Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 25th, 2022

Ukraine’s Three-to-One Advantage

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Elliott Ackerman has a very interesting piece in the Atlantic. He quotes, “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” but Marines I have known express the idea as “You can take the man out of the Corps, but you can’t take the Corps out of the man.” (This was a while back; nowadays, one would say “person” instead “man.”)

Ackerman’s article concludes with the reason for the title:

 few nights ago in Lviv, after an early dinner (restaurants shut at 8 p.m. because of curfew), I stepped into the elevator of my hotel. I was chatting with a colleague when a man in early middle age, dressed and equipped like a backpacker, thrust his hand into the closing door. “You guys American?” he asked. I told him we were, and as he reached for the elevator button, I couldn’t help but notice his dirty hands and the half-moons of filth beneath each fingernail. I also noticed his fleece. It had an eagle, a globe, and an anchor embossed on its left breast. “You a Marine?” I asked. He said he was (or had been—once a Marine, always a Marine), and I told him that I’d served in the Marines too.

He introduced himself (he’s asked that I not use his name, so let’s just call him Jed), and we did a quick swap of bona fides, exchanging the names of the units in which we’d both served as infantrymen a decade ago. Jed asked if I knew where he could get a cup of coffee, or at least a cup of tea. He had, after a 10-hour journey, only just arrived from Kyiv. He was tired and cold, and everything was closed.

A little cajoling persuaded the hotel restaurant to boil Jed a pot of water and hand him a few tea bags. When I wished him a good night, he asked if I wanted some tea too. The way he asked—like a kid pleading for a last story before bed—persuaded me to stay a little while longer. He wanted someone to talk with.

As Jed sat across from me in the empty restaurant, with his shoulders hunched forward over the table and his palms cupped around the tea, he explained that since arriving in Ukraine at the end of February, he had been fighting as a volunteer along with a dozen other foreigners outside Kyiv. The past three weeks had marked him. When I asked how he was holding up, he said the combat had been more intense than anything he’d witnessed in Afghanistan. He seemed conflicted, as if he wanted to talk about this experience, but not in terms that could turn emotional. Perhaps to guard against this, he began to discuss the technical aspects of what he’d seen, explaining in granular detail how the outmanned, outgunned Ukrainian military had fought the Russians to a standstill.

First, Jed wanted to discuss anti-armor weapons, particularly the American-made Javelin and the British-made NLAW. The past month of fighting had demonstrated that the balance of lethality had shifted away from armor, and toward anti-armor weapons. Even the most advanced armor systems, such as the Russian T-90 series main battle tank, had proved vulnerable, their charred husks littering Ukrainian roadways.

When I mentioned to Jed that I’d fought in Fallujah in 2004, he said that the tactics the Marine Corps used to take that city would never work today in Ukraine. In Fallujah, our infantry worked in close coordination with our premier tank, the M1A2 Abrams. On several occasions, I watched our tanks take direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades (typically older-generation RPG-7s) without so much as a stutter in their forward progress. Today, a Ukrainian defending Kyiv or any other city, armed with a Javelin or an NLAW, would destroy a similarly capable tank.

If the costly main battle tank is the archetypal platform of an army (as is the case for Russia and NATO), then the archetypal platform of a navy (particularly America’s Navy) is the ultra-costly capital ship, such as an aircraft carrier. Just as modern anti-tank weapons have turned the tide for the outnumbered Ukrainian army, the latest generation of anti-ship missiles (both shore- and sea-based) could in the future—say, in a place like the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz—turn the tide for a seemingly outmatched navy. Since February 24, the Ukrainian military has convincingly displayed the superiority of an anti-platform-centric method of warfare. Or, as Jed put it, “In Afghanistan, I used to feel jealous of those tankers, buttoned up in all that armor. Not anymore.”

This brought Jed to the second subject he wanted to discuss: Russian tactics and doctrine. He said he had spent much of the past few weeks in the trenches northwest of Kyiv. “The Russians have no imagination,” he said. “They would shell our positions, attack in large formations, and when their assaults failed, do it all over again. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians would raid the Russian lines in small groups night after night, wearing them down.” Jed’s observation echoed a conversation I’d had the day before with Andriy Zagorodnyuk. After Russia’s invasion of the Donbas in 2014, Zagorodnyuk oversaw a number of reforms to the Ukrainian military that are now bearing fruit, chief among them changes in Ukraine’s military doctrine; then, from 2019 to 2020, he served as minister of defense.

Russian doctrine relies on centralized command and control, while mission-style command and control—as the name suggests—relies on the individual initiative of every soldier, from the private to the general, not only to understand the mission but then to use their initiative to adapt to the exigencies of a chaotic and ever-changing battlefield in order to accomplish that mission.  [The mission-style C&C is exactly what Thomas Ricks observed that led him to write his fascinating book Making the Corps, a book well worth reading. See my earlier post on the book. Secondhand copies are available. – LG] Although the Russian military has modernized under Vladimir Putin, it has never embraced the decentralized mission-style command-and-control structure that is the hallmark of NATO militaries, and that the Ukrainians have since adopted.

“The Russians don’t empower their soldiers,” Zagorodnyuk explained. “They tell their soldiers to go from Point A to Point B, and only when they get to Point B will they be told where to go next, and junior soldiers are rarely told the reason they are performing any task. This centralized command and control can work, but only when events go according to plan. When the plan doesn’t hold together, their centralized method collapses. No one can adapt, and you get things like 40-mile-long traffic jams outside Kyiv.”

The individual Russian soldier’s lack of knowledge corresponded with a story Jed told me, one that drove home the consequences of this lack of knowledge on the part of individual Russian soldiers. During a failed night assault on his trench, a group of Russian soldiers got lost in the nearby woods. “Eventually, they started calling out,” he said. “I couldn’t help it; I felt bad. They had no idea where to go.”

When I asked what happened to them, he returned a grim look.

Instead of recounting that part of the story, he described the advantage Ukrainians enjoy in night-vision technology. When I told him  . . .

The article begins:

. . . Napoleon, who fought many battles in this part of the world, observed that “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” I was thinking of this maxim as Jed and I finished our tea.

In Ukraine—at least in this first chapter of the war—Napoleon’s words have held true, proving in many ways decisive. In my earlier conversation with Zagorodnyuk, as he and I went through the many reforms and technologies that had given the Ukrainian military its edge, he was quick to point out the one variable he believed trumped all others. “Our motivation—it is the most important factor, more important than anything. We’re fighting for the lives of our families, for our people, and for our homes. The Russians don’t have any of that, and there’s nowhere they can go to get it.”

Continue reading.

Mission-style command and control means that each unit and each soldier thinks for itself, and the last thing an authoritarian state wants is people thinking for themselves.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2022 at 3:12 pm

Ginni Thomas points to a hidden Jan. 6 truth

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Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

Buried in the explosive news that Virginia Thomas aggressively advocated for Donald Trump’s coup attempt is a choice revelation: The spouse of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas texted with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about Jesus Christ’s otherworldly role in delivering the election to Trump.

Meadows texted to Ginni Thomas that the “King of Kings” would ultimately “triumph” in the quest to overturn the election, which Meadows characterized as “a fight of good versus evil.” Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, replied: “Thank you!! Needed that!”

This sparked serious consternation on “Morning Joe,” with host Joe Scarborough delivering an emotional diatribe about it. “Think about the sickness of this,” Scarborough said Friday. “He summons the name of Jesus Christ for his help in overturning American democracy!”

The sentiment is understandable. But what this level of shock really indicates is this: We haven’t paid enough attention to the role of right-wing Christian nationalism in driving Trump’s effort to destroy our political order, and in the abandonment of democracy among some on the right more broadly.

In invoking Jesus’ support for Trump’s effort to overturn the election, Meadows — who handled evangelical outreach in the White House — was not merely making an offhand comment. He was speaking in a vein that has held wide currency among the Christian nationalist right throughout the Trump years, right through the insurrection attempt.

Sarah Posner, a scholar of the Christian right, has extensively documented the role of that movement in supporting and lending grass-roots energy to the effort to overturn the election procedurally, and even in fomenting the insurrection itself.

The rhetoric from the Christian right about Trump has long sounded very much like that exchange between Meadows and Thomas. In a piece tracing that rhetoric, Posner concludes that for many on the Christian right, Trump was “anointed” by God as “the fulfillment of a long-sought goal of restoring the United States as a Christian nation.”

In this narrative, Trump — despite his glaring and repugnant personal imperfections — became the vessel to carry out the struggle to defeat various godless and secularist infestations of the idealized Christian nation, from the woke to globalists to communists to the “deep state.”

This culminated with the effort to overturn the election and the lead-up to the Jan. 6 rally that morphed into the mob assault. As Posner documents, Christian-right activists developed a “bellicose Christian narrative in defense of Trump’s coup attempt,” investing it with biblical significance and casting it as “holy war against an illegitimate state.”

That illegitimate state, of course, is our democracy. And so, when Thomas and Meadows text about the religious dimensions of the coup attempt, they’re echoing much of what we’ve long heard from the Christian right about it.

“Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs,” Meadows texted to Thomas. “Do not grow weary.”

Thomas, who played a key role in trying to subvert Trump’s loss as a leader of a group that included various Christian-right elements, sounded similarly messianic tones in her texts. She invoked the need to “stand firm” with the “Great President,” whose might and glory were keeping America from plunging into “the precipice.”

“Meadows’s text to Thomas, and her grateful and enthusiastic reply, demonstrates how the pair saw themselves as soldiers in this spiritual battle from which they should never retreat,” Posner told me, adding that this is “representative of rhetoric” that has long “permeated Trump’s base.”

To be fair, some Christian voices roundly condemned the Jan. 6 violence. But on the day itself, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2022 at 2:23 pm

A few thoughts on fear

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I was thinking about fear, of which I seem to see a lot nowadays, and how deeply it pervades attitudes and actions. Fear and anger are two sides of the same coin: they have the same physical symptoms: jolt of adrenalin, increase in heart rate, deeper and more frequent breathing — basically the “fight or flight” response, which prepares one for flight (from fear) or fight (from anger). In a way, anger is how one puts a positive spin on fear, and fear can be a way to hide one’s anger (from oneself).

I see, for example, a lot of anger expressed by the participants in the various Freedom Convoys. Since the BC legislature is one of the targets, I get to see this directly. Many of those in the convoy act very angry indeed, but it seems clear that their anger is an expression of fears (though I imagine they would angrily deny that): they fear the changes they see, they fear loss of status and jobs, and they fear minorities, so on.

Another example might be seen in those driven to amass money and possessions. It is not a great leap to see their behavior as expressing a fear of poverty. People who fear rejection might find themselves angry at people in general, pushing them away — doing that precludes rejection because those others are pre-emptively rejected. People who fear losing control become micromanagers. And so on.

I wonder how often a person’s attitudes and actions have fear somewhere at the root of what they do.

Of course, some attitudes and actions are not based on fear, love being a prime example. A parent’s love for their child is not from fear, nor is the love between a well-matched couple, in which each cares for the other and each finds support and emotional nourishment in the relationship.

But I suspect that when you encounter exceptional behaviors — miserliness or profligacy; prudishness or venality; self-sabotage or vanity; and the like —  those might well be rooted in a fear, and if the fear is overcome, the behavior, having lost its impetus, might wither away.

Note that the above are my own musings and speculations, not actual findings from studies.

Addendum: In talking with The Wife about this post, she pointed out that many in the truck convoys seemed to angry/fearful about potentially losing status and privilege that our society confers on white males in general. That struck me as being a consequence of deriving their identity from their status and privilege, and a threat to one’s identity is very like a mortal threat.

The liberal arts are specifically aimed to correct this misplacement of identity, and their name — liberal arts — reflects their goal: to liberate (that is, to free) a person by providing a greater understanding of identity and meaning beyond status (or wealth or possessions or office). My alma mater‘s Latin motto (Facio liberos ex liberis libri libraque) is in English “I make free men from children with books and a balance” (though the college has been co-ed since the mid-1950’s).

Society, of course, provides a different education, one that encourages an identity based on the current social order, and it does that because societies by nature seek to avoid disruption and fear change (a disruption). Society wants order, so it is uneasy about free thought — “Question authority!” is not a slogan many societies embrace because they generally do not have good answers for the questions that arise. The answers often boil down to “The reason is that we want to preserve our privilege. Stop asking questions. Play your assigned role. Don’t rock the boat.” Societies in general don’t so much want to liberate their members (in the sense of the liberal arts) as to assign them slots and make them accepting of their destiny. Athens put Socrates to death exactly because his philosophizing was freeing citizens of ideas Athens wanted them to have.

PS: An earlier post seems relevant here.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2022 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Psychology

Ukrainian Stamp Design Contest

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The above is one of the entries in a contest to pick a stamp design that illustrated Ukrainians’ commitment to defend their country. The design shown commemorates an event at the beginning of the Russia-Ukrainian war when the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island told a Russian warship “Go fuck yourself”. More information and other designs can be found in Kottke’s post and also in a 20-stamp slideshow on Facebook.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2022 at 11:38 am

The two-brush shave: A few observations

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Reader Ryan yesterday asked about how the Yaqi Cashmere (orange handle, white knot) compared to the RazoRock Amici (red and black handle, black knot). I gave an answer based on recollection, but thought it would be more accurate to compare the two brushes by using them both in the same shave — a side-by-side comparison, as it were.

First observation: Comparing two shaving brushes by using both in the same shave works much better than comparing two razors by using them in the same shave. In comparing brushes you can brush your face with one brush, then with the other, then with the first again, and so on — and the more time you spending working the lather into the stubble, the better the shave.

In contrast, if you’re comparing razors, you can repeatedly shave the same area, alternating razors. The best I can do is something like using one of the razors on one side of my face and the other on the other side. And I cannot do that repeatedly. 

For the soap, I chose a Mike’s Natural soap. Mike’s soaps give good lather but do require the brush to do its job. The soap is fairly hard and contains clay, and until I started using a barely damp brush and adding small amounts of water as needed during loading, I did not have so much success with his soaps. Now that I know better how best to load a brush, they are no problem at all, but I thought the soap would give the brushes a chance to strut their stuff.

Second observation: Both brushes loaded easily. The Amici went first, and I added a little water a couple of times to complete loading. I didn’t have to add water in loading the Cashmere, but that may have been because (a) the puck was already worked with water and thus might have been more generous with the soap, and (b) the Cashmere might have retained a little more water in the knot after I had shaken it. But no significant difference — and I enjoy the process of loading the brush in any event.

I then brushed a layer of lather over the stubble with one brush, then again with the other brush. I alternated brushes as I worked up the lather, the difference in feel between the brushes was immediately obvious.

Third observation: The Amici knot is distinctly coarser and not quite so dense as the Cashmere knot. The Amici knot is, among brushes and even among synthetics, quite fine and soft, but the Cashmere takes fineness and softness to the next level and combines that with the greater density that can be achieved with finer bristles. The Amici knot felt on my face like a brush, the Cashmere knot felt like …  well, like cashmere (thus, I imagine, the name).

Fourth observation: Both brushes did a fine job, and some will definitely prefer one brush to the other. You’ve probably already noticed how greatly preferences differ from one person to the next, and that one will admire a brush for having a soft knot while another derides it as “floppy,” or how some like a very scrubby knot (short loft with stiff, close-packed bristles) and others prefer a gentler knot (great loft, bristles less resilient). Personally, I like both brushes, but I also like variety, and some do not: they like to find their groove and stick to it. 

The Charcoal clone of the Edwin Jagger head, here mounted on a Wolfman handle, did a very nice job indeed, thanks to the extended prep. And the Arko aftershave gel is very nice and somewhat balm-like.

The tea today is Murchie’s Balmoral Blend, a hearty tea, perfectly adapted for bracing Scottish weather:

Murchie’s Balmoral Blend Tea is a strong, traditional, rich blend of bright Ceylon and malty Assam teas.

Full-bodied with a brisk aftertaste: perfect for a royal palace in the Scottish Highlands.

Murchie’s Balmoral Blend Tea was originally blended for York House School – a private school for girls which has been an institution in Vancouver for over 75 years

This blend is also a nod to Murchie’s Scottish roots, as Balmoral Castle is the Queen’s official residence (palace) in Scotland, where John Murchie would deliver teas to Queen Victoria, before he came to Canada and founded Murchie’s in 1894.

Recommended for traditional tea lovers, fans of Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast and Assam Pure looking for a different mix of teas or tea drinkers looking for a strong black blend with some briskness but not so much as pure Ceylon

I would characterize this tea as a no-nonsense tea — none of your jasmine or green or smoky teas (such as Lapsang Souchong), but strong and hearty.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2022 at 10:58 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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