Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Social Engineering

June 17th, 2015 - 4:25 pm

Ars Technica, describing how China “hacked” the OPM database, obtaining the records of millions of Federal Employees, notes that we should we should use the word “hack” advisedly.  The attackers “had valid user credentials and run of network” which they obtained through “social engineering”.

Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Dr. Andy Ozment testified that encryption would “not have helped in this case” because the attackers had gained valid user credentials to the systems that they attacked—likely through social engineering. And because of the lack of multifactor authentication on these systems, the attackers would have been able to use those credentials at will to access systems from within and potentially even from outside the network.

“Social engineering” for those that don’t know, is an IT security term for “someone gave them the password”. It’s not hard to see how the Chinese might have wheedled out a credential.

Some of the contractors that have helped OPM with managing internal data have had security issues of their own—including potentially giving foreign governments direct access to data long before the recent reported breaches. A consultant who did some work with a company contracted by OPM to manage personnel records for a number of agencies told Ars that he found the Unix systems administrator for the project “was in Argentina and his co-worker was physically located in the [People's Republic of China]. Both had direct access to every row of data in every database: they were root. Another team that worked with these databases had at its head two team members with PRC passports. I know that because I challenged them personally and revoked their privileges. From my perspective, OPM compromised this information more than three years ago and my take on the current breach is ‘so what’s new?’”

Katherine Achuleta, the director of OPM claims that at least she found the “hack” — note the use of scare quotes used to preserve the reputation of real, honest hacking.  ”Archuleta told the committee that the breach was found only because she had been pushing forward with an aggressive plan to update OPM’s security, centralizing the oversight of IT security under the chief information officer and implementing ‘numerous tools and capabilities.’ She claimed that it was during the process of updating tools that the breach was discovered.”

Admiral Kimmel should have used that line at Pearl Harbor. “I noticed the base was bombed and informed Washington immediately.”

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Racial Dolezal

June 16th, 2015 - 6:41 pm

A comment on Twitter asked: what must America’s enemies be thinking of its recent obsession with men becoming women, and white people becoming black?  Even Jelani Cobb of New Yorker has begun to suspect that society has put its foot upon the staircase of madness.

On June 7th, Elinor Burkett published an Op-Ed in the Times expressing what she portrayed as a feminist’s reluctant skepticism about aspects of the transgender movement. She argued, in part, that the notion of men simply transitioning into women was equivalent to a white person darkening his or her skin and professing to be black. The example was meant as a reductio ad absurdum—but, less than a week later, Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a professor of Africana studies, was unveiled as a white woman who has for some years presented herself and identified as black.

Cobb ultimately fights back the momentary worry and denies there anything really wrong.  She decides that fabulism has a good side; that “our means of defining ourselves are complex and contradictory … but … remains vital.” However that may be, she is clearly right in seeing the trend cannot stop at Jenner and Dolezal. There are more “trans” things on the horizon, from trans-nationals who “identify” as Green Card holders to trans-realists who identify with their social media avatars.  Recent events are just the first trickle of stones which precede an avalanche that is sure to follow.

Things are definitely drifting someplace, the question is where. Back in the 20th century, when it was still customary to fear insanity, Harvard University psychiatrist Walter Langer was asked by the OSS to analyze the mind of Adolf Hitler. They wanted to know where the Nazi dictator would finish up. Langer concluded — accurately as it turned out — that he would finish up in a gutter.  Hitler, and the forces he led as a consequence, would simply refuse to accept there might be something wrong and continually double down on the original path. A Wikipedia summary of the report puts Langer’s findings this way:

As the war turns against him, his emotions will intensify and will have outbursts more frequently. His public appearances will become much rarer, because he’s unable to face a critical audience. … From what we know of his psychology, the most likely possibility is that he will commit suicide in the event of defeat. It’s probably true he has an inordinate fear of death, but possibly being a psychopath he would undoubtedly weigh his options and perform the deed.

The scary thing about finding oneself in the  midst of this process is it could be irreversible. It’s Jenner and Dolezal’s world now.  We just live in it. When no combination of words, psychological analysis or even drugs can stop the onset, the only things which the companions of madmen in a castle must consider are a) how bad the final breakdown will be; and b) where to hide when the cultural elites start running around with axes.

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Adverse Selection

June 15th, 2015 - 3:38 am

In April, 2015 Matthew Yglesias argued that president Obama was right to compare ISIS to bees. “Obama trying to reassure children about bees is a perfect metaphor for his foreign policy,” he said. Obama was doing what smart people do, which is put everything in perspective, instead of panicking like conservatives do.  The children in Yglesias’s example, were the president’s panicked critics.:

To understand it, you could do worse than to watch the president attempt to calm a lawn full of screaming children who are terrified of a bee.

“It’s okay, guys,” he says. “Bees are good. They won’t land on you.”

“They sting, and they’re scary!” a child yelled in response.

Like the child frightened of the bee, Obama’s critics have spent most of his time in office slamming him as naive about the nature of foreign threats. Like the kid, they are concerned that Obama is blind to the bee’s menace — or perhaps even in league with the bee and its nefarious agenda. But if you look on the scene with the slightest bit of maturity and generosity, it’s conceivable that the president is actually aware that people sometimes get stung by bees. His point is less that the bee threat doesn’t exist than that ruining a nice event by obsessing over the bee would be counterproductive.

Don’t get it? Let’s try again. In late 2014 Allen Clifton argued in Forward Progressive that the “simple truth” was that “President Obama is Too Intelligent for Republicans to Understand”. Obama could see the big picture, whereas conservatives could not, and in consequence lived in a state of continuous paranoia.

A few years back I worked with a guy who was probably a genius. In fact, he often struggled in life interacting with people because his brain simply performed at a higher level than the average person. I remember asking him what his biggest belief was in making life decisions and he always, without fail, told me “think of the bigger picture.” And while I’ve always tried to be a big picture thinker, knowing him when I did helped me understand it a little better. …

He always told me the biggest issue he faced when dealing with people was that he’d see things in a bigger scope that most people simply couldn’t follow. While many people tend to not see beyond a particular moment, day, week or even month, he operated with a sense of “is what I’m doing now the best course of action to set me up for success not just now, but later on.” …

Which brings me to President Obama. While I’m not calling him a genius, I do think he’s extremely intelligent. I also believe that his tendency to use “big picture” thinking while drafting policy is something most Republican voters simply can’t understand.

A person who can grasp the big picture can think outside of the box and shed the shackles of convention. Valerie Strauss, writing in the Washington Post argued that academia should be confident enough to condemn Shakespeare as passe and expunge his works entirely from the English curriculum. “A new report on the teaching of Shakespeare in higher education found that English majors at the vast majority of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities are not now required to take an in-depth Shakespeare course.” So why not go all the way and expunge the Bard from high school and anywhere else his baleful influence may be found?

I am a high school English teacher. I am not supposed to dislike Shakespeare. But I do. And not only do I dislike Shakespeare because of my own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that I cannot always easily navigate, but also because there is a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of my very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students. …

I am sad that so many of my colleagues teach a canon that some white people decided upon so long ago and do it without question. I am sad that we don’t believe enough in ourselves as professionals to challenge the way that it has “always been done.” I am sad that we don’t reach beyond our own often narrow beliefs about how young people become literate to incorporate new research on how teenagers learn, and a belief that our students should be excited about what they read — and that may often mean that we need to find the time to let them choose their own literature.

In fairness, Strauss’ argument is valid within the context of her own big picture; that is to say her culture.  If any reader finds the bee story and the abolition of Shakespeare objectionable is only because their frame of reference is different  from that of Strauss, Yglesias or Obama.

You may for example be under the delusion that Nobel Prize winning biochemist Tim Hunt should continue at his job instead of being drummed out of public life  over a single sentence he uttered at a conference. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

You might think that Brendan Eich, creator of Javascript and formerly the chief executive officer of Mozilla should not have been blacklisted simply because he had  made a $1,000 political donation in 2008 to the successful campaign for California Proposition 8.  But that is because you think that scientists should be judged on science and programmers on programming.

You might think it would be possible to determine whether someone was male or female, black or white.  But in the culture of bees and trendy authors, both Hunt and Eich deserve to be consigned to the Ninth Circle of Hell while gender and race are merely matters of whatever the narrative requires.

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The Rumble of the Falls

June 13th, 2015 - 4:49 pm

Back in 2010 I predicted that the emergence of a Tea Party challenge to Republican leadership would be incomplete until there was a corresponding insurgency from the Left.

The Democrats have not yet developed an insurgency equivalent to the Tea Party within their ranks. Their base is consequently forced to respond to the economic crisis by pulling the same old establishment levers which only serve to increase their poverty. …

The status quo is clearly in trouble, but it will not collapse completely until its dependents realize that it can no longer deliver the goods it falsely promised them. A revolt within the Leftist constituency led by the constituency itself, rather than their traditional patrons will sound the true death knell for the old system. The Tea Parties can only heighten the issue. But a revolt by the Democatic minority and blue collar constituents will be the coup de grace.

The question is whether the defeat of  Obama’s trade deal signals the start of that revolt.  ”The House of Representatives on Friday delivered a blow, though perhaps a temporary one, to President Barack Obama’s signature goal of strengthening ties with Asia when it defeated one measure, but approved another important to finishing a Pacific Rim trade pact.”

In a dramatic vote, Obama’s own Democrats, as well as Republicans, failed to produce enough support to approve a bill that would have given aid to workers who lose their jobs as a result of U.S. trade deals with other countries. The measure was soundly rejected in a 302-126 vote. The White House dismissed the failed vote as a “procedural snafu.”

That was quickly followed by the House’s narrow approval of a separate measure to give Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. But the legislation is stuck in the House because of the defeat Obama and House Speaker John Boehner suffered on the first vote.

A House Republican aide told reporters that Republican leaders hope to try again Tuesday to pass the worker aid portion of the bill, allowing the measure to be signed into law by Obama, but its chances were unclear.

The Economist writes, “opposition to the president’s trade agenda involves an odd alliance between Democrats who distrust global trade and Republican hardliners who distrust Mr Obama and resent being asked to give him more authority to do anything.” But it is more than that. The opposition was an alliance between conservatives who mistrust the Republican leadership and Democrats who are afraid that Obama is selling out one party constituency, the blue collar workers and minorities, to satisfy the other constituency — the party’s corporate contributors.

The setback was not only a crisis for Obama, but also a crisis for the establishment political class. They ran out of money to pay everyone off. For the administration it portends the makings of a perfect storm. The president’s domestic, economic and foreign policies are collapsing simultaneously. Even if Obamacare survives the Supreme Court King vs Burwell challenge, the high premium increases demanded by insurers across the country suggest it’s already in an insurance death spiral. The problem is that subsidies alone cannot overcome adverse selection. Now with Obamacare dying and the trade dead nearly dead in the water and foreign policy in a shambles, it will be nightmare town for establishment candidates in 2016.

The Republican rebel position is probably best represented by Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who describes the deal as a naked presidential power grab of the constitutional powers of the Congress, cooked up with the connivance of the leadership of his own party.

If, as promoters amazingly suggest, the President had more powers without fast-track, he would veto it. The authority granted in “Trade Promotion Authority” is authority transferred from Congress to the Executive and, ultimately, to international bureaucrats. The entire purpose of fast-track is for Congress to surrender its power to the Executive for six years. Legislative concessions include: control over the content of legislation, the power to fully consider that legislation on the floor, the power to keep debate open until Senate cloture is invoked, and the constitutional requirement that treaties receive a two-thirds vote. Legislation cannot even be amended.

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Five Hundred

June 12th, 2015 - 3:19 am

If the 20th century proved that democracy could beat totalitarianism, the history of 21st so far suggests that dedicated totalitarians can beat the living daylights out of half-baked ones.   All over the world, countries have put their trust in elites.  Now, in the globalized world of 2015,  when every economy aspires to be a crony capitalism — a “mixed economy” to you, the deciding factor in international contests appears to be whether my totalitarian is better than your totalitarian.

After all, the elite are all that matter now. Ezra Klein at Vox expressed his dissatisfaction with the Great Unwashed in a recent article: “Why the most informed voters are often the most badly misled.”  In it he argues that additional information only confirms people in their prejudices.

In 2006, the political scientists Christopher Achens and Larry Bartels presented a paper titled “It Feels Like We’re Thinking: The Rationalizing Voter and Electoral Democracy.” In it, Achens and Bartels make a point that is so obvious we often forget its implications: “Very few politically consequential facts are subject to direct, personal verification.”

In other words, an informed voter rarely knows anything firsthand, the way we know the sky is blue and the sun rose this morning. Everything she knows is taken on trust; an informed voter is only as good as her information sources. And because we all get to choose which information sources to believe, voters with more information are not always more informed. Sometimes, they’re just more completely and profoundly misled.

The answer, he argues is universal voter registration, which will moderate the influence of people who’ve already acquired a point of view. What happens when everyone has been registered and opinionated he does not explain. Fortunately the ignorant and bigoted masses are being retired from any real role in decision making.  In every part of the world the Enlightened are in taking charge.  They even meet occasionally to exchange notes at Davos and in Climate Change events. The rise of the few was inevitable since Marxist-democracy and Islamic-democracy are alike contradictions in terms where nothing after the hyphen can contradict what came before.  Ideologies are jealous; there’s no elite like an ideological elite.

Both Marxism and Islamism are deductive forms of thinking in which little truths flow from sacred premises and which alone can provide the level of certainty that ideologues or fanatics crave. Democracy on the other hand, is unfortunately based on inductive reasoning  where everyone gets an equal chance to puzzle out what reality, the facts or God — whichever term you prefer — is really saying and to make money from it. “While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument is probable, based upon the evidence given.”

Given that it deals only in relative probabilties, democracy is unsatisfying to the committed individual. Democracy often changes its mind, is full of uncertainties, never says “yes” or “no” but only “maybe”. Worst of all democracy recognizes no human institution as the permanent repository of truth, assigning that attribute to God alone, an idea of limited usefulness because no one can definitely figure out what God wants.  All of this sucks for the career superior man.

For all those reasons elitism thrives best in totalitarianism. Once things come down to that then ruthlessness and professional skill are of paramount importance. In that industry the Red Star or the Black Standard of Mohammed remain the premium trademarks, while the Red Rose of social democracy continues to be the off-brand.

This was demonstrated only the other day when Chinese hackers made off with the crown jewels of the Federal Government. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees said in a letter to OPM director Katherine Archuleta that “we believe that the Central Personnel Data File was the targeted database, and that the hackers are now in possession of all personal data for every federal employee, every federal retiree, and up to one million former federal employees.”

The union said it is basing its assessment on internal OPM briefings. The agency has sought to downplay the damage, saying what was taken “could include” personal file information such as birth dates.

Samuel Schumach, an OPM spokesman, said that “for security reasons, we will not discuss specifics of the information that might have been compromised.”

The Office of Personnel Management is also a repository for extremely sensitive information assembled through background investigations of employees and contractors who hold security clearances. OPM’s Schumach has said that there is “no evidence” that information was taken. But there is growing skepticism among intelligence agency employees and contractors about that claim.

They know where they live, literally. According to David Sanger, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times, the only remaining mystery is what took the Chinese so long. “The inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which keeps the records and security-clearance information for millions of current and retired federal employees, issued a report in November that essentially described the agency’s computer security system as a Chinese hacker’s dream.”

By the time the report was published, Chinese hackers had already downloaded tens of thousands of files on sensitive security clearances and were preparing for a much broader attack that obtained detailed personal information on at least 4 million current and former government employees. The agency is still struggling to patch vulnerabilities. …

OPM did not possess an inventory of all the computer servers and devices with access to its networks. It did not require anyone accessing information from the outside to use the kind of basic authentication techniques that most Americans use for online banking. It did not regularly scan for vulnerabilities in the system and found that 11 of the 47 computer systems that were supposed to be certified as safe for use last year were not “operating with a valid authorization.”

The problems were so severe for two systems that hosted the databases used by the Federal Investigative Service — which does background investigations for officials and contractors who are issued security clearances — that the inspector general argued for temporarily shutting them down because the security flaws “could potentially have national security implications.” …

As one senior former government official who once handled cyberissues for the administration, who would not speak on the record because it could endanger the person’s role on key advisory committees, said Friday: “The mystery here is not how they got cleaned out by the Chinese. The mystery is what took the Chinese so long.”

The administration isn’t doing any better against that other brand of totalitarianism, Islamism. Faced with a refusal by Iran to allow an inspection of its nuclear stockpile, the White House is reportedly “searching for compromise” on Tehran’s offer to substitute “managed access” in its place.  After all, a bad agreement is worse than no agreement.  Deductive logic, remember?

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Broken Symmetry

June 10th, 2015 - 5:04 pm

A couple of paradigms appear to be in trouble.  Perhaps the most obvious was the failure of Turkey’s Recep Erdogan to win a parliamentary majority. For years Erdogan had been on an unstoppable march to remold the country in an increasingly Islamist image. “Democracy is like a train. We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want.”  Well the train stopped, but not at the station Erdogan wanted.

“Erdoğan’s ambition to transform Turkey to an executive-style presidential system of government is now over,” says Fadi Hakura, a specialist on Turkish affairs at Chatham House, London. “The silver lining in this election is that voters in Turkey have clearly rejected the creation of a super powerful presidency, but what happens next is not at all clear.”

For the first time since sweeping into power in 2002, Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority, falling 18 seats short of the 276 needed to govern alone in Ankara’s 550-member parliament. But with all three opposition parties having campaigned against Erdoğan, forming a coalition will be difficult.

If the AKP, with 258 seats, is unable to form a governing alliance within 45 days after official results are confirmed, Turkey could be in for another round of elections.

Now, like Cary Grant in North By Northwest,  Erdogan is standing in a field in the middle of nowhere, wondering what happens next.

Some observers argued that Erdogan believed that a new era of Islamism had dawned and tried to ride the wave.  But those ambitions came crashing down as the Islamist tsunami went terribly, horribly wrong.  Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor quoting a Turkish political science professor wrote: “What Turkey intended to do in the Middle East, the opposite emerged,” says Mr. Bagci a professor of international relations at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Erdogan had apparently bet on the wrong Strong Horse.

Turkey over the past four years “has been part of the problem,” says Behlul Ozkan of Marmara University in Istanbul. He says Syria has become Turkey’s Afghanistan, with Turkey playing the role of Pakistan – facilitating radical groups across the border that risks humiliation and destabilizing blowback back home. …

“They became in their foreign policy part of the Muslim Brothers,” says Bagci. “Even today the president is supporting the Muslim Brothers. It became an ideological foreign policy, [that] was not anymore rational [or] interest-based.”

“The AKP expected that, similar to Turkish Islamists, Egyptian, Syrian, and Tunisian and Libyan Islamists will come to power. But Turkey’s experience is completely different; it’s an exception – they made a wrong analogy,” he says.

“They thought that Turkey could be an imperial power in the region, [but] because Islamist parties failed, for different reasons, this pan-Islamist AKP foreign policy also collapsed,” says Ozkan.

The other leader who recently found himself having second thoughts about the Brothers is president Obama. He was the other person who thought to ride the wave to his advantage.  Reuters reports that “the State Department said on Tuesday it will not meet a Muslim Brotherhood group visiting Washington for a private conference but said its policy remained to engage Egypt’s entire political spectrum.” Suddenly they’re not as welcome as they used to be in Washington.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters the agency would not meet Brotherhood figures visiting Washington but gave no detailed explanation why. U.S. officials had met with Brotherhood figures in Washington in January.

“We’ve decided not to hold a meeting,” he said. “We engage with representatives from across the political spectrum … (I) don’t have any further reasoning than we simply aren’t meeting with them this time.”

The tensions reflect a clash between U.S. diplomats’ desire to deal with the whole political spectrum in Egypt and a fear of alienating Sisi, the current president.

The reason might be,  as the New York Times put it, that president Obama has evolved.  The newspaper went on to list his foreign policy shifts in the region in the last few months from “Obama Likens ISIS to ‘J.V. Team’” to “We Are Not Losing” to “we do not yet have a complete strategy”.  But the more probable cause may have been not ideological evolution but political electrocution.  Like Erdogan, the president has been bucking a string of failures.

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The Vast Pacific

June 8th, 2015 - 6:53 pm

If there’s another war in the Pacific, this is how it will play out.

The hardest of all political facts to change is geography.  Faced with the problem of whether it could project sufficient power into the Western Pacific to defeat a major naval power, the United State’s Navy’s War Plan Orange (WPO) before World War 2 secretly concluded that it could not.   The inner logic of WPO dictated that the relief of the Philippines would have to await the full mobilization of American strength.  In the meantime, it would have to be conceded to its more powerful neighbors.

The persistence of geography was reaffirmed by an announcement, almost unthinkable to the immediate postwar generation, that Japan was negotiating basing arrangements in the Philippines.  The Associated Press announced Manila’s intention to begin negotiations to conclude a Visiting Forces Agreement with Tokyo. “A visiting forces agreement would allow for refueling and other logistical and legal needs for periodic visits by Japanese troops, Aquino told a news conference at the end of his four-day visit to Tokyo. The Philippines has similar deals with the U.S. and Australia.”

The arrangements between the Philippines and Japan recognizes the primacy of geography in two ways.  First, it demolishes the illusion, long cherished by the Philippine left that the US is objectively the primary potential threat to Filipino sovereignty.  China, by virtue of its size, population, proximity and power occupies that factual position.  Second, it concedes that Japan, not the United States, constitutes the major proximate source of reinforcement in the event of a conflict.

The fact is that China is close and Washington is far, far away.

As in the 1941 the basic problem in any conflict is whether the US will  cross the Pacific in sufficient power to make a difference and if it can do so in time.  China’s enunciated naval strategy is to take The First Island Chain and dominate the seas all the way out to the Second.  The problem for the Navy, and for shipping in general, is that the seas between the two chains will be contested.  In fact, controlling this interarchipelagic space is the key to defending both the Philippines and Japan.

The Fateful Seas

Map 1. The Fateful Seas

These waters are in time of peace a highway open to the world.  Upon them today flows the richest fleet of merchant trading humanity has ever seen; it contains the lifeblood of four of the world’s richest nations — China, Japan, South Korea and the United States.  Wiser statesmen would have been content to leave things as they are, instead of being tempted by the weakness of an administration in Washington.  But be that as it may, in time of war these trade routes will become the arteries on which the survival of great nations will depend.  The problem for Chinese adventurism is that making a play for the near seas would bet its entire existence as a modern nation.

Lifeblood of the world's largest economies

Map 2. Lifeblood of the world’s largest economies

Nowhere is the vital importance of these roads clearer than in the flow of oil.  A vast stream of tankers comes abreast of the Luzon Strait before going their ways to supply the economies of Japan, China and South Korea.  Not just tankers, but container ships headed for largest ports in the world along the China coast and in Japan.  If conflict breaks out in the Western Pacific, it’s winner-take-all for either China or Japan.

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The War of the Green Men

June 5th, 2015 - 9:33 pm

What if the world were at war and didn’t know it?

Such an idea seems preposterous.  Shouldn’t we know if we were in one? But the last major war in human memory was World War 2, which, as this visualization shows,  was so obviously devastating it actually constituted one of the “peak” catastrophes of  the human species. It’s an outlier. To use The Big One as the semantic threshold would be to filter out the majority of conflict in history.

Since the ability to attack without actually triggering a response confers a distinct advantage, Russia has actually designed a form of warfare to evade the threshold of cultural psychology and avoid the detection of legalistic minds like President Obama’s.  The approach is called hybrid warfare.  ”Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyberwarfare. … By combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution.”

The Kremlin has already employed this mode of conflict in the Ukraine. Recently, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite warned the West to be on the lookout for “little green men”.  He needs to say this or Washington might not notice.

Lithuania held a simulation in May of separatist groups attacking installations near Russia’s enclave of Kaliningrad, a base of Moscow’s Baltic fleet which is connected to the rest of Russia by a train line through Lithuania.

The exercise was modeled on last year’s capture of Crimea by Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms, who came to be known as the “little green men” when Moscow denied their identity until the takeover was complete.

“We need to learn lessons which we learned in Crimea, which we partly see in the east of Ukraine. Any possible attack, in any form, needs to be taken seriously,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told Reuters in May. “What makes sense for us is to be prepared for anything.”

Once the World War 2 high pass filter is removed, a plethora of events will readily jump out at the observer. Chinese government hackers, for example, have stolen the personal details of 4 million current and former federal employees, possibly in order to identify individuals who can be corrupted, blackmailed or pressured into working for Beijing.  The problem of classifying this event is vexing the administration right now.  Chances are that since they can’t categorize the hack, they’ll throw the fact away.

It was the second major intrusion of the same agency by China in less than a year and the second significant foreign breach into U.S. government networks in recent months.Last year, Russia compromised White House and State Department e-mail systems in a campaign of cyber­espionage.

CNN wrote “the massive hack that may have stolen the personal information of four million federal employees appears designed to build a vast database in what could be preparation for future attacks by China against the U.S., cybersecurity experts advising the government told CNN Friday afternoon.”  Attack is not a word in the administration’s dictionary unless it comes on December 7, 1941.  And even then, maybe not.  China casually announced “that Beijing could set up an air defense zone above disputed areas of the South China Sea if it thought it was facing a large enough threat, according to Chinese news media.”

In November 2013, to the dismay of Japan and the United States, China declared an air defense identification zone over disputed waters in the East China Sea. Chinese military aircraft began requiring all other aircraft flying through the zone to identify themselves, and commercial airliners complied, though the United States sent B-52 bombers through the zone without advance warning to challenge Beijing.

In late May, Chinese officials told the United States to stop sending surveillance flights near land formations that China claims as its territory. American officials say the flights have been over international waters.

What they’ll do beyond observing the fact is problematic. Iran, with whom the administration is in negotiations, undertook to “freeze” its nuclear stockpile and then promptly increased it by 20%. “With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been ‘frozen’ during that period.”

They will probably continue the negotiations notwithstanding because “a bad agreement is better than no agreement.” The Associated Press describes the president’s touching faith in pieces of paper:

JERUSALEM — U.S President Barack Obama reached out to a skeptical Israeli public in an interview aired Monday saying that only an agreement, not military action, can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. …

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it,” he said in excerpts from his interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV’s investigative program “Uvda.”

The architects of hybrid warfare knew paper would be their friend.  They understood that the liberal West was controlled by lawyers operating under the concept of a “rules-based international order”. This legalistic system could only “see” certain facts and was blind to the others. In May 2013, President Obama  demonstrated this selective vision by claiming victory in the “war on terror” (which he soon declared at an end) based on the belief he had degraded “core al-Qaeda”.

He said, “their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.”  Asked about other terror groups, he took shelter in definitions.  But as Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post wrote, Obama’s claim was a distinction without a difference. And indeed, within a few months, the “less capable” al-Qaeda affiliates — the “jayvee team” as Obama called them — had eclipsed the original and taken over large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

An unbroken sequence of evacuations, alliance collapses and the capture of equipment including the abandonment of whole countries like Yemen were described as mere “setbacks” in an overall record of stunning success.  It was as if the administration could not see certain things at all.  The Washington Post’s Liz Sly wrote that “while nobody was looking, the Islamic State launched a new, deadly offensive” against the remaining US backed rebels in Syria. Many US backed rebels are throwing in the towel in dismay.

But it wasn’t that “nobody was looking.” The raw intelligence data was probably there and the military could “see” the raw facts, but their superiors couldn’t recognize its significance.  They stuck in the high pass filter and voila, no signal.

Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command said … F-22 flew surveillance missions tracking fighters on the ground, used its advanced sensors to redirect other aircraft and call for additional strikes, passed along data on its missions and escorted bombers to their targets.  …

Since August, coalition forces have conducted about 4, 200 strikes and dropped 14,000 weapons, Carlisle said. About 13,000 enemy fighters have been killed, and about 25 percent of territory has been retaken. Carlisle’s optimistic statements come, however, as Islamic State fighters have been able to retake other ground, like the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and is still able to heavily recruit to their ranks, both locally and internationally.

The narrowness of the body-count like metrics speaks to the insularity of the administration’s thinking. They can only detect objects within a limited range of frequencies. Everything else is discarded. Foreign Policy noted this on display at a recent summit of Gulf allies.  The adminstration vow that “the security and sovereignty of the GCC states constitutes a red line for the United States” was almost completely obviated by what he said next. FP wrote:

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My Name is Hannibal

June 3rd, 2015 - 8:02 pm

Yahoo says a petition in change.org asking the International Olympic Committee to take back the gold medal Caitlyn Jenner won in the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games has raised the issue of “how to differentiate men and women”.  The petition reads:

It has recently come to light that gold medalist Bruce Jenner is in fact transgender, and therefore, identifies as a woman. We congratulate Ms. Jenner on these new developments and wish her the best. However, this creates somewhat of a problem as Ms. Jenner (as talented as she is) claims that she has always believed herself to be truly female, and therefore, was in violation of committee rules regarding women competing in men’s sports and vice versa. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that we must ask whether or not it is proper that Ms. Jenner should retain her olympic records in light of this, as we must now either claim that Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner are two entirely different people (which we know is not true), or that Bruce Jenner was, in fact, a woman participating in a men’s event.

But it’s worse than that.  The problem it raises is whether we can draw a correspondence between what a person is and the body he/she/it inhabits.  Now it used to be worrisome when one found oneself in earnest discussion with group pretending to consist of Napoleon, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. To join in was itself a sign that you had lost a few marbles recently.  But assuming that both the Yahoo article and petition were written in sober seriousness, then society is now seriously talking on Jenner’s terms.  After all, Jenner’s on the the cover of Vanity Fair and on the headlines of all the major news outlets so it must be serious.

It’s not crazy talk unless the whole world is an asylum.  Of course it can’ be, so Caesar, Napoleon or Alexander, move over and make some room for Hannibal.  Allow me to sit down.

As a society it seems we have pretty much come to the consensus that the Greek bipartite doctrine of body and soul must be true.  Bruce Jenner was tired of being a woman trapped in a man’s body so he’s transplanted himself, insofar as medical science allows, to a new container.  Caitlin is where she wants to be. Then there’s a new category of individuals who wish to be disabled by choice: people who “feel like impostors in their fully working bodies”.  It’s part of a growing movement called body modification.  They’ve even managed to quote scripture.

If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

They too want a rebuild. Oh-kay. Even in mundane situations the public has grown accustomed to the argument that you are who identify as.  For example, Barack Obama wasn’t the first black president — that distinction belongs to Bill Clinton.  Obama is the first Jewish president. David Axelrod relates that the president once told him, “you know, I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office”.  If Jenner is a woman, why can’t Obama be a Jew?

The primary idea in all this is that the essence of a man is distinct from his body and is transferable.  You can be a white man trapped in a black body — like Clarence Thomas. And if that isn’t the doctrine of body and soul then it’s pretty close.  One of the proposed technological implementations of the concept of “body and soul” is mind uploading.  ”Whole brain emulation (WBE) or mind uploading (sometimes called “mind copying” or “mind transfer”) is the hypothetical process of copying mental content (including long-term memory and “self”) from a particular brain substrate and copying it to a computational device, such as a digital, analog, quantum-based or software-based artificial neural network. The computational device could then run a simulation model of the brain information processing, such that it responds in essentially the same way as the original brain (i.e., indistinguishable from the brain for all relevant purposes) and experiences having a conscious mind.”

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Shapeless Narrative

June 1st, 2015 - 9:58 pm

One of the most remarkable passages in the Sherlock Holmes canon is the story about the guard dog that did not bark.

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

Consider the following selection of news articles taken from various media outlets. If you conclude that they resemble nothing so much as a jumble then maybe we should conclude: “that was the curious incident”.

It was the hegemon who gave shape to the narrative; and in fact, set it.  There used to be a predictability about things.  X happened and Y followed. Even in conflict you could tell how the sides would line up. But now Bernie Reeves, writing in the American Thinker notes a certain deflation among the the administration’s supporters. “What I’m struck by whenever I talk to fellow historians and to friends who are well-informed, most of them enthusiastic Democrats, all of whom voted for Obama both times, is a sense of disappointment.” Perhaps “disappointment” isn’t the best choice of words, “confusion” probably being a more suitable term to represent the turn of events.  And now suddenly, nothing makes sense.

Instead of being led into a bright world by their chosen messiah they find themselves in a world where nothing seems to add up, where all the angles are crazy and wrong. America appears to be lying on the floor, as if felled by a stroke, with no memory of how it got there uttering some gibberish about “Glbbl Warmmem”, “Kayee Jennr” and “mamsprdung” and all around it the order familiar to everyone seems to be dissolving into shapelessness.

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