Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Modern architecture

When ideology trumps ability and artistic vision

Authoritarianism in Cement and Steel

The ideals of the modernists? Totalitarianism and the view of Man as a termite or even bacterium was implicit in everything that they said and every­thing that they did: and again, I do not see how anybody could fail to see a totalitarian sensibility in their architecture. Le Corbusier detested the street because it escaped the supposedly “rational” control of the bureaucratic planner. The very year after four million people had fled the advancing Nazis, he saw fit in a little book to advocate the expulsion of millions of people from Paris because he, the great architect, saw no reason why they should be there. He wanted to park them instead in the countryside so that they could hew wood and draw water, as was (in his elevated opinion) their proper destiny. If this is idealism, I’ll have none of it.
The charge against modernism is not that it represented a changeCurl is specifically an admirer of all the great and varied architectural achievements of the past, not only European, and has published widely on thembut that it represented a revolutionary change for the worse, a destructive force such that a single one of its productions could (and often did) ruin a townscape built up over centuries. It was this egotistical indifference to what already existed, as well as utter lack of humanity, that was so aesthetically, and one might add psychologically, devastating in England and elsewhere.
Indifference? Or an unthinking hostility to what already exists married to an overwhelming Will to Power?

Robert Conquest:

'Intelligentsia' is, of course, a Russian word. The condition of being an intelligent was defined not by intelligence but by the acceptance of the Idea -- so given, with the capital letter, and defined as the total destruction of the existing order and its replacement by a perfect society run by none other than the intelligentsia.
Roger Scruton:

Architects, who once were servants of the people who employed them, and conscious contributors to a shared public space, have rebranded themselves as self-expressive artists, whose works are not designed to fit in to a prior urban fabric, but to stand out as tributes to the creative urge that gave rise to them. Their meaning is not "we" but "I," and the "I" in question gets bigger with every new design.

Gehry belongs to a small and exclusive club of "starchitects," who specialize in designing buildings that stand out from their surroundings, so as to shock the passerby and become causes célèbres. They thrive on controversy, since it enables them to posture as original artists in a world of ignorant philistines. And their contempt for ordinary opinion is amplified by all attempts to prevent them from achieving their primary purpose, which is to scatter our cities with blemishes that bear their unmistakable trademark. Most of these starchitects -- Daniel Libeskind, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas -h ave equipped themselves with a store of pretentious gobbledygook, with which to explain their genius to those who are otherwise unable to perceive it. And when people are spending public money they will be easily influenced by gobbledygook that flatters them into believing that they are spending it on some original and world-changing masterpiece.
GK Chesterton:

Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which your are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. ... It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal and that you are a paralytic.
Anthony Daniels:

The word intellectual, by the way, does not imply high intellect, which the holy trinity of modernism, Gropius, Mies and Corbusier, certainly did not possess. What they possessed instead were psychopathic ambition, ruthlessness and a talent for self-promotion.
Tom Wolfe:

Le Corbusier's instincts for the compund era were flawless. Early on, he seemed to comprehend what became an axiom of artistic competition in the twentieth century. Namely, that the ambitious young artist must join a 'movement,' a 'school' an ism-- which is to say, a compound. He is either willing to join a clerisy and subscribe to its codes and theories or he gives up all hope of prestige.
Lionel Trilling:

Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties and of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding

The Birth of the Hive mind

The Hive mind revisited

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A prolific yet almost forgotten serial killer

A really informative 2 part podcast from True Crime Garage

The Candyman
Dean Corll, for a variety of reasons, is not nearly as well known as the Zodiac Killer or Ted Bundy. Yet he ranks as one of the most sadistic and prolific serial killers in US history.

This article by Skip Hollandsworth is one of the best pieces of reporting I've ever read.

The Lost Boys

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lest We Forget

Richard Holmes:

As far as Britain and her dominions were concerned the Western Front was the most costly event of modern history, and we remain touched by its long cold shadow.
Gary Sheffield:

To argue that the world in 1919 would have been a better place if the Great War had not taken place, or more parochially, if Britain had not become involved, misses the point. A German victory in the First World War would have produced a situation significantly worse than the imperfect “real” world of 1919. The First World War was a just and necessary war fought against a militarist, aggressive autocracy. In Britain and the United States it is a forgotten victory. It has remained forgotten for too long.
John Mosier:

In September, the AEF had about five thousand soldiers killed outright, and in October the number climbed to twenty-two thousand. The American cemtery at Romagnes-sous-Montfaucon had 14, 240 graves; it is bigger than the cemetary at Normandy.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Winston Churchill and the Secret World

Nigel West, (ed.) Churchill's Secret Spy Files
Winston Churchill loved spies, commandos, and all things covert. So it was no surprise that as Prime Minister he had a vast appetite for reports from his spy chiefs. He was also an inveterate meddler. So it is no surprise that he spent a lot of time listening to, prodding, and making suggestions to his spymasters and shadow warriors.

Decades later we are still learning a great deal about this aspect of the Second World War. (The British government is notoriously slow to release documents especially when they involve their secret services.)

A recent book offers another peek behind curtain. Churchill’s Spy Files does not provide any bombshell revelations but it does add a few more tiles to the historical mosaic. It also reinforces several well-established themes.

The spy files in question were monthly reports from the Security Service (MI5) which were submitted only to Churchill. As the editor (Nigel West) notes this allowed the authors to be candid in these summaries because no on expected the public to ever see them.

(Although their candor had its limits. The authors all skilled bureaucrats and academics were obviously trying to place their work in the most positive light. The reports dwell on successes and deal with failures only when forced to by events.)

Nonetheless, MI5 made a good record in the war. Germany had little success penetrating the vital parts of the British war machine. On the contrary, MI5 managed to capture and turn around every agent sent to Britain. This enabled them to mount one of the greatest disinformation efforts in history--the XX system. Their efforts were vital to the success of the Normandy landings.

Neither James Bond nor the Imitation Game

The controlled double agents did more that pass disinformation to the German intelligence agencies. Their messages also were a source of ‘cribs’ that Bletchley Park could use in their efforts to discover the daily settings on the Enigma machines. Further, the questions Germany asked their spies could, when collated and analyzed, offer clues about Germany’s knowledge of her enemies and provide hints about the Reich’s future actions.

As noted previously, a successful intelligence war is not waged by lone spies breaking into safes nor by solitary geniuses breaking codes with will and sheer brain power.

Britian's secret weapon in the war against Hitler
German arrogance and German failures

Not every officer in German intelligence was duped by the XX operation. The high command, though, was unwilling to even consider the possibility that their organization could be duped by the British:

They also told him the story of a major in the German Secret Service in Berlin who had suggested to his superiors that the agents in England were under British control but was sacked for this suggestion within 24 hours.
In this the Abwehr was no different than the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine which refused to believe that their encrypted communications could be broken. As we now know, their confidence was not justified.

When the secret world was really secret

Nearly all of the participants in this effort kept their secrets after the war was over. Even the PM himself felt bound to silence.

The paradox is that although Churchill proved the past master of exploiting SIGINT, he exercised unusual discretion when he supervised the compilation of his magnum opus, The Second World War, published in six volumes between 1948 and 1954, which made no reference to double-agents, wireless intercepts or even FORTITUDE. Although Churchill had wanted to include mention of ULTRA and its influence on the conflict, the Cabinet Secretary Sir Edward Bridges, and ‘C’, Sir Stewart Menzies, had prevailed upon him to refrain from disclosure on the grounds that the techniques employed were still operational.
The “need to know” principle was maintained with a vengeance during the war. Churchill, for instance, likely never knew the real names of celebrated agents GARBO and TRICYCLE. Often, a spy case would be months old before it appeared in these monthly reports.

Extreme secrecy was absolutely vital to the success of the XX system. But such secrecy also allowed intelligence agencies to hide their failures and fatal missteps. West notes that Churchill was probably never aware of the full extent of the disaster suffered by the Special Operations Executive in the Low Countries.

Stalin may have known more about these operations than Churchill did

While MI5 and MI6 did a great job keeping secrets from the Germans and from the British public, their overall record was far from perfect. Even as they reveled in their success running double agents against the Germans, they were oblivious to the fact that the Soviets had placed their own double agents in the heart of the XX system. In fact, the reports were compiled and written by Anthony Blunta member of the Cambridge spy ring.

The ticklish task of selecting cases for submission to Churchill was assigned by Liddell to his trusted assistant, Anthony Blunt, who must have relished the prospect of being given a pretext to range far and wide across the Security Service, and elsewhere, to assemble the appropriate material for the Prime Minister. Few spies in history could ever have been presented with such a spectacular opportunity to call for files, question colleagues and demand briefings on topics that would otherwise be completely outside the ambit of his duties. Quite simply, Blunt, who had been a Soviet agent since 1936, was granted a licence to delve into just about any operational issue that caught his interest.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The essence of strategy

This is a succinct piece on strategy that is packed with insight.

The Big Lies of Strategy

The first thing to keep in mind about strategy is that it is not all that complex. You should keep it simple and always remember that, put simply, strategy is about choices.


Strategic problems and the problem with strategy

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The real fake news

This is very good because it is very true:

The History Of The Future

I attend way more conferences than is healthy. I've been averaging about 12 of these a year, as speaking at these things is part of my business. I hear all kinds of hysterical and provocative predictions for the future. The one thing I don't hear is anything that turns out to be true.
If you're a marketing genius with a terrible track record, the future is a great place to hide.
This same phenomenon has established a firm foothold in most of the respectable media:

The other day, on a Sunday, what was it? -- a week ago Sunday, I think, and I picked up The New York Times, and there, page one, there were seven stories on page one. I counted them. And now in the old days -- old only being 10 or 15 years ago -- the news journalistic philosophy was that you would give a snapshot of the world in the previous 24 hours: What happened yesterday all over the world? But the other Sunday, I picked up the paper and I looked at the seven page-one stories and not one story had a yesterday or a last night in the lead. All seven stories were about something that will happen or might happen or conceivably could happen some time in the future. Well, it's a different kind of journalism.
(John Corry, 1994)
The plague is even worse in cable news and in sports programming. Often more time is wasted on endless speculation and pointless predictions than is devoted to actual news reporting.

There is a bunch of reasons why this happens. For one thing, it is easier to support a narrative with speculation than with facts. Facts have an ugly way of undercutting preferred narratives (see, “Hands up, don’t shoot”). In addition, it is an easy way to fill air time; cheap and easy are the bedrock foundations of cable’s current business model. (See Cable news, vox populi, and professional sleaze )

Michael Crichton: “Why Speculate” (2002)

If speculation is worthless, why is there so much of it? Is it because people want it? I don’t think so. I myself speculate that media has turned to speculation for media’s own reasons. So now let’s consider the advantages of speculation from a media standpoint.

It’s incredibly cheap. Talk is cheap. And speculation shows are the cheapest thing you can put on television, They’re almost as cheap as running a test pattern. Speculation requires no research, no big staff. Minimal set. Just get the talking host, book the talking guestsof which there is no shortageand you’re done! Instant show. No reporters in different cities around the world, no film crews on location. No deadlines, no footage to edit, no editors…nothing! Just talk. Cheap. You can’t lose. Even though the speculation is correct only by chance, which means you are wrong at least 50% of the time, nobody remembers and therefore nobody cares. You are never accountable. The audience does not remember yesterday, let alone last week, or last month. Media exists in the eternal now, this minute, this crisis, this talking head, this column, this speculation.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Before Immelt at GE, there was Doug Ivester at Coke

Following a legendary CEO is hard

Robert Goizueta at Coke was another superstar CEO of the 1990s whose hand-picked successor failed.

What Really Happened At Coke
A couple of things distinguish this case from GE’s epic fall.

1. Warren Buffet and Co. pulled the trigger more quickly than the stockholders at GE. They did not fight the problem, they made a decision.

2. The succession plan at Coke failed, at least in part, because of the unexpected illness and premature death of the outgoing CEO.

How could so brilliant a CEO as Roberto Goizueta have dialed such a wrong number? Simple. Goizueta was planning on living a long life, stepping back into the role of chairman, and letting Ivester run the company with his discreet guidance. It probably would have worked. Ivester was indeed a brilliant No. 2.
In a very real sense, Ivester’s stumbles should be a warning for other CEOs and Corporate America in general. He was the very model of the modern CEO in the era of Big Data:

Analytical and data-driven, Ivester spent heavily on technology for the quick and efficient delivery of vast amounts of information. His goal was to make Coke the ultimate Learning Organization, and he made his case convincingly. A year and a half ago FORTUNE conjectured, "Ivester may give us a glimpse of the 21st-century CEO, who marshals data and manages people in a way no pre-Information Age executive ever did or could."
Peter Drucker was quite astute in perceiving the false promise of Big Data (even though he died before the term reached buzz word status for fad-surfing CEOs.)  In a 1998 article for Forbes ASAP (“The Next Information Revolution”) he noted that the various computer revolutions had ended in disappointment for one simple reason:

For top management tasks, information technology so far has been a producers of data rather than a producer of information-- let alone a producer of new and different questions and new and different strategies.

It can be argued that the computer and the data flow it made possible, including the new information concepts, actually have done more harm than good to business management. They have aggravated what all along has been management's degenerative tendency, especially in big corporations: to focus inward on costs and efforts, rather than outward on opportunities, changes, and threats. this tendency is becoming increasingly dangerous considering the globalization of economies and industries, the rapid changes in markets and in consumer behavior, the crisscrossing of technologies across traditional industry lines, and the increasing instability of currencies. The more inside information top management gets, the more it will need to balance it with outside information-- and that does not exist as yet.
MORE DATA will not turn a private sector bureaucrat into a dynamic entrepreneurial leader.

MORE DATA will not create innovations.

MORE DATA is rarely what is required to decide thorny problems at the strategic level.

MORE DATA will not prepare an organization for Black Swan events.

To the contrary, the demand for more detailed data will let executives continue to fight the problem and avoid deciding it. MORE DATA all too often means delay and squandered opportunities. (In every competitive market, time is a critical though often ignored dimension.)

Thursday, November 01, 2018

The blue-est of the blue chips is looking pretty faded

GE slashes dividend, takes $22 billion charge in 3Q
The precipitous fall of GE seems like it deserves more attention. This is not your average corporate failure. This is a story with Shakespearean drama and a host of important questions.

Under Jack Welch GE was the gold-standard for corporate performance and management practices. It routinely appeared at the top of the lists of the Largest, the Most Admired, and the Most Profitable companies. Then, his hand-picked successor led it to ruin.

Jeff Immelt ‘destroyed’ General Electric: Ken Langone

GE CEO feud: Welch vs. Immelt
Questions worth investigating:

Is Immelt’s failure a reflection on the management training system Welch instituted and made famous?

Does the hiring of an OUTSIDE CEO (the first in company history) reflect on Welch or Immelt? Is it further evidence that the Welch system was flawed or did Immelt gut/destroy/burn down his predecessor’s legacy?

What does the crash of GE say about business journalism? Did they over-praise Welch? What did they miss about Immelt and his strategies?