Friday, October 31, 2014
From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye
And the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye!
That of your five sound sense
You never be forsaken
Nor wander from
Yourself with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon
The moon's my constant mistress
And the lonely owl my marrow
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow
I know more than Apollo
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars
At mortal wars
And the rounded welkin weeping
With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a burning spear
And a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end
Methinks it is no journey
(Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn't it? This is Tom O'Bedlam's Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
ELECTION DAY IS COMING UP FAST
Spare a thought for the stay at home voter
Empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio
–The Rolling Stones, 1968
I think quite a few people, including many conservatives/libertarians, are intending to sit this one out. It’s an understandable sentiment–the “strange beauty shows” have not gotten any more substantive since 1968, quite the contrary, and the “gray suited grafters” have as a class become even graft-ier. And there is plenty wrong with the institutional Republican Party…too much crony capitalism at the expense of the real free market, too much go-along-to-get-along behavior, too many lame candidates, too much incompetence in political marketing.
Nevertheless, I think it is of extreme importance for everyone who truly cares about the future of this country–and who understands the harm being done by Barack Obama and the “progressive” movement that he represents–to vote, and in almost all cases to vote for the Republican candidate.
Because what is facing us right now is not “a choice of cancer or polio.” It is a choice between a chronic disease which is unpleasant, but may eventually be curable, and an accute disease that will kill or permanently cripple the patient in short order.
Free speech is under severe attack by the American Left. There have been moves to have the FCC and/or the FEC regulate Internet expressions of opinion, further entrenching the monopolistic position of the establishment media…and even traditional media companies are finding considerable hostility from the Obama administration should they step the least little bit out of line. ”Political correctness” dominates many if not most university campuses. People in the private sector have been driven out of their jobs because of their personal political opinions. The administrative and police power of the State is being used against political opponent; see for example the IRS case andthe use of SWAT teams to invade the homes of Scott Walker supporters on highly questionable grounds–actions which, George Will argues convincingly, are politically motivated by a desire to intimidate Walker supporters and defeat him in the upcoming election. Direct violence or threats of violence by Leftists and their supporters, directed at purveyors of non-Left-approved opinions, also appears to be on the upswing; see for example the hundreds of death threats directed against a black Chicago pastor who had the audacity to endorse a Republican candidate for Illinois governor.
My point is that the window for deflecting the “progressive” takeover of American politics and institutions is rapidly closing. Intrusions on free expression, and enablement of voting corruption, are likely to make it increasingly almost impossible to change directions in the future. A Republican majority in the Senate, and a maintained or increased Republican majority in the House, together with a goodly number of Republican governorships, will not solve these problems, but will offer a far better chance of bringing them under control than will the alternative.
There are also very serious threats facing the United States and its allies on the international front: especially, the prospective Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. There is every reason to believe that Obama intends to reach a deal which lifts sanctions without seriously dismantling Iran’s uranium-enrichment capabilities. The likelihood of this happening is definitely increased or decreased by any increase or decrease in the political power of the Democratic Party.
I urge you most seriously to vote–to vote Republican (unless there is an alternative candidate who can really win, not just “make a statement”)–and to contribute money directly to your preferred candidates…you may not be able to match the very large contributions being made by Hollywood types and other wealthy Democrats and entities such as the teachers’ unions, but every bit helps. Voting and contributing now helps ensure that you will have a meaningful opportunity to vote, contribute, and engage in political discourse in future elections.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
WOMEN, ISLAM, AND THE WEST'S LOSS OF CULTURAL SELF-CONFIDENCE
Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.
And in the United States, more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female. One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:
It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.
From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:
The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.
Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?
Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.
Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors. I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.
The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing. (My review of the book is here.) Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith. She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:
“Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”
“I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”
In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.
In the review, I said:
I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Sunday, October 19, 2014
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, AS VIEWED FROM A SOVIET LAUNCH FACILITY
This month marks the 52nd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
A couple of years ago, I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Chertok, who at this point was apparently viewing the Cuban affair as a flash in the pan that would be resolved short of war, was concerned that moving the Mars rocket would cause them to miss their October 29 launch date, and suggested that the swap of the rockets be delayed for a few hours. Kirillov told him that this was impossible, and that he should go to the “Marshal’s cottage,” where some of his associates wanted to see him. Chertok’s response:
Yes, sir! You’re in charge! But, Anatoliy Semyonovich! Just between you and me—do you have the courage to give the ‘Launch!’ command, knowing full well that this means not just the death of hundreds of thousands from that specific thermonuclear warhead, but perhaps the beginning of the end for everyone? You commanded a battery at the front, and when you shouted ‘Fire!’ that was quite another matter.
There’s no need to torment me. I am a soldier now; I carry out an order just as I did at the front. A missile officer just like me, not a Kirillov, but some Jones or other, is standing at a periscope and waiting for the order to give the ‘Launch!’ command against Moscow or our firing range. Therefore, I advise you to hurry over to the cottage.
At the cottage, four men were seated at a table playing cards while a fifth was trying to glean the latest news from a radio and Lena, the housekeeper, was in the kitchen drying wine glasses. It was suggested that since Chertok didn’t like playing cards, he should help Lena fix the drinks. This involved a watermelon and lots of cognac.
I took the enormous watermelon and two bottles of cognac out of the fridge. When everything was ready, we heard a report that U.N. Secretary General U Thant had sent personal messages to Khrushchev and Kennedy. Once again, Voskresenskiy took the initiative and proposed the first toast: “To the health of U Thant, and may God grant that this not be our last drink!” This time we all drank down our toast in silence and very solemnly, realizing how close we now were to a situation in which this cognac and this watermelon could be our last.
Still hoping to avoid the cancellation of the Mars mission, Chertok went to another cottage and, with considerable difficulty, made a forbidden call to S P Korolev, overall head of the Soviet rocket program, who was then in Moscow. Korolev told him that things were being taken care of and not to worry.
It was already dark when I returned to the Marshal’s cottage. On the road, a Gazik came to an abrupt halt. Kirillov jumped out of it, saw me, swept me up in a hug, and practically screamed: “All clear!” We burst into the cottage and demanded that they pour “not our last drink,” but alas! The bottles were empty. While everyone excitedly discussed the historic significance of the “All clear” command, Lena brought out a bottle of “three star” cognac from some secret stash. Once again the Mars rockets were waiting for us at the launch site and in the MIK.
Reflecting on the crisis many years later, Chertok wrote:
Few had been aware of the actual threat of a potential nuclear missile war at that time. In any event, one did not see the usual lines for salt, matches, and kerosene that form during the threat of war. Life continued with its usual day-to-day joys, woes, and cares. When the world really was on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe, only a very small number of people in the USSR and the United States realized it. Khrushchev and Kennedy exercised restraint and did not give in to their emotions. Moreover, the military leaders of both sides did not display any independent initiative nor did they deviate at all from the orders of their respective heads of state. Very likely, Khrushchev wasn’t just guided by the pursuit of peace “at any cost.” He knew that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was many times greater than ours. The Cubans did not know this and viewed Moscow’s order to call off missile preparation and dismantle the launch sites as a betrayal of Cuba’s interests. President Kennedy had no doubt as to the United States’ nuclear supremacy. The possibility of a single nuclear warhead striking New York kept him from starting a nuclear war. Indeed, this could have been the warhead on the R-7A missile that they didn’t roll out of the MIK to the pad at Site No. 1.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
A COOL STARTUP STORY, REVISITED
In 2005, I posted about a company called Theranos, as part of the “cool startup story” series at Photon Courier. The company was founded by Elizabeth Holmes, who left Stanford at age 19 in order to pursue her idea for a quantum improvement in blood testing. The original focus was on the detection of adverse drug reactions and the analysis of drug effectiveness on a more-individualized basis.
My, how this little company has grown up. Theranos now has 500 employees and a valuation of about $9 billion. They can currently perform 200 of the most commonly-ordered blood diagnostic tests, and can do it without a syringe–only a few drops of blood are necessary, and these are obtained from a finger prick using “a patented method that minimizes even the minor discomfort involved with that procedure.” (The Fortune writer tried it, and said “to me, it felt more like a tap than a puncture.”) Theranos now has a deal with Walgreens, initially making its service available in stores in California and Arizona and with plans to roll the service out to all 8200 Walgreens stores nationwide.
There are a billion tests done every year in the United States, but too many of them are done in the emergency room. If you were able to do some of those tests before a person gets checked into the ER, you’d start to see problems earlier; you’d have time to intervene before a patient needed to go to the hospital. If you remove the biggest barriers to these tests, you’ll see them used in smarter ways.
Phlebotomy is such a huge inhibitor to people getting tested. Some studies say that a substantive percentage of patients who get a lab requisition don’t follow through, because they’re scared of needles or they’re afraid of worrying, waiting to hear that something is wrong. We wanted to make this service convenient, to bring it to places close to people’s homes, and to offer rapid results.
…in how many nations of the world could A TEENAGE GIRL get a serious audience, and then MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in VC funding, to develop her idea ?!?
There are many unpleasant consequences to American society being perpetually adolescent, a bit shallow and thrill-seeking, with an attention deficit and a naive optimism born of ignorance about the odds, but this type of thing is one of the UPSIDES of being that way.
In America, if you can do, the odds are pretty good that you’ll be allowed to do, regardless of your shortcomings and quirks. We’re flexible and goal-driven, not so much wedded to process.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
WHERE ARE THOSE SPACE ALIENS?....WITH QUESTIONS ON SOCIAL EVOLUTION
The universe is many billions of years old. Fermi calculated that an alien species smart enough to become spacefarers could reach any point in the galaxy in five million years. But we we have no scientific evidence that aliens beings have been here…So, Fermi asked, where is everybody?
Standard answers to the Paradox involve emphasizing the vast distances involved, and the fact that “as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center,” as Edward Teller put it. Another theory is that species which are sufficiently intelligent to achieve interstellar travel have a tendency to blow themselves up long before they reach anywhere in our vicinity. But another possible explanation is suggested by Geoffrey Miller:
I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.
Reading the above, I was reminded of an old science-fiction story…I couldn’t remember the name or the author, but, amazingly, I was able to locate it online. The story is called “Ambition,” and it was written by William Bade in 1952. The idea is that a scientist working on space travel finds that he has somehow been brought by time-travel to an era hundreds of years in the future. He is thrilled, because he assumes that the people of the future will have developed space travel to a high degree, and that he will actually be able to fulfill his dream of journeying to the planets. ”Somewhere, out there in the night, there must be men who had walked beside the Martian canals and pierced the shining cloud mantle of Venus…Surely, a civilization that had developed time travel could reach the stars!”
And he finds that the future civilization indeed has created vehicles that would easily be capable of such exploration…but they are used only as super-airliners. Nobody has any interest in traveling into space, indeed, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. A sympathetic woman explains to the protagonist that “this is the Age of Man. We are terribly interested in what can be done with people. Our scientists…are studying human rather than nuclear reactions.” There appears to be no thirst for adventure in a form likely to be recognized by a 20th-century man. (Indeed, it seems that the reason the future people chose the protagonist as a research subject is that they found his interest in going to the moon and beyond to be so bizarre as to be worthy of psychological investigation.) The story’s subtitle is:
To the men of the future, the scientific goals of today were as incomprehensible as the ancient quest for the Holy Grail!
So…when a society reaches a certain level of wealth and sophistication, does the desire for adventure tend to die out? I’m reminded of a passage from another SF story, this one by Heinlein, in which a Martian is asked why he and other members of his species just sit around all day, “growing together,” as they called it, never actually doing anything. The Martian’s reply is: ”My fathers have labored, and I am weary.”
Is there psychological truth in this remark? Are many modern-day Americans and Europeans “weary” because of the heavy lifting done by their forefathers in creating civilization? To what degree has the desire for adventure and achievement been replaced by first, low-risk fauxadventure (play a videogame rather than start a business, for example), and second, obsessively narcissistic self-focus?…and, to the extent this has actually happened, is it an inevitable consequence of a certain stage of social evolution?…or is it rather a consequence of certain currentreversible social factors? (For example, there are apparently a considerable number of young men focused on viewing porn and playing videogames rather than going out with actual women and pursuing real-world careers and/or advenures. To what extent does this phenomenon reflect a lack of courage and initiative versus to what degree does it reflect a social and economic environment that has damaged the relationship between the sexes and, in many cases, blocked the career ladder?)
In my 2005 post Skipping Science Class, I commented on the UK’s then-new GCSE science curriculum, to be studied by all pupils from 14 to 16, which was to no longer have much actual science in it…
Instead of learning science, pupils will “learn about the way science and scientists work within society”. They will “develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others’ decisions about lifestyles”, the QCA said. They will be taught to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the “social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions”.
They will learn to “question scientific information or ideas” and be taught that “uncertainties in scientific knowledge and ideas change over time”, and “there are some questions that science cannot answer, and some that science cannot address”. Science content of the curriculum will be kept “lite”. Under “energy and electricity”, pupils will be taught that “energy transfers can be measured and their efficiency calculated, which is important in considering the economic costs and environmental effects of energy use”. (The above is from John Clare’s article in the Telegraph.)
Melanie Phillips said: “The reason given for the change to the science curriculum is to make science ‘relevant to the 21st century’. This is in accordance with the government’s doctrine of ‘personalised learning’, which means that everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the individual child.” The assumption seems to be that no child would likely be interested in anything much beyond his day-to-day life.
In A Preface to Paradise Lost, C S Lewis contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:
Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…”
One need not believe in a literal Satan, or for that matter be religious at all, to see the force of this. There is indeed something Satanic about a person who has no interests other than themselves.
I suspect that “educators” who think only in terms of narrow “relevance” are often projecting their own limited vision and interests onto the children for whom their programs are targeted.
But is there something much darker going on in our societies? Have we reached a level at which the desire for adventure, whether physical, financial, or intellectual, has necessarily become less common?
Have our fathers’ labors made us weary?
Saturday, October 11, 2014
ASPIRING AMERICAN ELITES VERSUS AMERICA
Here’s a video in which various Harvard students assert that the United States is a worse threat to world peace than is the terrorist organization ISIS.
This isn’t a statistically-valid survey, and we don’t really know from it what proportion of Harvard students share these views. But there are certainly a disturbing number of highly-educated (or at least highly-credentialed) Americans who feel this way about their country. I am reminded once againtof an essay that C S Lewis wrote in March 1940. At that time, there was evidently a movement among British youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.
Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?
If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”
Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him.
But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.
It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 50 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)
But now Lewis comes to the real meat of his argument.
Friday, October 10, 2014
ERDOGAN, FOLLOWING IN STALIN'S FOOTSTEPS
Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain’s Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic. The Soviet Union refused to allow American bombers from Western Europe to land on Soviet airfields after dropping supplies to the Poles.
While the US has apparently sent some weapons to the Kurds, the aid so far seems rather desultory. Meanwhile, ISIS has fifty-two American-made 155mm howitzers. ”The Kurds of Kobani feel let down by the Europeans, by the Americans, and particularly by their Muslim neighbors…Everybody here is ready to fight ISIS: old men, pubescent children, young women. They’re all waiting in line in front of the YPG recruiting station. It looks as if they are waiting to vote, but actually it is to register for the war.” link
Meanwhile, the US air campaign does not seem to be of a sufficient level to destroy ISIS or even to stop its advance.
If the US strategy is to fight ISIS by arming intermediaries, rather than directly with US troops, then why is heavy support not being provided to the Kurds? Almost certainly, the main reason is a reluctance on Obama’s part…and maybe on the part of certain people in the State Department…to do anything that would anger Turkey. (In 2012, Obama named Erdogan as one of the world leaders he feels personally closest to.) The result of this attitude will very likely be further ISIS advances, and mass slaughters of Kurds.
Arthur Koestler wrote that the Soviet non-support of the Warsaw uprising was ”one of the major infamies of this war which will rank for the future historian on the same ethical level with Lidice.”
Monday, October 06, 2014
The Dutch government has told its soldiers to refrain from wearing the uniform in their own country. The reason? A series of tweets from a single jihadist, who warns of forthcoming attacks against Dutch soldiers in revenge for Holland’s participation in the military operations against ISIS.
It should be obvious that this policy of caving in to a threat will lead directly to more and escalated threats in the future. As the linked article says:
By ordering Dutch soldiers to become “invisible” in The Netherlands, what message is the government sending to its enemies, let alone its own citizens? Dutch-Iranian law professor Afshin Ellian rightfully asks: if Dutch soldiers aren’t safe anymore, than who is? Jihadists now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist can fundamentally alter Dutch defense policy. Dutch citizens now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist will send shivers down their government’s spine and that — instead of making sure all threats are neutralized — it will order the personnel tasked with keeping them safe, to hide.
(If this is the response from the Dutch government to a few threatening tweets, what level of appeasement will we see from them if the Islamists who control Iran gain the ability to provide intimidation via nuclear-armed ballistic missiles with Amsterdam within the circle of range?)
It is commendable for a government to be concerned about the safety of its citizens, including the members of its military, but an obsession with safety, if carried too far, can result in its opposite. Not for the first time, I’m reminded of a passage from Walter Miller’s great novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz:
To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Three Irish girls win the Google Science Fair with an approach to bacteria-enhanced crop growth
Two versions of “Oklahoma” at Bookworm, with discussion
The lost art of political persuasion. This piece at Ricochet argues that politicians are now less about converting the opposition and persuading the undecided, and more about activating those who are already members of their choir.
Book giveaways during WWII contributed greatly to the popularization of reading and the subsequent growth of the publishing industry.
This article by a Wharton professor argues that “emotional intelligence is overrated” and, specifically, that it is overrated in sales. He cites a study in which hundreds of sales people were tested both for emotional intelligence and cognitive ability, and their sales performance subsequently tracked…with the conclusion that cognitive ability was more than 5X as powerful as emotional intelligence in predicting sales performance. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that the importance of cognitive ability and the importance of emotional intelligence both vary greatly depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, and also on what kind of resources the salesman needs to leverage within his own organization.)