Ugly lessons from the blizzard about ourselves & our future

Summary:  Every crisis tells us something about ourselves, and who we’re becoming. This post looks for lessons from the NYC snowpocalypse, so revealing about the state of 21st Century America — its people and leaders. This is a follow-up to Winter Storm Juno warns scientists not to burn away their credibility.

A 21st C American


  1. Typically outrageous actions by our leaders
  2. Obvious but important observations
  3. Putting the pieces together: the big picture
  4. For More Information

(1)  Typically outrageous actions by our leaders

From the smouldering embers at the Left comes this apt summary, by Jerry White at the World Socialist website.

By 6 p.m. Monday night, Cuomo ordered the shutdown of all transportation, saying only emergency vehicles would be allowed on the streets of New York City — and roads in 13 state counties — as of 11 p.m. “If you violate this state order,” he said, “it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300.” The governor also activated the New York National Guard, which dispatched 260 soldiers and airmen.

As the storm approached, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Thomas Prendergast, said there would be no reason to close the subway system, which is largely underground and protected from the snow, because “We’d be able to run trains.”

By 11 p.m., however, even as it was becoming apparent that the worst snowfall was well to the east and north of New York City, Cuomo, apparently without consulting with Mayor de Blasio or the New York City transit command center, went ahead and shut down the subway system, the only remaining transportation in the city. This was the first time trains were halted because of snow in the 110-year history of the system, which serves more than four million commuters each day.

As it turned out, the subway system actually continued to run in order to keep the tracks clear, just without passengers.

The Brooklyn Paper reported that the subways ran anyway (just without passengers), that closing it was unnecessary even in a severe blizzard, and in the words of an insider “The closure will strand people and put lives at risk, not because the subways can’t run, but because Cuomo wants to look good.”

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A new format for the Fabius Maximus website!

Your donations have been put to use (see the tip jar to the right). The FM website now runs on a new “theme” (i.e.,  template), one working better with current technology. It appears better on tablets and phones, and has features used by the almost god-like search engines to locate useful answers to people’s requests. Behind the scenes it has more storage, and support from WordPress.

Internet lounge

UpdateIt’s a work in progress.  And thanks to crowd-sourcing (advice from someone who understands these things) I switched to a different theme.

What do you think? Better or worse? Crisp and clear, easy to read? Suitable for our content, or not? Rate it below, and post your review in the comments.

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Women in combat are the real Revolution in Military Affairs

Summary: Women combatants appear in many of today’s conflicts around the world, a change in warfare with few precedents in history and perhaps the biggest change since the use of nukes. Recent examples include fighters in the Eritrean Wars, Middle East suicide bombers, soldiers in western armies, and in the Kurdish forces. With few historical precedents, except in near-mythological tales, large numbers of women in combat represents a real revolution in military affairs. Here we sort through the news for an introduction to this powerful trend.


Warrior Women

Fact catching up to fantasy.

  1. War by women in the developed nations
  2. The test for women soldiers lies in future wars
  3. War in the less-developed lands
  4. The democratization of warfare
  5. How will this revolution change war?
  6. For More Information

(1)  War by women in the developed nations

First let’s look at women’s increasing role in the military forces of the developed nations.

Some have gone all the way: “8 Other Nations That Send Women to Combat“, National Geographic, 25 January 2013 — Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway. In these nations women serve in roles that include “engaging an enemy on the ground … while being exposed to hostile fire and a high probability of physical contact with the hostile forces personnel” (per a 2010 British Ministry of Defense (MOD) study).

The number of nations doing so is increasing. As in the UK “Women soldiers to serve in front-line combat units” — “Senior Whitehall source says that MoD is ‘leaning towards making the change’ to allow women in front-line combat units after a six-month review” (The Telegraph, 5 December 2014).

But things might not be what they seem, as Martin van Creveld explains in Men, Women & War (2002):

This argues it is all a great illusion: that the influx of women into the military, far from representing a world-historic step in women’s unstoppable march towards liberation, is both a symptom and cause of the decline of the military. The process was triggered by the introduction of nuclear weapons over a half century ago. Since then the armed forces of no developed country have fought a war against a major opponent who was even remotely capable of of putting its own national existence in danger …

The more superfluous they have become — indeed precisely because they have been becoming superfluous — the more society and its leaders feel able to treat them not as fighting machines but as social laboratories …

For more about his theory see his article “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000.

(2)  The test for women soldiers lies in future wars

The test of van Creveld’s theory and of western nations’ commitment to gender equality in combat, comes when women return in large numbers of body bags. So far none of those nations have had large numbers of women casualties.

Women have died serving America in our post-9/11 wars, but in small numbers (reflecting limitations on their roles) — as shown by this Congressional Research Service report (OIF and OID are Iraq; OEF is Afghanistan): women are 2% of military deaths so far vs roughly 11% of total US troops serving there.

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Winter Storm Juno warns scientists not to burn away their credibility

Summary: We expect our leaders, and the scientists they consult, to warn us of threats. As NYC learned, again, that’s difficult to do. Should they error by warning too aggressively (false alarms), or too conservatively (fails to warn)? The consensus favors the former, ignoring the potentially massive cost of crying “wolf” too often. Someday you warn, but nobody listens. Loss of public confidence in science might be the big risk to avoid.

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”
— Journalist Edward R. Murrow, testimony as the Director of USIA before a Congressional Committee in May 1963.

The Day After Tomorrow
January has not yet ended and already we’ve had two waves of climate fear.  Last year we had only one, last Spring’s fear barrage about the coming super monster El Nino (that never appeared). 2015 began with reports that the “sweltering” 2014 was the the “hottest year ever” (eventually walked back to “perhaps”). This week we had the “snowpocalypse”.  It’s weather porn, collusion between publicity-hungry scientists, click-bait-seeking journalists, and activists.

But beneath the hype there are serious issues for climate scientists and our weather agencies. When and how do they issue warnings? Should they prioritize warnings — minimizing the number of times they failure to alert the public — or preserve their credibility by minimizing the number of false warnings?

The Snowpocalypse: the aftereffects might be bigger than the effects

New York City and NY State took strong precautions before the storm which so many meteorologists warned would be “historic”. In fact it largely missed NYC, hitting to the North. shows the records for New England, sloppily not stating the length of the record. The Boston Globe did better: NYC had the 6th largest snowfall in past 80 years. Update: these records are comparable only for roughly the past 20 years due to changes in measurement methods.

Now comes the aftereffects: TIME blamed Governor Christie and Mayor de Blasio for over-reacting, seriously inconveniencing NYC’s people — at a large economic cost.

The AP does an autopsy on the forecasts:

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, a defensive Uccellini {Director, National Weather Service}, who wrote textbooks on winter storms, wouldn’t say his agency’s forecast was off. Instead, he blamed the way meteorologists communicated and said the weather service needs to do a better job addressing uncertainty. Uccellini said the agency would review those procedures and consult with social scientists to improve messaging. But Uccellini said he’d rather warn too much and be wrong, than not warn enough. He said the weather service’s predictions, and citywide closures that they prompted, made for a faster recovery. “This was the right forecast decision to make,” Uccellini said.

Private meteorologist Ryan Maue of Weather Bell Analytics slammed the public agency for ratcheting up forecast storm amounts before the system arrived, instead of telling people how uncertain it was. “The public should be upset that the forecast was blown for NYC and ask for answers” …

Ryan Maue (climate scientist, Weatherbell) says that the process was sound:

The authorities acted exactly as they should have considering the information that was provided to them by the National Weather Service and emergency planners responsible for putting the wheels in motion.

… The same level of media hype and perceived government (city, state) overreaction surrounding this blizzard in NYC may cause future complacency with warnings. However, the weather forecasters and authorities will not hesitate to issue the same emergency declarations because a False Alarm in the “safe direction” is hardly the worst possible outcome.

Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech) gave a typically excellent analysis of what happened and why: “Snowpocalypse – not“. Skipping to her conclusions…

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Using 4GW might give the Islamic State a big future.

Summary:  In this chapter of his series GI Wilson summarizes how 4GW works for the Islamic State, and forecasts their future.  As he explained in earlier chapters, we have to see the world differently to defeat foes who use 4th generation methods. This is the 4th and final chapter of his 4 part series. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

See The World Differently

To win at 4GW we must learn to see the world differently.

Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 4

Our 4GW foes organize in innovative ways

The success of ISIS and allied extremists is more than just uncovering creative tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs). ISIS in many ways reflects the metamorphosis we witness with the appearance of third generation street gangs. Third generation street gangs with global networks, reach, and sustaining revenue streams to support gang operations (see “Third Generation Street Gangs: Turf, Cartels, and Net Warriors“, J. P. Sullivan, Transnational Organized Crime, Autumn 1997. Gangs are often the “yellow canary” in the mine shaft offering indicators, warnings, and profile features of emerging 4GW TTPs.

Mitchell Prothero writes a chilling synopsis of the ISIS profile in “How 2 shadowy ISIS commanders designed their Iraq campaign“, McClatchy, 30 June 2014:

Assembling a coherent picture of how ISIS executed its transformation is something U.S. intelligence officials will be striving to do in coming weeks as they examine what happened to the U.S.-trained Iraqi army. But interviews with a wide range of people — including a former British military officer with ties to Saddam-era Iraqi officers, activists with ties to ISIS, and an intelligence officer for the Kurdish peshmerga militia — provide an imperfect but consistent picture of how ISIS became the most powerful and effective non-state military organization on the planet, with access to billions of dollars in military hardware, territory that includes millions of residents, and something few jihadist groups have ever had: a coherent strategy for establishing an Islamic state.

Our current adversaries are ideologically driven, capitalizing on fanaticism, and frequently linked by clan-tribal networks. The linkage also includes loose coalitions of criminal actors, non-state, and failed-state actors. All of whom can make for strange bed fellows operating outside the nation state context. These 4GW bad actors challenge our national security capabilities that are designed to operate within a nation-state framework. Beyond that framework, our traditional structures and conventional military have great difficulties engaging such threats.

Our adversaries’ operational theme emphasizes people and ideas not just high tech hardware. ISIS is successfully operationalizing beheadings and the psychology of fear — much like Al Qaeda did with improvised explosive devices in Iraq. With ISIS we again will re-learn it is far more difficult to kill an idea and ideology than the enemy itself.

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We watch “The Winter Soldier”, then see similar actions in our news. Can it inspire us to act?

Summary:  Hollywood produces a stream of superhero movies like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, vividly told tales of successful battles against oppression. They entertain us. But events move against us and we need inspiration. We have strength but not the will to use it. We can find it in our history, in our myths, and even in these movies. Rent a copy. Tell us in the comments how you felt when watching it.  {1st of 2 posts today}

“To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down. And that makes enemies.”
— Dick Cheney speaking to Captain America in “The Winter Soldier”.

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. … Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s “The Arabian Nights”

"Winter Soldier": Helicarrier Crash

Imagine the CIA crashing into the Pentagon.

Do we watch movies to gain new perspectives (as in this speech by Loki) and insights about our changing world? Or to grow accustomed to the dark forces changing our world, shock therapy so that we can read the newspapers with excitement but not hysterics? Consider the recent Captain America film “Winter Soldier”, an obvious allegory to the New American revolution begun by GW Bush and Obama.

Fury: This is Project Insight. Three next generation helicarriers synchronized to a network of satellites that locate objectives. Once launched they don’t need to come down. These new precision long range weapons will eliminate thousands of enemies per minute. Satellites read terrorists’ DNA while they hide. We’ll neutralize many threats before they happen.

Captain A: Punishment usually comes after the crime.

Fury: We can’t afford to wait that long.

Cap:  Point a gun at Earth and call iit protection? This isn’t freedom. This is fear.

We watch with excitement as our representative band of heroes — Captain America, the Falcon, and Black Widow — fight our government and win. It’s entertaining. But it’s only inspiring if when it touches our hearts. And we need inspiration to act, for our leaders build programs similar to Project Insight. As Andrew Cockburn explains:

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4GW allows ISIS to fight and win against more powerful armies. Like ours.

Summary:  Today GI Wilson explains how one of our foes, calling itself the Islamic State, uses 4GW to match their strengths against the weaknesses of our far more powerful military. Earlier generations of jihadists using 4GW methods changed the course of America (9/11 was one of the most effective military operations ever). ISIS is better. There are interesting times ahead for us all.  This is the 3rd chapter of his 4 part series. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Islamic Jihad Movement fighter

Islamic Jihad Movement fighter.

Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 3

The strengths of our 4GW foes; above all they learn faster.

Our adversaries recognize that America’s predilection for high-tech conventional warfare where the assumption is that the technologically strongest wins. Our foes nevertheless prefer low-cost-low-tech (i.e. Improvised explosive devices) 4GW tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs) — leveraging our addiction to high-tech hardware against ourselves.

Similarly, our adversaries leverage our own bureaucratic weight against ourselves (e.g. Congressional grid lock). The United States government (USG) is a burgeoning bureaucracy on steroids that thrives on political correctness, politically sanctioned incompetence, and high-technological-high-cost solutions for everything. For a horrifying description see “America’s Defense Meltdown“ (Center for Defense Information, 2008). All of which contribute to the money slathering in Washington, DC in the name of technological advantage.

Our enemy’s “technological advantage” as exemplified in the 9/11 attacks consisted of box cutters, ceramic knives, a steely determination to die for a cause, while creatively turning commercial airlines into field expedient cruise missiles to attack the U.S.. It worked, and our vast military-security-law enforcement bureaucracy was virtually helpless to stop it. Today little has changed as ISIS trees the USG where again incompetence is enshrined. The USG’s universal solution to everything remains one of money slathering inextricably linked to the politically correct notion that no one in power is ever to be held accounted or responsible.

We are literally underwriting our radicalized foes’ success by not recognizing that our own lumbering, incompetent and money slathering bureaucracies keep us from operationally and strategically adapting in order to defeat our foes. In fact our adversaries count on our fetish for obese wasteful bureaucracies, excessive regulations, high-tech-high-cost hardware, political correctness, and ballooning debt thus pave the way for our enemies’ operational successes. Clayton L. Niles (USMC) writes in his 2008 thesis “Al Qaeda and Fourth Generation Warfare as its Strategy“:

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