Blue gets its ass handed to it

Friday, September 13th, 2019

“In our games, when we fight Russia and China,” RAND analyst David Ochmanek explains, “blue gets its ass handed to it.”

How could this happen, when we spend over $700 billion a year on everything from thousand-foot-long nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to supersonic stealth fighters?

[...]

“In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with decades of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

Even the hottest jet has to land somewhere. But big airbases on land and big aircraft carriers on the water turn out to be big targets for long-range precision-guided missiles. Once an American monopoly, such smart weapons are now a rapidly growing part of Russian and Chinese arsenals — as are the long-range sensors, communications networks, and command systems required to aim them.

So, as potential adversaries improve their technology, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructure like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.”

(That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question).

While the Air Force and Navy took most of the flak today at this afternoon’s Center for a New American Security panel on the need for “A New American Way of War.” the Army doesn’t look too great, either. Its huge supply bases go up in smoke as well, Work and Ochmanek said. Its tank brigades get shot up by cruise missiles, drones, and helicopters because the Army largely got rid of its mobile anti-aircraft troops, a shortfall it’s now hastening to correct. And its missile defense units get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming fire.

The video gets going about 13 minutes in.

The supercomputer from WarGames has started reading Jung

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Jesse Walker of Reason has dug up a 1956 episode of the NBC radio series X Minus One, which adapts Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Defenders” — which I’ve covered here before. Here is Walker’s description:

It’s as though the false world in The Matrix is being run by the supercomputer from WarGames, which has started reading Jung and lecturing everyone about shadow projection.

The Agency is on the Cloud

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Has Silicon Valley seduced the Pentagon?

A veteran Marine general, Mattis was initially perceived as skeptical of what Silicon Valley was selling. He knew the flesh-and-blood realities of war and believed in giving autonomy to commanders on the ground. In his mind, anything that reinforced Pentagon leaders’ desire to micromanage events halfway across the globe was problematic. Technology, he believed, could make matters worse.

But Schmidt was an effective advocate for the power of big data, which he argued had become as important a strategic resource as oil. And he emphasized that the need for technological improvement was urgent: China was rapidly improving. In June 2017, at a private lunch in a Pentagon conference room, Schmidt told him Google’s lead over China in artificial intelligence technology had shrunk from five years to six months. “Mr. Secretary, they’re at your heels,” Schmidt said, according to three people familiar with the lunch. “You need to take decisive action now.”

Schmidt wanted the department to adopt a Silicon Valley philosophy that emphasized innovation, taking risks and moving fast. Among his recommendations: embrace cloud computing. In the summer of 2017, Mattis decided to investigate firsthand. He departed on a tour that would include visits to Amazon and Google headquarters and a one-on-one with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

At Amazon, despite the tempest about Bezos joining the innovation board, Mattis and the CEO hit it off. The two talked together for about an hour. Mattis gave a pithy sweep of lessons from military history and expressed his view on the perils of overreliance on technology. He noted how the British Navy, once famous for its derring-do, nearly lost the World War I battle of Jutland when ship captains hesitated, waiting for flag signals from their fleet commander.

After the meeting, Bezos and Mattis walked to another conference room, where AWS executives made their case that the company’s cloud products offer better security than traditional data centers, according to three people who attended. As evidence, they noted that the Central Intelligence Agency had embarked on a $600 million, 10-year cloud contract with Amazon in 2013 and, they said, it was working.

At what point is defending Japan no longer worth it?

Friday, September 6th, 2019

At what point is defending Japan no longer worth it?, T. Greer asks:

We are in a very grim situation in the West Pacific. If a war started tomorrow there is no guarantee the United States would win it. In fact, unless China started this war already a bit spent in other engagements (say, with Taiwan) it is quite certain we would lose the initial battles.

His new piece out in Foreign Policy explains:

Ten years ago the PLA had fewer than 100 cruise or ballistic missiles capable of targeting U.S. air bases in Japan; according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s most recent report on the PLA, they now have around 1,000 ballistic or land-attack cruise missiles with this capability.

Missiles like these fly at extreme speeds. In a potential conflict, the first wave would arrive in Japan 6 to 9 minutes after being launched from mobile missile launchers scattered across China. This wave’s target list would include anti-missile and air defense systems, command centers, and communication systems. A review of PLA documents by Ian Easton and Oriana Skylar Mastro reveal a special focus on targeting runways of American bases in Japan. With runways cratered, American aircraft would be stranded, sitting ducks for the next wave of inbound missiles.

Simulations of these attacks are nauseating. In a 2017 report for the Center for a New American Security, Tom Shugart and Javier Gonzales conclude that the missile defense systems of every single American air and naval base in Japan would be overwhelmed by the PLA Rocket Force’s very first volley. They estimate that more than 200 aircraft, almost all fixed American command centers, every U.S. runway, and most of the American fleet at berth would be destroyed—tens of billions of dollars in military equipment gone in less than 30 minutes of fighting. Recent Rand Corp. war games found similar results. In response to the games, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work offered a caustic assessment: “In every case I know of, the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

There is a very real chance that America’s front-line forces would be crippled in the first moments of a conflict with China.

Were ROK troops scary in the Vietnam war?

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Someone asked the rather leading question, Were ROK troops scary in the Vietnam war?

The Republic of Korea joined the Vietnam war in 1964 as part of the coalition forces. At its height, there were 48,000 ROK personnel. 320,000 ROK soldiers eventually saw combat in Vietnam with a total of around 16,000 casualties. Only around 4,000 ROK soldiers died in the entire war.

Discovered Vietcong documents warned NVA troops to never engage the South Koreans until full victory was certain. In fact, it was often the South Koreans ambushing the NVA and Vietcong, not vice versa.

ROK counter-insurgency operations were so good that even American commanders felt that South Korean Tactical Areas of Responsibility were the safest bases in Vietnam.

ROK soldiers learned pidgin Vietnamese while on tour due to their distrust of most Vietnamese translators, who they feared were Vietcong spies.

ROK Marines were noted for their more careful planning, greater fire discipline, more effective fire support, and better small unit tactics than their allies.

Village searches by the ROK were terrifying. While Americans would simple do a single sweep with a removal of all civilians for screening at a secure American base, ROK soldiers would conduct several detailed search sweeps and interrogated subjects on the spot. Any hidden weapons in the villages were quickly discovered by ROK troops.

“The Koreans were thorough in their planning and deliberate in their execution of a plan. They usually surrounded an area by stealth and quick movement… The enemy feared the Koreans both for their tactical innovations and for the soldiers’ tenacity… The Koreans might not suffer many casualties, might not get too many of the enemy on an operation, but when they brought in seventy-five or a hundred weapons, the Americans wondered where in the world they got them. They appeared to have a natural nose for picking up enemy weapons that were, as far as the enemy thought, securely cached away. Considered opinion was that it was good the Koreans were ‘friendlies.’”…

—Official U.S. Report on South Korean Participation in Vietnam, 1973

If ordered to take any captives back to base, “airborne interrogation” was frequent, and the number of prisoners when getting off the helicopter was somehow lower than when they got on.

Another answer:

In a word, yes. South Korea (Republic of Korea, a.k.a. ROK) was the US’ largest coalition partner in Vietnam. Most ROK officers and NCOs had ample combat experience from their own war 15 years previous.

My father who was in the Korean War noted that American vets often told him they liked working with ROK troops, observed that ROK sectors were unusually quiet and that ROK units were really good at finding VC and weapons caches.

How and why? My father said, and was rather dismayed to hear from his friends who went to Vietnam that they’d do things like line up a village that had sniped ROK troops, and simply ask “who is VC and where are the weapons?”

If no answer was forthcoming, they’d shoot the first person in line, and the next, and the next, until someone cracked. Yes, brutal, awful, but same tactics as the VC, and probably better than massacres, not that ROK units didn’t do a bit of that as well, same as NVA, VC, and US troops.

In quieter times, ROKs would relate better to the locals than US troops, eating rice together as fellow Asians who’d themselves grew up in war. Ratios of civilians to military killed were similarly high in both wars.

My US MP buddy, ’72, confirms this anecdotally. He said they were patrolling with ROK MPs when a Vietnamese guy started mouthing off to them. The ROK MP drew his .45 and blew the guy away on the spot, no questions asked.

I met a US Navy Corpsman who’d served in Vietnam in a bar few years back. When I told him about my dad, he shook my hand, recalled, “Yeah, the ROKs, I liked those guys, but they were crazy. Really good, absolutely crazy…”

For the record, I don’t think any of this is cute, tough or funny. When you consider the predicament of civilians, or young soldiers fighting a savage counter insurgency it’s all just the tragedy of war, terrible.

I’m glad the US and Vietnam are reconciling these days. Had we supported former OSS operative Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese independence in 1945 rather than handing them back to the French (???) we should have avoided the whole mess.

Contrary to domino theory paranoia the Vietnamese are no big fans of China,

There’s more.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)

Few have emerged from the job unscathed

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

General Mattis has a book coming out, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, and the Wall Street Journal has published an (adapted) excerpt:

On my flight out of Denver, the flight attendant’s standard safety briefing caught my attention: If cabin pressure is lost, masks will fall…Put your own mask on first, then help others around you. In that moment, those familiar words seemed like a metaphor: To preserve our leadership role, we needed to get our own country’s act together first, especially if we were to help others.

[...]

When the president asks you to do something, you don’t play Hamlet on the wall, wringing your hands. To quote a great American company’s slogan, you “just do it.” So long as you are prepared, you say yes.

When it comes to the defense of our experiment in democracy and our way of life, ideology should have nothing to do with it. Whether asked to serve by a Democratic or a Republican, you serve. “Politics ends at the water’s edge.”

[...]

When I said I could do the job, I meant I felt prepared. I knew the job intimately. In the late 1990s, I had served as the executive secretary to two secretaries of defense, William Perry and William Cohen. In close quarters, I had gained a personal grasp of the immensity and gravity of a “secdef’s” responsibilities. The job is tough: Our first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, committed suicide, and few have emerged from the job unscathed, either legally or politically.

[...]

The Marines teach you, above all, how to adapt, improvise and overcome. But they expect you to have done your homework, to have mastered your profession. Amateur performance is anathema.

The Marines are bluntly critical of falling short, satisfied only with 100% effort and commitment. Yet over the course of my career, every time I made a mistake—and I made many—the Marines promoted me. They recognized that these mistakes were part of my tuition and a necessary bridge to learning how to do things right. Year in and year out, the Marines had trained me in skills they knew I needed, while educating me to deal with the unexpected.

Beneath its Prussian exterior of short haircuts, crisp uniforms and exacting standards, the Corps nurtured some of the strangest mavericks and most original thinkers I encountered in my journey through multiple commands and dozens of countries. The Marines’ military excellence does not suffocate intellectual freedom or substitute regimented dogma for imaginative solutions. They know their doctrine, often derived from lessons learned in combat and written in blood, but refuse to let that turn into dogma.

Woe to the unimaginative one who, in after-action reviews, takes refuge in doctrine. The critiques in the field, in the classroom or at happy hour are blunt for good reasons. Personal sensitivities are irrelevant. No effort is made to ease you through your midlife crisis when peers, seniors or subordinates offer more cunning or historically proven options, even when out of step with doctrine.

In any organization, it’s all about selecting the right team. The two qualities I was taught to value most were initiative and aggressiveness. Institutions get the behaviors they reward.

During my monthlong preparation for my Senate confirmation hearings, I read many excellent intelligence briefings. I was struck by the degree to which our competitive military edge was eroding, including our technological advantage. We would have to focus on regaining the edge.

[...]

It now became even clearer to me why the Marines assign an expanded reading list to everyone promoted to a new rank: That reading gives historical depth that lights the path ahead. Books like the “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant,” “Sherman” by B.H. Liddell Hart and Field Marshal William Slim’s “Defeat Into Victory” illustrated that we could always develop options no matter how worrisome the situation. Slowly but surely, we learned there was nothing new under the sun: Properly informed, we weren’t victims—we could always create options.

[...]

Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed. Returning to a strategic stance that includes the interests of as many nations as we can make common cause with, we can better deal with this imperfect world we occupy together. Absent this, we will occupy an increasingly lonely position, one that puts us at increasing risk in the world.

Equip the man, or man the equipment?

Monday, August 26th, 2019

What has Erik Prince been up to since he sold Blackwater?

I moved to the UAE because of piracy off the coast of Somalia. At the time there were 80 to 90 ships a year being hijacked and the UAE government wanted to do something about that, so I gave some ideas as to build a police unit, which effectively ended piracy and did it for a cost of less than the pirates were taking in ransom per year. It was kind of a passion project, and it showed how cheaply and effectively the private sector can do things if allowed to innovate. I compare that to the U.S. Navy, the EU navies that were dispersed all over the Indian Ocean — if you have a problem in your yard, the smart homeowner doesn’t chase bugs all around the yard with a spray can, rather they find the nest, and that’s what we did.

Since then, I started a private equity fund, I’ve invested in some mining and energy upstream geoscience activities, and I’ve been involved in some more aviation and transportation work in Africa and the Middle East. I’ve been very public about what the United States should do in Afghanistan and a few other of the nagging problems where people continue to suffer because no one can seem to put the fire out.

The U.S. military is designed to win a conventional war, but the problem is when you take a conventional unit and re-task it from a linear battlefield, re-tasking everything from your air defense guy, your chemical weapons specialist, to your artilleryman to now fight an insurgency where the enemy is all around you or nowhere, we have a real struggle dealing with that. I remember a former Special Operations commander describe it this way, ‘In [Special Forces (SF)] units, you equip the man — the guy is the weapon system. In a conventional unit, optimized for that linear battlespace, fighting a nation state — in that case, you man the equipment.’ What does the Army say? Artillery is the king of battle, so you man the artillery, the tanks, the rockets, because that’s what does the large-scale killing on the battlefield. All that firepower doesn’t really apply to fighting guys on motorbikes wearing flip-flops, and that’s where the United States has struggled this past 17 years. Right after 9/11, we had around 100 CIA and SF guys working in Afghanistan in an unconventional manner, and they smashed the hell out of the Taliban in a matter of weeks. Then, when the conventional army rolled in, we largely replicated the Soviet battle plan.

The way the U.S. and NATO deploy there is that they send a unit for seven or eight months. The guys spend a couple of months on the ground getting to know the area, and some of them have never been to Asia in their lives. They’re productive for a couple of months, spend the last month or so packing up and ready to go home, then they lift that unit out and send another one to start again to repeat the cycle.

We’ve done that more than 30 times now, where you completely rip away any continuity. The one part of the Afghan forces, which fights pretty well is the Afghan Commandos because they’re trained and mentored by their SOF counterparts who do a better job of focusing in small unit tactics, being flexible, and equipping the man, rather than manning the equipment.

What I’ve advocated for is replicating that model across the entire regular Afghan army using SF veterans. If I send those veterans back as contractors, they can stay for years at a time on a 90-day rotation, but they go back to the same unit, the same valley, and they get to know the terrain, the good mullah, the bad mullah, and the guys are incentivized to make sure their unit performs well. They’re dependent on the local population for intelligence, and they’re responsible to protect that population from the Tailban or ISIS, so it becomes this intertwined, interlocking dependency that stems from continuity and trust.

We also have to provide those guys in the field with the overwhelming advantage of airpower, so that they get lift and medevac and resupply and close air support in a very timely manner, which hasn’t always been the case, especially for the Afghan units. They’ve been lucky to get aircraft tasked inside of 10-12 hours, unless they happen to have an American JTAC with them. So you have Afghans who are dying in the field from what should be nonlife-threatening wounds; you have Afghan firebases routinely surrounded and annihilated where nobody comes after four, five, seven days.

Our model would be a very joint program where any of our contractor-provided leased aircraft would be crewed by one professional pilot and one Afghan crewmember. Any weapons release decision remains in the sole authority of the Afghan, so it’s not a contractor dropping a bomb or shooting a canon, only an Afghani citizen.

The third component is what I call government support. In this, we’re not trying to fix the government, just the key elements that the military needs to run on. Getting the men paid on time, fed on time, supplied and medevaced. There’s currently a huge amount of ‘ghost soldiers,’ a huge amount of corruption, which bleeds the supplies, and there’s corruption in the promotion process because guys are promoted by their ethnicity or religious affiliation, rather than merit, competency, or bravery.

I had hundreds of instructors attached to Afghan units for a long time — we built the entire Afghan border police. I had many reports of when we’d get a new crop of students that within two days you could tell if there was a bad egg. When the other Afghan students — who greatly appreciate the fact that they were in a properly run schoolhouse, where they’re getting fed, paid, and the light switches work, and there’s batteries for the radios and a comms plan — they took care of making sure that any bad eggs were removed and sent on their way. The way that mentoring is currently done by the U.S. Army is largely one of drive-by mentoring, where they’re not living on the same base, eating at the same chow hall, and embedded with their Afghan brothers.

It is not the seller and so can’t be responsible

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Amazon has shifted from something like a big-box store to something much more like a flea market:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon.com Inc. ’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators — items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.

The Journal identified at least 157 items for sale that Amazon had said it banned, including sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants. The Journal commissioned tests of 10 children’s products it bought on Amazon, many promoted as “Amazon’s Choice.” Four failed tests based on federal safety standards, according to the testing company, including one with lead levels that exceeded federal limits.

Of the 4,152 products the Journal identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.

[...]

Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers. Amazon also says that, as a provider of an online forum, it is protected by the law — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 — that shields internet platforms from liability for what others post there.

[...]

Third-party sellers are crucial to Amazon because their sales have exploded — to nearly 60% of physical merchandise sales in 2018 from 30% a decade ago, Amazon says. The site had 2.5 million merchants with items for sale at the end of 2018, estimates e-commerce-intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon doesn’t make it easy for customers to see that many products aren’t sold by the company. Many third-party items the Journal examined were listed as Amazon Prime eligible and sold through the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which generally ships items from Amazon warehouses in Amazon-branded boxes. The actual seller’s name appeared only in small print on the listing page.

[...]

In contrast, Walmart Inc. requires all products on store shelves be tested at approved labs, company documents show. Target says it requires suppliers of store-branded products to undergo additional inspections and testing beyond government standards.

Target and Walmart have created online marketplaces for third parties to sell directly to consumers. Target’s site, launched earlier this year with several sellers, is invitation-only. Walmart had around 22,000 sellers at the end of 2018, according to Marketplace Pulse. It requires an application that can take days for approval, and only a fraction of merchants applying make it through the vetting, says a person familiar with Walmart’s policy.

Less than 1% of the city’s population accounted for more than half of its lethal incidents

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Since Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of Americans have died in terrorist attacks and mass shootings — while more than 100,000 have died from common street violence:

Urban violence accounts for most murders in the U.S., but politicians focus on everything except the violence itself, instead issuing sweeping calls to ban guns, legalize drugs or end poverty.

In a 2016 paper, my colleague Christopher Winship and I analyzed reviews of more than 1,400 studies on anti-violence programs around the world. We discovered that urban violence is sticky, meaning that it tends to cluster among a surprisingly small number of people and places. In New Orleans, for instance, a tiny network of less than 1% of the city’s population accounted for more than half of its lethal incidents between Jan. 1, 2010, and March 31, 2014. In Boston, more than 70% of all shootings between 1980 and 2008 were concentrated in less than 5% of the city’s geography. In almost every city, a few “hot people” and “hot spots” are responsible for the vast majority of deadly violence; the key to addressing the problem is to pay close attention to them.

I don’t think we’re supposed to look too carefully at these hot people and spots.

Before D-Day, there was Dieppe

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Before D-Day, David Foster reminds us, there was Dieppe:

The attack on the French port of Dieppe took place on August 19, 1942. The objectives were twofold. First, the attack was intended as kind of a “feasibility test” for the large-scale invasion which was to take place later. As stated by General Sir Alan Brooke, “If it was ever intended to invade France it was essential to launch a preliminary offensive on a divisional scale.” Second, the attack was intended to convince Hitler that an invasion was more imminent than it in fact was, thereby leading to the diversion of German forces from other areas.

The troops assigned to Dieppe were mostly Canadians — 5000 of them. There were also British commandos and a small number of American Rangers. Eight destroyers were assigned to the operation, along with 74 Allied air squadrons.

The attack was a disastrous failure. In the words of military historian John Keegan: “When the badly shocked survivors of that terrible morning were got home and heads counted, only 2,110 of the 4,963 Canadians who had set sail the day before could be found. It became known later that 1,874 were prisoners, but of these 568 were wounded and 72 were to die of their wounds, while 378 of those returning were also wounded. Sixty-five percent of the Canadians engaged had therefore become casualties, almost all of them from the six assaulting infantry battalions, a toll which compared with that of July 1st, 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme and blackest in the British army’s history. The 2nd Canadian Division had, for practical purposes, been destroyed…Strategic as well as human criteria applied in measuring the scale of the disaster. All the tanks which had been landed had been lost…lost also were 5 of the 10 precious Landing Craft Tank. And, auguring worst of all for the future, the damage had been done not by hastily summoned reinforcements, but by the forces already present; the 3 Canadian battalions which had stormed the central beach had been opposed by a single German company — at odds, that is, of 12 to 1…” If one defending unit could stop an attacking force with 12 times the numbers, a successful invasion would be impossible. Keegan: “(the disparity between the power of the attack and the defense) clearly could not be overcome merely by increasing the numbers of those embarked for the assault. that would be to repeat the mistakes of the First World War, when the solution of greater numbers resulted arithmetically in greater casualties for no territorial gains.”

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) John Hughes-Hallett summarized the lessons of the failure in a report written shortly after the fact. To quote Keegan once again: “‘The lesson of Greatest Importance,’ his report capitalized and italicized, “Is the need for overwhelming fire support, including close support, during the initial stages of the attack,’ It should be provided by ‘heavy and medium Naval bombardment, by air action, by special vessels or craft’ (which would have to be developed) ‘working close inshore, and by using the firepower of the assaulting troops while still seaborne.’”

[...]

In addition to the need for very heavy naval firepower, the D-day planners learned another lesson from Dieppe: rather than immediately seizing a port, or landing in close proximity to one, they avoided ports altogether, landing supplies initially over an open beach and leaving the capture of a port for a later phase in the operation.

The biggest Epstein conspiracy mystery is not how he died

Friday, August 16th, 2019

The biggest Epstein conspiracy mystery is not how he died, Steve Hsu explains:

The more important mystery is how he managed to operate out in the open for 15-20 years. Rumors concerning Epstein and leading figures like Bill Clinton have been around for at least that long. I have been following his activities, at least casually, via mostly non-mainstream media sources, for well over a decade.

In the 1990s I was a Bill Clinton supporter. I voted for him twice and supported his efforts to move the democratic party in a centrist, pro-business direction. But my brother is a Republican. He fed me a steady stream of anti-Clinton information that I (at the time) dismissed as crazy right-wing conspiracy theories. However, with the advent of the internet in the late 90s it became easier to obtain information that was not filtered by corrupt mainstream media outlets. I gradually realized that at least some of my brother’s claims were correct. For example, Clinton’s first presidential bid was almost derailed by charges of adultery by women like Gennifer Flowers. Supporters like myself dismissed these charges as a right-wing smear. However, years later, Clinton admitted under oath that he had indeed had sex with Flowers.

I believe my first exposure to Hillary Clinton was her appearance on 60 Minutes after the SuperBowl in 1992. This was widely regarded to be the emotive performance (“stand by your man”) that saved Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy. Hillary affects a fake southern accent and (I believe) lies boldly and convincingly about Flowers to an estimated 50 million Americans. Quite a display of talent.

A side-effect of my history as a Clinton supporter (and gradual enlightenment thanks for my brother!) is that I became quite interested in the tendency of the media to hide obvious truths from the general public. We Americans accept that foreign governments (e.g., the Soviets and “ChiComs”) successfully brainwash their people to believe all sorts of crazy and false things. But we can’t accept that the same might be true here. (The big difference is that people in PRC — especially intellectuals — know they are being deceived, whereas most Americans do not…)

It was natural for me to become aware of Epstein once he was linked to Bill Clinton at the very birth of the Clinton Foundation. For someone with even a slight interest (let alone an actual journalist), it was easy to uncover very disturbing aspects of the Epstein story — including details of his private island, traffic in young women, connections to the rich, the powerful, and even to leading scientists, academics, (many of whom I know) and Harvard University.

But just 6 months ago I could mention Epstein to highly educated “politically aware” acquaintances with absolutely no recognition on their part.

Jon Peterson discusses the birth of wargaming

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

I recently shared Invicta’s video, How did war become a game?, and now it looks like the show has brought on Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, to do a Q&A, since his book was the primary source for the original piece:

Jon Peterson also co-wrote Art & Arcana: A Visual History of D&D.

Stack your attackers

Monday, August 12th, 2019

About 40% of violent criminal attacks involve more than one attacker, Greg Ellifritz warns:

I’m seeing lots of recent news articles where groups of teens attack individuals and couples.  The teens often beat the victims into unconsciousness.  Take a look at these news articles that have been posted in the last couple weeks.

All of these events involved groups of three to eight criminals attacking a single person or a couple.  These group attacks seem to be increasing in frequency.

His advice:

  1. The best way to win the fight is to avoid it.
  2. Multiple attackers are more dangerous to you.
  3. Whenever possible, try to “stack” your attackers.
  4. If you end up grappling with one of your attackers, use him as a shield to keep between you and the other attackers.
  5. Chokes are important.
  6. Don’t go to the ground.
  7. If you can’t escape, stack your attackers, or manipulate one to be a shield, you must attack.

Thank God for the Atom Bomb

Friday, August 9th, 2019

Thank God for the Atom Bomb, Paul Fussell said:

I bring up the matter because, writing on the forty-second anniversary of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I want to consider something suggested by the long debate about the ethics, if any, of that ghastly affair. Namely, the importance of experience, sheer, vulgar experience, in influencing, if not determining, one’s views about that use of the atom bomb.

The experience I’m talking about is having to come to grips, face to face, with an enemy who designs your death. The experience is common to those in the marines and the infantry and even the line navy, to those, in short, who fought the Second World War mindful always that their mission was, as they were repeatedly assured, “to close with the enemy and destroy him.” Destroy, notice: not hurt, frighten, drive away, or capture. I think there’s something to be learned about that war, as well as about the tendency of historical memory unwittingly to resolve ambiguity and generally clean up the premises, by considering the way testimonies emanating from real war experience tend to complicate attitudes about the most cruel ending of that most cruel war.

“What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?” The recruiting poster deserves ridicule and contempt, of course, but here its question is embarrassingly relevant, and the problem is one that touches on the dirty little secret of social class in America. Arthur T. Hadley said recently that those for whom the use of the A-bomb was “wrong” seem to be implying “that it would have been better to allow thousands on thousands of American and Japanese infantrymen to die in honest hand-to-hand combat on the beaches than to drop those two bombs.” People holding such views, he notes, “do not come from the ranks of society that produce infantrymen or pilots.” And there’s an eloquence problem: most of those with firsthand experience of the war at its worst were not elaborately educated people. Relatively inarticulate, most have remained silent about what they know. That is, few of those destined to be blown to pieces if the main Japanese islands had been invaded went on to become our most effective men of letters or impressive ethical theorists or professors of contemporary history or of international law. The testimony of experience has tended to come from rough diamonds — James Jones’ is an example — who went through the war as enlisted men in the infantry or the Marine Corps.

Anticipating objections from those without such experience, in his book WWII Jones carefully prepares for his chapter on the A-bombs by detailing the plans already in motion for the infantry assaults on the home islands of Kyushu (thirteen divisions scheduled to land in November 1945) and ultimately Honshu (sixteen divisions scheduled for March 1946). Planners of the invasion assumed that it would require a full year, to November 1946, for the Japanese to be sufficiently worn down by land-combat attrition to surrender. By that time, one million American casualties was the expected price. Jones observes that the forthcoming invasion of Kyushu “was well into its collecting and stockpiling stages before the war ended.” (The island of Saipan was designated a main ammunition and supply base for the invasion, and if you go there today you can see some of the assembled stuff still sitting there.) “The assault troops were chosen and already in training,” Jones reminds his readers, and he illuminates by the light of experience what this meant:

What it must have been like to some old-timer buck sergeant or staff sergeant who had been through Guadalcanal or Bougainville or the Philippines, to stand on some beach and watch this huge war machine beginning to stir and move all around him and know that he very likely had survived this far only to fall dead on the dirt of Japan’s home islands, hardly bears thinking about.

Another bright enlisted man, this one an experienced marine destined for the assault on Honshu, adds his testimony. Former Pfc. E. B. Sledge, author of the splendid memoir With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, noticed at the time that the fighting grew “more vicious the closer we got to Japan,” with the carnage of Iwo Jima and Okinawa worse than what had gone before. He points out that

what we had experienced [my emphasis] in fighting the Japs (pardon the expression) on Peleliu and Okinawa caused us to formulate some very definite opinions that the invasion… would be a ghastly bloodletting. It would shock the American public and the world. [Every Japanese] soldier, civilian, woman, and child would fight to the death with whatever weapons they had, ride, grenade, or bamboo spear.

The Japanese pre-invasion patriotic song, “One Hundred Million Souls for the Emperor,” says Sledge, “meant just that.” Universal national kamikaze was the point. One kamikaze pilot, discouraged by his unit’s failure to impede the Americans very much despite the bizarre casualties it caused, wrote before diving his plane onto an American ship “I see the war situation becoming more desperate. All Japanese must become soldiers and die for the Emperor.” Sledge’s First Marine Division was to land close to the Yokosuka Naval Base, “one of the most heavily defended sectors of the island.” The marines were told, he recalls, that

due to the strong beach defenses, caves, tunnels, and numerous Jap suicide torpedo boats and manned mines, few Marines in the first five assault waves would get ashore alive — my company was scheduled to be in the first and second waves. The veterans in the outfit felt we had already run out of luck anyway…. We viewed the invasion with complete resignation that we would be killed — either on the beach or inland.

And the invasion was going to take place: there’s no question about that. It was not theoretical or merely rumored in order to scare the Japanese. By July 10, 1945, the prelanding naval and aerial bombardment of the coast had begun, and the battleships Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and King George V were steaming up and down the coast, softening it up with their sixteen-inch shells.

On the other hand, John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, “a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.” But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. “Two or three weeks,” says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.

(This came up a couple times, a few months back.)

The suspects had a history of threats or other troubling communications

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

So, what role does mental illness play in these mass killings?

Multiple studies done between 2000 and 2015 suggest that about a third of mass killers have an untreated severe mental illness. If mental illness is defined more broadly, the percentage is higher. In 2018 the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report titled “A Study of the Pre-Attack Behavior of Active Shooters in the United States Between 2008 and 2013.” It reported that 40% of the shooters had received a psychiatric diagnosis, and 70% had “mental health stressors” or “mental health concerning behaviors” before the attack.

Most recently, in July 2019, the U.S. Secret Service released its report “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces—2018.” The report covered 27 attacks that resulted in 91 deaths and 107 injuries. The investigators found that 67% of the suspects displayed symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance. In 93% of the incidents, the authorities found that the suspects had a history of threats or other troubling communications. The results were similar to those of another study published by the Secret Service on 28 such attacks in 2017.

[...]

It should be emphasized that mentally ill patients who are receiving treatment are no more at risk for violence than the general population. Yet it is also clear that without treatment some seriously mentally ill people are at greater risk for violent behavior than the general population.

It doesn’t seem like we take mere threats very seriously.