Mind Melds, Chimeras, Remixes.

I’m thinking about the whole should-we-or-shouldn’t-we dilemma regarding the release of research into genetically-modified avian flu.  I’m reading about pros and cons.  I’m trying very hard to make sure that impartial empiricism doesn’t get overwhelmed by my visceral desire for a planet-scouring megademic (there:  that ought to provide enough fodder to keep Lanius happy for a while).

I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet, though.  Probably in a couple of days.

In the meantime, a few links have accumulated that some of you might find interesting:

  • Geneticist Ellen Giorgi interviews me on her blog Chimeras.  It covers the usual bases — Creative Commons, the inspiration behind Blindsight, my rocky relationship with the publishing industry and the complementary mistresses (mistressii?) of Science and Fiction in my life — and those of you who’ve been compulsively stalking me for decades won’t find anything really new there.  Those of you who’ve adopted more healthy pastimes, though, might find it interesting.
  • Likewise, in that brief post-holiday lull during which I unexpectedly had a few minutes of free time, I got a chance to weigh in once again over at Mind Meld: this time, on the question of how SF writers should respond to the politics of their time.  I’m up there with Heather Massey, Paul Graham Raven, Rachel Swirsky,  and Chris Brown — and if my thoughts on the subject aren’t quite as depthy as theirs, they are at least far more vulgar.
  • Finally, a treat for whatever fraction of the base that can’t get enough of “The Things”.  There’ve been a couple of multimedia interpretations of that story — Jesús Olmo put together a wonderful digital coffee-table book of the story that laid the text up against morphing fractal graphics, and I seem to recall a weird little video somewhere online where 8-bit Star Trek characters moved around in a pixelated snowstorm to stage directions lifted from “The Things”‘s prose.  (And if anyone can provide a link to prove I didn’t hallucinate that, I’d be grateful.  I’m typing this after two bottles of Fuzion at the Duke of Somerset, so I’m not really in comprehensive-search mode.)  Anyway, a recent random ego-surf led me to a two-part video remix (second part here) of Kate Baker’s sublime reading:  it’s the same haunting performance you’ll find at the Clarkesworld download site, but set to an ambient soundscape and a series of Ken-Burns-like slow pans across wastelands both Antarctic and interstellar, shapeless multicolored aurorae, translucent anatomical humanoids with bioluminescent viscera; impressionistic pencil sketches and menacing Malamutes.  I don’t know who this alexander3333333 guy is (although he seems to like NIN, which is a good sign), but he’s put together quite the hypnotic performance, if you’re not yet sick of the story and you have an hour to kill.  Personally, I like it a lot.
This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday January 19 2012at 05:01 pm , filed under ink on art, interviews . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

44 Responses to “Mind Melds, Chimeras, Remixes.”

  1. I’d rather read stuff myself, but I’m aware I’m in the minority, so the next time I plug the story I’ll try with the video instead.

  2. Peter, pardon me for what might be a premature comment on the “should we stamp nondisclosure over potential vulns and attack vectors in human and viral genetics” line of discussion, but you know, I work in IT, and nondisclosure here has a long and proud history of disastrously failing.

    Failing to publish the relevant articles alters (as far as I understand, I’m not one of flesh jockey types ) neither the pathogen nor human immune system, so it does not increase security, and introduces a degree of uncertainty and, perhaps worst of all, a very broad false sense of security.

  3. A direct result of the embargo on the GM avian flu is a hell of a lot of attention to the topic. Now that it’s been thoroughly publicised as a possible technique; look for GM biowarfare at a cave near you.

    “…it wasn’t the CC release per se that caused the boost in sales, it was the publicity that resulted from the CC release.”

  4. Well, that too. You kind of raise a huge “scary shit right here” flag on the topic, which attracts all the wrong kinds of researchers.

    Hm. Maybe we should urgently classify totally harmless research into fish disease or someshit just to troll would-be-terrorists and cause them to waste resources 😀

    P.S.: interestingly enough, it seems that there already exist publicized protocols for artificially creating viruses that leverage synaptic connections between neurons as propagation routes, and I seem to recall (but sadly can’t source since it is something that came up in a talk with a friend long time ago, would be grateful if someone looks into validity of it) that leveraging existing synapses (in infections affecting nervous system) and making specialsauce “viral” synapses (in tissues that normally don’t have any of that) is a potent route for evading impending immune response…

  5. One question that has been nagging me: I’m a bit surprised that Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” is not mentioned in your interviews, nor does it appear in “Blindsight”‘s bibliography. I assume that means you either didn’t read it, or do not consider it worthy (or even scientific ;-). Still, as its core thesis is that humans were not conscious until a few thousand years ago (which links nicely with some aspects of your book, i.e. vampires), I find that a bit puzzling. Could you care to comment, or if you already did and I just missed it, point me to the relevant discussion? Thanks.

  6. Technicality:
    alexander3333333 might like NIN but if I’m not completely mistaken the music in the background is actually the score from the recently released “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. So the music is actually not by NIN but rather by Trent Reznor ans Atticus Mac. So almost NIN…

    I do apologize for being a messerschmitt.

  7. I thought messerschmitt is a kind of old airplane, no ? :)

  8. @PW
    You know, you make no secret of your misantrophy, and I’ve yet to meet a misanthrope who doesn’t find the idea of a global pandemic with 90%+ mortality attractive.

    Would neatly solve a lot of issues, greatly mitigate the poverty and hunger problems, alleviate the stress on enviroment and furthermore would allow the survivors the room to pass some sane policies so this lunacy that’s now ongoing wouldn’t repeat itself..

    As someone whose immune system shrugs off bugs that confine others to bed for a week in an afternoon, I’m not really scared. (funny, no one in my immediate family’s had the flu in a decade)


    I’m thinking about the whole should-we-or-shouldn’t-we dilemma regarding the release of research into genetically-modified avian flu. I’m reading about pros and cons.

    Can’t imagine a state sponsoring research into it, and so far, it’s very unlikely an individual could create such an altered virus by himself, right, even if they had enough resources and cover to have a decent laboratory.

    Then…. could such a virus be used as a part of a MAD doctrine? Then it’s conceivable that a beleaguered state with decent R&D might look into it.

    On second thoughts, thing should be restricted. Helping say, North Korea to develop an ace in the hole isn’t very wise..

  9. @ Lanius

    The elephant in the room people keep on missing and missing and missing and missing (I could go on :) ) is the fact that a “research lockdown” will not prevent anyone, be that a well-funded genius terrorist cell or a pissed off state, from creating Hypothetical Supervirus, since the “supervirus” property comes from the way natural world hypothetically works. Banning “evil chemicals” rarely works out 😉

    You also can’t lock down research – even in a field where creating weapon employs massive, dedicated infrastructure that is relatively hard to pass off as peaceful (that is, field of nuclear physics), nonproliferation efforts are rather pathetic at best (lol Israel). In a field where the infrastructure can easily be passed off as “normal” bioscience, nonproliferation efforts will be even less successful.

    Also, as correctly pointed out above by fvngvs, another elephant in the room is the fact that restricting specific avenues of inquiry pretty much informs both terrorists and unsympathetic states about where exactly should they start digging.
    Which is probably not a message worth sending

  10. Oh, and yes, I certainly see how a sufficiently genetically engineered bug could be a MAD option. There are some problems with that due to the dynamics of how virulent diseases spread (normally, highly lethal bugs tend to “burn out” the local population and die down), but they might be surmountable.

    P.S.:
    I wanted to invite a “sorta ex” milspec microbiologist friend to come here and say something insightful, but his email auto-responder appears to indicate that he’s no longer “ex” and won’t be available for comment.

  11. Aaaaaaaaand spam-filter send yet another message in limbo :(

  12. “interestingly enough, it seems that there already exist publicized protocols for artificially creating viruses that leverage synaptic connections between neurons as propagation routes, and I seem to recall (but sadly can’t source since it is something that came up in a talk with a friend long time ago, would be grateful if someone looks into validity of it) that leveraging existing synapses (in infections affecting nervous system) and making specialsauce “viral” synapses (in tissues that normally don’t have any of that) is a potent route for evading impending immune response…”

    Don’t know about the specialsauce stuff, but I blogged about a study that used one of such viruses to trigger or dampen synapses and modify social behavior in mice:

    http://chimerasthebooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/of-hierarchies-mice-and-neurons.html

  13. In response to Lektu:
    I’m surprised none of the previous commenters have brought this up, but have a look here: http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=2564 (and earlier: http://www.rifters.com/real/in_progress.htm) and you’ll find more than a hint of the Bicameral Mind.

  14. James: aha, thanks, I had missed these.
    Still, it makes the lack of references in the bibliography even more puzzling… :-)

  15. What’s wrong with Israel having nukes?

    If Czech Republic was surrounded on all sides by hordes of bloodthirsty mahometans, I’d damn sure attend marches demanding nuclear weaponry..

    I believe it’s the right of every sovereign country to produce nuclear weaponry, provided they can be trusted with it. Which isn’t clear in Iran’s case.. that’s where the problem lies.

    Nukes are the ultimate trump card, and without them, the whole of Western Europe would’ve been Sovietised in the early 1970’s at the latest..

    Raising the stakes, that’s what they are about..


    Banning “evil chemicals” rarely works out

    I wasn’t writing about that. Or locking down research.
    Just not disseminating information on how to increase the lethality and infection rate of an already unpleasant virus.. , or even the information that it’s doable.

    Specialist journals don’t have a wide readership anyway. Would it be so inconvenient for microbiologists of this ilk to have their own secret journal?

  16. @Lanius

    What’s wrong with Israel having nukes?

    1) It represents utter and devastating failure of so-called nuclear nonproliferation

    2) Israel is a creepy, ethnocentric country with a strong supremacist streak and an inclination towards violent theocracy, so it is not in any reasonable shape or form better than, as you put it, bloodthirsty mahometans.
    I see no particular reason to trust bloodthirsty Yahweh cultists any more than bloodthirsty Allah cultists.

    I believe it’s the right of every sovereign country to produce nuclear weaponry, provided they can be trusted with it. Which isn’t clear in Iran’s case.. that’s where the problem lies.

    I trust Israel exactly as much as I trust Iran.
    Crazy mofos, both of them.

    Israel, BTW, is one of the very few countries that never signed bioweapon prohibition treaties, and an ex-mossad agent has explicitly claimed that bioweapon experimentation on prisoners is taking place (no official rebuttal and no defamation claims followed. They did try to sue that guy for revealing “sensitive operative information”, thus implicitly confirming that his claims were not all hot air)

    I can find you the ex-mossad guy’s book if you’re interested.

    I wasn’t writing about that. Or locking down research.
    Just not disseminating information on how to increase the lethality and infection rate of an already unpleasant virus.. , or even the information that it’s doable.

    That sounds like a lockdown to me.

    Oh and BTW…
    Here’s a route to finding juicy virological stuff under condition of some kind of “no publication” rule is in play: you use modern textual analysis software to look for odd irregularities in research publications and topical connections (you’d probably need a virologist on team since you need a pro to assign hierarchical connections between different topics).
    It can be done with the kind of soft currently developed for automatic trading and “communication policy enforcement”.
    Then bug folks weed out apparent false positives and voila, you have an idea as to where to “dig” (but the world at large does not know…yet).

    You seem to be under the impression that suppressing knowledge about objective properties of world around will somehow set back a bioweapon project that is operated by a competent and well funded adversary.

    This seems, to me, strictly analogous to the idea that withholding source code and enforcing nondisclosure regarding the existence of vulnerabilities will prevent attacks on a software system.

    This is an extremely common and pervasive fallacy among managers and beginner coders, and it leads to disaster after disaster whenever it surfaces.

  17. @Lanius:
    Would neatly solve a lot of issues, greatly mitigate the poverty and hunger problems, alleviate the stress on enviroment and furthermore would allow the survivors the room to pass some sane policies so this lunacy that’s now ongoing wouldn’t repeat itself..

    You should work on your logic.

    An apocalyptic pandemic killing 90% of humanity would exacerbate both poverty and hunger to astronomical levels, given the total loss of producing social structures and infrastructure. So much so we would be among the extinct species in a jiffy.

    I’m not sure why you assume the strawman eco-fascist role either, because that would change anything about the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change’s coming either way. And who’s supposed to remove all that bio-undegradable garbage? If I think about it, it would actually increase problems for the environment, because what would billions of rotting corpses and decaying buildings do to nature? Who’s going to protect nature from mass-extinction events like asteroid impact from now on?

    And what’s with that “sane policies” talk? Those fearmongering and Ingsol-esque censorship tactics strike me more as corrupt and moronic.

    Besides all the reasons already stated, why would anybody try to reproduce something like this if there are tons of other cheaper and more easily weaponizable pathogens? While we’re at it, is this stuff weaponizable at all? Because, you know, a “weapon” that kills indiscriminately and could kill the population you try to liberate/defend/dictatorially rule isn’t really a weapon in the strictest sense and wouldn’t be very sensible to create.

    This reeks more like certain elements inside the US government want to exert total control over science via smokescreen to suppress inconvenient research. The Koch brothers buying ACC deniers doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.

  18. Also, as far as I understand, knowing what makes a bug more virulent ≈ knowing how to make this bug and several others even more virulent.

    So either you stop publishing info on biochem of virulence traits in “normal” bugs, or you end up strewing around info on how to dial them up to 11.

    P.S.:
    Even to an IT guy, it’s quite obvious that you could at the very least stockpile virulence factors from different species, and/or make the bug produce (cause host cells to produce, in case of viruses) potent immune system suppressants.

    You can’t really suppress knowledge that is so damn close to the surface.

  19. Geographically targetable pathogens (read: ones that do not spread readily outside the general area of release; I’m specifically thinking of the exciting ground broken by the Japanese half a century ago with typhoid) might still be somewhat useful when trying to wreck/destabilize a rival with inadequate infrastructure; on the other hand, that sort of requires A) a scenario where you can’t or won’t commit to a conventional fight with any sort of reliability against B) a target whose infrastructure situation is sufficiently bad that, say, a dozen guys with drums full of infectious material could do substantial damage and C) you really really need smashed as an economic entity as soon as possible.

    Maybe there are a few conflicts in Africa that would fit the bill. The Middle East not really so much – it doesn’t strike me as a viable way to get at Israel, especially if you would prefer not to kill all the Palestinians first. And development of less geographically limitable bioweapons is basically a red herring in most cases; either the outbreaks will be so localized that they’re essentially a really fancy and expensive alternative to something you could do with a suitcase full of dynamite and roofing nails, or they’ll be so indiscriminate that any target you’d feel it imperative to cripple economically has a decent chance of accidentally spreading it right back to you.

    Basically, in all but some very specific cases, anyone with the resources to create a purely offensive bioweapon program would probably be better advised to spend that money on things that go boom and people to deliver those things.

  20. Well, for the pandemic to be a weapon in the eyes of zero sum gaming organism, he only needs to believe that his kin would be hurt less than others. It is very conceivable that such pandemic would have dramatically larger death rate outside the rich nations, and within rich nations, among the poor. Unfounded arrogance also suffices; religious idiots can believe that God would protect them.

    When the niche for organism is mostly exhausted, the strategy switches to zero sum. Even bacteria do this, with their toxins.


  21. ) Israel is a creepy, ethnocentric country with a strong supremacist streak and an inclination towards violent theocracy, so it is not in any reasonable shape or form better than, as you put it, bloodthirsty mahometans.
    I see no particular reason to trust bloodthirsty Yahweh cultists any more than bloodthirsty Allah cultists.

    The only democratic country in Hell. They do have their theocrats, but mostly, they’re the best guys there.

    Their mindset is siege, but they are under siege. Methinks JEws should’ve been handed part of Poland and whole of Eastern Prussia after WWII, forced to be neutral, like Austria or Finland.

    They’d be among sane nations, in a better climate, in a great position to profit from trade. Alas, fucking holy books prevailed.


    You should work on your logic.

    Nope. The poorest nations with worst nutrition and worst human capital would be the worst hit. Elsewhere, assuming the population loss would be even among working age mammals, there’d just be a shortage of labor, and surplus of resources-

    Look up post plague times in Britania. The position of the commoners greatly improved. They were fewer of them to go around, thus the nobles had to treat them better, pay them better, etc.

    90% loss is excessive, but the 50% loss rate of this flu bug is promising.
    If I worked at the institue, I would be considering releasing it myself.

  22. Imagine the cut in antropogenous CO2 emissions too!
    A deadly worldwide pandemic is a panacea.

    Sure, half the people would be dead, but once the remaining half got to grips with the survivor’s guilt and grief at losing family members, a new golden age would start.

  23. The only democratic country in Hell

    1) depends on whom you ask. Their democracy is so broke it’s not that much better than Turkey and Lebanon, and with recent crazy-ass shit the increasingly radicalized Knesset is trying to pull, may very well end up worse than those. Also,

    2) democracy is in no way, shape or form a reliable safeguard against violent, ethnocentric, ass-hamster obsessed and all-around crazy leadership coming to power, especially when violent, ethnocentric skymonster cultists are a significant and highly regarded portion of society.

    History has examples of democracies going batshit loco.

    3) Given Israel’s “deliberate ambiguity” on issues of WMD, and the fact that they have never signed BW treaties, I’d put Israel into “dangerously crazy” category irrespective of whether their leadership is elected or hatched from bizarre black pupae found buried deep in sand during digs at ancient ruins.

    Israel already has nukes (just likes to deny it in order to have it both ways) and is all cute and playful with biowarfare. The latter fact makes them dangerous to people well outside the confines of Mid Eastern natural preserve of insanity.

    And, as a person living outside of areas affected with Mid Eastern endemic fruitloopery, I happen to be more worried about Israel unleashing a horrible pandemic (perhaps as a very large variant of Samson Option, aka “screw you mankind” gesture) than about which one of crazy Mid Eastern bugheaps is more democratic.

    @ Greyjoy
    There is also the option of unleashing one as a final act of retaliation, but for that to work as deterrent you need to go public with it first…hm…Though alternatively you may go public with the possibility of you having a little ßehemoth-wannabe 😉 and just inquire as to whether your opponents would like to find out for sure

  24. Oh, we don’t need some government of a formal country or a terrorist group to unleash a plague, although that is probably in the offing. Population density and ease of international transportation is such that we are overdue for a Spanish-flu or Black Plague type epidemic, no matter what else happens.

    I have to agree with 01 in one area – democracy is great, but it is no guarantee against violence, warmongering, or insane acts of genocide. Democracies may help protect the citizens of a country from oppression by their government to some extent, but isn’t even designed to make a nation “a better world actor.” Rule by the mob just isn’t about duties of a nation to its neighbor or to the planet?

  25. SF writers as a breed do evince a propensity for Alexandrian solutions to the Gordian Knots afflicting humanity along with a tendency to write ‘with one mighty bound he was free’ plot turns.

  26. Destroying whole planets nay galaxies or even universes formed part of the job description of the pulp SF writer e.g. Ed Hamilton, E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith and no one ever mentioned misanthropy coming into it. A measly bird flu plague doesn’t register much on the sense of wonder scale employed by the pulp smiths of old. Provide me with a more awe inspiring cataclysm than the world expiring in a coughing fit; it sounds a little too T. S. Eliot.

  27. You also can’t lock down research – even in a field where creating weapon employs massive, dedicated infrastructure that is relatively hard to pass off as peaceful (that is, field of nuclear physics), nonproliferation efforts are rather pathetic at best (lol Israel). In a field where the infrastructure can easily be passed off as “normal” bioscience, nonproliferation efforts will be even less successful.

    I’d say nuclear non-proliferation efforts have been pretty successful, actually. It’s been almost seventy years since the Trinity shot, and still only eight nations have deployable nuclear weapons (the P5, Israel, India, Pakistan). A few more have actually given them up or abandoned attempts to build them (South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus, Brazil). We’ve done really well on chemical weapons too.

    Compare that to a previous game-changing military technology with no anti-proliferation effort – the dreadnought. Thanks in part to countries like Britain selling them to all comers, a mere twenty years after Dreadnought launched, you had France, Germany, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Australia, Britain, the US, Japan, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands… pretty much every nation that could afford dreadnoughts was building or buying them as fast as it could.

  28. I’d say nuclear non-proliferation efforts have been pretty successful, actually.

    Seconded, if for no other reason than although the number of nuclear warheads ballooned, nobody nuked anyone in anger. Those of us of a certain age remember being pretty sure it was just a matter of time before everything we knew was going to end in a fireball. Strangely, we haven’t yet. Knock wood.

    It’s almost as if, for some types of weapons, use of them is beyond the pale for civilization as a group. Take nerve gas, mustard gas, etc. Those are incredibly effective for killing a buncha your enemy’s ground troups, and, y’know, pretty much anything with lungs nearby, and yet, since WWI, almost no one has used them. Saddam Hussein’s regime famously did, and look at the international moral horror this induced. No one felt sorry for Ali or Saddam Hussein when they died, not just Kurds, nobody felt sorry for them.

    It looks to me as if some weapons are “ok” and some “not ok” and the line solidifies when there is some use that causes such general repulsion that mankind unconsciously comes to general consensus that it’s just too awful a thing to do. Maybe someone has to release a plague, and if we survive, make such releases the political move that renders your cause or nation or ideology too unsympathetic to be viable.

  29. am wondering if whatever it is that the NSA does by stealing people away from an academic life of sharing information is considered a big success. I would imagine they have a microcosm of secret journals and journal articles in an alternate universe.


  30. Compare that to a previous game-changing military technology with no anti-proliferation effort – the dreadnought. Thanks in part to countries like Britain selling them to all comers, a mere twenty years after Dreadnought launched, you had France, Germany, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Australia, Britain, the US, Japan, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands… pretty much every nation that could afford dreadnoughts was building or buying them as fast as it could.

    And that was a bad thing, all those nations building dreadnoughts?


  31. It looks to me as if some weapons are “ok” and some “not ok” and the line solidifies when there is some use that causes such general repulsion that mankind unconsciously comes to general consensus that it’s just too awful a thing to do.

    Gut feelings. Just the right thing to base policies on..
    You truly don’t appreciate what kind of havoc one battery of rocket launchers armed with tactical nukes could wreak on an invading army.

    One such battery could completely cripple and defeat an invasion.

    If your country was being invaded by supremacists whose intent was to enslave 95% of the population and kill off the rest, all the leaders, thinkers, military officers, or just educated people and then remold your countrymen into a slave people, extinguish your language, would you rather be your gov’t *not use* nuclear weaponry within the borders of your country?

  32. And that was a bad thing, all those nations building dreadnoughts?

    I think it’s fair to say the dreadnought arms race didn’t end well at all.


  33. I think it’s fair to say the dreadnought arms race didn’t end well at all.

    Of course, if you consider the alternative, where country A built 10 dreadnoughts and country B didn’t, and where country A over some dispute shelled she shit out of country B’s infrastructure within gun range (20 miles) and cities and killed a lof of people, it’s fair to say that the arms race was the best possible outcome.

  34. Given that arms racing was a large part of the reason Germany and Britain lined up on opposite sides in 1914 then, yes, they’d have been better off doing something else with the money and steel. World War One was not a best possible outcome.

  35. Wasn’t it more about geopolitics than ships?

  36. Lanius says: Gut feelings. Just the right thing to base policies on..

    I didn’t suggest that at all. I’m saying that historical events as they have unfolded have been driven by some practical war-game calculations and moral revulsions; pure rationality has not been the driver. You certainly aren’t suggesting that so far governmental decisions have been utterly rational?

    You truly don’t appreciate what kind of havoc one battery of rocket launchers armed with tactical nukes could wreak on an invading army.

    You’re agreeing with me – the effects would not just be effective for killing, they would be horrific. How often has this tactic been used?

    If your country was being invaded by supremacists whose intent was to enslave 95% of the population and kill off the rest, all the leaders, thinkers, military officers, or just educated people and then remold your countrymen into a slave people, extinguish your language, would you rather be your gov’t *not use* nuclear weaponry within the borders of your country?

    Pardon? That’s not a reply to me, right?

  37. @Lanius wrote
    Wasn’t it more about geopolitics than ships?

    The geopolitics was (and of course I’m oversimplifying) that the Germans threatened British naval dominance by building lots of new battleships. Apparently because as expensive, almost too valuable to use, objects of national prestige they appealed more than building pyramids.

    This was a stupid thing to do since naval power Britain was not previously in conflict with continental power Germany. The Brits decided the Germans were out to get them and reacted by locking themselves into the other side of Europe’s system of military alliances, greatly worsening Germany’s strategic position.

  38. I guess it’s in how you define success.
    At most, you could say that nonproliferation makes outright selling nukes problematic, but I doubt functional nuclear states would be likely to outright sell atomic ordnance even without nonproliferation in the way.
    Nukes are pretty unique both in terms of their battlefield consequences and in terms of unusual requirements for making one (hence dreadnoughts don’t serve as a particularly good analogy. They are, if anything, easier to build without leaving very distinct radioactive traces and rather single-purpose equipment around)

    As for ability to develop, I’d say that states really capable of developing their own nukes already have it (and yes, I doubt Iran, being a country unable to guard their poor little science guys from a trivial attack really has what it takes to develop nukes of its own, proliferation or not.)

    @Hljóðlegur

    Chem stuff is actually not all that great at killing infantry – infantry has protective gear. It is usually seen as area denial/mobility management thing as far as I recall the stuff.
    It also happens to have remarkable collateral and massive cleanup issues, which, quite reasonably, resulted in its ban.

    Also, chem weapons are a bitch to produce and a bitch to store (at least, everything before the late Soviet nerve agents which were allegedly designed to be easy to produce as binary ammunition on “civilian” household chem plants and easy to store… but they are mostly classified and/or legendary)

    Saddam’s chem weapon stockpiles were, where even existent, more of a psychological thing than a viable battlefield tool.

  39. Nukes are pretty unique both in terms of their battlefield consequences and in terms of unusual requirements for making one (hence dreadnoughts don’t serve as a particularly good analogy. They are, if anything, easier to build without leaving very distinct radioactive traces and rather single-purpose equipment around)

    Arguable. Building a 20,000 ton ship requires a very big shipyard, and big shipyards aren’t easy to hide. We know it’s possible to have a secret nuclear programme, because lots of countries have had one, but no one’s ever even tried to have a secret battleship programme, even countries with a strong motivation (everyone in the 1920s and 1930s, especially Germany and Japan, for example).

  40. 01 Weeeellllll…gas attack is messy and does not discriminate, which qualifies it for moral repulsion, see Halabja, or even Bhopal. Come in later with cameras to photograph the blue-lips bodies, or the blistered soldiers coughing their lungs up, and you have a guarantee of horror and outrage.

    I understand that it’s messy to store and clean-up afterwards, but how it kills is part of the reason to avoid using it. People like to think of soldiers with neat wounds, dying quickly with a few polite coughs and brave word to their brothers in arms, as in a movie. They have some idea that killing other human beings is okay so long as it is done in certain ways, and not others – consider you taking out that neighbor you’ve hated for years. Which would get you a longer sentence – if you hit him with a flashlight or where you splashed him in gas and lit him with your cigar?

    I mean, he’s still as dead. You still used the tools at hand there in the carport where you all were arguing, he still was probably in pain and fear before he died, but I bet you would get lots of extra time for using the gasoline. It makes no sense, but there it is.

  41. @Hljóðlegur

    Pardon? That’s not a reply to me, right?

    Yes it is. There is ‘too awful’, which is very vague, I’d say a car crash* is awful, and then there is genocide. IMO, using nukes to avert genocide is entirely okay, especially if you nuke your own territory where it contains large concentrations of enemy troops. Preferably warn in advance you’d do so if borders are breached.

    *this one, for example, is awful:
    http://www.roumenovomaso.cz/masoArchive.php?search=prosek&agree=on

  42. Lanius I’m not sure what the “supremacists whose intent was to enslave 95% of the population and kill off the rest, all the leaders, thinkers, military officers, or just educated people and then remold your countrymen into a slave people, extinguish your language” is about, because how often do spokesmen from the neighboring country actually tell you up front that’s the plan? Not very often. And nuking still has the general imprinteur of “Eeeevil.”

    While you personally would be okay with your government nuking your city to get the invading army, most of the world would be horrified. They would assume you, your family and friends did not agree to this, and you were slaughtered by your government, would they not? You would prefer your wife and children be incinerated or killed by radiation poisoning than be enslaved? *scratches head* Because one can be enslaved now and freed later, but death by radiation poisoning is permanent and kinda revolting.

    Also, what the heck is with the photos of people burnt up in a (Czech?) auto accident and fire? Are we defining awful? I mean, really, whuh?


  43. I’m not sure what the “supremacists whose intent was to enslave 95% of the population and kill off the rest, all the leaders, thinkers, military officers, or just educated people and then remold your countrymen into a slave people, extinguish your language” is about, because how often do spokesmen from the neighboring country actually tell you up front that’s the plan?

    Hitler wrote what he wanted to achieve up in Mein Kampf. I’m sure all the stuff about Lebensraum in the east and driving Slavs out of Europe was there..

    And nuking still has the general imprinteur of “Eeeevil.”

    Nuking someone else’s country is ‘evil’. Nuking their troops doesn’t seem evil to me.

    Also, who says they’d have to be in a city? It’d be enough to just nuke troop formations in the field.

  44. The thing is, there are numerous other applications for a very big shipyard, and plenty of non-dreadnought large ships (some of them even rather civvie, I assume)

    Materials used in nuclear weapons, as well as enrichment equipment, is quite different from anything you might use in modern nuclear plants.

    The linchpin of whatever successes nuclear nonproliferation might claim is the fact that it’s outrageously hard to get decent quantity of weapon-grade fissionables.

    “have proper fissionables – will build nukes” =)

    Also, I believe that “massive ship versus nukes” comparison kind of misses that nukes (strategic ones, that actually matter) need fairly unique delivery systems to be a serious threat (unless your plan is to become the first suicide bomber country, which, all things considered, might sort of work, by the way :) ), and said delivery systems give nukes all the drawbacks of very large “vanilla” devices in addition to the obvious problems of manufacturing requisite fissionables.

    And, despite all that, nonproliferation efforts have failed un-succeeded :) in preventing rich and powerful states (as well as moderately well-off and not-so-powerful states, like Israel) from getting nukes and more or less decent delivery systems (I cannot, with all due respect, call a state of world when Pakistan and Israel have nuclear arsenals, a “success”)

    Given that biotech thingamabobbles have neither need for massive infrastructure nor need for exotic and relatively traceable materials, and in some cases could probably piggyback on nature’s very own delivery systems already in place, nonproliferation is likely to prove exceptionally futile with this kind of tech