Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rational actors choosing self-destruction

Germany almost won WWI in 1917. Russia collapsed into revolution and surrender. Italy was propped up only with difficulty. The US had entered the war but could not yet contribute significant forces.

The critical moment came in the spring of 1917 when morale in the French armies collapsed after the failure of the Nivelle offensives. Some divisions mutinied and refused to obey orders. Both London and Paris worried that the mutinies presaged revolution in France and the end of the Third Republic.

Part of the panic was due to shock and dashed hopes. The year began with Gen. Robert Nivelle taking over as supreme commander of the French armies. He was a man with a plan to win the war with one more big push. The Allies gained a little ground but the butcher’s bill was unbearably high. It pushed the French Army past its breaking point.

Neville was not an obvious choice to lead the French armies. He was an artillery officer who only took command of the 2d Army in May 1916 when Gen. Petain was promoted to command Army Group Center during the Battle of Verdun.

The French government chose Nivelle as C-in-C in December over the heads of more senior generals such as Petain, Foch, and Castelnau.

Neville was a charismatic figure with a soaring reputation after the victory at Verdun. The critical factor in his rise, however was ideological. The French government was vehemently anti-clerical and Nivelle was not Catholic.

David Murphy:

All officers were discouraged from going to mass or having other church associations. To the disgust of many officers, the army was used in the forcible expropriation of church property. More insidiously, AndrĂ© encouraged republican officers to spy on their brother officers and a system of files, or ‘fiches’, was compiled in order to record the activities of officers with church sympathies. AndrĂ© also made use of groups of Freemasons within the army to carry out the necessary surveillance and reporting.8 Church-going or other outward signs of devoutness were recorded and officers who displayed such tendencies found themselves passed over for promotion. One such was Colonel Ferdinand Foch, who, after a mixed wartime career, would later serve as the supreme Allied commander from 1918.

Nivelle had only limited experience as an army commander, having commanded Second Army since May 1916.10 To an objective eye, there were other more senior general officers who were potential choices. The chief of staff at the GQG, General Castelnau, seemed to many to be an obvious choice to succeed Joffre but his long association with Joffre meant politicians doubted his ability. He was also a devout Catholic, which increased doubts among the more radical factions within government.
As absurd as it sounds, the political and intellectual classes in France feared the Catholic church more than the armies of the Kaiser.

A great reminder that ideological blinders are hard to shed.

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

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

A great man

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of common sense.
Lord Salisbury, 1877

Saturday, April 14, 2018

#MeToo: The MSM refuses to take its own medicine

In the wake of the Tailhook scandal, the US Navy underwent something resembling a purge. Careers were ended. War heroes were driven from the service on the basis of media reports which ‘raised suspicions’ or left ‘lingering questions.’ To be named was to be usually enough to overshadow everything else an officer had done.

This expansive view of scandal apparently still prevails in the Navy:

Fat Leonard: the Rolling Blob’s Frag Pattern
Once again, a career is ended on the basis of tangential associations, lingering suspicions, and fear of media reaction.

Or take the damage done to the reputation of Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The case against JoePa breaks down something like this.

1. Bad things happened in State College
2. Joe Paterno lived in State College and wielded great influence there.
3. Therefore Paterno must have known about these bad things and should have stopped them.
The logic of this case is shaky and the facts are not as clear as press reports portray them. (See Framing Paterno for more). Yet many of the MSM’s best and brightest looked at this argument and called for the end of football at Penn State and a thorough house-cleaning of the coaches and administrators.

We haven’t seen the same moral fervor directed toward the news/entertainment industry. The standards applied to Penn State and Paterno have not been applied to Hollywood or the MSM in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein/Matt Lauer revelations.

All those people who worked with Weinstein are permitted to issue pro-forma denials “I had no idea” and no more questions are raised.

Jeff Zucker worked with Matt Lauer for years. Yet all he had to do was play Sgt. Schultz “I knew nothing” and everybody was happy to move on.

Zucker wants us to believe he is blind and profoundly uncurious. He also wants us to believe that this is no bar to leading “the most trusted name in news.”

We must have transparency say the same news organizations that are using NDAs to hide the predations of their one-time stars.

'Terrified' CBS executives 'warn employees about violating NDAs ahead of Charlie Rose sexual misconduct expose as they fear being named for ignoring misconduct complaints'
No one in the MSM seems interested in examining how Weinstein was able to use the respectable media to intimidate his accusers and deflect attention away from his behavior.

Harvey Weinstein counted on a complicit media

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sad truth

We obviously are going through an interesting period of semi-literacy, where everybody can write, but few people will or can read.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited (1990)
And he wrote that before the internet, smartphones or Twitter. Imagine how much worse it is today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lest we forget

Colin Gray:

So What! The Meaning of Strategy

You probably will not prove able to fight your way out of the waging of the wrong war. To be fair to bold policymakers, one must conclude that often it will not be at all obvious ahead of time just how fickle the gods of war can prove themselves to be. However, it can surely be no secret that a decision to wage war, almost any war at any time and in any environment, will be a gamble. Also, war is different from all else in the human historical narrative.
More from Gray:

Why strategy is difficult

Competence cannot offset folly along the means-ends axis of strategy. Military history is littered with armies that won campaigns in the wrong wars.

Since the future is unforeseeable--do not put faith in the phrase "foreseeable future"--we must use only assets that can be trusted. Specifically, we plan to behave strategically in an uncertain future on the basis of three sources of practical advice: historical experience, the golden rule of prudence (we do not allow hopes to govern plans), and common sense. We can educate our common sense by reading history. But because the future has not happened, our expectations of it can only be guesswork. Historically guided guesswork should perform better than one that knows no yesterdays. Nonetheless, planning for the future, like deciding to fight, is always a gamble.
And always, Clausewitz:

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test [of war as an instrument of policy] the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.
No one starts a war-- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

WMD redux

Interesting piece by David Warsh:

Cloak and… Megaphone

The Skripal affair is obviously different. The attempt on the lives of a former Russian spy and his daughter, on British soil, using some variant of a nerve gas developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1970s, has been condemned around the world. It seems to echo the 2006 assassination in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian Secret Service specialist in organized crime who had defected.

But while the British prime minister Theresa May has accused the Russian government of “almost certainly” perpetrating the crime, details of her government’s investigation have been skimpy and, so far, unconvincing. Knowledgeable skeptics have been busy, especially the blogger Moon of Alabama.

Even less apparent has been a plausible motive. Why further sabotage relations with the West on the eve of the showcase soccer matches? Are there no other powerful factions, in Moscow or elsewhere, who might benefit from the further rupture of relations that has ensued? The Russians, of course, have claimed they were framed.
The same question of motive arises in the case of Syria's alleged use of poison gas in Ghouta last week.

From all appearances Assad's fortunes were on the rise. His forces were gaining ground and the Trump admin signalled that they were not ready to add Syria to the list misbegotten foreign adventures. Moreover, he was about to gain a powerful propaganda win as Syrian Christians returned to their churches to worship on Easter Sunday in areas his forces liberated from ISIS.

If he used gas, then he threw all that away all that. For what gain?

The western media will happily traffic in conspiracy theories when they attack their preferred targets. Hence, Russian "experts" like Masha Gessen are allowed to speculate that Putin and his allies were responsible for terrorist outrages in Moscow. But no one dares suggest that an anti-Assad group would mount a false flag attack in a last-ditch attempt to provoke US intervention.

Grand strategy

I've linked to this lecture several times. It is a great introduction to grand strategy as both a discipline and a feature in US foreign policy.

No surprise then that i am pretty excited about this new book.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The big Sinclair freakout

Good take here:

The Freakout Over Sinclair Isn’t About Bias. It’s About The Wrong Bias
All the usual suspects (hey Tater!) are up in arms about Sinclair’s rather anodyne branding exercise.

When Dan Rather denounces you and Dick Durbin threatens you… you’re probably doing something right.

I almost expect Team Mueller to leak that they’ve opened up an investigation on Sinclair for conspiracy to undermine the Deciders.

It is telling that this mass freakout began when Deadspin that miserable spawn of Gawker rang the bell. The herd of independent minds that make up the respectable chattering classes immediately started their Pavlovian barking.

The keepers of media ethics had no real problem with Journolist but a short promotional video is the end of free thought.

Well, actually, the Sinclair statement does present a real threat. Narratives are sustained by endless repetition. If local stations stop mindlessly parroting CNN-approved tropes, then the battle for explanation space could be lost.

Sinclair understands that what is good for the journalist guild and the New York Times is NOT good for Sinclair or their viewers. Sinclair has no desire to emulate Newsweek:

This is a case study in agency theory. The stockholders want Newsweek to maximize the returns it pays to them. The best way to do that is to write a high-quality publication that appeals to a broad audience. The writers and editors are seeking career advancement. You don’t get that appealing to the morons in flyover territory with simplistic bourgeois truth. You get ahead in the media by impressing the media elites, the unofficial campaigners, the reality-based community.

So Newsweek, like many publications, increasingly focused on appealing to a very narrow K-Street/Upper East Side/90210 crowd. That trashed the magazine’s reader base and ruined the company, but it made a lot of journolists into Big Names.

The Agents succeed by gutting the Principals. Tis a twice-told tale

Harvey Weinstein counted on a complicit media

That's why we need a different sort of #MeToo

The Frontline investigation into Weinstein and his behavior did not have a lot of revelations, but it did give a voice to several women he preyed upon. Worth a watch.

Watch here.

One very interesting thing did come up. There is a short interview with gossip-monger A. J. Benza who admits that he, in effect, facilitated Weinstein's cover-ups. (He claims that he knew nothing of the sexual assaults, just your usual consensual adultery).

"The gossip industry is run on the barter system. If I've got a story about you and you don't want it printed you say 'Hold it. I'll give you something better' and I'll print the other story and save you."
Benza admits that he engaged in these trades with HW. It seems likely that he was not the only gossip-monger who did so.

This suggests that HW reaped two benefits from his private network of spies. Not only could he use them to unearth dirt with which to intimidate his victims or nosy reporters, he could also use dirt on uninvolved parties. This he could trade to gossip-mongers and throw them off his scent.

HW did not invent this technique. The old Hollywood studios were masters of this game. Rock Hudson's agent played the game to keep his client's personal life private.

So gossip is a sleazy business. Yet, nearly all MSM outlets end up involved in that business. They might be corporate siblings of a gossip-merchant (e.g. NBC and E! networks). Or they might use gossip-mongers as talking heads and "reporters" when they cover entertainment news (see every network morning news show).

Yet this never seems to upset the media critics. Nor have those critics demanded an accounting from those gossip purveyors who helped Weinstein deflect and conceal during his reign of terror. Whose reputation was trashed with information provided by HW's private Stasi?

According to William Safire, the intelligence world has a phrase: "walking back the cat". It means "examining old analyses in light of new information." It might be a good time to walk back the cat when it comes to some of the women whose reputations and careers were damaged in unexpected tabloid firestorms.

How many of those firestorms were started by HW to deflect or deter?

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Rejoice! He is risen!

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12