The Purpose is Stasis

Well over a month since the 2016 election and more than two months since a public ODNI assessment of the matter (an organization which represents the combined views of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies), many people seem to be screwing up the Russia hacking story. For obvious reasons, Clinton proxies have hit the airwaves declaring that it was the linchpin upon which the election turned. For equally obvious reasons, the president-elect and his distressing parade of appointees have dismissed it as the work of conspiracy theorists. Adding to the chaos, disenchanted leftists and paid Russian shills have further stirred the pot of unreality, asking (in a baldly false equivalence) why Democrats should trust the same intelligence agencies that once led the United States to invade Iraq. As a consequence, the issue has become muddied. Only 55 percent of Americans are “bothered” by the hacking story, split almost wholly along party lines.

I want to lay down a few points that are, in my mind, abjectly true. Even before the election, I assumed these things were common knowledge. I realize too late they were not. Interspersed here will be my conclusions, based on the facts as I understand them.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00December 27th, 2016|Defense, Tech|2 Comments

What Will Come Now

First there will be the rain of op eds, and as you nod along, the words will taste like ash in your mouth. You will know that all the paper fury in the world will not change this. The people who mattered—the people with whom we lost touch—don’t even read these things anymore.

In time, the fury will fade, because no fire lasts forever. There will be nothing to do but accept it. This is how our nation works.

Accept the result, obviously, but not submit to it all it might entail. The things that he has promised to bring—deportation forces, an expansion of enemy targeting to include women and children, and the return of state-sanctioned torture—cannot be accepted. They must be opposed in every way we know.

(more…)

2016-12-28T22:03:06+00:00November 10th, 2016|Politics|2 Comments

What the Web Used To Be

What is the internet?

Growing up, it was the Wild West; an uncharted expanse where you could happily lose yourself in that six hours between homework and bed. “Going online” was itself a rite: you did not suffer the pain of establishing a dial-up connection unless you intended to linger awhile. Although there were still safe harbors (my first “home base” was the forum board for the original Sims), there was nothing like a Facebook to keep you rooted to the same spot. You explored and saw crazy stuff. You could follow hyperlinks and drift on the fringe from one boutique website to the next, journeying all night without encountering the mediating power of Google or Wikipedia.

I know for a fact that the internet was smaller back then, but it felt like there was much more to it.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00September 5th, 2016|Culture, Tech|0 Comments

Upon Whom to Place the Blame

Donald J. Trump will bear the banner of the Republican Party in November. There is a not insignificant chance that he could become President of the United States. Many Republicans are upset. As #NeverTrump dies with a whimper, woebegone partisans will soon turn to recrimination, asking themselves just how it all went wrong.

In the process, they will strain, eagerly, to cast the blame beyond themselves — to find scapegoats and straw men that somehow trump the terror of Trump himself. As this #BlameOtherPeople movement swells, some members may even jump through the cognitive hoops necessary to cast a clothespin vote for Trump, reasoning that the bigoted insanity of their nominee is not really the fault of themselves or their party. Instead, they will say, it is simply the consequence of being dealt a bad hand. Nothing to do but make the best of it and hope, next time, for better luck.

We should not let them off so easy.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00May 5th, 2016|Politics|0 Comments

A Brief History of Too Much Violence

It was the image of a 7-year-old trauma victim, still strapped in his airplane seat after a 30,000 foot fall, which made me quit my work for the night and go outside to gulp breaths of cold, crisp air. I hadn’t gone looking for the picture — I was doing research on the MH17 crash site — but it was one of the top results, and I habitually zoomed in for a better look. You could still make out the look of terror before explosive decompression had robbed him of his consciousness, hopefully the whole way down.

A few years ago, as talking heads fretted about the increasing photorealism of videogame violence, very few people were thinking ahead to how the web might abet the spread photos and videos of real violence. Yet here we are. In the mid-2000s, raw war footage and snuff films lived only in the dark corners of the internet: carefully guarded torrents and unlisted websites, frequented by a tiny minority of very sick people. Now, at the start of 2016, there’s at most two degrees of separation — a hashtag and a video link — between a funny-but-dumb BuzzFeed article and a choreographed ISIS execution. The worlds are gradually converging.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00January 18th, 2016|Culture, Defense, Tech|0 Comments

Op-Ed Arrogance

I have always wondered what it felt like in Washington, DC in early 2003, as the U.S. military gathered like a storm on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border and the pro-war drum beat reached a fever pitch. I have also wondered how so many smart people were sold on a campaign plan that literally lacked a conclusion.

Unfortunately, I suspect the opinion polls in 2003 looked much as they do now. It is impossible to follow foreign affairs in the nation’s capital and not begin to hear the same distant rhythm: a drumming of op eds and “informed” analyses that suggest a swift Syrian campaign with five or ten or twenty-thousand U.S. soldiers. “Not that many,” they soothe. “Not that long — over before you know it.”

These 500-word war plans (I will not link to them) often read as if they were written by a Henry Kissinger birthday party impersonator, armed with a map, a paintbrush, and too much Vicodin. There are calls for a “Sykes-Picot II” — proposed divisions of Syria so haphazard that they might as well have been the result of a drinking game. References to “Sunni” and “Shia” (and, invariably, “Second Sunni Awakening”) are sprinkled liberally throughout, as if this is the only divide that matters in all the Arab world. There is typically no thought given to either Syrian political economy or Islamic thought. Remarkably, there is also little interest in understanding the enemy. The Islamic “State” is treated like a cohesive political unit; a Nazi Germany transplanted to the twenty-first century.

The answer to this black-and-white problem is invariably the application of American power. According to all these pundit-generals, Iraq and Syria have essentially become a Gordion Knot, their disentanglement tried and failed by any number of regional and international actors. This isn’t because the situation is intractable — far from it! Rather, with bold leadership (i.e. not Obama) and commitment (i.e. boots on the ground), the U.S. can solve Syria the same way Alexander severed that troublesome knot. Wham, bam, easy. Home in a month.

It’s not true, but it sounds very nice in a newspaper.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00December 8th, 2015|Defense|1 Comment

Eisenhower and History

Dwight D. Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends, 1967

My first reading love was ancient history. At an early age, I developed an interest in the human record and I became particularly fond of Greek and Roman accounts. These subjects were so engrossing that I frequently was guilty of neglecting all others. My mother’s annoyance at this indifference to the mundane life of chores and assigned homework grew until, despite her reverence for books, she took my volumes of history away and locked them in a closet.

This had the desired effect for a while. I suppose I gave a little more attention to arithmetic, spelling, and geography. But one day I found the key to that closet. Whenever Mother went to town to shop or was out working in her flower garden I would sneak out the books.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00July 15th, 2015|Gold|0 Comments

The Next Generation

The media loves writing about Millennials. We’re the narcissistic “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Or maybe we’re the pantywaist “Generation Nice.” We’re starting to buy homes. Or maybe we’re not and all the banks are going to explode. We were born between 1980 and 2000. Or maybe it’s 1981 and 1997. We’re going to destroy America! Or maybe also save it!

Two things should be clear. First, if you’re a columnist on a deadline, you can’t go wrong pontificating about America’s most populous generation. Second and way more interesting, Millennials are starting to get kind of old. If the Millennial cut-off line is drawn around 2000 — to account for political realities, let’s make it September 11, 2001 — the oldest post-Millenials are already thirteen years old.

They’re about to be high school freshmen. They’re going to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Some of them may well end up fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq.

(more…)

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00May 31st, 2015|Culture|1 Comment