Author Archives: Editor of the Fabius Maximus website

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Review of “Oblivion”: Of Cruise and Nothingness

Summary:  Today Locke Peterseim reviews Oblivion, another attempt by Hollywood to bring science fiction to film. It shows their love of imagery — of the glossy finish — over the substance of the story. That’s sad, because we can learn much from the alternative perspective provided by hard sci-fi.  it’s another in our series of Sunday posts about the movies. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Oblivion poster

Of Cruise and Nothingness

By Locke Peterseim.
From the film blog of Open Letters Monthly.
29 April 2013

Reposted with his generous permission.

Ah, the tyranny of “cool ideas.” Any young, imaginative genre fan (be it of sci-fi, Westerns, crime, or romance) no doubt had school notebooks festooned with doodles and descriptions of ideas birthed along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be really, wicked-awesome, cool, gnarly if…,” followed by descriptions and drawings of Ligers and their ilk.

Written by Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn from a story by director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion is intended to be a “hard sci-fi” post-apocalyptic mind-bender thrill ride starring Tom Cruise.

But what ends up on screen is a lovely mishmash of “cool ideas,” most of which, frankly, are kinda cool, but none of which adds up to much other than a nostalgia trip through dozens of other sci-fi films of the past few decades.

Hopping around the late 21st-century blasted, burned-out Earthscape (there was an alien invasion or something) in a sleek, sexy airship, Cruise plays Jack Harper (aka Capt. Strong Name!), a technician tasked with keeping giant hydro-rig machine things and a fleet of attendant robo-drones running while the rest of the humans have scooted off to a New World utopia on Saturn’s moon Titan.

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What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?

Summary: What is the point of individuals publishing about politics and geopolitics on the internet? These writings — seen as a collective project — tell us much about the current state of the Republic. This post looks at the internet (of which the FM website project is a microcosm) as a mirror of America and draws some useful conclusions. This concludes with the question in the title.

Samuel Adams

Contents

  1. Surveying the scene
  2. An alternative path to reform
  3. Results so far
  4. Reflections on failure
  5. For More Information

(1)  Surveying the scene

Some, like Mish (Mike Shedlock) at Global Economic Trends and Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism have built profitable websites providing information to communities on the Right and Left respectively.  Perhaps the most successful of these is law professor Glenn Reynolds, who has built a mass audience as the Instapundit. Some bloggers have transition to successful careers, building  their audiences into businessess (e.g, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein). Many academics (e.g., economist Brad Delong and attorney Eugene Volokh) write as a natural extension of their professional work. There are thousands of other websites doing variations of these on a smaller scale.

These are tremendous accomplishments. However, what is the service they provided I characterize these as providing entertainment and catharsis for the outer party (plus self-expression for the authors). The outer party is politically impotent, but likes to believe themselves otherwise. So they write posts or comments, consume information (becoming well-informed): which largely adds up to cheering and booing political actors.

These websites — posts and comments — seldom point to ways for direct political action, beyond voting or (rarely) contacting elected officials. It’s no longer in many (most?) American’s world view that we have responsibility for the actions of our government, which would mandate our involvement — or even that we have the power to run America, which would imply political action as a personal priority for each of us.

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The real significance of our drone war, and why you’ll hear little about it in Campaign 2016

Summary: Nothing shows the decay of the Republic like our drone wars, almost mindless killing — now including execution of Americans by Presidential decree. To see how accustomed we’ve become to these steps to a new regime, this post looks at a typical story in the New York Times plus an analysis of it by an eminent law professor. Then I draw some obvious but alarming conclusions.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

The King rules that you must die.

Lettre de cachet

The New York Times gently reports that a new “Terrorism Case Renews Debate Over Drone Hits“. Excerpt:

Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who was arrested last year in Pakistan based on intelligence provided by the United States, came after a years long debate inside the government about whether to kill an American citizen overseas without trial — an extraordinary step taken only once before, when the Central Intelligence Agency killed the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.

Mr. Farekh’s court appearance also came as the Obama administration was struggling to fashion new guidelines for targeted killings. The decision to use an allied intelligence service to arrest Mr. Farekh has bolstered a case made by some that capturing — rather than killing — militant suspects, even in some of the world’s most remote places, is more feasible than the orders for hundreds of drone strikes might indicate.

… The Obama administration’s discussions about the fate of Mr. Farekh, who used the nom de guerre Abdullah al-Shami, began in earnest in 2012, and in the months that followed the C.I.A. and the Pentagon ramped up surveillance of his movements around Pakistani tribal areas.

… But the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was skeptical of the intelligence dossier on Mr. Farekh, questioning whether he posed an imminent threat to the United States and whether he was as significant a player in Al Qaeda as the Pentagon and the C.I.A. described. Mr. Holder and his aides also thought it might be possible to capture Mr. Farekh and bring him to trial.

We have to love this nod to the nature of “news” (aka pravda) in New America, where everything we need to know is classified secret — and anyone other than government officials giving us this information is a spy (giving info to the government’s enemies — which includes us). We not only should believe what we’re told but also be content with what little we’re told. They tell us all we need to know.

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Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class

Summary: The airline industry is a tale of New America. Deregulation, cheap fares allowing more people to travel but with increasingly poor service and rising complaints. It’s an oft-told story of stupid people unaware of the consequences to their behavior. But that’s a shallow view that misses the real significance of these trends.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Airlines in the past

 

Contents

  1. Unexpected fruits of deregulation.
  2. Interpreting the whining.
  3. It’s the cry of a dying middle class.
  4. Conclusion: expect more of this.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  Unexpected but logical fruits of airline deregulation

The rollback of the New Deal began with deregulation of the airlines (except for safety) — done by the President who began the conservative revolution, which his successor accelerated: James Carter. This allowed far more people to fly, people formerly limited to buses, trains and cars.  The unexpected side effect: service has slowly and steadily deteriorated. (There are 25 years of data from the Airline Quality Ratings database run for DoT, with many studies of it by experts such as Dean E Headley — but I can find no analysis of the trend over that period — probably for the obvious reason).

Why has service deteriorated while traffic rose (from 191 billion passenger-miles in 1980 to 580 billion in 2012)? It wasn’t the speed of the increase. In the 20 years before deregulation traffic rose over twice as fast as in the 20 years afterwards — with the airlines still providing excellent service. It’s not that the airlines are rapacious and greedy — their industry has an ugly combination of high volatility (in technology, competition, and revenues) and low profitability. During the dark days after 9/11 it was said that the industry had accumulated no net profits since the Wright brothers.

The answer is obvious: customers give their business on the basis of flight convenience and cost. Carriers give people what they want: cheap travel. Since they have no wizards, that means bare bones service — with cycles of cost-cutting, each one clipping off cost and satisfaction. The next cycle features a new class more crowded than economy.

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We have so many wars because we support them. Nothing changes until that changes.

Summary: We have found so many wars, small and large, since WWII that it’s difficult to count them. Since 9/11 we’ve accelerated our game, with our military intervening across the globe. Why are we doing this? The answer is easy to see, as this post shows.   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Personal note: Years ago I talked with one of the designers of Africom, who told me it would become one of DoD’s growth areas. I thought he was daft. They did 546 military “activities” during 2014.

Bombs for Peace

Contents

  1. We’re usually excited about the next war!
  2. We love the war once it starts!
  3. Which is the war party?
  4. The people responsible for this situation.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  We’re usually excited about the next war!

How many Americans supported our military actions before they began? We turn to Gallup to see our history.  Strong support after 9/11 to invade Afghanistan; moderate for Iraq #1; low for Kosovo, Syria and Iraq #2. Gallup described the return to Iraq as “direct military action in Iraq to support the Iraqi government against militants there.”

Gallup polls: support before eachwar

(2)  We love the war once it starts!

Shepherds don’t poll the flock before deciding what to do. Nor do our leaders care about our opinion when starting wars, except with the opposition so strong that we might strike back at the ballot box.

Let’s look at the past 30 years of Americans’ support of wars after our leaders have started them. Strong except for Grenada and Kosovo (over 50%) and Libya (under 50%).  Gallup described our latest intervention as “military action the US is taking in Iraq and Syria against Islamic militants, commonly known as ISIS.” S

Gallup’s surveys show that support varies by how closely the question matches the public’s “hot” button (as carefully produced by propaganda). Pavlov’s dogs responded to a bell, not a buzzer or gong.

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Hillary runs as a populist because we’re easily fooled. Will we prove her wrong?

Summary: It requires an extraordinary blindness, willful blindness, to believe Hillary’s promises and not the expectations of her billionaire backers. Yet the enthusiasm for her among the 90% shows that we have learned nothing during the past 8 years. Stand by for her coronation and, if elected, disappointment.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

I’ve got to ask those supporters of {Obama}: How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?”
Sara Palin’s speech to the 2010 Tea Party Convention.
Much of what she said was correct. “Out of the mouths of…

True. She is, after all, running unopposed in the primaries.

Hillary Clinton on top

Americans trusted Obama and his campaign. Now we’re going to do the same with Hillary.

Obama promised “hope and change”. He gave us more of the same. He embedded Bush Jr’s policies (and expansion of some): massive increase in government surveillance, unprecedented use of the Espionage Act to persecute whistleblowers, massive expansion of the US military interventions (e.g., 674 military activities in Africa during 2014), assassination of US citizens, post-WWII record high in military spending (despite the Iraq and Afghanistan withdrawals), only a partial rollback of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich (and so perpetuating Bush’s deficits), etc.

Obama implemented a few social reforms (the 1% don’t care about the proles mating habits). He implemented ObamaCare so to relieve the pressure on corporations like Walmart and McDonalds to provide health care to the growing legions of working poor.

Here we go again

We get bold promises from Hillary in this speech at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City on April 14.

“There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There’s something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive, as they have, and as I just saw a few minutes ago is very possible because of education and skills training, but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks. And there’s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here over the last two days.”

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How the world looks from Russia. It’s a picture the US media don’t show.

Summary: The US news media flood us with facts (mostly correct), but seldom show us how the world looks like from the perspective of our foes and rivals. Here we have a senior Russian official who explains that the world is in fact far different than we see it.  That’s a valuable gift.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Russia

Contents

  1. New sources on the Information Highway.
  2. A Russian official’s view of the world.
  3. Who is Leonid Reshetnikov?
  4. Consider the source!
  5. What does this tell us?
  6. For More Information.

 

(1)  Finding new sources on the Information Highway

One fascinating aspect of the information highway is the trust people put into the the new sources it makes available. We see this in the loyalty of so many to DEBKAfile, run by journalists Giora Shamis and Diane Shalem, which disseminates a mixture of fact and fantasy with a strong pro-Israeli government slant  (some examples of their rumor-mongering here).

This has become even more common in the wars of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where people offering plausible sounding details become reliable sources to their fans. To many they are more reliable than the mainstream journalists at Reuters, BBC, and the London and New York Times. It’s similar in nature to the rise in popularity of fringe science and pseudoscience, as they fill the space left by the drop in confidence afflicting most US institutions except (oddly) the military and police.

In our increasingly tribal society, people’s trust becomes unattached to our big institutions — and somewhat randomly re-attaches to new homes (much like runaway children find new homes in gangs, often cruelly exploited). That so many people credulously immerse themselves in these alternative sources — and consider themselves extraordinarily informed — gives public discussions of so many sources (as in website comments) their often mad flavor. Not just geopolitics; economics and climate change are other realms of American madness. Perhaps health care most of all, with bouts of enthusiasm from Laetrile (“the perfect chemotherapeutic agent”) to the anti-vaxers.

But fringe sources can provide useful information, if handled well. Today’s post looks at an example showing how they can be used.

(2)  A Russian official explains how they see the world

Here’s are excerpts from a widely quoted interview with Leonid Reshetnikov, an important Russian official. Red emphasis added.

About the war in Ukraine

Q: How do you think the events in Novorossia will develop in the spring and summer? Will there be a new military campaign?

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