gyre    The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,... Yeats What kind of bad stuff is likely to trouble the world to come?  Prediction is hard, said Bohr, but especially of the future.  Some bad stuff to come, maybe. 1) Global Warming - I called these maybes, but this one is a all but a cinch.  It is pretty obvious that the world is not about to take any firm action to avoid a substantial increase in temperature.  Summits will be held, half measures will be promised but not taken, and CO2 will accumulate.  Hands will be wrung, seas will rise, desertification will proceed, and, quite likely, hundreds of millions will starve. Americans would rather starve, be flooded or cooked out than pay more for gasoline. 2) At least two revanchist powers with global spanning nuclear missiles are making menacing noises.  What happens when Russia marches into Ukraine and China invades Taiwan?

Book Review: Spitfire Pilot by David Crook

  This very short, fascinating book is the war diary of a Spitfire pilot who fought through the Battle of Britain in Squadron 609, one of the most celebrated units in Fighter Command. There was a steep learning curve in air combat in World War II and casualty rates were enormous, especially among inexperienced pilots.   Crooks’ squadron lost about half its pilots over Dunkirk, and it many more days of fighting before they were winning more than they were losing. Despite the danger and the continual loss of friends and squadron mates, it is clear that the pilots loved flying and aerial combat.   It was the happiest time of his life was frequently said at a pilot’s funeral. By all accounts, the Spitfire was an exhilarating machine to fly, and the life or death struggle was a matchless thrill.   The author gives a good account of the tactics and strategy of the struggle. Typically, German bombers flew at relatively low altitudes while the ME 109 German fighters flew far above.   S