How Gun Traffickers Get Around State Gun Laws

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

The New York Times is shocked — shocked! —  that gun traffickers get around state gun laws by buying guns one state over — and get around federal laws by not buying them legally at all:

Many guns follow a complex path from the original sale to the underground market. Most guns are originally bought from retail stores, but people who can’t pass a background check typically obtain guns from friends, family or illegal dealers.

According to an anonymous survey of inmates in Cook County, Ill., covering 135 guns they had access to, only two had been purchased directly from a gun store. Many inmates reported obtaining guns from friends who had bought them legally and then reported them stolen, or from locals who had brought the guns from out of state.

Hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Consultants Madsbjerg and Rasmussen describe the nihilism of professionalized management:

Not long ago, we met an executive from a global pharmaceutical company. He had been participating all day in a workshop on the future of health care and was standing outside the hotel, catching some fresh air. We talked about how the health-care business was changing and what challenges the company was facing with rising health-care costs, low R&D productivity, and a broken sales model. We asked him his thoughts on the challenges ahead.

He looked at us with somewhat tired eyes, squinted up in the sky, and said, “Well, first, I am going to have myself a big, fat sushi dinner, and then I suppose I will get back to the office tomorrow and do the usual stuff — you know: hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies.”

He was not being ironic. He was being brutally honest about a feeling that many executives feel from time to time: What does it matter, anyway? Over time, as management has become increasingly professionalized, you can sense a kind of nihilism or loss of meaning in the executive layers. This sense of nihilism is strongest in large corporate cultures where management is seen as a profession in and of itself with no strong connection to what the company actually makes or does. What happens when satisfaction from work comes from managing — reorganizing, optimizing the operation, hiring new people, and making strategies — and not from producing something meaningful? How do you feel when it doesn’t really matter whether you make beauty products, soft drinks, fast food, or musical instruments?

(From The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems.)

Cliff Chiang’s Star Wars Propaganda Posters

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Cliff Chiang has produced some Star Wars propaganda posters:

Cliff Chiang Enlist Today

Cliff Chiang Loose Lips

Cliff Chiang Rebuild

Cliff Chiang See The Galaxy

Cliff Chiang Unite

The Pagan Flaw at the Foundation of the West

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Tolkien’s Ring saga sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism:

With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien’s prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan’s tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life’s work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West.

It is too simple to consider Tolkien’s protagonist Turin as a conflation of Siegfried and Beowulf, but the defining moments in Turin’s bitter life refer clearly to the older myths, with a crucial difference: the same qualities that make Siegfried and Beowulf exemplars to the pagans instead make Turin a victim of dark forces, and a menace to all who love him. Tolkien was the anti-Wagner, and Turin is the anti-Siegfried, the anti-Beowulf. Tolkien reconstructed a mythology for the English not (as Wainwright and other suggest) because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity.

S.T. Joshi Returns His Two World Fantasy Awards

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

The World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H.P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure, and Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi is aghast:

Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell. Here is my letter to him:

Mr. David G. Hartwell
Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Dear Mr. Hartwell:

I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.

I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.

Please make sure that I am not nominated for any future World Fantasy Award. I will not accept the award if it is bestowed upon me.

I will never attend another World Fantasy Convention as long as I live. And I will do everything in my power to urge a boycott of the World Fantasy Convention among my many friends and colleagues.

S. T. Joshi

And that is all I will have to say on this ridiculous matter. If anyone feels that Lovecraft’s perennially ascending celebrity, reputation, and influence will suffer the slightest diminution as a result of this silly kerfuffle, they are very much mistaken.


Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Roughly half the zippers produced in the world have YKK stamped on them:

So how did a small rural town in Japan, half a world away, come to dethrone this zippering behemoth? Through the single-minded visionary purpose of Tadao Yoshida, the founder of Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha (Yoshida Manufacturing Shareholding Company) from which YKK is necessarily abbreviated.

YKK Zippers

Yoshida had grown up in Kurobe the son of an itinerant bird collector. After a slew of business failures he moved to Tokyo and, seeing the growth of the zipper market, opened his own zipper firm in 1934. The success of Talon was known around the world and Yoshida shamelessly copied its products and machines, while adding some distinctive touches — like using aluminum instead of copper. When World War II began, he kept in business by supplying the Japanese Imperial Navy with zippers, and when his factory was burned to the ground during the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 he relocated to his hometown of Kurobe and began all over again.

Yoshida’s remarkable stick-to-itiveness had been spurred on by reading Andrew Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth. Now, as if infused with the reciprocal force of the zipper, he too created a quasi-philosophy that he termed the Cycle of Goodness™. This stated that “no one prospers without rendering benefit to others.” It was a simple but enlightened creed that suggested that well-treated workers would create a better product, a better product would benefit customers, and satisfied customers would, in turn, benefit YKK. In short, Yoshida wanted to use his zippers to bind together not only clothes but also the very fabric of society.

YKK was unusual in that it produced everything used to make its zippers in house. Brass, aluminum, polyester, yarn, were smelted and woven in Kurobe. Workers lived in dormitories opposite the factory and a leadership cult quickly grew up around Yoshida and his Cycle of Goodness™. Gripped by zippering inspiration, YKK’s designers began churning thousands of different types of zippers aimed at specific industries and individual customers. It made the world’s smallest zipper, the concealed zipper, the first nylon and polyester zippers and the world’s thinnest zipper. A pantheon of patented fastenings rolled off the factory line — Beulon! Eflon! Zaglan! Ziplon! Minifa! Kensin! Natulon! Excella! — each one seeking to create a more perfect union. Soon YKK was opening factories across the world the better to offer their services to local manufacturers and by 1974, YKK was making one quarter of the world’s zippers, enough in one year to stretch from the earth to the moon and back again.
By contrast Talon, which in the late 1960s was producing 70 percent of the United States’ zippers, was now barely producing half that. Its decline was rapid. By 1993 Meadville no longer had any zipper factories within its town limits at all.

Three Levels of Moral Beliefs

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Our basic problem, Hayek explains, is that we have three levels of moral beliefs:

We have in the first instance our intuitive moral feelings, which are adapted to the small person to-person-society, where we act toward people that we know and are served by people that we know. Then we have a society run by moral traditions, which unlike what modern rationalists believe are not intellectual discoveries of men who designed them, but they are an example of a process that I now prefer to describe by the biological term of group selection. Those groups that quite accidentally developed favorable habits, such as a tradition of private property and the family, succeed but they never understood this. So we owe our present extended order of human cooperation very largely to a moral tradition, which the intellectual does not approve of because it had never been intellectually designed. And it has to compete with a third level of moral beliefs; the morals that intellectuals design in the hope that they can better satisfy man’s instincts than the traditional rules do. And we live in a world where the three moral traditions are in constant conflict: The innate ones, the traditional ones, and the intellectually designed ones…You can explain the whole of social conflicts of the last 200 years by the conflict of the three moral traditions.

The principle criticisms of liberal individualist society is that it is selfish:

The altruism is an instinct we’ve inherited from small society where we know for whom we work, who we serve. When we pass from this—as I like to call it—concrete society where we are guided by what we see, to the abstract society which far transcends our range of vision, it becomes necessary that we are guided not by the knowledge of the effect of what we do but with some abstract symbols. The only symbol that takes us to where we can make the best contribution is profit. And in fact by pursuing profit we are as altruistic as we can possibly be. Because we extend our concern to people who are beyond our range of personal conception. This is a condition which makes it possible even to produce what I call an extended order; an order which is not determined by our aim, by our knowing what are the most urgent needs, but by an impersonal mechanism that by a system of communication puts a label on certain things which is wholely impersonal. Now this is exactly where the conflict between the traditional moral—which is not altruistic, which emphasizes private property, and the instinctive moral which is altruistic, come in constant conflict. The very transition from a concrete society where each serves the needs of others who he knows, to an extended abstract society where people serve the needs of others whom they do not know, whose existence they are not aware of, must only be made possible by the abandonment of altruism and solidarity as the main guiding factors, which I admit are still the factors dominating our instincts, and what restrains our instincts is the tradition of private property and the family, the two traditional rules of morals, which are in conflict with instinct.

David Sloan Wilson notes that Hayek departs from orthodox economics:

Hayek places economics on an evolutionary foundation, including our genetically evolved adaptations to life in small-scale society, cultural evolution based on unplanned variation and selection, and intentional thought processes that result in planned variation and selection.

Discussions of Hayek, he argues, are therefore discussions of economics from an evolutionary perspective:

This will come as a surprise to a lot of Hayek enthusiasts, who manage to endorse his view of economics, deny evolution, and maintain a pious stance toward religion all at the same time. This absurd combination of beliefs is what passes for economic discourse in the popular sphere — and economic experts who know better somehow allow it to happen.

Wilson seems compelled to treat religion as primitive superstition and contrast it against the useful products of cultural evolution, which is amusing if you’ve been reading about Moses the Microbiologist (in The Paleo Manifesto) and fasting in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Ordered Freedom

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

In our lifetimes, American democracy has been radicalized:

The idea of equality has been extended beyond the carefully defined political sphere where the American Founding placed it, to the idea that everything is equal, that all types of men, all types of behavior are equal. The goal of equality has supplanted all other cultural and moral values and become the sole legitimating principle of this society. Today we have notions of absolute “life-style” equality; absolute cultural equality (as in multiculturalism); absolute equality of the races (as in the demand for statistical equality of results, and the belief that the ethnic and racial composition of our society should be a matter of complete indifference to us); and absolute sex equality (as in the feminization of the military). When you press people on these issues, you find that they have an implicit feeling that normative distinctions, upon which civilization just happens to be based, are inhumane. In order to avoid being inhumane to out-of-wedlock mothers, we must say that illegitimacy is as worthy of respect as legitimacy; and we end up with a nation of fatherless children. In order to avoid being inhumane to illegal immigrants, we give illegals virtually all the privileges of citizenship; and so on.

In earlier generations, Americans spoke not of “democracy” so much as of freedom. But freedom used to have a more complex meaning — it meant ordered freedom, freedom within the constitutional and moral order that makes that freedom possible.

No One Left to Blame

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner invite us to think like a freak about the unpleasant topic of suicide:

There are about 38,000 suicides a year in the United States, more than twice the number of homicides. Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death for nearly every age group. Because talking about suicide carries such a strong moral taboo, these facts are little known.

As of this writing, the U.S. homicide rate is lower than it’s been in fifty years. The rate of traffic fatalities is at a historic low, having fallen by two-thirds since the 1970s. The overall suicide rate, meanwhile, has barely budged — and worse yet, suicide among 15- to 24-year-olds has tripled over the past several decades.

One might think, therefore, that by studying the preponderance of cases, society has learned everything possible about what leads people to commit suicide.

David Lester, a psychology professor at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, has likely thought about suicide longer, harder, and from more angles than any other human. In more than twenty-five-hundred academic publication, he has explored the relationship between suicide and, among other things, alcohol, anger, antidepressants, astrological signs, biochemistry, blood type, body type, depression, drug abuse, gun control, happiness, holidays, Internet use, IQ, mental illness, migraines, the moon, music, national-anthem lyric, personality type, sexuality, smoking, spirituality, TV watching, and wide-open spaces.

Has all this study led Lester to some grand unified theory of suicide? Hardly. So far he has one compelling notion. It’s what might be called the “no one left to blame” theory of suicide. While one might expect that suicide is highest among people whose lives are the hardest, research by Lester and others suggests the opposite: suicide is more common among people with a higher quality of life.

“If you’re unhappy and you have something to blame your unhappiness on — if it’s the government, or the economy, or something — then that kind of immunizes you against committing suicide,” he says. “It’s when you have no external cause to blame for your unhappiness that suicide becomes more likely. I’ve used this idea to explain why African-Americans have lower suicide rates, why blind people whose sight is restored often become suicidal, and why adolescent suicide rates often rise as their quality of life gets better.”

That said, Lester admits that what he and other experts know about suicide is dwarfed by what is unknown.

Sold for a Slave

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Working class authors of the pulp era — such as Robert E. Howard, Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour — came from an oral-storytelling tradition and knew the history of their Scotch-Irish ancestors, James LaFond notes, so they wrote about the adventures of poor white heroes — some of them more than simply poor:

Below is an example of one boy’s fate, that may well have been shared by any of the ancestors of men 100 years ago, who still had an oral link to their colonial past.

Although my white slave ancestors were a mixture of Irish POWs sold to English Catholics and English orphans sold to French Canadians, my father-in-law has an ancestor who was a Cornish/Irish slave, sold to a Manhattan-based plantation owner — a Dutchman, I think — and who eventually escaped into the hinterland, settling around Syracuse New York. His history more closely mirrors the norm for white America slaves.

Below is a summary adapted from a tract by Michael A. Hoffman’s, They Were White and They Were Slaves, referencing the book The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave.

1743, Aberdeen, Scotland

Peter Williamson was kidnapped in Aberdeen and sold to the captain of the White Guineaman [a merchant ship that hauled white slaves and other cargo] the Planter. The Planter hauled 71 kidnapped Scottish children and ‘other freight.’

Eleven weeks out to sea, the Planter ran aground on a sandbar off of Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware River. [Which indicated that these kids were to be sold in the Philadelphia area, to the ever slave hungry Quakers and Amish of William Penn’s slave colony.] The ship began listing and taking on water, so the crew took the ship’s boats to the mainland and waited out the night. The Planter did not sink, however, and the crew returned and took off the children and other cargo in the morning.

Peter was next bought at auction by Hugh Wilson, an escaped slave from a southern colony, who had fled north out of bondage. Hugh bought Peter for the sole purpose of saving him from death at the hands of an owner, as most boys were worked to death before adulthood. His foster father paid for Peter to be educated in a school, and, when he came near to death, willed his horse, saddle and little bit of money that he had accumulated, to Peter.

Peter fought Indians in the interior as part of his effort to literally carve a home out of the wilderness for his wife and friends, away from the slave-based economies of the coastal towns and piedmont farms.

Peter eventually returned to Scotland, published his book in Aberdeen and was arrested. His books were ordered burned. He was then fined, released, and banished from Aberdeen. He did not give up, but went to the Edinburgh Court of Sessions and made such a good case against the slavers of Aberdeen and the corrupt judiciary there, that the slave cartel in Aberdeen was ordered to pay him 100 pounds sterling.

As long as families of literate frontiersmen, farmers and artisans, continued to educate their own children at home, the life of their race remained an open book to their descendents. However, with the mass immigration of Irish — who had been formerly enslaved in their homeland by absentee British masters, and were, during the Civil War, conscripted as slave soldiers — mass public re-education of the kind employed to cleanse aboriginal culture and folk memories from American Indians, was mandated across the United States. Grey and 1990s author John R. Musick, wrote plainly about white-on-white injustice and how the colonial slave masters used Indians as a check on lower class freedom. But, by the time Howard wrote, such subversive ideals that had been preserved by his frontier clan, were best offered as fantasies cloaked in otherworldly horror.

Lovecraft on Cats and Dogs

Monday, November 9th, 2015

H.P. Lovecraft was obviously not a dog guy:

I have no active dislike for dogs, any more than I have for monkeys, human beings, negroes, cows, sheep, or pterodactyls; but for the cat I have entertained a particular respect and affection ever since the earliest days of my infancy. In its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered; and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown. The dog appeals to cheap and facile emotions; the cat to the deepest founts of imagination and cosmic perception in the human mind. It is no accident that the contemplative Egyptians, together with such later poetic spirits as Poe, Gautier, Baudelaire, and Swinburne, were all sincere worshippers of the supple grimalkin.

Family and Civilization

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Civilization depends on the health of the traditional family, Rod Dreher argues:

That sentiment has become a truism among social conservatives, who typically can’t explain what they mean by it. Which is why it sounds like right-wing boilerplate to many contemporary ears.

The late Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman believed it was true, but he also knew why. In 1947, he wrote a massive book to explain why latter-day Western civilization was now living through the same family crisis that presaged the fall of classical Greece and Rome. His classic Family and Civilization, which has just been republished in an edited version by ISI Press, is a chillingly prophetic volume that deserves a wide new audience.

In all civilizations, Zimmerman theorized, there are three basic family types. The “trustee” family is tribal and clannish, and predominates in agrarian societies. The “domestic” family model is a middle type centering on the nuclear family ensconced in fairly strong extended-family bonds; it’s found in civilizations undergoing rapid development. The final model is the “atomistic” family, which features weak bonds between and within nuclear families; it’s the type that emerges as normative in advanced civilizations.

When the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, the strong trustee families of the barbarian tribes replaced the weak, atomistic Roman families as the foundation of society.

Churchmen believed a social structure that broke up the ever-feuding clans and gave the individual more freedom would be better for society’s stability and spent centuries reforming the European family toward domesticity. The natalist worldview advocated by churchmen knit tightly religious faith, family loyalty and child bearing. From the 10th century on, the domestic family model ruled Europe through its greatest cultural efflorescence. But then came the Reformation and the Enlightenment, shifting culture away from tradition and toward the individual. Thus, since the 18th century, the atomistic family has been the Western cultural norm.

Here’s the problem: Societies ruled by the atomistic family model, with its loosening of constraints on its individual members, quit having enough children to carry on. They become focused on the pleasures of the present. Eventually, these societies expire from lack of manpower, which itself is a manifestation of a lack of the will to live.

It happened to ancient Greece. It happened to ancient Rome. And it’s happening to the modern West. The sociological parallels are startling.

Why should expanding individual freedoms lead to demographic disaster? Because cultures that don’t organize their collective lives around the family create policies and structures that privilege autonomous individuals at the family’s expense.

In years to come, the state will attempt economic incentives, or something more draconian, to spur childbirth. Europe, which is falling off a demographic cliff, is already offering economic incentives, with scant success. Materialist measures only seem to help at the margins.

Why? Zimmerman was not religious, but he contended the core problem was a loss of faith. Religions that lack a strong pro-fertility component don’t survive over time, he observed; nor do cultures that don’t have a powerfully natalist religion.

Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Harvard president Charles William Eliot’s five-foot shelf of books marked the end of an era:

“On or about December, 1910,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “human character changed.” Woolf was not referring to a specific event so much as to a new cultural climate, a new way of looking at the world, that would become known as modernism. When he finished his introduction to the Harvard Classics in March of that same year, Charles William Eliot could hardly have guessed that such a change was just over the horizon. Yet it is tempting to think that his “five-foot shelf” of books, chosen as a record of the “progress of man…from the earliest historical times to the close of the nineteenth century,” was meant as a time capsule from that era just about to end. In 50 volumes we have a record of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought best in their own heritage — a monument from a more humane and confident time. It is surprisingly easy, even today, to find a complete set of the Harvard Classics in good condition. At least one is usually for sale on eBay, the Internet auction site, for $300 or so, a bargain at $6 a book. The supply, from attics or private libraries around the country, seems endless — a tribute to the success of the publisher, P.F. Collier, who sold some 350,000 sets within 20 years of the series’ initial publication.

In fact, though the series bears the Harvard name, it was a commercial enterprise from the beginning. In February 1909, Eliot was preparing to retire from the presidency of Harvard after 40 years. Two editors from Collier, Norman Hapgood and William Patten, had read a speech Eliot delivered to an audience of working men, in which he declared that a five-foot shelf of books could provide “a good substitute for a liberal education in youth to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.” Now they approached Eliot with a proposition: he would pick the titles to fill up that shelf, and Collier would publish them as a series.

At their very first interview, Hapgood and Patten convinced Eliot to say yes. He enlisted professor of English William A. Neilson, later the president of Smith College, to act as his assistant, and secured the approval of the Board of Overseers for the series’ name. Eliot and Neilson worked for a year, the former deciding “what should be included, and what should be excluded,” while the latter was responsible for “introductions and notes” and the “choice among different editions of the same work.” By the time publication began, in 1910, Eliot’s celebrity had turned the series into a media event, and earned Collier valuable free publicity. The question of what the series should include and exclude called forth articles and letters to the editor across the country.

In his introduction to the series, dated March 10, 1910, Eliot made it clear that the Harvard Classics were intended not as a museum display-case of the “world’s best books,” but as a portable university. While the volumes are numbered in no particular order, he suggested that they could be approached as a set of six courses: “The History of Civilization,” “Religion and Philosophy,” “Education,” “Science,” “Politics,” and “Criticism of Literature and the Fine Arts.” But in a more profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is “Progress” — progress in each of these departments and in the moral quality of the human race as a whole. Eliot’s introduction expresses complete faith in the “intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization,” “the upward tendency of the human race.”

Eliot’s life was spent in the cultivation of that tendency. He built up Harvard into one of the world’s great universities, vastly expanded its student body, course offerings, and faculty, and became a sort of public oracle on questions of education. He was one of the most effective evangelists for what the Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold called “sweetness and light.” Samuel Eliot Morison, in Three Centuries of Harvard, describes Eliot as a representative of “the best of his age — that forward-looking half-century before the World War, when democracy seemed capable of putting all crooked ways straight — the age of reason and of action, of accomplishment and of hope.”

Behold the true progress since then:

But already in 1936, when Morison wrote, Eliot’s variety of optimism seemed sadly obsolete. Today we are proudly alert to the blind spots in Victorian notions of culture and progress. Three thinkers whose names appear nowhere in the Harvard Classics — Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud — have taught us a new, more suspicious kind of reading, in which an author’s motives are to be questioned, probed, overturned.

The Classics, in particular, cry out for such questioning. The series is authorless — there is only an editor, conducting his chorus of texts. Yet the way those texts are selected and arranged speaks volumes — literally. To take an obvious example, the total exclusion of female authors would be impossible today; at the time, it would hardly have been noticed. But the series’ more profound limitations can be found in its treatment of science, philosophy, and literature — the most interesting and substantial of Eliot’s six “courses.” In these areas, the Harvard Classics serve as an index to just how much the world really has changed since 1910.

How to explain the KGB’s amazing success identifying CIA agents in the field?

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

As the Cold War drew to a close, Langley hoped to learn how the Soviets had identified so many CIA agents in the field:

The KGB was a huge bureaucracy within a bureaucracy — the Soviet Union. Any Soviet citizen had an intimate acquaintance with how bureaucracies function. They are fundamentally creatures of habit and, as any cryptanalyst knows, the key to breaking the adversary’s cipher is to find repetitions. The same applies to the parallel universe of human counterintelligence.

The difference between Totrov and his fellow citizens was that whereas others at home and abroad would assume the Soviet Union was somehow unique, he applied his understanding of his own society to a society that on the surface seemed unique, but which, in respect of how government worked, was not in fact that much different: the United States.


What Totrov came up with were 26 unchanging indicators as a model for identifying U.S. intelligence officers overseas. Other indicators of a more trivial nature could be detected in the field by a vigilant foreign counterintelligence operative but not uniformly so: the fact that CIA officers replacing one another tended to take on the same post within the embassy hierarchy, drive the same make of vehicle, rent the same apartment and so on. Why? Because the personnel office in Langley shuffled and dealt overseas postings with as little effort as required.

The invariable indicators took further research, however, based on U.S. government practices long established as a result of the ambivalence with which the State Department treated its cousins in intelligence.

Thus one productive line of inquiry quickly yielded evidence: the differences in the way agency officers undercover as diplomats were treated from genuine foreign service officers (FSOs). The pay scale at entry was much higher for a CIA officer; after three to four years abroad a genuine FSO could return home, whereas an agency employee could not; real FSOs had to be recruited between the ages of 21 and 31, whereas this did not apply to an agency officer; only real FSOs had to attend the Institute of Foreign Service for three months before entering the service; naturalized Americans could not become FSOs for at least nine years but they could become agency employees; when agency officers returned home, they did not normally appear in State Department listings; should they appear they were classified as research and planning, research and intelligence, consular or chancery for security affairs; unlike FSOs, agency officers could change their place of work for no apparent reason; their published biographies contained obvious gaps; agency officers could be relocated within the country to which they were posted, FSOs were not; agency officers usually had more than one working foreign language; their cover was usually as a “political” or “consular” official (often vice-consul); internal embassy reorganizations usually left agency personnel untouched, whether their rank, their office space or their telephones; their offices were located in restricted zones within the embassy; they would appear on the streets during the working day using public telephone boxes; they would arrange meetings for the evening, out of town, usually around 7.30 p.m. or 8.00 p.m.; and whereas FSOs had to observe strict rules about attending dinner, agency officers could come and go as they pleased.

Inside Amazon’s First Physical Bookstore

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore has opened for business:

The store, which is situated in an outdoor mall across the street from the University of Washington campus, is unlike the grandiose retail book palaces that Barnes and Noble and Borders built in the late 1990s and with 5,000 to 6,000 titles on hand, Amazon Books stocks far fewer titles than today’s bigger bookstores. Small and scaled back, Amazon Books is cleanly designed and easy-to-navigate.

Amazon Books Exterior

The inventory is mostly books, with some magazines and a central aisle of electronics featuring the company’s Kindle, Kindle Fire and FireTV devices. Book selection is deepest in bookstore strongholds: children’s, young adult, bestsellers and genre fiction. The store also features a respectable graphic novel selection, and a shelf of work by local authors.

Amazon Books Interior

Despite the initial look and feel of a 20th century bookstore, a closer look at Amazon Books reveals that it’s very much a 21st century endeavor.

Every book is tagged with a custom label featuring its aggregate rating on, along with a review from the website. There are no prices. To get a book’s price, you must use the Amazon app on your smartphone to scan the barcode. This act will provide you with the product listing, all the title’s reviews on, and the price. If you don’t have a smartphone or the app handy, associates are on hand to assist.

An associate at the store also confirmed what many news reports about Amazon Books have stated, that the store only stocks books with ratings of four stars and above. The associate also confirmed that prices for books in the store are identical to those of the books sold online. And, since book prices on can fluctuate regularly, so can prices in the store. The associate said one thing they are vigilant about in the store is ensuring customers don’t get confused by receiving different price quotes at different times.

The store, which aims to seamlessly transition the online shopping experience to a real world scenario, allows you to use credits associated with your account at the register. However, you cannot order merchandise online and have it delivered to the store.