Showing posts with label warfare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label warfare. Show all posts

08 March 2017

The Ghost in the Machine

Again, first off, a disclaimer. This is not a political rant any more than my previous post. Last time, I went after Michael Flynn for his lack of deportment. This time, I'm inviting you into the Twilight Zone.  

We have a habit, in this country, of thinking we're the center of attention. In other words, Trump's issues with his Russian connections are all about American domestic politics. There's another way to look at this. What if it turns out to be about Russian domestic politics?

Bear with me. Filling in the background, we have Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This appears not to be in dispute. There's a consensus in the intelligence community. Fairly obviously, Hillary Clinton wasn't the Russians' first choice, and she seems to have inspired Vladmir Putin's personal animus. It's not clear whether the Russians wanted simply to weaken Clinton's credibility and present her with an uncertain victory or if they thought they could engineer her actual defeat.

Deception and disinformation are tools of long standing. Everybody uses them, and the Russians have a lot of practice. They've in fact just announced the roll-out of a new integrated platform for Information Warfare, and under military authority (not, interestingly, the successor agencies to KGB). Their continuing success in controlling the narrative on the ground in both Ukraine and Syria, less so in the Caucasus, demonstrates a fairly sophisticated skill-set. To some degree, it relies on critical mass, repeating the same lies or half-truths until they crowd out the facts. Even if they don't, the facts become suspect.

Now, since the Inauguration, we've had a steady erosion of the established narrative. Beginning with Gen. Flynn, then Sessions, former adviser Page Carter, Jared Kushner. Consider the timeline. Nobody can get out in front of the story, because the hits just keep coming. They're being blind-sided. "They did make love to this employment," Hamlet says, and none of them seem to realize they could be fall guys, or that it's not about them.

The most basic question a good lawyer can ask is cui bono. Who benefits? If the object was to have a White House friendlier to the Kremlin than the one before, that doesn't appear to be working out. But perhaps the idea is simply to have an administration in disarray, one that can't cohesively and coherently address problems in NATO, say, or the Pacific Rim.  Short-term gain. Maybe more.

Let's suppose somebody is playing a longer game. We have a story out of Russia about the recent arrests of the director of the Center for Information Security, a division of the Federal Security Service, and the senior computer incident investigator at the Kaspersky Lab, a private company believed to be under FSB discipline - both of them for espionage, accused of being American assets, but both of them could just as plausibly be involved in the U.S. election hack. What to make of it? Loose ends, possibly. Circling the wagons. Half a dozen people have dropped dead or dropped out of sight lately, former security service personnel, a couple of diplomats. Russians have always been conspiracy-minded, and it's catching. You can't help but think the body count's a little too convenient, or sort of a collective memory loss.

Here's my thought. This slow leakage and loss of traction, the outing of Flynn and Sessions and the others - and waiting for more shoes to drop - why do we necessarily imagine this has to come from the inside? Old rivalries in the intelligence community, or Spec Ops, lifer spooks who didn't like Mike Flynn then and resented his being booked for a return engagement later. Just because you want to believe a story badly doesn't make it false. But how about this, what if the leaks are coming from Russian sources?

Remove yourself from the equation. It's not about kneecapping Trump, it's about getting rid of Putin, and Trump is collateral damage. There are factions in Russia that think Putin has gotten too big for his britches. He's set himself up as the reincarnation of Stalin. And not some new Stalin, either. The old Stalin. None of these guys are reformers, mind you, they're siloviki, predators. They just want to get close enough with the knives, and this is protective coloration. Putin, no dummy he, is apparently eliminating collaborators and witnesses at home, but somebody else is working the other side of the board.

If the new administration comes near collapse, because too many close Trump associates are tarred with the Russian brush, the strategy's going to backfire, and the pendulum will swing the other way. The scenario then has the opposite effect of what was intended. Putin will have overreached himself, embarrassed Russia, and jeopardized their national security. That's the way I'd play it, if it were me, but I'm not the one planning a coup.

This is of course utterly far-fetched, and I'm an obvious paranoid. Oh, there's someone at the door. Must be my new Bulgarian pal, the umbrella salesman.

24 September 2015

Death Comes at the Beginning

by Eve Fisher

This may be the earliest murder in history:  a 430,000 year old Neanderthal skull with a hole in it - yes, someone bashed him in the head with a blunt instrument:

Yes, murder has been around since the dawn of time.  I've always thought it's appropriate that practically the second story in Genesis is Cain killing Abel.  But, to be fair, the above Neanderthal is about the only Paleolithic murder victim that's been found.  Perhaps it's because there were so few people that you could always move on rather than kill them.  (It's estimated that half a million years ago there were around a million homo sapiens, including Neanderthals and Denisovians, on the planet.  Now THAT'S elbow room.)  Then again, maybe we just haven't found the evidence.  After half a million years, there's not a whole lot of evidence left.

"Homo neanderthalensis adult male - head model - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-17" by Tim Evanson - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -
But murder certainly picked up during the Mesolithic Era (around 20,000-5,000 BCE).  First of all, by now there were perhaps 5 million humans on the planet, and they were all Cro-Magnon, i.e., us. Neanderthals and Denisovians had both gone extinct, and while there is significant evidence that we interbred (I did the genome test and am happy to report that I am 3% Neanderthal and 3.7% Denisovian), the fact that two flourishing subspecies (at least) had vanished is also a good sign that there was some serious killing going on.

And it didn't stop there.  In fact, humans got better at it.  For example:

Sometime around 21,000 BCE, along the Nile, at a place called Jebel Sahaba (300 km south of Wadi Kubbaniya), a young man had 2 blades in his pelvis and a broken right arm.  Who knows why?  Who knows whodunnit?  And between 13,000-11,000 BCE, in the same area, 59 people were buried in a graveyard.  Of them, 24 had been murdered, with multiple arrowpoints and severe cut-marks on their bones and skulls. (Steven Mithen, After the Ice:  A Global Human History 20,000-5,000 BC. p. 452)

Sometime around 12,000 BCE, in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, England, a frightening number of people were butchered to death, and then (possibly) eaten.  (Mithin, pp. 110-111)

7 year old child's skull
showing blunt-force trauma
In 2006 in Germany, a mass grave was discovered, dating back to 7,000 BCE, of 26 adults and children, all killed by arrow wounds or blows to the head. In the 1980s, a number of similar mass graves were found in Talheim, Germany, and Asparn, Austria. There were no female skeletons, which archaeologists believe prove that the women were taken captive while all the men and children were murdered.

And in a place called Skateholm, Sweden, the cemeteries from 5,000 BCE show people who fought - a lot.  Four individuals who survived depressed skull fractures (i.e., someone hit them hard enough to leave a dent); flint arrowheads embedded here or there; some who'd lost an eye or had a cheekbone/nose caved in.  And quite a few who died of their wounds.  Most of the head wounds came from "blows to the front and left side - the outcome of face-to-face combat with a right-handed opponent."  (Mithen, p. 175)

Probably the most famous murder victim of this time period was Otzi the Ice Man - found September 21, 1991, by German tourists up in the Otztai Alps (hence his name) - who lived and died some 5,300 years ago. 
Otzi is one of the best preserved bodies ever found.  He was lactose intolerant, high levels of copper and arsenic in his hair, related to Southern Europeans, had cavities and tattoos, and wore waterproof, warm clothing of leather stuffed with grass.  His last meals were of chamois meat, red deer, and herb bread. He also had an arrowhead in his shoulder, bruises on his hands and wrists and chest, and a bad blow to the head, which is what killed him.  In other words, he was murdered.

The truth is, the catalogue of skeletal remains from Mesolithic Europe shows that up to 44% of the skulls showed signs of "trauma" (i.e., blows) (Mithin, p. 534).  For a fascinating article on how prevalent murder, war, and even cannibalism were, see British Archaeology Issue No. 52, April 2000 -

So why so much killing during the Mesolithic Era?  The Mesolithic was when the old, Paleolithic hunter-gatherer cultures were "transitioning" into agricultural societies.  The population increase was dramatic - as I said, by now there are 5 million people on the planet, and, as the transition into agriculture gets going, they are living more densely than ever before, crowded along a few fertile river valleys.  That leads to a rich possibility of reasons for murder and warfare:

Two female murder victims from Teviec, France
dated 6740-5680 BCE

  • Fear and Property:  increasing clashes between traditional hunter-gatherer cultures (who were losing their hunting grounds and traditions at a frightening pace) and the new farmers (who were taking it all away from the hunter-gatherers).  And let's not forget that the hunter-gatherers might steal from the farmers, and the farmers might drift off and hunt on hunter-gatherer lands.  Which would lead to
  • Honor killings:  the usual suspects:  thefts, slights, insults, jealousy, anger, pride.  Which would lead to
  • Tribal feuds:  one death leads to another, until it's tribe v. tribe, and, as population increases, war erupts.
And, of course, there's just good old fashioned personality conflicts.  For all we know, Otzi was a complete SOB whom everybody hated, and when they got a chance to make sure he'd never come back, well, they took it.

Now personally, I don't believe in the African Genesis theory of human origins:  I don't believe we were bred from savage carnivorous apes on the savannah.  But I do believe, as Barry Hughart put it in Bridge of Birds, that we have "a flaw in our character."  And that flaw makes it increasingly difficult, as we live in ever closer quarters, to share our toys, our food, our stuff.  A while back, AARP published a map of the "state of well-being" - and the rankings were easy to figure out once you realized that the top ten states, where people felt best about their lives, etc., were all the least-populated.  Check it out:
Well-Being Index by State (Map), 2014

Once again, elbow room.  Of which, by the way, we've been steadily running out of since the Industrial Revolution:

1,000,000 BCE - World Population around 125,000
500,000 BCE - World Population around 1 million
10,000 BCE - World Population around 5 million
3,500 BCE - World Population around 10 million
1,000 BCE - World Population around 50 million
500 BCE - World Population around 100 million
1 CE - World Population around 300 million (*current US population is 318.9 million)
1600 CE - World Population around 500 million (half a billion)
1820 - World Population around 1 billion
1925 - World Population around 2 billion
1961 - World Population around 3 billion
1974 - World Population around 4 billion
1987 - World Population around 5 billion
1999 - World Population around 6 billion
2015 - World Population around 7.3 billion and counting

Something to think about.

Meanwhile, thinking about that 430,000 year old murder victim, what on earth was the deal with that?  It certainly wasn't a lack of elbow room.  Maybe it wasn't murder, maybe it was an accident. Someone clumsy with a large rock.  Maybe it was a case of jealousy.  Or maybe he was simply the worst SOB of his day, and his cave mates decided they just couldn't stand him anymore.  But it is proof that, even if time travel is invented, there is no time to go back to where everything was peaceful, sweet, innocent of all violent death and murder.  Nostalgia isn't what it's cracked up to be.