Thursday, October 20th, 2016

The Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model, or C-WAM, combines an old-fashioned tabletop map — typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide — and pieces with a simple computer database — the Battle Tracker:

The 76-page C-WAM game manual, a copy of which was provided to GovTechWorks under the Freedom of Information Act, contains 27 dice-driven tables.

To keep the wargame playable but realistic, some aspects are simulated abstractly.


Dice tables adjudicate everything from weather to special forces strikes. But the aim is less about specific results than to prove whether or not a concept has merit. “We tell everybody: Don’t focus on the various tactical outcomes,” Mahoney says. “We know they are wrong. They are just approximations. But they are good enough to say that at the operational level, ‘This is a good idea. This might work. That is a bad idea. Don’t do that.’”

In other words, like any good military simulation, the goal is cognitive.


C-WAM was created about eight years [ago] as a solution to a problem: JICM requires a human analyst to create detailed plans for both friendly and enemy forces, which can be fed into the model for adjudication. But sometimes initial plans lacked the detail needed to engage JICM successfully. For example, a combatant command (COCOM) might submit a theater-level plan for evaluation, but leave out specifics, such as whether friendly or enemy forces will attack on the right or left flank, or whether the attacker or defender will emphasize maneuver or rely on artillery. That meant that analysts had to subjectively decide how the battle would be fought.

“Somebody would give an analyst a very high-level document, that says, ‘You’ve got three divisions, they’re attacking in this terrain, here’s the enemy. Go forth and do great things,’” Mahoney says. “But the analyst didn’t know what the campaign looked like, how the terrain might impact operations, how the enemy’s capabilities — or our own — might affect things, the flow of friendly forces into theater and so on.”

Analysts weren’t necessarily equipped to make those decisions.

That’s where CWAM comes in. The game allows military organizations to come up with multiple Courses of Action (COAs) or alternative plans, and then test those out on tabletop to help leaders develop a final battle plan incorporating the best of each COA. Only then is the plan submitted to JICM for a detailed analysis.

Crossroads Center Mall Attack Video

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

If you watch the surveillance camera video from the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, you can learn some lessons:

People DO use the overhand stab in knife attacks. The attacker Dahir Adan certainly did in the initial attack captured in the security video. People instinctively understand that they can strike powerful blows to the vulnerable regions of the upper body using the over hand stab, holding the knife in the ice pick grip. This technique allows the knifer to sink the blade deep into the chest, back, neck and head. At the same time most people recognize that if they launch a frontal assault with the downward stab they are telegraphing their attack such that even untrained people can do much to block the thrust. A cursory study of knife assaults indicates that most downward stab attacks are made from the side and rear for that reason. The attacker will frequently stabilize the victim, that is hold on to him in some fashion to unbalance him and prevent him from evading or warding off the blows. As was the case here. Apparently Adan wanted to stab as many people as he could, so he didn’t spend too much time on any one victim. Just delivering a few stabs and then moving on. This of course clearly devolved to the benefit of the stabbing victims since all survived.

The Crossroads Center Mall is a posted “gun free” zone. Meaning that under state law no civilian concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holders are allowed to carry their guns on the premises at the behest of the owners and management of the mall. Jason Falconer, the good guy with a gun who stopped the attacks, is a part-time cop from another jurisdiction. He chose to ignore the gun free zone signs and carried his gun into the mall anyway.


In a bizarre turn of events, after being shot several times, Adan advanced on Falconer by walking backwards. Actually it is not uncommon for people being shot to reflexively turn their back to the shooter in a vain effort to protect their vitals. Since action time beats reaction time the shooter will be unable to stop firing when his assailant first shows his back. Then the unfortunate cop or armed citizen will be left with the difficult task of explaining why he shot his assailant in the back.

Falconer moves well, but he ends up tripping while retreating from the charging knifeman.

Black Lies Matter

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

The Black Lives Matter movement is based on a lie, Heather MacDonald argues:

Last year, the police shot 990 people, the vast majority armed or violently resisting arrest, according to the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings. Whites made up 49.9 percent of those victims, blacks, 26 percent. That proportion of black victims is lower than what the black violent crime rate would predict.

Blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in America’s 75 largest counties in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants and 45 percent of all assault defendants, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though blacks comprise only 15 percent of the population in those counties.

In New York City, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses in their reports to the New York Police Department. Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the city’s population.

In Chicago, 80 percent of all known murder suspects were black in 2015, as were 80 percent of all known nonfatal shooting suspects, though they are a little less than a third of the population. Whites made up 0.9 percent of known murder suspects in Chicago in 2015 and 1.4 percent of known nonfatal shooting suspects, though they are about a third of the city’s residents.

Such racially skewed crime ratios are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. They mean that when officers are called to the scene of a drive-by shooting or an armed robbery, they will overwhelmingly be summoned to minority neighborhoods, looking for minority suspects in the aid of minority victims.

Gang shootings occur almost exclusively in minority areas. Police use of force is most likely in confrontations with violent and resisting criminals, and those confrontations happen disproportionately in minority communities.

You would never know it from the activists, but police shootings are responsible for a lower percentage of black homicide deaths than white and Hispanic homicide deaths. Twelve percent of all whites and Hispanics who die of homicide are killed by police officers, compared to 4 percent of black homicide victims.

That disparity is driven by the greatly elevated rates of criminal victimization in the black community. More blacks die each year from homicide, more than 6,000, than homicide victims of all other races combined. Their killers are not the police, and not whites, but other blacks. In Chicago this year through Aug. 30, 2,870 people, mostly black, were shot.

If you believed the Black Lives Matter narrative, you would assume that the assailants of those black victims were in large part cops. In fact, the police shot 17 people, most of whom were threatening lethal force, accounting for 0.6 percent of the total.

Gun-related murders of officers are up 52 percent this year through Aug. 30 compared to last year.

Police critics have never answered the question of what they think non-biased policing data should look like, in light of the vast differences in rates of criminal offending. Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Black males between the ages of 14-17 commit gun homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined.

Should police stops, arrests and those rare instances of police shootings nevertheless mirror population ratios, rather than crime ratios?

Can War Foster Cooperation?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Can war foster cooperation? Of course it can:

In the past decade, nearly 20 studies have found a strong, persistent pattern in surveys and behavioral experiments from over 40 countries: individual exposure to war violence tends to increase social cooperation at the local level, including community participation and prosocial behavior. Thus while war has many negative legacies for individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in terms of local cooperation and civic engagement. We discuss, synthesize and reanalyze the emerging body of evidence, and weigh alternative explanations. There is some indication that war violence especially enhances in-group or “parochial” norms and preferences, a finding that, if true, suggests that the rising social cohesion we document need not promote broader peace.

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who adds:

That is an all-star line-up of authors, and no this doesn’t mean any of those individuals are in favor of war. That would be the fallacy of mood affiliation, and we all know that MR readers never commit the fallacy of mood affiliation…

Big Viking Families

Monday, October 10th, 2016

In saga-era Iceland, killers had three times as many biological relatives and in-laws as their victims:

In the three sagas, a total of 66 individuals caused 153 deaths; two or more attackers sometimes participated in the same killing. No killers were biologically related to their victims (such as cousins or closer), but one victim was a sister-in-law of her killer.

About two-thirds or more of killers had more biological kin on both sides of their families, and more in-laws, than their victims did.

Six men accounted for about 45 percent of all murders, each killing between five and 19 people. Another 23 individuals killed two to four people. The rest killed once. Frequent killers had many more social relationships, through biological descent and marriage, than their victims did, suggesting that they targeted members of families in vulnerable situations, the researchers say.

Likely Radicalized

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Jason Falconer — who works part time for the Avon, Minn., police department and owns a business called Tactical Advantage — won’t face charges for shooting the “radicalized” Somali knife-attacker at a Minnesota mall:

It appears that Adan, who worked as a security guard at another business and who was wearing his uniform, appeared to have been radicalized and that the attack was premeditated, said Richard T. Thornton, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Minneapolis Division.


During a news conference on Thursday, officials showed multiple videos of the attack. The videos showed Mr. Falconer’s pursuit of the suspect and Adan’s efforts to continue the attack after he had been shot multiple times.

The city received 95 calls to 911 in the incident, which injured 10 people, including a pregnant woman stabbed in the parking lot, officials said.

During the incident, Adan asked several of the victims, including Mr. Falconer, whether they were Muslim, officials said.

Ten bullets were shot in all, and six were found in Adan’s body.

Ms. Kendall described several of the stabbings, including a father and son stabbed outside an electronics store. Adan tried to enter a Target and a candy store, both of which had already closed their doors because of the commotion.

She said Mr. Falconer had finished shopping at Bath & Body Works when he heard the commotion and screams in the hallway. As he left the store, he came across Adan, who asked Mr. Falconer if he was Muslim.

Mr. Falconer said no, and Adan turned away from him, the prosecutor said. Mr. Falconer then noticed that Adan had two steak knives in his hands. Mr. Falconer drew his weapon, identified himself as a police officer and ordered Adan to stop.

Instead, Adan ran away toward Macy’s, and Mr. Falconer chased after him, Ms. Kendall said.

Inside Macy’s, Adan ducked behind a clothing rack and then charged at the officer, who fired several shots.

Adan went down, got up and continued to try to attack the officer, first running straight ahead, but eventually turning his back to the bullets, but continuing toward the officer, the prosecutor said.

Witnesses were confused by the sight of Mr. Falconer in plain clothes shooting at the suspect in a security-guard uniform, so Mr. Falconer pulled out his badge, Ms. Kendall said.

When Adan was nearly incapacitated, he attempted to try to get up again, eventually crawling toward the officer and trying to stand up on a display rack.

When Adan finally stopped moving, Mr. Falconer stood and waited for police, who arrived within four minutes, the prosecutor said.

Mr. Thornton, the FBI special agent, said that Adan returned home from work at around 3 p.m. that day but didn’t take off his uniform or take a nap, as he usually did. He told his family he had work to do, even though he wasn’t expected back at work until 10 p.m., Mr. Thornton said. The attack took place around 8 p.m.

Adan stopped by a convenience store shortly before 7 p.m. that evening. When a worker said, “See you later,” Adan replied: ”You won’t be seeing me again.”

Any competitive shooters out there must be wondering how he hit just six out of ten times. Also, what was he shooting? And did he have more rounds?

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

Friday, October 7th, 2016

While working at the Pentagon, Rosa Brooks saw How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything:

The White House wants a surveillance drone to monitor an evolving showdown over human rights in Kyrgyzstan. A member of staff at the National Security Council calls the author, Rosa Brooks, at the Pentagon to tell her to send it on its way. Ms Brooks explains that this is not how the chain of command works in the military. Where would the drone come from? Which job would it no longer be doing? Who was going to pay for it? Whose airspace would it operate from? The incredulous response: “We’re talking about like, one drone. You’re telling me you can’t just call some colonel at CentCom and make this happen?”

The story illustrates two themes in an interesting and worrying book, “How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything”. The first is the growing tendency of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington to turn to the armed forces when something, almost anything, needs doing. The second, despite or perhaps because of this, is the gulf in understanding that is making civil-military relations increasingly fraught. But Ms Brooks has a wider purpose, which is to examine what happens to institutions and legal processes when the distinctions between war and peace become blurred and the space between becomes the norm, as has happened in America in the decade and a half since the attacks of September 11th 2001.


What she found [at the Pentagon] is that as the money available for conventional diplomacy and development aid precipitately declines, so the armed forces with their relatively inexhaustible resources are called upon to fill the gap. As one general puts it, the American military is becoming “a Super Walmart with everything under one roof”. Because its culture is proudly can-do, it gets on with the demands made on it without much complaint.

One consequence is that actual fighting has become something that only a small minority of soldiers do. Ms Brooks finds that through the recent, long wars most soldiers have spent their time supervising the building of wells, sewers and bridges, resolving community disputes, working with local police, writing press releases, analysing intelligence and so on. In many ways, Ms Brooks finds this admirable. The problem, she says, is that soldiers are not necessarily the best people to do this kind of work, lacking the inclination, the training or the experience to be much good at it.

The hope in the Pentagon nowadays is that it can return to its core purpose of deterring and preparing for proper, high-tech state-on-state wars. Counter-insurgency and nation-building have fallen out of fashion. Hillary Clinton has recently echoed Barack Obama in promising no “boots on the ground” in Iraq (despite the fact that there are about 5,000 pairs of them there and twice as many in Afghanistan). The reality is that you do not always get to choose the kind of wars you fight or how you fight them.

Warfare and Economic Growth in the Preindustrial World

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Mark Koyama believes the economic costs of warfare are usually dismissed, for a variety of reasons:

1. Arguments like: the Romans destroyed Carthage in 146 BC yet by, say, 0 AD Carthage had recovered and was a major economic metropolis.

2. Arguments from analogy: Japan and Germany were devastated by WW2 yet they recovered rapidly and exceeded previous levels of living standards within a decade and a half.

3. Keynesian-style arguments: warfare was necessary to stimulate aggregate demand.

4. A binding technological ceiling on growth in preindustrial economies. Hence in the absence of warfare, growth was limited.

Again, if you’re in a Malthusian Trap, war might bring a drop in total GDP, but a rise in GDP per capita — until the disruption is great enough to bring down a complex economy.

Grittier and without the Hooks

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Forrest Stuart wanted to interview Chicago “youth” about the police, but what they wanted to talk about was the gang scene:

There are hundreds of gangs in Chicago these days, a splintering that occurred in the wake of the collapse of the traditional “supergangs” like the Black Disciples and Vice Lords in the ’90s. As dangerous as their predecessors, they operate as block-level factions, making the city a complicated patchwork of warring territories. In a relatively recent phenomenon, many of these gangs produce drill music — a Chicago-born low-fi version of gangsta rap, full of hyperviolent boasts and taunts. (Think NWA, but grittier and without the hooks.)

By keeping their ears open, these kids I was interviewing can quickly figure out whose territory they are in. If they are walking through a neighborhood and hear a certain kind of drill coming from a passing car or a phone speaker, they know that corner belongs to the gang Diddy Grove. If they’re in Diddy Grove territory and notice songs by O-Block, that tells them Diddy Grove and O-Block are likely cliqued up.


As I’d soon find out, CBE makes three kinds of videos. In one, they talk about nameless, faceless rivals, or haters. In another, they specifically target a rival gang with lyrics like “So-and-so’s a bitch” or “So-and-so’s a snitch.” And then there’s an in-between kind, which to an outsider sounds like generic disses but is actually very targeted, with the rapper flashing a rival gang’s hand signs upside down. This was that kind of video.

The shoot took place all over the Lincoln Homes — in the stairwell, in the courtyard. And in nearly every shot, the guys were rolling blunts, smoking, and drinking. A crowd of onlookers soon grew. Most of them were kids who knew every lyric to Blaze’s song. CBE has this real nationalistic quality for people living in the Lincoln Homes. They look at the members as heroes.

It’s surprising how much strategy goes into the making and posting of these videos on YouTube and SoundCloud. CBE members are constantly considering how to get the most views. (At least one of their videos has exceeded five million.) The thinking is that if a video pulls enough, record labels will start calling. Sometimes the guys will record a video but wait to release it until a rival gang member — preferably one they’ve called out — is shot, so that it seems like CBE is taking credit. It’s all about convincing viewers that CBE really does the violent stuff that they rap about — and often they do.

Their model is inspired by the local patron saint of drill rap, Chief Keef, who successfully leveraged the persona of a black superpredator. The more he portrayed himself as a reckless, gun-toting, ruthless murderer, the more attention he got. Eventually, Interscope Records signed him to a $6 million deal and off he went to Los Angeles. Hardly a day goes by without someone from CBE mentioning Keef.


As one of the other CBE rappers would always say, “You know, white people, Mexicans, bitches, those people don’t live the life, but they love hearing about it. People want the Chiraq stuff. They want a superthug ghetto man, and I’m giving that to them. I’m just playing my role.”

The Coming Russian Jihad

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

It is estimated that between 5,000 to 7,000 Russian-speaking jihadists have made Russian the second most popular language of ISIL, after Arabic:

With an estimated 2,400 of its citizens fighting with ISIL, Russia is surpassed only by Tunisia and Saudi Arabia in the number of its nationals in the extremist group’s ranks. It is far ahead of the top four European suppliers of ISIL soldiers: France with 1,800 fighters, Britain and Germany with 760 each, and Belgium with 470.


With an estimated 20 million Muslims (14 percent of the population), Russia is the largest Muslim country in Europe outside of Turkey both in absolute terms and as a share of the population. In 2002, the numbers were 14.5 million and 10 percent respectively. The 40 percent increase since 2002 is due mostly to migrants laborers from Central Asia and Azerbaijan: an estimated 6.5 million migrants in Russian today compared to 360,000 in 2002. Between 1.5 and 2 million migrants have also made Moscow the second largest Muslim city in Europe behind Istanbul.

Often without work permits, marginalized, subjected to abuse and extortion as well as not infrequently racist violence, many of these guest workers understandably turn to their faith as a means to sustain dignity. A Tajik, Kyrgyz, or Uzbek who would not have known the way to the nearest mosque in Dushanbe, Bishkek, or Tashkent becomes a practicing Muslim in Moscow, with at least some falling under the influence of hardline clerics. There are only four mosques in Moscow, and the shortage of space forces thousands of believers to gather in private apartments, where radical preachers feel more secure than in public.

The result: With an estimated 300 to 500 ISIL recruiters in the Russian capital, Moscow has become a key hub and a way station to Syria for fighters from Russia and the former Soviet Union. Between 80 to 90 percent of ISIL fighters from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan have been radicalized and recruited while in Russia as migrant workers. According to Russian sources, all of the 300 ethnic Uzbeks who are members of ISIL were recruited during work stints in Russia — as were 80 percent of the ethnic Tajik fighters, including their leader, Nusrat Nazarov. In response, in January of this year, Russia’s Migration Service issued a list of 333,391 Tajiks barred from entering the country. According to the National Security Council of Tajikistan, 700 Tajiks have left for Syria and 300 have been killed there. Nazarov has claimed that there were 2,000 Tajiks with ISIL.

(Hat tip to T. Greer, who says that he “genuinely learned a great deal” from it.)

More than an Off-Duty Police Officer

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

The “off-duty police officer” who stopped the jihadi knife attack in Minnesota was more than an off-duty police officer:

He owns a firing range and firearms training facility called Tactical Advantage. He’s considered an expert in firearms training and education and has helped teach classes on law enforcement skills at St. Cloud State University for nine years, his company website says.
He’s a member of the United States Practical Shooters Association and has won medals in various shooting competitions.

Yeah, he’s a USPSA shooter. I don’t want to say he’s living the dream, but…

Tiger Woods “Trained” with the SEALs

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Tiger Woods “trained” with the SEALs at the peak of his golf career, in 2006 and 2007:

At home, Tiger read books on SEALs and watched the documentary about BUD/S Class 234 over and over. He played Call of Duty for hours straight, so into the fantasy that his friends joked that after Tiger got shot in the game they might find him dead on the couch. When he could, he spent time with real-life operators. Tiger shot guns, learned combat tactics and did free-fall skydiving with active-duty SEALs. During one trip to La Posta, he remembered things they’d told him about their families, asking about wives, things he didn’t do in the golf world; Mark O’Meara said Tiger never asks about his kids.

“If Tiger was around other professional athletes, storytelling would always have a nature of one-upmanship,” a friend says. “If Tiger was around some sort of active or retired military personnel, he was all ears. He was genuinely interested in what they had to say. Any time he told a military-related story that he had heard or talked about a tactic he had learned, he had a smile on his face. I can’t say that about anything else.”

One evening, Brown and two other guys put Tiger in the back seat of a king-cab pickup truck and drove him an hour and a half out into the desert to a training base named Niland, where a SEAL team was doing its final predeployment workup, staging a raid on a mock Afghan village that had been built down in a valley. They stood on a hill looking into the darkness. The SEAL platoon charged toward the position. Flares popped off, trailing into the darkness, and the valley rocked with the deep boom of artillery simulation and the chatter of small-arms fire. In the glow, Tiger looked transfixed. “It was f—ing awesome,” Brown says, laughing. “I don’t know if we just got a glimpse of him in a different light, but he just seemed incredibly humble, grateful.”


The moments with the military added some joy to what he has repeatedly called the worst year of his life, and he chose to spend Dec. 30, 2006 — his 31st birthday — in San Diego skydiving with SEALs. This was his second skydiving trip; a month earlier, in the middle of a seven-tournament win streak, he’d gotten his free-fall USPA A-license, now able to jump without a tandem. Across the country, in Florida, his reps put a news release on his website, revealing for the first time that Elin was pregnant. Tiger Woods was going to be a father.

Elin came with him to San Diego on his birthday, and they rode south and east of the city, near a land preserve a few miles from Mexico, halfway between Chula Vista and Tecate. The road curved at banked angles, and up ahead a small airport came into view. Nichol’s Field is a collection of maybe two dozen buildings. To the east of the property, a cluster of metal huts sat behind red stop signs: warning, restricted area. This was Tactical Air Operations, one of the places where the SEALs practice jumps. The main building felt like an inner sanctum: a SEAL flag on the wall and parachute riggings hung from the ceiling. They wore blue-and-white jumpsuits, Tiger and the three or four SEALs. He learned advanced air maneuvers. After each jump, the guys would tell Tiger what to do differently and he’d go off by himself for a bit to visualize the next jump and then go back up in the plane and dive into the air, doing everything they’d said. “The dude’s amazing,” says Billy Helmers, a SEAL who jumped with him that day. “He can literally think himself through the skydives.”

The SEALs put a birthday cake on a table in one of the Tac Air buildings. It had a skydiver decorated on it in icing and read “Happy Birthday, Tiger!” The team guys and their families gathered around and sang “Happy Birthday,” and then Tiger leaned in and blew out his candles. Everyone took pictures, and in them Tiger is smiling, and it’s not the grin that people know from commercials and news conferences. He looks unwatched and calm.

Open Prisons

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Norway’s open prisons sound comically Scandinavian, but they work — there:

Wiggo was right; it did look like summer camp. Mottled leaves fell on cyclers ? yes, cycling prisoners ? and a horse-and-carriage cantered by. Gingerbread houses dotted the landscape; they were dull yellow, with green trim and red roofs. I spied sheep and cows but no fence or barbed wire.

Bastoy is an open prison, a concept born in Finland during the 1930s and now part of the norm throughout Scandinavia, where prisoners can sometimes keep their jobs on the outside while serving time, commuting daily. Thirty percent of Norway’s prisons are open, and Bastoy, a notorious reformatory for boys converted in 1982 to a prison, is considered the crown jewel of them all.


“I started skeptical. That changed quickly. More prisons should be open ? almost all should be. We take as many as we can here, but there isn’t room for everyone.” Prisoners from around the country can apply to move to an open prison like Bastoy when they’re within three years of release. The island is home to about 115 men overseen by over 70 staff members, and there is a waiting list of about 30.

“There’s a perception that, ‘Oh, this is the lightweight prison; you just take the nice guys for the summer-camp prison.’ But in fact, no. Our guys are into, pardon my French, some heavy shit. Drugs and violence. And the truth is, some have been problematic in other prisons but then they come here, and we find them easy. We say, ‘Is that the same guy you called difficult?’ It’s really very simple: Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.”


“It’s not about running a prison but running an island,” Tom explained. “Agriculture is a big part of our philosophy. We are humane, ecological. Animals have a social function too, teaching empathy. Everyone works the land.”

This is a nature reserve, growing about 25 percent of its food. Most vehicles are electric, and everything is recycled.

Learning from Attica

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Adam Gopnik looks back at the Attica prison riot of 1971:

What’s striking about the uprising is not the collisions of intractable ideological positions but, rather, the sheer confusion, missed opportunities, personal squabbles, and absurd procedural wrangles that governed it. The saddest irony is that the New York State Commissioner of Corrections, Russell Oswald, though later treated as one of the villains of the episode, was largely responsible for extending the occupation and allowing the prisoners the media megaphone that makes their voices still heard today. Oswald is a kind of caricature of the sixties liberal who infuriated conservatives (and often other liberals), someone so determined to do good that he can’t see past his own folly. He was a committed prison reformer — shortly after accepting the job, he had written a memo to Governor Rockefeller saying that having men locked “twelve or more hours a day in their cells is unacceptable to them and me.” And yet he managed, in four days, to enrage the inmates, exasperate his colleagues, and, probably, prevent the forces of order from taking back the prison when it still could have been done in a more or less orderly way. Since any imaginable modern state in any imaginable circumstance was always going to feel duty-bound to retake a prison after a mutiny, a forcible reconquest needed to be done either quickly or not at all: had it happened the next morning, when state troopers stood ready and the prisoners hadn’t yet dug in, it might have been much less violent. Trying to placate everyone, he only exacerbated everything.


Negotiations tend to be remarkably consistent in form, whether the subject is Iranian nukes or prisoners’ rights. Both sides arrive with obviously ridiculous demands; the act of meeting marks the rejection of those demands but also shows that there is enough good will for a deal to be made; the shape of the agreement swiftly appears; and then, often, the two sides get trapped in tiny details pointing to the tribal instincts that brought the conflict on in the first place. Certainly the negotiations at Attica took this shape.


The uprising at Attica was, in the not very long run, one of the things that stopped prison reform dead in its tracks.


In broadly democratic countries, violence frightens the “masses” as they really are—i.e., the majority of citizens—much faster than reformers can persuade them to change. Nonviolent episodes of protest are extraordinarily efficient in creating social change in democratic states; violent episodes undo the good work of change with astonishing rapidity. As the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow has shown, in an important new empirical study, the spectacle of urban violence probably did get Richard Nixon elected. (“In public opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified ‘civil rights’ as the most important problem facing America at the same time that nonviolent black protest activity peaked,” he observes, “and, likewise, responded with ‘law and order’ when black-led violent protests were most active.”)


Evil exists. Prisons, punishment, segregation, exile: even the most enlightened state needs some way of sorting the truly dangerous from the sadly criminal and the sadly criminal from the merely unlucky. I eventually discovered that the erudite inmate who arraigned me for not attending to my Foucault had committed the most horrible crime of which I ever hope to hear. (In the midst of a custody battle with his estranged wife, he called her on the phone, had her hold the line, and then murdered their two daughters while she listened and they pleaded.) No sane society can survive if the state, however fair, however free, cannot enforce order and hold a monopoly on legitimate violence.

Grossman’s Two-Percenters

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

In The Last Punisher, Kevin Lacz revisits his days as a Big Tough Frogman in Ramadi:

Two weeks into his deployment, Lacz developed an itchy trigger finger. Eager to meet the enemy, he volunteered to work the stone guard tower at Camp Corregidor, an Army installation on Ramadi’s outskirts. It was, he says with scorn for the politically correct sensitivities of Americans who have never been to war, “a good place to smoke some muj.” Packing a fresh load of ever-present Copenhagen tobacco into his lower lip, Lacz settled in to wait for the muezzin’s amplified voice sounding the call to afternoon Islamic prayer. That would be when the city’s deserted streets and alleyways sprang to life. Among the suddenly numerous women, children, and goatherders, Lacz knew, would be young men looking to ambush American troops with small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). With tobacco spit pooling on the floor between his feet, he kept stock-still, staring down the 20-inch barrel of his MK11 sniper rifle at a man periodically glancing up at the guard tower. His behavior indicated that he was a “muj”—short for mujahedeen—and Lacz had a clear shot, but the American military’s rules of engagement prevented him from firing absent hostile action or hostile intent. “Looking shady wasn’t enough.”

Dressed in the insurgent’s uniform of t-shirt, track pants, and flip-flops, the man scooted across an alleyway and ducked behind a wall. Lacz focused on keeping his breathing steady. The muj reappeared seconds later cradling an AK-47 rifle. His fate was sealed. Lacz calmly put a 7.62 millimeter round through his upper torso. The muj hit the dirt. It was the first of Lacz’s dozens of confirmed kills.

That night, back in his rack, Lacz took inventory of his emotions. He hadn’t minded taking a life, he decided. “If you volunteer yourself to do the business of doing bad things to bad people, you have to be prepared for the eventuality of being required to do it.” During training, Lacz and his fellow SEALs sat for a lecture by retired army lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, a study of the psychological effects of combat. Grossman’s theory is that 2 percent of the male population is capable of killing without remorse. These “levelheaded” warriors are drawn to military special operations units like the SEALs. They get missions guaranteed to end with someone—the enemy, preferably—in a body bag. Lacz no longer wondered whether he was one of Grossman’s “2 percenters.” He settled into an easy sleep.