Matt and Katie discuss the latest on the debate over Covid stimulus negotiations, NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller talks academic freedom.
‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain’
The nerve agent attack on former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter sends a powerful message to the rest of the world: the assassins aren’t playing by the rules.
.. Still, if the Russian government really was responsible, why use a nerve agent that could so easily be traced back to them? “They’ve had plenty of opportunities to kill Skripal,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the nonprofit research organization CNA. “And there are, frankly, a myriad of much simpler and more practical ways of doing it.”
But using chemical weapons is about more than just killing. These taboo weapons are instruments of terror, and their use is designed to send a message to the world: that the power behind the attack — Russia, according to the UK — doesn’t think anyone else is ruthless enough to retaliate effectively. And to others who might consider betraying Russia to foreign powers, it’s that snitches get more than stitches — they get murdered.
.. Using Novichok as a calling card could be a way of saying that Russia doesn’t care about looking guilty because whatever retaliation the UK and the West might muster isn’t frightening enough. After all, an in-kind response is off the table
.. If only one side is willing to be ruthless, it changes the rules of the game. This “etiquette of espionage,” for example, held that former spies were off limits for assassination attempts
.. And there’s an international treaty against using chemical weapons, so using them for assassination attempts on foreign soil are beyond the pale. “They do things like this intentionally to show that they in no way will be limited by what are considered to be established rules and norms of behavior,”
.. That message is also aimed at anyone considering telling Russia’s secrets to foreign powers, Kimmage says. “One very clear message is ‘If you betray us, we will kill you’ to put it into blunt, mafia-like terms,” he says. “‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain.’” The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal made an example out of him, and the theatrical method ensured that the press picked up the message and distributed it around the globe.
.. “The threat of chemical weapons not only endures in the 21st century, but is spreading.” In the last few years, the Assad regime unleashed chemical weapons on civilians in Syria; ISIS used mustard gas in Syria and Iraq; state-sponsored assassins used the nerve agent VX to kill Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. And now, a chemical weapon made for the battlefield was used in a UK cathedral town, in the attempted murder of a UK citizen.
Vestergaard writes: “It seems the chemical peace is not just broken; it is shattered.”
How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?
.. We all have moral preferences and beliefs about how the world is and should be. Having these views challenged can be painful, so we tend to avoid people with differing values and to associate with those who share our values. This self-segregation has become much more potent in recent decades. We are more mobile and can sort ourselves into different communities; we wait longer to find and choose just the right mate; and we spend much of our time in a digital world personalized to fit our views... Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”.. But echo chambers also have to guard against dissent and opposition. Whether it’s in our homes, online or in our workplaces, a consensus is maintained by shaming people into conformity or excommunicating them if they persist in violating taboos. Public shaming serves not only to display the virtue of those doing the shaming but also warns others that the same punishment awaits them if they don’t conform...In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored... Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement... Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views.
What is happening with North Korea is not analogous to what happened in 1962, except for the word crisis. Fifty-five years ago was a different age with vastly different players and dynamics. We all mine the past to make our points, but Mr. Gorka’s evoking of the Cuban crisis to summon political support is intellectually cheap and self-defeating.
- The Soviet Union and Cuba were trying to hide what they had—offensive missiles in Cuba. Kim Jong Un enjoys showing what he has and taunting the world with it.
- President Kennedy gave great and grave attention to reassuring a nation and world understandably alarmed by nuclear brinkmanship. Does Mr. Trump? Not in the least.
He knew that precisely because you are a nuclear power, you can’t make nuclear threats. A thing too easily referred to will lose its horrifying mystique, its taboo. So don’t go there when you speak, or allow people to think you’re going there.
.. He famously called his blockade of Cuba a “quarantine,” because a blockade is a military action and a quarantine is—well, whatever you think it is. He worked hard with aides on public statements, hammering out each phrase. He sometimes used dire language—we don’t want “the fruits of victory” to become “ashes in our mouths”—but he knew who he was up against, a Soviet premier whom he’d met in summit, and whose understanding of such messages could be at least roughly gauged.
.. It is not clear Mr. Trump is up against a rational player. He must therefore ask if inflammatory language is more likely to provoke than inform.
.. More than half the world at this point would see Kim Jong Un as mad, and some significant number might view Mr. Trump similarly. Thus the current high anxiety, and the need from America for calm, cool logic, not emotionalism.
.. Kennedy was quoted in the Oval Office saying his generals had at least one thing going for them: “If we listen to them and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.”
.. JFK himself called the publisher of the New York Times , the president of the Washington Post and the owner of Time magazine to request pledges of cooperation and discretion. All agreed. He filled in his Republican predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, on the plan to blockade Cuba. “Whatever you do,” said Eisenhower, “you will have my support.”
..House Majority Whip Hale Boggs of Louisiana was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. “A military helicopter found Boggs, dropping a note to him in a bottle. ‘Call Operator 18, Washington. Urgent message from the president.’ ”
.. The U.S. military, he told the ambassador, was pressing hard to invade Cuba. The president would have to agree if Khrushchev didn’t take the missiles out now.
.. Actually, it was lucky the players in the Cuban crisis lived in a slower, balkier world. They had time to think, to create strategy and response. The instantaneous world—our world—is so much more dangerous.