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 clichés 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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Thursday, October 24, 2019

All the good stuff Helter Skelter had to leave out

Tom O’Neill’s CHAOS chronicles a twenty year odyssey to make sense of the Manson Familiy murders. The author’s journey began with a simple assignment to write a 5,000 word retrospective on how the killings changed Hollywood. That story would fall by the wayside as his research led him on a long and winding road: unanswered questions, Hollywood secrets, the power of The Narrative, and proprietorial misconduct.

O’Neill had surprisingly good instincts for a guy who profiled celebrities and covered the entertainment industry. When he read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter he quickly spotted the gaps in logic and weak factual underpinnings of the prosecutor’s case. As he interviewed friends of the victims and pored over documents he ended up with more questions than answers.

So he kept digging. But what really drove him onward were his interviews with Bugliosi himself. The ex-prosecutor was thin-skinned, arrogant, defensive, and eventually threatening.

Like a good journalist in a movie O’Neill had to find out what Bugliosi was hiding.

Because life is seldom like a movie, O’Neill never finds his ANSWER -- the single simple explanation for why an ex-con who had gathered in a bunch of young runaways and throwaways decided to launch a murder spree. (Almost no one, not O’Neill, not the cops, not even Bugliosi, really believed the Beatle/race war/apocalypse scenario presented at the trial.)

In the course of his research, he went down many, many rabbit holes. These often led him to undisclosed and under-reported facts. But none of them led him to a neat, simple explanation.

Perhaps he came close to an answer early on in his investigation:

I realized just how flimsy the Helter Skelter motive was. Its unforgettable grandiosity may have hidden a more prosaic truth: that a few rich guys had gotten in over their heads with an unstable ex-con.
This calls to mind Steve Sailer’s recent observation about Manson and Hollywood:
Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi was much appreciated within the entertainment industry for portraying Manson as an LSD-crazed apocalyptic avenger. Bugliosi’s masterful job of making Manson seem like the ultimate outsider sidetracked the question of why a lowlife jailbird like Manson had become something of an insider at the best parties in the Hollywood Hills.

Why exactly did Manson know so many important people in showbiz? The answer was the same as for why Jeffrey Epstein knew so many important people in politics: He had access to jailbait girls.

Without all the Helter Skelter stuff, Manson would seem less like the Antichrist and more like an ambitious pimp, an ex-con who was adept at chatting up runaway girls fresh off the Greyhound bus.
In the end, O’Neill sees connection between Manson and all the conventional boogie men of the left-wing Cold War narrative: COINTELPRO, MK/ULTRA, CHAOS, PHOENIX. He accepts even the most far-fetched variations of the Conspiracy Theorist view of the JFK assassination. This makes CHAOS a intensely interesting book which is ultimately unsatisfying. Ironically, his own attempt at a Grand Unifying Theory suffers from the same weaknesses he found in Helter Skelter.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Sometimes history isn't forgotten -- it's buried


When de-platforming was gauche

Bernadine Dohrn back in the day:

Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room, far out! The Weathermen dig Charles Manson.
These sentiments proved to be no barrier to becoming a professor at Northwestern Law School.

Would Jordan Peterson or Charles Murray even be permitted to make a speech at Northwestern today?


Monday, October 21, 2019

The “ideas“ of the woke Left are not new. Orwell understood the danger they posed 75 years ago.

Wokeness is a leap back into dark times

A British and German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as 'the truth' exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as "Science". There is only "German Science," "Jewish Science," etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past.
George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”, 1943
The targets and the terms of dismissal have changed. So has mainstream acceptance. Someone who ranted about “Jewish science” could never have a show on MSNBC. Rachel Maddow, however, is celebrated when she dismisses Nobel laureates and pioneers in medicine as just a bunch of dudes.

Leftists Wage War on 'Dude Walls' in Pursuit of Socialist Utopia
The good folks at NPR don’t really have a problem with Maddow’s superficial dismissal of those men and their achievements.

Academic Science Rethinks All-Too-White 'Dude Walls' Of Honor
Makes you wonder: who are the real heirs of the Nazis?

Theodore Dalrymple understands the real goal of the SJWs and their war on history and science. For the “woke”, he notes,

history is nothing but the backward projection of current grievances, real or imagined, used to justify and inflame resentment.

The object of such historiography is to disconnect everyone from a real sense of a living past and a living culture.
Our Culture, What’s Left of It
After cutting ourselves off from the living past and the real people who lived there, what do we have left?

At Yale Medical School, they draw life lessons from mediocre children’s literature:

He grew up reading Harry Potter books, and in that fictional world, portraits can talk to the characters. "If this was Harry Potter," he muses, "if they could speak, what would they even say to me? Everywhere you study, there's a big portrait somewhere of someone kind of staring you down."


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Lessons in Leadership: Captain Frederick John “Johnny” Walker, RN

“No officer will ever be blamed by me for getting on with the job in hand.”

Captain Walker was the most successful U-boat hunter in the Royal Navy in World War Two. When he took over the 36th Escort Group in October 1941 he issued the following Operational Instructions to the nine ships under his command.

1. The object of the Group while on escort duty is to ensure the safe and timely arrival of the convoy concerned. It is not possible, with the ships available, to dispose of the Group in such a way as to protect the convoy completely from enemy attacks -- these must be accepted and doubtless some losses. The only practicable course of action is to ensure that any enemy craft, either surface or air, which attack are destroyed.

2. The particular aim of the Group therefore is to be taken as the destruction of any enemy which attacks the convoy. U-boats are the chief menace to our convoys. I cannot emphasise too strongly that a U-boat sighted or otherwise detected is immediately to be attacked continuously without further orders, with guns, depth charges, and/or ram until she has been destroyed or until further orders are received.

3. I wish to impress on all officers that although I shall naturally take charge of the majority of operations, I consider it essential for themselves to act instantly without waiting for orders in situations of which I may be unaware or imperfectly informed.

4. It should seldom, if ever, be necessary to conclude a signalled report with the words: “Request instructions.” Action should be “proposed” or “intended” by the men on the spot and the senior officer can always say if he doesn’t like it.

5. No officer will ever be blamed by me for getting on with the job in hand.

B. H. Liddell Hart described Marlborough's leadership genius as "the power of commanding affection while communicating energy". Captain Walker's Operational Instructions certainly communicated energy. The men in his group knew what was expected of them and had no fear of being second-guessed or micro-managed. They had permission and knew they would not have to beg for forgiveness if they "got on with the job at hand."

Under his command, the 36th Escort Group was the first unit to inflict serious losses on the German U-boats. Walker, his commanders, and his crews were creating and refining a war-winning doctrine for the Battle of the Atlantic.

Consistent success is one of the ways to "command affection". Professional competence is an often overlooked factor in real leadership. (As Farnam Street noted, a leader's supreme competence is "pure oxygen" for an organization.) Walker had studied the U-boat problem for years and had knack for finding solutions. His expertise helped make his escort groups elite units which were recognized as such throughout the Royal Navy.

By the time of the Normandy landings, the U-boat threat had been negated. They were unable to contest the landings and the supply efforts. They tried, but were turned back with crushing heavy losses. Captain Walker was in the middle of the fight from the dark days of 1941 to the brilliant success of June 1944.

Captain Walker, like Gen. Percy Hobart and Air Marshall Dowding was slated for retirement before the war intervened. It really seems that the British military had systemic problems in identifying talented officers in the interwar period. Fortunately, Hitler made even greater mistakes.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Interesting things you learn while reading books

During the first four years of war British capital ships suffered only fourteen shell hits (five 15in [Hood], two 11in [Renown in 1940], one 9.4in, five 8in, one 6in); shellfire accounted for only 15 per cent of ship-months lost, compared to 80 per cent due to underwater damage, mainly by torpedo.
Norman Friedman, The British Battleship 1906-1946


Wednesday, October 09, 2019

A case study in culture change

From small volunteer acorns, mighty oaks can grow

The story of Prussia’s military transformation from 1805 to 1815 is familiar to students of history: crushed by Napoleon at Jena and Auerstedt, Prussia was reduced to little more than a satellite of France. Shocked by this catastrophe the Prussian state reformed its army under the guidance of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. By 1815 the Prussians were once again a Great Power and a critical factor in Napoleon’s final defeat. Two generations later Prussia defeated France and Austria in lightning campaigns that transformed the map of Europe.

Scharnhorst’s reformed Prussian army remains a model and object of study for historians and military strategists to this day.

This remarkable essay shows us how Scharnhorst laid the groundwork for reform when the Prussian state and its army were adamantly and obstinately opposed to change:

Introducing #Scharnhorst: The Military Society and the Concept of Continuous Education

When Gerhard von Scharnhorst arrived in Berlin in 1801, he had an ambitious reform agenda on his mind. He was appointed to helm the Military School for Young Infantry and Cavalry Officers in Berlin, better known as the Kriegsakademie. Scharnhorst’s aspirations went, however, much further.

Scharnhorst believed education had to become a life-long process of learning and exploring new ideasthe bedrock of military professionalism and what he had in mind was no less than the transformation of military education. Beyond change in the classroom, the vehicle for this transformation was the Military Society (or Militärische Gesellschaft, in German). The club met once per week and quickly became the place to be for every ambitious officer. For the mere four years of its existence, the Military Society had a remarkable track record. According to Charles Edward White, almost sixty percent of the officers who were members became generals; seven rose to field marshals; and five of the eight Chiefs of Staff of the Prussian General Staff between 1813-1870 belonged to it.
The Military Society existed for only four years and its members never numbered more than 187. Yet the voluntary “social club” became the incubator for a revolutionary transformation of the Kingdom of Prussia and the armies of Europe.

One key reason for its outsized influence was that while it was “social” and “voluntary” it was also highly selective.

Anyone desiring to become a member had to prepare an essay and send it anonymously to the organization. After reading aloud and debating the text, the other members had to decide whether to invite the author into the ranks of the Society. Only after a decision was made would the identity be revealed.
Writing and debate played a central role in Scharnhorst’s vision for the society:

When putting thoughts on paper, a writer is forced to examine his or her knowledge and find the gaps in it; to make choices about which arguments or facts to put forward; to think about how to captivate and convince the audience. In this regard, Scharnhorst considered writing an essential part of the military profession and a way to develop one’s critical thinking. He stated: “The drafting of a shorter work is sometimes more useful to the writer than the reading of a thick book.”
The Military Society brought together the best minds in the Army. It allowed them to study and analyze the changes underway in military affairs. Members sharpened their critical faculties; ideas ere refined and transmitted through the whole officer corps.

In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equiped to live in a world that no longer exists.
Eric Hoffer

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"The unofficial custodian of the Navy's professional hopes and fears"

A look at the Naval Review and its history:

The Naval Review – Encouraging Debate Inside the Royal Navy Since 1913

In October 1912, a small group of Royal Navy and Royal Marine officers got together in Alverstoke to set about the formation of a Naval Society whose purpose was simple, ‘to promote the advancement and spreading, within the Service, of knowledge relevant to the higher aspects of the naval profession’. There were early ideas for meetings and formal debates, but the dispersed reality of naval service rapidly brought acceptance that the best medium for exchanging ideas would be through a regular journal.

Since 1913, with an interruption from 1915 to 1918 that was corrected in retrospect, a quarterly issue of the Naval Review has been distributed to subscribing members and to privileged libraries and naval authorities. There are over half a million pages of text in 106 volumes.
The Review, from its beginning, allowed officers to publish anonymously:

From the first, the new navies of the Commonwealth were included and the Editor’s license to admit any person with a legitimate interest in the naval service was always judiciously employed. In 2019, eligibility extends to serving and retired officers and ratings of all the British, Commonwealth and NATO armed forces, members of the RFA and RMAS and to civil servants whose work has involved the navy. Many academics, politicians, think tankers and maritime experts have been readily accepted over the years and admission for those with ‘demonstrable interest in the Royal Navy’ continues. It was no coincidence that the donors to the Review’s centenary appeal included ten distinguished academics, many of whom have contributed to the journal.

The ideas that circulation would be confined solely to members and that contributions could be anonymous were integral to the concept from the start. The leading founder, the then-Captain Herbert Richmond, and the first editor, Admiral William Henderson, were convinced that anonymity allowed greater freedom of discussion, but it had and has other benefits. Firstly, whether the author was junior or senior, it forced readers to judge articles on their inherent quality, not the status of their originator. This meant that senior officers could ‘fly kites’ to test the reaction to potential initiatives without it being influenced by their rank. Conversely, very junior officers could express opinions with a reduced risk of being patronised or ignored outright and without being accused of self-advertising. Finally, at a time of deep divisions within a service dominated by ‘Jacky’ Fisher and Lord Charles Beresford, anonymity would help avoid factionalism. Although far fewer articles are anonymous in the present day and allowing pen names has been questioned at intervals, would-be authors continue to have the right to anonymity. As they should, because most of the original justifications for concealing identity remain valid.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Revolutionary technology and unintended consequences

On 12 July 1871 the Royal Navy launched HMS Devastation, a warship which marked a decisive break from centuries of naval design.

The ship marked the beginning of the new era of mastless steamship in the Royal Navy, ships whose decks allowed better positioned guns, making warships far more formidable in battle. It is not surprising therefore that HMS Devastation has an iconic status in naval history, marking a watershed moment in ship design. Described by contemporaries as ‘by far the most formidable of its kind yet constructed’, with ‘exceptionally heavy armour and armament’, its mastless design gave the impression of something rather otherworldly.
Coal and steam gave Devastation significant tactical advantages over older ships. With better firepower and more freedom of movement in battle she was the wave of the future. After 1875, every new warship in the Royal Navy was powered solely by steam.

Paradoxically, this new technology created a new set of strategic, logistical, and geopolitical risks and challenges for Great Britain

This new generation of warships made coal and its supply, an issue of the highest importance to navies the world over. ...Supplying this coal was beset with a myriad of problems, and would have global ramifications.
As Britain had huge global oceanic interests to defend, places to store fuel were needed worldwide, close enough together to allow ships to travel between on one load. There was, moreover, little point in spending huge sums on state of the art warships if the fuel fed to their engines was below par. Thus, the coal available at each station not only had to be sufficient for those ships that called in, but also of the highest quality to ensure maximum performance from the fleet. The shift from sail to steam also led to geostrategic weakness.

The ability of a rival to take, or destroy supplies, and thus leave British ships impotent, meant that these key infrastructural nodes would in themselves need to become a key part of global defence strategy.

Friday, October 04, 2019

The snipers and the media

The Beltway Sniper was the biggest story of 2002. Cable news channels devoted hours each day to their coverage of the spree. Journalists flooded DC as every media outlet sought a piece of the action. As Jack Censer notes in his book On the Trail of the D. C. Sniper: Fear and the Media (2010) “more news reporters than police were assigned to the sniper case.”

Censer’s book is a fascinating case study of the media in action on a big, evolving story. It is unsparing in its analysis of the motives and mores of journalism and the business of cable news. It asks penetrating questions about the consequences for the public of the feverish quest for eyeballs in a crowded media landscape.

Cable news, to keep its viewers, had to make its fare constantly newsworthy. This encouraged more scoops, as people in the news business call the situation when one reporter or news outlet has a story before others do. But the situation also led to more hyping of the available news when what legitimately might be called a scoop was not available. Together, these tendencies raised the tempo and tenor of reporting.

Stations came on the air with a loud fanfare heralding important and significant developments in the sniper case. The logic or teleology of the initial announcement was that something big had happened. Staying on the air suggested that something else was going to occur liveat the least, new information, but ideally, a resolution to the case. On the whole, however, these outcomes proved elusive. In any case, new information remained scarce.
“Monkey see, monkey do” prevailed. When one outlet went “wall to wall” with coverage, its competitors followed suit. With little actual news to report, time was filled by rehashed old news and speculation. Profilers and retired law enforcement officers filled airtime guessing about who the sniper was, his motives, law enforcement tactics, etc., etc.

Censer is shrewd about the incentive system for talking heads:

Profilers in general spoke without compensation to media, in order to publicize their skills to private, paying clients. Such a system might well give incentive to say something splashy and memorable.
For producers the best guest was not the most knowledgeable scholar or the most insightful expert. The best guest was the one who could go on camera and fill airtime with memorable soundbites.

For three weeks the Beltway Snipers were the biggest story in the country. Yet, the consequences of all that media attention was to make the public less knowledgeable. The trickle of information was overwhelmed by the deluge of misinformation and pointless, wrong-headed speculation. The more one watched CNN or read the Washington Post, the less one actually knew.


Hunting the Beltway Snipers

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Hunting the Beltway Snipers

On 2 October 2002, James Martin was shot in a grocery store parking lot in Wheaton, Maryland. His murder marked the beginning of a three-week killing spree by two terrorists who became known as the Beltway Snipers.

Last year retired Maryland state trooper David Reichenbaugh published In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers. It is a fascinating account from a unique perspective. Reichenbaugh was originally assigned to the task force headquarters and was in charge of the unit that had to turn the flood of tips, police records, and criminal profiles into useful intelligence. As luck would have it, he was the senior officer nearby when the blue Caprice was spotted at the I-70 rest stop. He took charge of securing the scene until the SWAT team arrived and took down the killers.

In Pursuit gives us critical insights into the hunt for the sniper. First, he shows us the overwhelming challenge faced by law enforcement as they built an IT infrastructure to handle a flood of bytes and paper that came pouring in. The pressure was immense as the clock kept ticking and the number of victims kept climbing. This is the view of the hunt far removed from press conferences and media interviews. It was invisible to the daily journalists who wrote the first draft of history.

Reichenbaugh has more than a little disdain for the media and the bureaucrats and politicians who sought to curry favor with them. Watching the media in action he was moved to wonder

Does the press care how many innocent people get killed? Is there a bloodlust on the part of the press?*
At one point during the killing spree, Gov. Paris Glendinning sought to calm fears by reassuring the public that their children were in no danger. The police knew this was fool hardy:

We were stunned. Governor Glendinning had unwittingly just put a bulls-eye on the forehead of every child in Maryland.
The snipers then went out and shot a student at a middle school.

Early on in the manhunt police had reports of a blue Caprice at the scene of several shootings. This information was lost in the deluge of tips and reports about white men in a white van.

Was it because we had programmed the public into looking for white vans and that was all they noticed? It has been proven time and again that the observations of witnesses can be influenced by predisposed ideas and beliefs.
It also did not help matters that FBI profilers told the task force that they were looking for a white man or men. (This information was quickly leaked to the press.) Cable news experts repeated and elaborated on the Angry White Male profile. Even if a by-stander noticed a blue Caprice, they would not connect it to the shootings. WHITE MEN IN A WHITE VAN was John Muhammad’s invisibility cloak.

Our federal agencies performed as they usually do. When the task force finally identified the suspects and their car, ATF and FBI brought matters to a standstill as they fought over who would make the public announcement.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Two federal agents, who oversaw their respective agencies (FBI and ATF), were arguing over who was going to release the information or BOLO..... How could we have come so far so well and now be arguing over who gets to appear before the sea of media waiting outside the joint operations center.
Reichenbaugh’s account of the arrest is a highlight of the book. As the man on the spot he had to cordon off the rest area without alerting Muhammad and Malvo. At the same time he had civilians near the blue Caprice whose safety was of paramount concern. Finally, he had to coordinate with the SWAT team for the final arrest. All of this was improvised by a scratch team of patrol officers without the benefit of planning or even a briefing.

In the meantime, back at task force HQ, political jockeying threatened to upend Reichenbaugh’s best efforts.

That it all came off without any casualties or even a single shot fired was an amazing achievement.

Sometime after Muhammad was arrested the idea began to circulate that the killing spree was just an elaborate plan to allow him to kill his ex-wife and regain custody of his children. Reichenbaugh is scathingly dismissive of this idea:

They planned to kill and they killed based on their plan. This wasn't about a desperate man seeking revenge against an ex-wife over child custody, as had been portrayed. Maybe that was what set Muhammad off, but this much planning and premeditation suggested terrorism -- the desire to kill.
Muhammad did not even know his ex-wife was living in Maryland at the time he began his spree. Moreover, the snipers were out of money and down to their last bullet when they were captured. So when did Muhammad intend to put the final step of his plan in action?

*"Between lawmen and reporters on the whole it is impossible, however, not to notice this difference: Most lawmen seem to hate criminals, and most reporters couldn't care less." David Gelernter, Drawing Life


The snipers and the media

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The Charles Manson series we deserve

This could be a great Netflix series

In the course of reviewing Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Steve Sailer pulls back the curtains a bit:

Tarantino Punches the Damn Dirty Hippies

Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi was much appreciated within the entertainment industry for portraying Manson as an LSD-crazed apocalyptic avenger. Bugliosi’s masterful job of making Manson seem like the ultimate outsider sidetracked the question of why a lowlife jailbird like Manson had become something of an insider at the best parties in the Hollywood Hills.

Why exactly did Manson know so many important people in showbiz? The answer was the same as for why Jeffrey Epstein knew so many important people in politics: He had access to jailbait girls.

Without all the Helter Skelter stuff, Manson would seem less like the Antichrist and more like an ambitious pimp, an ex-con who was adept at chatting up runaway girls fresh off the Greyhound bus.
Worth noting that the image of Manson as the acid-drenched Anti-Christ has persisted for half a century. Such is the power of the Narrative when self-interest, laziness, and ideological commitment coincide.

Here’s a throw-away passage that should be the premise for an epic revisionist streaming series:

In Philip Marlowe detective novels, murder investigations tend to turn over a lot of rocks and shine embarrassing lights on what’s underneath. The Manson case could similarly have dented the reputations of numerous celebrities who had nothing to do with the killings, but who had plenty of other secrets they didn’t want exposed.

For example, Tate’s husband Roman Polanski, Hollywood’s hottest director, fingered John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas as a possible killer because Polanski, like much of the entertainment industry, had been sleeping with Phillips’ wife Michelle.
And we all know that Polanski and Phillips had other dark secrets separate from the murder of Sharon Tate.

A Raymond Chandler story set in the Age of Aquarius. Mean streets and the mansions of New Hollywood. In the hands of a good director and with the right cast, this would be an instant classic.


Breaking news without excuses

Intense media scrutiny is reserved for Enemies of the Party


Monday, September 30, 2019

Orwell the prophet

He wrote this over half a century before Harry Potter destroyed a generation of intellectual-manques.

To what extent people draw their ideas from fiction is disputable. Personally I believe that most people are influenced far more than they would care to admit by novels, serial stories, films and so forth, and that from this point of view the worst books are often the most important, because they are usually the ones that are read earliest in life.
"Boys' Weeklies" (1939)

Friday, September 27, 2019

Two remarkable lives

William and Elizebeth Friedman would be great subjects for a movie or Netflix mini-series. The cinematic potential of husband and wife code-breakers pitting their brains against the Nazis and Imperial Japan seems obvious.

The Friedmans were not just gifted codebreakers they were pioneers in cryptanalysis (William Friedman is credited with coining that term) and were instrumental in establishing the field as a scientific discipline in America. The National Security Agency named its main auditorium in their honor. Elizebeth has another hall named for her at the DOJ where she is remembered as a PIONEER OF INTELLIGENCE-LED POLICING.

They were married for nearly 52 years -- through two world wars and the Great Depression. They remained devoted to each other despite the added burden that working in the secret world imposed.

They never discussed their work with each other during the war which takes Need to Know and compartmentalization to unfathomable levels. How do you have work/life balance when work entails the fate of the Free World?

Before the first American set foot inside Bletchley Park, Elizebeth Freidman and her tiny unit in the Treasury Department had broken ciphers produced by several early versions of the Enigma machine.

While William worked for Army intelligence, his wife began her government career helping track down boot-leggers and rum-runners. Smugglers, like spies, need secure secret communications. Prohibition agents needed code-breakers to catch the law-breakers. In the 1920s and 1930s, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was the T-Men’s secret weapon.

When War came, she segued into tracking Nazi spies operating in South America.

In both her counterintelligence and law enforcement work, Friedman collaborated with the FBI. As is usually the case, “collaboration” meant that the work was shared while the vast majority of the publicity and glory went to the FBI and its director. The Bureau was quite willing to reveal sensitive code-breaking secrets to the public if it burnished the FBI’s image. That this would make future code-breaking difficult was of little concern to Hoover.