Ukraine, Iraq, and the real war: Hachette/Amazon

View 832 Thursday, July 10, 2014


“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009



The locusts have been swarming around Chaos Manor this week, and have devoured much of my time. Meanwhile the world goes on, and not all that well, alas.


Russia & Putin

Dear Jerry,

The situation in Ukraine grinds on. The Ukraine forces appear to be regaining control over their eastern territories, and the Russians are not intervening to prevent that.

I see no reason to assume the conscript based Russian army would be more capable than the Special Operations forces presently deployed. The alternative is at least as likely. Specifically, these units would prove far less capable, and also far less motivated.

The basic pay for riflemen works out to less than $30 a month. Meanwhile Putin is paying the "volunteers" in the eastern Ukraine many times more than that. Putin himself has frequently said he wants to move to an all-volunteer force like the USA has. But so far the "siloviki" he depends on politically have frustrated that. As Rumsfeld said, you go to war with the army you have. Or you don’t go to war with it, as in this instance.

Putin’s high poll ratings rest on an apparently bloodless and cost free victory in the Crimea. Now things aren’t so bloodless and the costs are running up fast.

I cannot believe that President Putin has renounced his claims to the Russian speaking Russians in Ukraine, so what is his strategy?

I think the strategy adopted by Putin and his war advisers was that Kiev was going to roll over two months ago on "Novy Russia", just as it did in March in the Crimea. This didn’t happen. As a result he now has no end game strategy. This kind of fundamental strategic miscalculation is fairly common in war, as you know.

I had thought he would have the pro-Russian rebels fall back and consolidate, then offer some kind of deal in which there comes to exist an autonomous region still part of Ukraine but friendly to Russia. That may yet be the goal. We can only watch and wait.

Who is supposed to fund this proposed settlement long term? Kiev, the EU and the USA won’t. This leaves the bills for 5 million to 17 million people being delivered to The Kremlin, PO Box 1, Moscow, Russian Federation.

A few months ago there was a widespread faith bruited about in these regions that "Uncle Vovo" would effortlessly improve the general living conditions of the local Want-To-Be-Ruled-By-Russia Russians. And which "Russians" are disproportionately concentrated in the large towns and cities of eastern Ukraine. "Ukrainian speakers" dominate in the villages of the countryside far into eastern Ukraine. The "Russian separatists" have no demonstrated ability to hold the intervening countryside between cities like Slavyansk and Donetsk. This is because they command almost no support in this countryside.

Those "Ruskis" who do support annexation by Moscow have instead gotten the opposite result from what they expected. Their provinces have been turned into battlefields, the local civil economy has collapsed, a flood of refugees have poured into Russia and Europe and a horde of mercenaries and foreign adventurers have been turned loose to pillage and rape.

Meanwhile "Uncle Vovo" steadfastly refuses to mobilize either his tanks or his Oil & Gas Stabilization Fund.

The first reason he won’t roll is the non-zero risk the force he can send would be defeated in the field. The second reason is he has no domestic political mandate to run up high casualties with that ill equipped and poorly trained conscript force. The third reason is the scale of the international sanctions costs that will fall on vital parts of Putin’s ruling coalition.

Best Wishes,


A reasonable analysis. Putin does have some Regulars, and conscript training is getting better, but as the West has known since the English Civil War, militias and untrained conscripts are not the formula for winning wars. Republics need time to train conscripts and turn them into Legions; given that time and economic productivity, they are highly effective. As the Germans discovered in two World Wars.

Putin comes from a different tradition and a people with a different history.

He certainly has not abandoned Ukraine; the question is, how much of it does he think he can get over the long haul? He has Crimea. He has gambled and lost with Trans-Don Ukraine; but he hasn’t lost all that much.


Why We Lost Iraq


There’s an interesting I-told-them-so piece in the Washington Post by a guy who was there, describing how we stuck with Maliki far past the point we should have if we wanted to keep Iraq unified and in our sphere.–and-lost-iraq/2014/07/03/0dd6a8a4-f7ec-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html

Leaving aside the argument over whether we should have been the regional hegemon at all, as long as we were we should at least have been a competent one. Once we’d broken Iraq expensively then put it back together at great further expense, washing our hands and walking away long before the glue had set was not the wisest way to express disapproval of prior policy.


That’s one view and a good case can be made for it. We could at least have a portion of it viable: Kurdistan comes close to what we thought we could make out of all of Iraq. It’s not too late to salvage that. I note that the Mahdi Army is demonstrating what the English speaking people learned from the English Civil War and the Commonwealth: militias generally cannot defeat regular armies, and untrained yeomen are not the key to victory. George Washington at Valley Forge was allowed to create the Continental Army and carefully nurtured it, using it in connection with militia until Lafayette brought him a fleet and some more regulars. It was done very effective, as at Cowpens. Greene gave these instructions to the militia: Give me three volleys, boys, and you can run. To the Continentals: stand fast when the farmers run, and let them get close. A classic battle. Sorry for the ramble.

There was no way Iraq could have been left intact, especially with the Shiites being given total control once we’d disbanded the Baathist controlled army and started the purge of all trained government officials. This was obvious to everyone who had any experience there, but neither Bush nor Obama understood. We could have built three – possibly four – reasonably stable nation states, formed an alliance with two of them, and got the hell out, at far les cost; but that wasn’t considered by anyone.

I’m not sure I know what being the competent hegemon would have been when Obama took office.

Battle of Cowpens

Dr. Pournelle: the patriots at Cowpens were led by Daniel Morgan, not Nathanael Greene.

Robert Evans

Of course it was Morgan.  Thanks for the correction



The flap over the Hachette/Amazon dispute has died away a bit, but it still roils the Science Fiction Writers of America. Some of the old time members have never discovered self publishing and are suspicious of those who have; and a number of newer members signed away most of their electronic rights to a Big Publisher and have  animus toward those who not only kept their eBook rights, but are making more money now from self-publishing than they would ever have made if they’d signed with a regular publisher. I don’t know how many of these people there are, but apparently there are a number of SFWA members who don’t want to see successful professional writers who make money self-publishing science fiction to be accepted as members of SFWA. I’d hope not very many, and perhaps I’m making all this up; but I do know there is apparently some opposition to allowing those making professional money from self-published SF to join SFWA, and that has exacerbated the original effects of SFWA officially signing a petition that appears to be anti-Amazon. That act was hated by the Independently Published – self-published if you will – professional SF writers; which of course astonished some of the old line traditionally published writers who haven’t thought about any of this.

After all, Amazon is a big corporation, and stopped taking pre-orders for Hachette published books, and that’s bad for authors. Of course it’s only bad for authors who have books coming out soon but not yet published, and actually of those it’s only the lead authors who will be affected: most mid list writers don’t get any pre-orders in the first place. Pre-orders can affect print runs for books that the publisher (and of course the author) hopes will be a best seller. Most of those books will have received a big advance, and in general big advances aren’t going to be earned out, so the financial impact on those authors isn’t so large after all. Of those who get big advances, and those earn out – well, we are down to a pretty small number now, and most of those don’t know such people.

Which is not to say that there shouldn’t be some solidarity between Big Name Best Selling Authors and the more typical mid list sometimes lead but not often authors, and vice verse, and over the years SFWA has managed to keep some of that solidarity intact; but for the most part outfits like SFWA don’t do much for the Really Big Names.

None of this means much to the Independently Published writers. What does have importance is Amazon, which is typically responsible for about 905 of their income; and for SFWA to be seen as taking sides with Hachette and the Big 5 Traditional Publishers (all of whom will have to go through the same contract negotiations as Hachette; Hachette just happens to be first. Think auto union negotiations and Ford) – for SFWA to be seen as on the side of outfits that pay 10% royalties on printed books, and really would like to keep royalties on eBooks down in that range, was startling, and appears suicidal.

And indeed it would be, but of course that wasn’t what, in a hasty action just before the 4th of July holiday, SFWA President Steven Gould (yeah, him, one of those Big Names) decided to exhibit some solidarity with other writers and the Author’s Guild, and sign the petition castigating Amazon for harming writers, and asking them to stop doing that in their negotiations with Hachette. He probably wasn’t even aware that Amazon had already offered to join Hachette in paying into a fund that would compensate authors harmed by the consequences of Hachette and Amazon taking so long to negotiate a contract on who sets prices, who can discount what, and what percentage of cover price Amazon would have to pay Hachette for books – both physical books and eBooks. Amazon sells both, 85 – 90% of eBooks and something like 40% of printed books. And the contracts between Amazon and Hachette expired weeks ago, so Amazon doesn’t know what it will have to pay to get books it has taken pre-orders for.

I suspect that the SFWA board members weren’t all that aware of the background to the Hachette dispute, and this didn’t look like that big a deal anyway. Sure, writers organizations support writers. That’s what they’re for. Solidarity forever, and God Bless Us.

And then the storm hit the fan hours after the announcement, most of the SFWA Board were unaware of the storm, being engaged in holiday events – many at SF conventions, or course. So they came home to find they were in the middle of something they had no awareness they were starting.

No good to say ‘They Should Have Been.’ That’s already been said, and every one of the SFWA leaders now wishes mightily that they’d called a few other members, past presidents, independently published writers (there are many of them already SFWA members because they had made traditional print sales before doing the math and discovering that for them there was more gold in them there independent hills), and so forth.

The storm is dying out, and it should. And perhaps the lesson was learned. And we can all get back to work on pay copy.


I should never be President.  The Mexicans are still holding an American Marine in durance vile – and vile it is – on a silly technicality that should at worst cost him a few hundred dollars fine, and they won’t let him go. They are having fun with it.

Were I President I would call the Mexican President and tell him that a delegation of his fellow Marines, unarmed, are coming in to visit him and expect to take him home with them; and if they fail in that mission, his whole regiment with whatever support it needs from the San Diego Fleet, will make another visit to that prison, and they will carry their weapons.  And they will not leave Mexico without him. “The unarmed delegation leaves in one hour.  I suggest you call the Tia Juana Federales and prepare them.”  I suppose it’s a good thing I am not President.


In the land of the free:


‘The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most accurate, up-to-date temperature data confirm the United States has been cooling for at least the past decade.’



Roland Dobbins


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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