Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Mueller and Comey failed egregiously

Sir Vernon Kell, the first head of Britain Security Service (MI5) believed that counter-espionage officers needed the following characteristics:

Freedom from strong personal or political prejudices or interest; an accurate and sympathetic judgment of human character, motives and psychology, and of the relative significance, importance and urgency of current events and duties in their bearing on major British interests.
In no way shape or form does this describe the men and women who launched Crossfire Hurricane, the Midyear Review, and persecution of Maria Butina.

Instead we see an intense partisan commitment and a completely unbalanced rage at Trump.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Advice for the wise news consumer during the impeachment debate

1. Beware "news stories" based on anonymous sources. They hide and obscure the truth as often as they reveal it.

The whole purpose of the ‘anonymous source has been precisely reversed. The reason there exists a First Amendment protection for journalists’ confidential sources has always been to permit citizens -- the weak, the vulnerable, the isolated -- to be heard publicly, without fear of retaliation by the strong -- by their employer, for example, or by the forces of government … Instead, almost every ‘anonymous source’ in the press, in recent years, has been an official of some kind, or a person in the course of a vendetta speaking from a position of power.

[Using anonymous sources] makes stories almost impossible to verify. It suppresses a major element of almost every investigative story: who wanted it known.

Renata Adler, After the Tall Timber

The problem of journalism in America proceeds from a simple but inescapable bind: journalists are rarely, if ever, in a position to establish the truth about an issue for themselves, and they are, therefore, almost entirely dependent on self-interested 'sources' for versions of reality that they report.

Indeed, given the voluntary nature of the relationship between a reporter and his source, a continued flow of information can only be assured if the journalist's stories promise to serve the interests of the witness.

Despite the heroic public claims of the news media, daily journalism is largely concerned with finding and retaining profitable sources of pre-packaged stories.

Edward Jay Epstein, Between Fact and Fiction
In a very real sense this sort of journalism represents a conspiracy between the source, the reporters, and the editors. In return for a story that grabs headlines and/or advances the narrative, the journalists agree to propagate and amplify the source's message while also shielding that source from all scrutiny as to motive, expertise, and credibility.

Only two forms of knowledge cross this principle: gossip and journalism. The gossip purposely obscures his sources, saying in effect, 'Don't ask who I heard it from,' to make the story more titillating. The journalist obscures his sources out of self-interest, claiming that unless he hides their identities, they will not provide him with further information. This claim assumes the sources are acting out of altruistic motives. If, however, they are providing the information out of self-interest-- and much information comes from publicists and other paid agents-- then their motive is part of the story.

I've never understood the journalistic argument for concealing sources except that it is self-serving. While a source might talk more freely if he need take no responsibility for what he says, he also has far less incentive to be completely truthful. The only check on the source's license to commit hyperbole, if not slander, under these rules is the journalist himself. But the very premise of concealing sources is that the journalist needs the cooperation of the source in the future. This makes the journalist himself an interested party.

Edward Jay Epstein, Deception
2. Be especially suspicious of stories that rely on anonymous intelligence insiders.

As defence correspondent, then defence editor of The Daily Telegraph, i decided that entanglement with intelligence organisations was unwise, having concluded, by that stage of my life, through reading, conversation and a little personal observation, that anyone who mingled in the intelligence world, in the belief that he could make use of contacts thus made, would more probably be made use of, to his disadvantage. I continue to believe that to be the case.

Sir John Keegan, Intelligence in War
3. Make sure a story really is debunked when journalists say it is “debunked.” Again, doubly true when they rely on intelligence sources for their verdict.

If intelligence officers dislike a book, for its tone, revelations, or simply because, they find that one or two facts in it may prove compromising (for which, also read embarrassing), they may let it be known that the book is ‘riddled with errors,’ customarily pointing out a few. Any book on intelligence will contain errors, given the nature and origin of the documentation, and these errors may then be used to discredit quite valid judgments and conclusions which do not turn on the facts in question.

Robin W. Winks, Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961
Just because Brian Stelter or Brooke Gladstone claims a story is discredited, it never hurts to verify. They have, after all, been known to be wrong.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Advertising's fatal flaw

Good post by the Ad Contrarian:

Our Principal Problem Is Principles

In most fields of endeavor progress is achieved by the accretion of knowledge over time.
Advertising is different. We respect no history. We observe no principles. We have no connective tissue.

Every generation tosses out what was learned before and declares it dead. Marketing is dead. The Big Idea is dead. Positioning is dead. Brands are dead. Traditional media are dead.

Every generation invents its own clich├ęs that mean nothing, but for a brief time pass for principles -- likeanomics, engagement, conversations, storytelling, empowerment.

Fad-surfing and corralled rebellion

Conquest's Law

Friday, November 22, 2019

Conspiracy theories, radicalization, and the death of a president

On 22 November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. A revolutionary zealot and a committed communist, Oswald’s journey to violent radicalization began when he was handed a “Save the Rosenbergs” pamphlet in New York City.

The first instance we have of Lee Harvey Oswald's politics is that he picked up a leaflet in New York City about the coming execution of the Rosenbergs. And as he reads this, it begins to show him that there's a way of finding himself by opposing the established order.

Edward Jay Epstein

What made the Rosenberg pamphlet memorable to him, surely, was that he saw himself in the “innocent victim” of a New York court. He held in his hand a message that said to him: Here are allies you can identify with. Here are people who feel as you do about the legal system.

Jean Davison
The chain of events that ended in the murder of JFK began when a troubled, alienated teen-ager was ensnared by a fashionable conspiracy theory.

We usually don’t think of the JFK assassination in this way. Yet, it is undeniable that Oswald’s ideological awakening started with the Rosenberg pamphlet. He explicitly noted this event in explaining how he became a Marxist and defector to the Soviet Union.

It is also undeniable that to believe that the Rosenbergs were innocent one had to believe that high level government officials manufactured evidence, coerced perjury, and forged documents. In short, a massive conspiracy to frame two innocent people. Since we know they were far from innocent, what else should we call it but a “baseless conspiracy theory”?

It was fashionable, though, so it did not receive the disdainful debunking administered to theories accepted by less privileged people. Journalists, screenwriters, academics promoted it for decades. It took real bravery for Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton to debunk it in The Rosenberg File in 1983.

Even then the die-hard believers persisted. They never faced the vitriol and ridicule meted out to other conspiracy theorists. The SPLC did not label them dangerous, enablers of radicalization, or inciters of potential assassins.

For over half a century enormous efforts have been made to shift the blame from Oswald, the Castro-loving communist, to more politically expedient villains right-wing oil men, CIA, the military-industrial complex, the Mafia, right-wing hate vibes, etc., etc., etc..

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Playing games, winning wars

This is incredibly good.

How a giant game of battleships played on the floor stopped Britain from starving
Add another book to the "must read" list.


A mostly forgotten infamous crime

In the late summer of 1914 Europe’s march toward war dominated the front pages of American newspapers. Then, for a few weeks, they competed for reader attention with news of a shocking crime in rural Wisconsin. The butler at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin studio killed seven people using fire and a hatchet. It was the worst case of mass murder in Wisconsin history.

Wright was already winning fame as an innovative architect. He became infamous when he deserted his wife and family to establish Taliesin with his married mistress Mamah Borthwick. The murder victims included Borthwick and her two children aged 11 and 9.

The crime was cold-blooded and premeditated. Julian Carlton, the butler, had hidden clothes in the brush near Taliesin indicating that he planned to escape after the crime. When that proved impossible, he drank hydrochloric acid in an attempt to commit suicide. (He had purchased tha acid one week before the attack, another indication of preplanning.)

Carleton died several weeks after his arrest so there was no trial. He never offered an explanation for his crimes. The two workmen who survived his rampage could offer little information: nothing seemed amiss as he served them lunch just before he locked them in the dining room and set it ablaze with gasoline. The killer’s wife claimed that he had become increasingly paranoid at rural Taliesin and was eager to move back to Chicago.

William Drennan lays out the facts and eschews excess speculation in his account of the crime. The Carletons were actually due to leave their jobs before the end of August. Instead, Julian slaughtered seven people and wounded two others. Three of the victims were children. Discerning “reasons” for such actions risks justifying evil.

In the course of his research, Drennan discovered that most accounts of the murders were riddled with errors. He offers a bit of useful advice for anyone writing history:

Some things we think we have right we do not: errors in fact, once reduced to print or circulated in the oral tradition, become picked up by subsequent inquirerers and repeated endlessly, accreting layers of undue credibility with each retelling.
The author also makes the interesting point that the murders changed Wright’s architecture. Where Taliesin was open with windows that captured views of the rural landscape, his next designs were more compact and almost fortress-like. Drennan also deserves credit for never forgetting that Frank Lloyd Wright was not the only one who suffered a grievous loss on 15 August 1914. William Weston was a foreman at Taliesin. Not only was he badly wounded in the attack, Carleton also murdered his 13 year old son Ernest who was working with his father that day. Then there is the tragic figure of Edwin Cheney. He had sent his only two children to Wisconsin to visit their mother only a little time before. Now they were dead. In a cruel twist of fate he had to share the train ride from Chicago with Wright.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Open Office and the Hive Mind

The Truth About Open Offices
This article is revelatory on two counts.

1.) The authors are quite candid on their view of workers; they are to be viewed as insects:

When employees do want to interact, they choose the channel: face-to-face, video conference, phone, social media, email, messaging, and so on. Someone initiating an exchange decides how long it should last and whether it should be synchronous (a meeting or a huddle) or asynchronous (a message or a post). The recipient of, say, an email, a Slack message, or a text decides whether to respond immediately, down the road, or never. These individual behaviors together make up an anatomy of collaboration similar to an anthill or a beehive. It is generated organically as people work and is shaped by the beliefs, assumptions, values, and ways of thinking that define the organization’s culture.

When managers think of their employees as insects, should we really be shocked that support for capitalism is falling and the appeal of socialism is growing?

For more on the Hive Mind and its sad, sordid history:

The birth of the hive mind

The Hive mind revisited

The continuing appeal of the hive mind
2.) They also admit that the primary motive behind many office redesigns is cost-cutting:

If keeping real estate costs in check is the priority, leaders should be honest about that with themselves and their employees. Most office redesigns aren’t undertaken to promote collaboration. They start with objectives like the one described by the head of real estate at a Fortune 50 company: “The leadership team has just given me a mandate to restack our headquarters to fit another 1,000 employees in here.” Tremendous progress has been made designing offices that can accommodate more people in a given space. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Companies often reinvest the resulting savings in important ways.

During much of the 1990s, organizations hired employees faster than they expanded their offices. With layoffs in the early 2000s recession, and again in 2008, surviving workers regained some space, largely because companies held long-term leases and were loath to invest in office reconfigurations. But as hiring rebounded, leases came due, and redesign budgets recovered, organizations again began fitting their people into smaller and smaller spaces. If the aim really is to boost collaboration, you need to increase the right kinds of interactions and decrease ineffective ones. You’ll have to carefully choose your trade-offs. That means you need to understand current patterns of interaction and consider how you want to change them. Using sensors and digital data to track interactions at a large German bank, MIT researchers found that in cases where intrateam cohesion was more predictive of productivity and worker satisfaction than cross-team collisions were, increasing interactions between teams undermined performance. So they moved teams into separate rooms. And after using Humanyze technology to track interactions, a major energy company decided to increase communication between departments that had strong process dependencies and reduce communication between other departments by colocating some in a new building and moving others offsite.
For more on the open office see:

The con that destroyed the quality of work life for millions

Thinking about thinking, creativity and, innovation

Fad-surfing and corralled rebellion

Diseconomies of scale

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Innovation Theater"

An interesting piece from the Harvard Business Review

Why Companies Do “Innovation Theater” Instead of Actual Innovation

The type of disruption most companies and government agencies are facing right now is a once-in-every-few-centuries event. Disruption today is more than just changes in technology, or channel, or competitors — it’s all of them, all at once. And these forces are completely reshaping both commerce and defense.

Today, as large organizations are facing continuous disruption, they’ve recognized that their existing strategy and organizational structures aren’t nimble enough to access and mobilize the innovative talent and technology they need to meet these challenges. These organizations know they need to change, but often the result has been a form of organizational whack-a-mole – a futile attempt at trying to swat at problems as they pop-up without understanding their root cause.
A subject near and dear to my heart

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable (Part Two)

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable (III)

Doctrine and Fad Surfing

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Retconning the Greatest Generation

Netflix’s ‘Traitors’ Is Hampered By An Ignorant Political Agenda

Netflix’s “Traitors” seems to have all the ingredients of a really great television show. It’s a period drama about spies with a dynamic cast and rich characters, the pacing is sharp, and talented writers are contributing to the effort. Unfortunately, “Traitors” made a catastrophic error in execution, taking an ill-researched political stance and building the entire story around it.
I tried to watch this series. The utter absurdity of the plot was astounding. It's the sort of melodramatic agitprop you expect from a Stalinist theater group in 1937.


"... who controls the present controls the past."

You can't expect much history in "historical dramas" when SJWs are in charge.

As their Weemsy takes them

Friday, November 01, 2019

What changed?

In 1999 all the important people insisted that freedom of expression required taxpayers to fund art exhibitions which offended their religious sensibilities, desecrated sacred images, and exploited the rape and murder of children.


Hillary Clinton spoke up for the museum, as did the New York Civil Liberties Union. The editorial board of The New York Times said, Giuliani's stance "promises to begin a new Ice Age in New York's cultural affairs." The paper also carried a full-page advertisement in support signed by over 100 actors, writers and artists, including Susan Sarandon, Steve Martin, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Kurt Vonnegut and Susan Sontag.
In 2019, we see the same crowd urging restrictions on speech. A former editor of Time is willing to consider blasphemy laws:

Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that?

It’s a fair question.
A better, a fairer, a more important question is this: Did the MSM, the professors, the artists and writers, etc. etc. ever really believe in free expression?

Or did they just need an impartial sounding argument to license their privilege to "do what thou wilt"?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

This is very good and incredibly important:

On the pernicious legacy of Vladimir Lenin.
Two decades before Hitler, Lenin created a totalitarian state devoted to mass murder. Too few people are aware of this.

What is new, and uniquely horrible about the Soviets and their successors, is that they directed their fury at their own people. The Russian empire lost more people in World WarI than any other country, but still more died under Lenin. His war against the peasants, for instance, took more lives than combat between Reds and Whites.
This was not an accident or an unintended consequence of laudable actions:

Dmitri Volkogonov, the first biographer with access to the secret Lenin archives, concluded that for Lenin violence was a goal in itself. He quotes Lenin in 1908 recommending “real, nationwide terror, which invigorates the country and through which the Great French Revolution achieved glory.”

Lenin constantly recommended that people be shot “without pity” or “exterminated mercilessly” (Leszek Ko³akowski wondered wryly what it would mean to exterminate people mercifully). “Exterminate” is a term used for vermin, and, long before the Nazis described Jews as Ungeziefer(vermin), Lenin routinely called for “the cleansing of Russia’s soil of all harmful insects, of scoundrels, fleas, bedbugsthe rich, and so on.”
By rights, the Hammer and Sickle should be as repugnant as the Swastika. Decent people should shun those who wear it or march under its banner.

Intrepid reporters who hunt down grandmothers for sharing memes on Facebook have no problem with some symbols of mass murder. How can they? They know that “red-baiting” was bad and The Resistance is good. And besides, it is all the Trumpkins fault.

Without realizing it, they have succumbed to Leninthink.

Leninoid thinking has taken over the minds of our aspiring Manadrin class

The truly frightening thing about Morson’s essay is the clear parallels he draws between Leninism and the state of our intellectual debate. The pundits, journalists, and politicians are not Leninist per se, but “Leninthink” shows up in all our contentious political and cultural disputes.

The essence of the Leninist style is that they are not interested in debate at all.

In Lenin’s view, a true revolutionary did not establish the correctness of his beliefs by appealing to evidence or logic, as if there were some standards of truthfulness above social classes. Rather, one engaged in “blackening an opponent’s mug so well it takes him ages to get it clean again.”
G. K. Chesterton advised that one should never let a quarrel interfere with a good argument. Lenin had no interest in good arguments, reasoned debate, or even a quarrel. His goals were best achieved through slander and vituperation.

As his disciple Willi Munzenberg told Arthur Koestler:

Don't argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them, Make them shudder with horror.
This passage from Morson has resonance today:

Critics objected that Lenin argued by mere assertion. He disproved a position simply by showing it contradicted what he believed. In his attack on the epistemology of Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius, for instance, every argument contrary to dialectical materialism is rejectedfor that reason alone. Valentinov, who saw Lenin frequently when he was crafting this treatise, reports that Lenin at most glanced through their works for a few hours. It was easy enough to attribute to them views they did not hold, associate them with disreputable people they had never heard of, or ascribe political purposes they had never imagined. These were Lenin’s usual techniques, and he made no bones about it.

Jordan Peterson

Joy Behar: "Useful Idiot" Tulsi Gabbard Hasn't Denied Being A Russian Asset

Tulsi Gabbard Conspiracy Theories Go Mainstream

Fox News

James Damore

Lenin did not concern himself with objective standards of truth, morality, or justice. All that mattered was Who/Whom: Did it help the Party or hurt its enemies? Then it was good and necessary. Because Leninthink accepts no restrictions on the power and actions of the Party, a truly loyal member does not quibble about facts or logical consistency.

While this sounds absurd -- thinking fit only for maniacs and the Devil himself -- we find examples all around us.

Left-Wing Journalists Slam CNN For Asking For The Truth About Middle Class Taxes

Elizabeth Warren has 'woke journalist' allies who don't want you to ask questions

Don’t let your children go to J-school
Or take the tropes mocking “Whataboutism”. At their core these dismissive tweets are cheap Leninthink. Actions are not good or bad in and of themselves; they are to be assessed purely in terms of Who/Whom. It doesn’t matter if Trump is following a precedent set by Bush, Clinton, or Obama. Orange Man Bad. Impeach him.

I recall a Soviet citizen telling me that people in the USSR had absolute freedom of speech-- so long as they did not lie.
We now see members of the Senate and Congress trying to carve out similar exceptions to the First Amendment. Journalists cheer them on. They see no contradiction between their pose as defenders of democracy and limiting the speech of American citizens.

Lenin at least was conscious of his rejection of the norms of debate. Our self-nominated mandarins are too ignorant and insular to realize what they are destroying.

Or maybe they do:

To be most effective, propaganda needs the help of censorship. Within a sealed information arena, it can mobilize all means of communication-- printed, spoken, artistic, and visual -- and press its claims to maximum advantage.
Norman Davies, Europe: A History
On “mediated democracy”:

They still don't get it

We really are ruled by inept experts

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Friday, October 25, 2019

By the logic of 2019, this proves that the press has always been in league with our enemies.

When Philip Jaffe told Andrew Roth of his wish to help Soviet intelligence get information out of the State Department, Roth advised him that leaking classified information to a reporter for publication would do the same thing but be less risky.

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