Wednesday, August 30, 2017


When the chips are down, America is still more Frank Capra than Mad Max.

Monday, August 28, 2017

“I’m gonna try to save some lives”

The public response to the disaster in Houston is inspiring but not surprising.
We’ve seen it before:

1940: A season of miracles: Dunkirk

"I never want to say the word 'I should have'"

Cajun Navy
Jesse Walker:

"In real world disasters, as we noted in chapter 3, genuine panic is rare and spontaneous social cooperation is the norm."
The United States of Paranoia
Rebecca Solnit has some interesting insights into why the MSM is so often surprised by the public’s performance when the chips are down. (HT: Schneir on Security)

The term “elite panic” was coined by Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. From the beginning of the field in the 1950s to the present, the major sociologists of disasterCharles Fritz, Enrico Quarantelli, Kathleen Tierney, and Lee Clarkeproceeding in the most cautious, methodical, and clearly attempting-to-be-politically-neutral way of social scientists, arrived via their research at this enormous confidence in human nature and deep critique of institutional authority. It’s quite remarkable.

Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don’t become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surfacethat was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn’t actually happen; it’s tragic.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

This can't be said often enough

Gawker Is Dead And Deserved To Die

Gawker was a vile website dedicated to the destruction of human beings, especially those its founder, Nick Denton, disliked.
Gawker was a site built to destroy lives. Its mission was to discover the worst moment in a person’s life, and then publicize it for profit.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why is thinking a lost art in large organizations?

From the Sloan Management Review:

The Lost Art of Thinking in Large Organizations

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

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

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

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

I suspect the answer is “Yes”.

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

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

When hard work doesn't pay


The Best Strategic Planning Advice Ever

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Thucydides trap and the Korean conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 07, 2017

Diseconomies of scale and the US failure in Iraq

Bigger ain't always better

The high cost of efficiency

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

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

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

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


Diseconomies of scale

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

People this brave deserve to be remembered

First posted 1 August 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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