Thursday, July 09, 2020

Now what?

[The newspaper] fulfills in America the cultural function of the drama of Aeschylus. I mean that it is the expression through which a people – a people numbering many millions – becomes aware of its spiritual unity. The millions, as they do their careless reading every day at breakfast, in the subway, on the train and the elevated, are performing a … ritual. The mirror of their culture is held up to them in their newspapers.

Johan Huizinga, America: A Dutch Historian's Vision from Afar and Near,
He wrote this about the America of the 1920s and 1930s. I doubt many readers now gain a sense of “spiritual unity” as they read their morning paper. For a large segment of the readership it is quite the opposite.

“This newspaper views me with contempt and hates everything I love” is a perfectly reasonable assessment for patriotic readers and those who are not “woke”.

Perhaps a badge of honor, but maybe not the best business model


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Does anyone still understand irony at the New Yorker?

A puff piece on Unicorn Riot – an activist organization that covers/streams protests across the country.

The Tiny Media Collective That Is Delivering Some of the Most Vital Reporting from Minneapolis

You could refer to what Unicorn Riot does as “activist reporting,” just as you might call a bystander capturing footage of N.Y.P.D. officers tossing people to the asphalt or plowing cruisers through crowds “citizen journalism.” But you also could decide that these distinctions reflect a certain snobbery and have lost a certain salience. There is no use in quibbling about objective journalism amid this emergency, when the power of people’s voices is our only defense. To be a good citizen is to be an activist. To report is to speak up. To have your eyes open is to witness democracy in action, and its failures in abundance.
The writer, Troy Patterson, is probably blind to the totalitarian cast of mind that declares “to be a good citizen is to be an activist”.

The surprising part, to me, is his casual dismissal of conventional journalistic standards as obsolete and snobbish.

The New Yorker's entire business model depends on snobbery. That is the appeal to the subscribers and the luxury brands who advertise in its pages. Snobbery is the force that puts money in Troy Patterson's pocket.

Usually we don't talk about that when we talk about the New Yorker and Journalism. (Tom Wolfe did which is what made him Tom Wolfe).

No, we are required to blather on about the New Yorker's rigorous fact-checking process and the layers of editors who make certain that only the very best stories with the most verified facts and the most thoughtful reporting appear in its pages.

After decades of this ritualistic praise we now have a New Yorker writer dismissing it as obsolete and unimportant,


Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

Steak, ketchup, and Trump Derangement Disorder

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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Streaming TV's real business model

This is a brilliant piece of analysis:

A Golden Lie

the big streaming platforms aren’t asking the questions you’d like them to ask about your browsing. Ideally, you’d expect them to ask how they’re going to help you find great art, or at least great entertainment. You’d expect them to hire experts whose whole job would be making content easier to navigate. Because, after all, they have the stuff you’re looking for, so the product really sells itself, right? They just have to put you in touch with the right series, or the right New Wave French movie.

For a long time, that’s how I actually thought digital television worked. Then I started to notice that the big companies, like Netflix or Amazon, were acting a bit strange. They seemed to be hiding the stuff I wanted to find, on purpose, like a shopping mall or casino. The conversations I was having about television started to disturb me as well; nobody was watching the same show, anymore, but everyone seemed desperate to know what they ought to be bingeing that week. Then it hit me: streaming television isn’t a business model based on rushing out to you, for your viewing pleasure, whatever show happens to be your catnip. That’s an afterthought. The real money’s in constructing a mirage of endless possibility. Netflix’s profits are based on your perception of what you could, potentially, find the time to see. That’s what keeps you consistently subscribed to their service, month after month.
The “mirage of endless possibility” goes beyond the manipulative user interface. Netflix, Amazon, HBO, et. al. have shrewdly co-opted journalists and critics to serve their marketing and retention strategies. A couple of buzzy shows of the sort that appeal to Twitter-obsessed scribblers is all that is required to ensure plenty of free media attention. Customers will keep paying that monthly fee convinced that it unlocks a treasure trove of unique programming. After all, everyone is talking about all the great programming.

In the end, those customers spend most evenings watching re-runs of series from broadcast networks and boring basic cable.

This part of the strategy is not too different from the “salting the mine” swindle.

More than customer inertia drives the business model.

FOMO obviously plays a role:
the fear of missing out — fills us with so much anxiety that it feels like fire ants swarming every neuron in our brain.
So does “intermitten reinforcement” – the phenomenon that makes gambling and video games addicting:

The high is in expecting an outcome, desiring it, imagining it, not in its fulfillment.

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Somewhat relevant to today

"Much to Lincoln's delight, Grant understood the role of a general officer in wartime and the delicate relationship between commander in chief and soldier. Military men must subordinate themselves to political authorities. 'So long as I hold a commission in the Army I have no views of my own to carry out," Grant explained to Representative Elihu B. Washburn, his sponsor in Congress. 'Whatever may be the orders of my superiors, and law, I will execute. No man can be efficient as a commander who sets his own notions above law and those whom he is sworn to obey.'"


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What do abortion and the pandemic have in common?

They generate the same kind of politics according Taylor Dotson in this insightful article:

Radiation Politics in a Pandemic
Why is Covid-19 science making us more partisan?

In his 2007 book The Honest Broker, political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. characterized two different idealized styles of decision-making: Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics. In the case of an impending tornado, citizens are bound together by a common purpose: survival. And simply acquiring information — whether through science or direct observation — drives the negotiation about how to respond. In contrast, Abortion Politics is characterized by a plurality of values, and new scientific information only contributes additional complexity to the divergent goals and motivations.

As Pielke admits, this is a somewhat rough characterization. Many contentious issues have elements of both Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics. The conflict over how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic has been little different. Yet what has been striking is how many people seem to insist that the pandemic be treated as a case of Tornado Politics, as if it were a cyclone bearing down on us. But it hasn’t been this kind of case. Every day, its politics has come more and more to resemble that of abortion, as scientific information about the virus has become weaponized for partisan ends.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Real estate after the virus

From McKinsey:

Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19

Rent, capital costs, facilities operations, maintenance, and management make real estate the largest cost category outside of compensation for many organizations. In our experience, it often amounts to 10 to 20 percent of total personnel-driven expenditures.
Companies have tried to control these costs by fitting more people into less space. This cannot continue in n era where social distancing prevails.

Even the Pandemic Can t Kill the Open-Plan Office

Even before coronavirus, many workers hated the open-plan office. Now that shared work spaces are a public health risk, employers are rethinking office design.
So what now?

Will firms pay higher rents to add space to their urban offices?

Or do they look to move their offices to suburbs where space is cheaper?

Perhaps the lockdown will turn out to be a inflection point and companies will move away from the whole idea of an office as a mere warehouse for employees.

The answer to these questions has profound consequences for cities. Much of their tax base is commercial real estate.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Giving Trump the credit he is due

The Massive Trump Coronavirus Supply Effort that the Media Loves to Hate

The administration has used deft improvisation to secure huge supplies of PPE. There is a new cardinal rule in journalism — never write anything favorable about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, even about its successes.

It’s why the story of how the administration handled the potential ventilator crisis has gone almost entirely untold, and why its effort to secure supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been gotten largely skeptical or hostile coverage.
The legacy media is so invested in anti-Trump narratives that they allow blatant lies to pass unchallenged.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has repeatedly said that the president needed a military leader to take charge of the supply chain — when Admiral Polowczyk, the vice director of logistics for the joint chiefs, was already in charge.
Orange Man Bad. That's the lead story – often the only story – on CNN every night. As a result, they have become enablers of scam artists.

Stories in the press have tended to relay complaints that FEMA has “commandeered” supplies headed for states or other entities. According to FEMA, this is erroneous. After looking into supposed instances of commandeering, Gaynor says, FEMA believes that shady brokers have been using this line an excuse for their own failures. “FEMA has become a convenient scapegoat for malicious actors who are unable to deliver on the promises they had made or are engaging in illegal activity,” he says.
Even worse, the prevailing narratives obscure the shocking death toll in nursing homes. No one in the MSM seems interested in holding anyone accountable for the tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Kaus-Reynolds with a vengence*

The Cuomo brothers made for good theater. They bashed Trump, issued dire warnings of impending doom, posed as defenders of the vulnerable, bantered like frat boys. Fredo even suffered in his basement – quarantined after he caught the Corona virus.

It was all lies, a series of performances, a ploy for TV ratings, for poll numbers, maybe a spot on the 2020 ticket.

CNN missed one of the biggest stories of our time. It played out under their noses in NYC. Instead they created “The COVID Chronicles with the Cuomo Bros". Everyone had a great time except for the senior citizens who suffered and died alone and their grieving families.

The press has utterly failed to live up to the ideals it espouses. Few members of the Guild seem concerned about this. It is pretty clear that the MSM is best seen as the propaganda organ for the Leninoid wing of the DNC.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Department of bad predictions

Today marks the anniversary of the of the Battle of Tsushima (1905). In the Empire of Japan it was celebrated as Navy Day from 1906-1945.

In 1942 the official proclamation was justifiably triumphant. Japan had just completed six months of conquest that were unrivaled in history.

Today Britain's control over the seas has vanished, thanks to the work of the German and Italian submarines and more the work of the Japanese Navy. Britain's auxiliary, the United States, has likewise had her navy practically destroyed by the Japanese navy. As a result, Japan stands today as the premier naval power of the world. It may well presage the rise of Japan in the future history of the world to a position comparable to that which Britain has occupied in the past
Left unmentioned were the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Coral Sea. The "practically destroyed" US Navy was not yet ready to concede global supremacy to the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Also on this date in 1942, the USS Yorktown, badly damaged at Coral Sea, entered Pearl Harbor. Three days later, patched up and resupplied, she would leave Hawaii to rendezvous with Enterprise and Hornet near Midway.

Japan's global naval supremacy was about to come to an early, shattering end.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Kaus-Reynolds with a vengence*

"Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies" -- Honore de Balzac

The operators demand ever bigger machinery even as their actions turn deadly.

Grandma Killer: Andrew Cuomo Murdered 5300 Elderly New Yorkers But He's a Hero Because He's a Liberal Psychopath

As you probably know, Andrew Cuomo ordered elderly persons infected with coronavirus back into their nursing homes, where they could -- and did -- infect all the other nursing home residents and kill thousands of them. He did this deliberately. Why?

It's hard to think of a reason why -- these people could have been isolated in the thousands of unused temporary hospital berths built to... well, to keep coronavirus patients isolated.

Instead he ordered them back into nursing homes, to infect other people of a very high risk of dying from the disease.

And die they did.

By the thousands.

All the while, as thousands were dying, the press just could not pour enough praise on Andrew Cuomo.

He killed them.

If people have "blood on their hands" for permitting businesses to reopen -- how can it be that Andrew Cuomo is not the murderer of 5300 extremely at-risk people by ordering the infected to be crowded together with them?

Andrew Cuomo and New York State realize they have a huge scandal brewing -- if the media ever feels like reporting easily-discovered facts.

It looks like New York State is taking pains to correct its error.

And by correct its error, I mean -- fudge the numbers to hide the numbers killed.

Governor Nipsy Cuomo Explains Why He Sentenced Over 5000 Elderly Citizens to Certain Death: "Older people, vulnerable people, are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen."

He just won't take responsibility for having sent covid-infected people back to nursing homes to infect everyone else. He begins sputtering out an Eric "Otter" Stratton series of rhetorical questions about who's really to blame.

Andrew Cuomo Reveals The Danger Of Praising ‘Tone’ And ‘Norms’

This reveals something interesting about the roles of tone and norms in politics and governance. Critics of Trump’s hyperbolic rhetorical style and willingness to say things that offend them seem to think that good tone and maintenance of norms by a politician indicates he is pursuing positive policies and in control of the situation, but this is often not the case. In fact, a polished tone more often elides failures than it symbolizes success.

Here’s an example. Would Barack Obama have ever called the press “the enemy of the American people”? Certainly not. But would his administration spy on journalists? Absolutely, and it did. Would Obama cackle about political opponents going to jail? Not a chance. Would his administration try to send political opponents to jail? Yup.

To put it bluntly, Cuomo has not been an effective governor during this crisis, but he has played one on TV. At least in terms of early public opinion, that was enough.
Ben Rhodes was absolutely right about the shallowness of the journalists assigned to important beats by prestigious news organizations:

The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns… They literally know nothing
They cover policy like they do politics and they cover politics as theater.


The leftwing members of the Professional Managerial Class (including, obviously, hyperpartisan "NeverTrump" Democrats) ... never look at policy outcomes, only "tone" and "norms:" that's how you get a ton of dead bodies while babbling about how well he presents himself at press conferences.
The Cuomo brothers made for good theater. They bashed Trump, issued dire warnings of impending doom, posed as defenders of the vulnerable, bantered like frat boys. Fredo even suffered in his basement – quarantined after he caught the Corona virus.

It was all lies, a series of performances, a ploy for TV ratings, for poll numbers, maybe a spot on the 2020 ticket.

CNN missed one of the biggest stories of our time. It played out under their noses in NYC. Instead they created “The COVID Chronicles with the Cuomo Bros". Everyone had a great time except for the senior citizens who suffered and died alone and their grieving families.

CNN's handling of this story should be an an extinction-level event. They did not just fail to cover the real story: they helped cover it up. Walter Duranty wold be proud.

And, like Duranty and Stalin, CNN and the Cuomo brothers will get away with it. Their “competitors” will probably give them prestigious awards.

*The Kaus-Reynolds paradox

1. A government agency fails.
2. When it finally ‘fesses up, the failure is immediately consigned to the memory hole.
3. The consequences of its failure are then used as a justification for giving that agency more power over ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with the failed policies and botched operations.

This looks like it could be relevant and timely.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Understanding Trump: War on Mount Olympus

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Tucker Carlson on Dave Rubin (26 October 2018):

Trump “asks the question at the core of whatever the issue is that is the one question that everyone has been avoiding because they don't have the answer to it”

This reminded me of a story that organizational scholar Charles Handy used to illustrate the differences between two organizational cultures.  Handy moved from a large, bureaucratic organization to an ill-defined role with an entrepreneurial investment bank.  He was appalled at the slap dash way things were run.

Clearly, some  serious professional project appraisal was urgently needed. Luckily, I just happened to have brought along with me from my previous organization a set of procedures and tables for project appraisal.  I could readily adapt these, and then I could propose introducing a little more system nd procedure into the current craziness.

In a week I was ready. The chairman arranged for me to present my ideas to a meeting of the board. They all listened very attentively and politely.
At the end, the chairman thanked me for all the work I had put into I, and then observed, “I suppose a project would have to be very marginal to justy all this analysis and procedure?”

“Well, I said, “it's obviously vital to marginal propositions, but you can't even know if it's marginal until you've done this kind of formal analysis.”

“Hmm. You see, we're probably wrong,” (in the tone of voice that Englishmen use when they know they're not), “but in this group we've always thought that we got success not by making better decisions on marginal propositions than our competitors did, but by making quicker decisions on obvious propositions.”

In the end, I realized that I had a different cast of mind and left before they threw me out.

For three decades Republicans and Democrats, neoliberals and neoconservatives, debated the proper mix of tax incentives, transfer payments, and trade concessions required to bring China into the New World Order. Trump had no time for that: he wanted to know why it was good for America to send good jobs, even vital jobs, to a potential adversary.  His rude questions proved to be more popular than the conventional answers Republicans usually offered to the conventional questions.

Only Trump, a man who had spent decades leading companies with a Zeus culture would base a campaign and a presidency on asking rude questions the Acela Blob wants to bury.

It is not surprising that a Zeus president was going to clash with an Apollo bureaucracy and their media clones.

Zeus vs Apollo

Handy defines four basic organizational cultures  which he names after Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus.

Zeus cultures are entrepreneurial.  They operate in the out-sized shadow of the leader.  They excel at speed of decision and in turning decisions into action. They have little time for procedures and policy manuals.  Their strength comes from a shared mindset and commitment to the leader's goals and vision.

Zeus does not write; he speaks eyeball to eyeball if possible, if not, then by phone.
As a politician Zeus tweets directly to the voters over the heads of his bureaucratic gatekeepers, media minders, and media deciders.

Apollo cultures are classic bureaucracies. They focus on rules, procedures, flow charts, and org charts.  They value stability and predictability.

The Apollo style is excellent when one can assume that tomorrow will be like yesterday.

What he have seen in Washington for the past three years is more than a clash of cultures.  The Apollo bureaucracy, with breath-taking arrogance, decided that Trump's style was not merely unconventional but wrong and dangerous.  They want an end to the rude questions that they cannot answer.

They demand not merely independence from the president, but supremacy over the executive branch.

The irony, and maybe the tragedy is this: Trump's style, the Zeus style, is the style and culture best suited for turbulent and chaotic times.

Tomorrow is not like yesterday.   Pretending that the procedures, norms and protocols based on the presumption of stability will work in the midst of an unprecedented crisis is foolish, self-serving, and futile.

The bureaucratic/media Apollos will not save us; they very well may destroy our economy and what is left of our tattered social fabric.


Conservative anger and the Reagan legacy

How Reagan became Reagan: The Texas Earthquake of 1976

Who’s afraid of a Republican landslide?


Monday, May 11, 2020

Bedrock truth about grand strategy

From James Lacey:

Battles are won on the battlefield. Wars are won in the conference room.


Coalition strategy and strategic fantasies


Friday, May 08, 2020

'rona Reading III: The hubris of the learned and the perils of technocracy

The Return of Fortuna

There is a contemporary tendency to try and sever politics from fundamental and first-order questions about the nature of reality. Politics, and our political institutions, are understood in narrowly procedural terms, legitimized by aggrandizing claims of expertise that reduce what are ultimately political questions to dry technical problems to be solved by experts.

…. an overconfident hubris that we have essentially “figured it all out” and arrived at an end of history moment with little left to do. In addition to producing the kind of cultural and social nihilism that Ross Douthat captures in The Decadent Society, this hubris has helped produce sclerotic and decaying political institutions unresponsive to democratic and geopolitical pressures.

These political institutions are undergirded not just by democratic legitimacy but by technocratic legitimacy. Technocracy, in its very essence, implies that technology and knowledge can render fortuna obsolete. In After Virtue (1981), Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that modern managerial expertise is predicated on the predictive social sciences. These offer a systematic understanding of reality that gives the managerial class access to a superior form of knowledge and enables them to effectively govern society.
Steve Sailer made an interesting point on Twitter

Eric Hoffer:

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
On the surface, Trump's governing style seems outlandish and unprecedented. Look a little deeper and you can see parallels with some of our greatest presidents.

Here's historian John Gaddis on FDR:

He improvised, edging forward where possible, falling back when necessary, always appearing to do something, never giving in to despair, and in everything remembering what Wilson forgot – that nothing would succeed without widespread continuing public support. 'It is a terrible thing', Roosevelt once admitted, 'to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead – and to find no one there.'
FDR did not juggle only for political reasons. He also understood that bureaucracies and the experts who run them try to use their rules and procedures to limit the freedom of action of presidents and cabinet officers. FDR understood the danger that this represented:

Roosevelt did not so much distrust experts as lament their limited horizons.
A president needs a very broad field of vision. FDR went to great pains to ensure that he retained his. Experts might despair but the results speak for themselves.

Liberal Roosevelt would probably have agreed with the British arch-conservative Lord Salisbury:

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of common sense.
Pragmatism and opportunism also marked Lincoln's governing style.

Lincoln critically assessed costs, neither brushing them aside – like Napoleon in Russia – nor dreading them to the point of immobility –- like Union army generals before Grant. He relied on experience, incrementally accumulated, to show what worked, not on categories, professorially taught, to say what should.
What matters, in the end, are the results:

Napoleon lost his empire by confusing aspirations with capabilities; Lincoln saved his country by not doing so. Wilson the builder disappointed his generation; Roosevelt the juggler surpassed the expectations of his.
Colin Gray:

Both strategy and policy are almost always required to be somewhat flexible and adaptable to the changing circumstances of context. Good enough policy and strategy should always be 'work in progress,' at least to some modest degree.
Lord Salisbury:

There is no such thing as as a fixed policy because policy like all organic entities is always in the making.

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Thursday, May 07, 2020

'rona Reading II: A crisis born of ignorance, greed, and arrogance

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Is It Time to Rethink Globalized Supply Chains?

The disruption unleashed by the new coronavirus is different in that it has highlighted country risk at an unprecedented scale. Nobody could have foreseen what would happen when the world’s second-largest economy went offline and completely shut down external logistics connections. And because of supply chain tiering and the delays inherent in ocean container shipping, many companies are only now coming to grips with the depth of their dependencies.

What the current situation exposes is that the risks associated with supply chain fragmentation and globalization have been unpriced and largely ignored. For many companies, the combination of lean production and global multistage supply networks is leading to crises.

The good professor is a little disingenuous here. Some people did foresee the dangers of off-shoring, globalization, and systemic risk.

For instance, there's this guy named Nassim Nicholas Taleb....
The Pandemic Isn’t a Black Swan but a Portent of a More Fragile Global System

The coming of global information networks deepened Taleb’s concern. He reserved a special impatience for economists who saw these networks as stabilizing—who thought that the average thought or action, derived from an ever-widening group, would produce an increasingly tolerable standard—and who believed that crowds had wisdom, and bigger crowds more wisdom. Thus networked, institutional buyers and sellers were supposed to produce more rational markets, a supposition that seemed to justify the deregulation of derivatives, in 2000, which helped accelerate the crash of 2008.

As Taleb told me, “The great danger has always been too much connectivity.” Proliferating global networks, both physical and virtual, inevitably incorporate more fat-tail risks into a more interdependent and “fragile” system: not only risks such as pathogens but also computer viruses, or the hacking of information networks, or reckless budgetary management by financial institutions or state governments, or spectacular acts of terror. Any negative event along these lines can create a rolling, widening collapse—a true black swan—in the same way that the failure of a single transformer can collapse an electricity grid.

It's pretty clear, now, that The Black Swan was one of those books that important people bought for show:  they talked about it but never actually read it.

Shih makes an important point about the way good methods and good theories can be misapplied:

When Toyota pioneered lean production in Japan back in the 1970s, its suppliers facilitated this by being colocated nearby. Chinese manufacturers did the same as they evolved their operations during the 1990s and early 2000s. Yet many companies, lulled by efficient and relatively inexpensive logistics and transport, have been applying lean and just-in-time production methods that span global networks. The current crisis exposes the vulnerability of this approach. Notably, Toyota continues to practice localization to a greater extent than many of its competitors. In fact, for its Georgetown, Kentucky, factory, more than 350 suppliers are located in the United States and more than 100 inside the state of Kentucky.

But note how the issue is framed: “companies were lulled.”

Who lulled them?  Did mystical Sirens of Off-shoring slip into boardrooms and C-suites?

This framing absolves executives and corporate directors of any responsibility.

A more accurate way to describe the problem is something like this:

Many companies – out of fear, ignorance, stupidity and greed – implemented lean manufacturing in dangerous ways.

Greed and arrogance are a dangerous combination.
The birth of the hive mind

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Wednesday, May 06, 2020

'rona readings

Gray Connolly:

The Geopolitical Lessons of 2020

In this respect, if there is one deserved – and fully welcomed – casualty of the Coronavirus, it is the death of the 'Davos Man'.

It was the 1990s generation – best described as Davos Man – that proposed and propagandised for a post-Cold War world that, on their case, was an ever-more globalised and liberal place of ever freer trade in goods and services, free movements of peoples, and, usually, mindless military interventions in the affairs of states from Baghdad to Belgrade, because this ‘liberalism by blitzkrieg’ was what being ‘on the right side of history’ required to be done. In some respects you had to live through the 1990s (as I did as a university student) to believe that some of this ahistorical nonsense was peddled – and peddled it was by an ascendant Boomer generation who, by the 1990s, had replaced the generation that had fought in and been shaped by the Second World War. According to Davos Man, we were all going to be rugged individuals, market participants, free traders, multi-lateralists, indeed, “globalists” and “citizens of the world”. That all of us – rich or poor, of whatever race or creed – were and are citizens of post-Westphalian nation-states, was neither here nor there.

Indeed, bringing a realistic mind to bear on these matters was, for the past 20 years, an unwelcomed perspective. Anyone raising obvious problems for the globalisation consensus – especially where based on geopolitics, culture, history, and the sheer unlikelihood of consensus being achieved on basic questions of how vastly different societies are ordered – were seen as antiquated, pessimistic, perhaps even various types of ‘phobic’. To borrow from one of the truly appalling books of that age, you buying your own Lexus mattered more than your stewarding your grandfather’s olive tree.

Ironically, nowhere was this delusional, “third way”, liberalism more dominant than in what were nominally social democratic, workers’ parties, such as the Democrats under Bill Clinton and British Labour under Tony Blair, where a veritable ‘new class’ of middle class intellectuals wrested control of political parties from legacy trade union control. One saw basically the same world view carried on into the era of Barack Obama and the liberal “Remainer” David Cameron. Where it was once essential for leadership, apart from war experience, to have worked in the mines, on the wharves, or on the shop, factory, or foundry floor, all that you needed now was an Oxbridge or Ivy League education and the capacity to speak in focus-grouped clich├ęs that would cause a management consultant to be embarrassed.
And this is the beginning of wisdom when thinking about China's role in the post-pandemic world order:

The PRC's leadership is committed only to its own survival. If that means, for President Xi and his successors/competitors, allowing an entirely false narrative on a deadly virus to go out to the world, or for Uighur Muslims to be brutalised in cantonment camps, or this group to be repressed or that person to be silenced, then so be it. No one in Beijing looks at the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with it the former communist party, as anything other than as a fate to be avoided.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020


He felt his hunger no longer as a pain but as a tide. He felt it rising in himself through time and darkness, rising through the centuries, and he knew that it rose in a line of men whose lives were chosen to sustain it, who would wander in the world, strangers from that violent country where the silence is never broken except to shout the truth. He felt it building from the blood of Abel to his own, rising and spreading in the night, a red-gold tree of fire ascended as if it would consume the darkness in one tremendous burst of flame. The boy’s breath went out to meet it. He knew that this was the fire that had encircled Daniel, that had raised Elijah from the earth, that had spoken to Moses and would in the instant speak to him. He threw himself to the ground and with his face against the dirt of the grave, he heard the command. GO WARN THE CHILDREN OF GOD OF THE TERRIBLE SPEED OF MERCY. The words were as silent as seed opening one at a time in his blood.

Flannery O'Conner
The Violent Bear It Away

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A Seekers Progress

All right we are two nations
John Dos Passos, The Big Money

Chris Arnade is a remarkable reporter and a better man. His book Dignity has a special resonance during this corona virus crisis.

Front Row America is doing pretty well. Back Row America is devastated. The brave firefighters of the MSM – First Row America at its least appealing – have no real desire to report on that devastation.

This CSPAN interview with Arnade is remarkable and powerful.

Good essay on Arnade and his book by Rob Dreher here.

A little Chesterton from Heretics:

In practice the great difference between the medieval ethics and ours is that ours concentrate attention on the sins which are the sins of the ignorant, and practically deny that the sins which are the sins of the educated are sins at all.
We are always talking about the sin of intemperate drinking because it is quite obvious that the poor have it more than the rich. But we are always denying that there is any such thing as the sin of pride, because it would be quite obvious that the rich have it more than the poor.

We are always ready to make a saint or a prophet of the educated man who goes into cottages to give a little kindly advice to the uneducated. But the medieval idea of a saint or a prophet was something quite different. The medieval saint or prophet was an uneducated man who walked into grand houses to give a little kindly advice to the educated.
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Monday, April 20, 2020


To be most effective, propaganda needs the help of censorship. Within a sealed information arena, it can mobilize all means of communication-- printed, spoken, artistic, and visual -- and press its claims to maximum advantage.

Norman Davies, Europe: A History


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Rejoice! He is Risen!

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12

Friday, April 10, 2020

"Wood, and nails, and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.

God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mindset matters

Exceptionally good piece here from Michael Bane:

Meditations on Mindset in a Plague Year

The core, the nugget, of a survival mindset is not positive thinking, or resiliency, or focus, although all three of those things play a critical part. I think that the centerpiece of a survival mindset is acceptance. ... Denial can be described as the mental processes that allow us to avoid acknowledging a threat of any kind, essentially sticking our collective fingers in our collective ears and collectively shouting, “LA LA LA LA LA…”

Acceptance, on the other hand, is facing the world as it actually is and basing our actions on, dare I say it, reality.
Always worth remembering Gen. Harold Moore's rules of leadership that he learned and honed in combat in Vietnam:

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.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

But Trump

It would be mid-1943 before Roosevelt finally completed an effective apparatus to execute his roles as commander in chief of the armed forces and chief executive of the government. He relished setting up officials with overlampping and often conflicting authorities. Perhaps the epitome of this was his early effort to mobilize the 'Arsenal of Democracy'. At one time he created sixteen different agencies to manage the different aspects of mobilization, all under the executive branch and all without a superior save for Roosevelt himself. This refusal to delegate poower gained him a degree of control, but he lacked the time and interest in details to make such slapdash structures efficient.

Richard B. Frank, Tower of Skulls

Monday, March 09, 2020

A master craftsman at work

Dwight Macdonald was the intellectual par excellence, which is to say without any specialized knowledge he was prepared to comment on everything, boisterously and always with what seemed an unwavering confidence
Joseph Epstein, Essays in Biography
Is Joseph Epstein America's finest essayist? I know I've never read anyone who is better.

The mark of a great essayist is that you can read an enjoy them even if you initially have no keen interest in the subject of the piece at hand. Epstein never fails that test.

Jacques Barzun reminds us that “Love of what is fine should not make one finicky”. Essays in Biography embodies this worthy credo. An essay on Michael Jordan exhibits the same insight and skill as those on Susan Sontag or Bernard Malamud.

Every now and then Epstein drops a bombshell into the course of his pleasant rambles. They are not delivered as critical thunderbolts -– just an offhand comment that can change your whole outlook on a subject.

[Saul Bellow] created no memorable female characters. Neither, one needs to add here, have Philip Roth or John Updike or Norman Mailer, whose female characters exist chiefly to service their author's sexual fantasies. The great novelists -- Balzac, Tolstoy, George Eliot, Willa Cather, Marguerite Yourncenar -- were androgynous in their powers of creation. Recent male American novelists almost universally fail this test.

Consider Martin Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the four great names in twentieth-century philosophy: the first was a Nazi, the second died certain that America was responsible for all the world's evil, the third was a Stalinist long after any justification for being so could be adduced, and the fourth lived on the borders of madness most of his life

Saturday, March 07, 2020

The medium and the message

From Nicholas Carr:

From context collapse to content collapse

Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.

Content began collapsing the moment it began to be delivered through computers. Digitization made it possible to deliver information that had required specialized mediums — newspapers and magazines, vinyl records and cassettes, radios, TVs, telephones, cinemas, etc. — through a single, universal medium. In the process, the formal standards and organizational hierarchies inherent to the old mediums began to disappear. The computer flattened everything.

I remember, years ago, being struck by the haphazardness of the headlines flowing through my RSS reader. I’d look at the latest update to the New York Times feed, for instance, and I’d see something like this:

Dam Collapse Feared as Flood Waters Rise in Midwest
Nike’s New Sneaker Becomes Object of Lust
Britney Spears Cleans Up Her Act
Scores Dead in Baghdad Car-Bomb Attack
A Spicy New Take on Bean Dip

It wasn’t just that the headlines, free-floating, decontextualized motes of journalism ginned up to trigger reflexive mouse clicks, had displaced the stories. It was that the whole organizing structure of the newspaper, its epistemological architecture, had been junked. The news section (with its local, national, and international subsections), the sports section, the arts section, the living section, the opinion pages: they’d all been fed through a shredder, then thrown into a wind tunnel. What appeared on the screen was a jumble, high mixed with low, silly with smart, tragic with trivial. The cacophony of the RSS feed, it’s now clear, heralded a sea change in the distribution and consumption of information. The new order would be disorder.
I wonder, though, if this really began with the computer and the internet. Didn't we start down this path with television? The same indictment – “ a jumble, high mixed with low, silly with smart, tragic with trivial” – can be laid against the Today show or Good Morning America.

One minute George Stephanopoulos is gravely reporting on the civil war in Syria or a deadly natural disaster. The, seamlessly, he is hyping Disney's next blockbuster or some pop diva's latest album.

Facebook did not give us the Oprah-style townhall debates – television did. The epic decline from Lincoln vs. Douglas to boxers vs. briefs happened before social media was born.

If there is anything novel about about our internet-fueled media environment it is that now the information consumer largely determines their own mixture of high/low, silly/smart instead of a priesthood of deciders in New York and LA.

“Formal standards and organizational hierarchies” were undermined by the internet. The deciders lost credibility and authority when they could no longer hide their mistakes. No more 40 word “corrections“ on page A14 six days after the story ran. Now errors and bias were laid bare in real time.

How can we speak of “formal standards” when Dan Rather and Brian Williams are still treated as reputable journalists by other journalists?

And what of Twitter? We see content collapse in the timelines of the very priesthood that pretends to uphold the standards of serious, high-minded journalism. One moment there is the sober pronouncement about trade policy and the next moment brings another sober pronouncement but this one assigns the hot dog a position in the sandwich hierarchy. Then, after a quick comment on the president's speech we get excited effusions about the latest comic book movie.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Higher education

Variations on a theme:

Calling for the disruption of liberal arts colleges—in order to save liberal education

Small liberal arts colleges are feeling the brunt of demographic changes and America’s declining faith in the higher education system overall, as evidenced by recent closures and mergers. That the situation is boiling over despite correlations between degree attainment and higher lifetime earnings shouldn’t just be chalked up to learners being short-sighted. Financial risk is indeed growing, and increased earnings 40 years post-graduation don’t pay next week’s student loan bills.
Education, Disrupted

Michelle Weise, the senior vice president of workforce strategies at Strada Education Network and the chief innovation officer for the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, has written that although 93% of CEOs surveyed by PwC recognized “the need to change their strategy for attracting and retaining talent,” a stunning 61% revealed that they hadn’t yet taken any steps to do so. Employees seem to agree. According to a recent survey by Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning and Degreed, nearly half of employees are disappointed in their employer’s learning and development programs.

But there are some notable exceptions to this prevailing trend. For instance, in July 2019, Amazon announced that it would “spend $700 million over six years on postsecondary job training for 100,000 of its soon-to-be 300,000 workers.” For now, Amazon says it intends to outsource that training to traditional colleges and universities. But once Amazon has begun to provide the bridge for that training, it’s not hard to imagine that it will be well positioned to create that training itself — without the “middle man” of colleges and universities — in the future.4 Although Amazon’s competitors will undoubtedly keep a close eye on its training moves, perhaps the education industry ought to keep an even closer eye, given that those moves may herald a total transformation in the landscape of learning, from college through retirement.
Could micro-credentials compete with traditional degrees?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

#NeverTrump's Napoleon complex

In War and Peace Tolstoy captures the hubris which led Napoleon to launch his catastrophic invasion of Russia:

To his mind everything he did was good, not because it agreed with any notion of what was good and bad, but because he did it.
The Never Trump conservatives have inverted this mental and moral failure but still suffered dire consequences. failure with dire consequences.

No matter what President Trump does they oppose and deride it. They speak of principles and standards yet the only standard they seem to hold to is Orange Man Bad. They praise intellect and expertise yet their own arguments on TV and twitter are little more than “irritable mental gestures.”

Never Trump “libertarians” announce that they will support socialism with a heavy infusion of Stalinism. “Constitutional conservatives” sing the praises of nanny-staters who are eager to gut the First and Second Amendment.

What we have here is a severe deficit of "lightness of being.”

'Lightness of being,' then, is the ability, if not to find the good in bad things, then at least to remain afloat among them, perhaps to swim or sail through them, possibly even to take precautions that can keep you dry.

John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy
Gaddis sees this quality as invaluable for strategists. The lack of it among NeverTrumpers helps explain so much.

Kurt Schlichter:

From political consultants who are no longer consulted to writers who are no longer read, this is the Woodstock for conservatives who never actually conserved anything.
As FDR said “It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead – and to find no one there.”

In defense of the M4 Sherman

He makes a good case.

US AFV Development in WW2, or, "Why the Sherman was what it was"

Thursday, February 13, 2020

This explains so much

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer