Streetwise Professor

January 21, 2023

ODD and Proud

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:00 pm

Recently Bruce Thornton riffed on a WSJ piece about the “Dontells,” people who don’t want to be told what to do. These people have been labeled as suffering from “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” or “ODD.” (I’m sure that acronym is not a mere coincidence.).

This is officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. It’s supposedly treatable but incurable.

This smacks of Soviet psychiatry, which labeled those who opposed the regime as mentally ill. (Putin has resurrected this heinous practice. But hey, so has Germany which is forcing an 85 year old Holocaust survivor to be institutionalized for refusing to be “vaccinated” against COVID.)

Can’t wait until hooliganism is an officially recognized DSM condition.

The reason that ODD is running rampant is that THERE ARE LOTS OF PEOPLE IN GOVERNMENT, CORPORATIONS AND MEDIA TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO DO. About everything. Such a mystery, right?

And the fact that people being pushed by the pushy are pushing back is precisely why the pushy in government, corporations, academia, and the media are so intent on diagnosing them as mentally ill. (Of course, someone born with a Y chromosome who wants to ignore that fact and cut off his junk is the epitome of mental health and you are a hater–and probably mentally ill yourself–for harboring any doubts about this!)

I am not a religious person, but one theme in the New Testament that resonates deeply with me is Jesus’s imprecations against the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He was obviously suffering from ODD. Which is precisely why the Pharisees were hell-bent on killing him.

This resonates because we live in an increasingly pharisaical world, with priestly classes claiming a monopoly on authority and truth condemning, persecuting, and often prosecuting those who dissent. Cancel culture is just one manifestation of rampant pharisaicalism.

More prosaically, they are just so many Cartmans, demanding that you respect their authoritay and delivering a beat down if you resist.

The disgusting display of Davos is perhaps the most prominent congregation of modern day Pharisees. A self-anointed group of global control freaks who just know better, and who condemn those who reject their superiority–and their commands–as heretics and blasphemers. Except they use slightly different terminology, like extremists and purveyors of misinformation and disinformation.

The most outré Davos Pharisees were of course European, and many of their most bitter condemnations were directed at benighted Americans (e.g., the Euro who said that Americans were going to have to dispense with free speech and pass hate speech laws–how dare the hoi polloi be able to say mean things about us! Oh, you have no idea how much I hate you, woman. Or maybe you do, which is why you insist on such baleful laws.)

Unfortunately, there were many, many Euro-adjacent Americans there (John Kerry being the most egregious, with Al Gore giving him stiff competition in that regard), and the pharisaical class is firmly in command in American government (at all levels), corporations, academia, and media.

If you watch even a few minutes of what transpired at Davos, I am sure that you agree with me that nuking the place in mid-January would make the world a far, far better place.

The fact that the United States is the target of Europharisees is hardly surprising, given that the very reason that millions came to America in the first place was to escape the suffocating oppressions of the “elites”–royalty, nobility, and the established church. There was an obvious sorting process. The non-conformists were the most likely to leave. (Small example: I recall a study showing that Scandinavian emigrants to America were more likely to have unusual names.) Thus, Europe became more conformist, and American more heavily populated by those who bridled at authority.

Over the years, the United States has become more Europeanized, but Europe has not become more American. There has been convergence, but most of the movement has occurred in the United States, especially with the growing dominance of progressivism in government, media, academia, and corporations.

Progressives are Pharisees without God. And like the Pharisees of old they cannot brook dissent, and strive to use authority–including the authority of the state–to crush it. In doing, they label dissenters as possessed by demons or the Devil, only now their condemnations are tarted up in pseudo-scientific psychiatric jargon.

As for me, I’m ODD (by the psycho-Pharisees’ definition), and I’m proud. It manifests itself in small things (e.g., musical taste for punk and outlaw country) and large things (politics). I despise the modern Pharisees and rebel against them. I’m no Jesus, for sure, but I fervently embrace that part of his message.

Aside. In a Twitter scrape some years ago, I mocked the eminently mockable Pharisee wannabe and all around insufferable douchebag Tom Nichols. He responding by saying that I was “odd.” I guess he was right! Thanks for the compliment, Tom!

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January 13, 2023

Joe’s Garage

Filed under: Politics — cpirrong @ 6:59 pm

The news brings to mind one of Frank Zappa’s classics, Joe’s Garage:

The reference, of course, being to the revelation that classified documents were found in Joe’s Garage. Joe Biden’s garage, to be specific.

Now, in a sane world I would say this is a big nothing burger. But in our clown world, the Biden administration has made this a Whopper through its pursuit of Trump for his possession of classified documents.

Hoist on his own petard. Karma is a bitch!

Biden’s defense appears to be that he’s only a little bit pregnant and he’s not as pregnant as Trump and besides he didn’t intend to get pregnant and he didn’t know he’s pregnant.

Perhaps that’s generous, because Biden can’t even read his own defense:

(I always have the deepest sympathy for Joe’s sign language translators. How do you sign “WTF”???? I guess she has lots of practice. Lots!)

To add to the hilarity, Hunter lived for a time in the house where the classified documents were “secured” in the garage with the precious Corvette. Yeah, the Hunter who did deals with CCP spies and cavorted with Russian hookers and who had an appetite for drugs that would have put John Belushi to shame.

Supposedly other locations that Biden had access to are being searched for additional documents. Locations like the office space that he shared with Hunter? Are they going to go through Jill’s unmentionables? Inquiring minds want to know!

There are those who suspect that this is a Deep State plot to deep six Joe, who has made it evident that he intends to use the White House as a cognitive care facility from 2025-2029. Could be! My cynicism is sufficiently advanced as to not really care. I’ll just grab some popcorn and watch the circus, clowns and all. Can’t do anything about it, so might as well get some entertainment out of it anyways.

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Putin the Pathetic: Mommy! NO FAIR! Nato hit me back!

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:32 pm

Vladimir Putin has added a chapter to the Annals of Gobsmacking Asininity by whining about the unfairness of Russia’s fight in Ukraine because of the involvement of Nato.

The article stated, “As Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized earlier… ‘the military potential and capabilities of virtually all major NATO countries are being actively used against Russia.’ Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu noted that Moscow is fighting not so much with the Ukrainian military as with the ‘collective West.’”

Tass further tried to emphasize that Russia was at a considerable financial disadvantage on the battlefield, as foreign aid to Ukraine has exceeded $150.8 billion, including military, humanitarian and financial support.

So let me see if I have this straight. Nato has always been hell-bent on destroying Russia. Ukraine posed an existential threat to Russia because it wanted to join Nato. But who coulda possibly thunk that a Nato looking for an opportunity to crush Russia wouldn’t have just stood by with its thumb up its collective butt when Russia invaded Ukraine?

The incoherence of Putin’s “thinking” is a thing to behold. But maybe that just means that Putin is a first rate intelligence, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definition: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

Actually, I don’t think Vova is a genius, by anyone’s definition. The more plausible explanation for his actions is that he didn’t fear Nato, or the United States. He thought they were paper tigers who would acquiesce to his invasion of Ukraine. (No doubt the Afghanistan fiasco encouraged this belief.) They turned out not to be, so now he’s crying No Fair!–the lament of losers.

Perhaps Putin’s calculation would have been correct had his other crucial assumption that he would kick in Ukraine’s door, and “the whole rotten structure would come crashing down” been true. (For those who are unaware, that’s what Hitler thought of the USSR.) But it was Vova’s vaunted army that proved the paper tiger. Therefore, seeing that Ukraine was not going to collapse, and that Russia had jumped into a quagmire, the United States and many Nato nations (not Germany!) found that Putin had handed the opportunity to beat the crap out of him on a silver platter.

And according to Putin, that’s what Nato has been panting to do forever. And he gave them the perfect opportunity to do it. Genius!!

Which leaves Putin to be a whining little bitch bewailing the unfairness of it all.

Dude. Don’t start a knife fight on the assumption with the guy with the guns isn’t going to use them.

Some time ago I pondered what Putin’s sobriquet should be. I think this settles it. “Putin the Pathetic” it is.

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January 12, 2023

Just Because It’s Not All Bad Doesn’t Mean It’s All Good, Man

Filed under: Clearing,Derivatives,Economics,Energy,Exchanges — cpirrong @ 12:02 pm

A coda to my previous post. The EU natural gas price regulation avoids many of the faults of price controls, largely as a result of its narrow focus on a single market: TTF natural gas futures. That said, the fact that it potentially applies to one market means that there are still potentially negative consequences.

These negative consequences are not so much to the allocation of natural gas per se, but to the allocation of natural gas price risk. Futures markets are first and foremost markets for risk, and the price regulation has the potential to interfere with their operation.

In particular, the prospect of being locked into a futures position when the price cap binds will make market participants less likely to establish positions in the first place: traders dread being stuck in a Roach Motel, or Hotel California (you can check out but you can never leave). Thus, less risk will be hedged/transferred, and the market will become less liquid. Relatedly, price caps can lead to perverse dynamics when the price approaches the cap as market participants look to exit positions to avoid being locked in. This can lead to enhanced volatility which can perversely cause the triggering of the cap.

Caps also interfere with clearing. There is a potential for large price movements when the cap no longer binds. Thus, in the EU gas situation, ICE Clear Europe has said that it will have to charge substantially higher initial margins (an estimated $33-47 billion more), and indeed, may choose to exit the EU.

These negative effects are greater, the closer prices are to the cap. Europe’s good luck with weather this winter has provided a relatively large gap between the market price and the cap, so the negative impacts are relatively unlikely to be realized. But that’s a matter of luck rather than a matter of economic principle.

Risk transfer is a vital economic function that generates substantial economic value. The cost of interfering with this mechanism is material, and should not be ignored when evaluating the EU policy. That policy avoids many of the standard problems with price caps, but its narrow focus to the futures market means that it has the potential to create economic costs not typically considered in evaluations of price controls. Meaning that not even Saul Goodman would come to its defense.

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January 9, 2023

The Least Bad Price Control Ever?

Filed under: Commodities,Derivatives,Economics,Energy,Exchanges — cpirrong @ 4:13 pm

At the very end of last year the European Union finally agreed on a rule capping natural gas prices. And what a strange duck it is–unlike any price cap I’ve seen before, which is probably for the best for reasons I discuss below.

Rather than a simple ceiling on the price of natural gas–which is what many EU nations were clamoring for–the rule limits trading in front month, three month, and one year TTF futures if (a) the front-month TTF derivative settlement price exceeds EUR 275 for two week(s) and (b) the TTF European Gas Spot Index as published by the European Energy Exchange (EEX) is EUR 58 higher than the reference price during the last 10 trading days before the end of the period referred to in (a).  The “reference price” is: “the daily average price of the price of the LNG assessments “Daily Spot Mediterranean Marker (MED)”, the “Daily Spot Northwest Europe Marker (NWE)”, published by S&P Global Inc., New York and of the price of the daily price assessment carried out by ACER pursuant to Article 18 to 22 of Council Regulation .”

So in other words: (a) the TTF price has to be really high for two weeks straight, and (b) the TTF price has to be really high relative to the European LNG price over that period.

In the event the cap is triggered, “Orders for front-month TTF derivatives with prices above EUR 275 may not be accepted as from the day after the publication of a market correction notice.” So basically this is a limit up mechanism applied to front month futures alone that basically caps the front month price alone. Moreover, it will not go into effect until mid-February, meaning that the last two weeks of February would have to be really cold in order to trigger it. (The chart below shows how far below prices currently are below the flat price cap trigger.)

These conditions are so unlikely to be met that one might get the idea that the cap is intended never to be triggered, and if it is, its impact is meant to be limited to front month futures. And you’d probably be right. Some nations definitely wanted a traditional cap on the price of gas inside the EU, but the Germans and Dutch especially realized this would be a potential disaster as it would cause of of the usual baleful effects of price controls, notably shortages.

The rule as passed does not constrain the physical/cash market for natural gas anywhere in the EU. This is the market that allocates actual molecules of gas, and it will continue to operate even if the front month futures market is frozen. The freezing of futures may well interfere with price discovery in the physical/cash market, but regardless, prices there can rise to whatever level necessary to match supply and demand. As a result, the cap will not achieve the objectives of those pressing for a traditional price ceiling, and won’t result in the consequences feared by the Germans and Dutch.

So the cap is unlikely ever to be triggered, and if it does, won’t interfere with the operation of the physical market or have much of an impact on the prices that clear that market. So what’s the point?

One point is political: the Euros can say they have imposed a cap, thereby appeasing the suckers who don’t understand how meaningless it is.

Another point is distributive–which is also political. The document setting out and justifying the rule spends a tremendous amount of effort discussing a very interesting fact: namely, that when prices spiked last year, basis levels got way out of line with historical precedents. Notably, TTF traded at a big premium relative to LNG prices, and to prices at other hubs in the EU. Sensibly, the document attributes these extreme basis levels to infrastructure constraints within the EU, namely constraints on gasification capacity, and pipeline constraints for moving gas within the EU. (Although I note that squeezing the TTF could have exacerbated these basis moves.)

Again, the rule won’t have any impact on the basis levels in the physical market. So again–what’s the point? Well almost in passing the document notes that many natural gas contracts throughout the EU are priced at the TTF front month futures price plus/minus a differential. What the rule does is prevent prices on these contracts from being driven by the TTF front month price when those infrastructure constraints cause TTF to trade at a big premium to LNG or to prices at other hubs. So for example, a buyer in Italy won’t pay the market clearing TTF price when that would have traded at a big premium and high flat price level: instead, the buyer in Italy will pay the capped TTF front month price.

In other words, the mechanism mitigates the impact of a very common pricing mechanism adopted in normal times against the impacts of very abnormal times. A buyer outside of NW Europe takes on basis risk by purchasing at TTF plus a differential, but usually that basis risk is sufficiently small as to be outweighed by the benefits of trading in a more liquid market (with TTF being the most liquid gas market in Europe, just as Henry Hub is in the US). However, the stresses of the past year plus have greatly increased that basis risk. The price cap limits the basis risk on legacy contracts tied to TTF, without unduly interfering with the physical market. The marginal molecules will still be priced in the (unconstrained) physical market.

So there you have it. Beneath all the political posturing and smoke and mirrors, all the rule does is limit the potential “windfall” gains of those who sold gas forward basis front month TTF, and limit the “windfall” losses of those who bought basis front month TTF. If demand spikes and the infrastructure constraints bind (or if someone exploits these constraints to squeeze TTF futures) causing the basis to blow out, the rule will constraint the impact on those who benchmarked contracts to the front month TTF.

In some respects this isn’t surprising. All regulation, in the end, is distributive.

Putting it all together, this is probably the least bad price control I’ve seen. It is unlikely to go into effect, and even if it does its impact is purely distributive rather than allocative.

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December 29, 2022

Between the David Signal and the Goliath Government, Shockingly the NYT Sides With the Latter

Filed under: Politics — cpirrong @ 7:05 pm

The New York Times’ latest service as butt-boy to the Deep State is this op-ed by one Reid Blackman, in which Mr. B expresses his deep, deep concern about Signal and other applications that promise to deliver levels of privacy far beyond what say, Facebook or Twitter do.

The gravamen of Mr. Blackman’s concern is that “that criminals have also used this government-evading technology,” that technologists operating under a privacy uber alles ideology are facilitating this criminality, and that unsuspecting innocents might be enabling this ideology out of convenience.

The last objection is most easily disposed of, especially in light of the first. The innocents who choose say Signal because (in his words) “here’s a way to message people that my friends are using” are not harmed in any way by the putative ideology, and do not pose the criminal threat that so concerns Blackman. Nor are they endorsing or enabling the use of the service by criminals, who can use it regardless of who else does. So leave them out of this, OK?

The “criminals and pedos use it” is the the go to rationalization for governments to oppose encrypted services. Well, heard of the Internet? They use that too. And among the revelations following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter are (a) pedos and child pornographers used Twitter with abandon, and (b) the government really didn’t GAF, caring far more about whether people used it to share information about Hunter’s laptop. So spare me.

Put differently: the “criminals and pedos” line is one that the government uses to distract the plebs from the government’s true concern–it’s ability to keep tabs on you and me, and from Facebook et al‘s true concern–their ability to monetize our information. Epstein demonstrates just how much the Feds really care about pedos: very little.

Bank robbers use cars to make their getaways. We don’t ban automobiles as a result.

Blackman’s example is also unintentionally hilarious:

But it is no coincidence that criminals have also used this government-evading technology. When the F.B.I. arrested several Oath Keepers for rioting at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, one of its primary pieces of evidence was messages on Signal. (It’s unclear how the F.B.I. got access to the messages in this instance; there is a longstanding cat and mouse game between lawmakers and technology.)

Stop it man: you’re killing me! For one thing, clearly the government found ways around the technology that so disturbs Mr. Blackman. For another thing: the Oath Keepers? Are you RUFKM? The group that was so penetrated by the Feds that it’s an open question of who outnumbered who? The fact that Oath Keepers have been rotting in DC jails for two years despite their use of Signal tells any sentient being that ideological technologists’ commitment to privacy enables criminality is the least of our concerns.

(Blackman no doubt invokes the Oath Keepers despite the drooling stupidity of the example because it is a bogeyman of the NYT’s bedwetting readers.)

Blackman of course has to acknowledge the possibility that governments and corporations might misuse information, but then he dismisses it in the most absurd fashion:

What’s more, the company’s proposition that if anyone has access to data, then many unauthorized people probably will have access to that data is false. This response reflects a lack of faith in good governance, which is essential to any well-functioning organization or community seeking to keep its members and society at large safe from bad actors. There are some people who have access to the nuclear launch codes, but “Mission Impossible” movies aside, we’re not particularly worried about a slippery slope leading to lots of unauthorized people having access to those codes.

Hmm, how could anyone possibly have a “lack of faith in good governance” in 2022 America? And the nuclear launch codes comparison is so laughably off-base I am surprised that anyone with the slightest self-respect would use it. But then again, in writing this Mr. Blackman demonstrates that self-respect is not among his attributes.

But it gets better!:

It’s true that the crowd at Signal aren’t government officials, and they don’t work for Fortune 500 companies. They are a small group of people who govern these powerful tools, and they are not accountable in the way that, say, a democratically elected government is. Whether law enforcement should tap our phones on the condition that a warrant is obtained is, at the very least, worthy of public discussion. Signal has unilaterally decided for us all.

Savor this line in particular: “they are not accountable in the way that, say, a democratically elected government is.”

Really! He wrote that!

Tell me, Mr. Blackman, when the FBI, or CIA, or any other federal law enforcement or intelligence agency has ever been held accountable for violations of privacy? Or many other transgressions?

Take your time. I’ll wait.

FFS, just look at the FBI’s response to the Twitter files, which can be summarized as “we’re going to do whatever we want–whatcha gonna do about it, proles?”

Blackman bewails that Signal etc. “are a small group of people who govern these powerful tools.” Small group? Powerful tools? Heard of the NSA? CIA? FBI?

Blackman cleverly attempts a sort of judo, equating pro-privacy “technology overlords” with the government–and with Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., technology overlords who monetize our data and are good little Igors to Dr. Frankenstein government. There’s really no comparison, and the attempt to make one is a perfect encapsulation of Blackman’s fundamental dishonesty. The government has the coercive powers of the state at their disposal. Signal does not. And it is now abundantly clear that the government uses its coercive powers to get Big Tech to do its bidding.

He laments Signal’s unilateral action regarding privacy, but is silent on the clearly unilateral utilization of government power to surveil and censor.

Blackman makes a direct comparison between privacy-oriented technologists and the government, and the big tech companies like Facebook. (I don’t say “Meta” because it’s just too retarded. Sorry, Stanford!) The comparison is beyond risible. The relative power of the former and the latter is so disproportionate that it is insulting to our intelligence to make the comparison.

Blackman attempts to portray himself as a paragon of ethics, in large part by denigrating the ethics of his technologist enemies whom he accuses of a “lack of appreciation for moral nuance and good governance.” Well, put Matthew 7:5 in your pipe and smoke it, bro’: “thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

To be honest, my concern about Signal is not that it protects my privacy: it’s that it doesn’t under the pretense that it does. One can never be sure of whom the “technologists” like Signal’s Moxie Marlinspike are really working for. “Privacy” is a room full of mirrors, and trusting anyone with it is dangerous indeed.

To close. Who is Reid Blackman, actually? Well, apparently he is “an adviser to government and corporations on digital ethics.” Is he now. Do you need to know any more about who butters his bread? Or the NYT’s? Ho’s gonna ho, dontcha know.

Looking at the bright side, the fact that the NYT ran this pathetic piece suggests that it–and its government masters–are threatened by people having a choice to escape the government’s panopticon. I very much hope that they are.

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Apologies for the Comments Cluster

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 4:07 pm

In the last couple of weeks the site’s spam filter has taken a holiday. It puts everything into moderation, including comments from long time commenters and obvious spam: formerly the former were automatically approved (for the most part) and the latter were automatically consigned to spam.

And it’s not just you. It holds my comments for moderation.

I apologize to those of you kind enough to comment whose contributions were hung up until I got around to wading through everything to approve them. I hope to get this resolved ASAP, but the hosting service is also on holiday 😛

And “getting around to it” is not an excuse. My grandfather had some round wooden blanks made with the words “to it” printed on them. He gave one to me, and said: “now you can NEVER say you didn’t get a round to it.” He also gave these out to his employees 😛

So reverting to my Navy plebe year: “no excuse, sir.” (One of the four permitted answers to a question.). I’ll work on getting it fixed ASAP. And in the meantime, please continue to comment if you are so inclined. They are always appreciated.

My best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas (belatedly) and Happy New Year (early, so on average I’m good!)

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Putin’s Army Goes Back to the Future: Will Vova Admit Error?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 3:49 pm

I noted in my last post on the Ukraine-Russia War that Putin and Shoigu had announced a plan to expand the Russian military to 1.5 million personnel. Strategy Page has the details of their plan, which makes for fascinating reading. Basically, the “new” Russian military will be the “old” Russian military: the “reforms” announced with such fanfare in the past decade are being largely reversed.

The backstory: the Russian army’s performance in Georgia was pretty poor, and first under Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (“the furniture salesman”) and then his successor Shoigu made many changes in an attempt to improve its combat capability and effectiveness. One of the most important was to address the serious problem of dedovshchina –the institutionalized hazing of first year conscripts by second years. This was done by cutting the conscription service term to a year. Another was to try to move away from conscription altogether, and increase reliance on professional, volunteer “kontraktniki” especially in front-line combat units.

Further, to improve flexibility the Russians imitated the American movement towards brigades (rather than divisions) as the basic maneuver element. In doing so, they stood up brigades made up of “battalion tactical groups,” largely self-sufficient (in theory) maneuver units with organic armor and artillery.

In response to the latest underperformance, Russia is reversing major parts of response to the previous underperformance, and essentially reverting to the system that produced the previous underperformance. The draft term is being extended from 12 to 18 months: this is basically the only way to increase headcount, but risks a reemergence of dedovshchina. Moreover, the scope of conscription is being widened, partially reversing the move towards a volunteer-based military.

Brigades and BTGs are out the window. It’s back to old school divisions instead.

In other words, it’s back to the future for the Russian military.

It’s highly unlikely that this reshuffling of the deck chairs will save the Titanic that is the Russian military. After all, this same organization was tried and found wanting in a far less demanding conflict than the one currently being waged in Ukraine.

The Russian military’s problems are far more fundamental than what can be solved by tinkering with the manpower system or redrawing orders of battle. For example, this will not fix the corruption that has wreaked havoc with operations in Ukraine. Nor will it fix the clearcut logistical deficiencies. Or the profound incompetence of the officer corps at all levels. Or the obvious doctrinal failings, most notably in the employment of air power, but also at the tactical level (apropos my earlier posts on the shocking attempts to operate armor without adequate infantry).

New plan or old, the material losses in Ukraine also necessitate a virtually complete recapitalization of Russia’s military. It needs new everything–tanks, APCs, aircraft, artillery, and personal equipment from body armor to boots. But its existing designs have been shown very wanting and the failure to deploy supposedly advanced weapons like the Armata MBT betrays a belief that even the cutting edge of Russian military tech is pretty dull. Replacing old crap with new crap of the same design will just produce the same old–crappy–results.

And that’s assuming that Russia has the wherewithal to recapitalize. It likely does not. Its defense industrial base has already proved to be hollowed out and hamstrung by corruption. And to make things worse, sanctions and the conscription of larger numbers of workers will reduce capacity, especially for relatively high tech weapons that rely on Western technology. The cost will also contribute to the immiseration of the Russian populace. (Not that Putin GAF.)

All in all, these changes are rather futile. The restoration of large parts of the pre-2008 status quo suggests that the old guard is taking its revenge on the reformers, and that Putin is going along.

What Putin is doing now is a repudiation of what Putin did over the last decade plus. One wonders if New Putin will explicitly acknowledge Old Putin’s errors.

Actually, I don’t wonder. I know he won’t. But his deeds speak louder than any words he could utter.

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December 27, 2022

Did West Point Just Remove Memorials to Traitors?

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:47 pm

The US Military Academy has begun removing 13 memorials to graduates who served in the Confederate Army. This has elicited many reactions like this from Jeff Jacoby:

(H/T Jeff Carter).

History, and historical figures, are almost always more complicated than the Jeff Jacobys of the world can accept. That is especially true of Lee, and of many Confederates generally.

Jacoby essentially is a pitch-perfect mimic of the Radical Republican position circa 1865. Radical Republicanism was a minority view at the time, even within the North, let alone the nation as a whole. One of the deep mysteries of American history is how Lincoln would have dealt with the Radicals. They were all for vengeance–including prosecuting Lee and Jefferson Davis for treason. Lincoln was not. I have to conclude that Lincoln’s death was a national tragedy not least because of his more humane and healing approach to the defeated South.

The objective of evaluations of historical figures should be to understand their actions and subjective motivations in the context of their time. When you do that with Lee and other Confederates, the charge of treason in particular is not obviously true, as it apparently is to Jacoby et al. Indeed, it is pretty clearly untrue.

Treason is all about duty to one’s nation and government. And the whole reason the Civil War occurred is that there was deep division on what that duty was, to whom it was owed, and what the government and nation owed in return.

Now I am not saying that the Civil War was not ultimately about slavery–it was. The point is that slavery was the issue that made competing views of American government irreconcilable. But those views of government existed independently of slavery, pre-dated the emergence of slavery as the issue in American politics, and had principled adherents on both sides.

Look at the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, and in particular the Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, who morphed into Federalists and. Republicans. From the very Founding there were deeply conflicting views about government and nation. Accusations of treason cannot be evaluated without an honest acceptance of that fact.

The Anti-Federalist, Republican/Jeffersonian, Southern view was that the United States were sovereign states in a voluntary compact. From that perspective, someone like Lee had a duty to his state, and when his state seceded to whom he owed allegiance was a real dilemma. But it was a principled, and logical, position to conclude that (a) his obligation was first and foremost to his state, and (b) when that state exited the voluntary compact with other states, one was duty bound to follow the state. To do otherwise is what would have been treason.

Of course, if you take the nationalist perspective, what Lee did was treason. But the nationalist perspective became the default in the United States only because those who held it prevailed in the war. The treason charge is therefore essentially winner’s justice which denies the legitimacy of views widely held at the time of secession. Subjectively, Lee did not believe he was committing treason. Quite the reverse.

Although the North fought to assert the nationalist position, it was not universally held even in the North. Many Northern Democrats were very sympathetic to the Southern view of the nature of the United States.

Ironically, even many of those West Point graduates who remained loyal to the United States did not embrace wholeheartedly the nationalist vision, and especially not the Radical Republican version thereof. The Radicals hated the leadership of the Army of the Potomac in particular because they deemed its West Point-trained officer corps as being far too sympathetic with Southern (Democratic, actually) Constitutional and political views: the officers of the Army of the Potomac repaid the hatred with interest.

When Old Army officers parted ways in 1861, it was with sorrow, and generally without political acrimony. A Hancock, say, may have regretted his friend Armistead’s choice, but he did not become a traitor in Hancock’s eyes.

It is also ironic that both sides invoked the Declaration of Independence to justify their choices–just different parts. Lincoln in particular focused on the “all men are created equal” part. The South on the right of any people to dissolve the bonds of government when it had become tyrannical part. Both considered themselves the true heirs to the Founding and its principles, and the other to be, well, a traitor to them.

Meaning that under one of the competing theories of American government, Lee was not a traitor in 1861, and as an adherent to that theory Lee clearly did not believe he was committing treason in 1861. In 1865, that theory had been vanquished, not completely, but pretty effectively.

Treason is a crime, and a crime requires mens rea–intent. Lee lacked such intent.

Similar considerations pertain to Jacoby’s other charges, especially contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of “loyal Americans”–interesting modifier there, by the way, and again one which assumes the rightness of one view of the nature of the United States: presumably the deaths of around 250,000 (disloyal) Southern soldiers and large numbers of Southern civilians is at best a matter of indifference to Jacoby. To a principled adherent of the contrary view it was the North that was responsible for the death and destruction of the war by denying by force the right to secede from a voluntary compact.

As for the memorialization of Confederates at West Point, that was part and parcel with the post-Reconstruction effort to create a nation in which states were clearly subordinated to the national government. Like all such efforts, it was a bargain. In essence, the bargain was that the North would recognize the valor and sincerity of its Confederate foes, and the South would acknowledge the triumph of the nationalist view of the USA.

In the few years remaining to him after Appomattox, Lee openly accepted the second half of that bargain. It took some years for the deal to be finalized and represented in deeds, whether it be memorials at West Point or the return of Confederate battle flags (under TR) fully 40 years after the war.

Viewed with all that historical context, the triumphalism and certainty of Jacoby and others is more than a little unseemly. Yes, Lee and other Confederates are forever tainted by the fact that slavery was the issue that brought the conflict of Constitutional views to the point of secession and war. But accusations of treason and responsibility for the deaths of so many Americans reflect a failure to accept the historical reality that there was, in fact, profound disagreement on the nature of the United States and its government. Indeed–that’s exactly why the war was fought. Further, the iconoclasts are reneging on a deal that was made to cement their view of the Constitutional issue that permitted the nation to move forward as a more unified country.

As I’ve written before in posts on Confederate memorial controversies, it is better to let the memorials stay and understand why they are at places like West Point in the first place, rather than to remove them. Especially removing them in a spirit of political animus and triumphalism like that epitomized by the likes of Jeff Jacoby.

PS. This episode of Uncancelled History (hosted by Douglas Murray) on Lee is worth watching. I think it is a fairly balanced and properly contextualized presentation of Lee and the choices.

Allen C. Guelzo, author of a recent biography on Lee, leans towards the he’s-a-traitor view.

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December 23, 2022

On Elon

Filed under: Politics,Tesla — cpirrong @ 4:16 pm

From 2013-2016 or so I gained some notoriety as a critic of Elon Musk. Some of my posts were quoted or discussed in mainstream publications, I was interviewed on Bloomberg News, . . . and Elon blocked me on Twitter!

One of my criticisms was that Musk’s real business genius was in rent seeking. All of his businesses, especially during that era, relied heavily on various forms of government subsidy. Further, he was quite expert at getting very favorable treatment for location businesses, e.g., his Boca Chica launch area for SpaceX. Indeed, this continues to today: recently some other rent seekers–wind farm developers–sued Texas because it cut off tax breaks to them, but not to Tesla.

My other main criticism was that Musk repeatedly overpromised and underdelivered. Anybody remember the vaunted Solar Roof? Anybody actually seen one? Recall all the (unrealized) hype about a coast-to-coast charging network. Model introduction dates. Production targets. The actual implementation of the “hyperloop” is the merest shadow of what Musk teased the world with.

The most egregious example was the Solar City merger, which was touted as some great new business model that would exploit wonderful economies of scope between rooftop solar, home battery storage, and electric vehicles. I called bullshit at the time, and bullshit it has proven to be.

My explanation of the real reason for the Solar City deal was that its bankruptcy would put a huge dent in his reputation as a business genius and innovator, and that he had to conceal the wretched financial condition of the company in the Tesla balance sheet. It’s pretty clear that I was right: Solar City is basically in wind down mode.

In the light of experience, it is pretty clear to me that in all of these promises and claims, Elon was playing pretend and extend. Keep dazzling investors with future prospect so they would continue to shovel money in today, in the hope that eventually Tesla would be sufficiently profitable to survive without hype.

And it that respect, you have to say that Musk’s strategy was wise, predicated on dishonesty as it was. Tesla did start producing large quantities of vehicles in multiple factories around the world. Tesla stock eventually soared to stratospheric values–although the past year has been sobering indeed. In fact, the past week has been sobering, with the stock falling almost 20 percent: it is off almost exactly 2/3rds in the past year.

Although the most optimistic projections of Tesla’s prospects have been dashed, it is clearly a going concern and will continue to be one–especially with the help of government tailwinds. In that sense, Elon’s strategy of overpromising was a canny play.

I was always more critical of Tesla than SpaceX, and indeed, the space company has proved to be a standout, especially as compared to its peer group, especially the execrable Boeing.

But now Tesla and SpaceX are basically background noise in the Musk saga. Now it’s all about Twitter, all the time.

I think it’s fair to say that his bid for Twitter illustrates his mercurial nature, and it is pretty clear that he regretted it soon after making it. He tried to wriggle out of his commitment, but seeing the legal writing on the Delaware Chancery Court wall he sucked it up and bought the company.

And once he bought it, he showed incredible will and fortitude to transform the company. In part this was a business necessity. He obviously overpaid, and had to make the company, if not profitable, at least not a huge cash suck. So he whacked more than half the employees.

These firings unleashed a torrent of shrieks, and dire predictions of the utter collapse of the company.

But the platform continues to perform with no apparent technological problems, despite these alarming prognostications. This strongly suggests that the company was massively bloated, and that most of the employees did not contribute to its output and profitability.

I think that this is a characteristic of the tech sector generally–not just Twitter. I hope to write a post on that subject soon.

More remarkably, Musk is giving every indication of having a serious commitment to free speech, and to opposing government interference in public debate. Especially the kind of underhanded interference that had long been suspected by “conspiracy theorists”–and which even the limited releases of “Twitter Files” has demonstrated to be true.

Remember that the phrases “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorists” were born in the 1960s as part of government efforts (especially the CIA) to discredit any question of government operations, and especially the operations of the intelligence community. The FBI’s reference to conspiracy theories/theorists in its response to the Twitter Files confirms and validates that the old playbook is still in use.

Moreover, Musk has revealed the extent to which old Twitter was dedicated to silencing and obstructing those whom its leftist management and employees disliked (hated, actually) even without government prompting: like John Cleese’s character in the Argument Clinic sketch, they were censoring on their own time. Further, he has taken steps to reverse that, although there are still reasons for concern.

I see no reason to revise my criticisms of Musk’s earlier conduct in light of these current developments. I think the judgments were well founded, and I have not seen any evidence that would require a reevaluation. That said, I am quite pleased with–and pleasantly surprised by–his actions regarding Twitter.

Yet, given his mercurial nature, and the intense competing demands on his time–especially given that Tesla is no facing serious headwinds and investors are clearly disturbed by his Twitter distraction–it remains to be seen whether this good start will be maintained and indeed broadened. On the one hand, he has a direct economic interest in making Twitter a viable economic enterprise, and it is likely that a more open platform will advance that objective. On the other, Musk’s revolution has sparked a massive counter-revolution among journalists in particular, but also among governments. The EU has been particularly mafia-like in the nice-little-business-you-got-here-shame-if-anything-happened-to-it sense, threatening severe consequences if Twitter does not adopt “moderation” (i.e., censorship) policies in line with the EU’s statist preferences. The Biden administration has not been quite so direct as the EU, but it has made threatening noises too. Several senators have also been making threats.

Meaning that the old “you can’t do anything to Twitter because it’s a private company” bromide that was common in the old Twitter days when it was censoring those the left didn’t like has become completely non-operative in the Musk Twitter days when he is promising to eliminate censorship. Elon will have to wage a war against governments around the world in order to advance his apparently completely sincere and principled free speech agenda.

Whether he can or will do that remains to be seen. Governments can make his principles very, very expensive, and therefore Elon may have to make the choice between his economic interests and his pro-freedom principles. We don’t know what value Elon places on those principles, or the costs that governments will impose on him if he attempts to act on them. The ultimate outcome, therefore, is very much in doubt.

I was never pulling for Elon to fail with Tesla or other pre-Twitter endeavors: I was criticizing the means he employed to achieve success. I am pulling for him to succeed at Twitter, and given what and who he is fighting against, I hope that he adopts the all’s fair approach that he has employed so often in the past.

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