Streetwise Professor

January 19, 2020

1917–An SWP Review

Filed under: History,Military — cpirrong @ 7:29 pm

The film 1917 has received considerable critical acclaim and box office success. Some have called it the definitive World War I film. I therefore entered theater with great anticipation. I left it, alas, in great disappointment.

My one word review: Meh.

My objections, in order from large to small.

First off, it is wrong to call it a World War I movie. It is war movie set in WWI. There’s a difference.

A true WWI movie captures some essential feature of the unique horror of that conflict. A great example is Paths of Glory, a 1957 Stanley Kubrick film starring Kirk Douglas. It brutally portrays the utter cynicism and detachment of the high command, and the futility of the struggle of those under their command, that culminated in the French army mutinies of 1917. Another excellent example is the 1931 version of All Quiet on the Western Front, particularly for its evocation of the alienation of the front line soldier from the civilians who had no conception of what ordeals of the former suffered. Gallipoli is also excellent for its portrayal of the collision between the youthful enthusiasm of those who went to war and the pointlessness of their misery and bloodshed at the front.

Yes, in 1917 you see the blasted moonscape, littered with bloated corpses, that was the Western Front. There are moments of versimilitude, such as the Germans’ booby trapping of the fortifications that they abandoned in Operation Alberich in March-April, 1917. But this is scenery–backdrop–that places the film in time, without telling any deeper truth about that time.

As a generic war movie, the plot covers well-trodden ground: A small contingent sent into contested ground on a forlorn mission to save comrades. Saving Private Ryan tells the same basic story, but in a far more compelling way. In part this is due to the fact that in Private Ryan a few handfuls of men are involved, and much of the drama turns on their interactions in the crucible of war. A central part of the movie is helping us understand leadership, through the character of Captain Miller (Tom Hanks).

The mission in 1917 starts out with two men, one of whom is killed about half way through, leaving the remainder of the action focused on a single man. Yes, that creates a different sort of dramatic tension, but it is far flatter than in Private Ryan. As a result, 1917 cannot hold a candle to the World War II movie. War is a social endeavor that stresses the bonds between men in ways that nothing else can. A movie without that element–or which like 1917 loses that element relatively early on–is far less compelling. Yes, it is important to understand what drives a single man to pursue what seems to be a hopeless mission, but it is harder to understand how a man can get others to follow him on such a mission.

Perhaps due to the fact that the story and characters were not sufficient to hold my attention, I soon found myself unable to suspend disbelief, and as a result started focusing on irritating problems in the script. Many unrealistic things jumped out to a mind that was not raptly focused on the story that the director wanted to tell.

Would a general truly trust a message canceling an attack into an ambush to two men? Maybe 10 pairs of men, but not a single pair. And the general could have called on aircraft (portrayed numerous times in the movie) to attempt to drop messages to an otherwise isolated regiment (and this happened in the war).

Further, when the messengers were about half-way on their footslogging trek, one was killed. Immediately thereafter, a convoy of British trucks come upon the survivor. As it turns out, this convoy was destined for a waypoint along their mission, a French village. If convoys were being sent into the area abandoned by the Germans, why not use them to try to communicate with the isolated unit about to launch a suicidal attack? Or attach the messengers to the convoy? Why send two men walking across ground that whole companies were about to cross in trucks?

The protagonist’s journey on the trucks was aborted when the bridge over a river at the village was found to be destroyed. The commander of the convoy said that the only bridge was six miles upstream. But later, during a scene in which the protagonist had plunged into the river to escape the Germans, and was being swept down the raging stream, he passed under an intact bridge–which happened to be closer to the unit he was supposed to reach.

And about that river. There are no rocky rivers with rapids in Picardy. And the rivers flow west–not east.

Quibbles, perhaps, but I wouldn’t have cared, or even noticed, if the film had held my interest. An unengaged mind is the critic’s workshop 😉

In sum, 1917 is not a bad movie, but in my opinion it comes nowhere close to living up to the accolades it has received. It breaks no dramatic ground as a war movie (and indeed is somewhat derivative), and does not tell the audience anything in particular about the First World War, which is a shame because that is the seminal event of the past 200 years.

I reiterate my earlier recommendations. If you are really interested in movies that capture something essential about WWI, watch Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, or Gallipoli. Despite their age (the last being the newest at 40 years old) and their necessarily more limited cinematography, they will teach you more about WWI than 1917. Much more.

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January 16, 2020

Putin’s New Plan: Assuring That All Roads Continue to Lead to Him–In Russia, Anyways

Filed under: Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 8:13 am

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin (to whom, of course, all roads lead–just ask Nancy) proposed (which is equivalent to announcing) major changes to the Russian constitution. The most important element of his plan is a reduction in the powers of the presidency that has so assiduously built up over the past decades.

This is of course due to the fact that Putin is barred from another term in office, and resorting to some dodge like the “castling” maneuver that made the hapless Dmitry Medvedev president for a term would be too problematic even for Putin. So he is basically saying: “If I can’t be president, no one will be.”

This is not to say that Putin is going away, of course: far from it. He is basically playing a divide-to-rule strategy. The plan splits up the president’s powers, assigning some to the Duma and likely others to the heretofore advisory State Council. Furthermore, he imposes constraints on who can become president, eliminating anyone who has lived abroad in the last 20 years or holds dual citizenship. Since this group includes a wide swath of the Russian elite, the plan culls the heard of potential serious challengers to him, challengers who would likely attempt to reassemble the powers of the presidency were they to assume it.

This fragmentation of power plays perfectly to Putin’s strengths. Even in the current system his primary role, and source of power, is managing contending clans within the Russian elite. He is the balancer, the mediator. The mafia don ruling over squabbling mafiosi.

Fragmenting power actually increases the demand for mediation services. Under his plan, he will remain the essential man, and indeed become even more essential because under it there will be more disputes and more disputants.

So Pelosi’s phrase is apt, though her application to Trump is not: in Russia, all roads lead to Putin, and this new plan is designed explicitly to keep it that way.

Perhaps the diminution of his formal powers will impede his effectiveness as a mediator. But maybe not: a strong case can be made that he’s not a successful balancer because he’s president, but he’s president because he’s a successful balancer. The need for someone to play that role, and his unchallenged effectiveness in playing it, will remain. The formal appurtenances are of secondary importance.

In other words–no surprise here–Putin is designing a system that will perpetuate his role in a highly personalized, de-institutionalized political system.

Many Russians will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief, as this reduces the uncertainty surrounding his leaving the presidency in 2024. But their relief is only temporary, as this merely kicks the can down the road, and as we know, roads in Russia are horrible.

That is, this plan only defers answering the question: who replaces Putin? Maybe this maintains stability while he is alive–and sentient–but his life will end, and his physical and mental powers are likely to decline substantially before that time. What then?

The post-Putin transition was almost guaranteed to be a chaotic and vicious power struggle because of the highly personalized and de-institutionalized nature of the system he created. If anything, his proposed alternative is even more personalized and de-institutionalized because he will play the same functional role, but in an even less formalized structure. This, combined with the creation of new fiefdoms (e.g., by empowering the Duma) is likely to make the succession struggle even more fraught.

As the old commercial said: you can pay me now, or pay me later–with the implication that paying later will be far more expensive. So it will be in Russia, as in oil filters.

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January 11, 2020

Contingency and Coordination in Iran

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:03 pm

Totalitarian regimes are acutely aware of the old adage: “there’s strength in numbers.” What they fear most is mass protest on a scale that can only be repressed with draconian brutality that further undermines whatever internal and external legitimacy they have.

The biggest problem that those who oppose such a regime face is coordinating such a mass protest. Who wants to be the first to step out, uncertain of how many will follow?

This is why such regimes devote considerable resources to impeding coordination. The measures they adopt include propaganda, which supports preference falsification and spreads doubt among individuals about how widely their dissatisfaction is shared. Another is brutal repression: cracking down hard on those who rise up even without universal support, pour encourager–ou, réellement–pour discourager les autres.

We have seen both of late in Iran. The organized mass funerals and mass displays of public bereavement for Suleimani is an example of propaganda at work. The (ironically, Suleimani-directed) brutal repression of anti-regime protests over fuel price hikes is another.

But sometimes chance events create a rallying point that overcomes the coordination problem. Something that is so universally reviled among the public, and which everyone in the public knows that everyone else reviles, can coordinate the spontaneous mass resistance that totalitarian leaders dread.

We may be seeing that in Iran this very moment. The admission–mere hours after statements saying that it was an impossibility–that the IRGC had shot down a civilian airliner, killing 176 people, has catalyzed mass protest in Iran. Among the chants: “Soleimani was a murderer, his Leader is too.” And “Reza Shah, Reza Shah, Rest In Peace!” And, most ominously for the regime: “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, we are all in this together.”

The shoot-down encapsulates the incompetence, brutality, and lies of the regime. It is out there for all to see, inside and outside Iran. It is exactly the kind of event that is most likely to unify discontented Iranians, and to overcome the coordination problem.

By the nature of such social phenomena, there is a positive feedback mechanism. If enough people rise up, that encourages even more to do so. It is precisely this feedback mechanism that leads totalitarian regimes to devote inordinate efforts to prevent it from starting. But sometimes chance–or a moment of cosmic incompetence and brutality that everyone can witness–overwhelms those efforts.

It is too early to see whether the grotesque murder of 176 people will culminate in the fall of the mullahs. But is the kind of thing that is most likely to do so. An act that all can witness. An act that implicates the regime. An act that evokes universal revulsion. No one has any doubt that most Iranians are shocked by what happened.

These events bring moments of truth to totalitarian regimes. Do they have the will to exert the force necessary to crush them, when the world is watching? Totalitarian regimes that survive do. Those that don’t, don’t. The jury is out on the mullahs.

They enter this crisis without their most reliable enforcer, who was just incinerated by the United States, which touched off the string of events that are climaxing in the streets of Iran. That changes the odds considerably.

This demonstrates the contingency of history, and the law of unintended consequences. Most of the criticism of Trump’s decision that has focused on unintended consequences has emphasized bad potential outcomes. But this string of contingent events shows that unintended consequences can lead to pleasant surprises too.

We shall see.

One last comment. The events in Iran demonstrate, as if further demonstration is needed, the fatuity of the American media. We have witnessed more than a week of fawning over Suleimani, with an emphasis on how universally beloved and revered he is.

Apparently, not so much.

Will the American media admit error? I don’t know about where events in Iran will lead but I do know the answer to this question: Never.

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January 9, 2020

It Is Better to Be Feared by the Mullahs Than to Be Loved By Them (Which Will Never Happen Anyways)

Filed under: Energy,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:29 pm

Where’s my World War III? I was promised a World War III!

As for indicators that the fact that the US blowed up Qassem Suleimani real good will not set off WWIII, or even Middle East Regional War MCCCLV, look at the oil price: it’s lower today than when Gen. Suleimani’s bell tolled.

The vaunted Iranian retaliation was of the “we have to do something but please don’t hurt me anymore” variety: they launched a few missiles towards bases in Iraq, and fewer still landed there, and those few that landed did not even inflict a scratch on an American.

This allowed Trump to act magnanimously. And limit his response to imposing more sanctions.

That is, the Dirty Harry equilibrium appears to be playing out. A rational thug put his hand on the gun, looked into the muzzle of a 44 magnum, and thought the better of it. Expectations have been reset. Deterrence has been revitalized.

“It is better to be feared than loved, when one cannot be both.” There is no way in hell the mullahs will ever love us: so fear it has to be.

There is other evidence that the mullahs and their security forces were petrified at the prospect of a robust US counterstrike–tragic evidence. It appears increasingly likely that a Ukrainian 737 that went down about the time Iran shot off its missiles was shot down by the Iranians. Interested parties–the US (though not yet officially), Ukraine, and Canada (which had many nationals on board)–have said it was highly likely that was indeed the case. Occam’s Razor says the same: the likelihood of a relatively new 737 spontaneously catching fire and crashing with no communication from the pilots is small indeed.

Shooting down a civilian airliner betrays an extremely jumpy–i.e., afraid–Iranian military that was dreading a US strike. It is horrible outcome–but one that rests entirely on the mullahs.

But not in the minds of many of the American “elite.” Apparently a memo went out dictating that talking heads assert that the plane was the victim of “crossfire,” and that the US generally, and Trump specifically, was to blame.

Representative of this regurgitation of the crossfire talking point was Susan Hennessey, well-known member of Lawfare, and hence a polyp in the colon of “The Resistance” and the deep state:

Hennessey received much push-back on her “crossfire” remark (as apparently did NBC journalist Heidi Przybyla, who cravenly deleted her tweet), and she felt compelled to respond, pissily:

Susie brings to mind Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. ” To non-Humptys, the word “crossfire” requires, you know, at least two people shooting. There was only one party shooting (evidently) in Iran. That being Iran. The US fired nary a shot after Senor Suleimani bit the dust.

Insofar as this was a consequence of Trump’s decision to respond to Suleimani’s extremely long history of terror–a history he reveled in–and the threat of terror to come, that is also squarely on the mullahs. They acted as if there were no consequences that they weren’t prepared to accept. Then there were. And then they panicked, and killed a further 176 people.

But everything must be blamed on Trump. Everything.

Along these lines, the media keeps slobbering over Suleimani, telling us how universally revered he is in Iran (while ignoring the other places in the Middle East where he is hated), and speaking in awed tones about the crowd at his funeral.

Arguendo, let’s assume that he is/was universally venerated in Iran. That is, a man who avowedly hated the United States, and ceaselessly waged war on it, and panted for its destruction (and that of Israel). What would that say about Iranians, and their attitude to the US?

Is that really the mullaphiles want to convey? Or are they just too stupid to grasp the implications of their idolatry?

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January 6, 2020

Media and Political Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing (Except, Perhaps, Severe Mental Defect)

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:09 pm

The obliteration of Qassem Suleimani has done a great public service, if only for demonstrating the extreme levels of mental retardation among the so-called “elite.”

ZOMG! This will start WWIII.

Which is an extreme dumbing down of the concept of WWIII, which formerly was used to refer to a conflict between two powers possessing tens of thousands of nuclear warheads, and alliances encompassing dozens of nations. Iran has no nukes, and no allies. So other than that–totes the same!

A corollary stupidity is: ZOMG! They will reintroduce the draft! (Note that the Selective Service website crashed because of queries prompted by Gen. Suleimani’s impromptu car-b-que.)

ZOMG! Iranians are in the streets, chanting “Death to America!”

Which they’ve been doing for 40 effing years.

ZOMG! The Iranians will retaliate with terrorism!

Which they’ve also been doing for 40 effing years.

And let’s apply a little game theory. The equilibrium prevailing prior to January 2 could be characterized as the Chump Equilibrium. The Iranian leadership, Suleimani most notably, clearly believed that they could engage in a significant level of asymmetric warfare against the US without fear of serious retaliation or escalation from the US. The best evidence of this is the brazenness with which Suleimani operated.

Iranian beliefs were fully consistent with past American behavior. This explains their escalation in Iraq and elsewhere.

But then Trump demonstrates conclusively that the old beliefs are incorrect by smoking Suleimani. Whereas before, the mullahs and their military and paramilitary henchmen could operate on the belief that the US would not target their sorry selves, they now have to assign a considerable probability to the possibility that if they take American lives, they will pay a very personal cost.

So we have transitioned to the Dirty Harry Equilibrium: “Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

In the original Dirty Harry, the rational thug backed off: the crazy thug didn’t, and took a 44 magnum round to the chest.

We will now see whether the mullahs are rational thugs, or crazy ones. Personally, it doesn’t really matter to me. Or to reprise another Dirty Harry trope: “Go ahead. Make my day.”

The Iranians will certainly “play” crazy, in the hope of buffaloing the Euroweenies and the bedwetters in the US. Here, the very fact that said Euroweenies and bedwetters are virulently anti-Trump means this is another losing tactic, for this means that Trump DGAFF what they think or what they say.

So my prediction is that the intensity of Iranian asymmetric warfare will decrease, not increase.

There is other evidence that Trump has totally upended the mullah’s calculations. They are suffocating under the sanctions that Trump has imposed, and have engaged in various provocations (shooting down a US drone, attacking Gulf shipping and Saudi oil installations), almost certainly in the hope of provoking a response (e.g., a bombing campaign against Iran) that would that would rally world opinion behind Iran, eventually leading to the lifting of sanctions.

But Trump didn’t fall for that. Instead, he made a completely unexpected play greatly raised the dangers the mullahs face, and which did not create the innocent victims that the mullahs were hoping to exploit to undo the sanctions regime that is throttling them.

Not that the retarded elites in the US, and the West generally, have not done their level best to make Suleimani look like an innocent victim. The slobbering and blubbering over this evil thug in the media precincts, and the Democratic Party (same diff, I know) is a sight to behold.

Which will also redound to Trump’s benefit, as the Americans the Democrats need to persuade will be revolted by their eulogizing and lionizing someone who has waged war against the US for his entire adult life, and who reveled in killing and maiming Americans.

If anything, the idiocy is metastasizing, rather than abating. Today the media seized on an alleged letter from a US brigadier general to some Iraqi military figure, supposedly stating that the US was preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

Why would anyone take this seriously, or without a Siberian salt mine? Consider the problems:

  1. The letter was not signed.
  2. Does anyone with two synapses to rub together believe that such a major decision would be communicated first by an Army BG, rather than by the President, the Secretary of State, or the Secretary of Defense? FFS, there are BGs who serve coffee in Pentagon meetings.
  3. What is the likelihood that this represented US policy a mere hours after the cause of yesterday’s media freakout: Trump’s tweets saying that the US would not leave Iraq until they paid billions for the bases we built, and if they tried to force the US out, we would impose sanctions that would make those imposed on Iran “look somewhat tame by comparison”?

The story is now that this was a draft of a letter regarding redeployments within Iraq, and was sent without authorization–or a signature! Maybe–or maybe it is part of some accidentally-on-purpose psyop. It definitely psyched out the media.

But regardless, rather than expressing skepticism, the media ran with it, breathlessly–and brainlessly. (And maybe that was the point of the psyop–to demonstrate just how retarded the media is.)

Nigerian princes should focus their email scams on journalists. They’ll believe anything, apparently.

Another story making the rounds (courtesy of the NYT–you’ve been warned) is that, based on anonymous sources (I’m sure you’re shocked) the US military presented Trump with many options, and included whacking Suleimani as the extreme option, expecting Trump to choose the middle door instead. They were shocked, shocked!, that Trump went for the extreme.

Remember: there are loads of Obama-appointed people embedded throughout the government, including at high levels of the armed forces. Take every leak with a huge degree of skepticism.

And of course there is a counter narrative, 180 degrees from the NYT version. The WaPo states that Pompeo had been pushing to kill Suleimani for months, and that it took considerable persuasion, and the removal of numerous Pentagon officials, to get Trump to agree.

So take your choice. But discount both.

The fact is that Suleimani is dead, and that as a result the mullahs have to think seriously that Lockheed Martin or Boeing is putting the finishing touches on a toy with their name on it. All of the rest is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Or less than nothing.

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January 3, 2020

Suleimani the Not So Magnificent

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:15 pm

If reality mirrors Beetlejuice, wherein you spend eternity in the condition in which you left this mortal coil, sometime last night a cloud of pink mist reeking of RDX and rocket fuel wafted through hell, that being all that was left of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force commander Qassem Suleimani after an aptly named Hellfire missile interrupted his trip from the Baghdad Airport. I’d say rest in pieces, but I don’t think there are any.

I asked an Iranian friend what he thought. Beyond being giddy (for pace the WaPo, not every Iranian “revered” the thug or hates Trump), he related that he had been reading the “regime media,” and that it was in a state of “absolute shock.”

As well it might. Suleimani was no doubt shocked, or would have been in the instant before Hellfire lived up to its name. He obviously thought he was untouchable, shuttling between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, frequently appearing in public, and pretty much living the life of a terrorist rockstar who never dreamed that Great Satan (or even Little Satan) would attack him personally.

And perhaps that sense of impunity was understandable. The Bush and Obama administrations blamed him personally for hundreds of American deaths–and did nothing. They restrained the Israelis from snuffing him.

And Trump did nothing after Iran shot down an American drone. Or after attacks on Gulf shipping. Or after an attack on the most important Saudi oil installation.

Complacency is quite understandable, therefore.

So what changed? Well, in fact Trump made this abundantly clear, and did so on Twitter of course. Under Suleimani’s direction, Iraqi militias killed an American, launched an attack on sovereign US territory (its embassy in Baghdad) and was apparently planning additional attacks on American. Trump said if you kill Americans, you will pay. And he said that wasn’t a warning, it was a threat.

Khameini retorted “you can do nothing.” And Trump replied: “Really? Hold my Diet Coke.”

Trump’s red line is clear as day: Iran kills Americans, and he will kill those responsible. A return to the “Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead” model of foreign policy, but expressed via Twitter rather than the telegraph. And using Hellfires and JDAMs rather than the Marines or gunboats.

The conventional wisdom set is of course in a state of apoplexy. Despite the fact that Suleimani gleefully directed the deaths and maiming of hundreds of Americans, the media and Democratic politicians engaged in a frenzy of but tweeting; “Yeah, he was horrible, but . . . ” Hell, some skipped over the horrible part altogether and made the guy sound like some sort of paragon.

The most comment lament–shriek would be more accurate–is that this will cause a massive retaliatory response from Iran. Really? These people remind me of the See-and-Say Barbie my daughters used to play with: pull the string, and they say the same damn thing over and over.

The Iranians will no doubt compelled to do something, but Trump has obviously completely upended their assumptions about American responses to their actions. They killed one American contractor, threaten our embassy, and we take out their most important operational figure.

The Iranians, unlike the bleating conventional wisdom complex, understand escalation dominance. The American capacity to escalate dwarfs Iran’s. The US can extirpate Iran, or its leadership, or its military capability, or any inconvenient individual. The American potential for escalation dominance in beyond question.

The mullahs of course knew this, but clearly doubted the American will to escalate in a way that seriously threatened them. Hence Suleimani’s hubristic existence up to the moment of his vaporization.

The mullah’s palpable shock demonstrates that they now understand Trump’s will is far different from his predecessors, or that of the foreign policy establishment in the US.

Deterrence requires a combination the capability to destroy and the will to use it. The capability has always been there. The Iranians now know that they have to dramatically alter their assessment of the will.

Given that, don’t be surprised if the hand wringers are wrong. Again.

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December 30, 2019

The Necessity of an Armed Citizenry, Demonstrated

Filed under: Guns,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:35 pm

Yesterday, in the Dallas suburb of White Settlement, TX*, a repeat felon attended Sunday worship at the West Freeway Church of Christ, drew a shotgun, and opened fire, killing two people.

Within seconds, this piece of human offal was dead, killed by Mr. Jack Wilson, a parishioner working as a volunteer in the church security detail. Seconds after Mr. Wilson put down the thug, several other armed parishioners–also volunteers–were running to the sound of the shooting, ready to confront the assailant. But due to Mr. Wilson’s incredible gunmanship, there was no need.

And when I say incredible gunmanship, words fail. His was an unbelievable, awesome shot, as the livestream from the church service shows (starting about 2:37 of the video):

I am in awe of that shot. Probably around 40 feet way, he put the guy down. Not on the range shooting at paper. But in real life, with two friends already down, and a killer looking for another target. Long range plus pucker factor make that a truly remarkable shot.

I am not a slouch with a pistol, but I would never take that shot expecting a one shot kill: I would just hope to get the assailant on the defensive, keep firing, and hope to buy time for people to take cover and for backup to arrive. But he put one in the thug’s apple, and it was over.

Mr. Wilson was a parishioner, not a professional–though he does own a gun range, and obviously uses it. Nor were any of the others who leapt into action professionals: they were just parishioners, who had taken some training, and were ready to defend their friends and loved ones.

Unfortunately, the first man shot was also ready to defend, but could not draw quick enough. He paid for that with his life. But even then, his going for a weapon undoubtedly saved other lives by drawing the assailant’s attention to him. Which would not have happened were he not armed.

In 2017, in the aftermath of a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX, the state passed a law permitting the carrying of firearms in places of worship (which had been prohibited hitherto). Of course, that law caused the usual suspects to harrumph at the knuckle dragging Texans. These included the early-stage (or maybe not so early-stage) Alzheimer’s sufferer who is currently leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination:

Seems pretty rational in retrospect, eh?

It also included Mr. Expert on Everything, the Naval War College’s Professor of Gasbaggery, Tom Nichols.

And the fact that armed citizens prevented true mayhem, other assorted idiots felt obliged to weigh in. Such as one Shannon Watts, who apparently thinks that the thug that entered the church with an intent to murder would have been deterred from doing so before the change in the law:

Or there’s Cathy Young (she has a blue check!), pathetically attempting to defend Tom Nichols:

Einstein: the security guards were parishioners. Presumably Cathy would rather put her life in the hands of a mall rent-a-cop. Hell, I would much rather put my life in the hands of Mr. Wilson, who clearly can shoot better than 95 percent of actual cops–hell, maybe 99 percent. Nobody was “firing at random.” Mr. Wilson fired with a purpose–and with deadly aim.

And then there are The Professionals who think you are just too damn incompetent to defend yourself, or fellow worshippers:

I think I recall an episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Barney Fife told Gomer pretty much the same thing.

And thousands of training hours? As if.

But here’s the thing. Even if cops could shoot better than Annie Oakley, they can’t shoot someone if they ain’t there. They’re really good at putting up the crime scene tape around your corpse, and putting those cute little flags in the locations of the spent shell casings, but that doesn’t do you a helluva lot of good when someone opens fire, does it?

And news flash: They ain’t Annie Oakley.

Then there are other blue check bozos who think that killing just isn’t the answer:

Pretty sure there are dozens of people in White Settlement, TX who beg to differ. Mr. Wilson’s head shot decisively solved the problem of a bad man with a shotgun, intent on mayhem. Some people just need killing.

An armed citizenry is not a sufficient condition to prevent mass shootings. But it is a necessary condition, or damned close, both for the deterrent effect, and because of the greater potential to incapacitate a shooter. These things happen in seconds, and law enforcement will always be too late to do anything about it.

But the drumbeat on the left is to disarm the law-abiding, and thereby empower the murderous. White Settlement shows how insane–and frankly, evil–that is.

*The name of this little town is no doubt shocking to modern sensibilities. It was given to a pioneer community in the 1840s by the local Indians because it was the only non-native settlement for miles around. The town is clearly unashamed of its name, having voted down by a 4-to-1 margin a proposal to change it some years ago.

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December 27, 2019

China Syndrome–Or Socialism Syndrome?

Filed under: China,Climate Change,Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 2:20 pm

China’s economy exhibits numerous symptoms of severe weakness that even its most world-class product–economic statistic manipulation–cannot conceal. One indicator of this is an increasing number of bond defaults (more on this in a bit). But there are others. Such as imposing the death penalty on the CEO of a large bank, pour encourager les autres, presumably.

Perhaps the best indicator is the palpable indication of nervousness at the highest echelons of the political (i.e., CCP) leadership. For example:

As China struggles to deal with the slowdown of the world’s second-largest economy, it has embarked on a new strategy of placing financial experts in provinces to manage risks and rebuild regional economies.

Since 2018, President Xi Jinping has put 12 former executives at state-run financial institutions or regulators in top posts across China’s 31 provinces,regions and municipalities, including some who have grappled with banking and debt difficulties that have raised fears of financial meltdown.

Only two top provincial officials had such financial background before the last big leadership reshuffle in 2012, according to Reuters research.

This is utterly futile. Although it reflects a realization by Xi and his minions that there is a problem, it also reflects that they have no idea what the cause of the problem is. Indeed, it shows that they are completely captured by their worldview, which believes that China will achieve wealth–and world domination–via the wise guidance of the Party and its enlightened leadership. (This worldview is not limited to Chinese Party cadres–the likes of Tom Friedman and Naomi Oreskes* and numerous other bon savants in the West share it.)

Their solution is a symptom of the problem. China’s current incipient crisis is a direct result of its economic model, which relies on state-directed investment to meet growth targets. No, there is not a granular, proscriptive investment program a la Stalin’s USSR. But provinces and local governments face strong incentives to meet growth targets that are most readily met via massive investment in infrastructure and housing: that these kinds of projects create corruption opportunities is just part of the incentive structure. Further, the financial system, with its repression of consumption and flip-side of subsidized credit, has provided further incentives to indulge the edifice complex.

This has resulted in massive malinvestment. The financial straits of these government entities, and the financial entities that have funded them, are merely a manifestation of the malinvestment: the investments have not generated returns sufficient to cover the costs of financing them. This is pretty amazing, given the magnitude of the direct and indirect subsidies.

Appointing managers with more “expertise” to exercise control at the sub-national level is not going to fix the fundamental fault in the system. The fundamental fault inheres in the socialist, centralized, Party-dominated, investment/credit-driven model.

The USSR showed that a centrally planned system can generate glittering results in terms of official statistics. For a while. But this largely reflects the flaws in national income accounting, especially in highly state-centric economies. Investment is a cost–a use of resources–but counts as contribution to national income. Pile up the costs at an insane rate for years, and you can show totally awesome GDP growth rates!

But eventually, the chickens come home to roost. If the investments are ill-advised, they do not generate a stream of consumption (and remember that consumption is the point of production, and investment) than can recoup the costs. Honest accounting would require writing down of these “investments,” causing a drop in measured national income. But this is never done.

The Soviet Union went through this “yeah we have problems but we just need better managers” phase. And it was a phase. The next phase was a slide into economic collapse. The phase after that was . . . outright economic collapse.

The Chinese and Soviet systems are not the same. But they share essential similarities, the most notable being that they are/were investment-driven and centrally directed, and horribly misprice credit. The means of direction are quite different, but the ultimate trajectories are quite similar. Investment-driven models that focus on achieving national income growth targets are prone to eventual collapse because of massively perverse incentives that lead to horrible misallocations of resources.

This has interesting short-run and long-run implications for the US (and the West generally). (“Interesting” being the most fraught word in the English language.) In the short run, it provides the US with considerable leverage over China with regards to trade: serendipitous developments, such as Asian swine flu increase this leverage. In the longer run, the fundamental flaws in the socialist model with Chinese characteristics will sharply reduce the Chinese geopolitical threat.

The problem is the interval between the short-run and the long-run. Big powers facing decline or economic crisis are inherently a source of instability. This problem is exacerbated in China, where the personalized, de-institutionalized nature of government under Xi also creates internal sources of instability. Xi is mortal, and has grandiose ambitions: as he sees the time to achieve those ambitions shrink, his incentive to take risk increases. Further, such systems are inherently unstable when the leader dies or becomes incapacitated because of succession crises–crises that are exacerbated by the fact that the ruler has a strong incentive to crush potential successors, rather than cultivate them.

Thus, there is likely to be a period of substantial internal turbulence in China, and this could have dire implications for the US and the world, especially given the changes that Xi has wrought in recent years.

In sum, China is entering the “we need better managers” phase of its development. This is a symptom of socialism, and a sign on the road to severe economic decline. A socialism syndrome, if you will. As an avowedly socialist country, China is not immune. Indeed, methinks it is particularly susceptible, especially given the neo-Maoism of Xi. This bodes well for no one.

*Oreskes is a Harvard “historian of science” who is primarily responsible for manufacturing the factoid (or should I say fiction?) that 97 percent of scientists believe in the threat of anthropomorphic climate change. Per the linked article: Oreskes believes in “change, owing perhaps to a sensible program of environmental regulation under Communism, and vindicating ‘the necessity of centralized government.'”

Sensible environmental regulation under Communism. LMFAO. Every Communist country is an environmental nightmare. I remember reading the official English-language Chinese paper when I was in China in the mid-2000s. It was a litany of environmental catastrophes. I truly shuddered when I thought that this was probably the sanitized view.

And has Naomi been to Beijing in January?

These are our better thans, people. FFS.

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December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 8:42 am

A Merry Christmas to all. ‘Tis the season for giving, and I appreciate the time you all have given over the years to read my musings (and rantings!). SWP will be going into its 15th year in a few weeks–hard to believe. Thanks to all for visiting, and for continuing to visit. I hope I give you reason to continue doing so.

Until then, have a joyous Christmas.



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December 23, 2019

At the Russians’ Feet and Trump’s Throat: Germany’s Nordstream 2 Hypocrisy

Filed under: China,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:46 pm

Last week, Trump signed into law a bill authorizing sanctions against any company involved with the construction of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline. Almost immediately thereafter, Ted Cruz sent a letter to Swiss company Allseas, which is laying pipe, stating that they were at risk of sanctions unless they ceased these operations. Almost immediately after that, Allseas announced that it was suspending work.

And almost immediately after that, Angela Merkel lost her shit:

“We are against extraterritorial sanctions, and not just since this decision yesterday — we also have this problem with a view to Iran,” Merkel told German lawmakers, referring to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from a deal between world powers and Iran meant to curb concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program and the imposition of new sanctions.

“I see no alternative to conducting talks, though very firm talks, (to show that) we do not approve of this practice,” Merkel said during a regular question-and-answer session in parliament. “We will see how things go with Nord Stream.”

You want talks, Angie baby? Talk to the hand.

I liked the part about Iran especially. Maybe she’s miffed because the secondary sanctions make it harder for Germany to help Iran finish the job the Germans started.

There has been a lot of bleating about how this American policy is intended to advance American economic interests, specifically US natural gas producers and LNG exporters. Maybe so, but any such criticism from Germany is an extreme case of projection, given its obsession with promoting German exports, including at the expense of the Greeks, etc.

There has also been a lot of bleating about how this is an attack on an American ally, and Nato. Well, as I’ve written ad nauseum, Germany is a pretty horrible ally of the US, and has been the biggest deadbeat in Nato for years. It spends chump change on defense, and as a result has an air force with few operational aircraft, a navy with few operational ships (and at times no operational submarines), and an army that trains with broomsticks.

Indeed, it is Germany’s persistent failure to pull its weight–hell, to pull Belgium’s weight–in Nato that no doubt makes Trump relish sticking it to them.

Payback is a bitch, Angela.

Further, the bleating about this being an attack on Europe, and Nato, is a particularly bad joke, given that large swathes of Europe and Nato detest Nordstream 2, and view it as Germany selling them out to the Russians. Poland is particularly outspoken on the issue:

“Despite the involvement in the Nord Stream 2 project of companies from some EU countries, this pipeline has never been a European or EU project,” said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski, quoted by the PAP news agency.

“Instead, it remains an instrument for the realisation of Russian economic and, potentially, military policy.”

And it also undercuts Ukraine. You know, the country that Trump allegedly screwed for political gain, and for which Merkel constantly sheds crocodile tears.

That is, the Germans are even more two-faced than usual when it comes to alliances. Their idea of an ideal ally is someone who does what they want and lets them do what they want. Everyone else is an enemy.

The Russian (and Ukrainian) aspect of the story requires Merkel and other Trump critics to give Fitzgeraldian demonstrations of first-rate intelligence, i.e., holding two opposing thoughts in mind while retaining the ability to functoin These people tell us that Trump is in Putin’s thrall. But rather than acknowledging that he has implemented an avowedly anti-Russian policy (and the US has constantly harped on this aspect of Nordstream 2) by sanctioning the pipeline, the Germans and other euroweenies pivot to criticizing Trump for daring to trample on their sovereignty and harming European businesses.

As Churchill said, the hun is either at your feet or at your throat. Here, Germany is at the Russians’ feet, and at Trump’s throat–for having the audacity for going for a Russian economic jugular.

And they are singularly clueless in their failure to recognize that this duplicity is exactly why Trump DGAF about their objections to his policy.

It’s interesting to note that this dispute echoes one of the few serious disagreements between Thatcher and Reagan. In 1982, the Reagan administration was adamantly opposed to the construction of pipelines to export gas from Siberia to western Europe. (Ironically, these pipes are now the ones that are the source of chronic friction between Ukraine and Russia.) Despite her stalwart anti-Soviet policies, Margaret Thatcher supported the pipeline, on purely economic grounds: a UK firm located in economically depressed Scotland was a supplier to the pipeline, and almost two thousand jobs would be lost if they pulled out.

Reagan disagreed on broader geopolitical grounds. But back then, secondary sanctions were not an arrow in the American quiver–and Reagan probably would have shrunk from imposing them on the US’s closest ally. So the pipeline went forward.

Though not without Reagan getting a measure of revenge. The Soviets wanted US software to operate the pipeline, and of course they couldn’t obtain it through legitimate channels. So they tried to steal it, like they had stolen a lot of US technology before. The Reagan CIA was onto this, however, so they allowed the Soviets to steal software that turned out to be a Trojan horse. After a few months of operation, the Trojan kicked in, and completely disrupted the operation of the pipeline–and indeed caused an explosion on the pipeline in Siberia. The explosion was so large it could be seen from space, in what was supposedly the largest non-nuclear human-caused explosion ever.

Now I doubt that Trump would give a go-ahead to blow up Nordstream 2, given that the catastrophe would be in the Baltic, rather than the Siberian wastes.

But I am sure that there are days when he is tempted, given Merkel’s hypocrisy.

Which brings a thought to mind. Another source of bitter contention between the US and Germany is Huawei, which Merkel stubbornly insists on allowing to participate in Germany’s 5G rollout despite the extreme security risks that it poses. If Germany indeed flouts the US’s objections, and there is a subsequent failure in the German 5G system, it would be quite reasonable to collude that this wasn’t an accident, comrade.

Remember, Angela. You reap what you sow.

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