Thursday, October 04, 2018

Psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience

Frederick Crews, Follies of the Wise:

In a word, then, Freud had launched a pseudoscience-- that is, a nominally scientific enterprise that is so faulty at the core that it cannot afford to submit its hypotheses for unsparing peer review by the wider community, but must resort to provisos that forestall any possibility of refutation.. And despite some well-intentioned efforts at reform, a pseudoscience is what psychoanalysis has remained.
And this seems especially relevant today:

The potential for mass havoc from 'memory' - based accusations is thus no smaller today than it was in the seventeenth century. In fact, it is incomparably greater, thanks to the power of our sensation-seeking media to spread the illness instantaneously from one town or region to another.

Don’t confuse us with the facts

We owe Salem an apology

They trusted the experts

You can't expect much history in "historical dramas" when SJWs are in charge.

A proper old-fashioned stinker: ITV’s The Bletchley Circle – San Francisco reviewed

After just one episode, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (ITV, Wednesday) seems certain to stand out from the crowd. In an age when most television dramas range from the perfectly fine to the extremely good, it already looks like a proper old-fashioned stinker.

Admittedly, one of its more obvious problems is bang up-to-date: by adhering so spinelessly to the mantra of ‘women and black people good, white men bad’, the programme not only creates an overwhelmingly dreary sense of déjà vu, it also deprives itself of any possibility of genuine dramatic tension. But there are plenty of more traditional flaws too, including such classics as wooden dialogue, leaden humour and a plot of impressively po-faced preposterousness.
I watched the first two seasons of "The Bletchley Circle" and tried the third season on BritBox. I could not get past the first episode for all the reasons outlined in the article.


As their Weemsy takes them

"... who controls the present controls the past."

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

A new book on an almost forgotten economist

Undeservedly forgotten I might add.

Great review here:

The Virtues of the Market: Wilhelm Röpke as a Cultural Economist

More than other economists Röpke was willing to engage fully with the cultural dimension (and the religious dimension about which this book is curiously silent) of liberalism and markets. This meant that he was skeptical that liberal institutions had much of a chance in the absence of bourgeois and Christian culture. An unpopular point to make also in his day and age, and one that did not sit easily with his liberal universalism, but a point hard to ignore after Western attempts to spread democracy and markets which have invariably run into serious trouble.
This makes me think that Ropke might be just the economist we need in the Age of Amazon, Google, and the SJW nomenklatura.

With sympathies for both (European) political integration and a high degree of federalism. It makes him an original critic of monopolies: they are bad not only because they harm consumers, but also because they represent an unhealthy degree of concentration in the economy, with harmful social and cultural effects. He favored the small firm, exemplified by the independent farmer and artisan. It was an economic structure which he found in Switzerland, where he lived the latter half of his life, from 1937 to his passing in 1966.
Perhaps in theory, as in practice, Switzerland is better than Chicago.

"Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies"

Revisiting the 2008 Financial Crash

What Have We Learned Since Bagehot?

Ben Bernanke told an attentive Brookings Institution audience earlier this month, that, after he became chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, in 2006, “Literally one of the first things I did was to ask the staff to give me the handbook or what you do in the case of a financial crisis, and they provided me a little notebook, typed on a manual typewriter and mimeographed, about four pages in it, and it said, ‘Open the discount window.’ And that was about it…. Tim Geithner had a similar experience at the New York Fed, and so we went into one of the complicated and consequential crises in human history with very little in the way of playbook for thinking about how to address the crisis.”

Coping with a VUCA world

A catastrophic failure of imagination

What was the Fed thinking in the summer of 2008?

It's a shame that we don't have any way to prepare for dealing with crises and unexpected events.

Wargames and crisis management

“Wargaming in the Classroom”

Military Schools and Business Education

Strategy and Execution: Business and the Military

Monday, October 01, 2018

The ultimate in victim-blaming

When your movie turns the murder victims into the bad guys.

‘Lizzie’ Celebrates Murder As Feminist Empowerment

The film is designed to celebrate Borden’s 18 axe blows to her stepmother and the 10 or 11 to her father as feminist empowerment. For this to work, the film-makers follow the time-honored tradition of making the villain of the piece, her father, so detestable that any violence done to him, no matter how savage, is justified.
“Lizzie” is pitched to the politically correct crowd, with their views that murder is justified if it is committed by the oppressed. To do this, the film departs from key facts.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A man to remember

The same officer who supervised the miraculous evacuation of the British Army at Dunkirk was also the officer responsible for deploying the Mulberry Harbors at Normandy and laying the cross-Channel PLUTO pipeline.*

Meet Captain William Tennant

There is a poetic symetry to his career. Grit and determination in the dark days of the war. Perseverence in the face of defeat.. And, after four years of trials, he gets to make an outsized contribution to victory .

As Professor David Gelernter wrote:

History is inspiring. Bravery is inspiring. It is shameful we no longer teach this to our children.
* I wrote about the critical role the Mulberries played in the defeat of the Wehrmacht here:

"If we can’t capture a port, we must take one with us.”

Friday, September 28, 2018

One more reason it is OK to distrust advice from academic experts

Why much of academic business research remains irrelevant for business

Much of the evidence we gathered suggests that academic research is largely self-referential because the system of prestige, funding allocation and career progression remains largely centred on notions of scholarly impact related to publications. To put it bluntly, authors are faced with two options: undertaking socially impactful research (i.e. research that solves critical problems for businesses, governments or civil society organisations) or writing academically impactful publications (i.e. based on research that fits into popular academic debates and is likely to be cited by those engaged in those debates). The latter option merely requires a thorough knowledge of the literature. By contrast, the first option requires a good understanding of practical problems; some connections with non-academic organisations; and often the time, ability and desire to negotiate and manage long-term research collaborations that may or may not result in four-star publications. It may well be, as Catherine Durose has argued previously, that “some commentators see academic practice as a refuge from engagement”, but for many others the return on investment simply does not stack up.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Speaking of hard-boiled detectives

Max Allan Collins:

Mickey Spillane at 100

This was something entirely new in mystery fiction, and Spillane quickly became the most popular—and controversial—mystery writer of the mid twentieth century. In addition to creating an eye-for-an-eye hero, the writer brought a new level of sex and violence to the genre. He was called a fascist by left-leaning critics and a libertine by right-leaning ones. In between were millions of readers who turned Spillane’s first six Hammer novels into the bestselling private eye novels of all time.
Mike Hammer paved the way for James Bond and every tough action P.I., cop, lone avenger, and government agent who followed, from Shaft to Billy Jack, from Dirty Harry to Jack Bauer. The latest Hammer-style heroes include an unlikely one—the vengeance-driven young woman of the Dragon Tattoo trilogy—as well as a more obvious descendent, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.

So long, pal. Mickey Spillane, RIP

Friday, September 21, 2018

Hard-boiled versus cozy mysteries

Jay Catherman:

In a cozy mystery novel, you have an amateur sleuth standing over a neatly laid out corpse, with a cat sleeping on the mantel, and water on the boil for tea.

In a hard-boiled mystery novel, the detective is some sort of professional sleuth, the mutilated corpse is hanging from the fireplace and the cat is boiling in the kettle.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Battle of Britain

During the long, hot summer of 1940, over the wheat fields and orchards of Kent and Sussex, strategic theory encountered logistical and organizational reality. It was not just the emotion-charged images -- of aircraft's vapor trails entangled across a clear blue sky, of St. Paul's Cathedral standing out above the flames, of Churchill visiting the bombed-out houses of Londoners -- that counted. The struggle also consolidated the resolve of the British to soldier on, and had enormous effects upon foreign opinion abroad, especially in neutral America. Strategically, it was also the first time the Nazi juggernaut had been checked.
Paul Kennedy,
Engineers of Victory


Six weeks that saved the world

The forgotten man who saved the world

Field Marshal Dowding's verdict on the Battle of Britain

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Remember General Stanley McChrystal?

General McChrystal’s military career ended after Michael Hastings revealed that his staff was contemptuous of many leading figures in the Obama Administration. All right thinking Journolisters agreed that no healthy republic could tolerate this challenge to the duly elected President.

Now we see the legacy press and the Beltway punditcracy celebrating career bureaucrats working to thwart President Trump. Somehow, mocking Joe Biden a threat to our democracy, but bureaucrats actively working trying to overthrow an election is just fine.

"Senior Administration Official" Admits There's a Deep State in the White House "Thwarting" Trump
One could draw the same contrast between Gen. David Petraeus and James Comey. Both mishandled sensitive information. Only one faced criminal penalties; the other became a hero to the MSM for breaking his oath.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Patrick Blackett and the innovation trap

When the search for technological breakthroughs is nothing more than way to avoid hard work and difficult choices.

Patrick Blackett was not a congregant in the Church of the Next New Thing. In 1941 he warned Britain’s war leaders against a pernicious form of Magical thinking:

"New weapons for old" is apt to become a very popular cry. The success of some new devices has led to a new form of escapism which runs somewhat thus-- "Our present equipment doesn't work very well; training is bad, supply is poor, spare parts non-existent. let's have an entirely new gadget!" ... In general, one might conclude that relatively too much scientific effort has been expended hitherto in the production of new devices and too little in the proper use of what we have got.
This is a remarkable assessment from a man whose work as an experimental physicist earned him a Nobel Prize.

It also has the advantage of being true.

The search for “breakthrough innovations” is often an expensive way to avoid dealing with difficulties in the here and now: A charade that wastes time and money with no chance for a payoff.

It is appealing to think that a few brilliant people can come up with an idea that will save an organization. (How did that work out for Xerox?) It is even more tempting to think that such an idea can come from a random collection of people using the latest fad for idea generation.

After reviewing the successes and failures of military innovation between the world wars, Allan Millett came to this conclusion:

The key to technological exploitation became not so much the revolutionary character of inventions and processes, but creation of a management and logistical system that made the application of technological advantage possible.
Simply put, the greatest technical breakthroughs in the world cannot overcome organizational weaknesses in strategy, doctrine, management, or logistics.


Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable (Part Two)

Conquest's Law

That vision thing

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Speaking of Gen. Marshall

Two paradoxes.

A career staff officer and educator, with only a few months of wartime experience, he had deep insights into the qualities needed by commanders at a time of revolutionary change in military affairs.

He was a man renowned for his taciturn demeanor and refusal to seek the spotlight. Yet, he gave us a treasure trove of pithy sayings and useful anecdotes.

Take this one which relates directly to the previous post:

Don’t fight the problem, decide it.
There is a lot of wisdom in each half of this statement. “Fighting” a problem is a terrible temptation. Facing up to disagreeable facts is hard; it is easy to convince yourself that maybe things are not so dire. Maybe there is a way to avoid hard choices.

In addition, fighting the problem nitpicking the data, asking for more analysis, ‘waiting for the situation to become clearer” is also a good way to avoid taking responsibility for a tough decision while giving the illusion of action and diligence.

Note, also, that Marshall did not say “solve the problem”. This is the trap that many smart people fall into. Rather than choosing a messy, imperfect solution, they delay decision, (and hence, action) in an endless search for the clean, elegant solution.

Before anyone had heard of the OODA loop, Marshall understood that in the modern world speed of decision was a key success factor.

And this is where we close the loop back to Blackett’s advice. Silence is often the greatest contribution someone can make when the speed of decision and a bias for action are what matters.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

An expert’s advice to experts about giving advice

Patrick Blackett won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1948. During World War Two he played a large role in Britain’s victory in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. Yet Blackett did not invent new weapons nor was he a major part of the Manhattan project where most of the great physicists ended up.

As head of “Blackett’s Circus” he brought the systematic thinking at the heart of the scientific method to the knotty problems of military strategy and operations. His work is often credited with creating modern Operations Research. Blackett thought that men like himself could “encourage the use of numerical thinking in operational matters and so [could] help to avoid the running of the war on gusts of emotion.”

One of Churchill’s strengths as a war leader was his willingness (eagerness?) to force the military services to give scientific experts a hearing. During the crucial meetings on the Blitz and the U-boat war, men like Blackett and Lord Cherwell were in the room --- and as more than silent observers.

Blackett, for his part, was neither self-effacing nor devoid of opinions. Yet, he promoted reticence as a virtue for experts who did not bear the burden of command. As he put it:

His job is to improve matters if he can, and if he cannot, to say nothing.
Blackett’s advice shows that he understood the difference between the roles of the executive and the advisor. The intellectual, the expert, the pundit, lives in a world where debate is a job requirement, elegant complexity is valued over crude simplicity, and where time may be a scarce commodity but it is rarely a critical factor. The statesman and the military commander operate in a much different universe. As Henry Kissinger wrote in Diplomacy:

The responsibility of statesmen … is to resolve complexity rather than to contemplate it
Recall Gen. George Marshall’s lament to Eisenhower in the dark days after Pearl Harbor:

Eisenhower, the Department is filled with able men who analyze the problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Novelists and Rosenhan

Charles Dickens:

[The police] took up several obviously wrong people, and they ran their heads very hard against wrong ideas, and persisted in trying to fit the circumstances to the ideas, instead of trying to extract idea from the circumstances.
Great Expectations
Arthur Conan Doyle

The trouble, however, with all police prosecutions is that, having once got what they imagine to be their man, they are not very open to any line of investigation which might lead to other conclusions. Everything that will not fit into the official theory is liable to be excluded.
The Case of Oscar Slater

Criminal justice and the Rosenhan Experiment

Rosenhan revisited: The persistence of error and the impotence of facts

Rosenhan redux

Revisiting the Hanssen case

Rosenhan revisited, again

They trusted the experts

Friday, August 24, 2018

Factcheck: True

'Well, you have a point there,' grunted the rewrite man. 'I've been reading the stories those buzzards are filing, and it occurs to me that there is no more vicious bigot than a city intellectual contemplating someone to whom he feels intellectually or morally superior.'
Sharyn McCrumb, The Devil Amongst the Lawyers

Thursday, August 23, 2018

They still don't get it

Or maybe they do and just don't dare admit it

Interesting review by Nick Carr of a revealing new book-Trump and the Media

Media democratization and the rise of Trump

If there is a way out of the crisis, it may lie in Fred Turner's critical reexamination of past assumptions about the structure and influence of media. Just as we failed to see that democratization could subvert democracy, we may have overlooked the strengths of the mass-media news organization in protecting democracy. Professional gatekeepers have their flaws - they can narrow the range of views presented to the public, and they can stifle voices that should be heard - yet through the exercise of their professionalism they also temper the uglier tendencies of human nature. They make it less likely that ignorance, gullibility, and prejudice will poison our conversations and warp our politics.
Note-The "crisis" is the fact that Hillary Clinton was not allowed to become president.

When a journalist talks about "democracy" what they really mean is "mediated democracy" where Deciders and Experts carefully "curate" the choices put before the public.

PowerLine, where I first found the term, captures the essence of "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.
(For journalists and academics to speak of Democracy when they really mean this bastardized version is truly Orwellian. Fascists and Stalinists can readily accept the form while arguing about where to draw the line between acceptable and forbidden opinion. A true democrat like G. K. Chesterton would laugh the writers right out of the room.)

Journalists and academics think democracy is in crisis because the voters - darn them - bypassed the Mediators and neutered the Deciders.

Here's a key point that undercuts the "Russia hacked the election" hysteria that has seized hold of the minds of Journalistic Deciders and Mediating Experts:

Keith N. Hampton, of Michigan State University, finds "no evidence" that any of the widely acknowledged malignancies of social media, from fake news to filter bubbles, "worked in favor of a particular presidential candidate." Drawing on exit polls, he shows that most demographic groups voted pretty much the same in 2016 as they had in the Obama-Romney race of 2012. The one group that exhibited a large and possibly decisive shift from the Democratic to the Republican candidate were white voters without college degrees. Yet these voters, surveys reveal, are also the least likely to spend a lot of time online or to be active on social media. It's unfair to blame Twitter or Facebook for Trump's victory, Hampton suggests, if the swing voters weren't on Twitter or Facebook.
This is something the MSM probably hopes we forget:

Trump's Twitter account may have been monitored by only a small portion of the public, but it was followed, religiously, by journalists, pundits, and politicos. The novelty and frequent abrasiveness of the tweets - they broke all the rules of decorum for presidential campaigns - mesmerized the chattering class throughout the primaries and the general election campaign, fueling a frenzy of retweets, replies, and hashtags. Social media's biggest echo chamber turned out to be the traditional media elite.

Journalists and Twitter redux

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Why Twitter?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Digital isolation and inadvertent anonymity

In I Murdered My Library, Linda Grant recounts her experience downsizing her living space and the resulting massive reduction in her home library. A lifelong reader, journalist, and novelist she had spent decades collecting books. (As every reader knows, books are always collected, never “hoarded”.) Now she faced the the melancholy task of disposing of most of her library.

According to Vincent Starrett “when we are collecting books, we are collecting happiness.” For book lovers, the act of shrinking a library is, in some sense, to deplete one’s happiness treasury. For Grant, this personal sense of loss is coupled with the literary professional’s larger concern that fewer and fewer people share her love for books while a growing segment of the population actively hates them

Estate agents do not think that books furnish a room books make rooms look messy. Books’ multi-coloured spines muddle and muddy the Farrow & Ball neutral paint colours, the Ammonite and Hardwick White and Savage Ground. They completely destroy the impact of the accent wall.

[Books] are the detritus not just of the digital revolution but of disposable living and small houses.
Thanks to technology, Grant can shrink the space devoted to her library while retaining many of her favorite titles. At first, like most of us, the ebook is a thrilling, liberating marvel.

As I began to buy more ebooks, I felt a sense of surprise and delight and wonder that I could carry around a library in my pocket.
Over time, however, she discovers that even great New Things have limitations and pitfalls. Some are obvious and quickly encountered. Books may be the ultimate “always on” technology; Kindles, not so much:

I’m going to hell, a hell in which eternity is a Kindle with a dead battery.
There are other, subtler effects of a pocket-sized library:

I experienced the sense that I was making my library partly invisible.
As most readers know, this is no minor thing:

Michael Dirda:

Books don’t just furnish a room. A personal library is reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much more you’d like to know. When I was growing up, there used to be an impressive librarian’s guide entitled Living with Books. I think that’s the right idea. Digital texts are all well and good, but books on shelves are a presence in your life. As such, they become a part of your day-to-day existence, reminding you, chastising you, calling to you.
Umberto Eco:

The contents of someone's bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.
Edith Nesbit

There is no bond like having read and liked the same books.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

V. S. Naipal

As is often the case, the most interesting discussion is over at Steve Sailer’s.

I’ve not read much of his work, but even a small dose was enough to convince me that Naipaul, like Tom Wolfe, was that most fearsome of men the intelligent outsider who notices things. And, again like Wolfe, he was not afraid to point out absurdities and pretensions when they came to his attention.

Wolfe had Leonard Bernstein, the Black Panthers, and Radical Chic. Naipaul had Michael X aka Michael Abdul Malik aka Michael de Frietas: Hustler, criminal, pimp, revolutionary, cult leader, murderer.

Michael X knew a good hustle when he found one and he pounced like the good predator he was:

At every stage of his career he was supported by some kind of jargon and could refer his actions to some kind of revolutionary ideal.
Naipaul is actually more interested in his enablers and Michael X had many. The Observer praised him as an “authentic voice of black bitterness”. John Lennon visited his commune in Trinadad and would go on to pay for his defense attorney, William Kunstler. The “Save Michael X” movement drew in the usual suspects like Angela Davis, Dick Gregory, and Kate Millet.

Naipaul is unsparing in his assessment of these frivolous people playacting with degenerate ideas :

That section of the middle class that knows only that it is secure, has no views, only reflexes and scattered irritations, and sometimes indulges in play: the people who keep up with 'revolution' as with the theater.
Those who continue to simplify the world and reduce other men … to a cause, the people who substitute doctrine for knowledge and irritation for concern, the revolutionaries who visit centers of revolution with return air tickets, the hippies, the people who wish themselves on societies more fragile than their own, all those people who in the end do no more than celebrate their own security.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thought for the day

Photographers hate to be photographed. Surgeons require nearly twice the amount of anesthesia ordinary patients require to undergo surgery. Journalists are the least receptive to professional scrutiny by their colleagues.

Renata Adler
Gone: the Last Days of the New Yorker

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A less bleak view of the future of the newspaper

David Warsh has been an astute observer/explainer of the news business for decades. I've learned a great deal from reading his columns (for instance, the concept of "explanation space" is his).

So this is well worth pondering:

The Future of Reliable News

The biggest and best newspapers have survived and begun to prosper again, albeit in a low-key way, precisely because advertisers pay much more to reach readers of print than for fleeting digital impressions before online readers. I don’t see proprietary numbers, and newspapers shape and guard fairly carefully what information they release. But there is more reason than ever to think that healthy print circulation is the basis of a strong digital business.
He may well be right.

Then again....

MSM: Shrinking Audience, Leftward Drift

A badge of honor, but maybe not the best business model

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The past is prologue

Politicized intelligence and the drums of war

Musings II … The “Intelligence Community,” “Russian Interference,” and Due Diligence
If even half of this post by Amb. Jack Matlock is true, it is a severe indictment of Clapper, Brennan and Comey.

In fact, the report was prepared by a group of analysts from the three agencies pre-selected by their directors, with the selection process generally overseen by James Clapper, then Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper told the Senate in testimony May 8, 2017, that it was prepared by “two dozen or so analysts—hand-picked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies.” If you can hand-pick the analysts, you can hand-pick the conclusions. The analysts selected would have understood what Director Clapper wanted since he made no secret of his views. Why would they endanger their careers by not delivering?

What should have struck any congressperson or reporter was that the procedure Clapper followed was the same as that used in 2003 to produce the report falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had retained stocks of weapons of mass destruction. That should be worrisome enough to inspire questions, but that is not the only anomaly.
He pulls no punches in his conclusion:

Prominent American journalists and politicians seized upon this shabby, politically motivated, report as proof of “Russian interference” in the U.S. election without even the pretense of due diligence. They have objectively acted as co-conspirators in an effort to block any improvement in relations with Russia, even though cooperation with Russia to deal with common dangers is vital to both countries.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


A little background from the author:

News Values

A vitally important piece of the history of US/Russian relations is just being memory-holed. I hope many people read this book.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Respected editor (NY Times alum) both defends and condemns doxxing

Is she too stupid to understand simple words and concepts?

Does she really think she lives in a quasi-feudal system where her class has special privileges?

Or is she a thorough-going SJW who thinks impartial rules need to be replaced with Lenin's "Who-whom"?

Yes, the HuffPo is a sleazy left-wing click-bait site. But:

1. It is a Popular click-bait site and it is not treated as sleazy by the MSM guild.

2. It's editor-in-chief is a former reporter and editor at the New York Times. Which may tell us something about the ethics/ideology of the Times.

3. It is owned by Verizon. It is not a fly-by-night operation.

Monday, June 04, 2018

The Brooks-Sailer boundary

How the Deciders decide what you should read:

This explains why David Brooks writes for the New York Times and Steve Sailer does not

William Rusher to William F. Buckley:

I recently read somewhere a little homily to the effect that if a person makes us think we're thinking, we love him; but if he he makes us think, we hate him. Take your choice-- and then make up your mind to take the consequences.

Why the Times editors like David Brooks:

In 2003, Brooks got a call from New York Times editorial-page editor Gail Collins inviting him to lunch. Collins was looking for a conservative to replace outgoing columnist William Safire, but one who understood how liberals think. “I was looking for the kind of conservative writer that wouldn’t make our readers shriek and throw the paper out the window,” says Collins. “He was perfect.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

More Tom Wolfe

This is from the commencement address at Boston University he delivered in 2000.

It has one of the best dissections of modern intellectuals you will ever read:

It's the fact that we live in an age in which ideas, important ideas, are worn like articles of fashion - and for precisely the same reason articles of fashion are worn, which is to make the wearer look better and to feel à la mode.

Now, we must be careful to make a distinction between the intellectual and the person of intellectual achievement. The two are very very different animals. There are people of intellectual achievement, who increase the sum of human knowledge, the powers of human insight, and analysis. And then there are the intellectuals. An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others.

If you become indignant, this elevates you to the plane of "intellectual." No mental activity is required. It is a rule, to which there has never been an exception, that when an actor or a television performer rises up to the microphone at one of these awards ceremonies and expresses moral indignation over something, he illustrates Marshall McLuhan's dictum that "moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity."
I also liked this:

This university has been a shining lighthouse of independent thought and of liberal democracy in the classical meaning of "liberal" as John Silber has so wonderfully defined it over the years. I choose the image of a lighthouse very carefully, John and Jon, because lighthouses are built to stand alone and to bear the brunt of the storm, no matter what that storm may be.
We cannot all be geniuses like Tom Wolfe. But we can strive to be lighthouses.


Tom Wolfe, RIP

What a difference a year makes

The mark of a great editor


Virginia Woolf: Nietzsche on the fainting couch

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Kaus-Reynolds Paradox

Instapundit had a good question after the Parkland school shooting:

Looking for 'solutions' to mass killings? Start with punishing failure.

Law enforcement keeps failing, and people keep dying. Where are the consequences? Where is the accountability?

And yet these repeated failures among others keep getting swept under the rug as we look for “solutions” to the problem of violence.
“Accountability” for government died in the fires of Waco.

Mickey Kaus was really on point on this at the time.

Am I alone in thinking there's something perverse, even a bit obscene about the current lionization of Attorney General Janet Reno?

She made a disastrous decision that resulted in the loss of more than 70 lives. Then she accepted ''responsibility.'' In a bizarre bit of political alchemy, this somehow protected her from suffering any of the consequences that normally attend disastrously handled responsibilities. Far from restoring accountability, Reno seems to have hit on the formula for avoiding it. Make a dreadful mistake? Go immediately on "Nightline." Say the buck stops with you. Recount in moving human terms the agony of your decision. And watch your polls rise. Truman plus Donahue equals Absolution.
Over and over we see the Kaus-Reynolds paradox play out:

1. A government agency fails.

2. When it finally ‘fesses up, the failure is immediately consigned to the memory hole.

3. The consequences of its failure are then used as a justification for giving that agency more power over ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with the failed policies and botched operations.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wargames that really mattered

Good article article on the role wargaming played in the Royal Navy's anti-Uboat campaign.

Wargaming the Atlantic War (.pdf)
After Hitler lost the Battle of Britain, the Atlantic Campaign was his only real hope to force Great Britain out of the war.

The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.... Our lifeline, even across the broad oceans and especially in the entrances to the island was endangered. I was even more anxious about this battle than I had been about the glorious air fight called the Battle of Britain....

So we poised and pondered together on this problem. It did not take the form of flaring battles and glittering achievements. It manifested itself through statistics, diagrams, and curves unknown to the nation, incomprehensible to the public.
Winston Churchill,
Their Finest Hour
The Royal Navy did a remarkable job exploiting wargaming in this case. The combined games and after action reports from combat to solve problems and improved doctrine and tactics while the campaign was raging.

I also had no idea that the Women's Reserve Naval Service played such a critical role.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Understanding MAGA and Trumpland

This is one of the best discussions of Trump and his appeal that I've read. From Charles Kesler and the Claremont Review of Books:


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tom Wolfe, RIP

I still stand by this from 2006:

The Great American Novelists

Missing from the list is Tom Wolfe. That is no surprise. 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.

So we were wrong. We are sorry, I guess. But we really don't care and will do it again.

I find these stories maddening.

Everyone Got The Pulse Massacre Story Completely Wrong
Sure, it's nice that some reporters note incorrect stories. But i doubt the guild's commitment to the truth because they never change their behavior.

They keep playing their pointless and stupid reporter games:

The profession plays by a set of rules which add excitement and permit score-keeping. The former is superficial and the latter is spurious, BUT THE PRACTITIONERS NO LONGER RECOGNIZE THIS. They think such things matter in the larger scheme of things.
And they do not recognize that their "Get it fast even if it if is wrong" mindset has long-lasting consequences to public discourse.

A few months ago I wrote a review of Changing Minds by Howard Gardner for Strategy and Leadership. He is especially pessimistic on our capacity to change our own minds. We do not, on the whole, accept new facts and revise our theories. Rather, we interpret or disregard the new information to make it fit our theories. This is not a matter of IQ or lack of education. He points out that intellectuals are "particularly susceptible" to removing cognitive dissonance by "reinterpreting" the facts.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Proverbs 4

Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.
For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.
 vv: 14-16

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Understanding intelligence

Robin Winks:

[There are] no secret documents in the romantic sense of the words. On any important subject, there is no single document or even group of documents that contain "the secret." No spy could know enough to spot such a document if it existed, and no vacuum cleaner approach to espionage, even should it gather up two or three documents of the highest importance, would lead without all the analytical skills of the humanists to any valid conclusions. Documents do not speak: they do not declare that they are "the offbeat thoughts and recommendations of a highly-placed but erratic advisor," not a draft intended only for discussion, not a record of a decision rescinded orally the next day.
Research and analysis are at the core of intelligence . . . . [Most] `facts' are without meaning; someone must analyze even the most easily obtained data.
Cloak and Gown
William Millward:

'Intelligence' refers to both a skill and end-product. As a meaningful concept it has been spoilt by Fleming, le Carre, and many other less talented writers. In the present context I would define it as the method employed by Sherlock Holmes; not the sleuth on the trail with his magnifying glass, but the intellectual sitting quietly and consuming his ounce of shag. It means reviewing known facts, sorting out significant from insignificant, assessing them severally and jointly, and arriving at a conclusion by the exercise of judgment: part induction, part deduction. Absolute intellectual honestly is essential. The process must not be muddied by emotion or prejudice, nor by a desire to please. The skill is largely innate, but can be sharpened by a course of rigorous academic training. The Americans talk about 'intelligence analysis' and 'analysts' and the terminology is crossing the Atlantic. It is not ideal, since the process is as much synthesis as analysis.
"Life in and out of Hut 3"
Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park
John Keegan:

There is no such thing as the golden secret, the piece of 'pure intelligence', which will resolve all doubt and guide a general or admiral to an infallible solution of his operational problems. Not only is all intelligence less than completely accurate; its value is altered by the unrolling of events.
Intelligence in War

Friday, May 11, 2018

Coping with a VUCA world

VUCA= Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous

Found here:
Want to Be a Better Leader? Follow Satya Nadella’s 3 Rules for Disruption
While we may give lip service to the idea that the world is VUCA, our actions say that we are liars.

1. Our business and public policy schools still rely heavily on traditional case studies. The meta-lesson of nearly every case study is that the world and its problems are easily and quickly understood.

Case Studies

One of the real problems with business education is the heavy use of prepackaged case studies. While they purport to hone critical thinking skills, they also impart false lessons. Future managers come to believe that the information in front of them is complete, reliable, and predictive. The only thing left to do is exercise some thinking and then make a decision.

In real life it will never be that simple. Numbers are shaky and dirty data is a persistent problem. In the beginning there won't be enough critical information on the matter at hand. At the same time , there will be a flood of trivial and irrelevant material that demands attention.

It is tempting to wait until more data and better data can be obtained. Unfortunately, time is often a critical competitive dimension.
2. Our leading business and management thinkers proffer theories which make the world look more predictable and malleable than it really is:

Clausewitz vs. Porter

Clausewitz presents descriptive theories, his aim is to help the future commander prepare himself for the challenges he will face. In contrast, Porter's work is intensely prescriptive. His Five-factor framework and generic strategies are templates waiting for the executive's implementation.

Porter's, then, implies that the key to business strategy is "knowing". The doing will almost take care of itself. Clausewitz never presumed that the science of war (which gets studied in peacetime) could ever supplant the art of war (which wins actual battles and campaigns).
See also:
Waiting for our Clausewitz
3. Our public institutions are ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable jolts and crises of a VUCA world:

What was the Fed thinking in the summer of 2008?

There was no real planning or preparation for crisis. They did not have contingency plans for the post-Lehamn fallout just has they did not have a clear understanding of what the failure of a TBTF institution would mean.
See also:
A catastrophic failure of imagination

Fortunately, we have ways of coping with these challenges. If we cannot predict the future, we can become more resilient when surprised.

We know how to study the past to prepare for (not predict) the future.

The historian Michael Howard wrote a brilliant article ("The Use and Abuse of Military History")* on the right way for officers to study military history. He offered up three general rules:

1. Study in breadth. Look at wars and campaigns over a long sweep of time. Look for both similarities and discontinuities.

Only by seeing what does change can one deduce what does not.

2. Study in depth. Look at a single campaign by reading a variety of histories, memoirs, letters, diaries, etc. Recognize the confusion, chaos and varying perspectives at work. (Clearly, this is the antithesis of the classic business case study.)

3. Study in context. Do not just look at the military action, study the sociology and politics of the nations involved. Again, these are perspectives that are usually absent in the analysis of strategy foisted on executives and students.
See also:
Wargames in the classroom

Wargames and crisis management

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rational actors choosing self-destruction

Germany almost won WWI in 1917. Russia collapsed into revolution and surrender. Italy was propped up only with difficulty. The US had entered the war but could not yet contribute significant forces.

The critical moment came in the spring of 1917 when morale in the French armies collapsed after the failure of the Nivelle offensives. Some divisions mutinied and refused to obey orders. Both London and Paris worried that the mutinies presaged revolution in France and the end of the Third Republic.

Part of the panic was due to shock and dashed hopes. The year began with Gen. Robert Nivelle taking over as supreme commander of the French armies. He was a man with a plan to win the war with one more big push. The Allies gained a little ground but the butcher’s bill was unbearably high. It pushed the French Army past its breaking point.

Neville was not an obvious choice to lead the French armies. He was an artillery officer who only took command of the 2d Army in May 1916 when Gen. Petain was promoted to command Army Group Center during the Battle of Verdun.

The French government chose Nivelle as C-in-C in December over the heads of more senior generals such as Petain, Foch, and Castelnau.

Neville was a charismatic figure with a soaring reputation after the victory at Verdun. The critical factor in his rise, however was ideological. The French government was vehemently anti-clerical and Nivelle was not Catholic.
David Murphy:

All officers were discouraged from going to mass or having other church associations. To the disgust of many officers, the army was used in the forcible expropriation of church property. More insidiously, André encouraged republican officers to spy on their brother officers and a system of files, or ‘fiches’, was compiled in order to record the activities of officers with church sympathies. André also made use of groups of Freemasons within the army to carry out the necessary surveillance and reporting.8 Church-going or other outward signs of devoutness were recorded and officers who displayed such tendencies found themselves passed over for promotion. One such was Colonel Ferdinand Foch, who, after a mixed wartime career, would later serve as the supreme Allied commander from 1918.

Nivelle had only limited experience as an army commander, having commanded Second Army since May 1916.10 To an objective eye, there were other more senior general officers who were potential choices. The chief of staff at the GQG, General Castelnau, seemed to many to be an obvious choice to succeed Joffre but his long association with Joffre meant politicians doubted his ability. He was also a devout Catholic, which increased doubts among the more radical factions within government.
As absurd as it sounds, the political and intellectual classes in France feared the Catholic church more than the armies of the Kaiser.

A great reminder that ideological blinders are hard to shed.

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.
Saul Bellow

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A great man

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of common sense.
Lord Salisbury, 1877

Saturday, April 14, 2018

#MeToo: The MSM refuses to take its own medicine

In the wake of the Tailhook scandal, the US Navy underwent something resembling a purge. Careers were ended. War heroes were driven from the service on the basis of media reports which ‘raised suspicions’ or left ‘lingering questions.’ To be named was to be usually enough to overshadow everything else an officer had done.

This expansive view of scandal apparently still prevails in the Navy:

Fat Leonard: the Rolling Blob’s Frag Pattern
Once again, a career is ended on the basis of tangential associations, lingering suspicions, and fear of media reaction.

Or take the damage done to the reputation of Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The case against JoePa breaks down something like this.

1. Bad things happened in State College
2. Joe Paterno lived in State College and wielded great influence there.
3. Therefore Paterno must have known about these bad things and should have stopped them.
The logic of this case is shaky and the facts are not as clear as press reports portray them. (See Framing Paterno for more). Yet many of the MSM’s best and brightest looked at this argument and called for the end of football at Penn State and a thorough house-cleaning of the coaches and administrators.

We haven’t seen the same moral fervor directed toward the news/entertainment industry. The standards applied to Penn State and Paterno have not been applied to Hollywood or the MSM in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein/Matt Lauer revelations.

All those people who worked with Weinstein are permitted to issue pro-forma denials “I had no idea” and no more questions are raised.

Jeff Zucker worked with Matt Lauer for years. Yet all he had to do was play Sgt. Schultz “I knew nothing” and everybody was happy to move on.

Zucker wants us to believe he is blind and profoundly uncurious. He also wants us to believe that this is no bar to leading “the most trusted name in news.”

We must have transparency say the same news organizations that are using NDAs to hide the predations of their one-time stars.

'Terrified' CBS executives 'warn employees about violating NDAs ahead of Charlie Rose sexual misconduct expose as they fear being named for ignoring misconduct complaints'
No one in the MSM seems interested in examining how Weinstein was able to use the respectable media to intimidate his accusers and deflect attention away from his behavior.

Harvey Weinstein counted on a complicit media

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sad truth

We obviously are going through an interesting period of semi-literacy, where everybody can write, but few people will or can read.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited (1990)
And he wrote that before the internet, smartphones or Twitter. Imagine how much worse it is today.