Locklin on science

More books on how the world turns

Posted in Book reviews by Scott Locklin on September 2, 2022

“The Ancient City” Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges -an account of ancient Greek and Roman political and religious conceptions for cities. This is pretty fascinating stuff; Fustel de Coulanges deduced this from deep study of classical literature as well as the archaeology of the time, and the anthropology of Vedic practices which are broadly similar to those of the other Indo Europeans, as they share a common origin. Roughly speaking, he saw the original inhabitants of ancient places to be the later aristocracy; people who had household gods, a sacred fire and who inherited the gods of his ancestors, and performed rites meant to propitiate his ancestral spirits and the sacred boundaries. Marriage was joining the cult of the man’s family, and families were propagated religiously: aka adoption meant conversion to the family cult. Eventually in political organization,  as tribes grew into something resembling a town, there were sacred gods of the city, perhaps the household gods of the King. As new men (plebs) came to the city, they’d join the city cult, and have a patron in a local aristocrat. He traces various social revolutions where the plebs were given more rights and duties, and the fading of old practices in favor of new ones, eventually culminating in Christianity where all men shared the same religion and it was mostly separated from civic duty. It’s a vivid account: the ancient city was, according to him, basically a fanatical religious cult with many duties and sacred rites, and very little of what we’d think of as freedom: even in cities with democratic systems of government. One could think of it as a sort of development of human psychology beyond the primitive hunter gatherer band; religion being used to mediate conflict between people. You could also think of it as something completely consistent with the evidence presented in Julian Jaynes “Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” -one of those crazy, compelling ideas that captures many people’s imaginations. All of this seems pretty nuts to modern people, but Fustel de Coulanges seems to have done well in the eyes of modern Classicists, so I’m going to assume it more or less works this way. I wonder what this kind of thinking would look like applied outside of the Indo-European context: while European paganism and Hindu practices are deeply related, maybe comparing it to something like Shinto would be productive.

“Caesar: a sketch” Froude -the story of the most interesting man in the world brought to life by one of the great scholars of the classics. The political, social and legal contexts are left out of the classical accounts (Plutarch, Tacitus, Cicero, etc); it seems you’d really need to be a classical scholar to understand what was going on at the time, and why someone like Caesar was even possible in a Republic that had lasted for hundreds of years. His absurd achievements in war and politics are documented with loving detail, and a clear picture of his visionary nature and powerful personality emerges. When you look at the eald enta geweorc idlu stodon ruins of the Roman imperium, built thousands of miles and across oceans from Rome, two thousand years ago when news traveled by postilion and boat: truly it was the work of giants.

“Julius Caesar” -William Shakespeare. I read this after Froude, as this is the source for most contemporary views on Caesar as tyrant comes from. “Et tu Brutus” comes from this; not from any ancient source. Similarly his Caesar comes off as a sort of supernatural cypher as he does in popular culture; more a force of nature than a real man with understandable motivations and political angles. It is of course tragic and beautiful and it makes me want to sit down and go through the complete works. I had avoided this in the past for watching them in person, but they’re quick to read (assuming it’s not bedtime) and rewarding in their own rights.

“The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention” William Rosen -this one was a slow burn for me. Bill Dreiss recommended it to me when I still lived in Berkeley, after looking at the University’s antique microscope collection, but I only read a chapter or two here and there as I felt it. It’s an idiosyncratic history bouncing from medieval monks (the centers of technology in their day), to psychometrics on inventors, each chapter bouncing about to various inventors and iron-mongers, making it, in hindsight sort of suited to that sort of ad-hoc reading. Effectively a history of the industrial revolution leading up to steam engines, its also the disconnected stories of all the myriad scientists and inventors who pushed things forward, culminating in the steam locomotive.

On the Syrian Goddess” by Lucian. A quick read, I found it at the excellent Global Grey ebooks repo, which is a nice little one-woman resource of cleaned up and well formatted open source books. Lucian is a sort of fedora atheist stand up comedian of his time; a Syrian himself, he wrote in Greek. Mostly in Attic Greek, this one was in Ionian Greek, I guess to make fun of Herodotus. I sort of picture him as a sort of George Carlin making fun of David Attenborough documentaries in a twee British accent. Contains an interesting account of the Assyrian version of the Great Flood which provoked some wikipedia forays.

“Mimes of the Courtesans” by Lucian. Also found in Global Grey. Remembering Lucian was a stand up philosopher, this is a series of dialogues between whores. Another quick and amusing read. Kind of makes you think; the courtesan was a familiar character to ancient Roman civilization. Not quite a prostitute in our modern senses; I think they called those meretrixes, and they were considered lower caste (prostibulae basically means “lower class”). Courtesans are more like high class escorts or the type of women who loaf in bikinis on rich men’s boats or something. Regular meretrixes were of no interest to upper class men who could buy their own sex slaves. Courtesans were women who could actually be amusing conversationalists in addition to the obvious. Of course the Romans while they’d accept the presence of Courtesans at parties, considered all of them, actors and actresses alike to be prostitutes (news flash: this is still true). Part of the comedy here probably is some complex social class thing I’m not going to fully understand without reading a half dozen Classics sociology books, most of the amusement is men acting like fools. Some may be horrified by the stock figure of the mom whoring out her daughter in these anecdotes; I have a hard time with that -current year moms in our “civilized” world generally do worse without encouraging their daughters to make the gentlemen pay.

“The Characters” Theophrastus –a nice list of the weirdoes one might encounter among gentlemen at the peak of Ancient Greek civilization. One might still encounter most of these people today among the leisured classes. I would have liked to have the same thing among working and merchant classes. Jean de La Bruyère wrote something loosely inspired by this which is also worth your attention. Reminds me a bit of Chesterfield’s letters to his son.

“The Perfectionists” Simon Winchester -this one came about looking for more information on Maudsley and all that. It is a decidedly mixed bag. Some of it is excellent; the story of Rolls Royce or Frank Whittle for example. The Hubble, GPS, microprocessors, atomic clocks is just meh. Chapters 7-10 are basically the nucleus of a different book; these have nothing to do with precision engineering -they’re various kinds of physics more or less unrelated to the earlier chapters on maschinenbau. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, the earlier stuff is quite nice.

“The Secret Team” L Fletcher Prouty. Prouty was a former air force colonel in charge of the spooks during the Kennedy administration. He is most famous as being the inspiration for “Mr. X” in Oliver Stone’s JFK movie. He is, of course, denounced in the usual ways; “conspiracy theorist” and is the type of guy who’d be writing at Unz these days. I dunno if the guy in charge of the CIA during the Kennedy administration thinks it was a CIA coup, maybe we should simply listen to what he has to say. This book is beyond reproach though: it’s basically a personal history of how the spooks work, and how they interact with the rest of the government: within the letter of the law, but with maximum deception. It presents the way the spooks orchestrated the Bay of Pigs, favoring Kennedy in the election and cultivating the relationship and idea months before he was actually elected; even pointing out the investments in sugar done by CIA insiders right before the invasion. This book was written towards the end of the Vietnam war and also describes the escalating spook nonsense that got us into the war in the first place. Not some hidden mastermind idea: just bureaucratic incompetence, in-fighting, inertia and narrative control. One of the key issues he raises repeatedly is that the spooks are reasonably OK and useful for intelligence, but it’s their clandestine activities which are a problem. They often spin up on otherwise unviewed intel input and serve no national purpose: more or less imagine if the DMV had the ability to overthrow local county governments to impose traffic rules which help them meet some internal bureaucratic figure of merit like number of registered drivers who live in apartments: that’s what they spooks are and why they do what they do.

“Background to Betrayal” by Hilaire Du Berrier. Du Berrier is one of those larger than life characters who almost couldn’t possibly exist: he ran away from home to join a flying circus,  flew for Hailie Selassie against Mussolini in Ethiopia, spied on the communists in the Spanish civil war (was nearly shot for his troubles), hung out with Hemmingway, Pound and Man Ray in Paris, flew for Chiang Kai Shek against the Japanese and communists, was captured and tortured by the Japanese in WW-2, was involved in the Algerian and Vietnam wars. He had almost perfect insights at every historical moment in time; predicting the GWOT in 1999.

“Byzantium: the early centuries” by John Julius Norwich. The early centuries of Byzantium are basically the Roman empire falling apart, religious controversy and innovations, and Justinian kind of sort of putting something new together (while almost blowing the whole thing up) thanks to a couple of important administrators and generals. I had read “the decline and fall” volume of Norwich’s 3 book series, like a couple of decades ago, mostly for further accounts of the fourth Crusade, and the invasions of Robert Guiscard both of which are absolutely fascinating to me. There are some nice asides here, including Chersoneus, which I had visited back when that was legal for Americans to do. Norwich is a great pleasure to read; you could imagine him in tweed telling you stories like this over a Sherry in the embassy library. Looking forward to cracking “the Apogee.” His book on Venice is also excellent. Apparently there are also books on the Normans, various random Princes, France, the Mediterranean and various other things I’ll eventually have a look at.

The Mind of Napoleon. compiled by J. Christopher Herold. Curtis Yarvin suggested this. I guess the easiest way to describe it is “Hitler’s table talk” except as written by “Ole Boney,” and compiled from random places rather than post turnip digestion at the Fuhrertable. Unlike Hitler’s tedious gasbagging, Napoleon was very much to the point, most of the things recorded here have the character of aphorism (there is a book of his aphorisms as well); even when he waxed prolix it was only a couple of paragraphs. This is the sort of thing anyone interested in any kind of leadership or organization should page through.

“The Education of Cyrus” by Xenophon (translation by Wayne Ambler). Is it the world’s greatest management book? History of ancient Persians? Idealized leader philosophy book? Probably some of each. Xenophon wasn’t around when Cyrus was in clover; he probably acquired his historical knowledge of Cyrus from the Persian court, a member of which he famously served with the 10,000 as a mercenary in Anabasis. It isn’t possible he spoke to anyone who knew Cyrus who died 100 years before Xenophon was born, so I assume he got a bunch of history and ideals from the Persian courts. It’s a very warm portrayal of a very great man, even if the man portrayed was semi-fictional in nature. It rings true psychologically, and I’m sure was somewhat informed by Xenophon’s generalship experiences.

Moralia Plutarch. Moralia is much lesser known than Plutarch’s Lives. This is a shame, as there are better translations of it, and it’s a relatively quick read. I won’t say I like it better (Montaigne did), as that would be like saying you like the Book of John better than the Bible; they’re not comparable sets. But it is something very much worth people’s attention.

The dropout

Posted in Book reviews by Scott Locklin on August 16, 2022

I remember when Theranos was a thing. People gave me shit on social media for semi-publicly not believing in the Elizabeth Holmes wunderkind. I also didn’t believe in Transatomic and uBeam. All three transparently violated the laws of physics and chemistry. All three were headed up by mountebanks who short circuit the critical faculties of investors in the same way. They were all undereducated fair haired female nincompoops. They were all saying things I knew to be laughably false. It wasn’t obvious at the time that they were intentional frauds, and I think it is likely they all believed they could pull off their claims, but it was obvious to me their ideas wouldn’t work. Anyone else who passed high school tier physics and chemistry shouldn’t have been fooled either. Of course these are VC we’re talking about here, so they probably never did pass high school physics and chemistry.

I guess the investment thesis is anybody could found a company in their dorm room because, like Zuckerschmuck did it. Of course, Zuckerface basically copied someone else’s obviously implementable idea with zero technical innovations. His risks were all business execution; and he did a decent job at that, as he is a good businessman. Nothing he was trying to do was obviously false: Friendster even used the same color scheme as Facebook. Most founders and VCs have about as much insight into computers as they do into physics, which is to say, they don’t know shit from shinola. It’s difficult for them to understand when a computer thing is impossible, despite most of their investments being computer related. The idea is to invest in a bunch of things without too much diligence, because spending time and experts to evaluate claims has a high opportunity cost. The difference is that it’s a lot tougher to work around stuff like the 1/r^2 law than figuring out one of your core queries is NP-hard query and using metaheuristics to get a decent enough solution. Hence the profusion of “AI” startups who don’t really push the needle. VC is thinking “brain in a can,” founders are presenting slightly better MAPE at the cost of O(N^2) or something. Still, one of them might do something important, and your colleagues are all doing it, so you might as well kick them an investment. That’s the theory.

Successful founders and VCs are often psychopaths. I think they’re used to working with psychopaths. Fake it until you make it is a reasonable thing to do with software. I’m pretty sure Oracle didn’t have anything on its first sale (which was to the CIA, a psychopath heavy organization), so if you’re used to software, it seems sensible to invest in some wild eyed kid with an idea. For the world of innovative products made out of matter, this is false. Academics are useless in most software development; I can only think of a few places where even being able to read Knuth tier academic stuff from the 70s is useful. Not so in biochemistry. As the Steven Fry portrayed Ian Gibbins put it, you can’t really plan breakthroughs in science. You can build an organization more likely to succeed (Theranos evidently wasn’t even in the ballpark), but you can’t schedule when you’re going to be able to ship the thing you don’t know how to build without detailed and concrete intermediate steps. If you don’t have intermediate steps, you can’t plan it. Theranos didn’t have intermediate steps.

The actors and actresses in this show are very clever in their portrayals. We know Elizabeth Holmes at least acted this way in public. Her tics, manners, idiosyncratic slouches; very well captured. By contrast we know less about Sunny Balwani, who didn’t have the media megaphone. I don’t know anyone from the Valley who knew him, but I definitely know the psychological type portrayed in the miniseries. If you’ve seen the Silicon Valley TV show you know about the character Dinesh Chugtai. I won’t describe him here, but if you’ve worked in the Valley, you’ve met a Dinesh; just like all the other Silicon Valley characters -they’re stereotypes, and they’re real (I had a streak of Gilfoyle about me for part of my career). Similarly the portrayal of Sunny Balwani is a familiar character. Some Indian guys suffer from insecurities and do stuff like buy a Lambo to show what big swinging dicks they are, among other things, such as dating age-inappropriate bottle blonde women. Sure this sort of insecurity can manifest the same way across ethnicities, but everyone who has spent time there knows a Silicon Valley Desi guy like this. There is also a type who is a sort of cruel Machiavellian taskmaster: a few Indian people have told me it’s a regional or ethnic quality, but I have no idea how subcontinental ethnicities or regions work. If you spend enough time in the Valley, you’ve met a couple of Sunny Balwani types, and the portrayal was interesting and amusing even if the real Sunny Balwani wasn’t like that. The portrayal of Larry Ellison was pretty good too.

The abusiveness was not adequately documented. For example, it is well known that her dog would shit all over the company office and she’d make the little people clean up the dog shit. While they showed Sunny chimping out at the little people of Theranos, they didn’t show Miz Holmes doing the same thing; apparently her psychological abusiveness was of similar timbre.  Perhaps she got it from her idolization of Steve Jobs, who was similarly abusive, and doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a complete psycho. I suspect normies wouldn’t think this level of abuse is realistic,  but silicon valley is filled with clownish, ridiculous levels of psychological abuse that are so extreme, a realistic portrayal would seem like a parody.

One of the things which struck me after watching this; if Theranos had found some revenue stream to keep them alive in 2019, they probably would have “succeeded.” Essentially all of the “cures” for the covid problem were baloney. Biomedical research companies jumped the shark in 2020: they realized by bribing enough politicians and media outlets, they could sell any sort of “science juice” -with redditors gleefully St Vitus dancing along with it. Even a miserable fraudulent slave-pit like Theranos should have been able to manufacture some bullshit test strips, or some expensive cod-solution such as Pfizer blessed us with, ginned up with fraudulent statistics and buoyed by FDA and CDC malfeasance. Nobody would have noticed; Holmes would have been praised as a savior by the entire establishment, and everyone would have forgotten about their blood testing machines in the ensuing hysteria.

Anyway this docu-drama is a fun thing to waste time on for those who are interested in Silly Con Valley culture and its follies. People who have been in the trenches will find a lot of familiar guidestones. Many successful software businesses were/are as dysfunctional and shady as this and run by the types of cretins portrayed here. Buyer beware if you come across one dealing with matter.

 

 

Poking holes in Bell’s inequality: E.T. Jaynes possibly clearing up some mysteries

Posted in physics by Scott Locklin on June 6, 2022

E.T. Jaynes is sort of the patron saint of physicists going into data science.  He’s a guy I’m particularly fond of as I spent a good part of my early grad school career studying the quantum optics; the Jaynes-Cummings model was important in my first Ph.D. thesis project which was supposed to measure a quantum breaktime. Jaynes book “Probability theory the logic of science” came out around the time I started grad school and ended up being a huge influence on me. Some day I’ll read Jeffreys books which inspired it. I won’t go into great detail about his life and career; suffice it to say he was an important figure rather than some isolated weirdo, despite his fairly sparse wakipedia entry.

He wrote a little-commented-on paper in 1988 “Clearing up Mysteries (the Original Goal)” in which he shits on quantum mysticism from a tremendous height. This is amusing as his Thesis Advisor, Wigner is the source of a lot of the moosh headed quantum mysticism as far as I can tell. It’s even more amusing that he’s very possibly correct, and people mostly haven’t noticed or engaged with his ideas. It’s a little bit disjointed as a paper in my opinion; it comes off as a sort of dinner conversation by a great polymath, but its tremendously clear and filled with hilarity,

“…A standard of logic that would be considered a psychiatric disorder in other fields, is the accepted norm in quantum theory. But this is really a form of arrogance, as if one were claiming to control Nature by psychokinesis. In our more humble view of things, the probability distributions that we use for inference do not describe any property of the world, only a certain state of information about the world.In our system, a probability is a theoretical construct, on the epistemological level, which we assign in order to represent a state of knowledge, or that we calculate from other probabilities according to the rules of probability theory. A frequency is a property of the real world, on the ontological level, that we measure or estimate. So for us, probability theory is not an Oracle telling how the world must be; it is a mathematical tool for organizing, and ensuring the consistency of, our own reasoning.”

 

Jaynes goes on, rather irritatingly to take sides in Bohr versus Einstein arguments about completeness in quantum mechanics. This is justified in that the meat of the argument originated in this discussion, but it still bugs the hell out of me these dead people have any relevance to today’s thought (or that of 1988).  There must have been six orders of magnitude more time spent talking about those conversations than the amount of time and thought put into the conversations, and while Bohr and Einstein were inarguably great men, they weren’t 10^6 more clever than normies. The EPR paradox is explained. Effectively Einstein and his collaborators postulated quantum entanglement as an example of the incompleteness of quantum mechanics as entangled systems appear to violate special relativity. For the classic example: if you turn a photon into two quantum entangled photos using a KDP  or BBO crystal, you immediately know something about the polarization state of both photons when you measure one of them, even if they’re on the opposite sides of the universe. EPR’s argument was that you needed some hidden variables to explain this or that locality doesn’t exist (which is, of course absurd, but which appears to be doctrinal). Bell’s inequality is a formalization of this about a class of hidden variable theories (de Broglie’s hidden variable theories basically, which Bell was a partisan of). He then goes on to explain the Aspect experiments and the frothing hysteria around them from hippy-dippy “physicists” who used too much LSD in Santa Fe.

 

Jaynes unfucks this by pointing out that Bell is insisting that conditional probability is causal somehow; hence the babbling about “spooky action at a distance” in the EPR case and with entanglement in general. This reasoning is false; that’s not how conditional probability works. To believe this you’d have to believe the proverbial drawing of balls from Bernoulli’s urn causes some kind of action at a distance. Aka if you have a red marble and a black marble in your pocket, you withdraw a marble without looking and put it on a rocket, looking at the marble on the other side of the universe doesn’t cause anything to happen or travel faster than the speed of light; it’s just conditional probability. You can talk about wave functions collapsing but that’s really all this is.

The spooky superluminal stuff would follow from Hidden Assumption (assuming conditional probability means causal influence); but that assumption disappears as soon as we recognize, with Jeffreys and Bohr, that what is traveling faster than light is not a physical causal influence, but only a logical inference.

He also points out that the excluded Bell hidden variable theories are not the full set of hidden variable theories,  but merely the ones Bell was a partisan of (de Broglie-Bohm theories) and goes on to explain what  hidden variable theories excluded from the Bell inequality might look like and makes the suggestion that Herbert Walther has gizmoes which might put such non-de Broglie hidden variable theories to the torture. This was a very good guess at the time; I remember Walther’s surrealistic Bohm trajectories -Walther was a great experimentalist. Sadly this class of experiments never happened. Or if it had, I suppose it would end up as confusing epistomology and ontology as surrealistic Bohm trajectories ultimately probably was. He then goes on about some insanely frustrating pedantic irrelevancy about the thermodynamics of human muscle tissue which I will ignore.

 

 

I remember reading this towards the end of my physics career and thinking it made a lot of sense but he must be wrong somehow because it confused Einstein, Bohr, Bell, Aspect and a whole lot of other people who are/were smarter than the former auto mechanic who used to work for a guy named “Hatchet.” This paper was presented to me again a few weeks ago by my pal, the futures trader Bill Dreiss. At the time back in 2003, I needed to walk over to the physics library to use INSPEC to figure out who cited the paper; something I never did, but which wouldn’t have provided much as feedback in 2003 (one paper gave a passionate defense of psychokinesis). Now we have google scholar, a vast improvement over walking over to the physics library as the potential well is lower, even if the results are less complete and optimal. As it happens most who talk about this issue in detail, at least every paper I read carefully, seems to say that Jaynes is correct. I suppose I am also now …. considerably older, and have met many great savants (and “great savants”) and I’ve noticed that even the truly great ones very often make incredibly stupid blunders -more or less due to their being members of the human race. I have also noticed that it is extremely rare that followers call their heroes on their shit, even when their heroes are egregiously, hilariously wrong. So, I think it quite possible Jaynes was correct, and entanglement is basically mystical gobbledeygook that disappears in the cold light of clean probabilistic thinking.

I encourage everyone to have a look at the citing papers: there are 227 of them thus far. Quite a lot of them are citing the non-sequiturs in this paper. Some are Jaynes citing himself. I haven’t found any saying “Jaynes is quite incorrect about EPR paradox/Bell’s inequalities and here is where he went wrong.” Most of those I’ve read thus far who actually address this issue seem to think Jaynes is correct and quantum entanglement is just Bernoulli’s urn. One which was breezily negative by Richard D. Gill  appeared not to have read Jaynes paper properly, and is generally a reddit tier emotional deboonking of various things which make him uncomfortable; feel free to read it and contradict me. Gill’s an interesting person at least, but part of his career is kind of reddit man in nature. This may be unfair, but I thought his deboonk was perfunctory and lame.

 

A couple of workers wrote a 2008 paper making even stronger assertions than Jaynes, asserting more or less that Bell flubbed formal probability theory. They have a cute gedanken example from engineering demonstrating an EPR like “paradox” using table top electronics. FH Froehner wrote an amusing thing back in the 90s very much in the Jaynes Bayesian sensibility where he asserts both the truth of Jaynes assertions about entanglement and the class of non-Bell hidden variable theories. Money quote “quantum mechanics looks much like an error propagation formalism for uncertainty-afflicted physical systems that obey the classical laws of motion.” A Viennese by the name of Svozil wrote a lovely dyspeptic rant called “Quantum Hocus Pocus” in 2016, which is an absolutely delightful takedown of all kinds of quantum nonsense touted by various EU science initiatives. This includes a reference to his classic “Staging quantum cryptography with chocolate balls.” He agrees with Jaynes criticisms of interpretations of the Bell Inequality. Whether or not Svozil is correct in all details, I certainly appreciate his dyspeptic thumos. Thumos is something sorely missing both in contemporary science and modern life in general.

A.F. Kracklauer wrote two papers examining Jaynes assertions, 2017 “Entanglement vs Correlation in Quantum Theory” and “Bells Theorem: Loopholes vs. Conceptual Flaws”. Taken together these are each better than Jaynes original paper as he doesn’t digress as much, explains better and provides some historical background as to how this snarl of confusion got started in the first place. Marian Kupczynski also wrote a couple of articles in favor of Jaynes views “Entanglement and Quantum Nonlocality Demystified”  sets up a classical Bell experiment to show us what’s really going on here, “Is the Moon There If Nobody Looks: Bell Inequalities and Physical Reality” has Jaynes listed as a reference, and is broadly consistent with the argument though he never actually cites him (I assume a faulty Bibtex stuck the paper in there).

I’m no longer any kind of physicist but I enjoy reading such presentations and encourage people who know better than me to look into it. Probability theory is still pretty mooshy today; the level of understanding was quite low from Bell’s time on back to when physicists started talking about probability in Maxwell’s time. It is entirely possible that a lot of the quantum weirdness is just probability theory weirdness, and whether Jaynes is entirely correct in this instance, the probability part of quantum mechanics is a really good place to probe around looking for weaknesses.  Of course I’m also biased towards such “flipping over the card table” ideas, but it seems to me as there are entire fields with thousands of workers whose alleged subject is based around quantum entanglement, someone should be able to explain to me why Jaynes is wrong here. I realize they’re busy, possibly getting steaks for statisticians, but surely one of them has the time to dispel the ignorance of bit twiddling wretches such as myself.

Littoral combat ships are moronic

Posted in War nerding by Scott Locklin on May 26, 2022

Much like stealth fighter planes (owning a few stealth bombers, especially remote controlled ones, actually makes sense for an airforce), littoral combat ships are a moronic idea, exemplifying everything wrong with modern military procurement. This was always obviously so, and I never bothered to say much about them because I figured it was apparent to everyone who wasn’t an Admiral bribed by Lockheed. Now that even the Navy admits this, it’s time to piss all over the entire concept like the victor in a bum fight.

The idea of the littoral combat ship is …. it sits in littoral waters (aka close to the shoreline) and flings various kinds of armaments at primitive barbarians inland. They also contain helipads and various tooling to send off small teams of ninjas to pacify the cannibals you’re raining ordinance on. Because it’s the military, they wanted the things to do like sextuple duty; anti-mine duties, anti-submarine duties, surveillance, recon, maritime intercepts, coast guard duties… basically it’s a super battleship helipad which does everything that a half dozen other classes of boat usually do; by changing “modules” -something no boat in human history ever managed. This one didn’t manage it either; despite their pride in all the modules using the same internet protocol, they were never able to switch them out, and each ship has a permanent module or none at all. It was also supposed to be 1/4 the price of a destroyer, which is already pretty cheap as Navy boats go. Mostly though, it was for shelling cannibals. From 2001 until 2022 that was the main purpose in the US military. The fact that none of the cannibals we shelled conveniently placed themselves near the seaside where LCS could shell them was irrelevant. The Navy wanted in on the GWOT, and this was their way of doing justifying their share of the loot.

I guess at some point they figured the GWOT would last forever and we’d need these things to hurl shells at Somalis or something. The entire idea of its primary function is completely ridiculous. Airplanes are much better at incinerating recalcitrant cavemen who don’t want to be enriched by our vibrant democracy. They have longer range and are better able to identify and blow up targets, by, you know, looking at them. Airplanes also don’t get stuck in muddy littoral waters, nor do they hit mines. In current year, this is a preposterous throwback to Iwo-Jima days when the Navy would assist marines by shelling Japanese troops on islands.

The most obvious imbecility is the one you can see with your own eyes: it has stealth characteristics. This is moronic as any fool with binoculars or a biplane will be able to see the damn thing. It is also moronic in that it can’t be used in hostile waters; this class of ship lacks armor and defense capabilities  above the threat level of a zodiac boat, and it has no equipment for shooting at ocean going threats either. But I guess the cavemen who don’t have a rowboat with a 0.75 caliber rifle on it or a biplane have exocet missiles or something. Hence the modularity: since there were no actual shore targets of cannibals to incinerate, the Navy needed to make it good for all kinds of things. All kinds of things except, like being a meaningfully useful ocean going ship.

One of the funniest things about these floating turds: they rust. This is in part because they are giant aluminum jet skis, and the bugs on that sort of idea haven’t been worked out yet. Aluminum is generally ass for a nautical material, dropping a penny into the bilge can sink an aluminum ship. Oh and while I’m at it, one of the classes had some complicated transmission linking a gas turbine to a diesel motor to power the jet ski pumps. Of course this constantly failed. Everyone knows putting a clutch in a 50,000 horsepower drivetrain consisting of multiple engines is probably something like a bad idea.

Since the legacy boat companies didn’t have a lot of experience with large aluminum structures, these turds were sold by Lockheed-Martin and General Dynamics: airplane companies. Airplane companies which had basically no experience making a boat which floats on the water, but have extensive experience with cost overruns and making complicated systems that don’t function properly. I guess this is why they thought something like a 50,000 horsepower clutch might be a good idea.

These things were supposed to be cheap to operate in part because of automation. The crews for a LCS were supposed to be around 50; maybe a quarter of what a comparable Frigate required. Since crew is one of the biggest costs of operating a boat, they’d theoretically save a bunch of money. Unfortunately all that automation also cost something, as does maintenance of all that automation. And of course, the Navy didn’t think about the fact that someone needs to maintain the automation: at present, mostly done by extremely expensive military contractors who need to be flown to whatever port where the things break down. As a result, each one of these little floating turds cost as much as a guided missile cruiser to operate, despite the guided missile cruiser having 7x the ship’s complement, and a guided missile cruiser being actually useful in the deep ocean and for multiple roles.

They made two classes of the thing; Freedom class and Independent class. Freedom class is the boring looking half steel one, Independence class the all aluminum trimaran retardation, one of which is named for a former congresscreature who is most noteworthy for having only half a brain.

The Lockheed-Martin Freedom class is the one which had difficulties with its transmission. This is absolutely fascinating in its stupidity: the thing has two gas turbines and two diesel motors; presumably so it could chug along in a cost effective way on the latter, and go really fookin’ fast using the turbines. The combining gears and clutches to make it all work together somehow are absolutely buried inside the thing. I guess Lockheed-Martin figured it would just work, despite never having done such a thing before. It didn’t work. They can’t fix it without disassembling and rebuilding the entire boat, and they got sick of the things blowing up in the middle of the ocean. Also, because Lockheed-Martin is an airplane company, they didn’t know how to prevent rust on a boat. Four of them, one of which is only four years old, will be decommissioned and left to rot in the reserve fleet. Two more are also on the chopping block; also only a few years old. This class of ship, of which there are 11 examples, has deployed a grand total of 3 missions, all of which were plagued by engine problems. Astoundingly even the Navy has decided they’ve had enough and has “paused” receipt of new examples since none of the older ones ever functioned properly. Of course they’ve done this before and unpause long enough to take on a new one here and there. Because, you know, muh boats.

The more futuristic looking General Dynamics Independence class is even more foolish. It’s a trimaran made of aluminum; something never before attempted, and of dubious utility, though it admittedly looks kind of cool. Numerous engine problems are bad enough, but the fancy-pants aluminum trimaran hulls are cracking. To the extent they can’t exceed 15 knots; making them considerably slower than the average cruise ship. None of them have actually sunk yet. On the other hand, none of them have actually managed to be deployed on a mission yet either.

I’ll throw in a scoff at the Zumwalt class “land attack destroyer” which is really an extension of the LCS concept. Also stealthy (why?), also designed to work in shallow waters. This one was even more expensive and obviously retarded, so the Navy actually cancelled most of them. Most amusing: an “advanced gun system” which while incredibly cool was also incredibly stupid. The idea was for the cannon to shoot something which had a few of the capabilities of a cruise missile: able to guide itself in a precision manner towards the target. Sounds a lot like a missile, right? Well, it’s not a missile, as it gets its energy in an actual gun, using ballistics, but it has all the complications of a cruise missile, and costs about the same, while having 1/20 the range, 1/5 the circular error probable and it costs the same as the much more capable cruise missile does per round. But it can shoot 10 of them a minute! And store 750 of the things! Or you could stick 35000 pounds of gold in the bilge. Probably be more useful and costs less. Also its stealthy hull kind of sucks in rough waters, as tumblehome hulls always do. We’ve got two of them, and no ammo to shoot out the fancy gun system. The Navy says they’ll replace the guns with hypersonic missiles, which of course, don’t actually exist yet outside of Russia.

Here have an unintentionally hilarious LARPy documentary on these floating aluminum turds: