Thursday, February 18, 2016

The very model of a scholar

Jacques Barzun was the embodiment of the scholarly ideal. He reflected and defended a vision of the humanities that was destroyed by politics, physics-envy, and industrial-scale production of PH.D.s.

From Dawn to Decadence, like most of his works, is that rarest of books. It is a book every thinking person should read yet reading it is unalloyed joy.

It is sweeping in its scope and ambition. His vast scholarship and wise judgment is on display on every page. He does not shy away from confident pronouncements which are often delivered as gentle aphorisms:

It is logical that this century's taste for aberrations, which it sees as a norm previously obscured by prejudice…

Black humor was one of the favorite spicings substituted for energy...

Love of what is fine should not make one finicky.
Barzun embodied that last piece of advice. An intellectual historian of the first rank, he also was a reader of detective stories and wrote about them with the same verve and knowledge he brought to works on Freud, education, and music.

To see what we’ve lost, here is Barzun on America, circa 1920:

The American school system was at the height of its dedication and efficiency. The grammar schools has assimilated millions of motley immigrants; the free public high school was a daring venture that was the envy of industrialized nations; its curriculum was liberal (in modern speech elitist)-- Latin, the English poets, American and English history, a modern foreign language, mathematics and science every year-- and no marshmallow subjects
And then the verdict on the damage done:

It was said earlier that the great 19C invention, the public school, had lost the power to make children literate. Methods useless for that purpose, absurd teacher training, the dislike of had work, the love of gadgetry, and the efforts to copy and to change the outer world ruined education throughout the West.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sadly still true

Ideological words have a way of wearing thin and then, having lost their meanings, being used like switchblades against the enemy of the moment.

Walker Percy

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

This really is a big freaking deal

To paraphrase the soon-to-be Democratic nominee for President.

Anyhow-- this story is a couple of months old but it has not received the attention it deserves

CIA Fooled by Massive Cold War Double-Agent Failure

All recruits in East Germany, Cuba, and Russia fooled agency

The CIA was fooled by scores of double agents pretending to be working for the agency but secretly loyal to communist spy agencies during the Cold War and beyond, according to a former CIA analyst, operations officer, and historian.

The large-scale deception included nearly 100 fake CIA recruits in East Germany, Cuba, as well as the Soviet Union (and later Russia) who supplied false intelligence that was passed on to senior U.S. policymakers for decades.

“During the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency bucked the law of averages by recruiting double agents on an industrial scale; it was hoodwinked not a few but many times,” writes Benjamin B. Fischer, CIA’s former chief historian.
Fischer’s article was published here.

It seems to me that a lot of journalistic history is in need of revising. All those books and articles that decried the “paranoia” of CIA’s counterintelligence branch under James Angleton now look suspect.

One of the counts against Angleton was that he turned away intelligence sources because he feared that they were double-agents dispatched by the Soviets to spread disinformation.

But it isn’t paranoia if they really were double-agents.

Most of the sources journalists used for those stories were CIA officers who later ‘vetted’ these double-agents, approved them, and fed their disinformation to government policy-makers.

So, a lot of “intelligence experts” look pretty silly now. (As usual Bill Clinton’s favorite girl journalist is a charter member of this group.)

Even worse, many in CIA tried to cover-up their mistakes and, in some cases, kept distributing the disinformation to avoid embarrassment for themselves and their agency.

These revelations make Tennent Bagley’s Spy Wars and Spymaster even more persuasive. (I reviewed Spy Wars here)

This is a matter of more than antiquarian or historical interest. As Gertz notes, the disparagement of counterintelligence at CIA (a legacy of William Colby and Stansfield Turner) continues to this day and can cost lives.

Critics have charged the agency with harboring an aversion to counterintelligence the practice of countering foreign spies and the vetting of the legitimacy of both agents and career officers. Beginning in the 1970s, many in the CIA criticized counter-spying, which often involved questioning the loyalties of intelligence personnel, as “sickthink.”

The agency’s ability to discern false agents turned deadly in 2009 when a Jordanian recruit pretending to work for CIA killed a group of seven CIA officers and contractors in a suicide bombing at a camp in Afghanistan.
Joby Warrick’s book on the deadly fiasco at Khost (FOB Chapman) is a great read and a first-rate piece of reporting.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A little more Orwell

Seventy years later and the main stream press still has not learned

If tomorrow Stalin were to drop the committee of Liberation and recognise the London Government, the whole British intelligentsia would flock after him like a troop of parrots. Their attitude towards Russian foreign policy is not 'Is this policy right or wrong?' but 'This is Russian policy: how can we make it appear right?' And this attitude is defended, if at all, solely on grounds of power.


First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: 'Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist for the Soviet regime, or any other other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.
George Orwell, 'As I See It' Tribune 1 September 1944

Monday, February 01, 2016

The more things change....

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

To be a highbrow, with a footing in the snootier magazines, means delivering yourself over to horrible campaigns of wire-pulling and backstairs-crawling. In the highbrow world you 'get on', if you 'get on' at all, not so much by your literary ability as by being the life and soul of cocktail parties and kissing the bums of verminous little lions.


The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle class. The typical socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious- looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucus voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teatotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of nonconformity behind him, and above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting.