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 would 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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