Guest post at According To Hoyt: “Brahmandarins”

Sarah A. Hoyt asked me to contribute a guest post about “The Brahmandarins”, a term which I coined in the wake of the 2016 elections.
In this guest post, I touch briefly on the Brahmin caste in India, but at greater length on the Mandarins of ancient China, the Imperial Examination system by which they were recruited, the reason the once venerable institution decayed, and its parallels with the transnational New Class, “expert class”, or “credentialed gentry” of today’s West.

Read more at:

PS: a related post by Eric Raymond on “Escalating complexity and the collapse of elite authority” is perhaps an enlightening companion read.

To my Jewish readers: Shana Tova uGmar Chatima Tova!

RIP Stanislav Petrov, “The Man Who Saved The World”

NPR (via Instapundit) has a long and well-written article about the demise (not previously reported) of a Soviet missile control officer who probably prevented a nuclear world war in 1983.

My brief summary: Podpolkovnik [Lt. Col.] Stanislav Petrov was on duty that night at a missile defense monitoring station, watching out for launches of American nuclear ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missiles).

That night, suddenly the computer howled an alarm that five missiles had been launched. Estimated time to impact: 20 minutes. 
He was to pass the warning up the chain of command, which would have led to a mass launch of Soviet nuclear ICBMs, and World War Three.

Petrov sensed something wasn’t adding up.

He had been trained to expect an all-out nuclear assault from the U.S., so it seemed strange that the satellite system was detecting only a few missiles being launched. And the system itself was fairly new. He didn’t completely trust it.

So instead of doing what he had been ordered, he ordered a check for computer malfunction. If his hunch was wrong, he’d have lost precious minutes for a preemptive retaliatory strike — “get the missiles off before the rockets impact on the launchers”.

But sure enough, there had been a malfunction.

He was given a reprimand for falsifying his logbook, but not otherwise punished. Presumably even his superiors realized how close the world had been to nuclear conflagration had it not been for Petrov’s cool-headed judgment.

Petrov’s actions were the subject of a 2015 docudrama, presented by Kevin Costner: “The Man Who Saved The World” :

But Petrov never considered himself a hero: 
“That was my job,” he said. “But they were lucky it was me on shift that night.”

By coincidence (the incident wasn’t reported in the media at the time), Iron Maiden’s 1984 album “Powerslave” contained a song about a near-miss nuclear standoff: “Two Minutes To Midnight”. Let me end with that, and salute Podpolkovnik Petrov.

“Black Propaganda” during WW II

I used to think that “black propaganda” was something like “propaganda pushing a black legend” or “libelous propaganda”. But like so often, there is a difference between (often vaguely defined) usage of a phrase in ordinary conversation, and its precise definition as a “term of art”.

This paper on propaganda during WW II was highly informative. Briefly, in the “business”, “white propaganda” is defined as propaganda “under true flag”: it reveals its origin and does not purport to come from a neutral or opposing side. Examples on the Axis side are the Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally radio broadcasts, as well as the “Germany Calling” broadcasts of the pseudonymous Lord Haw-Haw.

In contrast, “Black Propaganda” is defined as propaganda under false flag: originating from the opponent’s side but disguising itself as friendly, for the purpose of sowing misinformation, confusion, demoralization, or all of the above. The term “Grey Propaganda” is used for cases where allegiance of the propagandist is deliberately made vague or ambiguous.

The uncontested masters of the art of black propaganda/”false flag” propaganda in WW II were Sefton Delmer and his PWE (Political Warfare Executive). Delmer was born and mostly raised in Berlin: his Australian father had been a professor of English literature there until he and his parents were interned as enemy aliens during WW I, then released to England in a prisoner exchange. After getting a degree in modern languages at Oxford and working as a freelance journalist, he was recruited as the Berlin bureau chief for the Daily Express (1990-1933). There, he befriended top nazis (particularly SA leader Ernst Röhm) and in fact became the first British journalist to be allowed to interview Hitler (y”sh). He was also present at the scene of the Reichstag Fire (and kept arguing all his life that it was a Nazi “false flag attack”): shortly after, he was reposted to Paris, and later reported on the Spanish civil war as well as on the invasions of Poland and France. In the nick of time, he and his wife made it to England, where he briefly worked as an announcer for the BBC German-language service.

Delmer spoke flawless German, both formal and colloquial, and was intimately familiar with German mores. These qualities came to serve him well when he was recruited by the PWE to run psychological warfare broadcasts.

After a few false starts, GS-1 or (in the German radio alphabet of the day) Gustav Siegfried Eins emerged. In modern net-speak, it was what we would nowadays call a massive “concern trolling” operation. GS-1 was a shortwave station on which “Der Chef” supposedly reached out to his network of “patriotic opposition”. Supposedly, Der Chef was an old-school senior army officer who was loyal to Germany and even to the Führer, but disgusted with the corruption and perversion of party and SS officials, which he collectively referred to as the Parteikommune. From his perch, he told tales of nest-feathering, pocket-lining, living high on the hog while troops and regular citizens suffered, as well as of sexual licentiousness, orgies. and “Violations of Paragraph 175” (i.e., homosexuality). (While a fair amount of this was written by amateur and professional pornographers, not all of this was fictional: Sefton Delmer was privy to many a dirty secret the Nazis wished he wasn’t.)

Eventually, when GS-1 had outlived its usefulness, “Der Chef”s lair was supposedly overrun, live on the air, by the Gestapo, with the broadcasts ending in bursts of sub-machinegun fire.[**]

GS-1 made way for Delmer’s greatest achievement: the creation and operation of two subtle “false flag” radio stations working in tandem: the high-powered Soldatensender Calais on the AM band, and its shortwave companion station Deutscher Kurzwellensender Atlantik (targeted primarily at German naval personnel, which by that stage primarily meant U-boot crews.)

Soldatensender Calais purported to be a German military entertainment broadcaster operating from Calais in occupied Northern France: in fact, it was being broadcast from a 500 kW (!!) station Aspidistra [*] in Southern England. Its programming consisted of what Sefton Delmer would later describe as “cover, cover, cover, dirt, dirt, cover”: a mixture of music popular with the German troops, sports coverage, and — for additional cover — speeches by Hitler and other top Nazi officials, the better to make the listeners receptive to disinformation and demoralizing propaganda items. For example, a broadcaster posting as a soldier would give tips on how to be declared unfit for onerous duty, how to avoid being transferred to the Eastern Front, etc., while others would detail scams Wehrmacht men might fall prey to, or arouse the age-old anxiety of the deployed soldier about his wife’s fidelity, his family’s welfare, or both.
The station made its last broadcast on April 30, 1945, the day Hitler committed suicide.

After the war, Delmer served as chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Daily Express for fifteen years, until forced into retirement over an expenses dispute. He would go on to write several volumes of memoirs, an archive of which can be found here.

I cannot resist mentioning that when Labour MP (and British ambassador to Moscow) Stafford Cripps found out about Delmer’s operations, he was so scandalized that he wrote to Anthony Eden (Foreign Secretary and de facto Churchill’s deputy) that “If this is the sort of thing that is needed to win the war, why, I’d rather lose it.” This is of course precisely the sort of thing that inspired Churchill’s famous quip about the ascetic Cripps: “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”

[*] This has originally been built for WJZ radio in Newark, NJ — yes, Steely Dan fans, the station namechecked in “The Nightfly” — until an FCC regulation limited individual stations’ broadcasting power to 50kw. RCA was only too happy to resell it to the British government.

[**] Unfortunately, the broadcast technician, who did not understand German, ran the segment twice.

Yes Kira, introverts exist

A RedState writer named Kira Ayn Davis (KAD) published a screed about introversion. While she makes some valid points about the pervasive victimhood culture and about people wanting to wrap themselves in the mantle of yet another victim group, she grossly overplays her hand when she argues that introversion doesn’t even exist. The title of her essay even suggests that introverts are really narcissists. Oh, for the love of dog…

I was told forty (40) years ago by a psychologist that I was an introvert. He did not in any way suggest there was any victimhood involved — that wasn’t a thing in the Europe of my youth — just that there is a temperament axis (one of the four Myers-Briggs axes, in his case) that spans all the way from complete extrovert to complete introvert with all shades in between. Also, that I was pretty far toward the introvert end of the scale. I have never seen myself as a victim for this—no more than I would for having blue eyes (somewhat rare in my ethnic group).

KAD argues that ‘normal’ (by which she means ‘extrovert’) people are also exhausted after being on their best behavior with company for two days. A number of FB friends sarcastically remarked they need a shot of alone time after two hours—as do I. (Just ten minutes of ‘processing time’ may do the trick.) My daughter — a textbook ‘socially outgoing introvert’ unlike her scholarly, curmudgeonly father — loves being in company and interacting with people, as long as she can ‘recharge’ periodically in a quiet room and process everything she just heard.  (This temperamental trait confuses the heck out of some people, unlike the more classic introverts.) Still, many people mistake introversion for shyness or anxiety — I can assure you many classic introverts have no trouble raising their voices during a board meeting (and have less restraint about voicing unpopular opinions than classic extroverts) or lecturing to a large audience about a subject they are experts on.

The terms ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ were originally introduced almost a century ago (in 1921) by C. G. Jung, although he meant them quite differently from their current popular usage. Basically, a Jungian extrovert seeks energy and validation from others (the more the better) and thrives on group pursuits, while a Jungian introvert finds them in the inner self — in being true to one’s moral and intellectual convictions — and thrives on solitary pursuits. Needless to say, certain fields of human endeavor are more congenial to the extrovert (or outgoing introvert) than to the introvert — and conversely. Some extroverts have told me they would go insane doing the work I do or practicing my principal hobby (fiction writing) — and I would probably absolutely ‘aspirate’ at most sales and marketing jobs and loathe having to do them. (On the other hand, an introvert FB friend of mine briefly worked in car sales when he was between adjunct lecturing jobs — and his boss was told by some of the clientele that they felt good dealing with an honest, direct car salesman for a change ;))

My friend “W.”,  a polyglot like myself, is a classic extrovert. She loves working as an interpreter (since she gets to deal with people in real time) but when she was between jobs, the idea of doing long-form translation work was almost painful to her because of its solitary nature. I can interpret okay between certain language pairs, but definitely would prefer written translation work—long form and/or precise would be a plus, not a downside. Not because I don’t like interacting with people, but because like most introverts, I get joy not so much from pats on the back than from knowing I did the best job I could.

KAD has a point in that there is nothing unusual about introversion — but in making the point overzealously, she overreached and appeared to deny the concept itself. As H. L. Mencken famously quipped, all human problems have a solution that is neat, plausible, and wrong (often paraphrased as ‘simple, elegant, and wrong’). This applies both to those who are miscalling a completely normal temperament variation an affliction, and to those who seek to negate the very concept of introversion.

Intercultural communication and the ten cultural clusters

Editor and college lecturer Matthew Bowman drew our attention to the work of David Livermore on intercultural communication, specifically this online course.

Matt was speaking primarily in terms of an application Dr. Livermore surely had not thought of — creating realistic characters in fiction.

Building on earlier work by, e.g., Simcha Ronen and Oded Shenkar, Livermore considers the following ten “cultural value dimensions”:

  1. Identity: Individualist vs. Collectivist
  2. Authority: Low vs. high “power distance”
  3. Risk: Low vs. high “uncertainty avoidance”/risk averseness
  4. Achievement: cooperative vs. competitive
  5. Time orientation: short-term vs. long-term
  6. Communication: direct/explicit vs. indirect/contextual
  7. Lifestyle: being vs. doing
  8. Attitude to rules: universalist vs. particularist
  9. Expressiveness: affective vs. neutral
  10. Social norms: tight vs. loose


According to these dimensions, the cultures of the world mostly cluster into the following groups:
  1. Nordic European (Scandinavia)
  2. Anglo (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,…)
  3. Germanic (including Switzerland, and with the Netherlands as a semi-outlier)
  4. Eastern European & Central Asian
  5. Latin European: not just the “vulgar Latin”-speaking countries, but also Belgium (including its Dutch-speaking northern half, Flanders) and… Israel
  6. Latin American
  7. Confucian Asian (primarily CJK=China-Japan-Korea)
  8. South Asian (Indian subcontinent plus SE Asia)
  9. Sub-Saharan Africa
  10. Arab world

For instance, he describes Germanic culture as follows (in a sample chapter of one of his books):

  • individual goals are important, but not as paramount as in Anglo culture. [There is, however, the inconvenient truth that Germany gave birth to not just one but two forms of totalitarian collectivism.]
  • power distance is small. Even the most powerful officials lead fairly modest personal lives. Consider Angela Merkel — whatever you may think of her politics — and her husband, a chemistry professor who flies budget airlines to join her on vacations.
  • Germanic societies are definitely competitive
  • Punctuality is demanded and respected. Until digital watches came along, these cultures were literally watchmakers to the world.
  • “Ordnung muss sein” (there must be order/rules) is a prevailing norm, though the Netherlands is the more liberal odd duck in the gaggle
  • Directness in communication is valued. Expressions like “To explain something in good German” (auf gutes Deutsch) and “to make something Dutch to somebody” (iemand iets Diets maken) speak for themselves. [“Diets” is an archaic word for the Dutch language, which presently calls itself “Nederlands”.]
  • Getting things done is definitely high on the list of priorities, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.

There is variability within the cluster, of course: Austrians are much less punctual than the Swiss, and the Dutch even more direct than the others.


The inclusion of Israel with the Latin-European cluster may seem counterintuitive, but it does ring true to this blogger, who substantially grew up in Europe and presently lives in Israel. Again, there is intra-cluster variability, for example between the notoriously risk-averse Belgians and the Israeli “start-up nation”, or between the “dugri” [blunt, no beating around the bush] ways of Israelis and the more suave ways of some Latin countries — but I know from experience that of all the major immigrant groups to Israel, the French have much less of a culture shock than, say, Americans or Russians.

One must keep the limitations of this model in mind — it is a model, after all, not a theory—but it does offer a useful framework for making head or tail of the different cultures in the world.

Preference cascades and the fall of the Ceaucescu regime

The protests in Iran seem to be getting bigger. I can’t help being reminded (though this may be wishful thinking) of the 1989 protests in Rumania and the subsequent downfall of its dictator Nicolae CarpathiaCeaucescu.

The regime was deeply unpopular following an austerity program that had Rumanians scrambling for the most basic necessities, while the Inner Party, of course, enjoyed everything imaginable. Yet the Securitate (the Romanian secret police) maintained the most repressive police state of all the Eastern European regimes, and its grip on the people was supposed to be unassailable.

Then protests broke out in the Transylvanian town of Timisoara, in support of a Protestant pastor named László Tökés who belonged to the Hungarian minority of Transylvania. At the time, I did not think this would be a cause for the Rumanian majority — but it triggered a “preference cascade“. Suddenly, all sorts of people who loathed the regime and their circumstances, but feared to speak up realized they were not alone — and that the others around them had just been keeping their heads down. Thus one regional protest, not immediately suppressed, lit off a firestorm.

It’s unclear when exactly the tipping point occurred, but apparently, the defense minister was fired by Ceaucescu for not having issued live ammunition to the troops sent to suppress the Timisoara protests. His successor either did not care to sully his hands with mass slaughter to contain what had meanwhile grown to national protests, or he realized that the troops had changed allegiance and would disobey orders to fire on protesters — or perhaps both.

At any rate, second-tier elements of the regime then realized Ceaucescu was doomed, had no desire to share his fate, and made a deal with one of the protest leaders (a hydro-engineer and former head of a technical publishing house named Ion Iliescu). Within days, the grotesque dictator and his even more grotesque wife ignominiously escaped in a helicopter, then in a commandeered private vehicle, then ultimately handed over for arrest. Following a brief kangaroo court session, they were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day. Earlier, propaganda slogans had been aimed at the protesters to go home and enjoy the Christmas repast — whether these admonitions were more cynical or pathetic is hard to decide. At any rate, the Rumanian people did thus get their Christmas gift.

The transition to democracy (at first under Iliescu) was messy, but eventually, Romania left the nightmarish regime behind and has recently achieved a modest measure of prosperity, though much remains to be done.

Incidentally, what became of László Tökés? As it turns out, he had a political career later, and eventually became deputy chair of the European Parliament.

Will elements in Iran at some point similarly realize the mullahcracy is unsustainable, and engineer its downfall? Will this pit the army against the Revolutionary Guard? The mind wonders…