9/11 + 20

Only a few years after 9/11, I visited an old industrial facility that had been restored to operating condition.  One of the machines there is an attrition mill, which consists of two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions and crushing the substance to be milled between them. It struck me then that America…indeed, western civilization as a whole…is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one rotating disk being the Islamic Terrorist enemy and the other disk representing certain tendencies within our own societies…most notably, the focus on group identities, the growing hostility toward free speech, and the sharp decline of civilizational-self confidence.  The combination of the upper and lower disks of the metaphorical Attrition Mill is far more dangerous than either by itself would be.

It is now increasingly clear how much the ‘woke’ American Left has in common, at a deep level, with movements such as the Taliban–the suppression of free expression, the insistence that all aspects of life be subjected to an over-arcing ideological or religious framework, the hostility toward history and historical objects (remember the Bamiyan Buddhas?).

I have seen numerous articles and blog posts from people who are generally Left or “liberal”, who now express concern about the excesses of the Left and who blame these excesses on a reaction to Trump.  This is nonsense.  For anyone who has been paying attention, the increasing irrationality, illiberalism (‘illiberalism’ in the older sense of the word ‘liberal’), and outright hysteria of the American Left has been clear for a long time before Trump ever came on the political scene.

Within days of the collapse of the Towers, the true face of the modern American Left made itself fully visible. “Progressive” demonstrators brought out the stilt-walkers, the Uncle Sam costumes, and the giant puppets of George Bush. They carried signs accusing America of planning “genocide” against the people of Afghanistan.  Professors and journalists preached about the sins of Western civilization, asserting that we had brought it all on ourselves. A well-known writer wrote of her unease when her daughter chose to buy and display an American flag. Some universities and K-12 schools banned the display of American flags in dormitories, claiming that such display was “provocative.”  There were preemptive scoldings of Americans for the ‘Islamophobia’ that we were expected to demonstrate toward Muslim neighbors.

Attitudes such as those outlined above are no longer a niche thing; they have gone pretty much completely mainstream.  And we have a President the bizarreness of whose thought processes are illuminated by his proposal, immediately after 9/11 to send a check for $200 million to Iran with no strings attached.

And, while in 2001 the only serious external threat we needed to be concerned about was Islamic terrorism, today we need as well to be concerned about the pressures from China.  And, here again, there are behavior patterns internal to America that mirror their reactions to the external threat from the terrorists…see for example my 2018 post, So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention?    Just the other day, I saw a story about an American high school in Colorado which applied for some students to attend a meeting of a United Nations group (the Commission on the Status of Women).  The UN committee that accredits such groups emailed the school and said there was a problem: the school’s website used ‘incorrect’ terminology for Taiwan. The committee suggested modifying it to “Taiwan, Province of China.”  The school gave in to the request.

China has cited ‘improper’ Taiwan terminology to stall applications from at least six other groups, including the World Bicycle Industry Association and a French nature society called the Association of 3 Hedgehogs.  The tentacles of the Chinese regime now extent to all locations in the world and to activities of all kinds.  More here.

I can’t come up with a good visual metaphor for the three-way threat that now threatens  America’s continuance as a free and independent society, but that threat is very real.

There are a few signs of hope. As noted above, some publications that have been aligned with the Establishment Left are now starting to push back somewhat against aggressive ‘wokeism’.  The catastrophe of the Afghan withdrawal has educated some people, especially college-age people, about the fact that America is not the worst nation and the source of all evil in the world; that, indeed, hideous things can be perpetrated by people who are not Americans and also who are not considered White.  The supply-chain chaos of the past year and a half has educated many businesses about the dangers of excessive dependency on China.

And, somewhat remarkably, since 9/11 there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks remotely comparable to that one in scale.  Though how long this situation will persist, given the Taliban’s newly-established full control of Afghanistan, is an open question.

Things are not hopeless, but the hour is late and the situation is very serious.

 

Down the Drain

Twenty years it’s been, as of yesterday. Twenty years and Afghanistan is down the drain, the Taliban back in charge. At least a comprehensive malignant menace like Bin Laden is dead, with his corpse – supposedly – dropped into the deep ocean, although I suppose that his organization staggers on, zombie-like, and possibly subsidized by Pakistan’s secret service. The dust of the fallen towers is settled, and the American troops are home, more or less. Still under a cone of silence as far as the US media is concerned, as are tales of hairbreadth escapes by American citizens, employees, and American-employed Afghan nationals … perhaps they were all made to sign a binding non-disclosure-agreement, as a condition of getting on that big Freedom Bird. Or our national establishment media is doing their bidding, as obedient handmaidens of the Dem party, and doing their best to disappear this latest disaster. Well, good luck with that. There are too many of us out there, and we have a voice, for at least a little bit longer.

Read more

Who are the Afghans evacuated ?

The Biden evacuation was botched. We all agree on that but what happened and why ? The Afghans who were interpreters and who worked with the US military were given, or were supposed to be given, special visas. These were called “Special Immigrant Visas” and were for Afghans who worked with the US. We are now reading that The majority of these people were not evacuated.

WASHINGTON—The U.S. estimates it left behind the majority of Afghan interpreters and others who applied for visas to flee Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday, despite frantic efforts to evacuate those at risk of Taliban retribution.

In the early days of the evacuation effort, thousands of Afghans crowded Kabul’s airport seeking a way to flee the country. Some made it through without paperwork, while American citizens and visa applicants were unable to enter and board flights out.

The U.S. still doesn’t have reliable data on who was evacuated, nor for what type of visas they may qualify, the official said, but initial assessments suggested most visa applicants didn’t make it through the crush at the airport.

The Biden administration now boasts that 120,000 Afghans were evacuated. Who are they?

Read more

Following Orders

The career field in which I served for twenty years was a small one, and one with some inherent peculiarities, one of which was possession at radio detachments of a library of pop music intended for broadcast on AFRTS channels. One of those things which was instilled in broadcast field recruits early on in our training was that no one of any higher rank (or degree of inebriation, often the case) was permitted to remove recordings from our library for personal amusement. Many were the tales of duty E-2s or E-3s refusing such orders from senior officers, who were operating under the (often alcohol-inspired) delusion that the AFRS library operated on the same basis as the local base library. This often happened late at night when the most junior staffers were on duty. That was an order that we had to and would refuse, no matter the rank, and degree of inebriation of the commander demanding it. In that, we could count on the complete backing of our broadcast command, especially when they were informed of it, sometime the following morning. No one, not even (according to some legends, the base or wing commander) was allowed access to the AFRTS library, much less to remove elements of it from the custody of the AFRTS outlet, even if that only custodian was a lowly first-hitch enlisted.

Read more

When the Knowledge Walks Out the Door

Financial Times notes that when cyberattacks occur, it is useful to have some employees around who know how to operate the system…whatever that system might be…without the automation.  And the workers with this knowledge are often those who have been around for quite a while.

The value of older workers with deep operational knowledge was demonstrated two years ago at the Norwegian metals and electricity company Norsk Hydro. Like Colonial Pipeline, Norsk Hydro received a ransom demand but, instead of a shut down, a group of veteran workers switched to manual operations, removing the company from the attackers’ claws. “Without them, our production would have plummeted,” says Halvor Molland, Norsk Hydro’s spokesperson. “They had knowledge that existed 20 years ago but not today, and fortunately some are still employed by us while others returned from retirement to help.”

The CEO of Colonial Pipeline they had “muddled through” in the wake of the ransomware attack.  But a lot of the people who operated the pipeline manually “are retiring or they’re gone.  Fortunately, we still have that last bit of that generation.”

This is like something in a science fiction story: robots running things, humans nominally supervising the robots but not really understanding what they’re doing or why.

It’s been noted for some time that a lot of computer code was written in obsolescent or now-unpopular languages (especially COBOL), with support and modification becoming difficult since most of the people with the skills aren’t there anymore.  But this is different–it’s not about loss of understanding of a linguistic formulation for representing a process, but a loss of understanding of the process itself.