The Third A
Recall Day 22, March 17, 2022, ten days after Russian invaders shelled Hoholiv outside Brovary. We concluded then that the attempt to steamroll Ukraine had failed miserably and it was just a matter of time — weeks or maybe months — before the collective West would decide to authorize the Third A1.
Yesterday, browning our July 4th roast, we noted the alarming number of reports describing the unremitting conflict in Ukraine as a war of attrition2.
Phillips Payson O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, highlights some of the nonsense and blasé assumptions circulated by western experts and military analysts before and during all-out war3.
In early March, critical threats experts, relying on proximity-based content millers, focused our attention early on the 60-kilometer long column of Russian military vehicles sent to decapitate Kyiv. Today they are drawing our attention to the tactical withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from what remains of an already bombed-out city in Luhansk region.
Writing that “mineral-rich Donbas is a region in Ukraine that has long been in President Vladimir Putin’s sights” is, er, wacko. This sounds like something Diane Francis would say. Putin doesn’t care about Donbas at all.
Saccades are rapid eye movements designed to shift the fovea to objects of visual interest. Abnormalities of saccades, or abnormal saccading, offer important clues in how we assess the bloody mess on Ukraine’s battlefield. Abnormal smooth pursuit eye movements, decreased pursuit gain, increased saccadic frequency, increased anticipatory saccades and anti-saccade errors are well-documented in schizophrenia patients.
The tug of war between abnormal saccading and the nature of cognition — processing what our attention is drawn to — and journalism is the mental operation that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky call the Availability Heuristic.
Journalism focuses on sudden events, and events are more often bad than good — blowing up the tops of highrise residential buildings in Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky district, the bombing of mall in Kremenchuk, flattening a resort complex near Odesa, the abrupt withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, et cetera. Positive developments unfold gradually, incrementally and can transform the situation without ever creating a headline.
On top of this built-in bias, proximity-based content milling on social media has added two conscious biases: the programming policy “If it bleeds it leads,” an attempt to parlay our morbid interest in disasters into military advantage, and the commitment of a former Marine infantrymen to exposing tactical screw-ups in the belief that recognition of same is a good way to improve progress on battlefield prowess.
Looking on the positive side, four journalists at the Washington Post make the exact same mistake, maybe after reading the NYT’s bullshit.
This is not a war of attrition, and Moscow’s goal is not to capture and control more Ukrainian territory. Rinse, repeat. Pulverizing Ukraine is a means to an end and the sooner jornos communicate this coherently the better.
Ukraine Has Exposed Russia as a Not-So-Great Power. The Atlantic (July 1, 2022)