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.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

How social media stole our soul

 A short but brilliant piece from Nicholas Carr

From public intellectual to public influencer

Marketing, after all, has displaced thinking as our primary culture-shaping activity, the source of what we perceive ourselves to be. The public square having moved from the metaphorical marketplace of ideas to the literal marketplace of goods, it’s only natural that we should look to a new kind of guru to guide us.
When the public intellectual was ascendant, cultural ideals revolved around the public good. Today, they revolve around the consumer good. The idea that the self emerges from the construction of a set of values and beliefs has faded. What the public influencer understands more sharply than most is that the path of self-definition now winds through the aisles of a cultural supermarket. We shop for our identity as we shop for our toothpaste.
George Orwell:

People worship power in the form they are able to understand it. A twelve-year old boy worships Jack Dempsey. An adolescent in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business college worships Lord Nuffield,. A New Statesman reader worships Stalin. There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral outlook.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Why Twitter and cable news make us stupid

From Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd: A Study of the popular Mind

The violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased, especially in heterogeneous crowds, by the absence of all sense of responsibility. The certainty of impunity, a certainty the stronger as the crowd is more numerous, and the notion of considerable momentary force due to number, make possible in the case of crowds sentiments and acts impossible for the isolated individual. In crowds the foolish, ignorant, and envious persons are freed from the sense of their insignificance and powerlessness, and are possessed instead by the notion of brutal and temporary but immense strength.

Given to exaggerations in its feelings, a crowd is only impressed by excessive sentiments. An orator wishing to move a crowd must make an abusive use of violent affirmations. To exaggerate, to affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to attempt to prove anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to speakers at public meetings.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

An odd take on Monica Lewinsky and the Clinton scandals

From the Washington Examiner magazine:

Monica Lewinsky gets the last laugh
Lewinsky was the first victim of the internet’s public shaming ritual. That she has come out on the other side of this is an important counter punch to the online world’s increasing degradation of public discourse.
The writer (following Lewinsky’s lead) consistently confuses the issue by merging the actions of the Democrat/Clinton/Media complex with the public at large.

The public was “fickle,” indeed, but also bloodthirsty, feeding on the humiliation of an already-battered young woman like crows picking at a body.

Late-night talk show hosts delighted in Lewinsky’s ruination. They buried her in an avalanche of jokes about blow jobs and the blue dress that was a central piece of evidence in the case. They castigated her for her body, her sexuality, and the way she sounded on the now-infamous Linda Tripp tapes. Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and so many others routinely degraded her as a homewrecker and a bimbo. Watching network TV monologues from the ’90s, it’s clear that the pinnacle of late-night humor at the time was misogynistic, lazy cheap shots at a woman still in her 20s, living out the most horrifying experience of her life in the public eye. She was the target du jour, and they never seemed to run out of ammunition.
Note--the public is bloodthirsty, but her examples are media types.

The author also refuses to acknowledge that Lewinsky, her family, and her advisors helped create the firestorm that engulfed her. First, by having an affair with a married, high-profile man. Second by playing coy with prosecutors and trying to protect the “Big He”. In so doing, she gave the Clinton Machine time to put their “nuts and sluts” game plan into action. “We” didn’t try to destroy Monica Lewinsky, the Clintons did. So why is the Washington Examiner trying to confuse and deflect the issue with talk of “public shaming rituals” and “social media” toxicity?

Let us also not forget that this scandal grew out of an attempt to deny Paula Jones her chance for justice. Lewinsky, for whatever reasons, was working to deny her that chance.

This is bizarre

She’s a powerhouse, and possibly the best living example of bouncing back, better than ever.
I can think of a host of people who have suffered worse and also bounced back.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Hitler knew who his real enemies were

In fact, if ever Stalin fell into German hands, Hitler told his propaganda genius, as F├╝hrer he would out of respect spare the Russian premier, perhaps banishing him to some beach resort. Churchill and Roosevelt, by contrast, would be hanged for having started the war “without showing the least statesmanship or military ability.”
Nigel Hamilton, The Mantle of Command

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The limits of intelligence

Christopher Andrew notes that, thanks to ULTRA and Bletchley Park, Winston Churchill was "best-informed war leader in British history."

Despite this, the first two years of his tenure as PM saw an unending string of defeats. Greece, Crete, North Africa, Malaya, Singapore, Burma. Time and again superior intelligence could not overcome British deficiencies in numbers, doctrine, equipment, and leadership.

For good reason Sir John Keegan wrote

It has become part of the conventional wisdom that intelligence is the necessary key to success in military operations. A wise opinion would be that intelligence, while necessary, is not a sufficient means to victory. Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge.

Monday, September 02, 2019

2 September 1945: V-J Day

Tokyo Bay. Japan formally surrenders. The Second World War is over. Germany and Japan lie crushed and in ruins. Hitler is dead by his own hand. His ally Tojo tried to follow suit but he botched that job as badly as he he botched nearly everything he touched during the war. The putative samurai would meet his end, not by seppuku, but at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Moral righteousness alone does not win battles. Evil causes do not necessarily carry the seeds of their own destruction. Once engaged, even just wars have to be won-- or lost-- on the battlefield.
Murray and Millett, A War to Be Won
Japan went to war because she had contempt for her adversaries. China was backward and primitive, Britain was a paper lion, the Americans were a lazy people with no appetite for hard struggle.

Japan was defeated because she completely underestimated her victims. She could defeat Chinese armies but she could not conquer China. Britain refused to accept the ‘inevitable’ and turned the tide in every theater: the greatest defeat the Japanese army ever suffered came at the hands of the Slim’s 14th Army in Burma. Americans, it turned out, did not quit when faced with adverse odds nor did they collapse when faced with adversity.

The United States Navy is a social organization of golfers and bridge players.
Admiral . Isoroku Yamamoto
Long before his death in 1943 Yamamoto must have realized that he had badly misjudged his main opponent. The Navy and the Marines had disrupted and thwarted his plans at nearly every turn. They had bombed the sacred soil of Japan. They had destroyed his proud Kido Butai at Midway. They had held on at Guadalcanal despite Yamamoto’s every effort to drive them off the island.

The admiral’s successors had no greater success; nothing could slow down the inexorable advance. Tarawa was the tipping point. If Japan’s leaders were correct, the high cost in blood for a tiny atoll thousands of miles from Tokyo would have convinced the “nation of merchants” to negotiate. Instead, the American advance continued at an even more rapid pace.

On the eve of Midway Lt. Commander John C Waldron spoke to his men of Torpedo 8 on board the USS Hornet.

The approaching battle will be the biggest of the war and may well be the turning point also. It is to be known as the battle of Midway. It will be a historical, and I hope, a glorious event."

My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don't and worse comes to worst, I want each one of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies.
On the morning of battle, Waldron’s men did not find a favorable tactical situation. They did however do their utmost to destroy their enemies. They pressed their attack with courage and determination. Every plane was shot down. Only one man survived the battle. Their sacrifices helped deliver a decisive victory.

It was the courage of such men that brought the USS Missouri to Tokyo Bay.