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Chickenhawks – Gene Expression
I know I seem like a warblogger, and I promise I’ll shift to something more esoteric and non-current-eventsy very soon, but check this table out on fatalities by profession. It ranges from 50 per 100,000 for cab-drivers to 100 per 100,000 for fisherman & loggers. Granted, there have surely been work related fatalities in the American military in the past year, but we’ve had about 30 fatalities so far, and perhaps we’ll go up to 200-300 in the current campaign if we don’t get into house-to-house fighting. How many fatalities occurred during the Afghan campaign? Look at this table of historic casualty rates. I don’t do this to say that being a soldier is something that isn’t a big deal-but for me, the “chickenhawk” insult seems less resonant taking into the account the changes that have been wrought by technology in the post-Vietnam era. Casualty rates seem to be approaching the order of magnitude of some of the more cvil dangerous professions. That is most certainly a good thing.
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Information Processing: Remarks on the Decline of American Empire
1. US foreign policy over the last decades has been disastrous -- trillions of dollars and thousands of lives expended on Middle Eastern wars, culminating in utter defeat. This defeat is still not acknowledged among most of the media or what passes for intelligentsia in academia and policy circles, but defeat it is. Iran now exerts significant control over Iraq and a swath of land running from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. None of the goals of our costly intervention have been achieved. We are exhausted morally, financially, and militarily, and still have not fully extricated ourselves from a useless morass. George W. Bush should go down in history as the worst US President of the modern era.

2. We are fortunate that the fracking revolution may lead to US independence from Middle Eastern energy. But policy elites have to fully recognize this possibility and pivot our strategy to reflect the decreased importance of the region. The fracking revolution is a consequence of basic research from decades ago (including investment from the Department of Energy) and the work of private sector innovators and risk-takers.

3. US budget deficits are a ticking time bomb, which cripple investment in basic infrastructure and also in research that creates strategically important new technologies like AI. US research spending has been roughly flat in inflation adjusted dollars over the last 20 years, declining as a fraction of GDP.

4. Divisive identity politics and demographic trends in the US will continue to undermine political cohesion and overall effectiveness of our institutions. ("Civilizational decline," as one leading theoretical physicist observed to me recently, remarking on our current inability to take on big science projects.)

5. The Chinese have almost entirely closed the technology gap with the West, and dominate important areas of manufacturing. It seems very likely that their economy will eventually become significantly larger than the US economy. This is the world that strategists have to prepare for. Wars involving religious fanatics in unimportant regions of the world should not distract us from a possible future conflict with a peer competitor that threatens to match or exceed our economic, technological, and even military capability.

However, I'm not sure that OBOR (One Belt One Road) and a focus on the "world island" of Eurasia will be a winning strategy for China. Mackinder's dream of a unified or even fully economically integrated world island will have to overcome the limitations (in human capital, institutions, culture, etc.) of the under-developed middle...

The belt-and-road express: China faces resistance to a cherished theme of its foreign policy: http://www.economist.com/news/china/21721678-silk-routes-are-not-always-appealing-they-sound-china-faces-resistance-cherished-theme

The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative: https://www.axios.com/staggering-scale-china-infrastructure-142f3b1d-82b5-47b8-8ca9-57beb306f7df.html
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Trump wants a troop surge in Afghanistan — it makes little sense - Business Insider
http://abcnews.go.com/US/us-involved-afghanistan-difficult/story?id=49341264
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/afghanistan-the-making-of-a-narco-state-20141204
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/26/the-u-s-was-supposed-to-leave-afghanistan-by-2017-now-it-might-take-decades/
https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/08/solution-afghanistan-withdrawal-iran-russia-pakistan-trump/537252/
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-macarthur-model-for-afghanistan-1496269058
neo-colonialism, sensible
https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/tora-bora/
The U.S. has been a reasonably successful steward of world peace along some dimensions, no doubt, but we seem to be particularly bad at colonialism for reasons the Battle of Tora Bora perhaps highlights- once a government (or even loosely affiliated military group) is in theory our ally, under our tutelage and cooperating with our military machine, we seem to have no ability to view its actions or abilities objectively. Maybe the reason Britain was, all-in-all more successful as a colonial power despite never exerting the kind of world military dominance the U.S. has since World War II is that, as representatives of a class-based and explicitly hierarchical society, the Eton boys running things for Britain never felt tempted to the kinds of faux egalitarianism that often guides American colonial ventures astray. In his excellent if self-indulgent account of walking across Afghanistan immediately after the Taliban’s fall, The Places in Between, Rory Stewart (an Eton boy turned world traveler and, later, an Iraq War provincial administrator and Tory MP) describes the policy wonks eager to take the reins of the new Central Asian Switzerland in 2001: ...

Mystery deepens over Chinese forces in Afghanistan: https://www.ft.com/content/0c8a5a2a-f9b7-11e6-9516-2d969e0d3b65
https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-geopolitical-importance-of-Afghanistan
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Fatherland | West Hunter
Some have suggested that societies or states  can usefully be thought of as a superorganism, rather like a beehive.  States respond, semi-intelligently, to opportunities and threats. They defend themselves.  They store and make use of information. We may believe that they’re not ‘real’ entities, but then maybe our neurons and our gut flora think the same of us.

This perspective might help us understand United States foreign policy, which generally seems totally gormless.   We seem determined to do expensive and useless things. But there may be a biological analogy.  Maybe the Iraq War, or our government’s  immigration policies, are the equivalent of the peacock’s tail – a case of Zahavi’s handicap principle.  Only a true superpower could get away with acting this stupid.  Of course, this usually applies to sexual selection. No country would want to mate with an inferior nation that can’t afford to produce such wastefully extravagant signals.

All of this implies that mating is on the superorganism’s mind.  I think that this line of analysis has one clear implication: stay the hell out of Florida.
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june 2017 by nhaliday
Paranoid Paleoconservatives | Quillette
longform history of alt-right
The dark history of Donald Trump's rightwing revolt: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/aug/16/secret-history-trumpism-donald-trump
pretty good actually. did not know the "Journal of American Greatness" was a thing and read by beltway types.

also good introduction to James Burnham and Samuel Francis.
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june 2017 by nhaliday
Shoot to Kill | West Hunter
Some people claim that it is really, really difficult for humans to psych themselves up to kill another human. They often cite a claim by S. L. A. Marshall that only a small fraction – less than 25% – of WWII American combat infantrymen fired their weapons in battle.

Other people (Dave Grossman in particular) have built major theoretical structures on this observation, saying that humans have a built-in mental module than inhibits us from killing conspecifics (presumably for the good of the species). Grossman parlayed this line of thought into a stint as a professor of psychology at West Point.

Which is pretty impressive, especially when you consider that it’s all bullshit. S.L.A Marshall’s ‘data’ is vapor; there was and is nothing to it. He made shit up, not just on this topic. There’s every to reason to think that the vast majority of infantrymen throughout history did their level best to kill those on the other side – and there’s a certain satisfaction in doing so, not least because it beats them killing you.

You have to wonder about a universal human instinct that apparently misfired in every battle in recorded history.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/shoot-to-kill/#comment-64667
Name one credible source for this silliness. There are two things going on here: the idea appeals to soft-headed social liberals, and people (like a lot of high brass) that don’t like having to deal with citizen soldiers rather than long-term professionals. I’m sure that the citizen-soldiers of WWII (especially in the US & England) didn’t much like dealing with the professional officers either, mostly because they weren’t very competent.

People are reluctant to get killed. but they’re not that reluctant to kill. They never have been.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/shoot-to-kill/#comment-64687
It doesn’t have to be that way, but that’s the way it was in WWII – for the US and Britain. Maybe worse for England, because the US Army was originally tiny and had to rely more on newbies. I don’t have the same impression for the Germans, at all: they had a much more competent officer corps.

In the American Civil War, many officers were smart. West Point, in those days, was a way of getting a free engineering education – I think they attracted talent. Later, in the US, the Army was seen as a career for losers.

more: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/bad-war/
I’ve read plenty of personal accounts of war – somehow all leave out the bit about the majority of soldiers refusing to kill. They mention different feelings – for example:

“I turned to see a Jap racing across in front of the bunker, a sword flourished above his head. He was going like Jesse Owens, screaming his head off, right across my front; I just had sense enough to take a split second, traversing my aim before I fired; he gave a convulsive leap, and I felt that jolt of delight – I’d hit the bastard! – and as he fell on all fours the Highland officer with whom I’d played football dived on him from behind, slashing at his head with a kukri.”

Sure, they were both Scotsmen, but I think this is not far from the military norm.

The illustration of pike mercenaries is by Holbein. You might enjoy reading about the battle of St. Jacob an der Birs, where 1500 Swiss pikemen saw 20,000 French troops across the river. They charged, which was their way of expressing the natural human disinclination to kill in battle.

doesn't think much of John Keegan: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/bad-war/#comment-65138
scrapping: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/public-intellectuals-pundits-and-all-that/#comment-79192
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Reversal of Fortune | West Hunter
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/reversal-of-fortune-2/#comment-5940
“particularly in the fetus”. You’d think so, but people have looked at Dutch draftees who were in the womb during the famine of 1944. They found no effects of famine exposure on Ravens scores at age 19. Schizophrenia doubled, though. Schiz also doubled in the Chinese cohort exposed to the Great Leap Forward famine.

Cohort Profile: The Dutch Hunger Winter Families Study: https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/36/6/1196/814573
Nutrition and Mental Performance: https://sci-hub.bz/10.1126/science.178.4062.708
Schizophrenia after prenatal exposure to the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944-1945: https://sci-hub.bz/10.1001/archpsyc.1992.01820120071010
Prenatal famine exposure and cognition at age 59 years: https://sci-hub.bz/10.1093/ije/dyq261

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/reversal-of-fortune-2/#comment-5960
You might be right. There is reason to suspect that prenatal exposure to alcohol is far riskier in some populations than others – in particular populations that have limited historical exposure to alcohol. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is very rare in France, for example – yet they drink, I’m told.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/reversal-of-fortune-2/#comment-5961
The kind of conservatism that shows up politically doesn’t have any predictive value. In other words, liars and morons. They’re why God made baseball bats. Once upon a time, I said this: “The American right doesn’t have room for anyone who knows jack shit about anything, or whose predictions have ever come true.” I’ll stick with that.

full quote here: http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/planescape-torment-problems.9208/
The American right doesn't have room for anyone who knows jack shit about anything, or whose predictions have ever come true. Of course they're all liars. In the words of one of their semi-prominent members, himself plenty despicable: "Science, logic, rational inquiry, thoughtful reflection, mean nothing to them. It's all posturing and moral status games and sucking up to halfwits like GWB and clinging to crackpot religion, and of course amoral careerism. " I think my correspondent forgot to mention their propensity for eating shit and rolling around in their own vomit, but nobody's perfect.

lol:
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/reversal-of-fortune-2/#comment-6045
I’ve mused that it’s generally believed that iodine benefits females more than males, and the timing of iodization in the US matches up reasonably well with the rise of feminism…
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Faces in the Clouds | West Hunter
This was a typical Iraq story: somehow, we had developed an approach to intelligence that reliably produced fantastically wrong answers, at vast expense. What so special about Iraq? Nothing, probably – except that we acquired ground truth.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/faces-in-the-clouds/#comment-15397
Those weren’t leads, any more than there are really faces in the clouds. They were excuses to sell articles, raise money, and finally one extra argument in favor of a pointless war. Without a hard fact or two, it’s all vapor, useless.

Our tactical intelligence was fine in the Gulf War, but that doesn’t mean that the military, or worse yet the people who make and influence decisions had any sense, then or now.

For example, I have long had an amateur interest in these things, and I got the impression, in the summer of 1990, that Saddam Hussein was about to invade Kuwait. I was telling everyone at work that Saddam was about to invade, till they got bored with it. This was about two weeks before it actually happened. I remember thinking about making a few investments based on that possible event, but never got around to, partly because I was really sleepy, since we had a month-old baby girl at home.

As I recall, the “threat officer” at the CIA warned about this, but since the higher-ups ignored him, his being correct embarrassed them, so he was demoted.

The tactical situation was as favorable as it ever gets, and most of it was known. We had near-perfect intelligence:: satellite recon, JSTARS, etc Complete air domination, everything from Warthogs to F-15s. . Months to get ready. A huge qualitative weapons superiority. For example, our tanks outranged theirs by about a factor of two, had computer-controlled aiming, better armor, infrared sights, etc etc etc etc. I counted something like 13 separate war-winning advantages at the time, and that count was obviously incomplete.. And one more: Arabs make terrible soldiers, generally, and Iraqis were among the worst.

But I think that most of the decisionmakers didn’t realize how easy it would be – at all – and I’ve never seen any sign that Colin Powell did either. He’s a “C” student type – not smart. Schwartzkopf may have understood what was going on: for all I know he was another Manstein, but you can’t show how good you are when you beat a patzer.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/faces-in-the-clouds/#comment-15420
For me it was a hobby – I was doing adaptive optics at the time in Colorado Springs. All I knew about particular military moves was from the newspapers, but my reasoning went like this:

A. Kuwait had a lot of oil. Worth stealing, if you could get away with it.

B. Kuwait was militarily impotent and had no defense treaty with anyone. Most people found Kuwaitis annoying.

C. Iraq owed Kuwait something like 30 billion dollars, and was generally deep in debt due to the long conflict with Iran

D. I figured that there was a fair chance that the Iraqi accusations of Kuwaiti slant drilling were true

E. There were widely reported Iraqi troop movements towards Kuwait

F. Most important was my evaluation of Saddam, from watching the long war with Iran. I thought that Saddam was a particular combination of cocky and stupid, the sort of guy to do something like this. At the time I did not know about April Glaspie’s, shall we say, poorly chosen comments.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Bari, 1943 | West Hunter
There is no really good general way of estimating which facts that another person has floating in his head without personal contact. The same is true for populations – people in general,  people in particular professions, etc. Sometimes,  though, the utter lack of recognition of what ought to be an obvious connection, the dogs that don’t bark,  makes  clear that nobody in the talking  classes has ever heard of a particular event.

They ought to be talking about Bari, 1943.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
After Xi Leaves U.S., Chinese Media Assail Strike on Syria - The New York Times
But Chinese analysts, whose advice is sometimes sought by the government on foreign policy questions, were scornful of the strike, which they viewed as a powerful country attacking a nation unable to fight back. And they rejected what they viewed as an unspoken American message equating Syria, which has no nuclear arsenal, with North Korea, which has carried out five nuclear arms tests and hopes to mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile.

“I don’t deny that the United States is capable of such an attack against North Korea, but you need to see that North Korea is capable of striking back,” said Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences. “That would create chaos.”

If Syria had nuclear weapons, the United States would not dare attack it, said Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai. “Chemical weapons and nuclear weapons are totally different,” Mr. Shen said. “A chemical bomb kills dozens of people, and the atomic bomb at Hiroshima killed hundreds of thousands.”

Mr. Shen added that many Chinese were “thrilled” by the attack because it would probably result in the United States becoming further mired in the Middle East.

“If the United States gets trapped in Syria, how can Trump make America great again? As a result, China will be able to achieve its peaceful rise,” Mr. Shen said, using a term Beijing employs to characterize its growing power. “Even though we say we oppose the bombing, deep in our hearts we are happy.”

http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/07/what-trump-calls-strength-china-calls-stupidity-xi-jinping-summit-syria-strikes/
https://apnews.com/a01d0cf576e047248bc20439314f7481
https://twitter.com/adamjohnsonNYC/status/850806960526176256
🤔
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/us/politics/what-we-know-and-dont-know-about-the-syria-airstrikes.html
jfc, that was fast: https://twitter.com/BillKristol/status/850089008990494720
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Why Are Chemical Weapons Different?
So what is it about chemical weapons that puts them in the same category? I've never seen anyone explain what it is. Getting killed by mustard gas is surely awful. But so is getting blown up by a bomb. Using one against your enemies gets you branded a war criminal, but using the other doesn't. The Aum Shinrikyo cult conducted a poison gas attack in the Tokyo subways in 1995, killing 13. No one could claim that because they used a chemical weapon, that attack was worse than, say, the 2005 bombings of public transport in London, in which 52 people died.

Tierney argues, "Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms. We want to draw stark lines around acceptable and unacceptable kinds of warfare because the terrain that we carve out is strategically favorable." That may be part of the story, but it's more than just strategic—we want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.
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april 2017 by nhaliday

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