Neither Heaven nor Hell (I)

Part I

Recently I have been devoting a lot of thought to what life in the rest of the twenty-first century might be like. No doubt that is because, like so many old folks, I find myself playing with vague ideas about vague topics. Or perhaps it is the ideas that, floating in the air, are playing games with me? Anyhow. Some authors, looking forward to global peace, the suppression of poverty, advancing medical science, moral progress (yes, there are people who believe it is actually taking place) and similar goodies believe that the future will be heaven. When I was much, much younger, writing an essay about the “ideal” future and my hope of living to see it come about, I myself took this view. Others, perhaps more numerous, keep warning us that it will be hell. As, for example, when we run out of resources, or when growing economic inequality leads to violent disturbances culminating, perhaps, in war.

So here are some thoughts on the matter. spread over this week and the two following ones. They are framed in terms of tentative answers to ten critical questions, arbitrarily selected and here presented in no particular order like fruit in a salad. Enjoy the feast!

1. Will war be abolished? Whether war is due to the fragmented nature of human society, which never in the whole of history has been subject to a single government, or to the fact that resources are always limited and competition for them intense, or to tensions within the various war-waging polities, or the aggression and will to power that are part of our nature, I shall not presume to judge. Probably all these factors are involved; as indeed they have been ever since the first band of nomadic hunter-gatherers, wielding clubs and stones, set out to fight its neighbor over such things as access to water, or quarry, or berries, or women, as well as things vaguely known as honor, prestige, deterrence, etc.

One and all, these factors are as active, and as urgent, today as they have always been. That is why all previous hopes and efforts to put an end to armed conflict have come to naught. In the words of the seventeenth-century English statesman and jurist, Francis Bacon: There will never be a shortage of “seditions and troubles;” some of which will surely lead to politically-motivated, socially-approved, organized violence, AKA war.

2. Will we run out of resources? The fear that the point is arriving, if it has not done so already, where we humans exhaust the earth’s resources has been with us at least since the Christian writer Tertullian in the second half of the second century CE. And not without reason, as it seemed. At this time about one quarter of the population of the Roman Empire died of plague, perhaps reducing the total number from 80 to about 60 million.

Bad as it was, the crisis did not last. Over the two millennia since then the number of people living on this earth has increased about thirtyfold. No other plague, no war however destructive, has succeeded in permanently halting growth. During the same period the amount of resources extracted and/or consumed each year has grown by a factor of a thousand or more. Tet thanks to techniques such as saving, substitution, recycling and, above all, broadly-based technological progress, world-wide more people can afford to buy and consume a greater variety of resources than ever in the past. Recently the growing use of fracking for extracting shale oil has brought about a situation where even energy, which for over four decades has bedeviled the world by its ups and downs, has become available at a reasonable price and looks as if it will continue to do so; instead of peak oil, it seems that prices have peaked.

In brief: Tertullian, Malthus and their countless fellow prophets of economic doom, major and minor, are wrong. Local and temporary bottlenecks have always existed. One need only think of the shortage of wood and charcoal that led to their being replaced by coal, helping usher in the industrial Revolution in England. They will, no doubt, continue to do so in the future too. Pace Al Gore and his fellow “environs,” though, shortages so serious as to disrupt global economic life for any length of time are not in the cards. One could even argue that, given the background of continuing economic recession, many raw materials are underpriced; just look at what happened to the shares of Anglo-American from 2008 on.

3. Will poverty disappear? Some people think so. Pointing to the fact that, over the last two centuries or so, the standard of living in the most advanced countries has increased about thirty-fold, they expect prosperity to spread like ripples in a pool. It is indeed true that, except when it is deliberately manufactured as part of war, famine, famine of the kind that used to be common even in Europe before 1700 or so, has largely become a thing of the past.

That more present-day people can afford more and/or better food, hygienic facilities, clothing, warmth, housing, transportation, communication, entertainment, and many other things than ever before is obvious. No ancient treasure trove, no Ali Baba cave, could offer anything like the wares on display in any large department store. Even the Sun King himself did not enjoy many of the amenities which are now standard in any but the poorest French households.

There are, however, three problems. The first is that poverty is psychological as well as material. Of the two kinds, the former is much harder to eradicate than the latter. This is brought out by the fact that, even in Denmark which has the lowest poverty rate of any OECD country, just over five percent of the population say that they cannot afford food.

Second, poverty and its opposite, wealth, are not absolute but relative. People do not look just at what they themselves own, earn, consume and enjoy. They are at least as interested in the same factors as they affect their neighbors, role models, and enemies.

Third, the scale along which poverty operates is not fixed but sliding. When new products appear they are almost always luxuries, at any rate in the sense that, before they did so, no one felt any need for them. As time passes, though, luxuries have a strong tendency to turn into necessities. The histories of automobiles, personal computers, and mobile telephones all illustrate this very well. Each one caused life to re-structure itself until it became absolutely indispensable. Once this happened anyone who could not afford the product in question would define himself, and be defined by others, as poor; even if his economic situation was satisfactory in other respects.

Quite some economists go further still. They claim that inequality is growing. Also that, unless some pretty drastic measures, such as a 100 percent inheritance tax, are implemented, serious upheavals are going to upset even the richest and most advanced societies. But such a tax itself is likely to cause quite as many upheavals as it was designed to prevent. In brief: wealthy as future societies may become, there is no reason to believe that poverty will be abolished.

How is that for a starter? See you next week.

Guest Article: The Big List of Reasons Why America Will Fall (with rebuttals)

By Larry Kummer*

Summary: Here is a compendium of gloomy news about America, the news that drives political campaigns, fear-mongering op-eds, and advertisements for guns and gold. These stories cloud our minds with misinformation and dampen our spirits. Why are they taken seriously by so many people? Debunkings like this are the only antidote. Pass it on!
america-at-the-endToday’s post examines an unusually detailed prediction of doom for America. Like most doomster writing, the content is almost entirely exaggerated or wrong, but it shows us people’s fears and ignorance — both largely fed by propaganda. The author’s key points are given in quotes.

The US Position is Untenable
By Karsten Riise

(1) The rising US public debt will crush the US dollar

“The CBO analysis shows that Federal debt is on path to increase from 75% of GDP to 146% of GDP in 2046. …such high public debt figures are bound to lead to a fundamental crisis of non-confidence in the US dollar.”

Riise starts with the usual doomster favorite (as it has been since the New Deal): the US fiscal deficit. The wolf will always be at the door in 30 years! This is from the CBO’s 2016 Long-Term Budget Outlet. Also see the CBO’s slide deck.
Federal spending, revenue, and debt
These long-term predictions are useful planning tools, but range from unreliable to quite wrong. To treat them as indicators of certain doom is absurd. The many variables create a wide range of possible futures. In brief, the US government’s liabilities are among the easiest solved of America’s major problems (details here).

  • The government can change policies. Small changes can have large effects for 30 years such as increased taxes and reduced military spending (need we spend more than our rivals and foes combined?).
  • Forecasts of higher interest rates are one of the two major drivers of rising liabilities. The CBO’s economists assume rates will rise, as they have incorrectly assumed they would since the recovery began. Perhaps their forecast will prove correct during the next decade, or perhaps secular stagnation and low rates will continue.
  • The other large driver is rising health care costs. This is among the easiest solved of America’s major problems, as our peers have built and tested many ways to provide equivalent levels of care at half or one-third the cost (details here). The transition will be painful, but at least we know the way. If only our other problems had known fixes!

The author also neglects to mention that the US government’s finances are among the best of the major developed nations. For example, its pension liabilities (for employees and public) as a percent of GDP are far lower than those of most (only Canada and Australia are lower). See figure 15 in this March 2016 research report by Citi.

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
— “Problems and Not-Problems of the American Economy” by Herbert Stein (economist) in The AEI Economist (of the American Enterprise Institute), June 1989. It is the key thing to know about the US health care system.

(2) The US is not competitive!

“The US economy is becoming less and less competitive.”

The author gives no definition or evidence for this bizarre statement, which is wrong in almost too many ways to list. First, look at growth in real GDP of the US vs. its peers. This graph from the OECD shows that the US (red) has grown slightly faster than the OECD average (black) since the crash, and is among the faster growing in the G-7 (light lines). Quite good for a large rich nation!
Real GDP of the US vs. the OECD average
Second, look at a narrower measure of competitiveness: exports — an American success story since 1972 (when Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard, reducing its over-valuation), not just growing but doing so faster than US GDP (rising from 5% to 12% of GDP).
GDP shares of Exports of Goods and Services - 2015
Third, look at a leading indicator of economic growth: nationality of corporations in the fastest-growing industries. Eight of the top 13 technology companies are American; this is the pattern in most high-growth tech industries (e.g., software, internet, biotech).

“as pointed out by the economic guru Michael Porter, who also points out, that the level of bureaucracy and red-tape hindrances to business are enormous in the USA.”

The World Bank ranks all the world’s nations by “ease of doing business”. The US ranked as the 7th best in both 2014 and 2015.

(3) The US has a weak education system

“Furthermore, American public schools, hampered as they are by violence and other problems. are not exactly the best in the world. The US level of education is going down…”

The Program for International Student Assessment runs one of the best global assessments of comparative performance of national grade school systems. Their data shows that the US schools perform roughly at the OECD average. We are “not the best in the world”; our poor schools are a disgrace for one of the world’s richest nations. But ratings of the US are stable since 2000 by most measures, not “going down”.
The low rating of our grade schools is a result of inequality, as the US has some of the best schools in the OECD — and some of the worst. For more about this see “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider” in the NYT, “The Inequality in Public Schools” by Michael Godsey in the The Atlantic, and new research in “Local education inequities across U.S. revealed in new Stanford data set“.
Omitted from dirges about US education are our colleges and universities. Their large number of foreign students shows that they’re regarded as some of the best in the world.

(4) The US middle class is dying

“The middle class is disappearing in the USA, with now barely 50% of the population perceiving themselves as middle class. Median incomes have barely improved or even gone down the past 40 years, significantly reducing the middle-section of the tax base, which is normally the most reliable.”

The US middle class is dying, as is the middle class in most developed nations. See “A hollowing middle class” by Peggy Hollinger in the OECD’s Observer, and “Germany’s Middle Class Is Endangered, Too” in Bloomberg. The causes are similar to those afflicting the US.

“The American Dream is a night-mare for most Americans.”

Like most such confident assertions by doomsters, no source is given for this. There are many surveys of personal happiness and opinions about the “direction of the country”. These seldom agree with each other, or show any trend. As Dean Obeidallah shows, “We’ve Been on the Wrong Track Since 1972” — and perhaps longer (i.e., we always worry, since “only the paranoid survive”). Gallup’s “satisfaction with the United States” survey shows that peoples’ opinions have fluctuated with the economy since 1979. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows no change since 2008.

(5) We can’t raise taxes on the rich!

“The Laffer-curve, stating that heavy tax-burdens on the rich will incur less total tax-revenues, still applies for the top-section of the US tax base. Any attempts to heavily taxate (fiscate) the upper 10% (or 0.1% !) of the US tax base will lead to US dollar capital-flight, and acute economic crisis.”

First, that’s not what the Laffer Curve means (see Wikipedia for an intro; also note Laffer’s explanation for the curve has changed over time). Second, there is no reason to believe that the current US tax structure is at the peak of the Laffer Curve (above which increases in the marginal tax rate decrease revenue). Third, research on this complex subject has given wildly different estimates for the peak rate — often in the 65-75% range (far above current peak rates).
Perhaps the most interesting contrary evidence is that that the top marginal tax bracket in the US was 70% – 90% during the high-growth decades after WWII.

(6) America’s poor just need more education

“Poor Americans lack education and training to make them competitive in the global labor-market. America’s left erroneously blames the high percentage of unemployed poor on free trade, but the real problem is the lack of education which prevents the under-class from obtaining productive jobs.”

There is no evidence that there are skill or education shortages in American, jobs ready to be filled by newly-educated poor people. For details see this, and Ignore the hype. There are few shortages of skilled workers in America. Not even the in the STEM fields.
More likely the problem is a shortage of jobs paying a living wage, let alone a wage allowing a middle class lifestyle.

(7) America’s poor at risk of starvation!

“The risk of starvation amongst the poorest in the USA remains high: In Obama’s presidency, one in seven Americans (14%) face the risk of not having enough to eat.”

This misrepresents the USDA’s conclusions. They found that in 2014 14% “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources” (roughly 5% of them reported losing weight). The number even remotely at risk of starvation is much smaller: “5.6 percent of U.S. households (6.9 million households) had very low food security … {where} intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources” (~45% of them reported losing weight).
People starve to death in America (most estimates are several thousand per year), usually from causes other than lack of money (e.g., socially isolated children or elderly, drug abuse, mental illness). Anyone familiar with America’s poor knows that obesity is a far more widespread health problem than starvation.

(8) America’s military grows weaker!

“At the same time, the US military inventory is aging, and declining. The number of US ships and combat aircraft is declining, their average service-age goes up and their operativeness goes down. New US military hardware often take the form of useless ‘white elephants’, meaningless prestige-products like the 20-30 billion dollar Zumwalt class destroyer.
“…In absolute strength levels, the American military is standing still or going backwards. …If military budgets are not increased, the aging of the US military will be tough in the 2020’ies. …and the US military is going down in absolute as well as in relative strength.”

Other than China (playing catch-up in the great power game), the great powers are shrinking their conventional military strength. In the age in which the dominant forms of force are nukes and 4GW, conventional military power has use only in limited forms. US military spending accounts for ~37% of the world total — equal to the sum of the next 7 combined (4 of whom are our allies). While every nation’s military spending fluctuates, not only is there little evidence of America’s loss of military hegemony during the past few generations — it has grown immensely since the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s joining the West.
As for the Zumwalt destroyer, a trial production run cancelled after 3 ships is a bizarre basis to draw dire conclusions about the US military (continuing to build these expensive ships would have been evidence of a dysfunctional military). Also, the per ship cost was $6 billion — not $”20-30 billion” (including the program costs for a planned fleet of 32 on the 3 actually built is absurd).

(9) The US economy is unsustainable!

“The US economy is unsustainable.”

The author provides no evidence for this big assertion. Quite confident on the eve of a new industrial revolution (which might also void all the author’s other forecasts).
Note: the author does not mention one staple of the America is doomed crowd — private debt. It is high, but not unusually so vs. our peers. The US has the fourteenth highest private sector debt/GDP ratio in the OECD (2015, source here), and the fifteenth highest ratio in the OECD of household debt to net disposable income (2014, source here).


The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong
— Wonderful title to a 1984 book by Ben J. Wattenberg.

The doomster analysis of America is, yet again, not just unsupported but largely false. When reading these confident claims of End Times for America, remember that misinformation seldom just happens. It usually comes from well-paid propagandists working for special interests. These float through our minds until coalescing into predictions of doom, clouding our vision and sapping our spirits.

For More Information


* Lawrence Kummer is the editor of the Fabius Maximus website.

“Health and Fitness”

For those who do not know, Yediot Ahronot (“Latest News”) is the largest paper in Israel, easily outselling all the rest combined. For those who do not know, too, on the list of countries with the highest life-expectancy Israel occupies the eighth place (2015 data). Ahead of it are Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Spain, Iceland and Italy. Behind it are not only the United States—which, in this respect, is a notorious failure—but some of the world’s most admired welfare states. Among them are Sweden, France, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland, and Germany. And Denmark. That Denmark, incidentally, which by some data has the happiest people and highest quality of life in the world; making one wonder what the various statistics really mean, if indeed they mean anything at all.

And what, the reader may well ask, does this list have to do with Yediot? Simple. Opening the paper’s electronic edition, known as YNET, I have collected, over a period of one month, all the headlines in the column devoted to explaining the terrible things that threaten the health of ordinary Israelis. They are as follows:

31.7.2016. “How to Guard against Dangerous Apps;” “Dangers Post-Partum Women Are Not Aware of;” “Warning Signs that Show Your Baby is Not Developing Properly.”

1.8.2016. – – – –

2.8.2016. “Danger: Trampolines;”

3.8.2016. “Dangerous Water: How We Started Drinking Too Much.”

4.8.2016. “Report: A Product Containing Salmonella May Have Been on Sale;” “Air Conditioning in the Children’s Room; Healthy or Dangerous?” “Can Tests for Papilloma Be Trusted at All?” This issue also contained reports about the dangers of serving beer from glasses that do not show the amount of liquid they contain and of getting drunk while on board aircraft.

6.8.2016. “A Guide for Those Who Ate Cornflakes and Suffer from Diarrhoea.”

9.8.2016. “Coffee and Cake as Caloric Disasters.”

10.8.2016. – – – –

11.8.206. “Readers’ Comments on Health-Related Articles Might Be Bad for You.”

12.8.2016. “Because of the Heat: Damage to the Body;”

13.8.2016. “The Deadly Cycle of Smoking;” “Not Just Salmonella; the Pollution We All Suffer from” [air pollution]; “The Wikipedia of Disasters; Can Smartphones Save Humanity?” “Came for a Checkup—and Were Infected with Hepatitis C.”

14.8.2016, “Watch the Salmonella Germ Entering the Body—Stage by Stage.”

15.8.2016. “Children’s Dreams, a Cause for Worry.”

16.8.2016. “Look What Happened to a Boy Who Swallowed a Toy Dog.”

17.8.2016. “Dangerous Screens: How Smartphones and Computers Damage Eyes;” “To Increase Peoples’ Awareness of Rare Diseases.”

18.8.2016. “Five Exercises You Do Not Get Right in the Gym;” “Where Half of All ‘Deaths in the Cradle’ Take Place;” “How Jetlag Makes You Fat;” “The Dangerous Germs that Enter Your Food.”

19.8.2016. “When the Body Wears Out;” “The IVF Treatment that Endangers Fetuses;”

21.8.2016. “Obese Women Have Obese Children;” “The Children Run a Temperature? Wait with the Medicines” (so as not to damage the immune system); “Are You Addicted to Sugar? Let’s Check;” “A Doctor Explains; The Danger of Home Delivery.”

22.8.2016: “When Deficient Hearing Arrives: From Denial to Acceptance;” “Who Conceals the Damage Caused by Natrium;” “Incredible: The Amount of Salt in Supermarket Food.”

23.8.2016: “Forty Million Shekel (about $ 10,000,000) for Combating cutaneous leishmaniasis (a rare disease affecting people who live in the Dead Sea area); “Does Your Mouth Feel Dry? Ten Possible Reasons;” “Antibiotics for Children; Increased Risk of Diabetes.”

24.8.2016: “Healthy or Unhealthy? How Many Cups of Coffee You Should Drink Each Day;” “Thousand-Calorie Salads; Culinarian Mines in Restaurants;”

25.8.2016: “Why Widowers Die Earlier.”

26.8.2016: “Prepare for Problems: When Chronic Disease Meets Your Pension Fund;” “Why Native Israelis Suffer More from Lymphoma;” “Went Abroad for a Kidney Transplant and Came Back Deadly Sick.”

27.8.2016. “Why Mosquitoes Bite You” (this, immediately following an announcement that Israel’s health authorities have decided to launch an anti-Zika campaign).

28.8.2016. – – – –

29.8.2016. “Nurses in Baby Ward: Only by a Miracle Was a Disaster Prevented;” “Seven Bad Things You Didn’t Know Running Does to the Body;” “Sweet Corn of Breakfast; Think of Healthier Alternatives.”

Since the website changes several times a day, I may have missed a few. Over 30 days, the total number of identified dangers was 47. The maximum number per day was 4, the average 1.56. Only 3 days, or 10 percent of the total, were danger-free (an oversight, in all probability). Some dangers are common, others so rare that few people have heard of them. Some are widespread, others limited to certain groups of the population. Some are occasioned by food, some by exercise (or by the lack of it, though this particular list does not contain any such), some by doctors and medicines, and some by all kinds of activities or gadgets. At least one is caused by public opinion as reflected by the “talkbackists” (as Israelis call those who respond to newspapers articles).

In Israel, and by no means only in Israel, some people would argue that a long life expectancy and the drumfire of warnings are two sides of the same coin. The warnings, they say, lead to awareness and awareness leads to preventive action. But one could equally well maintain that they lead to stress and stress, to illness. In other words, that health and life expectancy would have been higher without them; for surely one of the most important, perhaps the most important, benefit of good health is not having to worry about it.

And the name of the column in which all these terrible disasters are listed? Nothing else than “Health and Fitness.” George Orwell would have laughed.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Alice Schwarzer is probably not a name that means a lot to many of my readers. Now seventy-three years old, for good or bad she is the doyenne of German feminism, a movement she helped found back in the 1970s. In spreading her message, her main instrument has been her bimonthly (formerly, monthly), Emma. In 2012 it was said to have a circulation of 60,000.

Personally I am convinced that feminism is one of the worst things that has ever happened to women and, through them, to half of humanity. By some research, all it has ever done is to make women unhappier than they were some decades ago. That is why I never expected to have common ground with her; yet reading a recent interview with her in Der Spiegel, the leading German news magazine, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with her on many points.

So here are some highlights, translated word by word.

Der Spiegel (DS): Ms. Schwarzer, Angela Merkel has now been ruling Germany for eleven years. Some weeks ago Theresa May became British prime minister, and Hillary Clinton may become the first female president of the United States. Will women’s rule make the world into a better place?

AS: It will surely be different. That is because women have a different history and live in a different world from that of men. So the experience they bring with them is also different… Now as ever, women are judged by different standards. When a woman wants to make her way to the top she is called ice-cold and a careerist. Not so men who, trying to do the same, are praised for being competitive and assertive.

DS: The platform of the SPD [Social Democratic Party] says that “whoever wants a humane society, must overcome the male element.” Isn’t that a little naive?

AS: No. It is simply the right of women to claim half of all power for themselves. Full stop. I never entertained the illusion that women would run the world in a way that is more just, or more moral, than that of men….

DS: Taking your idea to its logical conclusion, do you think that one day we might have a female Hitler?

AS: History doesn’t know too many monsters like Hitler. But yes: if more female rulers appear, some of them may abuse their power.

DS: Could one regard the rise of right-wing populist female politicians such as [France’s] Marie Le Pen and [Germany’s] Frauke Petry as some kind of normalization?

AS: Yes. Some women are left wing, others right wing. Some are fair, others mean, cunning and foolish….

DS: Do you believe that female politicians are obliged to support feminism?

AS: Not at all. I hope they do, but I do not expect them to….

DS: Many American feminists were angry with Hillary Clinton because she did not leave her husband when it turned out that had been cheating on her.

AS: For decades on end, no woman in the world has been attacked and humiliated as Hillary was. For me, the miracle is that she has retained her sanity… When the Monika Lewinsky affair broke people said: She may be intelligent, yes, and Bill can talk to her about politics. But he does not desire her. That was unfair and offensive…

DS: Your biographer Bascha Mika wrote that what you are really after is power. Do you see that as a compliment?

AS:… What interests me is independence. And the ability to do what I can to improve the way things are…

DS: What have women accused you of?

AS: Of being too strong and too dominant. Of not having cried often enough. And then there were political problems. I have always stood for a non-biological kind of feminism… I never knew what to do with women who appealed to their so-called femininity, exalted motherhood, and turned those qualities into the center of their existence. I also came under attack by left-wing women who saw feminism merely as part of the class struggle. Right now this part of the story seems to be repeating itself…

DS: What do you mean?

AS: Many so called Internet-feminists are terrified of being called racists. Doing so, they even justify the burka, this shroud that covers women’s bodies…

DS: You say that violence is the key to masculinity. However, there also exist other kinds of men; such as fathers who take time off to be with their children.

AS: … Unfortunately, women have always been fascinated by Dunkle Liebhaber [Dark Lovers, the mysterious, often rough if not violent, stranger who supposedly turns up out of nowhere and takes women by storm, MvC]. High time for them to get rid of that image, damn it!

DS: British prime minister May has no offspring, Merkel has no offspring…

AS: And Alice Schwartz has no offspring.

DS: Is that the price of power?

AS: If I had a child Emma then could not exist. There were times when I spent nights at my desk. And when I consider Merkel’s life, my God…

DS: You say that women have been told a lie?

AS: Yes. They are told that they can do everything—motherhood, career, no problem. But that is not true. Not even when a woman gets herself a good partner with whom she can share the housework…

DS: Why don’t women demand more sharing of their men?

AS: Because women are afraid men won’t love them. That is the main problem of those female shitheads: They want to be loved, never mind the price. It makes them unfree and opportunistic.

To which I, Martin van Creveld, would say: Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Germany: Holding Down the Lid

As some readers know, my wife and I spend part of each summer in Potsdam. On the face of it the city has remained what it used to be. The relaxed atmosphere on the most important throughway, the Brandenburger Strasse with its eighteenth-century, two-story, houses; the beautiful flat countryside, fit for walking; the even more beautiful lakes, ideal for swimming; and the superabundance of cultural facilities both in Potsdam itself and in neighboring Berlin.

Yet under the surface Potsdam, and with it Germany as a whole, seems posed for the greatest challenge since at least re-unification back in 1989 and possibly even since the end of World War II back in 1945. How to best explain what has been going on? Perhaps by referring to the position of Frau Angela Merkel, the long-time chancellor who has now been in charge of the country’s destiny for eleven years. Two years ago she was on top. Both in Germany and abroad, many saw her both as the best chancellor Germany had ever had and as the most successful woman in the world; by contrast, her opponents seemed to be bleating in the wilderness. I myself was able to witness this, watching the spontaneous applause with which she was received when, in her typical unassuming way, she attended a Bundeswehr ceremony in Berlin.

No longer. Perhaps in Germany more than abroad, Frau Merkel is now the topic of fierce debates, not seldom accompanied by the kind of language we have come to expect of Donald Trump and his ilk. By some polls, no fewer than two thirds of voters want to get rid of her. The reason? The way she has dealt with the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing into the country. In particular the words, “wir schaffen das” (we shall make it, i.e. successfully “integrate” the newcomers) have become by far the most famous ones she has ever uttered. Unless something truly dramatic happens, they are likely to be remembered as her legacy.

Frau Merkel grew up in the former East Germany. Such being the case, she at first seemed a strange choice for dealing with Germany’s past; that past which her native country had always firmly refused to confront but which, in both Germanies, simply does not want to go away. Both abroad and, except for the usual lunatic fringe, in Germany itself, her ability to create the impression that she not only understood but cared was one of the main reasons why people admired her as much as they did. Perhaps the fact that her father was a Protestant clergyman helped.

In come the refugees. From Albania, from Libya, from Syria, from Iraq, even from places as far away as Afghanistan. They do not speak the language. They have no education. They have no skills—in Germany, a country in which skills are acquired by means of lengthy and carefully organized apprenticeships, that counts as one of the worst sins of all. They have nothing and have to be supported, economically, at a cost that sometimes makes Germans who are on welfare or simply pay their taxes green with envy and resentment.

Some refugees resolutely refuse to “integrate,” insisting on retaining their own culture in respect of food, clothing, and the treatment of women and homosexuals. Contrary to what one sees on the media, which likes to present veiled women and innocent children being carried by their parents, the great majority are unattached young men; that fact, as well as sheer poverty, explains why they commit far more crimes than their numbers would warrant. Including some which can only be described as terrorism, and including some which their perpetrators themselves describe as such. I am told that, in the Rhineland, there are entire prisons inhabited exclusively by immigrants.

Some other EU countries, notably those of Eastern Europe, have resolutely challenged Brussels and refused to accept Muslim immigrants. Others, though subtler, also do what they can to put all kinds of obstacles in their way and, where possible, get rid of them. However, partly because it is a central pillar of the EU—which, without German support, would quickly far apart—and partly because of its own past, Germany cannot do the same.

Unfair? Yes. After all, a quick calculation shows that even the grandparents of young Germans under 25 cannot have participated in Nazi crimes in any meaningful way. The same goes for the parents of anyone under sixty years or so. To have been eighteen, the age at which, back in 1945, people were drafted into the Wehrmacht or Waffen SS, one must be at least 89 today. That only applies to less than one percent of the population.

So the sons, the grandsons, and in some cases even the great-grandsons are paying for their ancestors’ sins. One and all, they have been nailed to the swastika from which nothing and no one can liberate them. No wonder the “extreme” right, in the form of newspapers such as the Junge Freiheit and parties such as AfD (Alternative fuer Deutschland, An Alternative for Germany, which, incidentally, is led by a woman) is flourishing). Let me emphasize: neither the Junge Freiheit nor the AfD are in any sense Nazis. To the contrary, well aware that their opponents are doing whatever they can to describe them as such they do whatever they can to stay away from any such accusations. The Junge Freiheit, for example, is conservative. Knowing them well, as I do, I sometimes feel they would like to turn the clock back to 1871 if not before.

And how does Frau Merkel respond to the problem? By denying that there is any. So far she and the establishment she heads, consisting of the moderately right wing CDU and the moderately left wing SPD, have been able to hold down the lid on their people’s growing resentment. But for how long? And what happens then? As Hamlet might have said, those are the questions.

Guest Article: US Position is Untenable


by Karsten Riise

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has newly released a projection of Federal debt 2016-2046.

US Fed debt 2000-2045

The CBO analysis shows that Federal debt is on path to increase from 75% of GDP to 146% of GDP in 2046. These figures exclude state & local government debt of approimately 16% of GDP (source: Fed.Reserve Z1,D1 and, meaning that the total public debt in the USA is on track to increase from 90%+ to 160%+ of GDP.

A public debt of 100%-200% of GDP is possible in Japan and Italy, where nearly all public debt is owned nationally—in Japan, by (often state-promoted) enormous private entities. However, for the USA, such high public debt figures are bound to lead to a fundamental crisis of non-confidence in the US dollar. 

Falling dollar rates and rising interest rates will incur still higher deficits to pay the interests on the public debt. 

A vicious circle threatens the US economy.
When and how it may start, we don’t know.

The biggest driver of the US Federal debt is the aging of the US population. Today 15% of Americans are aged 65+. This percentage will increase by two thirds, so that by 2060 about 24% of the US population will be 65+. Until now, the USA has benefited from a young population. The strain on medicare and social spending of an aging population, even with the still limited entitlements in the USA, will be enormous.

The CBO has calculated, that just to keep the Federal debt at its present level, the balance between tax revenues and federal expenditures must be improved by 1.7% of GDP—every year the next 30 years. In other words, tax revenue must increase and government expenditures must be curtailed.

The US economy is becoming less and less competitive. One reason for this is because the USA has some of the worst 3rd world-like public infrastructure in the western world. Roads, bridges and railways in the USA are a sham. High-speed trains are non-existent. Not only is China building far more kilometers of inter-state high-ways than the US, but it is also one of the world’s leading countries in the field of high-speed trains; in fact, China may become the main-supplier of America’s first high-speed railway line.

Furthermore, American public schools, hampered as they are by violence and other problems. are not exactly the best in the world, The US level of education is going down, as pointed out by the economic guru Michael Porter, who also points out, that the level of bureaucracy and red-tape hindrances to business are enormous in the USA. The middle class is disappearing in the USA, with now barely 50% of the population perceiving themselves as middle class. Median incomes have barely improved or even gone down the past 40 years, significantly reducing the middle-section of the tax base, which is normally the most reliable. The American Dream is a night-mare for most Americans. The Laffer-curve, stating that heavy tax-burdens on the rich will incur less total tax-revenues, still applies for the top-section of the US tax base. Any attempts to heavily taxate (fiscate) the upper 10% (or 0.1% !) of the US tax base will lead to US dollar capital-flight, and acute economic crisis. 

Ueber-rich people in the US will prefer to dump their American passports and go with their money to the Bahamas, Belize, the UK, Australia, Singapore, UAE, or even South Africa, or Brazil, if doing so is what it takes to protect their enormous fortunes from high taxes.

Poor Americans lack education and training to make them competitive in the global labor-market. America’s left erroneously blames the high percentage of unemployed poor on free trade, but the real problem is the lack of education which prevents the under-class from obtaining productive jobs. Poor Americans are too expensive compared to Asians, and too badly educated and trained, and the infrastructure around them too lousy, to make them able to earn a higher pay. The risk of starvation amongst the poorest in the USA remains high: In Obama’s presidency, one in seven Americans (14%) face the risk of not having enough to eat.

At the same time, the US military inventory is aging, and declining. The number of US ships and combat aircraft is declining, their average service-age goes up and their operativeness goes down. New US military hardware often take the form of useless “white elephants”, meaningless prestige-products like the 20-30 billion dollar Zumwalt class destroyer. The US addiction to over-investments in such relatively useless symbols of “strength” as the Zumwalt, in spite of economic problems and American city-disintegration, violence and poverty, is in the USA a sure sign of decay and decline – just like Rome in its latter days. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO report 15-364 ) has demonstrated, that the US military, in spite of spending 4% of US GDP (source: – extra spending is hidden in separate budgets), has no overview of its own economic needs, and the economy of the mega-expensive F-35 aircraft, according to GAO, has a big chance of not being economically sustainable over time, even for the USA.

The US military is simply on its way to run smack into a wall of economic impossibility.

In absolute strength levels, the American military is standing still or going backwards.

The US military now delays military purchases in order to keep overall military expenditures flat the next 5 years.

If military budgets are not increased, the aging of the US military will be tough in the 2020’ies. In light of the overall budget problems of the USA from now on until 2045 (as mentioned above), it must be expected that the US military will be economically forced to cut down on absolute strength levels the next 10 years. 

At the same time, absolute strength levels of militaries in Russia and China is going up. 

The qualitative lead in high-precision weapons, cruise missiles, and high-quality combat aircraft has come to Russia and China too. Though the USA still has a number of unique capabilities, especially its carrier fleet, advanced submarines, other ships, and “stealth” aircraft, Russia and China are specifically building up (and exporting!) cheaper weapons to off-set US advantages. 

Military lobbyists in the USA dream of a new US “revolution in military technology” to regain American tech-lead in weapons, but so far such US “wunder-weapons” as rail-guns, laser-cannons etc. have shown to be elusive and too costly, even for the USA. 
On the political front, the UK exit from the EU is a devastating blow to the US system of alliances.

The US economy is unsustainable – and the US military is going down in absolute as well as in relative strength.
Costly wars like Libya have been counter-productive. Afghanistan is becoming a failure. China is getting the upper-hand in the Straight of Taiwan, and Russia surprises (though still under-estimated in the west).
Without the tools-of-power or greater wisdom, Mrs. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the force-confrontation against Russia, China, and others.

A new world order is already developing. Mr. Donald Trump seems to have realized the new situation of the US. Mrs. Hillary Clinton has not – which makes her dangerous in world affairs.


1358I am writing this from Potsdam, the German city (population, 200,000) near Berlin where my wife and I spend part of every summer. Wherever we go, we see designated Frauenparkplaetze, i.e. parking spaces for women. Potsdam and Germany are not by any means the only places that are blessed with them. That is why it pleases me to say a word about them today.

First, who is and is not entitled to use the Plaetze in question is by no means clear. Women driving on their own? Surely. But how about women drivers with male passengers (like myself) in the car? Wouldn’t a situation whereby I get the kind of protection originally designed for women be morally flawed as well as counterproductive? And how about male drivers with female passengers in the car? Are they permitted to use the spaces in question? And don’t old people (again, like myself) deserve protection just as much as women do? No one knows; no one cares. As befits an idiotic regulation which has long turned into a joke and which only a few half-crazed feminists, seeing “discrimination” at every step, give one penny for.

Second, the location of the Plaetze. One often sees, right beside them, spaces for behinderte (cripples). No accident, that, because both categories tend to be located in well-lit areas near elevators or staircases. Are we to conclude that women, by virtue of their sex, are cripples and deserve to be treated as such? Apparently so.

Third, the rationale. The declared reason for having Frauenparkplaetze is because parking lots and building are favored by male rapists eager “to carry out their nefarious schemes,” as the Hebrew phrase, which is used almost solely in that context, puts it so very nicely. Women, so the common view, have weak bodies and, as we shall see in a moment, weak minds as well. Ergo they cannot protect themselves but need to have special measures implemented in their favor.

What applies to female drivers and passengers seems to apply to every other field too. Women need to be protected against male violence at home (never mind that, statistically, in every country where the question has been researched, female-on-male domestic violence was found to be just as frequent as male-on-female violence; see on this the work of the late Murray Straus). Women need to be protected against rape. Women need to be protected against sexual abuse. Women need to be protected against sexual harassment. Including, it seems, being greeted with the words “hey, beautiful” instead of some more conventional way. Women need to be protected against “gazing” “staring,”, and “leering.”

But that is only the beginning. Delicate souls that they are, women need to be protected against “’objectification” and “verbal abuse.” Women need to be protected against cunning pimps who first promise them the earth and then enslave them. Women need to be protected against photographers who promise to turn them into models but do not deliver. Women need to be protected against having their naked pics published on the Net (I hereby formally grant permission to anybody who has a pic of mine to do so; I shall even be happy to provide him or her with one).

Women need to be protected against “economic terrorism.” Women need to be protected against wicked, but charismatic and clever, men who first promise them marriage and then disappear with their, the women’s, money, or turn out to be married already, or both. Women need to be protected against male physicians, psychologists, gurus, university professors, teachers, coaches, and masseurs, all of whom, which God forbid, first cause them to become “dependent” on themselves and then try to “exploit them by having sex with them.

Women need to be protected against their own preference for convicted male criminals (as shown by the fact that such criminals tend to have more offspring than average, mostly because they have more partners). Women need to be protected against the possible consequences of their taste in dress and comportment (they are, it seems, too dumb to understand those consequences on their own). So stupid are some women that they only understand that they have been “raped” years after the event, and often after some lawyer tells them they can make money by suing. Once they do, they have to be protected from confronting their alleged attackers in court and also from having their own names revealed. Women need to be protected against “offensive” speech, including, no doubt, this essay. So numerous are the things women must be protected against that I found it impossible to put them in any kind of logical order. In short, women are seen—and, what is much worse, see themselves—as complete idiots incapable of looking after themselves.

However, there is a catch. Men are physically stronger than women. As the fact that they commit most violent crimes shows, men also tend to be considerably more aggressive and more assertive on the average. By some accounts, this is likely to remain the case not only in our world but even in one where our place is taken by computers. That is why, when the chips are down, only men can protect women against other men; also why, throughout history, countless men have died to protect women whereas the opposite has rarely ever been the case. The more protection women demand and receive, the more dependent on their protectors and the less equal and free they become.

Starting with Frauenparkplaetze, the need for protection on one hand and equality on the other run at cross purposes. The resulting inability of women to decide what they want most—protection or equality—is the main reason why, whatever the common wisdom may say, they will never be equal with men.

Not, should humanity survive that long, in a million years hence.

What Must Be Done

Some of those who read my recent book, Pussycats, have asked me to say a little more about what could and should be done to restore the West’s waning fighting power. Given the differences between various Western countries, obviously there cannot be a single solution: still the following should apply, more or less, to most.614WXaCRlAL

To start at the beginning, the all-pervasive system whereby many young people are doomed to remain crybabies and forcibly prevented from growing up should be terminated. Provide them with opportunities to be among themselves and play with as little, if any, supervision as possible. Give them freedom to experiment—or else how are they going to learn? Instead of drugging them, demand performance from them and encourage them. Put an end to what one writer called “the war against boys,” under which boys keep being told how bad, how wicked, how oppressive, they and their male friends and relatives are and punished whenever they make a “gun” out of schnitzel and shout “pow-pow” or even look at a girl. Terminate the situation whereby boys over six, or eight, or ten, or fourteen, are taught mainly by women. Have more male teachers in elementary school. If necessary re-segregate the education system so as to allow boys to be boys and save them the humiliation of having to compete with girls.

Second, recognize that training, unless it incorporates some risk, will turn into a childish game and re-organize it accordingly. Bring down the average age of the troops while at the same time ceasing to treat them as if they were infants. Stop subjecting them to all kinds of petty restrictions and trying to turn them into eunuchs. Those sent by their country to kill and be killed should also have some latitude to drink and wench as troops have always done and, if they are worth their salt, will continue to do until doomsday comes. And stop denouncing “militarism.” Instead, recognize the fact that troops are unlikely to fight well if, in a word gone berserk with political correctness, they are not permitted to express their pride and joy in their chosen profession. Including, yes, the joy of fighting enemies and killing them.

Third, women in the military. That many women do their job as well as any man no one questions. However, their widespread presence in the military gives rise to three major problems. First, even a cursory look at the way things are managed will show that women are privileged, causing widespread resentment among the male personnel (the more so because they are not allowed to talk about it). Second, it deprives that personnel from what is perhaps their most important reason for enlisting and fighting, which is to prove their masculinity to themselves and to others. Third, it opens the door to all kinds of claims about “sexual harassment,” to the point any male soldiers are now afraid of being accused or it (and sexual assault, and rape) than of the enemy. To solve these problems, 1. Cut down the number of women to, say, 10 percent of the total. 2. Put an end to coed basic training, which is a pure waste of (to see what such “training” looks like, watch ) and a humiliation to the men who participate in it. 3. Remove women from all combat and direct combat support jobs, which also means capping the ranks to which they can rise. 4. Reconstitute the woman’s corps in such a way that only women will command woman and sexual harassment of inferiors by superiors brought to an end.

Fourth, the vexed question of PTSD. The idea that war is necessarily harmful to the soul and, unless properly treated by all kinds of experts, will tend to destroy it is peculiar to the modern West. Looking back into history before 1860 or so, there is little or no evidence to support it; nor does it seem to be, or have been, a major problem in non-Western forces such as Hezbollah, Daesh, and, four decades ago, the Viet Cong. Ergo the phenomenon, which in recent year has grown to the point where it is threatening to undermine what little of the West’s will to fight remains, is a cultural one. So stop the system whereby anyone returning from war is automatically suspect of carrying the problem and practically forced to suffer from it. Reward those who do not contract PTSD instead of those who do so. Instead of pitying veterans and treating them as damaged good, find ways to reward them and above all, celebrate them for their heroism and their sacrifice.

Finally, it is vital that the old truth be recognized once again: Yes, war is a terrible thing. It destroys, it injures, it kills, often on a massive scale. Unless it is very carefully controlled, moreover, it may very well escape control while giving rise to the worse instincts in us humans—sadism, brutality, and what not. Still it should be understood that some things are even worse. Including to mention but a few, injustice, persecution, and slavery. Should the Spartans have surrendered and provided the King of Persia with soil and water, as the latter demanded? Should Abraham Lincoln have avoided war and allowed slavery to continue? Should Britain and France have avoided war and allowed Hitler to proceed with his plan of conquest? War, to repeat, is a terrible thing. But the situation whereby, in Europe and among some left-wing American democrats, this idea is carried to the point where society is incapable of waging it and pay the price it demands should be brought to an end. As the ancient Romans used to say: si pacem vis, bellum prepara (if you want peace, prepare for war.) Not just by improving your technology and purchasing new weapons, which seems to be the preferred Western answer to any military problem. But by changing attitudes.

Note that it is not a question of money. The US and its Western allies comprise all the richest countries on earth. As I have argued in several of my past posts, they already spend enough on their armed forces and to spare. Instead, nothing less than a fundamental change in mentality is needed. Enough to keep Donald Trump, who back in April 2016 promised to spend the first months of his putative presidency fixing the US military, busy for a long, long time.

The End of the Road

It’s official: my career as a teacher has ended. It spanned 45 years during which I taught in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Washington DC, Quantico VA, and Geneva. I taught both Israelis and foreigners, both civilians and soldiers. Here it pleases me to put on some of my experiences on record.

I always enjoyed teaching. Unlike some of my colleagues I never saw it either as largely irrelevant to my main work or as a burden. To the contrary, I always looked at it as an opportunity to interact with others, listen to what they had to say, and, from time to time, learn something important from them. As happened, for example, many years ago when a young female student opened my eyes to the fact that Sun Tzu’s famous Art of War is a Daoist text, causing me to totally rethink what it had to say. On another occasion another young woman asked me how I (like most Israelis) “knew” that most Jordanians are actually Palestinians, thereby forcing me to think it over. On yet another occasion a young man opened my eyes to the fact that women would only gain equality if and when they dropped their preference for hypergamy and started marrying dropouts. So let me take this opportunity to thank them, and my students in general, for everything they have taught me over the years.

Following from the above, I think that the seminar, or workshop as we at Hebrew University used to call those we offered first year students, are the most useful courses of all. Much more so than lectures in which students are merely passive listeners and in which feedback is necessarily very limited. Let there be no mistake: preparing lecture may be a most useful thing for professors to do. As has been said, the best way to master a field or subject is to teach it. Students, though, will not benefit nearly as much.

To be effective a seminar has to be neither too large not to be small. The minimum number of students present is around five, or else there will be insufficient room for discussion. The maximum is probably around twenty. The ideal, I think, is twelve. Jesus, it seems, knew what he was doing.

Meetings should start with presentations by students. The presentations should be presented according to a program, fixed in advance. Ideally each student, to benefit from his or her experience, should have at least two opportunities to present. Unfortunately, the way most seminars are constructed this is not the way things happen.

In conducting a seminar, the most difficult thing is to make students prepare. In my experience, as well as that of my colleagues, only a minority do. So what to do? You can, of course start each meeting by questioning some of them. Doing so, however, is largely a waste of time and can be humiliating to the students themselves. I am afraid that I only hit on the solution a few years ago: namely, to have them prepare questions about the material and use email to send them, in advance, to the student who is going to present next. With a copy to me, as the instructor. This method obliged me to read each student’s questions and reply to them very briefly. Quite some work, but worth it.

It is vital that students should treat each other with respect. I always told them that they could say anything about anyone or anything outside the classroom. Alive or dead. But that I would insist on them speaking to and about each other the way courteous people do.

That said, the best meetings were sometimes the noisiest. Let me give you an example. Years and years ago we were discussing Karl Marx. It was one of those occasions, which I tolerated and even encouraged up to a point, when students got so excited that everyone was shouting at each other. Suddenly a window opened, a young woman dropped in (the campus on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, had some odd places where you could do that, technically speaking) and asked us to keep our voices down because, in the class next door, they could not hear each other. Having finished laughing, we gladly obliged.

Students can be misleading. The most extreme example was Yuval Harari. When he first studied with me some twenty years ago he never opened his mouth during the entire 26 meetings that the course, whose topic was modern strategy, lasted. I hope he will forgive me for saying that I did not know what to make of him and thought he was completely autistic. In my defense I can only say that, no sooner had I seen his seminar paper, which dealt with command in the middle ages, then I realized the guy was a genius. By now, of course, he is world famous.

I always treated male and female students exactly the same. Doing so was in line with the kind of education we young Israelis received during the 1950s and 1960s, which in some ways was the most egalitarian in the world. It is my experience, though, that 1. In mixed classes, female students do not take nearly as lively a part in discussion as male ones do; and 2. That the most interested students, meaning those who sought me out in my office or wrote to me not just to ask for a deferment of this or that but to discuss all kinds of issues, are almost always male.

Let me conclude with a final point. Following in the footsteps of my reverend teacher, Prof. Alexander Fuks (see, on him, my post for 1.10.2014) I have always felt that teacher and students should work together to find out the truth as far as possible. Or else, why bother? To do this, absolute freedom of speech is needed. Even if it means the right to take up unpopular positions and follow them to wherever they may lead; particularly if it means the right to take up unpopular positions and follow them to wherever they may lead.

It therefore came as a surprise, and a most unwelcome one, to find that many students no longer share this idea. Instead, they regard the classroom as a place where their opinions, or perhaps I should say prejudices, should not be questioned. Any teacher who brings up a topic the local crybullies find “offensive,” as for example by daring to discuss nudity (as a young colleague of mine did) or suggesting that women, far from being oppressed, are privileged in many ways (as I did) is putting his or her head on the block. In several of the universities where I taught the outcome was likely to be a complaint. One which, having been launched, would almost certainly be backed by administrators who know only too well on which side their bread is buttered.

So farewell you students, the good as well as the bad. And shame on many of you, universities, for your cowardice in betraying your sacred mission: namely, to protect freedom of thought at all cost.


12Jaeger: At War with Denmark’s Elite Special Forces, is a book by former special forces soldier Thomas Rathsack. Originally it was published in Denmark where it was a best seller and is said to have inspired many youngsters to volunteer for the military; since 2015 it has been available in English too.

The book starts with a brief autobiographical sketch of the author’s life before he enlisted in the Danish special forces. Next, it describes the truly grueling training he and his comrades received; including insane physical effort and culminating in parachute jumps from 30,000 feet. Next, it outlines some of the action the author saw in uncongenial places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. It concludes with the half-hearted attempts, and ultimately futile, attempts of the Danish military to try the author for allegedly having revealed all kinds of secrets.

While no literary masterpiece, the book is very impressive. I was especially interested in what made a young man decide on such a career, perhaps the toughest and most dangerous on earth; and one, moreover, which leaves those who embark on it with no time for anything else. As Rathsack says, repeatedly, it was the desire to test himself that made him tick. To the utmost, again and again and again. No surprise here, really, since the same has been true since at least the time of Homer on.

But what really caught my eye, and my mind, was something else. Let me use the author’s own words, as far as possible, to describe it:

“American drones—MQ-1 Predators—had over the past week kept a watchful eye on the… regions in the mountainous provinces” along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Their drones had captured pictures of Taliban and al-Qaeda members crossing the border… However, the unstable weather conditions of the late winter had made the Predator less effective. Task Force K Bar was therefore assigned the task of observing activities in the area. Fortunately for us, this meant boots on the ground…”

“We would be inserted by helicopter at night flying over hills, mountains and valleys, through areas swarming with armed enemies… The operation was expected to span 10 days,” which meant that each of them would have to carry up to 180 pounds, including water. Preparations included gathering and compiling intelligence: “We needed information about wind, light, rainfall and temperature. We needed to know where the enemy was expected to be, whether they were armed and organized, and what their morale was. And finally we’d need information about whether the local population was friendly or hostile, and where the nearest town or settlement was located… Advanced computer programs provided us with information about the altitude and gradient of the mountains. We sought out the best places from which to observe the villages and the tracks we were interested in…”

“The landing zone couldn’t be too close to our observation base, since the enormous CH-47 helicopter taking us in was extraordinarily loud.” Communications, medical equipment, and plans for enabling the team to be extracted in case things went wrong had to be prepared. “We were privileged in that the pilots who flew us in were the best in the world.” In support would be jet fighters and “the awesome American flying fortress, the AC-130 Gunship, which carries a whole arsenal of weaponry systems.” All this, so just five men could be landed on a mountain 250 miles from base.

“I was in the best company possible—with some of the world’s top soldiers.” Once the team had been flown in and were on the ground, “we quickly secured our position for all angles. A deafening silence set in. Not a sound in the night… It was as if we had found ourselves in a vacuum… Getting away from the landing zone as fast as possible was crucial The Chinook had probably been heard in the villages a few miles away. That meant Al Qaeda and Taliban forces would be aware of special forces in the area.”

The men spent the rest of the night marching to their predesignated observation post. Given the altitude (9,000 feet), the terrain, and the loads they carried doing so required an almost superhuman effort. On one side were a handful of the world’s best soldiers, trained at great expense for years on end until they became perfect killing machines. Backing them up were entire forests of machines some of which, such as the F-16 fighter bombers AC-130 gunships (which, however, being slow and vulnerable, were only allowed to operate by night) cost tens of millions of dollars each. And what were they after? “The village beneath me consisted of 14-15 single family houses, all made of clay and enclosed behind the concrete walls that nearly all Afghan houses had… The only sign of life was a herd of goats, bound to a tree in the western part of the village… just after 9 A.M two men stepped out of one of the bigger buildings in the village. They were dressed in loose, brown robes, and walked slowly to the small grove of trees where the goats were tied up. They sat in the shade, leaning up against a tree and began conversing. I noted it in the logbook It was the only activity on this watch.”

A few nights later, payoff! “I froze at what I saw through the scope. A group of men were walking along a trail from one of the values south of the village. I counted 12, all armed with Kalashnikovs…. The group was clearly on its way across the border from Pakistan.”

Not long thereafter the commandos were discovered. Whether by accident or because the opponent, alerted by the helicopter’s noise, had noted their presence and was actively looking for them is not clear. Probably the latter, since the village appeared to be abnormally quiet. Thus another operation had to be prepared to get the commandos out before they were overrun and the survivors, if any, put to death in any number of interesting ways. This time, in addition to a Chinook and F-16s on standby, 30 soldiers from the American 10th Mountain Division (plus at least one helicopter to carry them) and an Advance Warning and Control System (AWACS) costing perhaps $ 200,000,000 were involved.

All this, I could not help but wonder, only to observe a handful of bearded men issuing from clay huts while armed with locally made assault rifles? And only to end up by failing to achieve anything?

PS: Those of you who have not seen the following link showing US male and female Marine on training, do yourself a favor and take a look.