In-Country

Speaking of training and maintenance I found this post at RealClearDefense by Lolita C. Baldor interesting:

A MILITARY BASE IN SOUTHEASTERN POLAND (AP) — On the front lines in Ukraine, a soldier was having trouble firing his 155 mm howitzer gun. So, he turned to a team of Americans on the other end of his phone line for help.

“What do I do?” he asked the U.S. military team member, far away at a base in southeastern Poland. “What are my options?”

Using phones and tablets to communicate in encrypted chatrooms, a rapidly growing group of U.S. and allied troops and contractors is providing real-time maintenance advice — usually speaking through interpreters — to Ukrainian troops on the battlefield.

In a quick response, the U.S. team member told the Ukrainian to remove the gun’s breech at the rear of the howitzer and manually prime the firing pin so the gun could fire. He did it and it worked.

The exchange is part of an expanding U.S. military help line aimed at providing repair advice to Ukrainian forces in the heat of battle. As the U.S. and other allies send more and increasingly complex and high-tech weapons to Ukraine, demands are spiking. And since no U.S. or other NATO nations will send troops into the country to provide hands-on assistance — due to worries about being drawn into a direct conflict with Russia — they’ve turned to virtual chatrooms.

Modern telecommunications certainly change the landscape of battle, don’t it?

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To F-16 or Not to F-16?

There has been some discussion here in comments about whether the U. S. will or will not supply the Ukrainians with F-16s. At 1945 Peter Suciu sums up the question like this:

The U.S. is reportedly discussing the option of sending the fighter jets “very carefully,” even as several issues remain – including the training involved and the fact that a steady supply of spare parts would need to be supplied. However, it is increasingly looking like it will simply be a matter of time until Ukraine is also provided with the combat aircraft.

The remaining questions are how the aircraft would be supplied and maintained. If they’re maintained by American technicians, that will carry a heightened level of risk.

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Delusions of the West

While John Gray’s piece at The New Statesman begins as a critique of Robert Kaplan, towards the end he transitions into remarks on the war in Ukraine with which I largely agree:

The war in Ukraine began not as a tragedy but a crime. Vladimir Putin has prosecuted his “special military operation” with unspeakable savagery. Torture, abduction, sexual violence and targeting civilians are routine procedures for Russian forces. Putin’s avowed aim of extinguishing Ukraine as a distinct culture approaches genocide. Confronted by expanding Russian barbarism, it is unthinkable that the West could have stood aside. In recent months, however, Western objectives appear to have changed. From seeking to defend Ukraine against aggression, the goal has become inflicting a devastating defeat on Russia. For some the aim is to topple Putin; for others it is to break up the Russian state.

By whatever route Putin leaves office, he will most likely be succeeded not by an opponent of the war but by an intelligence insider such as Nikolai Patrushev, the hard-line secretary of the Russian Federation’s Security Council. Others may join in jockeying for power, and a protracted period of instability could follow. In a not unrealistic scenario, the Russian Federation could fracture and fall apart. For evangelical liberals this would be a triumph of self-determination, not only for Ukraine but the nations currently confined in the Russian empire.

Here liberals are engaged in a high-stakes gamble against history. Because it left much of the state intact, the implosion of the Soviet Union was relatively peaceful. But the disintegration of the Russian Federation could be closer in human cost to the complete collapse that occurred a century ago when the country descended into anarchy, with independent states emerging not only in Ukraine but also Siberia and the Caucasus, during the Civil War of 1917-1923. Around ten million people died in battles, pogroms, famines and pandemics. Millions more fled the country.

There are larger hazards. The prospect of nuclear escalation could return if Ukrainian forces threaten to advance on Crimea. Russia’s illegal annexation of the territory was not a Putinist anomaly. The seizure of the region, which is of pivotal geopolitical importance to Russia because of the port of Sevastopol, was supported by Mikhail Gorbachev; even the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has not suggested it should be reversed. Any attempt to recover Crimea will be treated as an existential challenge. If the barrier against small battlefield nukes is breached, anything could happen.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, full-scale nuclear war could kill more than half of the world’s human population through its effects on health and food production. No doubt some will assure us that Putin is rational enough not to commit suicide. The same people tend to tell us he is mad, but never mind. It would be piquant if the modern West – the most intellectually advanced civilisation in history, as everyone agrees – destroyed itself though an irrational faith in human reason.

In any new Russian offensive Ukraine must be strongly defended, with the US and Europe (now including the opaque and devious German chancellor, Olaf Scholz) giving it the arms it needs. But Russia can be permanently contained only by calling on the influence of China, also a repressive autocracy. There is no realistic scenario in which the West, a declining force in world affairs, can prevail over both powers.

We ignore or dismiss Russia’s and China’s national interests at our peril. We should not doubt that certain actions on our part inevitably lead to certain responses from Russia and China. That is where the “tragic realism” that Mr. Gray calls out comes into play.

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Police Culture and Excessive Fear

On the Sunday talking heads programs I’m hearing many, many opinions being expressed about the killing of Tyre Nichols. Some are true, some partly true, and some clearly false.

On ABC’s This Week attorney Ben Crump said something that was true: police culture was a contributing factor in the killing of Tyre Nichols. Then he said something partly true: that the race of the victim was a determining factor. I think that any individual who resists arrest is risking an extreme response by arresting officers. IMO that is particularly true in the case of black perpetrators but isn’t limit to them. Note that I’m not “blaming the victim”. I’m saying that certain actions foster certain responses.

My explanation for the reactions of the police and that of those arrested by the police is excessive fear. The police have excessive fear of black people who are resisting arrest and black people have excessive fear when apprehended by the police. The fear is not irrational but IMO any fear that leads to death is irrational. It’s at least counter-productive.

Then an individual whose name I didn’t catch came on touting federal-level police reform. I’m not sure that federal-level police reform will contribute materially to eliminating these situations because I don’t see it addressing either the police culture or excessive fear that were factors in their happening.

I do think that “qualified immunity” should be ended not just for police but for all government officials when what they are accused of doing is a violation of the law or policy.

The senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, then made a point that I think is nearly completely false and which I would characterize as the “bad apples” theory. If you just eliminate a few bad apples, it will solve the problem. I think the problem is much more inherent than that. You’ve got to look at the people who become law enforcement officers, their attitudes, why they become law enforcement officers in the first place, and what happens to them including but not limited to police training that impels them to act as they do. The sad fact is that any pullback in police activity hurts black people the most. While it may be possible to mitigate the risks I don’t believe they can be eliminated, especially by getting rid of a few “bad apples”. Or enacting federal laws.

During the round table discussion several points were made that I thought were good. The first is that “elite units” seem to be especially problematic in cultivating the notion that the police are entitled to do pretty much anything in pursuing their missions. John Kasich then made the valuable point that ongoing monitoring is a necessity. It’s not just “one and done”.

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The Top 10

I’m a sucker for some of these lists of the Top 10, in this case the American Film Institute’s lists of the top 10 actors and top 10 actresses (whose first film was before 1950), presented by MovieWeb. Here are the lists:

  1. Joan Crawford
  2. Marlene Dietrich
  3. Judy Garland
  4. Elizabeth Taylor
  5. Marilyn Monroe
  6. Greta Garbo
  7. Ingrid Bergman
  8. Audrey Hepburn
  9. Bette Davis
  10. Katharine Hepburn

And

  1. Charlie Chaplin
  2. Spencer Tracey
  3. James Cagney
  4. Clark Gable
  5. Henry Fonda
  6. Fred Astaire
  7. Marlon Brando
  8. James Stewart
  9. Cary Grant
  10. Humphrey Bogart

I find both lists odd, misleading, or idiosyncratic albeit in different ways. I’m not sure how they’re defining “actor” or “actress”. They seem to be striking some sort of balancing act among best actors, biggest stars, top box office, and most important to cinema history. So, for example, I think that Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and Cary Grant are out-of-place among the actors while Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, and Audrey Hepburn are misplaced among actresses although I wouldn’t doubt any of their charisma or importance. I’m judging by acting alone. Monroe in particular only gave one or two really good performances, e.g. Bus Stop.

Some of Hollywood movies’ greatest actors and actresses are missing from those lists. How do you list Jimmy Cagney without listing Edward G Robinson? Not only were Robinson’s performances as gangsters completely equal to Cagney’s but he had more breadth as an actor. See Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, for example. No list of top 10 actors is complete without Paul Muni.

The top 10 actresses list is evenly divided between Americans and non-Americans. I’m not sure how Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich make the cut while Irene Dunne and Norma Shearer don’t.

Comparing the lists is strange, too. How do you put Fred Astaire on a list of greats without including Ginger Rogers, who, in addition to her pairings with Astaire, gave some fine performances in comedies, romances, and dramas? My take is that neither of them belong in these lists if they’re really listing greatest actors and actresses.

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What Is Victory?

Seems like a dumb question but it looks to me as though the Ukrainians, we, and, of course, the Russians have very different definitions of victory.

The Ukrainians have been pretty clear in their definition of victory: an ethnic state within the boundaries that existed prior to 2014 that isn’t under attack by the Russians and, presumably able to pursue those goals without fear of Russian attack.

Our definition is less clear. I think it’s for the Russians not to be attacking Ukraine but others have more expansive goals.

What the Russians’ goals are depend on who you ask. Some say it’s to reconstitute the old Russian Empire. The Russians say they’re defending ethnic Russians in Ukraine. I think it’s pretty clear that the Russians intend to hold Crimea and may think they’re defending ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Whether they’re accomplishing that or not is another question.

The direction in which we’re presently embarked appears to be to pursue the Ukrainians’ idea of victory. Should we support their desire to have an ethnic state within the pre-2014 boundaries? That’s something that has never existed before. I find the notion of Ukraine as an ethnic state antithetical to U. S. Interests. I don’t think that those goals are consistent with our values and are not worth risking 330 American lives to pursue. Other Americans see it differently.

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Kennan on Ukraine

I wanted to commend an article at Foreign Affairs to your attention. It’s an explication by Frank Costigliola of George Kennan’s cautions about Russia and Ukraine. If you’re not familiar with the name Mr. Kennan’s “Long Telegram” laid out much of what was to become our post-World War II foreign policy.

Here are some key passages:

In a policy paper titled “U.S. Objectives with Respect to Russia” completed in August 1948, Kennan laid out the United States’ ultimate aims in the event that the Russians invaded Ukraine. He realized that Ukrainians “resented Russian domination; and their nationalistic organizations have been active and vocal abroad.” It would therefore “be easy to jump to the conclusion” that Ukraine should be independent. He asserted that the United States should not, however, encourage that separation.

Kennan’s assessment grossly underestimated Ukrainians’ will to self-determination. Nevertheless, two problems identified by Kennan three-quarters of a century ago have persisted, particularly in the minds of Russian leaders. Kennan doubted that Russians and Ukrainians could be easily distinguished in ethnic terms. He wrote in a State Department memo that “there is no clear dividing line between Russia and Ukraine, and it would be impossible to establish one.” Second, the Russian and Ukrainian economies were intertwined. Setting up an independent Ukraine “would be as artificial and as destructive as an attempt to separate the Corn Belt, including the Great Lakes industrial area, from the economy of the United States.”

Since 1991, Ukrainians have struggled to establish a territorial and ethnic dividing line while forging economic independence from the Russian behemoth. Moscow has undermined these efforts by encouraging discontent in the eastern Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, fomenting independence movements and now officially annexing four breakaway regions. With years of political and economic pressure and now with military brutality, Russia has tried to thwart Ukraine’s economic independence by disrupting its gas pipelines, grain exports, and shipping.

Even at the height of the Cold War, Kennan insisted that “we cannot be indifferent to the feelings of the Great Russians themselves.” Because the Russians would remain the “strongest national element” in the area, any viable “long-term U.S. policy must be based on their acceptance and their cooperation.” Again, Kennan likened the Russian view of Ukraine to the American view of the Midwest. A separate, independent Ukraine could “be maintained, in the last analysis, only by force.” For all these reasons, a hypothetical triumphant United States should not seek to impose Ukrainian independence on a prostrate Russia.

Should the Ukrainians achieve independence on their own, Kennan advised the State Department, Washington should not interfere, at least initially. It was nearly inevitable, however, that an independent Ukraine would be “challenged eventually from the Russian side.” If in that conflict “an undesirable deadlock was developing,” the United States should push for “a composing of the differences along the lines of a reasonable federalism.”

Another passage:

By 1997, Kennan was further alarmed by Washington’s decision to have NATO not only admit the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland but also to initiate military and naval cooperation with Ukraine. The redrawn line dividing east from west was compelling Ukraine and other nations to choose sides. “Nowhere does this choice appear more portentous and pregnant with fateful consequences than in the case of Ukraine,” Kennan warned Talbott in a private letter.

There are links to several of Mr. Kennan’s letters in the article.

Few of the attitudes Mr. Kennan has described have changed in the intervening years and his views remain relevant. Sadly, we have not heeded him.

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Abyss or Bump in the Road?

On the one hand I’m as saddened by San Francisco’s woes as Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institution is:

No major American city has failed at the same level as Detroit, whose population dropped from 1.85 million people in 1950 to about 630,000 today. Move over Detroit, here comes San Francisco, which lost 6.3 percent of its population between 2019 and 2021, a rate of decline larger than any two year-period in Detroit’s history and unprecedented among any major US city.
Detroit’s fall was primarily driven by the relocation of the US auto industry to southern, right-to-work states, where auto producers, including foreign firms who build autos here, have avoided the union conflict that was endemic in Detroit. San Francisco’s decline is driven by absurdly bad local economic policies. How bad? As some city blocks have been taken over by drug gangs selling fentanyl in open-air superstores (think of an opioid version of Costco, without the membership card), city supervisors have spent their time talking about defunding police, abolishing rent, abolishing prisons, and demanding that if Whole Foods is to be allowed to develop a grocery store in a vacant building in the city, it must include affordable housing.

Some blame San Francisco’s high cost of living for the exodus. San Francisco housing costs have contributed to this loss, but many of those leaving the city are those with very high incomes who can afford to live in San Francisco. Instead, they are choosing to move to locations, many of which are also expensive, that have much more sensible city governance.

They are moving to destinations that do not have San Francisco’s drug and crime issues, its poorly performing public schools, its homelessness, its extremely high cost of doing business, and other issues that people have tolerated for so long, only because San Francisco was once one of the world’s great cities. As someone who loved San Francisco, it pains me to say it no longer is. And I suspect that those who departed San Francisco, whose exits left the city with 60,000 fewer taxpayers, feel the same way.

However, I differ from him in that I don’t think that San Francisco’s problems are much like those of Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or St. Louis in that San Francisco’s problems are completely reversible. Without the manufacturing and related jobs that Detroit and many other cities have lost, as sad as it is to say it, no one would want to live there. St. Louis has a particularly beastly climate. From June 15 to about September 15 both the daily high heat and humidity hover around 100. As I’ve said before I’ve lived through many a St. Louis summer without air conditioning including one working in a steel mill so I know what I’m talking about. None of the cities in that list are garden spots. I doubt that anyone moves to Detroit for the scenery.

San Francisco on the other hand would have people wanting to live regardless of the employment situation. Its problems have been created by reckless governance and are completely reversible by better governance. Whether it will see better governance is another question.

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Will Tanks Be Decisive?

Will tanks be decisive in the upcoming Russian winter and spring offensives? I’m seeing opinions in both directions.

I doubt that the Leopard and M1 tanks will be decisive for reasons I’ve already given: their utility has been overstated, they may not be suitable to task, and, most importantly the enemy always has a vote.

Please persuade me I’m wrong.

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Views on Climate Change

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Bjorn Lomborg writes about polar bears:

The official assessments from the leading scientists who study these animals—the Polar Bear Specialist Group within the International Union for Conservation of Nature—peg the global population today at 22,000 to 31,000. That’s higher than the 5,000 to 19,000 polar bears scientists estimated were around in the 1960s.

The main reason has nothing to do with climate. An international agreement enacted in 1976 limits polar-bear hunting, always the key threat to polar bears’ numbers. Polar bears survived through the last interglacial period, 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, when it was significantly warmer than it is now.

He makes haste to clarify:

None of that means climate change isn’t real or doesn’t affect people or the planet. But to deal effectively with these problems, we need to use good data rather than defaulting to ideologically inspired narratives. It does more good for polar bears, and the rest of us, if those trying to help them use accurate facts.

As I see it there are several different views on climate change. First, there are those who think it’s primarily caused by human action, is a dire emergency, and any data that detracts from that is to be denied and fought. Then there are those who think that climate change is a hoax and anyone who thinks anything differently is either a fool, a crook, or being deceived. Then there are those who may think it’s either true or not but that human action is not the primary agent of climate change and there isn’t much we can do about. If I’m interpreting Dr. Lomborg’s position correctly he believes in anthropogenic climate change, does not think it’s a dire emergency, and thinks that good policy requires looking at the actual data with clear eyes. I think that view approximates my own. The nuance I would add is that IMO anthropogenic climate change is more pronounced in some places than others, local climate change may be a serious problem in some places, but that those places are frequently politically inmconvenient.

Dr. Lomborg concludes:

Relying on the data I referenced used to be uncontroversial. When a CNN science journalist did an investigation similar to AFP’s in 2008, he spoke to numerous scientists and they agreed “that polar bear populations have, in all likelihood, increased in the past several decades.” When polar bears in 2008 were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the decision noted that the population “has grown from a low of about 12,000 in the late 1960’s to a current worldwide estimate of 20,000-25,000.” The data here haven’t changed, only the media’s willingness to disregard annoying facts.

The result is that the public is denied access to accurate data and open debate about these very important topics. Ridiculous points on one side are left standing while so-called fact-checking censors inconvenient truths. If we’re to make good climate policy, voters need a full picture of the facts.

Besides, even today some 700 polar bears are killed by hunters each year. If we want to help polar bears, why not stop shooting them?

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