Quotulatiousness

March 26, 2017

QotD: Muggeridge on queues in the Soviet Union

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We used to run a little contest among ourselves to see who could produce the most striking example of credulity among this fine flower of our western intelligentsia. Persuading church dignitaries to feel at home in an anti-God museum was too easy to count. So was taking lawyers into the people´s courts. I got an honourable mention by persuading Lord Marley that the queueing at food shops was permitted by the authorities because it provided a means of inducing the workers to take a rest when otherwise their zeal for completing the five-year plan in record time was such that they would keep at it all the time, but no marks for floating a story that Soviet citizens were being asked to send in human hair – any sort – for making of felt boots. It seemed that this had actually happened.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, 2006.

March 19, 2017

Crucified Soldier – RMS Olympic – Somme Cavalry I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 Mar 2017

Chair of Wisdom Time! This week we talk about the propaganda story of the crucified soldier and the RMS Olympic.

March 6, 2017

“What could possibly account for that growth? Statistical fakery so fake that a Vegas bookie would weep”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Daniel Greenfield on how to hoax the media into reporting on a burgeoning anti-Muslim movement in the United States:

“Huge Growth in Anti-Muslim Hate Groups During 2016: SPLC Report,” wails NBC News. “Watchdog: Number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled since 2015,” FOX News bleats. ABC News vomits up this word salad. “Trump cited in report finding increase in US hate groups for 2nd year in a row.”

The SPLC stands for the Southern Poverty Law Center: an organization with slightly less credibility than Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and without the academic degree in greasepaint.

And you won’t believe the shameless way the SPLC faked its latest Islamophobia crisis.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest “hate group” sightings claims that the “number of anti-Muslim hate groups increased almost three-fold in 2016.”

That’s a lot of folds.

And there is both bad news and good news from its “Year in Hate and Extremism.”

First the good news.

Casa D’Ice Signs, the sign outside a bar in K-Mart Plaza in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, is no longer listed as a hate group. The sign outside the bar had been listed as a hate group by the SPLC for years. The owner of Casa D’Ice had been known for putting politically incorrect signs outside his bar. So the SPLC listed the “signs” as a hate group. (Even though there was only one sign.) Not the bar. That would have made too much sense.

Since then Casa D’Ice was sold and the SPLC has celebrated the defeat of another hate group. Even if the hate group was just a plastic sign outside a bar.

But the bad news, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is that anti-Muslim hate groups shot up from only 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

What could possibly account for that growth? Statistical fakery so fake that a Vegas bookie would weep.

March 1, 2017

The different “flavours” of propaganda

Filed under: China, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on the various types of propaganda in use around the world:

Jonathan Stray summarizes three different strains of propaganda, analyzing why they work, and suggesting counter-tactics: in Russia, it’s about flooding the channel with a mix of lies and truth, crowding out other stories; in China, it’s about suffocating arguments with happy-talk distractions, and for trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s weaponizing hate, outraging people so they spread your message to the small, diffused minority of broken people who welcome your message and would otherwise be uneconomical to reach.

Stray cites some of the same sources I’ve written about here: Tucker Max’s analysis of Yiannopoulos’s weaponized hate and The Harvard Institute for Quantitative Science team’s first-of-its kind analysis of leaked messages directing the activities of the “50-cent army, which overwhelms online Chinese conversation with upbeat cheerleading (think of Animal Farm‘s sheep-bleating, or Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s quackspeak).

But I’d never encountered the work he references on Russian propaganda, by RAND scholar Christopher Paul, who calls Russian disinformation a “firehose of falsehood.” This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere (“quantity does indeed have a quality all its own”).

Mixing outright lies with a large dollop of truth is key to this tactic, as it surrounds the lies with a penumbra of truthfulness. This is a time-honored tactic, of course: think of the Christian Science Monitor‘s history of outstanding international coverage, accompanied by editorials about God’s ability to heal through prayer; or Voice of America‘s mixture of excellent reporting on (again) international politics and glaring silence on US crises (see also: Al Jazeera as a reliable source on everything except corruption in the UAE; the BBC World Service‘s top-notch journalism on everything except UK complicity in disasters like the Gulf War, etc).

In addition to this excellent taxonomy of propaganda, Stray proposes countermeasures for each strain: for Russia-style “firehoses of falsehood,” you have to reach the audience first with an alternative narrative; once the firehose is on, it’s too late. For Chinese quackspeak floods, you need “organized, visible resistance” in the streets. For pathetic attention-whores like Yiannopoulos, Stray says Tucker Max is right: you have to ignore him.

February 26, 2017

British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley Episode 3: The Jewel in the Crown

Filed under: Britain, History, India — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Feb 2017

In the final episode, Lucy debunks the fibs that surround the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire – India. Travelling to Kolkata, she investigates how the Raj was created following a British government coup in 1858. After snatching control from the discredited East India Company, the new regime presented itself as a new kind of caring, sharing imperialism with Queen Victoria as its maternal Empress.

Tyranny, greed and exploitation were to be things of the past. From the ‘black hole of Calcutta’ to the Indian ‘mutiny’, from East India Company governance to crown rule, and from Queen Victoria to Empress of India, Lucy reveals how this chapter of British history is another carefully edited narrative that’s full of fibs.

February 24, 2017

Mechanised War In Mesopotamia – Toplica Uprising I THE GREAT WAR Week 135

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 23 Feb 2017

After the humiliating defeat at Kut last year, the British upped their game in Mesopotamia and this week 100 years ago the British Indian Army starts making gains towards Baghdad. In the occupied territories of Serbia the local population is rising up against the Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian occupants and on the Western Front, the British make surprisingly easy progress against the German Army.

February 8, 2017

British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley Episode 1 War of the Roses [HD]

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Jan 2017

Lucy debunks the foundation myth of one of our favourite royal dynasties, the Tudors. According to the history books, after 30 years of bloody battles between the white-rosed Yorkists and the red-rosed Lancastrians, Henry Tudor rid us of civil war and the evil king Richard III. But Lucy reveals how the Tudors invented the story of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ after they came to power to justify their rule. She shows how Henry and his historians fabricated the scale of the conflict, forged Richard’s monstrous persona and even conjured up the image of competing roses. When our greatest storyteller William Shakespeare got in on the act and added his own spin, Tudor fiction was cemented as historical fact. Taking the story right up to date, with the discovery of Richard III’s bones in a Leicester car park, Lucy discovers how 15th-century fibs remain as compelling as they were over 500 years ago. As one colleague tells Lucy: ‘Never believe an historian!

December 1, 2016

Rolling Stone calls out the Washington Post for shoddy journalism

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:21

Pot, I’d like to introduce you to Kettle. Kettle, please meet Pot.

However, that’s not to say that Rolling Stone is wrong about this:

Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.

The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.

The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.

It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.

Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods:

“Please note that our criteria are behavioral. … For purposes of this definition it does not matter … whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”

What this apparently means is that if you published material that meets their definition of being “useful” to the Russian state, you could be put on the “list,” and “warrant further scrutiny.”

November 11, 2016

QotD: The amazing long-term success of Soviet subversion in the West

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.

The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

November 7, 2016

Collision imminent

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jay Currie on the moment when one of the two bubbles collapses:

It is pretty easy to live online without being aware you are in a bubble. If all you read are liberal or conservative sites your understanding of the current American Presidential election is likely to be deeply distorted. There are even different sets of polling numbers depending on which side of the aisle you are getting your information from.

Whether you are in the “Literally Hitler” bubble or the “Most corrupt presidential candidate ever” bubble, you can pretty much avoid contact with any information which does not reinforce your views. But, in six days, the bubbles will collide and one of the narratives is going to collapse in the face of actual electoral results. The other bubble will take its victory as confirmation that its narrative was right all along and that the people who did not accept that narrative are either stupid or evil.

Which means that one group of Americans are going to wake up on November 9 disoriented, stunned, angry and feeling a deep sense of betrayal. Unlike previous elections where there has been at least a veneer of objectivity and non-partisanship in the media, in this election, the major media has been all in for Hillary. Which, in the post-election period may make it even more difficult for the losing side to understand and accept its loss because the “talking heads” will either be completely at a loss themselves or will spend their time congratulating each other on their perspicacity.

The collision of the bubbles will be especially nasty if, as I suspect it will be, the election is not even close. A tight win for either side will allow the other side to console itself with just how close it came. But a romp will bring into question the entire narrative of the losing side.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard far more stories of people “unfriending” long-time friends on social media for being too partisan in their support for one or the other of the two major candidates this year than I recall from other elections. But I also have to keep in mind that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

October 30, 2016

Bomber Pilot Fame – Delville Wood – WW1 Remembrance I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 29 Oct 2016

It’s time for another exciting episode of Out Of The Trenches. This week we talk about the fame of bomber pilots, the Battle of Delville Wood and the importance of remembering World War 1.

October 12, 2016

QotD: The fine art of self-deception

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

When one looks at the all-prevailing schizophrenia of democratic societies, the lies that have to be told for vote-catching purposes, the silence about major issues, the distortions of the press, it is tempting to believe that in totalitarian countries there is less humbug, more facing of the facts. There, at least, the ruling groups are not dependent on popular favour and can utter the truth crudely and brutally. Goering could say ‘Guns before butter’, while his democratic opposite numbers had to wrap the same sentiment up in hundreds of hypocritical words.

Actually, however, the avoidance of reality is much the same everywhere, and has much the same consequences. The Russian people were taught for years that they were better off than everybody else, and propaganda posters showed Russian families sitting down to abundant meal while the proletariat of other countries starved in the gutter. Meanwhile the workers in the western countries were so much better off than those of the U.S.S.R. that non-contact between Soviet citizens and outsiders had to be a guiding principle of policy. Then, as a result of the war, millions of ordinary Russians penetrated far into Europe, and when they return home the original avoidance of reality will inevitably be paid for in frictions of various kinds. The Germans and the Japanese lost the war quite largely because their rulers were unable to see facts which were plain to any dispassionate eye.

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one’s subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one’s thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one’s weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one’s political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.

George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose”, Tribune, 1946-03-22.

September 20, 2016

Reaching the Masses – Propaganda Film During World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Sep 2016

Cinemas were already pretty popular when World War 1 broke out in 1914. After initial hesitation all warring nations started to embrace the new mass medium for their propaganda. Since it was technically difficult deliver the authentic material the audiences wanted, the films were mostly staged. Film scripts opened the opportunity to transport any message about the war to a mass audience.

August 14, 2016

Captured Tanks – Bagpipers I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 13 Aug 2016

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1.

May 22, 2016

QotD: Western suicidalism

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West’s will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.

But al-Qaeda didn’t create the ugly streak of nihilism and self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West’s intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western intellectual life.

Consider the following propositions:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

These ideas travel under many labels: postmodernism, nihilism, multiculturalism, Third-World-ism, pacifism, “political correctness” to name just a few. It is time to recognize them for what they are, and call them by their right name: suicidalism.

Trace any of these back far enough (e.g. to the period between 1930 and 1950 when Department V was at its most effective) and you’ll find a Stalinist at the bottom. Among the more notorious examples are: Paul de Man — racist and Nazi propagandist turned Stalinist, and founder of postmodernism; Jean-Paul Sarte, who described the effects of Stalinism as “humane terror” and helped invent existentialism; and Paul Baran, who developed the thesis that capitalism depended on the immiseration of the Third World after Marx’s immiseration of the proletariat failed to materialize.

Al-Qaeda didn’t launch any of these memes into the noosphere, but it relies on them for political cover. They have another effect as well: when Islamists characterize the West as “decadent”, and aver that it is waiting to collapse in on itself at the touch of jihad, they are describing quite correctly and accurately the effects of Western suicidalism.

Stalinist agitprop created Western suicidalism by successfully building on the Christian idea that self-sacrifice (and even self-loathing) are the primary indicators of virtue. In this way of thinking, when we surrender our well-being to others we store up grace in Heaven that is far more important than the momentary discomfort of submitting to criminals, predatory governments, and terrorists.

Eric S. Raymond, “Suicidalism”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-13.

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