Friday, September 30, 2022
Thursday, September 29, 2022
Another thread we've been hammering for a awhile.
A common, perhaps even the standard framing of rising sea levels is that it's a existential threat for all coastal cities, and while I understand the desire not to downplay the crisis, this isn't true. For cities with relatively high elevations like Los Angeles (a few low-lying neighborhoods, but most of it hundreds and some of it thousands of feet above sea-level) or cities with at least moderate elevations and little danger from tropical cyclones (like almost all major cites on the West Coast), we are talking about a problem but not a catastrophe (The remnants of hurricanes we do see in California are generally more good news than bad. Kay broke our recent heat wave and gave some relief to firefighters). Some beaches will be lost and a few people will have to relocate, but compared to drought and triple-digit temperatures, that's a fairly manageable situation.
Of course, the real tragedy of this framing is not that it overstates the threat to the West Coast, but that it dangerously understates the immediate and genuinely existential threat to many cities on the East and Gulf Coasts.
• Storm surge: Some 12 to 18 feet of seawater pushed onto land is forecast Wednesday for the coastal Fort Myers area, from Englewood to Bonita Beach, forecasters said. Only slightly less is forecast for a stretch from Bonita Beach down to near the Everglades (8 to 12 feet), and from near Bradenton to Englewood (6 to 10 feet), forecasters said.
Lower – but still life-threatening – surge is possible elsewhere, including north of Tampa and along Florida’s northeast coast near Jacksonville.
What's happening in in Fort Meyers is horrifying...
I can't overstate how serious the storm surge threat is in southwest Florida. #Ian will drive deadly surge into Cape Coral and Fort Myers, placing much of the area under water. If you live near the ocean in a surge zone, this is your last chance to leave... pic.twitter.com/FefKkoltd3— Evan Fisher (@EFisherWX) September 28, 2022
But imagine what an eighteen foot storm surge would do to the slightly higher but far more populous Jacksonville.
10 ft (3 m)
• Total 86,395
16 ft (5 m)
• Total 949,611
And while we're at it...
6 ft (1.8 m)
• Total 442,241
These storms are going to get stronger and the seas will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Look up the elevation for cities that are likely to be hit by hurricanes. Anything less than twenty-five or thirty feet is basically playing Russian Roulette.
Absolutely wild. All of this in the eye, in which we circled for some time to deploy the UAS (uncrewed aerial system).— Tropical Nick Underwood (@TheAstroNick) September 28, 2022
A high end Cat 4 storm. Nearly Cat 5.
All of this at 8,000 feet above the ocean. I’m glad we only did one pass. pic.twitter.com/hd2L7icLQY
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
On the other hand, a DL model is excellent at reproducing local visual likeness (what it's fitted on), yet it has no understanding of the parts & their organization.— François Chollet (@fchollet) September 25, 2022
A 5-year old that draws disproportionate stick figures will still draw horses with 4 legs and 1 head and 2 eyes. pic.twitter.com/39a9eaKD7H
no, it’s the difference between having an explicit functional model and working purely in an image space that is correlated with labels.— Gary Marcus (@GaryMarcus) September 25, 2022
Indeed.— Grady Booch (@Grady_Booch) September 25, 2022
If I have a functional model that explains how multiplication works, then I can multiply any two arbitrarily large numbers.
If all I have is a latent space shaped from labeled data, any answers will be at best statistical-significant guesses.
Exceptional bit of propaganda from Ukraine (better with the sound up).
One of the most modern tanks on the Russian Army, abandoned in perfect condition. A sign of an army in crisis https://t.co/ZdpJ022Wnu— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) September 18, 2022
Combining history with a wicked sense of humor...im just a little jealous https://t.co/9lvVbXmhjB— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) September 22, 2022
Impressed that people need to keep saying that Russia is banning males 18 to 65 from leaving the country. The average male life expectancy in Russia is just over 66 years. We are talking about almost all living Russian males here. https://t.co/aAdMdkU9Lg— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) September 21, 2022
It's hard to mobilize into a war of choice you're losing.— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 21, 2022
And he's not even one of Thiel's candidates.
GOP congressional candidate said US suffered from women's suffrage and praised organization trying to repeal 19th Amendment https://t.co/jmlCcKqhkS— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) September 21, 2022
Katie Porter (who is good at this) already has an ad about the national abortion ban running in the LA-Orange TV market.
“Sen. Lindsey Graham's national 15-week abortion ban would likely force many women to undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasounds before terminating pregnancies, according to doctors” - per @jonallendc. https://t.co/8Ogi7zQISg— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) September 20, 2022
All four of these states (particularly Arizona and Florida) were net pro-choice before Dobbs, and the data we've seen since have suggested that Roe has grown more popular.
"Graham's abortion ban has won the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is running for re-election; Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., who is seeking a Senate seat in his state; and GOP Senate nominees Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake Masters in Arizona." https://t.co/DAPSvN1V5v— Ronald Brownstein (@RonBrownstein) September 20, 2022
|State||Mostly Legal||Mostly Illegal||Net support|
In black swan season, you should try to have viable candidates in even long shot elections. Case in point.
Our last comment on the royal family.
Thinking fondly of my city commissioners, who are currently exploring a $60-90 million deal with Elon to drill miles of underground car tunnels into Fort Lauderdale's limestone and landfill pic.twitter.com/Fzc8AQPOVI— Adam Weinstein (@AdamWeinstein) September 27, 2022
In 1612 Galileo Galilei was the first to propose that the Sun rotated on its axis.— Fermat's Library (@fermatslibrary) September 26, 2022
He observed the Sun through his Helioscope at the same time each day and drew sunspots onto a white paper. He observed the motion of the spots across the Sun. See his observations below. pic.twitter.com/1DHtnBlhYk
My wife floored me last night by pointing out that, due to recent world events, James Bond no longer works for her majesty's secret service.— Paul Tobin (@PaulTobin) September 18, 2022
Monday, September 26, 2022
This is Joseph.
There is a idea in economics that giving money to the wealthy will result in faster rates of economic growth than giving money to the poor and middle class. To be fair, it is not completely daft to ask whether there is a specific way that taxes could be adjusted to simultaneously increase revenue and economic growth. While that seems ambitious for even a good policy, it is to be remembered that a bad policy might manage to hurt both revenue and growth at once.
You can easily see cases where targeting benefits at the wealthy might not work so well. The idle rich are unlikely to be active investors creating new capital. The rich have the options to invest elsewhere and might use their increased revenues to drive economic growth in other places. The recent British tax cuts seem to have created a lack of confidence, for example:Or:
- Cancellation of a planned rise in corporation tax to 25%, keeping it at 19%, the lowest rate in the G-20.
- A reversal in the recent 1.25% rise in National Insurance contributions — a tax on income.
- A reduction in the basic rate of income tax from 20 pence to 19 pence.
- Scrapping of the 45% tax paid on incomes over £150,000 ($166,770), taking the top rate to 40%.
- Significant cuts to stamp duty, a tax paid on home purchases.
- A network of “investment zones” around the U.K. where businesses will be offered tax cuts, liberalized planning rules and a reduction in regulatory obstacles.
- A claim-back scheme for sales taxes paid by tourists.
- Scrapping of an increase in tax rates on various alcohols.
- Scrapping of a cap on bankers’ bonuses.
Friday, September 23, 2022
...or just need to get away from the news for an hour and a half this weekend, here's is one of the rare cases where YouTube's algorithm came up with something I actually wanted to watch. [Following up last month's post.]
Murder by Natural Causes is prime Levinson and Link with a first rate cast and a plot where you may see the broad strokes coming but the the details will probably catch you off guard.
Good, mean-spirited fun.
Thursday, September 22, 2022
Friday, September 29, 2017
Thoughts on a Ouija board
As previously (and frequently) mentioned, I've been chipping away at a couple of essays about 21st century attitudes toward technology. The incredible spike in innovation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries plays a big role. Unfortunately, the more I dig in, the more I find new aspects to the subject.
I came across yet another when watching this Bob Chipman movie review of Ouija [Now apparently off line -- MP]. My general rule for movie reviews and criticism (Chipman falls more in the latter but is also pretty good at the former) is to only check out writing on movies that I either have seen, or care so little about that they can't really be spoiled. This one fell in the second category.
Chipman is exceptionally good with historical and cultural context. He
started this review with a brief historical overview of the popular
board game, suggesting that the filmmakers could have gotten a more
interesting and original film had they mined the actual history of the
Ouija board rather than opting for something standard and derivative.
What caught my ear was the fact that the Ouija board was first marketed
in 1891 as an attempt to cash in on the spiritualism craze of the era.
Here's Linda Rodriguez McRobbie writing for the Smithsonian:
As spiritualism had grown in American culture, so too did frustration with how long it took to get any meaningful message out of the spirits, says Brandon Hodge, Spiritualism historian. Calling out the alphabet and waiting for a knock at the right letter, for example, was deeply boring. After all, rapid communication with breathing humans at far distances was a possibility—the telegraph had been around for decades—why shouldn’t spirits be as easy to reach? People were desperate for methods of communication that would be quicker—and while several entrepreneurs realized that, it was the Kennard Novelty Company that really nailed it.
The facts weren't exactly new to me, but somehow I had never thought about the peak of the spiritualism movement coinciding with the explosive scientific and technological advances of the era. I'd always tended to think of that form of spiritualism as quaint and old-fashioned, particularly when compared with the sci-fi infused New Age mysticism of today. Now I'm wondering if I got that exactly backwards.
Particularly in America, the period from around 1880 to 1910 was one of unprecedented technological change, reordering every aspect of society to a degree that hadn't been seen before and hasn't been seen since. It was also, not surprisingly, and era of wild speculation and fantasy. Most of HG Wells' best known scientific romances came from the 1890s. The idea that Mars harbored not only intelligent life but great civilizations had started gaining popularity a decade earlier.
Perhaps living in a time of impossible things makes people credulous, it might even be a form of adaptation. People not only excepted the incredible, they craved more. This gave rise to and army of metaphysical conmen exposed by the Seybert Commission in the 1880s. While it is always dangerous to generalize from outliers, it is certainly interesting that the greatest age of progress was also remarkable for producing dreamers and suckers.
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Stalin also ignored his own spies, who, from such locations as Germany, Japan, Romania and Switzerland, reported with increasing frequency that the Nazis were about to strike. In early 1941, for example, an undercover source in Berlin asserted that “war with Russia has definitely been decided on for this year,” whereas in Bucharest a German commander was quoted describing the upcoming clash as “something that goes without saying.” Border guards heard much the same from captured enemy saboteurs, and railroad workers observed huge numbers of Nazi soldiers moving east. Though not every report proved reliable, Soviet intelligence purportedly named the exact, or almost exact, date of the invasion no fewer than 47 times in the 10 days before “Operation Barbarossa” went into effect.
Now, to be clear, Japan attacked the United States and then Germany declared war on the United States. It is implausible in the extreme that this process was driven by the United States in any meaningful sense of the term and Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda goes back to far earlier eras, like the book Mein Kampf.
Now World War 2 was atypical in that there was a pretty clear event that started the war and the other side uniformly declared war on the United States. Further, it was pretty clear that the Axis countries were conducting atrocities on defenseless conquered populations. It is rare that the lines are so clear as with the US involvement. I think this is uniformly true of the Allies, in general, but I think it is clearest with the US which was not central to the pre-war diplomacy as the UK, USSR, or France.
This strange brand of anti-Americanism continues to the modern era, with people still needing to debunk that the defensive NATO alliance was the cause of the 2022 war. To be clear, some US interventions are questionable -- I think serious people can ask hard questions about the wisdom of the Vietnam war or the invasion of Iraq. There are many US foreign policy decisions that are questionable.
But saying the US is always a bad actor is as naïve and silly as calling the US as always being a good actor. Nation-states are famous for making all sorts of unfortunate decisions in the name of national interest and the US is no exception. But it is ridiculous to try and make the record worse than it actually is. To be honest, on a historical scale, the US has tended to be an atypically ethical and restrained great power.
Reflexive anti-Americanism is very unhelpful in generating a useful pathway to improving US foreign policy and these sorts of silly arguments drag oxygen away from actually working to make the US more ethical and more restrained as a great power.
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
PA MAGA Gov nominee Doug Mastriano rally: “Put your right hand in the air … America will have a new birth of liberty.” pic.twitter.com/UfcLDNoJD4— Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 (@RonFilipkowski) September 18, 2022
This is deeply, deeply weird. It really is Jonestown-level stuff. These people are worshiping a real estate developer from Queens who can barely hold a thought in his head.— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) September 18, 2022
This is beyond un-American. It's psychotic. https://t.co/VuZMVECCyP
The escalation of the last several months stands in stark contrast with the days of 2018 and 2019, when the White House tried to create an aura of distance between the then-president and the conspiracy theory that handpicked Trump as its Messiah: https://t.co/b3GAfFblIk— Nicole LaFond (@Nicole_Lafond) September 19, 2022
Change the caption and this could be a US propaganda poster from WWII. https://t.co/Ly1Q32Hr8w— Mark Palko (@MarkPalko1) September 18, 2022
“loyally follows the one true leader” …. Yup, sounds totally American https://t.co/Bozjpnn0oF— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 18, 2022
Agreed. That rally was much more about Trump in a full-out panic than anything else. https://t.co/XlWrwxCafK— David Pepper (@DavidPepper) September 19, 2022
Monday, September 19, 2022
Friday, September 16, 2022
[Starting a sometimes meta thread on the current state of polling.]
There are polls of the general population and polls of registered voters, but there has never been a poll of likely voters. What we do have do have is polls of registered voters that have been weighted to favor the respondents whom the pollsters think are likely to turn out on election day.
The polls and the models used to determine how likely different people are to vote are entirely different creatures, supported by different assumption, prone to fail in entirely different ways for entirely different reasons. If we are going to pay attention to electoral polling (and I have very mixed feeling about whether we should), we need to be aware of these things.
If you have a candidate like Trump or an issue like Dobbs bringing in large numbers of people who otherwise probably wouldn't have voted, inevitably you will screw over likely voter models. This is doubly true if the model puts heavy weight on past voting history. Dobbs is particularly interesting in this respect since it seems to be causing a surge not just in registrations, but in registrations of young people. If a likely voter model looked at voting history and age these are the last people it would flag as likely.
Of course, outside of a handful of special elections which don't really tell us much, we don't know how many of those young people who registered will actually vote. We won't know until November and from the standpoint of prediction, that will be too late.
Here's my take. At this point, I would not put any weight whatsoever on likely voter models. Not this year and not in 2024. Every warning light relevant to predictive models is flashing proceed with caution and we are so far out of the range of observed data that it is no longer visible on the horizon.
Thursday, September 15, 2022
When the yacht was commissioned in the 1950s, Her Majesty turned down the initial design as too lavish. She wanted simplicity and would disembark for picnics with the Tupperware on remote beaches in the Western Isles.
Her dresser, Angela Kelly, explained that once an outfit had become familiar to the public, the Queen would recycle it to wear at Sandringham fêtes.
Her shoes and handbags dated back to the 1950s. She didn’t mind anyone seeing the £30 electric heaters in the Audience Room at Windsor or knowing of her preference for shallow baths — seven inches at 22C, adopted by her father George VI at Buckingham Palace during the war.
So you have a person who has a yacht, even a modest one, an audience room, and a dresser. It might be that she is projecting a helpful attitude but actual poor people lack the luxury of these things. Actual poor people don't have pets to spoil or Land Rovers as vehicles:
The Queen didn’t have to fake her naturally parsimonious nature. She championed the Land Rover for its durability and the fact that she could mend the engine herself. Not for her, her grandchildren’s new Range Rover SUVs. Only the corgis were spoilt: the story of Prince Andrew being made to retrace his steps after returning from a long walk as a child without their leads, while the dogs remained to eat slivers of freshly cooked rabbit, became a family legend.
It is very different to be frugal by choice, when you have money. Just like it is easy to decide to diet as opposed to lacking enough food. This family is in a very different economic position than the Queen in terms of cost of living. It is one thing to have a style driven by frugality, it is quite another to be forced into it by circumstance, especially when actual deprivation is a policy.
It is like people who worry about climate change so they open windows instead of using AC but drive SUVs, fly to climate conferences, and think nothing of a large house. In the end, the Queen simply did not live in the same environment as any but the most affluent of her subjects.
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Non-response has become a hot topic among political writers and data. I'm not entirely happy with some of the analyses we've been seeing, so I need to get serious about the thread on electoral forecast I've been putting for years.
In the meantime, here was our first foray into the topic.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Life on 49-49
Assume that there's an alternate world called Earth 49-49. This world is identical to ours in all but one respect: for almost all of the presidential campaign, 49% of the voters support Obama and 49% support Romney. There has been virtually no shift in who plans to vote for whom.
Despite this, all of the people on 49-49 believe that they're on our world, where large segments of the voters are shifting their support from Romney to Obama then from Obama to Romney. They weren't misled to this belief through fraud -- all of the polls were administered fairly and answered honestly -- nor was it a case of stupidity or bad analysis -- the political scientists on 49-49 are highly intelligent and conscientious -- rather it had to do with the nature of polling.
Pollsters had long tracked campaigns by calling random samples of potential voters. As campaign became more drawn out and journalistic focus shifted to the horse race aspects of election, these phone polls proliferated. At the same time, though, the response rates dropped sharply, going from more than one in three to less than one in ten.
A big drop in response rates always raises questions about selection bias since the change may not affect all segments of the population proportionally (more on that -- and this report -- later). It also increases the potential magnitude of these effects.
Consider these three scenarios. What would happen if you could do the following (in the first two cases, assume no polling bias):
A. Convince one percent of undecideds to support you. Your support goes to 50 while your opponent stays at 49 -- one percent poll advantage
B. Convince one percent of opponent's supporters to support you. Your support goes to 50 while your opponent drops to 48 -- two percent poll advantage
C. Convince an additional one percent of your supporters to answer the phone when a pollster calls. You go to over 51% while your opponent drops to under 47%-- around a five percent poll advantage.
Of course, no one was secretly plotting to game the polls, but poll responses are basically just people agreeing to talk to you about politics, and lots of things can affect people's willingness to talk about their candidate, including things that would almost never affect their actual votes (at least not directly but more on that later).
In 49-49, the Romney campaign hit a stretch of embarrassing news coverage while Obama was having, in general, a very good run. With a couple of exceptions, the stories were trivial, certainly not the sort of thing that would cause someone to jump the substantial ideological divide between the two candidates so, none of Romney's supporters shifted to Obama or to undecided. Many did, however, feel less and less like talking to pollsters. So Romney's numbers started to go down which only made his supporters more depressed and reluctant to talk about their choice.
This reluctance was already just starting to fade when the first debate came along. As Josh Marshall has explained eloquently and at great length since early in the primaries, the idea of Obama, faced with a strong attack and deprived of his teleprompter, collapsing in a debate was tremendously important and resonant to the GOP base. That belief was a major driver of the support for Gingrich, despite all his baggage; no one ever accused Newt of being reluctant to go for the throat.
It's not surprising that, after weeks of bad news and declining polls, the effect on the Republican base of getting what looked very much like the debate they'd hoped for was cathartic. Romney supporters who had been avoiding pollsters suddenly couldn't wait to take the calls. By the same token. Obama supporters who got their news from Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews really didn't want to talk right now.
The polls shifted in Romney's favor even though, had the election been held the week after the debate, the result would have been the same as it would have been had the election been held two weeks before -- 49% to 49%. All of the changes in the polls had come from core voters on both sides. The voters who might have been persuaded weren't that interested in the emotional aspect of the conventions and the debates and were already familiar with the substantive issues both events raised.
So response bias was amplified by these factors:
1. the effect was positively correlated with the intensity of support
2. it was accompanied by matching but opposite effects on the other side
3. there were feedback loops -- supporters of candidates moving up in the polls were happier and more likely to respond while supporters of candidates moving down had the opposite reaction.
You might wonder how the pollsters and political scientists of this world missed this. The answer that they didn't. They were concerned about selection effects and falling response rates, but the problems with the data were difficult to catch definitively thanks to some serious obscuring factors:
1. Researchers have to base their conclusions off of the historical record when the effect was not nearly so big.
2. Things are correlated in a way that's difficult to untangle. The things you would expect to make supporters less enthusiastic about talking about their candidate are often the same things you'd expect to lower support for that candidate
3. As mentioned before, there are compensatory effects. Since response rates for the two parties are inversely related, the aggregate is fairly stable.
4. The effect of embarrassment and elation tend to fade over time so that most are gone by the actual election.
5. There's a tendency to converge as the election approaches. Mainly because likely voter screens become more accurate.
6. Poll predictions can be partially self-fulfilling. If the polls indicate a sufficiently low chance of winning, supporters can become discouraged, allies can desert you and money can dry up. The result is, again, convergence.
For the record, I don't think we live on 49-49. I do, however, think that at least some of the variability we've seen in the polls can be traced back to selection effects similar to those described here and I have to believe it's likely to get worse.
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
If you've been trying to stay up to date on the war in Ukraine while not having to scroll past endless articles on Queen Elizabeth, Josh Marshall is here to help.
In any case, I would recommend to you again two Twitter lists I’ve curated with experts from whom we can learn more. This one is about the Ukraine war generally and this focuses more narrowly on the military dimensions of the conflict.
Lots of smart, informed conversations and useful links like this excellent overview of the recent counter-offensive.
NEW: Ukraine's lightning eastern offensive has shocked Western & Ukrainian officials, sending Russian troops and pro-🇷🇺 separatist forces fleeing.— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) September 12, 2022
"The Ukrainians may be tired but the Russians are terrified," one former US defense official told me. https://t.co/NX6mqQXA07
Remember Ted Cruz insisting our military was too "woke" to be effective fighters?
Recently met a muslim Chechen volunteer who had been living for years in France, and is now fighting for #Ukraine. Another member of his unit was a religious Jew, while the rest were Christians. For a country supposedly run by Nazis, the #UkrainianArmy is surprisingly diverse. pic.twitter.com/BMDSIBxaxZ— Guillaume Ptak (@guillaume_ptak) September 7, 2022
They are relatively cool with LGBTQ too.https://t.co/E9QqShmfjR— 🍌🥦*V*🍍🍕 (@_V_5_M_) September 7, 2022
One of the recurring themes is just how bad a rout this was.
"Half of the soldiers fled in their vehicles in the first hours of the offensive, they said. Those stranded grew desperate. Some residents overheard their radio pleas to unit commanders for someone to come get them." https://t.co/VlSRzMZhcy— Shashank Joshi (@shashj) September 12, 2022
Russian soldiers 'literally running' for their lives as chain of command collapses.— Telegraph World News (@TelegraphWorld) September 12, 2022
Ukraine intelligence unit fighters tell @Telegraph they are struggling to deal with the mountains of equipment left behind after rout.
As the Russian Army couldn't be bothered to remove the wreckage of Su-30SM 'RF-81773' that came down in a formerly Russian-controlled part of Kharkiv Oblast, Western intelligence agencies are now the proud owner of a slightly dented SAP-518SM 'Regata' jamming pod. pic.twitter.com/9BN5dPNQvi— Oryx (@oryxspioenkop) September 12, 2022
When Russian soldiers fled from Kharkiv Oblast, they left behind stockpiles of mines, grenades, portable rockets, and multiple types of fighting vehicles. https://t.co/izeK7r9urT— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) September 12, 2022
Part of the speed of the collapse might be explained by this.
"That bullshit was then reported to their superiors, who fed that bullshit up to central command. So they got a totally fake view of the front." https://t.co/b1cQnRykS5— ryan cooper (@ryanlcooper) September 12, 2022
With notable exceptions, the reaction of Russia and its allies has been anger, bluster, blame,,,
Russia Today's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan wonders openly why Russia isn't committing more war crimes. https://t.co/UBk52Qknyj— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) September 12, 2022
Tucker Carlson's top Russia-Ukraine war expert Douglas MacGregor, on Friday night: "This entire war may be over" soon, "right now things are going very, very badly" for the Ukrainians and they're "desperate," "they're losing once again just south of Kharkiv." pic.twitter.com/BBwCL6QSpB— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) September 12, 2022
And to make the cold war vibe complete, we even have SMERSH (3:34).
This debate on Russian TV is extraordinarily open compared to some of the other stuff we’ve seen. People openly saying the war is unwinnable, that it was based on illusions and that Ukrainian identity is real https://t.co/Ce1yii86ef— Gideon Rachman (@gideonrachman) September 11, 2022
Monday, September 12, 2022
Holy sh*t pic.twitter.com/8FBWbDyrNG— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) September 11, 2022
2022 has been, so far, a remarkably bad year for expert opinion. We've been dabbling in press criticism now for more than a dozen years and I can't think of a time when the anointed experts of the mainstream media been more wrong on more important questions than they have been over the past 9 months. The conventional wisdom has been comically off on the reaction to Dobbs and the January 6 hearings, the viability of prominent candidates, the GOP "moving on" from Trump, the importance of Social Security and Medicare as an electoral issue, and, of course, the war in Ukraine.
That last bit of retconning distorts what really happened in two ways. It ignores both the people who actually did get it right and the distinction between slightly wrong and totally wrong. If you two forecasts, one predicting warm and sunny with 0% chance of precipitation and the other warning of moderate to heavy rain, and you get a torrential downpour, both were wrong, but the warm-and-sunny guy doesn't get to use that as a defense.
The post-2016 revisionist push, "everybody got it wrong" became the go-to line, probably because the screw-up was too big to downplay or deny. Michael Moore doesn't figure into the conversation and Nate Silver's 30% chance of a Trump is grouped with all the single digit predictions.
Here are two takes on the Russian military written during the build-up to the war. The first is from the NYT, as always, the official spokesman for conventional wisdom.
From Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal
Jan. 27, 2022
Two decades later, it is a far different fighting force that has massed near the border with Ukraine. Under Mr. Putin’s leadership, it has been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army, able to deploy quickly and with lethal effect in conventional conflicts, military analysts said. It features precision-guided weaponry, a newly streamlined command structure and well-fed and professional soldiers. And they still have the nuclear weapons.
The modernized military has emerged as a key tool of Mr. Putin’s foreign policy: capturing Crimea, intervening in Syria, keeping the peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and, just this month, propping up a Russia-friendly leader in Kazakhstan. Now it is in the middle of its most ambitious — and most ominous — operation yet: using threats and potentially, many fear, force, to bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.
“The mobility of the military, its preparedness and its equipment are what allow Russia to pressure Ukraine and to pressure the West,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian security analyst. “Nuclear weapons are not enough.”
Without firing a shot, Mr. Putin has forced the Biden administration to shelve other foreign policy priorities and contend with Kremlin grievances the White House has long dismissed — in particular reversing Ukraine’s Westward lean in the post-Soviet period.
What is new is not just Russia’s upgraded equipment, but the evolving theory of how the Kremlin uses it. The military has honed an approach that Dmitry Adamsky, a scholar of international security at Reichman University in Israel, calls “cross-domain coercion” — blending the real or threatened use of force with diplomacy, cyberattacks and propaganda to achieve political aims.
That blended strategy is playing out in the current crisis around Ukraine. Russia is pushing for immediate wide-ranging concessions from the West. Russian troop movements into allied Belarus put a potential invasion force within 100 miles of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Russian state media is warning that Ukrainian forces are the ones preparing acts of aggression.
Compared to this from
Assessing the Military Strength of Russia and Ukraine
Russia may not the hold the military advantage media reports indicate.
There has also been a profusion of articles summarizing Russian military modernization and reforms since the end of the Cold War and highlighting Russian successes in Syria and elsewhere, including Ukraine in 2014. “Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal,” headlines the New York Times. Under “Putin’s leadership,” the paper reports, the Russian military “has been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army, able to deploy quickly and with lethal effect in conventional conflicts. … It features precision-guided weaponry, a newly streamlined command structure and well-fed and professional soldiers.”
This is true, but isn’t the whole story.
But just as in the United States, the logic of defense reductions is inescapable; the priority on “strategic” systems has crowded out investments in other elements of military modernization. Thus, while some elements of Russia’s conventional forces are indeed, as the New York Times puts it, “modern and lethal,” it is far from clear how far and wide the Russian general-purpose force modernization and organizational reforms has progressed. A review of post-Cold War performance reveals a mixed record.
In sum, the famed Russian willingness to suffer, perhaps Moscow’s greatest asset in World War II, has become a grave strategic liability. This, in conjunction with a need to preserve the limited quantity of his well-trained and well-armed conventional forces, has profoundly shaped Putin’s military moves for the past two decades. It also explains why “gray-zone” warfare—the use of unconventional tactics from cyber attacks to local proxies and influence operations—figures prominently in Russian strategy. Putin may be a wily card player, but he has some weak cards.
He has played these pretty close to the vest in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea and the Donbass in 2014 and since, in Syria the following year, in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 and lately in Belarus and Kazakhstan. Further, this is a substantial and growing list of conflicts—all of them limited but none of them decisively resolved or allowing for the easy shifting of forces and resources. And none of them is remotely of the same scale as the full-blown invasion of Ukraine he now threatens. For all of Putin’s provocations, he has acted like a man unsure of his own strength, more concerned with maintaining a potential “threat-in-being” than in showing off an undoubted ability to “shock and awe,” Desert Storm-style.
You can argue that no one realized how "creaky" the Russian military actually had become, it's important to distinguish between analysts who at least asked some of the right questions and those who simply followed the standard narrative.