Monday, May 23, 2016

We really are ruled by inept experts

Brutally honest takedown of Ben Rhodes:

As Boyish Ben Rhodes Drops Truth Bombs, Obama’s Media Mask Crumbles
Democratic presidents once received foreign policy advice from men like Gen. George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Henry Stimson. For Obama, we get advisers like Marie Harf, Tommy Vietor, and Ben Rhodes.

Yet almost nothing about Mr. Rhodes is exactly normal. In the first place, as highlighted by the piece’s author, David Samuels, the president’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications has zero background in anything to do with national security. Instead, Mr. Rhodes is a novelist manqué, born into a well-connected family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (his brother David is president of CBS News), who picked up an MFA in creative writing from NYU with plans to become famous for his novels. However, 9/11 caused him to ponder current affairs and he wound up a speechwriter to Barack Obama during his successful 2008 run for the presidency. Per the cliché, the rest is history.
Something to keep in mind for those in the MSM who worry that Trump lacks foreign policy experience and the right sort of advisors:

Then there’s the awkward fact that White House reporters may be every bit as inexperienced and unworldly as they’ve been described--but so is Ben Rhodes. Before becoming Mr. Obama’s factotum he had done no more in the national security arena than most of the uninformed reporters he’s criticized.
Tom Ricks also minces no words about Rhodes:

A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president’s foreign policy guru
Ben Rhodes let the cat out of the bag, he destroyed the pretensions of the MSM and the foundations of what Power Line called “mediated democracy.”

We live in a political system that has not yet been adequately described, but one might call it a "mediated democracy." Mediated by a self-appointed, generally ignorant but highly opinionated "elite" that is not elite by any conventional measure--income, intelligence, education, social position--but that successfully dictates the terms of political discourse even though it no longer controls (exclusively, anyway) the means of production of the news.
The MSM, which sees itself as the main enforcers of this corrupt system, failed utterly with Obama and the people around him. They were gullible; they got played. And now they want this story to go away. They have work to do. Some one has to explain why Hillary is the only rational choice for POTUS and preach that Trump is outside the accepted (i.e. MSM defined) bounds of political discourse and experience.


Making sense of the Age of Obama

How we live now: The rule of the inept experts

Logic only a journalist could love

MSM to public: "Sure we're in the tank for Obama, whatcha' gonna do about it?"

Notes on the current crisis

Friday, May 06, 2016

“An audacious decision can be arrived at by one man only."

Helmuth von Moltke may have been the most important military leader of the nineteenth century. Napoleon was a brilliant shooting star but his ‘methods’ (such as they were) required a genius to make them work. Moltke, in contrast, refined and developed a system and architecture for military leadership that is still used by modern militaries today.

The Prussian system of command was not at all like the stereotype of mindless automatons in spiked helmets. It, instead, combined meticulous pre-war planning with audacious, decentralized leadership when the shooting started.
Hajo Holborn summarized Moltke’s views thusly:

No war counsel could direct an army, and the chief of staff should be the only advisor of the commander with regard to the plan of operations. Even a faulty plan, provided it was executed firmly, was preferable to a synthetic product. On the other hand, not even the best plan of operations could anticipate the vicissitudes of war, and individual tactical decisions that must be made on the spot.. In Moltke's view, a dogmatic enforcement of the plan of operations was a deadly sin and great care was taken to encourage initiative on the part of all commanders, high and low.
On several point Moltke agreed completely with Napoleon. One of the latter’s maxims was “One bad general is worth two good ones.”


If one surrounds the supreme commander with a number of independent men, the situation will worsen both as their numbers increase and the more distinguished and intelligent they are. The commander will hear the counsel of the one, then of the other. He will carry out one proper measure up to a certain point, then a better one in another direction. Then he will recognize the entirely justified objections of a third and the proposals of a fourth advisor. We will wager a hundred to one that with the very best-intentioned measures he will probably lose his campaign.
In business this is the dynamic which helps fuel fad surfing

Another point of agreement.


In war there is but one favorable moment; the great art is to seize it!

An audacious decision can be arrived at by one man only.
In the decades between Waterloo and Sedan, the telegraph had revolutionized communications. Moltke did not see this as a boon to commanders or a justification for centralized direction on the battlefield:

But the most unfortunate of all supreme commanders is the one is under the most supervision, who has to give an account of his plans and intentions every hour of every day. The supervision may be exercised through a delegate of the highest authority at his headquarters or a telegraph wire attached to his back. In such a case all independence, rapid decision, and audacious risk, without which no war can be conducted, ceases.
In the Prussian system, this independence was expected at all levels of command. Moltke is especially discerning on the temptation of micro-management and its negative consequences.

The advantage, moreover, which the commander believes to achieve through continuous personal intervention, is mostly only an apparent one. He thereby takes over functions for those whose fulfillment other persons are designated. He more or less denigrates their ability and increases his own duties to such a degree that he can no longer fulfill them completely."

Moreover, it must be pointed out that if one orders much, then the important thing that needs to be carried out unconditionally will be carried out only incidentally or not at all because it is obscured by the mass of secondary things.
So we are left with a series of paradoxes: Battlefield audacity depends on leaders with self-control which can look like passivity. Effective leadership requires independence and self-confidence but also the capacity to defer to those lower in the chain of command.

Another Prussian Paradox:

When hard work doesn’t pay

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Europe's terror threat: Beyond self-radicalized lone wolves (UPDATED)

This is an excellent piece of reporting by the BBC

Europe's Terror Networks
It's a little less than a half hour and well worth the listen.

Three items really caught my attention:

1. ISIS has a logistical system set up in Europe. They have found ways to move explosives and firearms and get them into the hands of their operatives.

2. As was the case in Mumbai (2008) the November 2015 attacks in Paris utilized multiple, simultaneous attacks so that police and counter-terror forces would be dispersed and unable to mount a quick, overwhelming response.

3. The killers studied their targets. They obtained detailed floorplans of the theater and set up an ambush in the alley outside one of the main avenues escape.

UPDATE 5/17/2016

An interview with Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal. Harrowing account of the carnage that took place inside the theater. Also, Hughes remains convinced that members of the security/facility staff helped the terrorists.

Surrendering to Death

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reading and liberty

Why the best way to honor Frederick Douglass is to read a good book

Is the Future of Reading at Risk?

Some educators are beginning to worry that the wired generation is going to give up serious reading altogether. Judging from our experience here at St. John’s, the future of reading is not at risk. Our students prove every day that it’s perfectly possible to be fully plugged in and at the same time to be absorbed by the greatest books ever written. And that’s a good thing, because the art of reading is critical to our freedom and our happiness.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Gleichschaltung and the erosion of liberty

Ran across this old item by Ed Driscoll. Even more relevant today:

From Gaius Gracchus to the Gleichschaltung

Gleichschaltung is a German word (in case you couldn’t have guessed) borrowed from electrical engineering. It means “coordination.” The German National Socialists (Nazis) used the concept to get every institution to sing from the same hymnal. If a fraternity or business embraced Nazism, it could stay “independent.” If it rejected Nazism, it was crushed or bent to the state’s ideology. Meanwhile, every branch of government was charged with not merely doing its job but advancing the official state ideology.

Now, contemporary liberalism is not an evil ideology. Its intentions aren’t evil or even fruitfully comparable to Hitlerism. But there is a liberal Gleichschaltung all the same. Every institution must be on the same page. Every agency must advance the liberal agenda.
(The quoted passage is from Jonah Goldberg)


This is a great article by Robert D. Kaplan:

The Post-Imperial Moment
This seems to fit quite well with the Goldberg quote:

Witness the Islamic State, which does not represent Islam per se, but Islam combusting with the tyrannical conformity and mass hysteria of the Internet and social media.

Halsey and Nimitz: Leadership and loyalty

Chester Nimitz and William Halsey were as different as two admirals could be. Nimitz was a submariner while Halsey was a carrier commander AND a carrier pilot. Where Nimitz was quiet and outwardly serene even in moments of intense stress, Halsey was loud and profane. Yet in the dark days of 1942 they forged a winning partnership in the Pacific. After Pearl Harbor, when Admiral Nimitz took over command of the Pacific Fleet, he quickly realized that the one carrier admiral he could trust with any mission was Bill Halsey
Edwin Hoyt, Closing the Circle
Nimitz gave Halsey perhaps the two toughest mission of the Pacific War: The Doolittle Raid and the defense of Guadalcanal when the issue was truly in doubt. His trust was amply repaid. In the Solomons Halsey bloodied the Japanese Navy, held Guadalcanal, and began the long advance toward Tokyo Bay.

So, of course, Nimitz was on Team Halsey in 1942 and 1943.

I am more impressed with his actions later in the war and in the post-war period. Victory not only has a hundred fathers, it also brings forth a thousand quibblers and scribblers and ankle-biters. Halsey was (and is) a frequent target for that crowd.

We lack eyewitness records of what happened next, but we know that Halsey barged into the CinCPac conference that day or the next and cleared the air by sounding off loudly, and no doubt profanely, against the defeatism he found. He then and there permanently endeared himself to his commander in chief by backing him and the raiding plan to the hilt. Because he was a vice admiral and Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force, and was liked and respected by all, his words carried decisive weight. Long afterward, when Halsey came under criticism, Nimitz recalled this difficult period and refused to participate in the general censure. "Bill Halsey came to my support and offered to lead the attack", he said. "I'll not be a party to any enterprise than can hurt the reputation of a man like that
E. B Potter, Nimitz

Supporting the man who supported you even when you no longer need his support. That’s loyalty. And without reciprocal loyalty, real leadership is impossible.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lessons in Leadership: Admiral William Halsey

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery noted that there is one acid test for leadership:

A leader must have infectious optimism. The final test of a leader is the feeling you have when you leave his presence after a conference. Have you a feeling of uplift and confidence?
By that measure, Admiral William F Halsey qualifies as one of the greatest military leaders in our history. No matter what else he did, the man could inspire confidence and optimism.

On 13 April 1942 the USS Enterprise and her escorts rendezvoused with the USS Hornet carrying the Doolittle raiders. Bill Halsey took to the ship’s loud speaker and announced: “This force is bound for Tokyo.”

And the men on board cheered.

They had seen the smoking ruins of the US battle fleet in Pearl Harbor. They knew that the Japanese Empire was sweeping across Asia and the Pacific. Singapore had fallen. American forces had just surrendered on Bataan.

Now the old man on the bull horn said that this small task force of two fragile carriers and a dozen light escorts was heading right to the center of the empire.

And the sailors and flyers cheered.

Infectious optimism indeed.

The informality of his approach to command and his carelessness worried his senior staff and led to serious errors, but the air crews and the lower deck would do anything for him and probably gave him more than they gave any other commander. He was always on their side, the very model of a sailor’s admiral.
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
One does not become a “sailor’s admiral” overnight. Halsey had earned his men’s trust through a hundred gestures and actions.

One day he won the training squadron emblem for stupidity: the Flying Jackass, a large aluminum likeness of a donkey, awarded to anyone who broke a safety regulation. He wore it for two weeks until another student pilot won it away from him. Beut he insisted on keeping that particular badge. When he took command of the Saratoga, he said, he would hang it on the bulkhead of his cabin. Any time he got ready to raise hell with some pilot for an infraction of rules, he was going to look at that Flying Jackass and think twice.

Such tales began the legend of Bill Halsey, the only really flying commander of a carrier, and the true aviators got to love him. When he took over his carrier, he continued to add to bits to the legend. From the Saratoga he went to the Enterprise, one of the new carriers of the fleet, as commander of Carrier Division Two [COMCARDIV Two] and he was promoted to admiral. One day a young officer made an error that delayed the launch of planes. Admiral King was present at the time, and King was a noted disciplinarian (who put an end to the advancement of one naval captain because he ran a cruiser aground in a fog trying to get King back to Washington to make an appointment).

'Who was responsible for the delay?' King demanded by signal, and on the bridge of the Enterprise souls quaked as the message was taken to Admiral Halsey's bridge.

'COMCARDIVE Two', was the reply.

There was no further word from the flagship. But on board the Enterprise the story went from keel to masthead. Admiral Halsey was the sort of officer who protected his men, it said
Edwin Hoyt, Closing the Circle

The US Navy of 1942 still operated under the Prohibition imposed on it by Woodrow Wilson. Halsey had no time for such nonsense when his flyers were fighting and dying. He ordered gallons of bourbon for his flight surgeons should they wish to ‘prescribe’ it for pilots. Not everyone in Washington was happy with his action but as Hoyt notes, “a fighting admiral was not to be gainsaid in 1942, when there were so few of them, and Halsey had his way."

Halsey also shows us that real leaders also make invaluable subordinates:


After Pearl Harbor, when Admiral Nimitz took over command of the Pacific Fleet, he quickly realized that the one carrier admiral he could trust with any mission was Bill Halsey
And this:

Bloch pressed his views on Nimitz, both in conference and in private. In effect, he put an avuncular arm around Nimitz's shoulder and proceeded to tell him how to run the war. Nimitz considered himself fully competent to do the job without such tutelage, but he was at a disadvantage because most of the air officers agreed with Bloch, and Nimitz was not an aviator and had never commanded carriers.

On Wednesday, January 7, the Enterprise force returned to Pearl from patrol and its commander, crusty warrior VAdmn Halsey, came ashore. Halsey's ferocious scowl, which announced to all that he hated the enemy like sin, could not conceal a twinkle in his eye that bespoke his affection for his fellow sailor's, particularly those who served under him.

We lack eyewitness records of what happened next, but we know that Halsey barged into the CinCPac conference that day or the next and cleared the air by sounding off loudly, and no doubt profanely, against the defeatism he found. He then and there permanently endeared hismself to his commander in chief by backing him and the raiding plan to the hilt. Because he was a vice admiral and Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force, and was liked and respected by all, his words carried decisive weight.

E. B Potter, Nimitz

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Let's make America great like this again.

I loved this documentary. Learned alot about eastern railroads and urban architecture.

American Experience:The Rise and Fall of Penn Station

One key quote from architecture critic Paul Goldberger:

Pennsylvania Station is one of the greatest symbols of monumental public space that any American city has ever had. It ennobles the acts of daily life. It makes every citizen feel important.
I like the idea that beautiful public spaces and buildings can ennoble small daily tasks and chores.

Somewhere we got the idea that to be egalitarian one also had to be ruthlessly utilitarian or even tawdry.

Today's history nugget

Somerset County thus would gain the ill-fated distinction of having committed two sets of brothers to the gallows. There were three sets of brothers executed in public hangings in Pennsylvania prior to 1834...

From 1834 to 1906, five pairs of brothers were executed privately or within county jails. The Nicelys and the Roddys were among this group

Sunday, April 17, 2016

From my recent reading

Al Lawrence was astonished. 'I was bowled right over for two reasons., he recalled. 'The first thing that hits me is that Chuck isn't surprised if he walks into a room and sees an angel in there. And then he isn't surprised when the angel he sees has dark skin. So I said to myself, Wow! I mean, I am black but have never envisaged seeing a black angel. In my mind angels are always white. But There's Chuck who's telling me he's seen a black angel'

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Wild, Wild West really wasn't so wild

The reason the gunfight in Tombstone had drawn such attention was because such things rarely occurred. Drunks shot each other and lawmen chased down badmen, but marshals just never walked down the streets and shot it out with unconvicted and unindicted suspects.
Casey Tefertiller, Wyatt Earp
Compared to Chicago or Baltimore, we should start calling it the Mild Mild West.

But then what would the hoplophobes use as a talking point?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

From the annals of faulty forecasting

[Dwight] Macdonald went on to attack Wolfe's mannerist style, skewer his penchant for 'elaboration rather than development' and speculate that 'Wolfe will not be read with pleasure, or at all, years from now, and perhaps not even next year.'
March Weingarten, The Gang that Wouldn't Write Straight
That was in the NYRB in 1965

He was wrong. Big time.

Wolfe does not win literary prizes and is despised by many of the biggest names in the literary pantheon. (Check out "My Three Stooges" in Hooking Up). But Wolfe has this going for him: if the mark of greatness is having something to say about "where we are and where we are going", he trumps everybody on the list. Does anyone in Denver look up from her Sunday paper and say "this sounds just like a John Updike novel"? How many people turn on the cable news programs and think "Is Philip Roth scripting this"? Yet from Tawana Brawley to the Duke Lacrosse case, Tom Wolfe scouted the territory before anyone else.