Category Archives: Uncategorized

B*tch T*ts

If y’all don’t feel like discussing another long post on football — can’t say as I blame you — here’s this:

One common consequence of long-term steroid use is gynecomastia, “the abnormal non-cancerous enlargement of one or both breasts in males due to the growth of breast tissue as a result of a hormone imbalance between estrogen and androgen.” Since anabolic steroids are basically just synthetic testosterone, your body ramps up estrogen production to compensate. Bodybuilders call the phenomenon “bitch tits.”

Assuming yourself always and everywhere to be the target of sinister forces is the Internet equivalent of bitch tits.

I saw it all the time back in my professing days. Every single thing in a college town is “bold” and “edgy” and “challenging” and “provocative” and, of course “transgressive”… except it isn’t. It’s all the same weak, tired shit they’ve been crapping out since the Sixties. There was a time, I suppose — somewhere between March and October of 1967 — where putting Che Guevara’s face on a t-shirt was some kind of “challenging” or “transgressive” act. Then everyone got one, so much so that it’s not even so-lame-it’s-cool hipster kitsch these days (which is one subterranean bar, comrades)…. except in the faculty lounge, where you can still see all kinds of Communist shit all over professors’ office doors.

And so on down the line: Piss Christ was trite back in 1987, The Vagina Monologues was old and busted even when it was new back in 1996, and so on. At least Andres Serrano, the huckster behind Piss Christ, had the marketing savvy to pretend that his obviously-designed-to-offend “art work” wasn’t obviously designed to offend:  “I had no idea Piss Christ would get the attention it did, since I meant neither blasphemy nor offense by it. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, so I am a follower of Christ.” Only an egghead would be stupid enough to believe that, but they do, since they still think Piss ChristThe Vagina Monologues, etc. are hot stuff on campus.

Trust me, gang, for anything playing at the campus arthouse theater, I could give you the title and the one-sentence marketing blurb — “stunning!” — and you could give me the subject matter, the plot, and large stretches of dialogue, sight unseen.

It’s deeply silly to normal people, of course, but it’s central to eggheads’ self-concept. Deep down they know that they are dull, sheltered, profoundly boring people that nobody would listen to if they didn’t need the class to graduate. Compared to your average academic, Pollyanna is as cynical and streetwise as a Newark cabbie. The greatest physical danger they have ever braved is a nasty papercut; the most consequential interpersonal interaction, a tiff with the tenure committee. They crave drama, but are light years away from anything even approaching it…

…so they make some up. By pretending that the same trite, formulaic, utterly predictable CultMarx PoMo crap they’ve been doing for half a century is “bold” and “transgressive,” they give their sad little lives some meaning. When it comes to total, utter, crushing defeats, putting a trannie in high government office is like salting the earth where Carthage once stood. They won. It’s over — it has been over since probably 1973 at the latest. But they can’t let it go, because that would mean admitting that they’re as pointless and boring as we all think they are. So they pretend that Jerry Falwell and the Legion of Decency are just over the hill, pitchforks and nooses in hand, and are going to be rushing the quad any minute now.

So, too, with the constant cry of “Fed!!!” in Our Thing. I hate to break it to you, gang, but you’re just not that important. Here, I’ll prove it to you. Let’s say we all decide to have a Dirty Two Dozen Readers’ Meetup. Are the Feds going to infiltrate us? How, exactly, would they do that? Are there any White agents left at the Feeb? And if there are, are there any Special Agents in Charge who will dare to put it in a memo: “I’m sorry, commander, but as you well know, this is a group of CisHetPat Pale Penis People. Diversity mandates be damned, if we’re going to get them, we must send in Bob!”

It’s all just manufactured drama-rama. I know it feels special, falling under the Eye of Sauron like that… but it’s pretty damn unlikely.

(of course, that’s exactly the kind of thing a FED!!!! would say, isn’t it? Bwahahahahaha!!)

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Preventing Competence

Quick reminder: If you’ve got mailbag questions for tomorrow, send ’em in, or post in the comments below (please identify them as such).


Much like Reagan and the Democratic Party, I didn’t leave American football, American football left me. I’ve always enjoyed the game, but — read this next part in the most sneering hipster tone you can — I stopped watching it before that was cool. It wasn’t the politics; it was the fact that they weren’t really trying to win the game.

Let me clarify: I don’t mean there were coaches or players deliberately throwing games. Nor do I mean that there were lots of coaches and players who were indifferent to success — it takes a certain personality to be into sports enough to make a career of it, and that personality type doesn’t really grok the concept of indifference. What I’m talking about is a kind of systemic indifference, an emergent property of a game becoming a business.

Let me illustrate: Pro football is sold as ruthlessly Darwinian. Miss a single field goal in a clutch situation, buddy, and you’re gone. It’s also ruthlessly specialized: Unlike, say, baseball, where a truly superior glove man can hang around despite his deficiencies at the plate, or vice versa, in football there are no “students of the game” or “veteran locker room presences” or any of those other euphemisms they use to describe guys who aren’t really particularly good at any one thing, but stay on the roster for organizational reasons. It doesn’t matter how great a blocker a running back is, or how well a wide receiver understands the route tree: If he loses a step, he’s gone, because all other aspects of his job pale in comparison to his ability to find, and exploit, that tiny hole.

That’s the story, anyway, but it’s not true. In fact, something like the reverse is true, and everyone knows it. Pick a kicker, google up his resume, and 99 times out of 100 you’ll find that he’s kicked for pretty much every team in the league at some point. Which is just bizarre. There are 32 NFL teams, which means there are 32 kickers in the whole league (nobody wastes a roster slot on a backup kicker). Ruthlessly Darwinian, right? Except… it’s the same 32 guys, season after season. You’re telling me that somehow, in this glorious rainbow of diversity that is the former USA, there are no more than 32 guys who can kick a football?

What about all those guys in college? Hell, why not grab Pepe the Soccer Boy from the nearest favela? As so many of us very, very badthinkers enjoyed pointing out during the Sarah Fuller thing — remember her? seems like a lifetime ago — there are not only a zillion college and high school football players out there, there are zillions more high school and college soccer players out there. Granted there’d be some retraining involved, but you’ve got a huge talent pool of people with a demonstrated ability to kick a leather-covered sphere really, really far. It’s not a particularly rare ability in itself. So why is it the same 32 guys, season after season? Hell, look at Scott Norwood, infamously the least clutch kicker ever to suit up for a pro team. Here’s wiki:

Norwood’s field goal range was unusually short for a professional kicker and he had difficulties in converting field goals over 40 yards throughout his career, especially on natural grass…

Although the Bills signed Björn Nittmo as Norwood’s potential replacement in the 1991 offseason, Norwood remained with the Bills through that season…

Norwood was waived in the first roster move of the off-season after the Bills signed Steve Christie, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

You don’t need to know much of anything about American football to conclude, just from those brief snippets, that Scott Norwood kinda sucked… and yet, he played seven seasons in the NFL, and two more in the short-lived USFL before that. And when he finally was replaced, it was by another long-service nobody (Steve Christie played 15 NFL seasons, with a lifetime field goal conversion rate of 77%… which is 68th overall. He was an all star exactly once).

The explanation, I think, is simple: Big time football — the NFL and the big college teams — is a really small world. Really, really small. Since we like Bill Belichick around here, let’s stick with him. In one of my tours of duty at Flyover State, I got to know a functionary in the football program fairly well. Not one of the guys on the sidelines, but integral to the product. Anyway, this guy, of whom none of y’all would ever have heard, was completely wired in. Flyover State wasn’t small-time, exactly, but they weren’t Power 5 either; the best they usually did was making one of those week-before-Christmas games you see on ESPN2. And yet, this guy knew everybody in the biz, at every level. I don’t think he personally had Bill Belichick’s home number stored in his phone, but he knew a whole bunch of guys who did, and — this is the point — had he ever been in a position to get hired by the Patriots, my buddy knew a dozen guys who could call Bill at home to vouch for him.

And Belichick is the most ruthlessly Darwinian of all the pro coaches. He’s prepared to let anyone walk, if he thinks there’s someone better available. Sometimes he blows it — Tom Brady apparently did ok down in Tampa Bay last season — but as we’ve said, he’s no more shrewd a judge of football talent than the next guy. He’s just more willing to follow through on his judgments, for good or ill. I haven’t run the numbers, obviously, but I’d be willing to be some pretty long money that some significant percentage of first-time coaches, trainers, etc. came up through the Patriots’ system. Everybody else is content to hire the same goofs over and over and over again, though they have mile-long resumes of the most relentless mediocrity.

Sticking with Bill for a sec — and the point’s coming, I promise — he’s also one of the few guys who is willing to look outside the pipeline. You can get a sense of how long it has been since I’ve followed the NFL by the age of this anecdote: Once there was a player named Danny Woodhead. Danny owes his entire 10-year NFL career to Bill. Woodhead, a running back, had three seemingly insurmountable problems breaking into the pros: One, he’s White. I think there’s a White RB now, but back then, the last time a White guy had started at RB was probably the early 1970s. Two, he’s small — listed at 5’8″, 204, which in football-ese probably means 5’5″, 170. Third, he played for a tiny college way out in the boonies in corn country (Chadron State). Thus, despite holding, or being near the top of, a scad of NCAA records, he barely got any interest from pro teams.

Now, if football really were the Hobbesian free-for-all it’s reputed to be, you’d think a guy like Woodhead would generate a lot of interest. Ok, he didn’t go to a big school, and he’s definitely not the biggest guy, and you can argue (probably correctly) that smaller schools mean a lower level of competition, but still — obviously the guy knows a thing or two about running with a football. Even if he can’t hold up an entire pro game in pass protection or whatever, that’s a secondary part of the job. The main part of the job, the one that guys get paid millions of dollars a year to do, is: run successfully with the football. Woodhead appears to be good at it. Surely you could do something with that guy?

And yet, only Bill did. Please note that I’m not in any way suggesting that Bill is some great evaluator of talent, who knows some secret that the rest of the league doesn’t. As I’ve written several times, he’s no better (or worse) than average. It’s just that he’s willing to give a guy with a miles-long track record of success at one level a shot to do it at the next level. It’s really that simple. Much like the “Moneyball” guys in baseball, who were willing to acknowledge and follow through on what everyone knows — that a walk is as good as a hit, because it doesn’t matter how you get on base, only that you get on base — Bill used the mind-blowingly novel approach of letting proven players play.*

That’s why he wins. That’s pretty much it. And yet, nobody else does it.

In effect, football — both pro and bigtime college — are just jobs programs for the old boys’ club. Rookie players from small schools, and undrafted free agents, get cut in training camp all the time, but guys from big schools that got drafted have to work pretty hard to get cut, and it’s insanely hard for coaches, to say nothing of executives, to actually get fired. Instead of everyone pulling out all the stops to win, winning is hardly ever a consideration. It’s far, far more important to be a “team player,” which in effect means: Making sure all the boys keep their jobs, or at least equivalent jobs — if a guy is so obviously out of his depth as a head coach, say, no problem! just make him a defensive coordinator, or an offensive line coach, or the special teams coordinator, or something, anything. Here, have a look.

Note that I deliberately picked a White guy who broke into the pros under Bill Belichick. A 54-52 record in the pros, and 15-9 in college. And having run the NFL’s Houston Texans into the ground — the guy has a well deserved rep as one of the all-time shitty general managers, which is really saying something — he got a college coaching gig at Alabama, perhaps the premier program in college football. There’s seemingly nothing this man can do to get run out of the game. See what I mean?

The point of all this (I promised one was coming) is that despite it all — and none of this is a secret, everyone knows how bad most coaches are — football still has this rep as red in tooth and claw. Even professional sportswriters used to joke about “NFL” standing for “No Fun League,” and not just because the commissioner at one point tried to crack down on ethnic antics like ten-minute end zone dances and whatnot. The game was just boring, and getting worse, because it was the same guys doing the same things, over and over, even when they made no sense. As we noted before, part of it was that the coaches are operating on a different incentive structure. It makes no sense to blitz Tom Brady if you actually want to win the game, but if you want to avoid the worst criticism for losing, it makes perfect sense….

…but another part of it, probably the much larger part, was that even playing the game wasn’t really the point. The games — the spectacle, the stuff those stupid fans thought was the point — were just hoops the organization had to jump through, in order to keep everyone’s best bud employed. If So-and-So actually happened to be any good at coaching, it was a feature, not a bug. The point is simply that he IS a coach (placekicker, whatever), and thus must remain so, and all his buddies at every level of the system will make sure that he does.

Naturally, those types of decisions start to snowball. Pretty soon you see entire franchises — the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns, probably most famously the Cowboys — who seemingly orient their entire corporate culture around covering up for the fact that the senior people suck at their jobs. The senior people hire junior people that also suck, not necessarily because the senior people are bad at talent evaluation — though of course they are — but because they’re not hiring “talent” in the first place. They’re hiring their kids, their buddies, their buddies’ kids, their father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.

Such “competence” as the organization develops, then, is only accidentally about winning football games. Mostly it’s “competence” at covering up how incompetent everyone is, and, most importantly, why everyone is so incompetent. The more the culture shifts that way, the further and faster it has to shift that way….

….and still the myth persists, unless something comes along to bust it up. It was only when the NFL started getting explicitly political that people started noticing, and then the COVID thing happened, as my students would’ve written back in the days, and all of a sudden, people are starting to notice. Even though the on-field product is exactly the same, those “No Fun League” jokes now have a real resonance, since it’s becoming more and more obvious that the games are rigged. Not pro wrestling-style rigged — though I’d put good money that’s coming — but rigged in the sense that nobody involved much cares who wins, so long as everyone gets paid. It’s literally just a show put on for the cameras.

Obviously cici n’est pas une essai about football.

 

 


*I could be wrong about this, and again there’s no way in hell I’m running the numbers, but I’m willing to bet that Bill is alone among NFL coaches in never having been fooled by a “workout warrior.” For non-American readers, that’s a guy who has mind-boggling physical stats, but no real accomplishment to back them up. The NFL draft is an entire subject in itself, and in its own right a pretty good illustration of what I’m talking about, but briefly: Athletes are judged at the draft in three main categories — the bench press (number of reps at 225 lbs.), the 40-yard dash, and the vertical leap. Every year, there’s some dude who blows everyone away at the draft combine, gets drafted in the high rounds, and flames out. This is because there’s never a game situation in which you can run 40 yards in a straight line starting from a track stance, or are required to push 225lbs off your chest in a straight line, or can jump straight up in the air without getting plastered. Those exercises are, at best, very loose approximations of raw athletic ability, which in itself means next to nothing.

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Own Goals

As y’all know, when my liver’s been acting uppity I put it back in its place by playing a drinking game called “If They Were Serious.” You can vary it up a little bit if you want — “If They Were Competent,” for example — but it all boils down to the same thing: Serious social movements, staffed by serious people with actual goals, have to do certain things. Unserious movements don’t do those things — indeed, they react to those things as a vampire reacts to garlic. At best, they do a half-assed, sloppy, slap-happy version of those things, because although they vaguely understand that such things need to be done, being profoundly silly people they have no idea why.

For instance, word comes that the Totally Legit Joe regime is pushing Facebook et al to collude in banning badthinkers for posting “misinformation” about the Kung Flu, the “vaccine,” etc. Which has a “coals to Newcastle” vibe from jump street — you mean they’re not already doing that? If I wanted to have a few minutes’ pointless fun, I’d sign up for the major social media services and see how long it’d take me to get lifetime-banned from all of them. The Vegas line is “5 minutes, 20 seconds.” Bet the under.

I know, I know, the irony of “dissent” going from “the highest form of patriotism” back to “a hate crime” isn’t lost on me, but that’s the thing — this ain’t my first rodeo. Dissent was good from 2000-2008, then bad from 2009-2016, then good again, and now it’s bad again. Same as it ever was, except these days, fiscal arteriosclerosis has set in. The first time dissent was the highest form of patriotism, social media was in its infancy. Yeah, sure, there were human toothaches trying to censor Facebook etc. from the get go — the SJWs ye have always with you — but Facebook etc. weren’t going for it.

Not, let us note, because of anything so quaint as “respect for our Constitutional rights;” Zuckerberg was practicing his “Lavrentiy Beria in a hoodie” routine almost from the first post. Rather, it’s that social media is dependent on its users to create content. As the old saying goes, if you can’t figure out what a company’s product actually is, then you are the product. No cat pictures, no Facebook, and all the cat pictures came from the users. Ditto YouTube and all the rest — there’s apparently some guy calling himself “PewDiePie” who has seventy zillion followers. I’d never heard of this dude until Z Man mentioned him; apparently his shtick is playing video games drunk or something like that. He makes, or made, a very nice living doing it.

The point is, back in the early days you could make money doing stuff like that. Nobody had ever dreamed something like that was possible. Much like Anonymous White Male said in the “art rock” post below (paraphrasing Frank Zappa), back in the days rock was new enough that the record company execs had no idea how to handle it. They didn’t know what the kids would like, and they knew they didn’t know, so they used the plate of spaghetti approach — just throw it all at the wall and see what sticks.

Fast forward a few years, though, and now they’ve got a pretty good idea of what “rock” is. More importantly, they’ve got a pretty good handle on what the market for rock is. At that point, they do what execs in any industry do. Why bother trying to find the hot new thing, when you can just make it yourself?

And that’s why two guys you’ve never heard of, Max Martin and a dude calling himself “Dr. Luke,” have written every #1 pop hit for the last 15 years. I’m sure they don’t work cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than scouting every bar band in America for a sound / look / stage act that might or might not pan out. Much easier to focus group a few traits, call up central casting, have them send over a made-to-order bimbo, and have him / her / xzhem front Dr. Luke’s latest computer-generated ditty.

And if everything on the radio all sounds exactly the same, that’s because it is exactly the same. Max Martin and Dr. Luke, and their zillion Mini-Mes at every level of the record biz, sometimes write songs for specific people — hey, guys, Katy Perry needs another ballad for her new album, hop to it! But mostly they write on spec, and shop it around. Different singers, different bands, different genres, doesn’t matter — this time its the two generic prettyboys in the “country” band Florida-Georgia Line singing it, but last time it was Katy Perry, the next time it’ll be the Backstreet Boys on their triumphant comeback tour, feat. Jay-Z and MC Funetik Spelyn. Same exact song, literally — it’s just that Kenny Chesney needed one more track on his album this time, and Taylor Swift didn’t, so now it’s #5 with a bullet on the “country” chart.

Same deal with social media. These days, there’s no discernible relationship between “content” and “revenue,” because Facebook doesn’t have “revenue.” All it has is a ticker symbol. Much like Enron, whatever physical product Facebook might once have theoretically produced — all those cat pictures — has been totally subsumed into share price fuckery. Yeah yeah, theoretically their “revenue” comes from ads, but as is well known, a) there is not, and never has been, in any industry, a discernible causal relationship between ads and revenue, and b) Facebook lies through its teeth about it anyway. How many times have they been caught now, including in sworn testimony to Congress?

Given all that, why not censor? Why not let your freak flag fly? Just as being innovative actually counts against you in the music biz these days — sure, sure, y’all might be the next Beatles, but we know Taylor Swift’s lab-grown replacement will move fifty million units — so there are considerable drawbacks, in the social media moguls’ minds, to letting just any old schmoe post anything he wants up on their platforms. What if Faceborg’s ad-generation algorithm decides to put a #woke company’s ad on a badthinker’s page? Faceborg’s entire business model rests on getting #woke companies to keep buying ads, since those ad buys are the only thing that keep the stock price up. And since those #woke corporations have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want those people’s business…

Swing it back to the top. Faceborg et al have figured out a surefire way to “make money” by manipulating their stock price. They don’t need a physical product to do it, but what they absolutely must have, the one thing from which all others flow, is “clicks.” Eyeballs. Whatever you want to call it, the whole house of cards is built on the premise that there are actual users out there — real, physical people, who exist in meatspace — who might theoretically buy the advertisers’ products. But….what if there aren’t?

Zuck et al have been pretty good at faking it so far, but as everyone knows, they are faking. For one thing, they keep getting caught. For another, even academics — the dumbest critters in captivity, Commodore 64-level NPCs who can be counted on to swallow the SJW narrative hook line and sinker — keep publishing studies showing that some huge number of all social media accounts, on all platforms, are bogus.

Indeed, you can test it for yourself. I know, I know, FED!!!!, but hear me out: Get a VPN. Sign up for a burner email. Rejigger the VPN, then use the burner email to sign up for Faceborg, Twitter, whatever. Don’t actually post anything; just sign up. It’s 1000 to 1 that even with no activity whatsoever, you’ll still be deluged with friend requests. The algorithms will take care of that, because as we’ve noted, they have to push the illusion that people are using these platforms, that eyeballs are landing on pages, that fingers are clicking on ads. You’ll get a whole list of “suggestions” of which accounts to follow, all of which — surprise surprise — are never more than a click away from some big advertiser.

Here, at long last, is the point: I think it’s safe to say that, given the current environment, those accounts posting “misinformation” about COVID are real users — actual people in meatspace. Also given the current environment, those might be among the only real users. Push them off in one coordinated purge, and two things seem very likely to happen: One, those few remaining actual users will end up spending their pointless hours talking to bots, which is good. And two, those who get banned will realize that they don’t need social media, which is much better.

You know Zuck et al are going to go apeshit with it. They can’t help themselves. They’re all SJWs, and SJWs only have two settings: Asleep, or incoherent frothing rage. “Restraint” is not a concept they’re familiar with, because if they could stop for a second and contemplate whether something might have some long-run consequences, they wouldn’t be SJWs in the first place. They’re going to go at the badthink bans Oriental despot-style — the guy who posted it, plus his entire family, plus their families, plus anyone whose name shares two letters in common with any of the above. And just like the COVID lockdowns had the highly beneficial effect, in many places, of getting people outdoors and actually interacting face-to-face with neighbors and family members, so kicking people off ALL social media, simultaneously, is going to make them realize just how much time they were spending clicking on stupid cat videos. Time that will need to be filled somehow….

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Fiction Recommendations

Further to yesterday’s discussion, a question from urbando:

Do you read any fiction for pleasure? I figured you were probably firmly on the side of non-fiction in your reading habits but thought I’d ask. Since I don’t have TV or cable or Netflix the screen in my den stays dark and I entertain myself via youtube vids and reading fiction.

If you have any recommendations I’d be most interested; I’m always looking for good fiction to read.

I thought it best to turn this one over to the rest of the Dirty Two Dozen, as a lot of you seem to be avid fiction readers, and some are even fiction writers! (good on ya). That’s one reason, anyway….

…the other, shameful one is: I don’t read much of anything these days. For whatever reason — work, personal life, just generally being in the doldrums (as happens to all of us) — these days I have the attention span of a concussed hamster. I can’t really sink into a good novel anymore, and when I try nonfiction, I sink back into old grad school habits.* I’d say “I haven’t finished more than a few books since [date],” but I really don’t want to know.

So have at it, gang — help a brother out.


*”Sink or skim,” as the phrase is. Graduate school, being a product of a medieval tradition “updated” by the Prussians, has insane work requirements, which is why no one can, should, or does follow them to the letter. Much like “comprehensive exams,” which really did cover everything back when it was possible to read everything in a sustained course of study, the grad syllabus assumes there are a handful of books other than Summa Theologiae in the world, and that one can therefore read one or two books a week. For four or five classes. Which can’t really be done in modern life, so you skim it. That’s where the formulas of academic prose really help btw — you can easily skim, because everything’s written in that same puffy style and it’s easy to cut the fat.

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Entertainment vs. Art

Ok, I’ll cop to it right out front: this post is mostly schadenfreude. In case you don’t want to click, that’s Ace of Normies crowing about how much money Marvel’s newest superhero movie — Thor vs. Batman VI: Captain Kirk’s Revenge, Except Now Everyone is a Gay Trannie, I think it’s called — losing zillions. Because everyone needs a little bit of good news these days, amirite? Die faster, Hollywood… die faster, and take what’s left of publishing with you.

But it also got me to thinking about one of my favorite hobbyhorses, the fact that this should be an artistic golden age.

To return to my favorite example, Pink Floyd’s album-slash-movie The Wall seemed to be a legit attempt at a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. I know that’s an awful heavy load for any pop album to bear, not least one whose best-known song asks how can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat, but whether or not Roger Waters et al were trying to go Full Wagner, that’s what they did.* Note, please, that it also doesn’t matter if they were successful at it. One is tempted to dismiss the whole thing by saying “Pink Floyd is no Richard Wagner!”, but that’s irrelevant. Salieri was no Mozart, but no one is going to say Salieri wasn’t a “real” composer, now are they?

Not to mention the fact that nobody is Richard Wagner, except Wagner. Even if you don’t particularly like his stuff — I don’t — if you know anything about it, you have to admit that he’s the closest thing to a universal artistic genius the human race has yet produced. Wagner wanted to create the Gesamtkunstwerk largely because he knew himself to be maybe the only guy who was truly capable of pulling it off.

Anyway, whether or not Floyd actually did it, they needed both the massive resources of an already established megastar rock act, and the unique cultural moment of the late 1970s, to even think about giving it a go. Think about it: The Beatles, Lennon and McCartney at least, were fully pretentious enough to give it a shot, but Sixties rock didn’t have the money behind it that the 70s arena rock era did. In the 80s, they had the money, and someone like Prince definitely had the pretentiousness, but the audience wasn’t there — Purple Rain was both a movie and an album, but everyone involved seemed to believe that the movie would succeed as a movie, not as an aspect of the album; and the album was certainly expected to succeed as a standalone product.

But the album version of The Wall, though obviously a standalone commercial success, really doesn’t make sense without the movie, and the movie doesn’t make any sense without the album. Indeed I would argue that the movie doesn’t make sense in any context, but that, too, feeds back into my main point — only in the late 70s would your audience be stoned enough, pretentious enough, and have enough of an arena rock-conditioned attention span to sit through both, while at the same time your stoned, ambitious, pretentious band had the financial resources to give it to them.

But nowadays, you can make professional quality albums literally in your garage, with off-the-shelf software. That off-the-shelf software isn’t super cheap, I imagine, but I’m guessing it doesn’t go for hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour like studio time with professional engineers does. Movie equipment is more expensive than that, of course, but I’ve been told by people who know that you can make a real, full-length, studio-quality movie for about $100K, again using off-the-shelf stuff. Your laptop probably has the processor power to handle it, and if it doesn’t, your desktop can be brought up to speed for a few grand, tops.

In other words, if you want to give a Wagnerian total artwork a shot, go for it! $100K isn’t cheap, I’ll grant you, but I bet if we all chipped in, we could make Rotten Chestnuts: The Movie without too much of a financial commitment for any one individual…

And that’s the most expensive art form we could pick. Take a few minutes, and look up what it takes to put a book out on Kindle Unlimited. It’s pretty much nothing. Want to give writing the Great American Novel a go? You can do it for pennies. And before you say “yeah, but nobody will ever read it!,” a) that’s a problem from the demand side, not the production side, and b) it’s laughably false. Ever seen Fifty Shades of Grey? Ye gods, I hope you haven’t, but I’m sure you’re aware of it. That started out as Twilight fan fic on the internet. Oh, and speaking of Twilight, I’m pretty sure that was originally self-published, too, and both of those ladies could easily finance Rotten Chestnuts: The Movie with change from their couch cushions.

See what I mean? This should be a golden age of the arts. Just as shows like “American Idol” proved how many karaoke singers out there have killer looks and stage presence to go along with their great voices, so YouTube and Kindle Unlimited have revealed the depth and breadth of storytelling talent out there (ok, yeah, I’m sure Twilight sucks, enough hipsters have told me so, but making scads and bricks and piles and metric shitloads of money counts for something, storytelling talent-wise). And yet, there’s nothing….

Why is that?

 


*Though of course a tedious leftoid in his personal politics, Waters does seem like an intelligent, well-read guy, at least by rock star standards, and guitarist David Gilmour kinda does too, despite ditto, though he seems to take himself marginally less seriously than Waters takes himself (not that that’s a particularly tough hurdle to clear). Note that guitarist Dave is CBE — that’s “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.” Which is one rank below “Knight Commander” of same, which comes with an honorary knighthood, which, if guitarist Dave ever gets promoted, will make him the other Sir David Gilmour. The OG Sir Dave, the 4th Baronet Gilmour, is a pretty good amateur historian**, and I assure you that I’m not trying to take anything away from either man’s very real accomplishments when I say I’m really rooting for the CBE to get upped, such that guitarist Dave ends up fielding questions from confused academics about Kipling and the Indian Civil Service, while the 4th Baronet gets panties thrown at him in the archives, because that would be hilarious.

**In the sense that he doesn’t hold an academic post. No disrespect to the man’s work, which, again, is first rate.

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Decadent Empire: The Video Game

Early in my teaching days, I ran across a problem: While half my students were ignorant of basic stuff — seriously, they’d ask me questions like “what is Parliament?” — the other half had decent primary school educations… and of those, a fraction actually knew quite a bit. I found this a particularly challenging situation, because one of my stock techniques was to have them “game out” various historical situations. Let’s say you’re Charles I. It’s 1625, you’ve just been crowned, and you’re in a bit of a spot…

The idea was to introduce material as the students thought it through. Here’s the problem you’re facing. What if you — King Charles — did this? Ahh, but look, here’s that. And oh, by the way, the other thing. It’s a classroom management problem: bringing the ignorant up to speed, without having the knowledgeable jump too far ahead. Done right, and the students really got a lot out of it — they remembered the solutions, because they’d thought of them themselves. If the nerds kept jumping the gun, though, nobody learned anything.

Eventually, No Child Left Behind “solved” the problem for me, by making ignorance universal, but in the interim I hit on the “video game” solution. We’ll pretend we’re playing something like “Civilization,” I’d tell them. I’d give a class a set of initial conditions — the video game’s rules — and have them run with it. Then I’d introduce the actual historical material. The smart, well-educated kids pretty quickly figured it out, of course, but it was much easier to keep them on task by referring to our Imaginary Kingdom…

As it turns out, that’s a useful technique for my own thinking, too. Comparisons of The Current Year to, say, the later Roman Empire are useful, and instructive, but the problem is, I know a fair bit about the Roman Empire, so if I’m not careful I tend to get lost in the details. And thinking about it “out loud,” as it were, by writing a blog post about it, tends to exacerbate the problem — this is, after all, the Internet, so there are lots of people out there who know way more about the Roman Empire than I do who are eager to jump in on the discussion. Those zillion-comment threads are fascinating, and you can learn a lot from them, but the point isn’t to become better informed about the arcana of the Later Roman Empire, it’s to think through the current problem.

So let’s say you’re playing a video game in which you are the newly crowned emperor of a globe-spanning empire that is obviously in sharp, perhaps terminal, decline. You came to the throne under some very fishy circumstances, so your personal power base is weak. You’ve got a fast-rising, aggressive power just over the horizon to the west. You have a bunch of lazy, whiny, demanding, yet effectively useless “allies” to the east, and to the south, a morass of warring tribes and an almost nonexistent border. You’ve got a lot of natural resources, but your infrastructure is a mess, and your human capital declining by the day. Your army is large, but politically suspect. What do you do?

(We’ll assume that you’re in full command of all your wits in this scenario).

Now, I’m no “gamer.” I personally topped out somewhere around “Civilization IV.” Those “real time” strategy games defeat me, since my poor simian brain just doesn’t fire fast enough to keep up with it all (funny how the same kids with all the “learning disabilities” who needed unlimited time and distraction-free environments to take my exams could handle that shit no problem, but that’s a rant for another day). But still, I think I can manage the basics, and the first thing I’d do is check the manual: How, exactly, do you win?

I don’t mean “solve all the empire’s problems,” since that’s impossible, and any game that ended in utopia wouldn’t be worth playing — I mean, maybe there are elves and dwarves and dragons and shit in this video game, I dunno, go nuts, the only limit is your imagination, but the game’s main selling point is that the strategy, at least, is realistic. I assume that in the game’s world, time marches on, such that “victory” is limited to “staying in power for X years” or “passing the throne on for your dynasty” or “defeating the rival empire” or something. What are the victory conditions?

After that, I’d turn my immediate attention to the army, since infrastructure, natural resources, etc. don’t mean much if I’m going to get overthrown right away. Here’s what I’ve got: big, strong-on-paper legions of dubious loyalty who haven’t seen much action in a while, and didn’t do so hot in the action they did see, backstopped by very small, but still militarily effective, palace guard-type formations….

….annnnnnd right now I’m probably reaching for the ol’ reset button, because my historian’s training and knowledge tells me I’m real trouble. Lots of Roman Emperors, some of them very talented hard boys, faced a similar situation, and they never really solved it. But if I decide to soldier on, at first I’m considering a Hadrian-type solution: withdraw, dig in, downsize. Those whiny, useless “allies”? Look to your own defense, as I think Jay-Z once said.

But that’s not going to work in my game’s world. Remember, we said that although we have lots of natural resources in the Imperial core, our infrastructure’s a mess and our human capital declining daily. What, exactly, are our newly demobilized legionaries going to do once they get back home? Guys like Hadrian didn’t know, either. I’m pretty sure he tried settling demobbed legionaries in “colonies,” the way Caesar did, setting them up as both pioneering farmers and a kind of vanguard of Romanization (not to mention a last-ditch militia reserve).

The problem with that, though, is twofold: First, there’s not enough land worth settling. Second, and far more important, the ex-legionaries don’t have the skills. Back in Caesar’s day, there were enough semi-civilian soldiers around who could make a go of farming. By Hadrian’s, the legionaries were all long-service professionals — enlistments ran 20 years, meaning you’d be an old man by the standards of the day when you got out. Plus that, since the legionaries were all long-service professionals who often died before they got out, “soldier” soon became, effectively, a guild profession — lots of guys in the later legions were the sons and even grandsons of soldiers.

So far we haven’t specified the base of our game’s economy, but given the initial infrastructure conditions, it’s pretty easy to see that there aren’t going to be jobs for the demobbed guys, no matter what economic base we choose. Hell, maybe our game is a Tolkien-style fantasy realm. Doesn’t matter — just as the Roman legionaries only had legionary-type skills, so our demobbed guys only have fantasy army-type skills. They’re aces at riding dragons or whatever, but that doesn’t translate to anything in civilian life… even if there were jobs out there anyway, which there aren’t.

So maybe you don’t demobilize those guys, you just reassign them. The problem with that, though, is that as we specified in the initial conditions, your legions are politically suspect. Your commanders are more politician than general, and since our initial conditions specified that you came to the throne under murky circumstances, it’s a safe bet that none of them are personally loyal to you. Given that, where do you reassign the legions? The southern border? Yeah, they could really do some good down there, straighten out those warring tribes…. but do you really want a bunch of guys with guns that close to you, especially under the command of guys who don’t know you, aren’t loyal to you, and (probably) had no hand in putting you on the throne?

And it goes without saying that you can’t really use those legions, either, except under extremely limited circumstances. Who are you going to pick a war with, such that you know you can beat them, but that the glory for doing so reflects on you, the Emperor, and not Miles Gloriosus, the on-the-spot commander? And god help you if you miscalculate, pick on the wrong guy, and get your clock cleaned….

Really, the only thing I can think of to do is make sure my legions are adequately stiffened by my palace guard, who we’ve specified are the only reliably effective formations we’ve got. Maybe I “promote” the furthest-away field commanders to staff positions close to me, then feed their legions, one at a time, into a low-level conflict on the southern border, making sure that the palace guard handles the critical missions for the new, more politically-reliable commander. One thing I absolutely do NOT do, though, under any circumstances, is weaken my palace guard….

See what I mean? By thinking about this stuff as if it were a video game, you get out of the “presentist” mindset, for lack of a better term. In the history biz, presentism is

the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Some modern historians seek to avoid presentism in their work because they consider it a form of cultural bias, and believe it creates a distorted understanding of their subject matter. The practice of presentism is regarded by some as a common fallacy when writing about the past.

Emphasis mine, because that right there is some bullshit, “modern” academic history is nothing but presentism, but let’s leave that aside for now. Humans are naturally “conservative,” in that we can’t help feeling, deep down in our bones, that what’s now is forever. “The past is a different country, as I’m pretty sure Dr. Dre said, and they do things differently there, and even the most conscientious historian has difficulty getting into past people’s heads. To return to an example I’ve often used, people often spelled their own names differently in different documents.* What does that say about their conception of their world, and their place in it?

Thinking about things in video game terms, then, highlights the assumptions we make about our world, the ones that unconsciously color our analysis of events. I think we’d all agree that putting chicks on SEAL teams is a skull-fuckingly stupid idea, but if asked to explain why, we’d probably go with stuff like “unit cohesion.” Even though she’s apparently “just” a boat driver, there’s no “just” anything on a commando team, and we all know there’s no way in hell she can do most of the stuff the rest of the team can, since something like 70% of young men in military shape wash out of SEAL training. It’s well known in the army that the top 10% of female recruits are outperformed by all but the bottom 25% of male recruits, and that those bottom-scrapers can be “motivated,” as I think the euphemism is, to surpass the gals. There is simply no way, none, nada, zip, that any woman is physically capable of performing up to a male SEAL’s level. Biology doesn’t work like that…

But does everyone see what I mean? The problem isn’t, or isn’t just, that intersectional genderfluid SEAL teams are going to be much worse at doing commando stuff. That’s the obvious short-run consequence, but thanks to our natural human “conservatism” we tend to think that’s the only consequence. It’s not, and indeed, “being worse at commando stuff” is actually incredibly minor. The major consequence, which becomes obvious when you think about it like a video game, is that when you come right down to it, the palace guard is the only thing propping up the emperor…

…and the emperor just told the palace guard to go fuck themselves. No, really: how else are the SEALs supposed to interpret that? As a big victory for gender equality? That shit is going to get them killed. They most certainly know it.

Alas, real life’s reset button is…


*And that’s before you get into the problems of historiography, which though fascinating are irrelevant here. Just a quick taste: Apparently Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s first chancellor, was unusual in that he always spelled his name the same way: Wulcy. How that became “Wolsey,” I have no idea, and I’m pretty sure it was “Wolseley” for a while in historical writing. Names were quite irregular and highly variable in that era. For instance, a guy who rose to prominence under Henry’s father was born William Writhe, was often referred to as “Wrythe,” then changed it, for whatever reason, to Wriothesley, the pronunciation of which is anyone’s guess (the modern consensus seems to be “Riz-lee”).

 

 

 

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Mail Bag / Grab Bag

It’s Friday, I ain’t got no job, etc.

From Pickle Rick:

[sorry, I seem to have lost the original email, but it concerned the Confederacy’s relations with the USA had the Civil War ended other than it did].

An interesting counterfactual, one that once spawned a whole bunch of “alternate history” literature. Those all seem to assume that the CSA would become what the USA eventually did — a globe-spanning superpower — but I think that’s mostly dramatic license; it’s hard to tell a fun story in a setting where the Confederate revolution ended the way almost all revolutions do: in a bloody dictatorship, with your economy destroyed, banana republic style. Rick, being a real historian, knows this, so his question (again, sorry I lost it) was something like “how could you ever maintain a stable border with a whole nation of Yankee fanatics?”

In my view, you can’t. Especially when there’s all kinds of stuff to fight over out West, just as the technology to get there and fully exploit it is coming online. Moreover, as we both agree, slavery as an economic system was toast. Oversimplifying a bit for clarity (but not all that much), the CSA staked their survival on Great Britain’s dependence on Southern cotton. In a short war — which all but the most farsighted assumed — that strategy makes sense, but in the long run it’s fatal.

It’s fatal even if the Confederacy won, because cotton isn’t like The Spice, found only in one location in all the universe. Go wander through the “housewares” aisles at Target — be prepared to feel your nuts shriveling — and you’ll see towels, bedsheets, and all kinds of stuff made from 100% Egyptian cotton. That’s a big selling point, Egyptian cotton. And the stuff grows lots of other places, too, including — you guessed it — China. I recommend Stephen Platt’s Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom for a lot of reasons — the Chinese are still epically butthurt about the Taiping Rebellion; they’re so hostile to Christianity, in part, because they think all Christians are potential Hong Xiuquans — but not least because it shows how quickly the British adopted to the cotton problem. Unless the war really did end at First Manassas (and, honestly, probably not even then), the CSA would soon have found itself priced out of the cotton market.

Which then raises the fascinating question of what the Confederacy would have done with its Diversity when the cotton market cratered.* Too bad alt-history novelists don’t do comedy, because the thought of some sneaky bastard like Judah Benjamin organizing something like the Mariel Boatlift on the Yankees — “there’s 40 acres and a mule waiting for you in Massachusetts, boys!” — is hilarious. Wiki tries hard to sanitize this part, obviously, but Castro dumped a whole bunch of his criminals, lunatics, and criminal lunatics via Mariel, in the kind of beautiful low blow you can’t help but admire the sick bastard for. Hell, maybe that’s what they did, in those wonderful alt-history worlds, and that’s why the Confederacy became a superpower while the Union languished in third world obscurity.

In the real world, though, I imagine you’d get something like Bleeding Kansas, but stretched across a continent, with a dose of Northern Ireland near the more settled areas back east. Had they ever figured it out, and had the Confederacy somehow solved the Diversity problem — say, by conquering Mexico, as the hotter Rebel heads always yearned to do — whoever emerged from that shitstorm would’ve been the hardest, baddest White men of all time… I need to stop now; my eyes are getting misty.

One more quick thought: Cotton slavery, as an economic system, really only lasted a few decades. Even if we make slavery absolutely central to the national economy from the Founding, that’s less than a century — a mere blip in historical time. One wonders, given its now-obvious blighted nature, if the Internet might not be something like slavery was back then — a blip on the radar, an economic system that supported massive profits and an entire way of life… but only temporarily, before its obvious contradictions destroyed it in an orgy of violence. Perhaps the #woketards of 2121 will be pulling down statues of Bill Gates and using “Facebook-ist” as the worst imaginable insult. A man can dream, right?


From Curious in Japan:

A question related to your previous work experience: How much of the Arrogance and/or Dysfunction you describe is made worse/unapproachable by prescription meds? And how has the increased uptake in such meds made things worse in the last, say, 10 years?

The pills, the pills…. oh dear lord, the pills. I’ve often joked that you can’t beat Trigglypuff, for purely logistical reasons if no other: You need to sleep sometime, and by definition she doesn’t, thanks to her limitless access to powerful prescription psychotropics. I was joking, but I wasn’t kidding. Since kids these days have no filter, I’ve had several students simply tell me, to my face, all the psych problems they’ve been diagnosed with, and what they’ve been prescribed for them. What happens is this: At the start of every semester, you get a flood of students coming up after the first class meeting, clutching “accommodation forms” from Student Services. These obviously don’t list the kid’s specific syndromes — thanks, HIPAA!! — but again, being filterless, the students will often straight out tell you: “If I don’t come to class for a few weeks, it’s because the depressive phase of my bipolar disorder has started.”

I’m exaggerating a little for effect…but only a very, very little. I did, swear to God, have one student tell me xzhey don’t do well in history class because xzhey “don’t do well with linear time.” And since being “on the spectrum” is somehow now a badge of honor for Twitter addicts, I’ve had more than a few kids tell me all about their Assburgers Sydrome (its main symptom is “inability to turn classwork in on time”), their ADHD, and so on. I’ve been presented with every “learning disability” under the sun, and while there’s no prof so #woke and naive not to suspect that lots of this is just a raging case of Idonwannagotoclassitis, they’re all on sixteen kinds of happy pill for it….

…and who knows what that shit is doing to their biochemistry? But more importantly, being on the happy pills is, as Curious notes, an all-purpose Asshole License. Much like going vegan or taking up Crossfit somehow gives you license to be an intolerable dickhead every waking moment, so does a “disability accommodation” form from Student Services free students from all constraint on their behavior. I’d really like to see the lab work on the “learning disability” that keeps you from concentrating long enough to take a 45 minute exam, yet allows you to focus exclusively on Twitter and Xbox for up to seven straight hours, but… there it is.


From Prodigal Son:

Is there anything you want to share about fanaticism?

Stuff like Prohibition and Revolution, Child Crusades and CRT, tells us it’s not especially religious or secular in nature, though it requires faith of a kind. A berserker warrior or Dionysian orgy is not fanatic, because their passion is mindless sublimation; whereas a fanatic ‘won’t change their mind and can’t change the subject:’ it’s ‘mindful’ while yoking all thoughts to a horse of zeal.

I have read: ‘whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad [insane]’ and ‘fanaticism is redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.’ Is fanaticism when a movement/enterprise loses its competent leadership and becomes a cargo cult? Under what conditions does fanaticism not appear? Are there historical eras where it is absent from culture?

That’s a huge topic that I’ll have to address in separate posts, but for now let’s start by saying, Marxist-style, the fanaticism requires both a base and a superstructure. A lone fanatic is just a weirdo. See, for example, this guy.

Menocchio said: “I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time, and he was named lord with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. That Lucifer sought to make himself lord equal to the king, who was the majesty of God, and for this arrogance God ordered him driven out of heaven with all his host and his company; and this God later created Adam and Eve and people in great number to take the places of the angels who had been expelled. And as this multitude did not follow God’s commandments, he sent his Son, whom the Jews seized, and he was crucified.”

In other words, he’s just crazy. Evangelical atheists aren’t wrong when they point out how comically easy it is to become a “minister” (I know one who actually had himself “ordained” as some kind of joke), and how goofy so many of these “ministers” are. Were he with us today, Menocchio would have himself a YouTube channel with about 500 subscribers, and that would be that.

That’s the “base.” This guy came to believe what he did because he had access to a little learning, and from what was available to him, he produced his views. But the “base” also encompasses YouTube, or the Roman Inquisition in Menocchio’s case — the only reason we know about the guy is that he came to the attention of the authorities, which presupposes that there are authorities, and that they have sufficient reach to hear about him, sufficient force to arrest and prosecute him, etc. There were no doubt zillions of communities with very weird beliefs that we’ll never know about, precisely because they didn’t come to the attention of a sufficiently strong authority. How many Montaillous must there have been? Again, same deal — these guys came to the attention of a sufficiently energetic inquisitor, who used it as a springboard to the Papacy. The Cathars of Montaillou were “fanatics,” I guess, but only in the sense that they resisted the inquisition.

The point is, that “cheese and worms” stuff “worked” for Menocchio, just as Catharism “worked” for the people of Montaillou. They were “fanatics” in the sense that they wouldn’t give the beliefs up, but they weren’t out there proselytizing. Had there been no Inquisition, no energetic enforcers of the larger social structure, nobody would’ve much cared.

The “superstructure,” then, is the means motive and opportunity to proselytize — that is, to use the authorities’ own structures against them. See e.g. the Inquisition itself, which went from a minor bureaucracy to a massive socio-political force, thanks to its seizure by talented, ruthless, ambitious men like Jacques Fournier and Torquemada. I realize that probably seems grossly artificial — an SJW is just a weirdo until she gets elected to the school board, then she’s a fanatic, though nothing else about her has changed — but I’m trying to look at it functionally.

“Fanaticism,” as I’m describing it here, is exactly the kind of thing the Inquisition was designed to prevent. Those cats in Montaillou would’ve been perfectly fine doing what they did under a less ambitious monarch, or if Fournier had been assigned one diocese over, or under a million other conditions. So long as they don’t get obnoxious about it — thus forcing the authorities to take notice — they’ll probably be fine, unless they have the grave misfortune to fall under the purview of exceptionally ambitious and talented men.

I hope that makes some kind of sense, because somehow we’ve got to get from there to “the authorities being concerned not just with outward show, but the actual state of your soul.” But that’s going to have to be at another time, because right now I’ve got no clue.

As always, thanks to everyone for writing, and reading. Have a good weekend!

 


At this point, if we were having this discussion in the classroom — holy jeebus, can you imagine? — one of the few kids who didn’t need fainting couches and grief counselors would raise his hand and ask why the slaveholders wouldn’t just put the slaves to work in factories. Questions like that always killed me back in my teaching days. The answer, of course, is “spend a little time around Diversity, and you’ll bust a gut laughing at the thought of what it would take to get them Taylorized”…. but how do you say that to a college kid without ruining her world (and, far more importantly, not getting fired)?

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Are They Trying to Lose?

Everyone has asked that about the Republican Party at some time, and while the last few years have changed the answer, in most sentient beings’ minds, from “maybe” to “oh hell yes,” it’s not always the case. I’m not going to defend the GOP here — I know full well they’re merely the “right” wing of GloboHomo — but it’s interesting to think about those situations where emergent behavior looks like deliberate failure.

At Z Man’s the other day, I offered a very limited defense of the History Biz. It’s not just that they’re rabid Leftists, I said. I mean, yeah, they are, no denying that, but outright “writing the conclusion before you even start asking the question”-type fraud, Michael Bellesisles-type fraud, is a lot rarer than you probably think.

Bellesisles, you might recall, is the guy whose revolutionary revisionist thesis was that the Founders weren’t really all that enthusiastic about guns, and didn’t own that many, and that whole 2nd Amendment thing was just an afterthought. Yeah, right. That one was written conclusion first, and since no remotely objective look at the evidence could ever possibly support it, he resorted to making lots of “evidence” up. But the reaction of the rest of the profession was interesting: They lauded Bellesisles to the skies. He won the Bancroft Prize for his work, which is the biggest one you can get in American history. Now, I’m sure you’re saying “of course they praised him, he was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear!”, and you’re right…

…but only to a point. Because eggheads are — as you might imagine — the pettiest, most envious bunch of little bitches this side of a junior high cheerleading squad, there’s no piece of research so meticulous, no conclusion so solid, that someone isn’t going to tear into it in one of the professional journals, for base personal reasons if no other. Lest you think I’m kidding, I personally know of a woman at a big league school whose husband was seduced, and her marriage ruined, by an open, obnoxious lesbian colleague, all because she, the hetero, had dared to question some of the lesbian’s work at a conference in their mutual field.

That’s the level of pettiness we’re dealing with here. And I can’t say for absolute certain that Bellesisles received no criticism whatsoever; he doesn’t work in my field, so even though I was certain that Arming America was bullshit of the purest ray serene, it wasn’t my problem, professionally speaking. But whatever, point is, in my fairly well-informed opinion, merely “telling them what they want to hear” doesn’t account for the entire profession ignoring the huge, blinking, neon red flags surrounding Arming America. Rather, I suggest it’s more of a Pauline Kael thing.

I actually kinda pity Kael — much like John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, she was a fairly big wheel back in her day, but if she’s known at all now, it’s for something entirely peripheral to her life’s work. In Kael’s case, it’s her declaration that it was impossible for Richard Nixon to have won in 1972, since “nobody I know voted for him” (it was one of the biggest blowouts in American electoral history). The Arming America thing is, I think, like that — nobody in academia owns a gun, or knows anyone who owns a gun, or knows anyone who knows anyone who owns a gun. So, yeah, they know all the scary statistics about how there are sixty gorillion more guns than people in America, but all of that iron belongs to the Dirt People, far away over the horizon. They’d never in a million years even be in the same zip code as someone who thinks Arming America was absurd on its face. Hence, it never occurred to them to question it.

It helped that Bellesisles was telling them what they wanted to hear, no doubt, but the main reason nobody challenged it was that they lacked the cognitive toolkit to even consider the possibility he might be wrong.

To put it another way (which also had its genesis in Z Man’s comment section; if you wonder why I don’t write sometimes for a few days or weeks at at time, it’s that I’m an almost entirely “reactive” blogger)… where was I? Oh yeah: Football. It’s been many a year since I watched the Negro Felon League, but last time I did, coaches were still blitzing Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who at the time were the best quarterbacks in the league (I guess Brady’s somehow still playing). Which is stupid, because good quarterbacks love getting blitzed. If they pick up on it — which they usually do, being good — a blitz is like an engraved, hand-delivered invitation to score. I have no idea how one goes about stopping Manning and Brady — if I did, I’d rent my knowledge out to a black guy (since no team would ever hire my honky ass) and we’d make millions — but I know one surefire way not to do it… and so does everyone else, and yet, they keep doing it. Are they trying to lose?

Again, this is emergent behavior. If Brady is carving his defense up, the defensive coordinator is under immense pressure to do something, anything, to change the dynamic. He knows that every yahoo in the tv audience is yelling “blitz him!!,” so that’s what the coordinator does, even though he knows full well that a) that’s stupid and counterproductive, and b) so are the yahoos urging him to do it, because if they knew anything worth knowing, they’d be wearing a headset instead of jockeying a barstool. Same goes for the yahoos at ESPN, from the bimbette who’s going to shove a mic in his face at the postgame press conference to the hair-gelled dipshits on the shout shows. “Why didn’t you blitz him?” is going to be the first thing out of their mouths, so again, even though he knows it, and they, are stupid, the coordinator dials up a few blitzes… with predictable results.

Football is a great metaphor for politics, especially in the sense that it’s the supposed experts, the guys who get paid millions of dollars to be innovative and analytical, who are the most allergic to actual analysis and innovation. I guess Tom Brady doesn’t play for the Patriots anymore, but for the sake of rhetorical continuity let’s assume he does, and look at legendary coach Bill Belichick. Much smarter, more knowledgeable folks than me have pointed out that he’s really not all that innovative, in the sense of “coming up with wacky new schemes.” Nor is he a particularly shrewd judge of football talent — for every Tom Brady who falls into his lap (Brady was famously a 6th round pick that Belichick had nothing to do with), or Randy Moss that he seems to rehabilitate for a few seasons, there are other big name free agents who join the Patriots and flame out, or highly touted draft picks that don’t do anything. The two secrets of Belichick’s success seem to be: 1) he actually knows the rules, and 2) he fits his game plans to the game.

#1 seems weird, I know, but here’s an example: A decade or so back, he was facing a rival, Pittsburgh or someone, who had a ferocious defense. Belichick knew that the said ferocious defense would be geared up to stopping TE Rob Gronkowski, who had burned them for a million yards last time. To defeat this, Belichick made sacrifice to his strange and awful gods, meditated in a secret Himalayan ashram with the Black Lotus society, and… checked the weather report, which told him that it would almost certainly be cold and rainy on game night. So then he broke out the rule book, in which he learned that there’s no rule against putting out as many offensive lineman as you want — it’s called a “goal line formation” — and so he simply swapped out Gronkowski for a sixth lineman, and ran the ball all night.

Which feeds into #2. Weather reports aren’t top secret information, and the rule book is literally right there, but everyone watching the game — most especially including the Steelers’ defensive coordinator — acted like Belichick had pulled his game plan straight out of the Necronomicon. They had no idea what he was doing, or any clue how to stop it. Here again, it’s not as if the Steelers’ d-coordinator had never seen a goal line formation before, or the announcers had never witnessed a game being played in the rain. It’s just that… well, he’s Rob Gronkowski. They pay him millions to catch balls and wreck worlds, and he was barely on the field. No other coach would do what Belichick did, because who else would tell a zillionaire glory boy to ride the pine, and expect to be obeyed?

See what I mean? Belichick’s “system” was that he didn’t have a system. He figured out what was most likely to win the game, then did that. Note too that nobody seemed to be baffled that an even richer, even more important glory boy, Tom Brady, was also pretty much useless that night. And again, who but Bill would have the sheer brass balls to tell a surefire Hall of Famer to just hand the ball off over and over and over and over and over….? There’s no question that if it should ever happen that Bill believed he had a better chance of winning a given game without Brady than with him, Brady’s ass would’ve been benched for that game, future Hall of Famer or not.

That’s what I mean about emergent behavior. Both Belichick and the Steelers’ d-coordinator thought they were trying to win the game. Hell, I’m willing to believe that both of them would swear in the very throne room of God Almighty that they did everything they could think of to win. It’s just that Belichick could think of a lot more “anything” than the other guy could, because the other guy felt he had to worry about the dudes on barstools, and the sideline reporterettes, and the jock sniffers on the ESPN rant shows, and Belichick… didn’t. That’s all.

But that’s the thing about politics, and why the football metaphor only goes so far: The very next week, every doofus football coach in America, from the NFL to the local PeeWee league, was running out six and seven offensive linemen for every play. It makes zero sense to do this in good weather, or when you don’t have a solid run-blocking line, or for a million other reasons, but all those meatheads saw that Belichick won with this never-before-seen thing called “the goal line formation, but, you know, at midfield,” and so they all had to incorporate it into their game plans….

…lest the barstool yahoos and the reporterettes and Stephen A. Smith all start yelling about why didn’t you send out the extra lineman?!?!*

Given all that, you’d think that politicians would take a few lessons from the Trump phenomenon, the way every coach who has seen Belichick’s latest “gimmick” feels honor-bound to repeat it… if, you know, he’s actually trying to win, however defined.

 


*See also: the “wildcat formation,” which is a gimmick crappy college teams sometimes use when they don’t really have a quarterback who can throw the ball consistently, as crappy teams often don’t. For some reason, some pro team busted it out one season — it was the Dolphins, I think, because their regular crappy quarterback got hurt and their crappy backup was crappy even by the Dolphins’ standards. So they used this silly college gadget play, and won a game or two with it, and next season every single fucking team in the entire goddamn league was running the “wildcat.” And then the inevitable happened, pro football being designed around quarterbacks capable of making professional throws, and now the only teams that run the wildcat are small high schools in the ass end of nowhere, as God intended.

 

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Storytelling Fail

Believe it or not, this post started as a reply to Pickle Rick, in the comments below, in re: the “Valkyrie” plot to kill Mustache Guy. Stick with me:

When I first announced I was planning my retirement from the ivory tower, I got a lot of jokes about when I’d get started on my novel. It’s the standard gag about us Liberal Arts types, that we’re all frustrated artistes. You hear that joke enough, and you eventually do start contemplating it…

I quickly concluded that I couldn’t do it. The main thing is, they say “write what you know,” and what I know is the ivory tower — that is to say, an institution where all the drama is entirely self-manufactured by vain, petty people who think they’re much smarter than they actually are. That rules out most genres people actually enjoy reading right there. There’s comedy, I guess, and I considered giving that a go, but the modern university is beyond parody. Maybe Joseph Heller at his absolute apex could pull it off, but I’m no Joseph Heller. Nor am I Franz Kafka, who is the onlie begetter of the only other genre that would cover academia: Surrealist, absurdist, dystopian horror. The adjective “Kafkaesque” describes graduate school perfectly, no doubt, but if you somehow need a dose of that, just go read The Trial. Or watch the film Brazil, and imagine everyone is twice as polysyllabically self-important…

Ok, so forget academia, I thought. I’ll go the opposite route, and write what I don’t know. The problem there isn’t ignorance. Not factual ignorance, anyway, since I have lots of recent professional experience doing research, but what you might call mechanical ignorance. Guys like James Patterson and Tom Clancy and Dan Brown (who has the market cornered on “sexy professor” thrillers, damn him) get criticized for having formulaic, paint-by-numbers plots, so much so that at least one of the former two is dead and the other might as well be, since “he” seems to be mostly a name for a factory full of ghostwriters. But if you actually sit down and try to dope out the “formula,” it’s a lot tougher than it sounds. Even “Jack Ryan foils the bad guys”-level plots have lots of moving parts….

…at which point I gave the whole thing up, but the very process was instructive. Seeing how tough a time I had with it, is it any surprise that our hormone-addled, diversity-addict overlords are fucking it up so egregiously?

So bad is it, in fact, that even supposedly professional storytellers are screwing it up. The “Valkyrie” plot was really a thing that happened (the cognoscenti call it the Schwarze Kapelle), and it’s got all the makings of a great spy thriller… except one: There’s no good guy. Claus von Stauffenberg was a better guy than Hitler, I suppose, but that’s a bar so low it’s subterranean. Von Stauffenberg was a Wehrmacht colonel who’d seen action in pretty much every theater up to that point, including the invasions of Poland and Russia. It’s safe to say that one does not rise to the rank of colonel via combat in the Nazi armed forces without being involved in some shady shit. Indeed, as wiki informs us, von Stauffenberg was fine with the way things ran in Poland, and initially declined to participate in the resistance out of a sense of personal loyalty to the Fuhrer.

A movie can get away with showing mostly shades of gray, but in the case of the “Valkyrie” plot, both shades are pretty damn close to black.

Nor was the 2008 movie, starring Tom Cruise, an isolated case. A few years earlier, Jude Law and Ed Harris squared off as dueling snipers in Enemy at the Gatesset during the Battle of Stalingrad. Who do you root for, the Nazi or the Commie? The producers opt for “commie,” obviously, but their attempts to humanize the Jude Law character are embarrassing — even if we accept Law’s character as totally apolitical, no movie featuring a political commissar in a vital supporting role, not to mention “cameos” by Khrushchev and Stalin himself, can fail to remind viewers that everyone involved was awful. Even the most gripping battle scenes (and to be fair, some of them were pretty good) can’t make up for the fact that the world would be a far, far better place if they somehow both could’ve lost.

Those are high-level failures, conceptual mistakes, the kind that professional storytellers simply shouldn’t make. Not only that, though, both movies have unforgivable mistakes in the execution, at almost every level. Tom Cruise, for instance, is comically miscast as Stauffenberg. I’ve written before about how weird it is that casting directors seem to obsess over finding actors who look like even obscure historical figures.* Cruise looks a bit like Stauffenberg, I guess, but there’s simply no way a guy with his…ummm….distinctive acting style should be anywhere near a historical drama. Tom Cruise only ever really plays Tom Cruise, so “Tom Cruise dressed up as a Nazi” is really jarring.

And that’s before you consider the accents. Maybe Tom Cruise can’t do a German accent, I dunno. I seem to recall he did an Irish accent in a movie once, and that turned out ok, but again, whatever character he was playing was just “Tom Cruise with an Irish accent.” So maybe if you feel you must cast him as a German, letting him use his “natural” American accent is the way to go.** But if you’re going to do that, please, for pete’s sake, make everyone else do an American accent, too. I know Kenneth Branagh can do one. So either cast guys who can do the right accent, or, failing that, who can do each other’s accent. Otherwise you get a huge, distracting mess.

Enemy at the Gates was actually worse: Law, Joseph Fiennes (the commissar), and Rachel Weisz (the love interest) all used their native British accents… but they’re different kinds of British accent, at least in Law’s case. Meanwhile, Ed Harris (the Nazi antagonist) uses the “neutral” American accent, while supporting player Ron Perlman, who is American, does a comically over-the-top Russian… as do the guys playing Khrushchev and Stalin. It’s just weird. In both movies, you’ve got supposedly tight groups of friends (or, at least, co-conspirators) talking to each other in wildly different accents. That kind of thing is bad enough in a movie like Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, which made no pretenses to historical accuracy; it’s movie-destroying in a supposedly serious, historically-based thriller.

Again, as fun as it is to talk about movies from decades ago, there’s a point to this, and here it is: These are professional storytellers screwing up some of the most basic of storytelling mechanics. It’s a lot harder than it looks, in other words, and it’s only going to get worse as people get dumber. Given all that, is it surprising how badly our political class is screwing up their propaganda? And that’s before the people who can’t figure out what pronouns to use get into any but the lowest-level command positions….

This has been your white pill for the day.

 

 


*There are a zillion examples, but I think my personal favorite is the HBO series Deadwood. Actor Ian McShane is great in the role of Al Swearingen, and he actually does kinda look like the guy in the few known historical photographs, but… who in the audience had ever even heard of some bartender from Dakota Territory in the 1870s? I mean, yeah, ok, there are a few historical figures where you have to cast a lookalike — Hitler, Elvis, maybe Abe Lincoln (though “Daniel Day Lewis on stilts with a beard” seems to have done the job there), maybe one or two more. But as thankful as I am that Ian McShane got the job — he’s just terrific — I promise you that absolutely no one would turn off their tvs in disgust if he looked nothing like the historical person.

**Whatever you call the American version of British “received pronunciation,” which is what I think they call the accent they used to teach all the aspiring poshos at the BBC before they went full retard. The “neutral,” “default,” whatever-you-want-to-call-it American accent is fascinating, and has gone through significant changes over the years. Consider the “1930s movie newsreel reader” accent. I don’t know what it’s called, but I know you recognize it. It’s fairly close to the natural speaking accent of guys like FDR. But by the 1960s, you’ve got the “Tom Brokaw” accent, which is more or less the “Tom Cruise” accent…. again, no idea what these are called, and this is all tangential, but it’s cool.***

***Since we’ve mentioned Daniel Day Lewis in passing, how about some props to him for his killer “American frontier” accent in Last of the Mohicans? I have no doubt that Day Lewis, being Day Lewis, pestered every historical linguist in North America for tips on the most “authentic” possible colonial frontier accent, though no one living has ever heard it. It was really a nice touch.

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Thug Life

Word comes that the Totally Legit Joe regime is thinking about sending its agents door to door, to check if you’ve been a good little comrade and received your jab. Which means now’s an ideal time to discuss the pros and cons of the Secret Police.

Let us first note the obvious: that “secret police” is an oxymoron. A police that’s actually secret would be devastatingly effective… but not as effective, it turns out, as one with a good PR department. When you study up on the secret police of defunct regimes,* the first thing you notice is how un-secret they are, by design. The Gestapo, for instance, tried very hard to insinuate that they were just another bureaucracy — you could ask the average kamerad “what’s the way to the Gestapo office?” and he’d know; he might not even suspect you of any ill designs. After all, European nations have a long tradition of “political police.” The Gestapo were just the logical extension of that…

But on the other hand, the Secret Police tried hard to develop a unique — and uniquely intimidating — style. The Okhrana had their own uniform, IIRC, and Gestapo were rightly famous for their leather trenchcoat aesthetic. And given that almost all Gestapo men were also SS members, that was the sartorial double whammy — even when he’s wearing civvies, that lightning rune pin puts the fear in you. Indeed, that’s the key to their effectiveness.

In the one in-depth study of the Gestapo I’m aware of, by historian Robert Gellately, he emphasizes how understaffed, overworked, and generally inefficient they were. He had some source-base problems — Gestapo files are notoriously hard to come by — but if we assume that the one town’s records he unearthed were anything close to typical, the Nazi secret police spent very little time actually policing. Instead, they spent a lot of time puffing up their own reputation for ruthlessness and cold efficiency, and let that do all the work — most of their intel came from willing informers.

And the Gestapo, overworked and understaffed as they were, had massive resources compared to lots of other secret police operations. The second string, then, amped up the oxymoron even more. Romania’s Securitate was a nasty bunch even by secret police standards, probably because they were at the bottom of the heap, resource-wise (Romania being a poor country even by commie standards, and Ceausescu being a low-rent dictator even by same). Given that, they went all-in on ostentatious intimidation. The Securitate own the dubious honor of making the standard Eurotrash track suit the universal symbol of thuggery. They’d dress their goons in track suits, and have them follow random people around, to let the people know that no one was above suspicion. Same way with phone taps — they made damn sure you knew every phone was tapped, by making the taps as obvious as possible; you could practically hear the Securitate goons taking notes as you talked.

The problem with that, obviously, is that you run the risk of overdoing it. North Korea, for instance, only gets away with their “everything not forbidden is compulsory” model because they’re a tiny peninsula, backstopped by the much richer, much more competent regime across the Yalu. Just as Ceausescu barely lived past the fall of the Berlin Wall, because the Soviets were retrenching and couldn’t waste their rapidly-dwindling resources propping him up, so the Kims will last all of six weeks when the Chinese start having serious internal problems. It’s tough to thread the needle — note the change from the NKVD to the MGB to the KGB as Stalinism wound down, each successor agency getting much less obnoxious and much more actually secret. NKVD goons carried on like the Gestapo (they, too, loved the leather trenchcoat look); KGB guys were much harder to spot, looking like normal apparatchiks.

Americans obviously don’t have much experience with secret police, but if you think about it, our regular police have a very similar problem. What happens if you put a big beefy cop, all decked out in paramilitary gear, with a big K-9 and a huge blacked-out SUV for a patrol car — you know, the whole schmear — on a street corner, and that corner doesn’t immediately become the safest in the city? Even if it does, you’ve got a problem, since that cop is now tied to that corner, meaning that the real criminals can just shift operations a block over. But since that one guy can’t be everywhere, stopping everything, pretty soon the neighborhood loses respect for him. Yeah, he’s got all kinds of tacticool shit strapped to him, and the dog looks scary, but all you have to do to defeat him is have ten people breaking the law simultaneously. Even if he turns the dog loose, he can only stop two of you — when the best your ace crime fighter can do is the Mendoza Line, people stop respecting the police.

Nor do undercover cops help the situation much. I highly recommend the old HBO tv series The Wire. It’s fun for a lot of reasons, but for our purposes here, just watch the schemes the drug dealers come up with to foil the narcos. The Wire goes overboard in its depiction of mastermind drug dealers — if they were that smart and self-disciplined, they’d belong to a different demographic — but the street-level stuff is true enough, I’m told by those who would know, and it’s extremely interesting. Basically what the drug dealers do is set up their transactions in such a way that the cops commit all their resources to catching small fry who can’t really be prosecuted, and don’t know anything about higher-level operations. The best-planned, most sophisticated sting of guys on the street nets you one fourteen year old kid who only knows the street name of the guy above him, which a) the cops already know, and b) is therefore completely useless. Meanwhile the real criminals just keep on keepin’ on…

Now swing that all the way back up top, to the Totally Legit Joe regime sending out its junior volunteer kommissars to “encourage” everyone to get their suicide shot. Lots of people in Our Thing assume this is an intimidation tactic — “we know who you are, and we’re watching!” — but if so, it’s a stupid and counterproductive one, even if the Junior Volunteer Thought Police (hereafter JVTP, please update your Official Rotten Chestnuts Lexicons (ORCL) appropriately) are merely Securitate-level competent. What happens if you tell the JVTP to fuck off? Unless you actually get hauled away in a black, windowless van the very next night, the “lesson” fails to register…

And note that in this scenario, it actually fails on two levels. On the crudest level, it shows everyone that the JVTP aren’t nearly as scary as they’re made out to be. Hey, that goofy fat dude in Apartment 3C told them to fuck off, right to their blue-haired, nose-ringed faces, and he’s still among the living. The second level piggybacks off the first — wait, he’s been an anti-vaxxer this whole time?!? And yet, he’s fine… and he’s been fine… and we’ve all been fine. He should’ve dropped dead fifty times over by now, if COVID were really that bad… Finally, it has the real potential to fail on a third level. The Totally Legit Joe regime obviously hasn’t thought of this one, but what happens if there are way more of us out there than they thought? What happens if entire communities tell them to fuck off? All of a sudden you’ve created, then reinforced, a community identity that wasn’t there before. It could end up being a massive own goal.

And note that this is actually the best-case scenario, as it assumes that at some point, some blue-haired nose-ringer actually will end up at your door. Even such a minor achievement assumes a baseline competence that has so far been nowhere in evidence in the Totally Legit Joe regime. Given what we know about those jerkoffs — given what we know about government programs in general — for every agent actually assigned to go door-to-door, there will be three supervisors, five assistant supervisors, three regional managers, four diversity coordinators, nine grief counselors, and a mascot. All of which will be gender-nonconforming persyns of color. If any of those yahoos manage to find their own ass with both hands and a GPS tracker, it’ll be through random fucking luck.

Which would merely serve to confirm what the targets — we few, we happy few — already know. BUT: consider the impact of such a failure on Karen. As we all know, much to our disappointment and amazement, there are lots of people out there who still somehow thing COVID is a real public health emergency. They’re utterly convinced that people are dropping dead in the streets, and that only massive government intervention can save us. Well, gang…. here it is. It’s massive, all right, and it’s government intervention, but it’s mostly just an army of useless wankers sitting around fiddling on their smartphones, on your dime, at some exorbitant salary. And even if they do manage to find a badthinker — which, see above, would be dumb luck — said badthinker is going to tell them to fuck off, after which… nothing happens.

I know, I know, there will still be lots of folks on Our Side with lurid fantasies of the all-powerful Feds — mostly expressed by yelling “Fed!” every fourth post in comment sections, in between putting lots of extra parentheses around things — but news flash, y’all, those are our Branch Covidians. Just as the skull-fuckingly obvious lack of bodies in the streets doesn’t dampen the Covidian’s faith in the slightest, so no amount of Federal dumbfuckery will ever dent the certainty of the “hello, fellow teens!” crowd. They can be ignored.

But as for the rest of the population, this could be a massive own goal. Yuge. It’s going to be top kek, that’s for sure.

 


* a tougher task than it sounds. For one thing, the overthrown regime always burns as much as it can get away with. For another, so many of the outstanding secret police forces worked for the commies, and so naturally academic historians shy away from looking at them — we must at all costs preserve our faith in The Revolution!! There’s that Gellately study mentioned above, and a few others on various intelligence services as a whole, but the only study of “secret policing” as a phenomenon I’m aware of is by R.J. Stove, called The Unsleeping Eye. Stove is actually a music critic (and the son of Dissident legend David Stove).

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