## Wednesday, December 03, 2014

### Yale/Oxford/MIT/Rockefeller theoretical physicist to lead Pentagon

Not too original news from Planck: inflation constraints, $$n_s= 0.9652 \pm 0.0016$$ and $$r\lt 0.09$$ (including dust-cleaned WMAP9 low $$\ell$$ polarization), via Mathew Madhavacheril. Ongoing ground-based experiments will either guarantee discovery or impose $$r\lt 0.01$$.
Chuck Hagel resigned as the U.S. Secretary of Defense last week and no one wants to succeed him. Well, it seems that it's just "almost no one".

After quite some time, I am impressed by the credentials of the likely pick (the credentials don't guarantee great outcomes, of course, but I still care about them). So far, Ashton Carter (*1954 Pennsylvania) has been the Deputy Secretary of Defense, a CEO of a sort, overseeing \$0.6 trillion in expenses and supervising 0.0024 billion people.

He's an expert in Star Wars, cyber warfare, and all real-world high-tech systems that America possesses right now. Those things are unusual but not too unexpected for a Pentagon pick. However, the Academic background is unusual. After being the president of the honor society at his high school, he got a theoretical physics PhD at Oxford (1979) where he has been a Rhodes scholar – a prestigious scholarship paid to the best student from the U.S.

He worked as a postdoc at MIT and the Rockefeller University. While at Rockefeller University, he co-authored three very famous papers on CP-violation with A.I. Sanda (1980-1981: yes, he would be a leader in Reagan's Star Wars just months later, in 1981). They remain his most cited writings up to this day – with a whopping 803, 463, and 206 citations, respectively (according to Google Scholar) – despite a hundred of articles and 11 books he has edited or co-authored about the warfare, war technology, and similar things.

Concerning the CP-violation, he and Sanda would describe the parameterization of the decays of B-mesons and the dependence of the CP-violating effects that may be seen in these effects on the angles in the CKM matrix (called just "KM" matrix in the early 1980s).

A natural role to take after you are a theoretical physics postdoc is to go to the Pentagon and lead most of the state-of-the-art high-tech projects over there. You may read lots of these things elsewhere.

A contemporary CKM-related diagram

While many theoretical physics postdocs may plan to become the U.S. Secretary of Defense, some of them may have made a mistake in their preparations. What degrees do you need for that? Ashton has a theoretical physics PhD (from Oxford) and – quite naturally – a Bc degree in physics (from Yale).

However, a detail that some of the physicist readers may overlook is that he also has a Bc degree from medieval history (from Yale). His dissertation was about the 12th century Latin texts by Flemish friars/monks. So I am afraid that the Russian president will have to offer "Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi" in the original version and with some extra things if he wants to stay competitive in these witticisms. ;-)

Note that Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, wanted to do some nuclear physics or something similar as well – physics was his most favorite subject. But in comparison with Carter, he didn't get too far.

Carter has of course clear views about foreign policy as well. In 2006, while we were colleagues as faculty of Harvard, he co-wrote an essay in Time Magazine urging the U.S. to preemptively bomb North Korean missiles. I think it would be a rather good idea even today – but I guess that some people (usually those lacking a theoretical physics PhD) find this conclusion controversial.

Ashton Carter has to be confirmed by the Senate to become the Secretary of Defense. My guess is that he will be. If you care: Carter has worked both with Democratic and GOP administrations, of course. Folks like McCain seem to be fine with him.

A dry short AEI demo talk by A.B. Carter about the defense of the future

I do hope that Carter will be confirmed and become the adult in the room.

1. Well, Steve Chu won a Nobel Prize and served as the Secretary of Energy. His early academic credentials are not as impressive, though.

2. Hey, that looks like we are going to spend a lot of money on new tech toys (aka start buying defense stocks) plus a real second Cold War is in the making. With the falling oil prices Russkies have no chance. We can just print money anyhow, and Chinese remain the only unknown.

3. I don't think that you understand the actual relationship between this pick and the "new Cold War" and relationships with Russia.

4. I am sorry but individuals even very bright ones don't inherently change the bureaucratic structure of Washington, DC. If Ed Witten were President, would things be different or better? No. Would he make a better President than a Bush or Clinton? Maybe. He might be worse. Why did such a bright person wasted his intelligence to become a bureaucrat? Obama's failure has little to do with his intelligence and more to do with his personality and inability to persuade and work with Congress.

5. Thanks again Lubos for that very thorough reply (on lit I hadn't seen in 15 years) a couple weeks ago re. Neustupny, Arch. D., in Plzen, I met a couple students of his (despite black ice) from Plzen yesterday when I gave a talk on Ukraine (botany). But slightly OT still, but interesting, since you are interested in nuclear energy, about the very poor standards in Ukraine now:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/11270159/Accident-at-Ukraine-nuclear-plant-forces-reactor-shutdown.html

Hard to tell how serious (perhaps not super cereal, but who knows). Another worry about the state of post-Maidan Ukraine (it just gets better all the time, doesn't it?).

6. Sorry, BobSykes, but a Ph.D in economics from MIT is no qualification in my humble opinion: economics is not a science and to pretend that it is leads to no good.

7. If we are going to have a second Cold War I hope it will be with China, a self-declared enemy, not Russia.

8. Lubos, for the love of God, please stop using "would" everywhere ("He would work as a postdoc at MIT") when you just mean a simple past tense ("He worked as a postdoc at MIT"). These constant, easily corrected mistakes make your posts hard to read.

I realize English isn't your first language--it's not mine either--but from someone always carrying on about his own intelligence, these basic mistakes are truly embarrassing. And, again, they seriously distract from the substance of your posts.

9. See

http://www.ecenglish.com/learnenglish/lessons/how-use-would

10. Thanks for the interesting update, BMWA1.

The accident took place about 4 days ago, I think, so we may be pretty sure that nothing serious has happened so far. Ukraine has quite some experience with nuclear accidents, there is always some reason to worry.

Their unfriendly relations with the country that supplied the machinery don't help safety, much like the anger of the people around the plant.

11. I don't think that intelligence is the only positive thing that Carter may bring to the administration.

12. Hope springs eternal, however:

13. There's lot's to be angry about re. UA, esp. when you are in it.

14. Committments can be reduced or quietly abandoned.

15. Grammar police can be very annoying, Lubos. Just ignore them.

16. Indeed:

17. Thanks for your advice, Cynthia. But because I am not good at ignoring, I had to ban him or her. There were other reasons for the ban, too.

18. Oxford grads are quite well represented in the Obama administration apparently.

19. That was truly superb! Thanks!

20. What got us here is the hang-up of Democrats with their "first" president syndrome; i.e., first black, first woman, first midget, first Eskimo, etc., where does it stop? Inasmuch as the life and death of all of us are at stake, how about electing the most competent to be president?

21. You have carefully avoided mistakes in this post but the content is inane. I know of no current writer who explains complex and difficult ideas more clearly than Lubos.

You should be ashamed.

22. That was wonderful!

23. Back at you :)

25. I respectfully disagree. We really cannot talk just about the “size” of our military. Rather we must consider how well our military capabilities fit all anticipated requirements. Carter is especially well qualified to do this.

Approximately 3/4 of our military budget goes toward salaries of personnel and this leaves only 25% for all other needs, which include advanced weaponry and research and development. At a time when the political will to support large numbers of troops abroad does not exist (and this will continue for many years) it is best to draw down personnel so that resources can be focused on staying on top of evolving military technology.

This really is not an Obama strategy but rather one that would, of necessity, have been pursued if Obama had lost the 2012 election.

26. Do you seriously believe, Cynthia, that the life and death of all of us somehow depends on Presidential elections?

27. China is a self-declared enemy?

28. It would be great if all leaders had an advanced degree with a limit on lawyers.

29. We don't really know what exactly precipitated worsening of the relations with Russia.

Answer to that depends also on one's idea of what drives the politics. Did some powerful interests get aligned, or is it a coincidence, which somehow got amplified for no good reason other than deep stupidity and herd mentality of politicos?

There are many (conspiracy) theories with the usual suspects: petrodollar, the reserve currency status, supposedly wast natural resources in East Ukraine, 10 evil Jews controlling the world...

One thing is for sure though: the public, or specifically the voters didn't have anything to do with it. We are merely told what we should believe.

Maybe Lubos is right. Maybe bringing in some adult men capable of thinking could change the current course. I tend to be pessimist.

30. I actually prefer for past tense usage of “would” to refer only to repeated events but it is increasingly used for single events. A nice bit of nuance is lost by this change, which I regard as unfortunate.
The English language continually evolves, of course, and, overall, the direction of change is beneficial but this one smears out a useful subtlety of the written word.
I do concur with your blacklisting of basicgrammer. He has nothing useful to say.

31. And towards Russia.

32. Knock Knock

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Who's there?
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Whom!

33. The Rhodes Scholarship is given to 32 a year not one. To get one, you have to be an Academic superstar, feed starving kids in Afruca, and hold a renewable energy source patent. So nearly perfect.

34. I agree but then I would wouldn't I.

35. Notice that his scenario is that of a terrorist attack, not one by Russia. Also, he recommends retaliation to any nation that nukes the US, even if by terrorists.

That seems very reasonable. Russia is hopefully too sane to cause a nuke to explode in a US city. On the other hand, I would not rule out Putin nuking somewhere in eastern Europe, just to show how weak is the US "nuclear shield."

Let's hope this guy is good. His credentials indicate high intelligence and achievement, but that alone means nothing. Plenty of very smart people have been foolish - in fact, I think there is overall a strong correlation between foolishness and high intelligence.

His experience suggests he has been exposed to the serious problems a SecDef has to worry about. What is not clear is whether he has the bureaucratic abilities to operate as an executive at that level, under the bizarre Obama White House. Nothing I have read suggests otherwise, fortunately.

36. This means you are too easily distracted by irrelevant sources/patterns of stimulation - and by relatively 'low levels of such', at that! IOW, you are likely to be short of a few inhibitory neurons necessary for perceiving what is relevant and what is not. ;-)

37. Well, I would guess that the community of enforcers of political correctness that strengthened in the U.S. government was behind the deterioration - some years before the Ukrainian crisis. It was visible on the stories about the gay-propaganda laws in Russia etc.

The further deterioration was inevitably because these PC people are used to an almost complete, Auschwitz-like destruction of their targets - see how James Watson is treated - and Russia obviously refused to self-destruct in this way. So *anything* normal that Russia does made these PC loons in the West even angrier.

Non-invasion and non-reaction of Russia was still "too bad" - but obviously, as the relations deteriorate, it is increasingly more likely that Russia is reacting or will be reacting substantially.

38. Dear Gene, your tastes are supported by some refined sentiments and experience.

To be sure, I have to mention that I would normally agree. It's silly to transform language in this way.

But as a person who in no way expects to "direct" changes in the English language, I am sometimes parroting - and this usage of "would" for the rather generic past tense is something that I have almost certainly "seen" somewhere, among native speakers, and it just became a part of my speech - one of the tools by which I am faking an English speaker. ;-)

39. Dear mesocyclone, the essay explicitly talks about (especially) Soviet nukes disappearing from inventories and landing on the U.S. city which may occur if Russia is thrown into chaos.

*This* is a reasonable worry. And of course that the more one weakens the readable West-friendly government - and Putin's is one - the more likely such an event will become.

If Russia wanted to remove D.C. from the map, it would be damn reasonable to get the weapon over there through some proxies. Give the nukes and some extra capability to someone else who wants to do it. And I think that this whole story+mythology about "Russian little green men" is a reason to think that (someone in) Russia may choose such an invisible route, indeed.

The more long-term plans a Russian powerful has, the less likely it is for him to do similar operations because the dust finally settles. That's why a stable government in Russia *is* reducing the chances of the random nuclear disaster in the U.S., and I think that Carter agrees with me on this rather important point. Although I don't see this comment explicitly anywhere, I think that he would agree it is counterproductive for the U.S. to try to create havoc in Russia, Russian economy, and so on.

40. Wow, inspiring!

41. I was going to reply directly to @basicgrammar, but since he is now banned, why bother? Lubos, thank you for helping me learn something today; I had never thought about the American usage (which I'll never be able to overcome) of substituting "D" for "T" in "butter" and so on. Fun to play with.

As for your usage of "would", every time I read phrasing such as "He would work as a postdoc at MIT" I translate it to read "He would GO ON TO work as a postdoc at MIT". So-called 'problem' solved."He would work as a postdoc at MIT" "He would work as a postdoc at M

42. Yes, the article discusses loose nukes, which is far different from an intentional use by Russia. It also considers intentional use by proxies, and goes into how such a use would be tracked back to the country of origin, and what should be done to that country.

Russia would be insane to take such an action, and at this stage, a detonation of a Russian nuke on US soil would be rightly taken as an act of war by Russia, not a use by an unaffiliated third party. That said, history has plenty of wars where a country miscalculated and took foolish actions. US weakness (as embodied in the Obama Administration) could lead to such a miscalculation.

One would hope that Putin understands the unprecedented enormous reaction that any nuclear detonation in the US would have. It would be a disaster without precedent. The consequences cannot be predicted.

9-11, in which only a couple of thousand Americans were killed, resulted in wars that continue, and an upsetting of the order in much of the world. A nuclear explosion would make 9-11 appear to be trivial, as would the reaction of the American people and government. If Obama did not react strongly enough, he would be thrown out of office within hours and replaced by someone who did.

Nobody in the US wants chaos in Russia, because of the huge risks of that in a country awash in nuclear weapons. Those in the US who oppose Russian actions are not in favor of anarchy there - they just want Russia to stop what they perceive to be harmful behavior.

43. Modesty is not one of Ash's virtues:

belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/17579/faculty_career_profile.html

44. One more case of, you can hope all you want, but ...

http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2014/december/04/reckless-congress-declares-war-on-russia/

45. eeek...the last pysicist (a nobel prize winning one, IIRC) had a sterling record in government.. didn't he?

46. can you say "Steven Cho"?

47. it is called the dismal science by those who study it...I think that is correct, at least one of the words is....