The Usual Suspects [MUST READ]
An extraodinarily brilliant examination of Tom Schelling’s Game Theory concepts about the use of will, using the character Keyser Soze from the Usual Suspects.
The dramatic screen dialogue is matched by the mathematical precision of the game-theoretic concept of commitment for which Tom Schelling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. The Nobel press release said in part:
“Schelling showed that a party can strengthen its position by overtly worsening its own options, that the capability to retaliate can be more useful than the ability to resist an attack, and that uncertain retaliation is more credible and more efficient than certain retaliation.”
What this means is explained by notes from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which summarizes Schelling’s lectures. First described is the basic notion of commitment, which communicates to the enemy that you will do what you undertake. Commitment makes deterrence credible and credibility is the essential problem. “The most difficult part is communicating your intentions to your enemies. They must believe that you are committed to fighting them in order to defend” what you say you will defend for them to take you seriously. As Verbal Kint put it “to be in power, you didn’t need guns or money or even numbers. You just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t.” To accomplish it no matter what. Schelling taught that threats are more credible if you “burn your bridges or ships” thereby making it clear that you have only one option: fight. When the Hungarian mob invaded Soze’s home to intimidate him into submitting, he simply killed his family first, illustrating Schelling’s point that to truly be believed ‚Äúyou must get yourself into a position where you cannot fail to react as you said you would‚Äù. Such is this power that when the fictional Kaiser Soze demonstrated absolute commitment he ceased to be simply a man and became a force of nature.
Tom Schelling’s key contribution was to establish on a sound mathematical basis the role of will — expressed as commitment — in war. Deterrence was not simply a matter of possessing advanced weapons. That was only half the equation. The other half was to establish that you were absolutely ready to use those weapons to your purpose. And given a choice between superiority in weapons and ascendance in will, weapons always came in second.
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs [MUST READ]
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s superb speech at Harvard in 1978 was absolutely prophetic about the West’s battle with contemporary political Islam.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s speech at Harvard (hat tip: ‘Lord Acton‘) is one of those gems which could not have been understood at the time, not even at Harvard. Events showed some of his ideas were truly profound, though perhaps no one could really see it at the time because they were really radical — not the kind of “radicalism” fashionable in academia where they are merely a kind of fashionable conformity — but radical in that they challenged the standard political and ethical assumptions, principally the idea that freedom divorced from some deeper purpose was possible. Solzhenitsyn’s insight was to understand that totalitarianism, far from being being alien to Western thought, was in fact its highest development. He had seen it blossom to its full extent in the Gulag and could therefore see its nightmare shape even within its fashionable versions in the West. So here is the full text of his speech in 1978. The ideas it lays out are essential not only to understanding the events of September 11 but everything that happened afterward. He warned of great dangers still to come and predicted we would meet it, glasses full and smiles wide, surprised until the very end.
A review of Ferguson’s assessment of the 21st Century in light of what we have learned form the 20th.
The three factors which Ferguson believes produced the 20th century wars which killed 170 million people — 1 person in 22 — were “ethnic disintegration, economic volatility, and empires in decline”: the three E’s. Often these factors worked in concert. As 20th century ’empires’ collapsed they uncorked ethnic tensions which had heretofore lain dormant. These rapid changes were often accompanied by economic upheavals. The result, if not war, were its immediate precursors. The three E’s started the most destructive conflicts in the history of the world.
Wretchard explains how all these factors are present in the middle east and large parts of Asia Minor.
Wretchard examines the case of the fake Israeli “war crime” involving an attack on an ambulance.
Wretchard examines the curious phenomenon of “altering the future by manipulating symbols in the present”. He looks at the strange industry devoted to providing “positive” pictures of minorities.
…you can simply buy pictures from organizations which specialize in fulfilling the unfortunate textbook author’s need for quota pictures. Jacoby mentions Photoedit, a company which “specializes in supplying publishers and advertisers with positive images of ethnic and minority people in all walks of life.” It claims that “over 75% of our image library features African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Gay and Lesbian, handicapped, and senior citizens in their daily life.” Of course pictures of actual minorities might not be suitable for the textbook because the real thing sometimes doesn’t match the image the textbook author must project…If you can’t find your minority, Photoshop one in.