Friday, July 28, 2017

“Wargaming in the Classroom”

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

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

I. "Innovative Employment of of Wargames in PME”

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

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

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

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

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

Wargames are a way to fill that gap.

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

Dr. David Lai, AWC Strategic Studies Institute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III “Wargaming in the classroom”

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

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

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

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

C. Why wargames work:

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

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

Wargames can strip away illusions and false assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. James Sterrett, USA CGSC

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Worth pondering

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Russia without illusions

A sober and informative piece by David Warsh:

The “Snow Revolution” and the Attribution Problem

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Let's call this Rahn's Law

"It's hard to be an elitist after you've met the elite."
From this episode of the Federalist Radio Hour.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Are we in a Big Data hype bubble?

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

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

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

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

The quote that broght me up short:

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

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

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

Netflix is even worse.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Creativity comes from seeing old ideas in a new light

Short but interesting take on invention and creativity:

Not Invented Here

Ideas build on each other

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

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

Some related posts on the subject:

Finding big ideas

Thinking about thinking, creativity, and innovation

Killing creativity

Monday, July 17, 2017

What you see when you connect the dots

Important post over at Hot Air:

Remembering Journolist And Progressive Media’s Bag Of Tricks

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

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

Commenter Rob Crrgin nailed it at Hot Air:

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

1. Every scandal needs a Sussman

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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Something to ponder

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

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The MSM's problem in a nutshell

Mollie Hemingway:

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

Friday, July 07, 2017

Media-fueled hysteria

The Great Day-Care Sexual-Abuse Panic

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

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

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

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


They trusted the experts

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Life goes on, even after the Unthinkable happens

Really interesting blog post on what history can teach us:

We all fall down

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

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

First, never quit. Three strikes and you're not out. Put that on your refrigerator.

Number two - there's always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor. There's always a way.

Number three - trust your instincts.