Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why is thinking a lost art in large organizations?


From the Sloan Management Review:

The Lost Art of Thinking in Large Organizations

Many executives in big companies attained their positions by excelling at getting things done. Unfortunately, a bias for doing rather than thinking can leave these executives ill-equipped for their new roles.

If you ask managers in a large organization to approach a strategic business problem, their focus often quickly narrows to proposing solutions. When asked why, many respond that they don’t have time to think.

How did we arrive in a state where managers do not recognize that thinking is part of their job? The answer reflects a relentless focus on execution in many large companies. A company becomes big by finding a successful business model and then scaling it massively. This necessitates building a finely tuned system with highly standardized processes. To get promoted in such an environment requires an almost singular focus on execution. In other words, it requires action more than thinking. However, once executives are promoted to a senior level, these new business leaders must be able to think strategically. Ironically, the very skills in execution that led to their promotions often make these executives ill-equipped for their new roles, since their strategy thinking muscles have withered from disuse.
Question One:

Is the “no time to think problem” connected to the Hurry Up And Wait” problem?

I suspect the answer is “Yes”.

HUAW: Think of it as a symptom of deeper problems
Question Two:

Would organizations recover the “lost art of thinking” if they paid more attention to von Manstein’s insight into officer selection?

When hard work doesn't pay


Related:

The Best Strategic Planning Advice Ever


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Thucydides trap and the Korean conundrum


This is an outstanding episode of Federalist Radio. Ben Domenech interviews Graham Allison about his new book. From there the conversation ranges to China, Korea, and the limits of expertise.

Can Lessons From Thucydides Keep America From War With China?
A couple of follow-on points:

1. Allison notes that regime change in Korea may seem necessary, but also warns that our experience of Iraq and Libya also shows that the aftermath of regime-change is never pretty and never a cake-walk.

Left unmentioned was the direct link between the fall of Gaddafi and Kim Jong Un’s drive to secure a nuclear capability. Jerry Pournelle warned that the Obama/Clinton adventure in North Africa would have serious consequences:

North Korea: Jerry Pournelle can say 'I told you so'

One lesson to be learned is, DO NOT LOSE if you are in the dictator business. The US will borrow money to furnish the Brits, French, and Italians with the means to kill you. Understand that, and be sure that you have the means for defending yourself. The more strategic your country the more important it will be to have defenses including personal defenses. Another lesson is, do not renounce your nukes. Get some. Get at least one and let it be known that it will detonate if you don’t talk to it at daily intervals.

Kim Jong Un grasped the Realpolitik lesson of the Melian Dialogue. The immediate cause of Gaddafi’s downfall was not his brutality but his weakness.

The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
2. To the Chinese, a ‘solution’ to the Korean crisis looks much different than it does to Washington.

This may be an example of Dr. David Lai’s point that “different nations play different games” which in turn means they view the world from different geo-strategic perspectives.

A nation of Go players cannot help but notice that “dealing with Kim Jong Un” also looks a lot like “encircle the Chinese homeland.”

[See also Beyond Chess and Checkers]
Even if that is not the intention of US foreign policy, we must understands that China will still look with suspicion on such moves.

3. We also have to recognize that our post-Cold War foreign policy has given China ample reason to suspect that such encirclement is the real goal. It is, after all, what we did to Russia despite our promises that we would do no such thing.

The first 30 minutes of this lecture provides a solid overview of the missteps and broken promises that marked US-Russian relations in the Clinton-Bush years.


It really does not matter if the US was reckless, feckless, naïve or Machiavellian. What matters is that our past actions shape how other nations perceive our current initiatives.

4. We also must recognize that China may value Kim Jong Un as a cat’s paw. During the tensest days of the Cold War Khrushchev explained the real value of Berlin to Moscow: “Every time I want to make the West scream, I squeeze on Berlin.”

It is quite possible that China sees Kim in the same light. His provocations are an ideal way to hobble and distract the US in the Western Pacific.

5. Allison has some smart things to say about the limits of expertise in dealing with knotty foreign polity issues. Let us say that he is not in the Tom Nichols “shut up and obey” camp.





Monday, August 07, 2017

Diseconomies of scale and the US failure in Iraq


Bigger ain't always better

The high cost of efficiency

When we look back at what went wrong in Iraq, it is hard to ignore the myriad mistakes made by Paul Bremer and his merry band of modern nation builders.

This talk by Col. Peter Mansoor from 2009 offers and incisive analysis.

One key point he makes is that Bremer centralized reconstruction spending and took it out of the hands of the military commanders on the ground.

While that may have seemed like a great way to maximize efficiency, it had the opposite effect. Instead of flowing directly into the local economy, the money ended up going to multi-national companies and foreign contractors. This helped pave the way for the insurgency and the rise of ISIS.

Previously:

Diseconomies of scale


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

People this brave deserve to be remembered



First posted 1 August 2008


On 1 August 1944 the Polish Home Army launched a uprising in Warsaw against the German occupiers. They had few weapons but possessed an abundance of courage. The time was right: the Red Army was at the gates of Warsaw and Allied armies were advancing against the Germans in France. Wehrmacht officers had nearly killed Hitler on 20 July. It seemed that end of the Nazi state was at hand,

Moscow radio had even broadcast a call to arms to the Poles on 29 July.

In the first days, the uprising had success. The Home Army gained control of central Warsaw. Then they were betrayed by their allies and their allies ally.

The Red Army took no steps to aid the Poles. They even refused to allow British and American planes to use Soviet airfields in airlift and bombing operations. Churchill and Roosevelt had no military options and only a few diplomatic ones. Churchill wanted to put pressure on Stalin but FDR refused. The Warsaw Uprising was a potential embarrassment to a man running for his fourth term. He had already acquiesced to Stalin’s plans for Poland but dared not admit it for fear of losing the votes of Polish-Americans and other Catholics. The Uprising threatened to make Poland an issue in his last campaign.

Many in the West believed the Uprising was hopeless and tragic from the very beginning. The Home Army disagreed. They sent this message to London on 24 August:


Hello.. here is the heart of Poland! Hear Warsaw speaking!
Throw the dirges out of your broadcasts;
Our spirit is strong it will support even you!
We don’t need your applause!
We demand ammunition!!!




They did not get their ammunition but still the Poles fought on. They held out for 63 days-- fighting house to house and hand to hand against tanks and professional soldiers while under continuous bombardment from artillery and the Luftwaffe. Over 200,000 Poles died. It was the equivalent of a 9/11 a day for over two months.

Just before the end, Warsaw radio broadcast a searing message:


This is the stark truth. We were treated worse than Hitler’s satellites, worse than Italy, Rumania, Finland. May God Who is just, pass judgment on the terrible injustice suffered by the Polish nation, and may He punish accordingly all those who are guilty.

Your heroes are the soldiers whose only weapons against tanks, planes, and guns were their revolvers and bottles filled with petrol. Your heroes are the women who tended the wounded and carried messages under fire, who cooked in bombed and ruined cellars to feed children and adults, and who soothed and comforted the dying. Your heroes are the children who went on quietly playing among the smoldering ruins. These are the people of Warsaw.

Immortal is the nation that can muster such universal heroism. For those who have died have conquered, and those who live on will fight on, will conquer and again bear witness that Poland lives when the Poles live
.


It is a sad fact that the only party to behave honorably toward the Home Army was the Wehrmacht. After 63 days the Poles were still fighting though they had no hope of success. They agreed to surrender to the regular army on the condition that they be treated as POWs. Those terms were granted and, amazingly, the Germans upheld their end of the bargain.




Friday, July 28, 2017

“Wargaming in the Classroom”


On 22 July, the US Army War College hosted a panel discussion on “Wargaming in the Classroom”. It was a terrific event which packed a lot of info and insight into 2 ½ hours.

In his introductory remarks, Samuel White, Deputy Director of the Center for Strategic Leadership at the AWC noted that the mission of the AWC is to “to develop leaders and ideas.” In his view, and that of the panelists, wargaming is a tool that can do both.

I. "Innovative Employment of of Wargames in PME”

The first speaker was Dr. James Lacey of the Marine War College.

His talk can be seen as an update of this article from 2016:

WARGAMING IN THE CLASSROOM: AN ODYSSEY
A key point he made at the outset of his talk was that his classes were not gaming classes. They are military history and strategic studies seminars. Thus, his heavy reliance on wargames are a radical departure from the norm.
The benefits he saw from using wargames:
1. “Games are remembered nearly forever.” (The audience of experienced gamers heartily agreed with this point.) Students keep thinking about the issues and decisions for days and weeks after they play.

2. Games generate a large volume of decisions to make and ponder. “Every turn creates new strategic problems to solve.”

3. War college students now think and write in Powerpoint. Traditional writing assignments no longer are the best method to build understanding through in-depth analysis.

Wargames are a way to fill that gap.

4. “Wargames provide mental models” which students can use in the future to interpret new information, problems, and challenges. For example, The Civil War battle of Chancellorsville shares many characteristics with maneuver warfare battles in Iraq or hypothetical battles against Russia in Estonia or Poland.
II “Wargames and International Relations”

Dr. David Lai, AWC Strategic Studies Institute.

He brought an intriguing perspective to the proceedings. His cross-cultural survey and “meta” approach gave me a lot to think about.

A. “All games have their origins in human conflict”

Not just wargames. Sports and “entertainment” games (poker, bridge) share the same starting point.

B. “Games become part of culture and culture effects thinking.”

For example, Americans play poker, and US diplomacy reflects aspects of that game. “Bluffing” (intimidation), playing the cards you are dealt in each crisis, etc..

C. “Nations play games, but different nations play different games.”

1. Thus, while the US may think of poker when dealing with China, the Chinese play Go, not poker.

2. Go is a game requiring long-range, subtle strategies.

3. The “playing board” looks completely different for each player because different games/ different strategic culture.

III “Wargaming in the classroom”

Dr. Peter Perla CNA. Author of The Art of the Wargame.

A. For military organizations the key leadership challenge is “how to develop mental ‘muscle memory’” before officers go to war.

1. It is only through such “muscle memory” that leaders can make better decisions faster under the strain of battle
B. How wargames work:

1. They entertain
2. They engage
3. They enlighten

C. Why wargames work:

1. Players engage, not just observe. Active, not passive learning.
2. They must act and then live with the consequences of their actions.
3. It is a game yet when playing it becomes ‘real’ on some mental level.
4. Wargames present a special type of narrative. Players “live the stories” while playing. Higher engagement than reading history or listening to a lecture.

D. One of the most important things to learn for wargames: “What we ‘know’ that just ‘ain’t’ so.”

Wargames can strip away illusions and false assumptions.

E. For the US Navy in the interwar period (1919-1941) wargaming was the main driver for innovation.

1. It also promoted tighter integration between the various functions in the service.

2. The navy also benefitted because students learned three critical skills from wargaming:

a. How to self-critique
b. How to offer honest and useful criticism to others.
c. How to accept honest criticism.

F. Done right, wargaming helps both students and organizations learn.

He closed emphatically: “Wargaming saves lives.” Therefore gaming needs to start early in an officers professional career.

IV “Teaching wargame design at the Army Command and General Staff College”

Dr. James Sterrett, USA CGSC

A. Wargame design is both an art and a science.

B. He warned against perfectionism in the design stage by quoting French poet Paul Vallery: “A poem is never finished, it is only abandoned.”

C. What is critical is not the initial design, but testing. At the classes on game design at CGSC, half the course time is now devoted to testing.

D. Dr. Sterrett agreed with Dr. Perla that officers should be introduced to wargaming as early as possible, preferably when they are still cadets.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Worth pondering


Every herd is a refuge for giftlessness, whether it’s a faith in Soloviev, or Kant, or Marx. Only the solitary seek the truth
Boris Pasternak
Doctor Zhivago


Monday, July 24, 2017

Russia without illusions


A sober and informative piece by David Warsh:

The “Snow Revolution” and the Attribution Problem
Previously:

The Ukraine crisis without blinders
Since the whole Russian debate seems to be driven by Ben Rhodes and his echo chamber, it is worth revisiting this post:

The country is in the very best of hands....
It is also useful to listen to the beginning of this lecture where Dr. Gaddis reviews the steps and missteps of US policy toward post-Soviet Russia.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Are we in a Big Data hype bubble?


Who are you going to believe? Newsweek or your own lying eyes?

Based on past experience, an industry or economic trend becomes a market bubble when the media offers up credulous stories based on their sources in the stock hyping business. Said stories, to the reader willing to look around, seem to conflict with observed reality and direct experience.

Reminder: Bubbles always depend on ignoring Conquest's Law #1:

Everyone is conservative about what he knows best
I'm beginning to wonder if Big Data hype is now at the bubble stage. This realization came while reading this piece in Newsweek:

APPLE'S POTENTIAL FATAL FLAW? IT DOESN'T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT YOU
The quote that broght me up short:

Data make a company’s machine-learning software get smarter so that the company can better serve customers and vacuum up more market share. Think of Amazon’s recommendation engine.
Now, Keven Maney may be right about many things. Apple may be headed for a fall. Amazon may be a master at using data to drive profits. (Or maybe not.)

But what I know to be categorically false from personal experience is that Amazon, Netflix, etc. are using data to improve their recommendations and "better serve their customers."

As long-time Amazon customer I've found their recommendations to be less useful and less accurate over the past several years.

Netflix is even worse.

So put me in the skeptical camp when it comes to Big Data.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Creativity comes from seeing old ideas in a new light


Short but interesting take on invention and creativity:

Not Invented Here

Ideas build on each other

There is no such thing as a completely new idea. Every step we make is based on the combination of different ideas that create something new.
...
Combination drives innovation

Everywhere you look progress comes from mixes and mash-ups
...
The way to create something new is to mix two old ideas.
Not a new idea, certainly, since David Gelernter discussed precisely this idea in his Muse and the Machine in 1994

Some related posts on the subject:

Finding big ideas

Thinking about thinking, creativity, and innovation

Killing creativity


Monday, July 17, 2017

What you see when you connect the dots


Important post over at Hot Air:

Remembering Journolist And Progressive Media’s Bag Of Tricks

A couple weeks ago I came across an old article about Journolist which I found striking. In particular, I was struck by the ways in which some of the debates taking place among left-leaning journalists back in 2008 still seem to encompass the ways the left-wing media operates today.
As Sexton shows, the Journolist scandal was a temporary embarrassment for the MSM, but, in the end, Ezra Klein’s propaganda lab won and won big.

While Sexton writes “left-wing media”, he could just as easily have said “main stream media”. One of the key things about the Journolist scandal was that membership seems to enhance, rather than harm, career prospects. Outlets like the Daily Beast and the Washington Post happily hired Spencer Ackerman and Dave Weigel after they were exposed as propagandists.

Commenter Rob Crrgin nailed it at Hot Air:

It's also important to note that even when journolist was exposed, no members received any professional sanction, despite having disgraced their profession. The closest was Dave Weigel, because he was the most egregious abuses, who lost his position, but a few months later accepted one at an even bigger news outlet.
Three lessons for the Army of Davids:

1. Every scandal needs a Sussman

2. The MSM authority depends on the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect; the thumbnail reminder is a powerful weapon against it.

3. Twitter and other social media can easily turn an Army of Davids into “an Army of ADHD Kids” and a pack of squirrel -chasing canines.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Something to ponder


The survival of civilization in the twentieth century was a near thing. And the perils were greatly exacerbated by unreal thinking within the democratic culture itself. Kierkegaard once said that the most dangerous mental faults are laziness and impatience. Laziness of mind meant unwillingness to face unfamiliar, complex and refractory realities. Impatience led to infatuation with supposedly all-explanatory theories in lieu of thought and judgement.
Robert Conquest
Reflections on a Ravaged Century


Saturday, July 08, 2017

The MSM's problem in a nutshell


Mollie Hemingway:

The New York Times ran an ad campaign claiming, “The truth is more important than ever,” a statement indicating that for the paper the importance of truth was conditional on whether its management agreed with the politician in charge.


Friday, July 07, 2017

Media-fueled hysteria


The Great Day-Care Sexual-Abuse Panic

The blunt fact is that the “satanic” day-care ritual-abuse cases of the 1980s and early ’90s were our contemporary version of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s; and since human nature tends to be immutable, they featured many of the same symptoms across the centuries: mass hysteria, impressionable and unreliable child-witnesses, prosecutorial zeal and abuse, a mob tendency to prey on the hapless and defenseless. The devil in Massachusetts took the form of religious belief in malevolent spirits; in California and in Texas, Illinois, Florida, and elsewhere the frenzy was sanctioned by public credulity, police and judicial misconduct, sensational journalism, and a ritual conviction, among certain therapists, social workers, and polemicists, that children never lie. And as happens when such episodes explode and blight the landscape, they are quickly and efficiently tossed down the memory hole.
Two points worth noting.

1. The media, which is forever rehashing the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, is curiously uninterested in examining this more recent paranoid episode.

2. This is a timely reminder that outrage mobs are dangerous. Once they get going, rational thinking gets tossed aside. When someone starts to gin one up, it is always worthwhile to remember McLuhan's point:

Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.

Related:

They trusted the experts


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Life goes on, even after the Unthinkable happens


Really interesting blog post on what history can teach us:

We all fall down

Most disasters are not absolute. They are real, devastating, and consequential, but they do not wipe the slate clean. Human beings are resilient and are also creatures of habit. You can panic, but you can’t keep panicking, and once you’ve finished, you tend to carry on, because what else is there? The real catastrophes of the West in the past century (world wars, the Spanish flu) have been of this kind: even as the principal imagined one (nuclear war) is of the absolute variety.

We need to learn to be better at imagining serious but non-terminal disasters, the kind which are actually going to hit us. (For a recent cinematic example, the excellent and chilling Contagion.) That way, when we confront such things, we will be less tempted simply to say ‘Game over!’ and to attempt to reboot reality, and will instead try to work out how to deal with real, permanent but not unlimited damage. Plus, doing the work of imagination beforehand may also give us a more prudent attitude to the risks we recklessly run.
Worth remembering Gen. Harold Moore's three lessons of crisis leadership :

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.


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Journalists and Twitter redux


Ain’t no fun when the bunny gets a gun

Farhad Manjoo of the NY Times is having second thoughts about Twitter.

How Twitter Is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation
It’s an interesting read, but much of its interest lies in what it ignores and excuses, not in what it analyzes or indicts.

For instance, Manjoo wants to blame Twitter for elevating the stupid over the serious:

It prizes pundit-ready quips over substantive debate, and it tends to elevate the silly over the serious for several sleepless hours this week it was captivated by “covfefe,” which was essentially a brouhaha over a typo.
What he never mentions is that “serious” news organizations like CNN happily covered the “covfefe” crisis on their news programs. Manjoo really cannot explain why it is Twitter’s fault that CNN wasted time on “a brouhaha over a typo.”

A large part of this article is a sly attempt to excuse and coverup the moral and intellectual failings of professional journalists and established news organizations.

When journalists see a story getting big on Twitter, they consider it a kind of responsibility to cover it, even if the story may be an alternate frame or a conspiracy theory,” said Alice Marwick, who was co-author of a recent report on the mechanics of media manipulation for the Data & Society Research Institute. “That’s because if they don’t, they may get accused of bias.”
Note how neatly this absolves the legacy media. They are forced to cover these stupid Twitter-generated stories because they bend over backwards to avoid even the appearance of bias.

Here’s an alternative explanation that Manjoo conveniently ignores.:

Covering a Twitter-centric story is cheap and easy. The journalist never has to get out of his chair. As such, this content is catnip for penny-pinching editors as well as lazy, ill-informed reporters.

I am a journalist and so am vastly ignorant of many things, but because I am a journalist I write and talk about them all.”--G. K. Chesterton

"A typical reporter on deadline calls a couple of people and slaps something into the paper the next day."--Scott Shane (New York Times reporter)
[Related: Cable news, vox populi, and professional sleaze]

In previous posts I’ve argued that journalists were early adopters of Twitter because it strengthened their control of “explanation space”.

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Why twitter?
The huge BOTS! RUSSIANS!! CONSPIRACY THEORIES!!! freak-out now underway is simply another battle in that war to control the Narrative.

A few years ago Twitter was praised for the way it empowered and energized the Black Lives Matter movement. The MSM was singularly uninterested in the role conspiracy theories played in that movement and the fake facts promulgated to support the favored Narrative (“Hands up. Don’t shoot”)

DeRay McKesson: Leader, Activist, and Unrepentant Conspiracy-Monger
Other curious omissions

Manjoo and his editors cast this piece as an even-handed look at how a technology can be exploited to disseminate lies and misinformation. Oddly enough, he chooses his examples from Trump supporters and the populist Right. Sean Hannnity and Seth Rich get a lot of attention. Louise Mensch, extravagant and misleading claims that “Russians hacked the election“, and flat charges that “Trump committed treason” are largely ignored.

Outside of Twitter in message boards or Facebook groups a group will decide on a particular message to push. Then the deluge begins. Bots flood the network, tweeting and retweeting thousands or hundreds of thousands of messages in support of the story, often accompanied by a branding hashtag #pizzagate, or, a few weeks ago, #sethrich.
If it is mostly bots retweeting bots, just how many people are reading the tweets let alone the underlying stories?

The passage quoted reminded me of something else-- an earlier conspiracy to frame the narrative and shift debate during a presidential election.

Journolist.

In that case, though, journalists and activists were not creating trending hashtags for a small audience on Twitter. Instead, they were injecting them right into the MSM.

And the defenders of truth and honest journalism did not care.

Because, in the end, facts and truth are not a major concern for them. It is simply Narrative Uber Alles.


Saturday, June 03, 2017

Thought for the day



One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
Carl Sagan




Saturday, May 27, 2017

The 100 billion dollar idea


Another interesting point from Ross Anderson:

Back in the early 1990s, for example, if you visited the Microsoft campus in Redmond and you pointed out that something people were working on had a flaw or could be done better, they’d say, “No, we’re going to ship it Tuesday and get it right by version three.” And that’s what everybody said: “Ship it Tuesday. Get it right by version three.” It was the philosophy. IBM and the other established companies were really down on this. They were saying, “These guys at Microsoft are just a bunch of hackers. They don’t know how to write proper software.”

But Bill had understood that in a world where markets tip because of network effects, it’s absolutely all-important to be first. And that’s why Microsoft software is so insecure, and why everything that prevails in the marketplace starts off by being insecure. People race to get that market position, and in the process they made it really easy for people to write software for their platform. They didn’t let boring things like access controls or proper cryptography get in the way.

Once you have the dominant position, you then put the security on later, but you do it in a way that serves your corporate interests rather than the interests of your customers or your users Bill Gate’s most brilliant coup was to export the ethos of a hobbyist sub-culture over to the business and consumer marketplaces.
What other product has customers lining up to pay for something which will almost certainly NOT work at the time of purchase? And when it fails to work expects the customer to assume the initial responsibility for fixing the problem? (Just another example of companies outsourcing labor costs to the customers. See here)

If i buy a hot water heater I have great confidence that it will NOT disable my car’s air bags.* Yet, every time I add a new device to my wireless network or update some piece of software on one of my computers, I fully expect that I will have to trouble-shoot new problems on other devises or with other pieces of software.

*This confidence may no longer be warranted given Anderson’s discussion of the risks of the Internet of Everything. (Here)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The frightening implications of the Internet of Everything


Maybe the most important thing you can read today.

The Threat
A Conversation With Ross Anderson

If you get a safety flaw in a traditional car—say, the A-Class Mercedes, which would roll if you braked and swerved too hard to avoid an elk, they fixed that—they shipped a service pack and changed the steering geometry. Nobody died, so that’s okay. But if you’ve got a flaw that can be exploited remotely over the Internet—if you can reach out and put malware in ten million different Jeeps—then that’s serious stuff. This happened for the first time in public a couple of years ago when a couple of guys drove a Jeep Cherokee off the road. Then the industry started to sit up and pay attention.

That can also be used as a diplomatic weapon. You want sanctions on Zimbabwe? Just stop all the black Mercedes motor cars that Mr. Mugabe hands out to his henchmen as payment. We raised that with the German government. What would your reaction be to an American demand to do that? Well, it was absolute outrage! So diplomacy comes in here.

Conflict also comes in. If I’m, let’s say, the Chinese government, and I’m involved in a standoff with the American government over some islands in the South China Sea, it’s nice if I’ve got things I can threaten to do short of a nuclear exchange.

If I can threaten to cause millions of cars in America to turn right and accelerate sharply into the nearest building, causing the biggest gridlock you’ve ever seen in every American city simultaneously, maybe only killing a few hundred or a few thousand people but totally bringing traffic to a standstill in all American cities—isn’t that an interesting weapon worth developing if you’re the Chinese Armed Forces R&D lab? There’s no doubt that such weapons can be developed.

All of a sudden you start having all sorts of implications. If you’ve got a vulnerability that can be exploited remotely, it can be exploited at scale. We’ve seen this being done by criminals. We’ve seen 200,000 CCTV cameras being taken over remotely by the Mirai botnet in order to bring down Twitter for a few hours. And that’s one guy doing it in order to impress his girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever. Can you imagine what you can do if a nation-state puts its back into it?

All of a sudden safety becomes front and center. And that, in turn, changes the policy debate. At present, the debate about access to keys that we’ve had with Jim Comey’s grumblings in the USA and with our own Investigatory Powers Act here in Britain has been about whether the FBI or the British Security Service should be able to tap your iPhone—for example, by putting malware on it. People might say, “Well, there’s no real harm if the FBI goes and gets a warrant and taps John Gotti’s phone. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.” But if the FBI can crash your car? Do you still want to give the FBI a golden backdoor key to all the computers in the world? Even if it’s kept by the NSA, then the next Snowden maybe doesn’t sell the golden key to The Guardian, maybe he sells it to the Russian FSB.

We suddenly get into a very different policy terrain where the debates over who gets access to whom, and when, and how, and why, are suddenly sharp. It’s not just your privacy that’s on the line anymore, it’s your life.
Call me paranoid, but i could not help but think of the death of Michael Hastings

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In war, #hashtags are no substitute for victory


From Williamson and Millett's A War to Be Won:

Moral righteousness alone does not win battles. Evil causes do not necessarily carry the seeds of their own destruction. Once engaged, even just wars have to be won-- or lost-- on the battlefield.
John Keegan, Intelligence in War:

A wise opinion would be that intelligence, while necessary, is not a sufficient means to victory. Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

The MacArthur enigma


Fresh assessments of one of America’a most controversial generals.

What did the British see?

The author of a recent book on Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke at the Army War College AHEC this month. His book MacArthur at War presents a balanced and nuanced assessment of MacArthur’s WWII campaigns.


At the end of his talk, he was asked a question that has long intrigued me: Why did the British hold MacArthur in such high esteem? (1:00:00 mark)

Field Marshall Alan Brooke, Churchill’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was clear in his assessment. His biographer Arthur Bryant writes that “Brooke regarded MacArthur as the greatest strategists of the war and his campaign in the Southwest Pacific as a masterpiece"

The Field Marshall himself wrote that “I have often wondered since the war how different matters might have been if I had had MacArthur instead of Marshall to deal with. From everything I saw of him I put him down as the greatest general of the last war. He certainly showed a far greater strategic grasp than Marshall”

Maybe, as Borneman theorized, Brooke was just being peevish. Or, maybe MacArthur looked good to him because he was far away while Brooke butted heads with Ike and Marshall and King on a regular basis.

There, are, however, other reasons why Alan Brooke might have reached this conclusion.

1. MacArthur and the British high command were both more attuned to the post-war consequences of wartime strategic decisions. Marshall and his European commanders were very much of the Prussian school: Generals make decisions based on military necessity and then, after the war is won, politicians and diplomats takeover.

Churchill and his generals believed that to draw such a stark dividing line was absurd. The post-war settlement was bound to reflect, in part, the military dispositions at the time of the armistice and the campaigns that led up to it. MacArthur shared this view as shown by his insistence that the Philippines not be by-passed on the road to Tokyo clearly.

To Brooke, this meant that MacArthur grasped alevel of strategy that Marshall and his protégés were oblivious to.

2. MacArthur and his commanders also were more innovative and more willing to adjust their operational plans than the commanders Marshall sent to Europe.

The one marked weakness among the top Allied officers lay in the commander of American ground forces, General Omar Bradley. Bradley was an unimaginative and uninspiring commander, who had already proven to possess a streak of jealousy for subordinates more competent than he was...

Even worse, Bradley, who had no experience with amphibious landings, did not take advice from officers who had seen service in the Pacific. Moreover, he disliked the Navy and was uninterested in their work on fire support and ship to shore movements under enemy fire. At Tarawa the Marines learned that amphibian tractors were worth their weight in gold. Bradley left 300 amtracs in England. Nor did Bradley see the value in the specialized engineering vehicles developed by Gen. Sir Percy Hobart to overcome the extraordinary challenges presented by the German beach defenses

Lacey and Murray, Moment of Battle
When Operation COBRA smashed the German defenses in Normandy, Bradley and Eisenhower were slow to recognize the great opportunity in front of them. They held fast to the existing plans and timetables even as an epic opportunity was in their grasp.

MacArthur’s forces, in contrast, revised plans on the fly to take advantages of opportunities when they presented themselves. (The capture of Hollandia, which Borneman cites as perhaps MacArthur’s greatest triumph, is just one example of this opportunistic improvisation).

2 (a) The Brits and MacArthur shared a blindspot. They both had a tenuous grasp of the industrial planning that was required for the type of war America waged in WWII.

The British Chiefs, especially Sir Alan Brooke, never could seem to understand why the Americans had to have commitments well in advance. They accused us of being rigid and inflexible, not realizing the terrific job of procurement, shipbuilding, troop training and supply necessary to place a million and a half troops in England, with armor, tanks and troop-lift, ready to invade the Continent.

S. E. Morison


Friday, May 05, 2017

Making strategy in the real world


Williamson Murray:

Several general points about the making of strategy bear repeating. The first is that those involved, whether statesmen or military leaders, live in a world of incomplete information. They do not know, in most cases, the strategic intentions and purposes of other powers, except in the most general sense, and their knowledge of their own side is often deficient. Second, circumstances often force them to work under the most intense pressures. When a crisis occurs they have little time for reflection. As a result they often focus on narrow issues without looking at large long-term choices; in other words, they will see some of the trees but miss the forest. Few can express their ideas in a logical or through fashion, either on paper or face to face. Most merely react to events rather than mold them to their purposes. Like politics, strategy is the art of the possible, but few can discern what is possible.
Henry Kissinger:

Any statesman is in part the prisoner of necessity. He is confronted with an environment he did not create, and is shaped by a personal history he can no longer change. It is an illusion to believe that leaders gain in profundity while they gain experience. As I have said, the convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstances.
Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary in the decade before World War One:

A minister beset with the administrative work of a great office must often be astounded to read of the carefully laid plans, the deep, unrealed motives that critics and admirers attribute to him. Onlookers free from responsibility have time to invent, and they attribute to Ministers many things that Ministers have no time to invent for themselves, even if they are clever enough to be able to do it. If all secrets were known it would probably be found that British Foreign Ministers have been guided by what seemed to them to be the immediate interest of this country without making elaborate calculations for the future.
John Lewis Gaddis:

[Political scientist Alexander] George has suggested that there exists, for political leaders, something he calls an 'operational code'-a set of assumptions about the world, formed early in one's career, that tend to govern without much subsequent variations the way one responds to crises afterwards.
Field-Marshal Earl Wavell

Now for his mental qualities. The most important is what the French call le sens du praticable, and we call common sense, knowledge of what is and what is not possible. It must be based on a really sound knowledge of the "mechanism of war", i.e. topography, movement, and supply. These are the real foundations of military knowledge, not strategy and tactics as most people think. It is the lack of this knowledge of the principles and practice of military movement and administration-the "logistics" of war, some people call it-which puts what we call amateur strategists wrong, not the principles of strategy themselves, which can be apprehended in a very short time by any reasonable intelligence.
...
Unfortunately, in most military books strategy and tactics are emphasised at the expense of the administrative factors. For instance, there are ten military students who can tell you how Blenheim was won for one who has any knowledge at all of the administrative preparations that made the march to Blenheim possible.
Samuel Eliot Morison::

The British Chiefs, especially Sir Alan Brooke, never could seem to understand why the Americans had to have commitments well in advance. They accused us of being rigid and inflexible, not realizing the terrific job of procurement, shipbuilding, troop training and supply necessary to place a million and a half troops in England, with armor, tanks and troop-lift, ready to invade the Continent.



Thursday, May 04, 2017

"Irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas"


This warning from Lionel Trilling (written in 1950) is even more relevant today:

When we say that a movement is 'bankrupt of ideas' we are likely to suppose that it is at the end of its powers. But this is not so, and it is dangerous for us to suppose that it is so, as the experience of of Europe in the last quarter-century suggests, for in the modern situation it is just when a movement despairs of having ideas that it turns to force, which it masks in ideology.
Although i guess it should be updated. Maybe something like this:

When a movement despairs of having ideas that it turns to force, which it masks in ideology and #hashtags
Walker Percy:

Ideological words have a way of wearing thin and then, having lost their meanings, being used like switchblades against the enemy of the moment.



Wednesday, May 03, 2017

On Andrew Jackson


Robert Remini:

There was a time when the United States had heroes and reveled in them. There was a time when Andrew Jackson was one of those heroes, along with the men and women who stood with him at New Orleans and drove an invading British army back into the sea.
...
Americans in the first half of the nineteenth century did believe that January 8 would be remembered like July 4-- both dates representing the nation's first and second declaration of independence from Great Britain. Indeed some called the War of 1812 the Second War for Independence. Generally speaking, widespread observance of January 8 as a day of national celebration continued for the next fifty years.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Reconsidering "Anti-intellectualism in American Life"


On Richard Hofstadter: Part Two


i

Anti-intellectalism in American Life (AIiAL) may be Hofstadter's most famous work. It is especially popular with pundits who love to name-check the book when they disparage the sort people who vote for Trump and Brexit.

The book may have appeared in the 1960s but its origin story goes back to 1952. Hofstadter was not just disappointed in the victory of Dwight Eisenhower, he was traumatized. He went so Madly for Adlai that he saw the election result in stark, apocalyptic terms:

a repudiation by plebiscite of American intellectuals and of intellect itself.

The campaign of 1952 dramatized the contrast between intellect and philistinism in the opposing candidates. On one side was Adlai Stevenson, a politician of uncommon mind and style, whose appeal to intellectuals overshadowed anything in recent history. On the other was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Conventional in mind, relatively inarticulate, harnessed to the unpalatable Nixon.

Eisenhower's decisive victory was taken both by the intellectuals themselves and by their critics as a measure of their repudiation by America.
According to Sam Tannenhaus, the 1952 election gave Hofstatdter his central thesis for AIiAL:

The fundamental division within America was not between Democrats and Republicans, nor between liberals and conservatives, but between clear-eyed intellectuals and benighted philistines, between the rational elite and the impassioned mob.
Hofstadter's reaction to Ike's victory epitomizes the most egregious blunders and blindspots of the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot when they write about most things intellectual.

1. They really aren't very good at identifying intelligence in other people.
2. The I-Y-Is are seduced by style and self-referential biases.
3. Moral outrage is never far below the surface of their detached dispassionate analysis.

As of consequence…..

4 (a) They over-value the capabilities of people who talk and act like them and who share their political views
4 (b) They are blind to the abilities of those who are not like them or who disagree with them. They cannot believe that 'those people' act in good faith or have valid arguments or intellectual heft.
ii

For Hofstadter, the 1952 election was a titanic struggle between the Army of Intellect and the Forces of Ignorance.

Representing Intellect was a New Deal lawyer who became a governor thanks to the Cook County Democratic machine. Everyone knew he was brilliant because he gave witty speeches and made self-decrecating jokes. Arrayed against this Hero of the Intellectuals was the man who commanded:

1. The largest army in US history.
2. The most complex and high-stakes military operation in history.
3. The most successful wartime coalition since Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession.
It was this absurd false dichotomy - smart Adlai and dumb Ike - that was the genesis for AIiAL.

Stevenson knew how to sprinkle aphorisms and wry observations into his speeches. Adlai the politician was a lot like Hofstadter the historian. But that wasn't the only reason Hofstadter was moved to political activism during the campaign. In 1952 he was pro-Stevenson because he was convinced that the survival of liberalism depended on defeating Eisenhower. And for him the survival of liberalism was synonymous with the survival of America.

Over the next ten years the names changed but the melodramatic struggle remained central to Hofstadter's narrative. Leftwing politics morphed into Intellect; Ike's brand of moderate Republicanism became Ignorance and Resentment.

What remained constant was that Richard Hofstadter and people like him were always the heroes in the stories Richard Hofstadter wrote.

And who could contest that narrative? Hofstadter was a celebrated historian and esteemed public intellectual. He was the expert's expert. Only a budding Know Nothing would be so gauche as to question his dicta.

Not to mention-his narrative was useful to the IYIs in the press and academia. It is always easier to name-check Hofstadter than to formulate coherent arguments. It takes a lot of energy, intelligence, and integrity to rebut an opponent in the manner of St. Thomas Aquinas. It is child's play to toss around "paranoid style" and "anti-intellectualism."

Related:

Richard Hofstadter: The I-Y-I's intellectual for all seasons

Half-blind experts and the straw men they create


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nixon's the One


This speech by Ben Stein at the Nixon Library is well worth watching. Stein has always been a defender of RN and here he gives a passionate, full-throated defense of the man and his presidency.


Two especially interesting points in this speech. 1. Stein defends RN against the accusations of anti-Semitism. 2.) He has an interesting theory about the role sadism played in the attacks on Nixon.

Also interesting is this talk by Geoff Shepard on how the Watergate investigation went off the rails.


Related:

Watergate and history



Friday, April 21, 2017

Poets and Kommissars


Chekisty and poets were drawn to each other like stoats and rabbits-- often with fatal consequences for the latter. They found common ground: the need for fame, an image of themselves as crusaders, creative frustration, membership of a vanguard, scorn for the bourgeoisie, an inability to discuss their work with common mortals. There was an easily bridged gap between between the symbolist poet who aimed to epater le bourgeois and the checkist who stood the bourgeois up against the wall.
Donald Rayfield

Auden was not eccentric. The poets of the thirties were intoxicated with the idea of violence. You could not be sincere unless you were prepared to have blood on your hands. For Day Lewis it was the hour of the knife, for Spender light was to be brought to life by bringing death to the age-long exploiters. 'We're much ruder,' boasted Day Lewis writing to his scavenger press baron, 'and we're learning to shoot.'
Noel Annan



First, last, and always, the real politics of Bloomsbury was a search for elite cultural power in England.
Stephen Koch

Civil liberties, shit. Are you with us or are you against us.
Ernest Hemingway to John Dos Passos


Thursday, April 20, 2017


"If I find you doing something, I will help you, but if I find you doing nothing, only God will help you."
Gen. George C. Marshall


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rejoice! He is risen!


Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12


Friday, April 14, 2017

"Wood and nails and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.


God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs
.