by Richard Martin

Modernity is inherently individualistic. It stems from the desire to elevate the individual above biological and other attachments that are imposed from without: family, clan, tribe, trade, class, etc.

Post-modernism and Leftism in general are reactionary against the inherent liberalization and individualization of modernity. 

Modernity is characterized above all by differentiation of roles and identities. One can be an employee, a parent, a sibling, child, or member of any particular group without necessarily adhering totally to that category.

We need to go back to the basics of modernity, and celebrate one-dimensionality, particularly in institutions and organizations.

Post-modernism attempts to undermine the differentiation and one-dimensionality of different fields of action and identification by merging them or undermining the different fields and identities.

This is why post-modernism and Leftism are inherently totalitarian and totalizing. This is the reaction against the fundamental differentiation and individuality/individualism of modernity.

Modernity allows the individual to dissociate and differentiate themselves from the totalizing grip of pre-existing or imposed identities and categorizations.

by Richard Martin

The March Through the Institutions

Why do activists think that it is ok to commandeer and subvert organizations and institutions that exist for a purpose completely unrelated to theirs? This includes universities, schools, companies, government agencies and departments, unions, and to a lesser extent, trade and industry associations.

Activists are highly motivated agents, whereas non activists just want to get on with their day to day job. Activists see existing institutions and organizations as a battleground. They want to commandeer and subvert the institutions and organizations.

This is how small groups of activists take over institutions and organizations. First there is a small number of activists who infiltrate the organization. They plant a seed. They use all means to get their message out. Then they form a small group of allies. In French we call this “noyautage.”

Ideas and slogans completely unrelated to the official purpose of the organization percolate and start spreading. Next thing you know, activists are demanding changes to organizational policies and public statements of support or condemnation for this or that external or internal group, cause, or movement.

Non-activists have little or no awareness or investment in the particular cause being advanced by the activists. Activists take advantage of the passivity and need for conformity of non-activists. The latter don’t want to be perceived as bad.

Initially, most of the issues and causes are presented as motherhood statements. After all, who can be against freedom of expression, human rights, personal life choices, the environment, and other seemingly self-evident notions? The problem is one of focus and concentration. For activists, these are crucial, perhaps even life-defining causes. For non-activists, they are just more demands on their time and headspace.

Regardless of the exact mechanism of action, the effect is the same. Organizations and institutions are gradually taken over or even undermined to the point where the original intent of the institution or mission of the organization becomes commandeered and subverted to perverted ends.

by Richard Martin

Throughout their history, there have always been enough Jews who have refused religious and the broader cultural and political assimilation to maintain their distinctiveness. This is riling to many people. They can’t understand why Jews would want to maintain their own religious beliefs, rites, and cultural traditions. When Jews did decide to join the majority, either by religious conversion, or other forms of assimilation, this was often held against them for generations.

In the 19th century, Jews were the most actively liberal (in the classical sense) of Europeans. Jews took the most advantage of liberalization and emancipation in France, the German lands, Britain, and eventually the entire Western world. There remained pockets of antisemitism in government, the military, and academia. But, by and large, Jews were able to become “regular” Germans, French, Italians, Brits, Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc.

In the 19th century, liberalisation and emancipation were supported by skepticism of religion, myth and traditional beliefs and lifestyles. This resulted in widespread secularisation. In parallel with this came the rise of nationalism and the erosion of imperialism (as actual multi-ethnic and multi-national European empires, e.g., the German Reich, Tsarist Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and of course, the Habsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary.

German historian Götz Aly has documented the rise of political and secular antisemitism in Europe in general, but especially Germany, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This period culminated in the Russian pogroms and, of course, the Holocaust. However, eliminationist and “expulsionist” antisemitism was part of a wider movement of ethnic homogenization in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the Tsarist lands of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia proper. To this we can add the various permutations of national homogenization and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, due to the progressive weakening hold of the Ottomans on southeast Europe. 

This is not to minimize the horrors of the pogroms or the Holocaust, but merely to place it in the broader and deeper context of European history and development. If there had never been pogroms and widespread hatred of Jews in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, would there have been a Zionist movement? If there had never been such widespread and murderous nationalist-inspired homogenization and ethnic cleansing throughout the Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman lands (or their remnants), would there have been a Zionist movement? If nationalism had not been such a powerful force and motivation for all these acts of brutality and subsequent brutalization of peoples, would there have a Zionist movement? I don’t write this to cast blame, but rather once again to broaden and deepen the context and discussion.

Timothy Snyder’s books on the slaughter in Eastern Europe from 1930 to 1945, Bloodlands and Black Earth, provide much of the context for my observations and understanding of antisemitism. But it’s even worse than what happened during the 30s and until 1945. In his book The Vanquished described the ethnic chaos in the wake of the First World War. Keith Lowe did the same in his book on the immediate post-WW2 period, Savage Continent. Ever hear of pogroms against Jews in Poland between 1945 and 1950? Of course not. Nobody talks about that. And that’s only a small part of the hellscape that was Eastern Europe in the aftermaths of WW1 and 2!

At one time, persecution of Jews was based on religious excuses, and even animosity, as supposed “Christ killers.” It was also just because they were different and refused (or were forced) to remain apart. There were Jewish ghettos in Italy and Spain. Ethnic sequestering wasn’t unusual in pre-modern Europe and Asia, where all major cities had various ethnic quarters.

Jews were also forced to live in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire which mostly bestraddle the immense Pripyat Marshes of southern Belarus and northern Ukraine. Jews were periodically expelled or fell victims to mob attacks at various points in the Middle Ages and even into early Modern Europe. The same happened in the Muslim empires and emirates, where not only Jews but also Christians were (and still are) treated as second-class subjects of the Muslim majority.

But as Snyder develops in detail, Jews weren’t the only victims of pogroms, transportations, deportations, expulsions, riots, and murders prior to the Nazi-inspired and perpetrated Holocaust. The “Bloodlands” he describes in excruciating detail saw the deaths of at least 14 million Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians as national and ethnic groups in addition to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Then there were the tens of thousands of deported, murdered, and incarcerated Finns, Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians. There were also expulsions and deportations of lesser known (to Westerners at least) Crimean Tatars and other smaller nations under Stalin. Ever hear of the Kalmyks of the Caucasus? How about the Ingush and Chechens? Why are there Koreans in Kazakhstan, and Jews in the Far East of Siberia? They were all deported there on Stalin’s orders. And I’m not even going into the various class enemies that were killed, incarcerated, or deported, especially the Kulaks, a completely fictional class of “wealthy peasants.”

That’s the past. What about the present? Why is there still so much fear, hatred, envy, and murderous intent toward Jews? There are several interrelated answers to that question. One is the general opposition of Arab states. Another is Muslim jihadism. A third is anti-Westernism. A fourth, and perhaps the most insidious, is Leftism in general, especially radical forms of socialism. Each of these four factors reinforce each other and generate a synergistic effect resulting in anti-Israeli rhetoric, support for jihadist terrorists, unconditional support for the Palestinians, and general hatred and resentment of Jews, whether they are religious or secular.

I will continue my thoughts on these matters in further articles. Stay tuned.

Could it be a setup or trap by Hamas?

by Richard Martin

A friend has asked me if Hamas deliberately set up a trap for the Israelis through their attacks over the last 5 days. My answer follows. I’m interested in others’ thoughts and comments.

It depends what is meant by “trap.” If this whole Hamas operation was an attempt to entice Israel into invading Gaza, then it could indeed be a trap. In speaking with others and reading the news, no one really knows what Hamas’s intentions were with this attack.

Possibilities include: provoking Israel into a rash move; provoking some kind of general uprising from S. Lebanon and the West Bank; provoking a civil war in Israel; provoking an invasion of Gaza; provoking a more general war; throwing a spanner in the works on Saudi-Israel peace negotiations. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine at this stage.

If by trap is meant that it would be a hard slog, then I agree with that assessment. The WSJ this morning is reporting that the Israeli aim is to destroy Hamas and its control of the Gaza Strip. They’ve already made a good start by killing almost all the attackers still in Israel or trying to enter. They are also hitting key locations and individuals in Gaza. That’s the stuff we can see. There are probably covert operations ongoing or being prepared as we speak.

My sense at this time is that the IDF is going to maximize use of air power and surgical operations to destroy Hamas and its capabilities, while degrading its hold on the population. I have no idea how they can do the latter. There could be ground operations, but I would see them as limited, performed by commandos. That’s pure speculation on my part however.

Questions for an operational estimate: Does Israel know who and where to hit Hamas? Do they know how many fighters they have? Can they destroy all of their war stocks? Can they get close collaboration with Egypt to allow refugee movements from Gaza into Egypt? Will Egypt conduct joint “strangling” operations with Israel to cut tunnels and other physical links?

by Richard Martin

All wars are attrition wars. Well, maybe 99%. The exceptions prove the rule (e.g., France in 1940).

The problem with a lot of American “strategists” and other assorted talking heads is that they don’t know the first thing about what is happening on the ground in Ukraine. See my comments about obstacles and obstacle belts. The Ukrainians are also doing most of the work for the Western countries, especially NATO, including the US. Most of the Black Sea Fleet has fled to Novorossyisk in Russia. The Ukrainians are degrading major Russian capabilities, such as S400 air defence systems, which cost over $1 billion apiece. They are destroying tanks, and soldiers, and other tactical systems. But mostly, they are destroying and degrading Russia’s long-range, heavy artillery systems, most of which are dual and triple capable. They have been destroying Tu-22 M bombers on the ground.

The fact that this is all happening over a period of years is that there is so much to degrade and destroy. When the Ukrainians finally defeat the Russians and expel them from their land, Russia will be bankrupt, in full demographic and economic decline, with only pariahs as friends. They will have wasted the historic opportunity of 1991 in delusions of empire and conquest. The Ukrainians are balancing tactical and strategic attacks to make sure that when Russia fully withdraws from Ukraine, their long-range and strategic capabilities will be non-existent, or more like those of Iran and North Korea, a nuisance that can be controlled by sanctions and occasional military operations.

A lot like Israel as a matter of fact.

Or could it be a lot more complex than that?

by Richard Martin

Here is why I believe the IDF and intelligence-security apparatus are most likely not the ones to blame: historical precedent. I predict that the current CGS will be fired after the dust settles. No politicians will accept blame and will still be around to declare how they were the ones who won the war.

Israel will hold a commission at the end of this whole operation to ostensibly find the reasons for the debacle. For some perspective, the chief of the general staff in 1973 was Lt Gen David Elazar. He raised alarms about the Egyptians arming to the teeth with tanks and SAMs by the Soviets, some of which were actually operated by the Soviets. He and others said the Bar-Lev Line was mostly for show. He was contradicted by most politicians, who thought he, as well other soldiers, were crying wolf. “How can the Arabs attack and defeat us. Didn’t we humiliate them in the Six-Day War?” After the war there was a commission (Agranat). Elazar was sacked and the all the usual political suspects stuck around, most notably Dayan, who had been one of the most dismissive of Egypt’s intentions and capabilities. (Dayan was instrumental however in the negotiations for the Camp David Accord which led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. And that’s what led to Sadat’s assassination in 1981 by the Muslim Brotherhood).

Politicians like to ignore military advice. They surround themselves with “strategic experts” and delude themselves into believing that they know. We see it in all domains, not just in matters of national security and grand strategy. The military, even in Israel, is forced to make hard choices by politicians, which is fine for countries like Canada and the US, which are far from immediate threats, or at least believe they are. The battle between guns and butter is easily resolved. It’s butter for the masses and the cronies. The resources that are devoted to defence and security must be allocated so that the masses and the cronies get their piece. Here in Canada, where we can barely maintain a reasonable defence budget to meet all of our commitments, the Liberal government just announced a $1 billion cut to the already meagre defence budget. The minister of national defence, a dolt if ever there was one, has publicly stated that it won’t affect readiness. Meanwhile, the CDS has openly said the opposite, essentially saying “How can it not?”

In the case of Israel, most of the public and the political class appear to delude themselves on a cyclical basis into believing that the Arab Fedayeen (whatever they call themselves) can be kept at bay or somehow mollified. They endorse the building of wall, border fences, border patrols, etc. The only problem is that wall and fences only work if they are covered 24/7 by observation and fire (or the peacetime equivalent, police intervention). But when you force your military to rely on material and technical solutions to resolve political dilemmas, they will do their best to split the difference. They will come up with “economy of force” solutions like walls, and cameras, and “quick-reaction forces.”

An obstacle, whether a wall, a fence, an anti-tank ditch or dragon’s teeth, is only good to delay and canalize the enemy. Everything that happened in the Hamas attack since Saturday occurred during that period between infiltration and reaction, much less mobilization.

Is that an intelligence failure? No. It’s a reality of Israel’s situation, including the political and governance realities of a population that wants to live in peace and invest in the good life while minimizing the investment in physical security. Maybe Israelis should be allowed to carry automatic weapons everywhere they go. Perhaps that will be one of the results from this operation.

by Richard Martin

There are NO, I repeat, NO, independent power sources in Russia. In that it is a typical autocratic dictatorship. Anyone who opposes Putin and the Kremlin apparatus, openly or secretly, gets “fallen” out of a window, poisoned, arrested on trumped up charges and sent to Siberia. That includes the robber baron oligarchs, all news and media, the judiciary, governors and assemblies of the so-called republics, oblasts, cities, towns, etc.

He has numerous agencies, official (e.g., the armed forces and FSB) and unofficial (Wagner, the Internet Research Agency) in competition vying for his approval and attention. They have overlapping functions, which is completely intentional. They are run by people who are personally loyal to Putin or to people who are.

All individual wealth, influence, and power is held at the sufferance of Putin. As soon as someone with official or unofficial delegated powers steps out of line, they are warned or disappeared in some way. Their wealth is confiscated and distributed to other cronies.

by Richard Martin

What we know: Prigozhin made a play for power and failed. Everything else in the public domain is pure speculation, most of it fuelled by rumours and intentional disinformation.

Regarding the offensive. The Ukrainians appear to have the initiative, therefore they are on the offensive. How that plays out tactically and operationally is another matter. The Russians have been trying different things, e.g., blowing the dam, but so far only to hinder and slow down movement. The Russian obstacles are, by all accounts, formidable.  It is a truism that obstacle breaching by forces under fire is the most complicated operation of all.

However, obstacles that aren’t covered by fire, direct and indirect, are merely a nuisance and will slow movement and manoeuvre, but only up to a point. It’s also important to point out that all fortifications are eventually defeated, either through destruction, breaching, or bypassing (therefore making them irrelevant).

I believe the Ukrainians are being very prudent in their tactical approach. They are unwilling to throw troops into battle without careful preparation and reconnaissance, and will substitute firepower and attrition as much as possible. They appear to be using small units to probe Russian positions and to draw out artillery fire so they can attack it with counter-battery fires. Over the last month or so, it seems that the number of Russian artillery systems destroyed has gone up significantly. The Ukrainians also seem to be focusing on destroying dual-capable systems, i.e., those that can fire nuclear as well as conventional munitions. The Russians call artillery the “god of war” for a reason. The Ukrainians appear to be wearing it down as much as possible.

The Ukrainians are also seeking to wear down Russian forces in depth, and command and control points. They are also attriting Russian logistics and supply capabilities, especially rail hubs, bridges, and other lines of communications, as well as ammunition dumps and troop concentrations.

I am more and more of the opinion that the Ukrainian strategy is to cause as much attrition as possible until such time as the Russians collapse somewhere. Then they can pour forces into the breach and seek to envelope enemy groupings and try to cut them off from retreat. A main objective must be to destroy as much Russian combat capability and kill or wound as many Russian soldiers as possible. This serves the tactical purpose of creating breakthrough opportunities. But, it also serves a longer term purpose of preventing the Russians from starting again if they are completely expelled from Ukraine. This is what they did to reconquer the Kharkiv and Kherson areas, and I see no reason for them to change their overall approach now.

Operationally, informed opinion converges around the idea that the Ukrainians would seek to cut the Russian forces in half by heading to Berdyansk and environs. This would isolate the Crimea from the rest of Russian occupied territory and make the situation there even more precarious.

By Richard Martin

Thanks to Professor Sean Maloney of RMC for naming what happened in Russia on 23-24 June 2023. We can analyze the events, but we can’t apply a Western framework or look at them through a liberal-democratic lens. 

Putin, Kremlin operators, siloviki, Wagner and other mercenary groups, are nothing but opportunists seeking power and wealth. There are multiple security agencies and forces within the state apparatus which can play a part. People are loyal to individuals, not the constitution or the people or even the state. The state for these strongmen is a means to an end. When they can no longer get what they want from the existing network, they will make a play to rearrange it in their favour, or at least position themselves to wait out the changes.

What this is not: a mutiny, popular uprising, foco, or a coup d’état. Mutiny may be feeding the putsch, but if the troops had wanted to mutiny en masse (it has happened in pockets prior to the Wagner putsch), they would have done so by now. Mutiny also implies that the troops are no longer okay with the mission, and just don’t want to be slaughtered or treated like cattle for nothing. There is no indication, yet, that there is sufficient discontent or organized resistance within the ranks.

There is also no uprising on in Russia, although there may be much popular discontent and rebelliousness and the situation can change quickly. Most people, including local and provincial government authorities will wait to see which way the wind is blowing. As for a coup, that would be staged from within the immediate circle of power, the Kremlin, or at the most Moscow, and would have to involve those closest to Putin and within his security apparatus and network.

This is a putsch, a push for power by a group, usually from outside the capital. It involves turning groups and leaders against the central government, especially those in control of security and military forces. A historical analogy is to be found in imperial Rome, where rebellions almost always started in the provinces, usually Gaul, Hispanic, or Syria, because there was a good wealth base, and during a period of instability or a losing war/battle.

Soldiers in various legions would proclaim their general as imperator, which means victor, or great commander. Then they would march on Rome or to meet opposing forces in battle who trying to do the same thing. Sometimes, there would be forces loyal to the reigning emperor who would try to support him. The motivation was a play for power and wealth. Those supporting the leaders throw in with the one they think will guarantee them the best spoils or, alternatively, avoid them being killed.

Another analogy is a game of musical chairs. The music is cacophonous, with instruments out of tune, multiple scores, and several conductors. No one knows when the music will stop. Some key players are jockeying for position, while others are waiting in the wings to try to get to a chair or to fall in behind the winner(s).

I think the trigger for Prigozhin to launch his putsch was the incursions in the Belgorod region a few weeks ago by Russian rebels supported by Ukrainian capabilities. When he saw how weak the forces outside of Ukraine were, he felt he could reach Moscow quickly if he could rally enough support.

When Prigozhin realized he didn’t have enough units coming over to him, and especially the internal security forces, that’s when he called off the march on Moscow. It had nothing to do with buses and trucks blocking the highway or “negotiations.” His putsch failed, as most do, because he gambled and lost.

It’s also interesting to note that the Kremlin keeps its best forces to protect Moscow and the Kremlin (which literally means fortress). In Russia, all roads lead to Moscow, so it’s part of the mentality that it must be protected at all costs.

None of these strongmen are democrats or true reformers. They are fighting to see who will be on top of the pyramid, nothing more. And that includes Saint Navalny and Khodorkovsky the former oligarch. They have no honour and will throw each other under the tank if they think it will advance their chances of moving up the hierarchy.

It’s also important to mention that none of these men thinks the idea of invading Ukraine was a bad idea. They all want it and will do everything they can to continue the war. And can we finally lay to rest the idea of peace feelers, peace talks, giving peace a chance? They need to be wiped out.

© 2023 Richard Martin

By Richard Martin

Fortune favours the bold. Not the timid.

We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t at least try to experiment with new technologies and new approaches. I ordered my first book on the topic of Bitcoin on Amazon on 28 Feb 21 (The Bitcoin Standard, by Saifedean Ammous), ordered a hardware wallet on Amazon on 19 Mar 21, then acquired my first BTC on a Canadian exchange on 23 Mar 21. It was only about $200 but it was enough to get started and to learn what it was all about. It’s funny what happens when you have skin in the game.

This has made me realize that I’ve taken this approach all of my adult life. I find the best way to learn is to invest a bit of resources and take it from there. If it’s not for me, the cost was minimal and bounded in time and space. I can move on having acquired more knowledge. If I continue to find value or be intrigued, I go deeper down the rabbit hole until I’m satisfied I’ve learned enough or want to go even further.

It’s the same with machine learning models like GPT and DeepL. I subscribed to DeepL after experimenting with the free version a bit and now use it for all my translation tasks. It’s almost perfect for English to French, less so for the opposite. But it’s great productivity boost. I can generate a reasonably accurate translation and take it from there. Now DeepL also has a writing engine as a beta and I’ve started experimenting with that.

I was wondering about how I could raise my productivity for cognitive tasks when I heard about GPT-4. I hadn’t paid much attention to ChatGPT before that, but version 4 seemed compelling. I invested a whopping $20 for a month of access and started experimenting with it. Is it perfect? No. Can it tell jokes like Seinfeld? Who knows and who cares. The important point is that GPT presents another opportunity to boost my productivity, save time and effort, and focus on more high-value areas for me and my clients.

But to get those advantages, it’s not enough to sit there and wonder how a new approach, technology, or product could be of benefit. We have to try it, or at least experiment a bit to see what it’s all about. And stop asking “what about this and what about that” type questions. There are ways to achieve this without betting the farm. Learn about them and start applying them.