Triple Bank Shots

By which I mean multi-step causal chains that are part of a complex plan – something intended by some individual or group. In the strong form, one for which the initial push is sufficient, so that the ball ends up in the right place without any continuing guidance. In practice, we’re talking patterns like that in human affairs.

They don’t exist. And when someone says ” Group X must have intended Y”, invoking that kind of logic – he’s an idiot. Pay him no never mind.

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69 Responses to Triple Bank Shots

  1. ziel says:

    Pretty soon now Putin’s amazingly brilliant strategy is going to come together and boy are you going to feel foolish!

    • dave chamberlin says:

      President Xi is another autocrat who has been in power too long and has no more messengers bringing him the truth he needs to hear.

      • LOADED says:

        your pride will be your downfall.

      • dearieme says:

        Maybe someone should restore the tradition of the court jester. Wasn’t he allowed to blurt out uncomfortable truths (in a carefully chosen format)?

        Or what about the chap whose job it was to remind Romans undergoing a Triumph that they were still mortal?

        • LOADED says:

          its up to their discretion how to use the information. entertaining the status quo is the only way to ensure victory in all possible ways.

          for example they must entertain the fact that there is no truth to it but the one that gives most clarity to all people and all things! that is truth!

  2. The flutter of a butterfly’s wings.

  3. James D Miller says:

    What about the Germans in WW I sending Lenin to Russia to get Russia out of the war?

    • Frau Katze says:

      That was a disaster of epic proportions. Talk about short-term thinking.

      OTOH I’m of the opinion that the lure of Communism was so strong that it would still be tried somewhere. And in multiple places. Every culture to try and fail, so it seems.

      • Woof says:

        Communism always fails yet retains it’s appeal because it is a secular religion for power hungry misanthropes.

    • Coagulopath says:

      Was it Churchill who compared Lenin to a rotting plague-infested cow being catapulted over the enemy’s castle walls?

  4. Huh. I wrote something related just the other day about post hoc rationalisations for our behavior as both individuals and nations. . As for three-bank shots, it’s like believing in conspiracies, which are related. People TRY to do those things all the time. They just don’t work for a variety of reasons. But for retrofitting intent, it’s like throwing snowballs at a clump of trees when you were a boy and claiming the one you hit was the one you were aiming for.

  5. jb says:

    What are you talking about? Triple bank shots are as common as dirt! For example:

    Oh wait…, you’re talking about something else aren’t you…

  6. Ilya says:

    I saw that Twitter argument. I, too, don’t believe in long-term Machiavellian planning, when it comes to group outcomes. (Especially, very large, global groups.) The probability of something going NOT according to plan, for even a single step — thus completely derailing the multi-chain interaction with unexpected consequences — is far too large. This is like the many-body problem.

    Having said that: you have not addressed my argument in your last post, other than your bad faith summary of me. I’m looking forward to an actual reply.

    • Ilya says:

      I was not a participant in that discussion, just FYI.

    • jb says:

      Was Greg’s post motivated by a particular Twitter argument? I don’t read the twitters much, so if it was could you post a link?

      • Ilya says:

        I have posted it already. It was deleted. I’m not running this blog, don’t know why.

      • just visiting says:

        Was Greg’s post motivated by a particular Twitter argument? I don’t read the twitters much, so if it was could you post a link?

        the argument was in previous blog post “What if” and went:

        1/Russians are good guys
        2/Russians are winning
        3/ if you followed reliable Russian sources instead of lying NATO propaganda, you would understand that 1+2 is true

        1/ is subjective value judgement (if mafia state rotten to the core and corrupt even by African standards is your thing, nothing can dissuade you)
        2/ is something that can be objectively measured and judged, and it is 100% false, Russians are not winning anything at all (except the clown crown of all recorded military history)

        • Ilya says:

          No. This is related, but not about the previous blog post, per se. It is related to a Twitter argument with someone arguing against Dr. Cochran for, essentially, a calculated setup by NATO/Putin. This someone maintained that this war is a result of conspiracy. Which, of course, is not true. This is what the current post is all about. (If I’m wrong, I’m sure the kind host will correct me or may even delete this).

          (As to me, this war is a result of tragic miscalculations. It’s just that I vs the host + his audience disagree on whose miscalculations and haughtiness are grander. I maintain that it is the US & current Ukrainian side who are mostly to blame. History/victor will decide.)

          • just visiting says:

            This someone maintained that this war is a result of conspiracy. Which, of course, is not true.

            This is of course true – conspiracy of Putin and small circle of people around him, that managed to stay hidden to the rest of the world.
            Nowhere it is written that all conspiracies have to be succesful.

          • just visiting says:

            History/victor will decide.

            victor does not always decide, losers often get to write history as a consolation prize
            “the Southerners were gentlemen defending their states rights”
            “the Wehrmacht always fought with honor, never anything wrong, and lost only due to the Bohemian corporal’s meddling”
            etc, etc…

            • Woof says:

              The south accepted surrender without trying to fight a guerrilla war so they got consideration for that, the Wehrmacht’s record was white washed because NATO needed the Germans during the cold war.

  7. jackstrocchi says:

    Is this about Musks play on Twitter, which may help his run on the Presidency?
    Or Putins unsuccessful regime change attack on Kiev, which was intended as a repeat of Afghanistan attack in 1980?
    Neither really “triple bank shots”, just strategies thst failed.

  8. LOADED says:

    censorship on this blog is a problem. grandiosity will be met with such. remember.

  9. Guy Tipton says:

    Sigh… first recall that we don’t explain by conspiracy what we can explain by stupidity. Stupidity being in adequate supply in most places and at most times. 2nd, I’m not sure the powers currently in Washington are rational about Russia. If I had to explain it, I would hand wave about the left feeling betrayed by Russia’s abandonment of Communism. If they saw Russia sliding into the abyss they’d cheer even if the death toll was astronomical. But planning such a thing is beyond their demonstrated level of competence.

    • Woof says:

      I used to agree with the idea of blaming stupidity instead of conspiracy, now my default assumption is that it is just malice and evil. Allowing mothers with munchausen by proxy syndrome to castrate their sons in the name of transgenderism is evil not stupid. Divorce laws, allowing repeat violent offenders a 54th chance and allowing multi generational welfare dependency are examples of evil, not stupidity

      • Woof says:

        To clarify, I accept divorce as sometimes necessary, I just find too many laws around the process to be evil and unjust, such as denying men access to their children, decades of alimony etc.

  10. marcel proust says:

    Even the great Hari Seldon failed to predict the Mule!

    • dave chamberlin says:

      For the sake of argument let’s say AI proceeds along the most optimistic path for about 30 years and can now predict the end result of incredibly complex processes. Will it become the great and powerful Oz behind the curtain controlling human affairs? No. The butterfly’s wings will change the predicted outcome constantly.

      But I’ll say one thing in that regard. Economics is an abysmal science and it’s a damn shame. If AI controlled the FED rather than political hacks we would all be better for it.

  11. ohwilleke says:

    For once, I completely and totally agree. Triple bank shots in human affairs don’t exist. Even Asimov writing the Foundation series recognized that long term complex plans in human affairs only work if someone supervises them continuously and not necessarily even then.

    • just visiting says:

      Triple bank shots in human affairs don’t exist.

      Do not overgeneralize – there were brilliant conspirators and manipulators in history, people like Talleyrand or Bismarck.
      Of course, these are outnumbered 1:1,000,000 by people who imagine they are supreme masterminds.

      • dearieme says:

        When Bismarck brilliantly provoked France to war what he wanted from them was to beat them up and be rewarded with the frontier fortresses – Metz, Strasburg, and so on. But after his triumph he was overruled by the rest of the ruling coterie and Prussia claimed most of Alsace and much of Lorraine too.

        So you could argue that even he could carry off only the first two “bank shots”, failing with the third.

  12. Coagulopath says:

    Whenever Trump did something odd, people would say he was playing “4D chess”. Conducting strategy on a level beyond the ken of mere mortals.

    Every apparent setback – no matter how disastrous – was actually part of Trump’s master plan. Losing the election? Good news!

    This is still going on. He’ll still be playing 4D chess the day his trophy wives and 7ft tall son lower him into the ground at Mar-a-Lago.

    (Do you think Trump knows how to play 2D chess? As in, could he name the piece that looks like a horse, and show you what move it makes on the board? I don’t know.)

    • Jacob says:

      Qanon was as weird as it was anti-empirical. A pretty powerful display of the human desire to feel hope — even when despair is more appropriate, or perhaps especially when despair is more appropriate.

      It was even weirder listening to leftists describe these people as “radicals.” Like, no, I’m pretty sure they’re just stupid. I can certainly think of people who pose a greater threat to the physical safety of whichever neighborhood they show up in…

    • Curle says:

      “ Whenever Trump did something odd, people would say he was playing “4D chess”. Conducting strategy on a level beyond the ken of mere mortals.”

      Nah, just on a level beyond the ken of typical Republican pols like Paul Ryan.

  13. LOADED says:

    closed-systems vs. open-systems is the great philosophical debate going on here. of course success can be achieved but what constraints is the success tied to is the question.

    particularly there must be a realization that the achievement in question and its consequences are happening at a threshold high enough to be acknowledged but without any serious and amplified collateral.

  14. Jacob says:

    What do you think might’ve been going through the Russians’ heads when they decided it was a good idea to invade Ukraine? I haven’t heard a satisfying explanation yet.

    • just visiting says:

      What do you think might’ve been going through the Russians’ heads when they decided it was a good idea to invade Ukraine? I haven’t heard a satisfying explanation yet.

      “they will welcome us as liberators”
      this is easy for invaders to believe, many such cases

      • James B. Shearer says:

        “What do you think might’ve been going through the Russians’ heads when they decided it was a good idea to invade Ukraine? ..”

        Putin apparently expected Ukraine to collapse quickly allowing him to present the West with a fait accompli. Not an entirely unreasonable belief but as it turned out wrong. It is easy to talk yourself into bad gambles. Particularly when you have surrounded yourself with sycophants.

    • James B. Shearer says:

      “What do you think might’ve been going through the Russians’ heads when they decided it was a good idea to invade Ukraine? ..”

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Only one head counts, Putin. He has been trying his best to rebuild the Soviet empire and had been quite successful in military occupations in Georgia, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. He was fed bad intelligence on how able the Ukrainians were to defend themselves. But he wasn’t alone, most western intelligence sources thought a quick occupation of Ukraine by Russia was likely. The glib explanations that Putin has lost it, or was completely irrational in his decision to invade Ukraine are overstated. Having said that many western observers thought he could roll his tank armies to wherever he wanted but would then face an on going insurrection that would make the occupation a terrible idea. He should of known that at the very least.

    • Ilya says:

      Discussions about protecting Russian speaking populations has been going on in Russian parliament since 2014 already, after the events of Euromaidan. Perhaps, you could also listen to Putin’s speech right when the invasion commenced.

      Also, there is this movie, made 7 or 8 years ago (even before the Donbas war of 2014, which had killed 14K people), which depicts historical developments leading up to Euromaidan and, soon thereafter, the Donbas War, as Russians see it:

      I’d take Putin at his word.

      • Ilya says:

        Sorry, I have no clue what you are trying to say.

      • bomag says:

        I’d take Putin at his word.

        Which one?

        You posted a propaganda video. There are more excesses of Communism; Holodomor; etc. to paint Russians as irredeemably evil.

        The place was under Russian rule for most of the 20th century, and that didn’t inspire much. I guess Putin wants to try it some more.

        • Ilya says:

          The place was under Russian rule for most of the 20th century, and that didn’t inspire much. I guess Putin wants to try it some more.

          Wait, only the 20th century?!

          I didn’t know there are such experts on Ukrainian history, culture and opinion here. All I can tell you, an apparent “expert,” is that Ukraine is not uniform in what inspires it. The people in the East, particularly Donbas and Mariupol have been quite pro-Russia. Kherson and Odessa more mixed, but they too are either leaning Russian or ambivalent (after last decade+ of hardcore anti-Russia propaganda, it’s not surprising). Study the map of territorial acquisitions of Ukrainian territory over last several hundred history, the growth of Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and the Moscovite Princedom/Empire, to understand which regions are culturally aligned with what country. I’m not going to do an expert’s job for an expert.

    • Ilya says:

      Answered to you below, by mistake.

  15. Rob says:

    Greg, a while ago you blogged about a researcher who had a way of (easily?) converting cellulose to glucose/digestible starch. Is that something that could be scaled quickly enough to feed some of the people who will starve because of the Ukraine War and Russian sanctions?

    Is anyone working on that? Are the predictions of widespread hunger/famine realistic?

  16. Ken says:

    Example Roosevelt wanted to go to war with Nazi Germany but the population was anti-war. So you think that he didn’t realize that cutting off oil to Japan would lead to Japan striking American assets (maybe not necessarily Pearl Harbor) and ultimately by the web of alliances to us going to war with Nazi Germany before we really went to war with Japan. Your simplification denies that real strategic planning that countries always do. Yes sometimes they get it wrong but often they get the outcome they desire.

    • gcochran9 says:

      The “web of alliances” was the Tripartite Pact. Germany was only obliged to fight if Japan was attacked – not if Japan attacked someone else. While of course the Germans didn’t give a crap about treaties in any event.

      Hitler declared war on the US because he was an idiot. Is it as much fun as they say?

      • Rich Rostrom says:

        Hitler declared war on the US in response to Japan attacking Britain – already at war with Germany – and the US – explicitly hostile to Germany and extremely likely to declare war on Germany. A Gallup poll taken on 12/9/41 showed 90% of Americans thought Congress should have declared war on Germany as well as Japan; and we know what Roosevelt wanted. With the US already at war, it would not have taken long for Roosevelt to provoke an incident that would get a declaration of war.

        And also because “great men control events, instead of waiting around”. Germany might have been better off waiting for the US move – but by declaring war, Hitler unleashed the U-boats against poorly defended US coastal shipping with devastating effect.

        Maybe he was wrong – but not an idiot.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Two “experts” on Russia I´ve listen to are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Kotkin. I would like to hear Gregs opinions regarding them.

  18. Philip Neal says:

    The architects of the European Union from Jean Monnet onwards have pursued a strategy of beneficial crises involving a succession of measures intended to half-succeed and half-fail so as to engineer a constant need for further integration. For instance, the sequence of events which led from a voluntary alignment of exchange rates in 1972 to the creation of the euro to the imposition of economic government on Greece and Italy in 2011, and the process certainly will not stop there.

    I doubt if the EU engineered the war in the Ukraine, but its role in successive crises there and its eagerness to reap advantage from this one have been strangely overlooked.

  19. Basil Marte says:


  20. dave chamberlin says:

    The Russian power elite, the siloviki they are called, may very well determine Russia’s long term interests in the Ukraine war. They may turn on Putin very quickly or keep him in power long after he should be. Nobody knows, not even themselves, which leads back to the point of this thread, human history pivots in multiple ways nobody can predict. Right now they are staunch defenders of this war and are even disgusted that the attack on Kiev was withdrawn. They are furious with the humiliating defeat of their beloved Russian army and are no where near admitting the truth of their incompetence. They blame Putin for not going all out with a devastating air war and in other ways holding back. That might be irrational but that is what they believe and so I find it likely that Putin will declare war on May 9th, and kick this war into a higher gear.

  21. daave chamberlin says:

    Reading the tea leaves of what will happen in Ukraine is a probably a pointless exercise but I will do it anyway. NATO wants Russia castrated. Weakened they say, but it’s a bunch of macho nonsense they are throwing around, call it castration. Russia economically is insignificant compared to NATO, it’s a ridiculous mismatch. But they have 6000 nukes and the ability to put them anywhere. So NATO can deliver enough weapons to Ukraine to beat Russia back, which they are in process of doing. But how badly do you want to beat Russia when they have those nukes?

    It’s a shaky balance between humiliating an incompetent Russia into using nukes and getting them to stop being assholes.

  22. Rich Rostrom says:

    I can think of a “triple bank shot” that sort of worked. In 1860, the “Fire-Eaters” (hard-line pro-slavery Southern Democrats) split the Democratic Party. They bolted the convention, and then nominated a separate ticket. At the time, there seems to have been general agreement that the split guaranteed the election of a Republican President.

    The ultimate motives of the Fire-Eaters remained unstated. They cannot have believed their candidate could actually win the election. If they didn’t, then they deliberately enabled the election of a Republican (expected to be William Seward of New York, not Lincoln). One observer noted that many Southerners were surprisingly complacent about that possibility. And that is inexplicable – unless those Southerners believed that the election of a Republican would spur the Southern states to declare secession (as many of the Fire-Eaters had long urged), thereby eliminating any possibility of Yankee interference with the “peculiar institution”.

    The bank shot (if that is what it was) worked: a Republican was elected President, and seven states declared secession (four more joined later on).

    NOTE: by the historic popular vote numbers, Lincoln would have won the electoral vote even if all the other candidates’ votes had been cast for one of them. However, there is good reason to think that the Democrat split affected their total popular vote.

  23. LOADED says:

    the nature of evolution is to adapt. adaptation saves all. otherwise you fail.

  24. Rhodok says:

    The ‘unguided’ part is where your argument becomes near unbeatable.
    However that still leaves open the ‘unobserved/unobservable guidance’ and of course the permanent pressure argument. (Like in Cthulhu always swims left).

    Both of the later two can make it seem as if your argument is wrong.

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