Saturday, April 30, 2005

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

Part I

Part III

Previously, I discussed David Maister's book Managing the Professional Services Firm and its applicability to all corporations. In particular, Maister's insight into "expertise" versus "procedures" firms helps explain why corporate change efforts fail so frequently.

Part one also looked at the problems procedures firms have in recognizing that change is necessary. In part two I want to discuss the problems such firms have in making changes happen.

Even after the need for change is recognized, the procedures mindset continues to exact a heavy toll. Since effective solutions depend upon accurate problem diagnosis, the relative lack of this ability hurts many change efforts. In addition, "solutions" which come with ready-made templates are especially appealing to the firm even if they do not really address the central problems.

This helps to explain why "fad surfing" is such a common problem. Where work is defined (implicitly and explicitly) as the implementation of existing templates, change programs will be evaluated in terms of the new templates they offer. However, it is very easy to create a clear, elegant, easy-to-implement template that addresses the wrong problem or ignores areas critical to success.

Since the procedures firm (that is, most companies) depends on standard methodologies, change programs are especially stressful. Once it is recognized that the old methods are failing, there is an interval of ambiguity while new methods are developed and put in place. While creative and expertise firms revel in ambiguity, the same cannot be said for procedures firms. Their success depends on efficiency and consistency and this requires clear guidelines and standard processes. Ambiguity is anathema.

This promotes an urgency toward implementation which often means diagnosis and critical analysis is slighted. A solution today looks better than study that might produce more effective solutions next week. A bias for action is a competitive weapon when change is slow or incremental. It becomes a weakness when fundamental elements of the firm's business model or "theory of the business" are out of date.

The final impediments to effective change grow out of the firm's human resources mindset and practices. First, it frequently give too little thought to selecting the cadre of managers who will carry out the change effort. Remember, the firm's bread and butter is systems, methods, procedures, and templates. They focus their attention on minimum standards and raising the median performance level; they do not have a "star system." As a consequence there is a tendency to populate the key task forces with managers who are interested, amendable and available, not those who have the rare mix of skills to carry out the effort effectively.

However, since this effort is so different from the normal work of the organization, the average manager is not equipped for it in terms of training, inclination, or experience. Stars, of a sort, are needed.

[Reengineering] failure most often results from one underlying problem: The people engaged in the reengineering effort don't know what they are doing.

Hammer and Stanton, The Reengineering Revolution: A Handbook, ( 1995), p. 15.
Unfortunately, the right "stars" often come with baggage. Those attributes that make them strong candidates also work against them politically. They are headstrong, bored by templates, fascinated by ambiguity. They are outsiders. They lack a political base. So the organization opts for good and willing soldiers armed with a change management template.

Just as frequently, firms opt for professional outsiders, also known as consultants. This is also a risky option. Consultants, after all, frequently work in a procedures practice. Hence, they are as prone to use templates as the client and further, usually lack detailed knowledge about the customers and the marketplace of their client. (Yes, it is true that the senior partners are often quite expert, but junior associates do most of the work.) Finally, these outsiders have no real stake in the success of the effort and that affects commitment.

Shapiro quotes two executives from clients who suffered through failed reengineering projects:
Client A: "the consultants drove the process. They did it in an interesting way. They have these 'templates' and their rule is that you can't vary from the templates. That allows a couple of consultants to trigger a huge amount of activity and still claim that they were just 'facilitating' the effort."

Client B: "We're in a fascinating industry. But [the consultants] weren't interested in that at all. All they were interested in was their templates and timetables."

The final human capital problem appears during implementation. Change is hard; putting new methods in place requires leadership. But this is a trait in short supply in procedures practices. As Maister notes:
Rather than inspirational leadership styles, efficiency based practices need managers who are disciplined, organized, and detail oriented. (p.27)
In many ways this is a bleak assessment. It can be criticized (rightly) for relying on theory, generalized observations, and deductive reasoning. A real world example may be in order. I'll do that in part three.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable

Originally posted 17 October 2004

Part II

David H. Maister's book, Managing the Professional Services Firm, focuses on consultancies, law firms, and accounting practices. However, it also has application to retailers, manufacturers, and other corporations.

Many of the critical questions companies face today deal with human capital, knowledge management, and proprietary expertise. The firms Maister studies are sophisticated managers of these new economy assets because these are the only assets the firms possess. Hence, Maister's subjects are pure-form exemplars and the lessons drawn from their experience have applicability across industry.

Maister's first signal contribution is an evocative typology of client work. He divides the work of PSFs into three categories: "brains", "gray hair", and "procedure". The respective client benefit for each is expertise, experience, and efficiency.

"Brains work" involves problems with a high novelty quotient. Risks are high and the key to success is intensive, accurate diagnosis of complex, ambiguous problems followed up with creative and innovative solutions. A procedures practice is dramatically different. The problems are not novel; they are well understood. Here the key to success is intense execution with an eye toward efficiency and standardization. "Gray hair" projects usually fall between "brains" and "procedure" on most critical dimensions.

Maister builds on this to show that the most successful firms concentrate on one type of work to the exclusion of the others. This is inevitable because the key success factors for each turn out to be mutually exclusive:
We have found significant and incompatible differences between the three 'ideal' practice types in marketing, pricing, leverage structure, hiring needs, promotion structure, ownership structure, and leadership style. (p.27)
In addition, each firm type builds and leverages human capital differently. An expertise (brains) firm will have completely different approaches to professional development and employee retention than will a procedures PSF.

For example, PSFs which succeed in the procedures realm gain efficiency through repetition and the construction of templates. They achieve maximum leverage by training a body of junior professionals in the firm's methodologies and deploying them in a series of engagements that are nearly identical. There is room for average performers who can be billed out on such projects.

In contrast, "brains" firms must continuously develop new approaches and frontier expertise. They maintain their brand by hiring the most talented, ambitious professionals and subjecting them to a ruthless up or out promotion strategy. The professionals who join such firms expect challenge and variety. As Maister puts it,
while they may be content to undertake a similar project for the second or third time, they will not be for the fourth or sixth or eighth. (p.19)
Most of us are comfortable accepting one side of his analysis. We understand how important recruitment and expertise are to the success of a creative advertising agency or an elite consultancy like McKinsey. We hesitate, though, to think through the implications for procedures firms.

But there is no avoiding the fact that most companies operate as "procedure practices" and that Maister's insights into them have the same validity as his conclusions about "expertise practices." Using those insights we can gain a better understanding into the reasons incumbent firms fail to adapt and why change programs are difficult to complete even when they are started.

Most companies are procedure practices. Routinized, programmatic solutions are their raison d'être and represent the essence of managerial work inside their walls. Such an approach works most of the time. It produces efficiencies and profits. If this structure did not usually produce competitive advantage, the work would be carried out by another form of enterprise.

If tomorrow's problems are much like yesterday's, a procedures mindset works best. Under those circumstances an expertise approach will sink into obsolesce and anomie; its expensive investment in intellectual capital will provide no advantage and will not generate good returns.

Inevitably, if unpredictably, every industry and every firm faces periods of change. The causes are well known: demographic shifts, new competitors, technological breakthroughs. At these times, the procedures-practice model proves a disadvantage.

First, because the implications and exact nature of a particular change-event are unclear at its onset, the premium (and competitive advantage) shift to diagnosis from execution.

The real challenge in crafting strategy lies in detecting the subtle discontinuities that may undermine a business in the future. And for that there is no technique, no program, just a sharp mind in touch with the situation. Such discontinuities are unexpected and irregular, essentially unprecedented. They can be dealt with only by minds that are attuned to existing patterns yet able to perceive important breaks in them. Unfortunately, this form of strategic thinking tends to atrophy during the long periods of stability that most organizations experience.
Henry Mintzberg, "Crafting Strategy", Harvard Business Review, (July -August, 1987)
Diagnosis is the forte of the expertise-practice model and a weakness for the procedures-practice model. The latter does not evaluate its professionals on their aptitude at diagnosis nor does it train those professionals to leverage their skills in that area. Not surprisingly, the requisite talent is in short supply.

In truth, the implications of Maister's research are quite pessimistic on this score. A corollary to the idea that professionals who excel within the expertise-practice model will not willingly engage in repetitive projects is this: Professionals who succeed in a procedures environment rarely have the aptitude and inclination required for diagnosis under ambiguity and the formulation of customized solutions. This helps explain why denial is so common a response to discontinuous change.

Second, even those professionals who attempt to address the challenge of understanding the change-event find that they must fight the inertia and active (though unpremeditated) opposition of most of the organization. In a procedures firm, whole departments exist solely to produce routinized, programmatic outputs and to ensure that the rest of the organization follows uniform procedural templates. (Think of purchasing, human resources, and financial reporting.) To deal with unstructured questions on the frontier of expertise while still satisfying the demands of the guardians of procedure requires a sort of blessed schizophrenia that is exceedingly rare.

Third, the firm's formal planning systems magnify this problem instead of alleviating it. As Henry Mintzberg notes in The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning,
planning exhibits a bias toward a particular type of change in organizations-- not quantum change, with which its procedures have difficulty coping, but incremental. [p. 192]
Many, if not most managers can relate to Mintzberg's description of formal budgeting/planning environments where
managers may be so busy discussing strategies and budgets on schedule year after year that when real change becomes necessary, they miss it. [p. 179.]
It is not surprising, then, that companies like General Motors fail spectacularly after decades of success. If this is not inevitable, it is certainly the norm. The failure of established firms to grasp the importance of technological breakthroughs is a recurrent theme in Utterbeck, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation (1994) and Christensen, The Innovator's Dilemma (1997). As both authors point out, focusing on operational excellence today easily leads to that tunnel vision which blinds executives to tomorrow. Maister's work helps explain why this should be so.

Part II

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Easier said than done

To defeat al Qaeda the CIA must do a better job of recruiting spies from within that organization.

The phrase that launched a thousand op-ed pieces.

On the surface it sounds true and completely unobjectionable. But Frederick P. Hitz has a startling statement in his recent book, The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage:
Both [Dewey Clarridge and Robert Gates] acknowledged that they knew of no significant recruitment of Soviet spies during their long careers. The spies were all walk-ins, or volunteers.

So we do not have to get better at recruitment, we have to learn how to do it in the first place. Further, we have to do it against an adversary even more dangerous than the KGB. In the Cold War neither side was eager to kill opposition agents. AQ, on the other hand, would revel in beheading a CIA officer on video.

All in all, the next time i see that line in an op-ed piece, i think i'll skip to the comics. Clearly the author is just blowing hot air.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Well Done

The Anchoress on Our Lady of the Air Kiss.

I do not know why the WaPo wastes prime space on the fatuous blatherings of Tina Brown. Surely, no one takes he seriously. She was always more pose than substance and her pose is well past the "sell by" date. Brown is now a Norma Desmond for our time. The eighties are over and nothing is quite so pathetic as a hipster stuck in amber and put on public display.

Strike that. It is even more pathetic for that one-time hipster to risk a brain hernia by trying to think deep thoughts on subjects they do not understand and about people they do not know.

Any way, just go read the Anchoress.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Carnival of the capitalists

The latest roundup of business and econ blogging is over at Peak Talk.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Welcome back

A Coyote at the dog show is blogging again.

HT: Scott Chaffin and James Rummel

I think i've been waiting for this book

Kirkus Reviews

In a career marked by strange, wonderful stories (Ghost Riders, 2003, etc.), McCrumb offers her strangest yet: a modern-day Canterbury Tales with Dale Earnhardt replacing Thomas a Becket. The Number Three Pilgrimage, as Bailey Travel bills it, takes 13 pilgrims, all Harry Bailey could get racetrack tickets for, on a journey through the NASCAR strongholds of the Southeast-racetracks steeped in the lore of the Intimidator and his contemporaries-under the wing of former journeyman driver Harley Claymore.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Catch up on posts you missed

The latest Blogworthies is up at E.L. Core's place.
Texas Blogging

Scott Chaffin makes me think better of Charlie Robison:
He did marry a Dixie Chick, but she was one of the hot ones I think, so I’ll give him some slack on that one. You can’t blame a man for marrying a hot Texas gal. Hell, high water — don’t matter. It’s kinda like being out in a storm on a lake…you reckon you can pull through just by force of will or the good graces of Kapok. But you can die in the blink of an eye, too.
He's right about CR's music, too.

Also, it's a little late, but last week did mark the anniversary of San Jacinto.

Friday, April 22, 2005

10 things i've learned about business strategy and planning

1. Drucker was right*. There really are only two business functions: marketing and innovation. I doubt that one company in 20 incorporates this bedrock fact into their culture or mindset or strategy.

2. Given #1, strategy should spend 80% of its time on marketing and innovation. If this is not happening, the firm is not leveraging the time it spends on strategic planning. Even worse, it is a strong indication that the firm is operating as a business-manqué.

3. The best marketing has nothing to do with gimmicks or bold advertising. It is all about communicating real value to the right audience. #2 is not an invitation for accountants to play copywriter.

4. Often, strategic success does not look like marketing. During Coke's great years in the 1980s and 90s, they focused on logistics and distribution. However, this was in service of a profound strategic insight and a clear marketing objective.

5. Most corporate data are close to useless for strategic planning. It is inward-looking and does not focus on customers, markets, or innovation.

6. Very little of the experience gained in internal operations is applicable to marketing challenges. Thus, participatory strategic planning runs into a problem: the participants are inexperienced and not apt.

7. The biggest, most important strategy questions require hard thinking. There are not easy answers.

8. Many people will try to make money by convincing you that #7 is not so. Consultants, software vendors, even internal advocates will argue that they have the magic bullet that will make the hard work disappear.

9. "A will to system is a lack of integrity". Shortcuts require templates that can create false expectations and analytical blinders. Surprise and disappointment are the inevitable results.

10. The devil is not in the details of the plan. It is in the big issues that are ignored while tinkering with the minutia.

* The Practice of Management, (1954).

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Strategy and Execution: Business and the Military

As I noted below, Photon Courier has a very smart post on strategy, execution, and leadership with special reference to the thoughts of Field Marshall Lord Wavell.

Overall, I agree wholeheartedly with PC's analysis. However, I differ on one point he makes:
But I do think it's true that American business schools tend to overemphasize strategy at the expense of execution, and this has to some extent carried over into practice. Too often, the relationship between strategy and execution is thought of as a "handoff" individual or group of individuals come up with the strategy, which others then execute. In reality, strategy and execution are much more tightly intertwined, and many times strategic options will only become visible from within the details of the execution work.

He then discusses Lord Wavell's lectures on the importance logistics and administration as opposed to strategy. While that is a crucial dimension in war, I think the difference between business and the military works in favor of emphasizing more strategic thinking in most firms.

A military commander faces only a few strategic questions in any campaign and these often do pivot on calculations about logistics. Those strategic choices have the most profound consequences, which means that the general faces a moral pressure that a CEO cannot imagine. Moreover, battles and campaigns have a decisiveness that business operations lack. This is one of the key reasons that the commander bears such a heavy burden.

When Eisenhower took over the ETO in WWII, he did not have to ask who the enemy was or where the battle would be fought or what kind of war was to be waged. All of that was a given-Germany, Northwestern Europe, and a land campaign in conjunction with strategic bombing.

Contrast that with the executives at Ford's truck division. They have to compete with multiple companies, in global markets, and across different demographic groups. The competition within those resulting submarkets varies in its mix of pricing, efficiency, distribution, advertising, quality, and new products.

These executives have to make strategy for the long term because business success is transitory and lacks the decisiveness one sees in military history. The flip side of that is that failure can be sugar-coated and papered over. In war, victory is the ultimate metric; in business, there is a fog of numbers that can be made to point in many different directions (at least for a time.)

Overall, I think American businesses put too little emphasis on clear strategic thinking. They put a lot of emphasis on planning but these efforts are frequently evasions of thought rather than real attempts to clarify and define.

Zbigniew Brzezinski once wrote that large bureaucracies do not have strategies-they have shopping lists. That sums up the output of the strategic planning process in most businesses as well. The end result is a grab bag of initiatives and budget items larded with some wishful thinking and trendy buzzwords.

While it is true that B-schools emphasize strategy over execution, they do not do a very good job of it when compared to military education. The approach is superficial using cookie-cutter templates in textbooks and skimpy case studies.

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.

I suspect that had executives done a better job on this score, billions of dollars would have been saved during the Internet bubble. Someone who has studied the "old new things" will not get trapped in the hype around the "new new thing".

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.

* The essay can be found in Howard's book The Causes of War.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sarcasm is corrosive

Photon Courier has a couple of interesting posts on leadership and strategy. I'm working on a longer post that addresses his main point, but he got me thinking on a tangent.

Quoting Field Marshall Lord Wavell:

"sarcasm is always resented and seldom forgiven."

"He (the general) should never indulge in sarcasm, which is being clever at someone else's expense, and always offends."

Like Photon Courier, I think Lord Wavell was on to something important here about leadership. To go further, what does it mean for our popular culture which is awash in sarcasm? Turn on ESPN or Fox Sports and you find sportswriters and second-rate comedians making jokes about sports, athletes, and fans. On the music channels they don't play many music videos anymore. Instead, they have a bunch of third-rate comedians and wannabees snarking about music videos. John Stewart ended up on the cover of Time for mixing history and sarcasm, (as though no fourteen-year-old had ever done that before). Political talk radio and sports talk radio are awash in people "being clever at someone else's expense". MSNBC has even brought it to the real news business (See Olbermann and Ron Reagan, Jr.).

Do people really like their daily corrosive bath? Is there any possibility that this constant flow of bile, cruelty and sophomoric humor will turn off some of the audience? (Has it already done so?) If it doesn't, what happens to standards of discourse and our habits of thinking?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thomas Sowell asks are judges to be "above criticism"?
Over the past several decades, we have gotten used to judges being above the law, so it was perhaps inevitable that we would now be asked to get used to the idea that judges are above criticism.
RTWT here.

The judicial faction is quick to remind us that unpopular and offensive speech is one of the necessary by-products of freedom. They have a hard time taking their own advice when they are the target of such speech.
Oklahoma City

Bizblogger has a long post on Jayna Davis's investigation into the plot that led to the bombing 10 years ago. He hits all the key points.

When the book came out last year, i commented here:
Davis makes a strong case that others were involved with McVeigh besides Nichols and Michael Fortier, that there is a foreign connection, and that the government was unwilling to pursue leads that pointed to Iraqi, Iranian, or al Qaeda involvement.

It must be admitted, however, that she does not present a clear picture of the larger conspiracy. What she has compiled is a massive dossier of loose threads, suspicious characters, and questions the government left unanswered
The JunkYard Blog also has some thoughts. I share his uneasiness about the thoroughness of the FBI investigation:
It's curious to me that ten years on after the attack, the FBI on the one hand still denies any Middle Eastern link to the bombing, yet still finds explosives in Terry Nichols' house as recently as a week or so ago, explosives that might shade the Bureau's understanding of the case. Nichols avoided the death penalty by asserting that he was McVeich's second. The explosives found in his old house might indicate his role was as more of a leader than a follower. They certainly indicate that the FBI didn't get the full facts gathered in order to present its case.

Michelle Malkin has a round-up of good links.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Diseconomies of scale

For some reason, i get a fair number of google hits from this post. So, I thought i'd recycle.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

While we often read about economies of scale, we proably should pay more attention to the diseconomies of scale.

When a solid sphere doubles its radius, its surface area increases 300% while its mass goes up 700%. The same ratio seems to affect organizations. As they grow, the center becomes more remote from the surface-the part that actually is in contact with customers, competitors, and new technology. The gravitational pull of the increased mass draws more and more efforts inward where they focus on internal processes, procedures, rules, expenses, and politics.

Internal forces soon overwhelm the organization's ability to respond intelligently to external events. As Jack Welch puts it, the company "has its face toward the CEO and its ass toward the customer." An odd posture to be sure since as Peter Drucker has preached for a half-century "the only profit center is a customer whose check hasn't bounced."

Costs Versus Expenses

It is counterintuitive to include expense control as one of the driver's of diseconomies of scale. How can saving money be bad?

There is a big difference between costs and expenses. Accountants, for example, rarely quantify the costs (in lost revenue) of inertia, strategic indecision, or product delay. They can easily calculate money saved using less expensive materials, but they rarely capture the erosion in brand equity which results from using inferior materials. Accountants are willing to spend time to save money even though we know that is usually better to be first to market.

If effective employment of intellectual capital is the key success factor in the new economy, then should training and education be an expense or investment? And where do most accounting departments put it?

Furthermore, most cost containment exercises are Mickey Mouse. They focus on little items like office supplies, travel, and training budgets. As such they are Band-Aids and placebos. Managers get to feel like they are doing something while big issues are ignored.

Moreover, an expense focus is a continuation of a nineteenth century mindset. It presumes that customers are grateful to have something rather than nothing. But the days are long gone when the typical customer will happily lineup for black Model T's simply because they are cheap. We have, as consumers, come to expect more choices and new products. Squeezing out expenses threatens a company's ability to compete on these other dimensions customers care about.

But what's the first lever executives reach for when trying to improve profits?

For 40 years after the end of Prohibition Schlitz was America's best-selling beer. Then they decided to change the formula so it would brew faster (i.e. cheaper). The new formula changed the beer's taste and customers deserted in droves. By 1984 nobody drank Schlitz anymore.

Notional Benefits, Real Problems

Take this everyday example of the center becoming a drag on performance.

The organization decides "leverage its buying power" to reduce costs. At the outset, everything sounds great. Centralized buying promises increased profits because costs will go down while responsiveness and quality will not change one iota. With great fanfare, a new purchasing process is put in place and new experts appointed to oversee it. But the benefits are only notional.

The purchasing staff quickly makes suppliers aware of the new decision criteria. The latter get with the program and focus on delivering low costs. Quality service and responsiveness usually suffer because they are less quantifiable than price and because the purchasing unit is too removed from the action to gauge the non-quantifiable dimensions of the product. (If they can't graph it, it doesn't exist).

Often, the central buyers become an internal police force- shoving standardization on diverse business units so that order quantities can be increased and inventories managed more efficiently. But standardization can create products that fail in the marketplace because they are neither fish nor fowl.

GM experienced this when they consolidated platforms. In theory this allows multiple divisions to utilize the same basic components with immense savings in research, engineering, and tooling. The result was the Cadillac Cimmeron-a Chevy Cavalier with minor changes and a high price. Not only did it flop in the marketplace; it inflicted grievous harm to Cadillac's image as a premium product. Even today, standardization has created look-alike models which have strong appeal to no particular segment. GM sales are lackluster. Theykeep losing share.

Ford faced similar dilemmas as it pursued the white whale of the "world car"-a single model that can be sold in dozens of countries in great quantities. But the Ford Escort was too bland and under-powered to sell at a profit in the US. At the same time, it was too large and expensive to be successful in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Centralization also creates political problems. Like courtiers around the throne HQ staffs create suspicion between the center and the market frontier. They usually have influence, sometimes they are responsible for some expense lines. But they do not have responsibility for any whole project. The line managers, who do have that responsibility, have to deal with the marketplace and the central staff. No surprise, often the latter gets the most attention.

Peter Drucker has written of management's "degenerative tendency" to focus on internal and operational data, to the exclusion of the more important and more strategic information about customers, competitors, and technology. Centralization and defused authority feed this tendency and exacerbate the problems it causes.
Catch up on your blog reading

Check out Lane Core's Blogworthies and the latest Carnival of the Capitalists at

Friday, April 15, 2005

Family members on the payrolls

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that the only reason pols do this is to enrich themselves or their kids. Why not recognize that there good reasons to have family members working on the campaign? They bring real commitment to the cause, they are loyal to their candidate, and they can be honest where another staffer might be afraid to speak up.

A child is not going to score points with his buddies in the press by leaking funny or embarrassing gaffs. They won't sacrifice a candidate in order to protect their own political viability and career prospects. So why not hire them?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

"The Catholic Springtime?"

In light of the post below, check out this one from the Anchoress.
The press is telling us that the Catholic Church is in dire straights, that the pews are empty (look full to me) and the seminaries and convents are, too. They don’t mention that worldwide there are more seminarians today than there were in 1961. They don’t write about this simple fact: Where orthodoxy is embraced, there are no shortages of vocations.

The late Cardinal John O’ Connor was just figuring this out, shortly before his death, and he gave the okay to several new orders of nuns and priests and their numbers are thriving, as well

The "crisis" in the Roman Catholic Church

The MSM template for stories about the Catholic church in America is simple and clear-cut: The Church is in crisis because it refuses to modernize. Traditional teachings on sexual morals drives worshipers away and makes it impossible to find priests. "Liberalizing" will cure this problem. Therefore, the new Pope should listen to the American leadership, jettison those outdated rules, and be less authoritarian. Andrew Sullivan is always available to say what the MSM wants said.

One question I'd like to see a talking head ask is this: Why will this prescription work for the Roman Catholic church when it has failed for all the mainline Protestant denominations who tried it first? The liberal denominations are losing members while the conservative congregations are growing. Shouldn't the liberalizers be asked to explain why their "solutions" will work now when they have not worked before?

There are other voices out there besides Sullivan and Matthews. They argue that the "vocation crisis" is the result of too little orthodoxy in America, not too much. I think the pundits should spend a little time talking to them.

For example, Michael Rose wrote a book on the Subject. Read the introduction to Goodbye, Good Men here.

Blogger Fr. Rob Johansen wrote a review of the book here. While he is critical of Rose for over-reaching to bolster his thesis, he still finds merit in some of the arguments. He also wrote a long article on the general subject that deserves thoughtful consideration.

What's Wrong with our Seminaries? An Insider Speaks Out

An interesting bit of history that i've posted before. . The Salvation Army has never been popular with the intellectual or economic elites. In nineteenth century Britain it was hated by the Darwinists and viewed with suspicion by the real-life Scrooges. Did not matter to the "fanatics" who had a mission to help the poor. Here is Jacques Barzun on the whole matter (from Darwin, Marx and Wagner):
Huxley's denunciation of it for fanaticism and regimentation hindered it no more than did the disdain of professional men, who seemed to think that spirit seances and Theosophical jargon were worthier expressions of their feelings. It was not until George Bernard Shaw made the point in Major Barbara that the so-called elite began to appreciate what General Booth's movement had done for the uneducated, pauperized, and drink-sodden masses which Social Darwinism had complacently allowed to find their place under the heel of fitter men. Then it was seen that neither the fatalism of biological evolution nor the fatalism of 'scientific' socialism could withstand a vigorous assault by people who believed in the power of the human will and had the wits to combine religion, social work, army discipline, and rousing tunes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Blakley on Tom Delay and the GOP

If a party can be stampeded -- by phony charges and a run of shoddy stories in whorish newspapers -- into dumping their most effective congressional leader, I wouldn't give two cents for their near term future. A party that would voluntarily cut off its own testicles and FedEx them to their opponent as a trophy is not likely to manifest any regenerative powers. That's the thing about losing those organs.

Ripples and cross-currents

I wonder if the medical profession will soon regret its star turn in the death of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo. Doctors are heavily invested in posing as caring professionals who protect patients from heartless HMOs and soulless bureaucracies. But we now know that many of them do not fit that Marcus Welby image. They seem a little too eager to kill the weakest.

The medical talking heads also did not do the profession any favors with their adamant, intolerant certitude. A profession which is so eager to trumpet their self-assurance cannot expect much leeway from juries in malpractice cases. Since they know everything worth knowing, there is no room for honest, unavoidable error.

The Schiavo fight made a lot of libertarians angry and some have threatened to leave the GOP big tent. A less talked about worry for those ubiquitous “GOP strategists” who show up on TV is the possibility that values conservatives will explore non-traditional alliances. For example, we have long known that there are millions of Hispanic and African-American voters who are conservative on social issues but who vote Democratic. For a generation, political strategists have thought that this could be used to draw these voters into the GOP. That has not happened and will not happen anytime soon.

In the short-term the party will be an uncertain trumpet on values issues. Therefore, there is no reason to focus only on converting values Democrats into Republicans. Increasing the number of “family values” Democrats is more useful than electing a handful of Sullivan-approved Republicans. Maybe a more productive strategy is to work in the Democratic primaries for congress and the state houses. On our issues, more John Dingels and fewer Barney Franks is a big win.

Patterico made a good point about the legal machinations of the Schiavo case:
Innocents who have been released from Death Row have almost never gained their freedom through the orderly workings of the system. In many cases, the defendant’s innocence has been established due to the efforts of activists who have no official role in the criminal justice system. The fact that innocents have left Death Row is no tribute to the criminal justice system.

The simple fact is that the appellate process is not a great place for correcting incorrect factual findings by the trial court

There is a conservative critique to be made of the legal system that goes beyond bitching about liberal judges. (See here for one example.) Too often our criminal proceedings fall far short of justice. Who knows what alliances could be forged if conservatives reject their knee-jerk positions on crime and punishment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Seymour Hersh

This article on America's most famous investigative journalist makes interesting reading in light of the MSM triumphalism over the Schiavo "Talking Points Memo."

Sy Hersh Says It’s Okay to Lie (Just Not in Print)
There are two Hershes, really. Seymour M. is the byline. He navigates readers through the byzantine world of America’s overlapping national-security bureaucracies, and his stories form what Hersh has taken to calling an “alternative history” of the Bush administration since September 11, 2001.

Then there’s Sy. He’s the public speaker, the pundit. On the podium, Sy is willing to tell a story that’s not quite right, in order to convey a Larger Truth. “Sometimes I change events, dates, and places in a certain way to protect people,” Hersh told me. “I can’t fudge what I write. But I can certainly fudge what I say

Previous posts on Hersh here, here, and here.

The New York article also notes the interesting arc of Hersh's career: he is praised and honored when he attacks Nixon or Kissinger or Bush or Rumsfeld. The MSM suddenly becomes concerned with his methods when he goes after JFK or Bill Clinton's appointees.

Hersh, of course, came to fame for "revealing" the My Lai massacre. But he was not always so energetic is digging for Vietnam fact nor was he always on the side of the victims. In America in Vietnam, G. Lewy quotes Hersh's response to the testimony of POWs on the conditions in NVN prisons:
There is evidence in the public record that Frishman [a former POW] seriously distorted the prison conditions inside North Vietnam.
Which is a really weasely way to call a POW a liar.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A bloggy good cause

Why not send a few bucks to a blogger who is funnier than Sullivan and less annoying than NPR?
John Paul's Legacy: The Long View

When British Foreign Secretary George Canning put the Royal Navy on the side of President Monroe's doctrine, he underlined his grand strategy with a rhetorical flourish:
I have called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old.
Even Canning could not imagine that the New World would soon produce a colossus that a century later would rescue the Old World from the minions of Hitler and Stalin. Nonetheless, he nudged history along that path.

It will be decades before we see all the fruits of John Paul's outreach to Africa, Latin America, and Asia. For one thing, mighty oaks grow slowly from the seed. For another, our media centers are parochial and seem casually racist. They believe that what really matters is what Andy Sullivan and Hans Kung think. They dismiss the astounding growth of fervent traditionalist congregations as mere sideshows because the worshippers are brown and black. In New York everyone knows that History is still propelled by Europeans.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The dog that neither barked nor made an appearance

The biggest one day event in world history and Al Qaeda did nothing. A Christian event at that, and both Blair and Bush were on the scene. What a target.

Surely, this means something, doesn't it?

Couldn't the networks take a break from weddings and Michael Jackson to add a little perspective on the War on Terror? Were the Italians good? Lucky? Is Al Qaeda crippled?
Two for the weekend reading list

St. Peter's in Chains

They Hate the Church More Than They Hate Life Itself

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Last Mysteries

It seems that the MSM is obsessed with showing us how sausages are made. It does not matter if the subject is of high importance or trivial-the election of a Pope or the Oscars-the coverage always has a healthy dose of speculation about the politics of the process.

It relies on speculation because the press really does not have much information on what really happens and what the participants are thinking. No surprise then that their predictions are often wrong. What is undeniable, however, is that the effect of their coverage is to demystify the subject matter and to diminish the participants. When only cynical questions are asked the players end up looking craven, opportunistic, and hypocritical.

Only two targets are spared this relentless battering. Journalists are always selfless professionals trying to find the truth in the public's interest. MSNBC does not analyze the agenda behind a given story at CBS, they assume that the reporter was just pursuing an interesting and important subject. When was the last time Howie Kurtz dissected the front page of the New York Times by looking at the personal motives and political objectives of the editors and reporters?

Liberal groups and politicians are also given general protection. Tom Delay's actions and speeches are always analyzed in terms of their political instrumentality; they can never reflect deeply held beliefs. Contrast this with Teddy Kennedy. When he denounced Judge Robert Bork, that was portrayed as a clarion call to the liberal conscience. The crude politicsof the demagoguery is rarely mentioned.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The CIA and the Crime of the Century

Good piece of media history by Thomas Joscelyn on the plot to kill John Paul II.

I think it deserves one important addenda. When CIA bureaucrats attacked Reagan and Casey for distorting intelligence for political ends, the “non-existent” plot against the Pope was one of their top exhibits. Casey’s refusal to accept the verdict of CIA’s professionals was seen as an egregious assault on the integrity of the agency.

This matter was aired during the Gates’ confirmation hearings in 1991. Even though he was confirmed, many in the media still suspected that Reagan and Casey did try to force a bad conclusion on a resisting CIA. If Casey was right, then hard questions have to be asked about both our spy agencies and our investigative reporters.

In addition, a key part of the “no conspiracy” case was a heavy reliance on Soviet methods and modus operandi. In essence, they argued that the Moscow had no role in the assassination because the KGB did not do those sorts of things. Ergo, no need to investigate. But, the refusal to investigate is an odd stance for an intelligence agency to take. As noted before, there is a stark difference between knowledge and knowingness. (Also here.)

Further, it makes their argument frustratingly circular. When CIA said that there was “no evidence” for Soviet complicity, many took that to mean that they looked and found nothing. However, it really meant that they found nothing because they did not look hard or with an open mind.

Intelligence historian/journalist Nigel West wrote a recent book the subject that took advantage of the East European spy archives that were opened in the 1990s. These new revelations only add to the evidence that undercuts CIA's official position.

UPDATE 2010: Sadly, West's book, The Third Secret is now out of print.

HT: Powerline

Intelligence Critique Fatigue

Judge Richard Posner is carving out a new niche for himself as a critic of blue ribbon commissions. (See also here). RTWT but this is a point that needs to be repeated over and over:
Before the invasion of Iraq, nearly every competent observer, including the intelligence services of foreign nations opposed to the invasion, believed that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and was trying to build nuclear bombs as well. Hussein's history, and above all the logic of the situation -- surely he wouldn't risk his regime by failing to come clean if did not have such weapons -- created a presumption that he had them.

FWIW: I posted a lot about the question of intelligence failures and the 9/11 Commission last summer. If you are interested, scroll through the August 2004 and September 2004 archives.
A doctor looks at the Schiavo case

Code Blue Blog is doing a multi-part retrospective. Especially informative since the blogger is also a radiologist who interprets CT scans and x-rays for a living.
Upon seeing the CT slice I was shocked that, yes there was severe atrophy, yes, there was severe damage, and yes the cortex was markedly thinned, but the CT itself did not reflect the descriptions I'd heard; and worse, I have seen many old and debilitated nursing home/assisted living patients as well as younger patients with chronic brain damage, with similar or worse atrophy. And not all of these patients were nonfunctioning.

That same CT slice was used as a visual graphic on television and in the newspapers -- by the same group of experts -- to demonstrate why Terri Schiavo was suitable for euthanasia. I objected to this strongly as, to me, the implications for all the other patients with similar or worse CT scans was morally and ethically frightening (talk about slippery slopes!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Day of the Serial Fabricator

Edward Jay Epstein shows why MoDo should not try to write about intelligence failures.
Doth Dowd protest too much? As it turns out, she has a a most compelling reason for scorning the Commission: its findings expose her own repeated misrepresentations of the event.

He also cuts to the heart of the problem of Iraq intelligence and the debate that surrounds it:
The problem lies in the elusive nature of "intelligence" itself. Whether obtained from humans , communication interceptors, or satellite cameras, the data requires interpretation. Unlike marbles, which can be lined up by size or color, each fragment of intelligence must be selected and placed in a scheme that exists in the mind of the beholder. In this case, the mind of the beholder, the CIA, was at least temporarily deranged between 1998 and 2003.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

John Paul II and the War on Terror

Two different viewpoints courtesy of Rev. Donald Sensing and McGehee.

As i commented over at the McGehee Zone, the Pope has to think of his whole flock. Millions of Catholics live in Moslem countries. He had to think of the effect of his actions on them. A new “crusade” would have placed them in grave danger.
Hundreds Of Sharks Swarm Off South Florida Coast

Beaches in Deerfield were closed to swimmers and surfers on Tuesday after hundreds of migrating sharks were seen swarming close to shore. No injuries have been reported. Chopper 6 spotted hundreds of sharks off Deerfield Beach Tuesday.

According to MSNBC

I figure they are on their way to pay homage to one of their own who has made good.
John Paul II and Women

From the Anchoress. It's a perspective you won't hear much in the MSM nor will you see it treated at such depth. RTWT.

This point was really just an aside she made, but it bears repeating:
There is authentic and thoughtful teaching behind all of the issues which critics say the church "MUST bring into the 21st century." I heard someone on tv - I think it was MSNBC - declare with utmost certainty that in order for the Catholic church to survive it must get "up to date with abortion, female ordination, divorce and gay rights..."

Because, you know...the ECUSA has done so well for itself and its people by embracing the modern on just those issues. The Church of England - up to date as all get out - is imploding
I keep waiting for the professionals on TV to bring up the experience of mainline Protestant churches to the dissident Catholics who are getting so much air time.
John Paul II's Legacy

Early in the pontificate of JPII, the British historian Paul Johnson wrote about religion in his book Modern Times. Some of his observations were striking and may give some hint about the path of the Church in the next century.
While theologians at the Universities of Tubingen and Utrecht were diminishing the total of Christian belief, strange charismatics in the slums of Mexico City and San Paulo, of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi, were adding to it. The first group spoke for thousands; the second for scores of millions.

Johnson also noted that the new Pope was aware of the two tendencies and was not neutral between them:
John Paul II gave the movement the stamp of approval in January 1979, when he insisted on visiting the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and placed the people of Mexico under the protection of that Indian-style Madonna.
Commentators sometimes note that the Church has become more global under JP II, but they do not do very good job explaining what that means in terms of doctrine or in terms of the health of the flock.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Yes, Andrew, there is a conservative crack-up

It's as real as Santa Clause. All you have to do is believe. Just make sure you don't read Mark Steyn or Junk Yard Blog.

(Trying not very hard to not say i told you so.)
Mark Steyn
On the other hand, if one accepts the official version that the court is merely bringing to an end (after 15 years) the artificial prolongation of Mrs Schiavo’s life, since when has a glass of water been deemed medical treatment? In the public areas of Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, the waiting journalists grab a Coke or a coffee or even a glass of water every half hour or so without anyone considering it ‘medical treatment’. That it is, uniquely, a crime to serve Mrs Schiavo a beverage underlines the court’s intent — not to cease the artificial prolongation of life but actively to cause her death.

Because John Calvin would have loved Howard Stern

Our favorite preening apparatchik shows why as a historian he was born to be a TV critic.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

George Felos

Two more posts on Michael Schiavo's death-loving lawyer. See Patterico and Junk Yard Blog.

Friday, April 01, 2005

A near run thing

Both John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were shot by assassins in 1981 but survived. Margaret Thatcher was nearly killed by an IRA bomb in 1984. Who knows what the last twenty years might have looked like had those attempts been successful?
The MSM and John Paul II

I've caught some of their coverage and they are just so behind the times. Pictures from London, Rome and Washington. If they understood his legacy they would be reporting from the heart of modern Catholicism (and Christianity as a whole)-- Africa, Latin America, Asia.
Equal justice for all

From a comment at Polipundit:
In the military, a “Berglery", would reduce me to E-1 Private, forfeiture of my 20 plus years pension, and three years in prison.
I wonder how much the Berger cover-up distorted the research and conclusions of the 9-11 Commission? Will any enterprising reporter ask one of the members about Berger's admission?

Michael Schiavo's killing lawyer was one of the main reasons TV news was so hard to watch these last weeks. Read more about him here.

The talking heads treated him as an impartial observer, not as a man with a twisted ideology and delusions of psychic grandeur. I do not know if they did no research on him, or if they think his views normal, or if they just covered up to keep with the storyline. In any case, they dishonored themselves and failed that "public trust" they always talk about.

Credit where due: American Digest was all over this from early on in the story.
Why MSNBC deserves to be the last place news network

Michelle Malkin has the details on Chris Matthews's latest outrage.