Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mindset matters

Exceptionally good piece here from Michael Bane:

Meditations on Mindset in a Plague Year

The core, the nugget, of a survival mindset is not positive thinking, or resiliency, or focus, although all three of those things play a critical part. I think that the centerpiece of a survival mindset is acceptance. ... Denial can be described as the mental processes that allow us to avoid acknowledging a threat of any kind, essentially sticking our collective fingers in our collective ears and collectively shouting, “LA LA LA LA LA…”

Acceptance, on the other hand, is facing the world as it actually is and basing our actions on, dare I say it, reality.
Always worth remembering Gen. Harold Moore's rules of leadership that he learned and honed in combat in Vietnam:

First, never quit. Three strikes and you're not out. Put that on your refrigerator.

Number two - there's always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor. There's always a way.

Number three - trust your instincts.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

But Trump

It would be mid-1943 before Roosevelt finally completed an effective apparatus to execute his roles as commander in chief of the armed forces and chief executive of the government. He relished setting up officials with overlampping and often conflicting authorities. Perhaps the epitome of this was his early effort to mobilize the 'Arsenal of Democracy'. At one time he created sixteen different agencies to manage the different aspects of mobilization, all under the executive branch and all without a superior save for Roosevelt himself. This refusal to delegate poower gained him a degree of control, but he lacked the time and interest in details to make such slapdash structures efficient.

Richard B. Frank, Tower of Skulls

Monday, March 09, 2020

A master craftsman at work

Dwight Macdonald was the intellectual par excellence, which is to say without any specialized knowledge he was prepared to comment on everything, boisterously and always with what seemed an unwavering confidence
Joseph Epstein, Essays in Biography
Is Joseph Epstein America's finest essayist? I know I've never read anyone who is better.

The mark of a great essayist is that you can read an enjoy them even if you initially have no keen interest in the subject of the piece at hand. Epstein never fails that test.

Jacques Barzun reminds us that “Love of what is fine should not make one finicky”. Essays in Biography embodies this worthy credo. An essay on Michael Jordan exhibits the same insight and skill as those on Susan Sontag or Bernard Malamud.

Every now and then Epstein drops a bombshell into the course of his pleasant rambles. They are not delivered as critical thunderbolts -– just an offhand comment that can change your whole outlook on a subject.

[Saul Bellow] created no memorable female characters. Neither, one needs to add here, have Philip Roth or John Updike or Norman Mailer, whose female characters exist chiefly to service their author's sexual fantasies. The great novelists -- Balzac, Tolstoy, George Eliot, Willa Cather, Marguerite Yourncenar -- were androgynous in their powers of creation. Recent male American novelists almost universally fail this test.

Consider Martin Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the four great names in twentieth-century philosophy: the first was a Nazi, the second died certain that America was responsible for all the world's evil, the third was a Stalinist long after any justification for being so could be adduced, and the fourth lived on the borders of madness most of his life

Saturday, March 07, 2020

The medium and the message

From Nicholas Carr:

From context collapse to content collapse

Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.

Content began collapsing the moment it began to be delivered through computers. Digitization made it possible to deliver information that had required specialized mediums — newspapers and magazines, vinyl records and cassettes, radios, TVs, telephones, cinemas, etc. — through a single, universal medium. In the process, the formal standards and organizational hierarchies inherent to the old mediums began to disappear. The computer flattened everything.

I remember, years ago, being struck by the haphazardness of the headlines flowing through my RSS reader. I’d look at the latest update to the New York Times feed, for instance, and I’d see something like this:

Dam Collapse Feared as Flood Waters Rise in Midwest
Nike’s New Sneaker Becomes Object of Lust
Britney Spears Cleans Up Her Act
Scores Dead in Baghdad Car-Bomb Attack
A Spicy New Take on Bean Dip

It wasn’t just that the headlines, free-floating, decontextualized motes of journalism ginned up to trigger reflexive mouse clicks, had displaced the stories. It was that the whole organizing structure of the newspaper, its epistemological architecture, had been junked. The news section (with its local, national, and international subsections), the sports section, the arts section, the living section, the opinion pages: they’d all been fed through a shredder, then thrown into a wind tunnel. What appeared on the screen was a jumble, high mixed with low, silly with smart, tragic with trivial. The cacophony of the RSS feed, it’s now clear, heralded a sea change in the distribution and consumption of information. The new order would be disorder.
I wonder, though, if this really began with the computer and the internet. Didn't we start down this path with television? The same indictment – “ a jumble, high mixed with low, silly with smart, tragic with trivial” – can be laid against the Today show or Good Morning America.

One minute George Stephanopoulos is gravely reporting on the civil war in Syria or a deadly natural disaster. The, seamlessly, he is hyping Disney's next blockbuster or some pop diva's latest album.

Facebook did not give us the Oprah-style townhall debates – television did. The epic decline from Lincoln vs. Douglas to boxers vs. briefs happened before social media was born.

If there is anything novel about about our internet-fueled media environment it is that now the information consumer largely determines their own mixture of high/low, silly/smart instead of a priesthood of deciders in New York and LA.

“Formal standards and organizational hierarchies” were undermined by the internet. The deciders lost credibility and authority when they could no longer hide their mistakes. No more 40 word “corrections“ on page A14 six days after the story ran. Now errors and bias were laid bare in real time.

How can we speak of “formal standards” when Dan Rather and Brian Williams are still treated as reputable journalists by other journalists?

And what of Twitter? We see content collapse in the timelines of the very priesthood that pretends to uphold the standards of serious, high-minded journalism. One moment there is the sober pronouncement about trade policy and the next moment brings another sober pronouncement but this one assigns the hot dog a position in the sandwich hierarchy. Then, after a quick comment on the president's speech we get excited effusions about the latest comic book movie.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Higher education

Variations on a theme:

Calling for the disruption of liberal arts colleges—in order to save liberal education

Small liberal arts colleges are feeling the brunt of demographic changes and America’s declining faith in the higher education system overall, as evidenced by recent closures and mergers. That the situation is boiling over despite correlations between degree attainment and higher lifetime earnings shouldn’t just be chalked up to learners being short-sighted. Financial risk is indeed growing, and increased earnings 40 years post-graduation don’t pay next week’s student loan bills.
Education, Disrupted

Michelle Weise, the senior vice president of workforce strategies at Strada Education Network and the chief innovation officer for the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, has written that although 93% of CEOs surveyed by PwC recognized “the need to change their strategy for attracting and retaining talent,” a stunning 61% revealed that they hadn’t yet taken any steps to do so. Employees seem to agree. According to a recent survey by Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning and Degreed, nearly half of employees are disappointed in their employer’s learning and development programs.

But there are some notable exceptions to this prevailing trend. For instance, in July 2019, Amazon announced that it would “spend $700 million over six years on postsecondary job training for 100,000 of its soon-to-be 300,000 workers.” For now, Amazon says it intends to outsource that training to traditional colleges and universities. But once Amazon has begun to provide the bridge for that training, it’s not hard to imagine that it will be well positioned to create that training itself — without the “middle man” of colleges and universities — in the future.4 Although Amazon’s competitors will undoubtedly keep a close eye on its training moves, perhaps the education industry ought to keep an even closer eye, given that those moves may herald a total transformation in the landscape of learning, from college through retirement.
Could micro-credentials compete with traditional degrees?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

#NeverTrump's Napoleon complex

In War and Peace Tolstoy captures the hubris which led Napoleon to launch his catastrophic invasion of Russia:

To his mind everything he did was good, not because it agreed with any notion of what was good and bad, but because he did it.
The Never Trump conservatives have inverted this mental and moral failure but still suffered dire consequences. failure with dire consequences.

No matter what President Trump does they oppose and deride it. They speak of principles and standards yet the only standard they seem to hold to is Orange Man Bad. They praise intellect and expertise yet their own arguments on TV and twitter are little more than “irritable mental gestures.”

Never Trump “libertarians” announce that they will support socialism with a heavy infusion of Stalinism. “Constitutional conservatives” sing the praises of nanny-staters who are eager to gut the First and Second Amendment.

What we have here is a severe deficit of lightness of being.”

'Lightness of being,' then, is the ability, if not to find the good in bad things, then at least to remain afloat among them, perhaps to swim or sail through them, possibly even to take precautions that can keep you dry.

John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy
Gaddis sees this quality as invaluable for strategists. The lack of it among NeverTrumpers helps explain so much.

Kurt Schlichter:

From political consultants who are no longer consulted to writers who are no longer read, this is the Woodstock for conservatives who never actually conserved anything.
As FDR said “It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead – and to find no one there.”

In defense of the M4 Sherman

He makes a good case.

US AFV Development in WW2, or, "Why the Sherman was what it was"

Thursday, February 13, 2020

This explains so much

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Can't wait to read this

His books on Guadalcanal and the end of the Pacific War are incredibly well-done.

A lecture by the Frank from a few years back

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Pearl Harbor: Real Conspiracies and crank theories

There were real conspiracies surrounding the attack on Pearl harbor. Not the crank theories that blame those old devils FDR and Churchill with enabling the attack. Those are palpably ridiculous. What we have instead are the usual political and bureaucratic behavior after a disaster: shifting blame, finding scapegoats, covering up embarrassing information.

In 1941 that meant making it appear that everything would have been fine if Gen. Short and Adm. Kimmel had not dropped the ball.

J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, wanted the FBI to be an international spy agency as well as a national detective bureau and an internal security organ. It would look, bad, therefore, if it turned out that the FBI bore any responsibility or even appeared to be less than perfect.

As a master spy and defender of the Republic, Hoover was pretty close to an abject failure. He was without peer as a bureaucratic infighter and empire-builder.

So, with the feral cunning common to rats and ambitious bureaucrats, Hoover did his utmost to make certain Short and Kimmel took the hit. The White House was told (falsely) that Hawaii had received all the intelligence on Japan that was available in Washington. Congressmen and Senators were informed -- confidentially of course -- about the lack of cooperation between the Army and Navy in Hawaii (another fib). Leaks to compliant reporters made sure the public knew who was to blame (not the FBI or its director). Trusted FBI agents were placed at the center of the official investigations. (Hoover edited the drafts of their reports and findings).

Honesty took a back seat to appearances. Long before Fernando, John E. Hoover knew it was better to look good than be good.

If successful empires had a handbook Rule #1 would be “Focus on one threat at a time” and Rule #2 would be “Never fight a big war without allies.” Hoover understood this instinctively. In focusing on Short and Kimmel the FBI was working with some very powerful allies.

It suited the political leadership in Washington, particularly the President, to place all blame for the disaster on the heads of the commanders in Hawaii. That offered the public a pat explanation -- essentially that the officers on the spot had been caught unaware. Once they were replaced, the nation could get on with the war effort.
Paul Stillwell “Plenty of Blame to Go Around
Roosevelt ordered the fleet to Pearl Harbor over the objections of his senior Naval officers. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. James O. Richardson protested too vigorously; FDR relieved him of command and replaced him with Kimmell.

In pursuit of short-term deterrence, the fleet was placed in a vulnerable base that lacked sufficient infrastructure for training and maintenance.

In the summer of 1941 FDR adopted a hard-line against Japan. In doing so, he sided with old New Dealers like Harold Ickes and Henry Morgenthau and overruled his senior military leaders. This confrontational stance was at odds with the “Germany First” strategy FDR had previously adopted. The administration now risked an early war before the buildup of forces in the Pacific could be completed. Despite the increasing tensions in the Pacific, Pearl Harbor was denied vital armaments which went to higher priority recipients. Gen. Short asked for long-range patrol bombers; they were designated for the Philippines and China instead. He requested funds to build additional airfields so he could disperse his aircraft and make them less vulnerable to surprise attack. The War Department refused on the grounds that the risk of surprise air attacks was low. The same reason was given when anti-aircraft defenses in Hawaii were not allocated modern 20mm and 40mm guns. Fighter planes were transferred from Hawaii to Wake Island and Midway.

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox went to Pearl Harbor immediately after the attack. He was initially sympathetic to the commanders in Hawaii. He was inclined to ascribe a large portion of the blame to the lack of resources rather than dereliction of duty. His final report written after he returned to Washington focused on the failings of Kimmel and Short. They had enough resources and information; they simply failed to use them intelligently and energetically.

That was the narrative that took hold in December 1941. It did not emerge by accident.

In Washington, immediately after the attack, President Roosevelt and the secretaries of War and the Navy were putting together an investigating team. Known as the Roberts Commission, it comprised two retired Navy admirals, two Army generals, and Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts. It was, in essence, a kangaroo court, placing blame for the Pearl Harbor surprise squarely on the two major commanders, Admiral Kimmel and Army Lieutenant General Walter Short. In fact, the powers that be in Washington had been no more prescient than Kimmel in foreseeing an attack, and they had the advantage of the code intercepts that indicated war would begin soon.
Stillwell, “Plenty of Blame”
As usually happens, the narrative contained few out and out lies. It misinformed by omission. Critical facts were buried. For instance, decades would pass before the public learned that the FBI had a double-agent who had been tasked with obtaining detailed intelligence on Pearl Harbor and the methods the Royal navy employed in its raid on the Italian Fleet at Taranto. None of the eight official investigations even mention Dusko Popov.