Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Is strategy non-essential?

A provocative post by the always interesting Ad Contrarian:

The Luxury Of Strategy

Tactics can often be a matter of life and death, while strategy is often a luxury. As Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a strategy until they get hit."

Having spent centuries in the ad business, one thing I learned is that the tactical always seems to drive out the strategic. When the rubber meets the road, and decisions about spending money have to be made, if financial resources are scarce, the tactical always wins.

One of the most powerful and unrecognized benefits of a successful brand is the financial wherewithal to support both tactical and strategic advertising. Most businesses don't have the means to do this.

Strategy is the advantage of the wealthy.

He's not exactly wrong, but the weight of history seems to be on the other side of the question.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In the end, competence in strategy and policy is the most important component in the success or failure in the conduct of war over the past 400 years. As the author and his colleague, Allan Millett, have noted about the first half of the twentieth century, “it is more important to make correct decisions at the political and strategic level than it is at the operational and tactical level. Mistakes in operations and tactics can be corrected, but political and strategic mistakes live for ever.”
Wm. Murray, War, Strategy and Military Effectiveness
This is not to underestimate the importance of the short-term and the tactical. Successful leaders have always understood the need to balance the short-term and long-term.

Any statesman is in part the prisoner of necessity. He is confronted with an environment he did not create, and is shaped by a personal history he can no longer change. It is an illusion to believe that leaders gain in profundity while they gain experience. As I have said, the convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstances.
Henry Kissinger

What distinguishes leaders who have attempted to develop and execute a grand strategy is their focus on acting beyond the demands of the present. In other words, they have taken a longer view than simply reacting to the events of the day. Nor have they concentrated on only one aspect of the problem. Instead, in times of war, while they may have focused on the great issue confronting them, such as Lincoln's effort to maintain the Union in the great Civil War that enveloped North America, that vision has recognized the political, economic, and diplomatic framework within which the conflict was taking place.

Thus, those who develop a successful grand strategy never lose sight of the long-term goal, whatever that may be, but are willing to adapt to the difficulties of the present in reaching toward the future.

Williamson Murray, The Shaping of Grand Strategy
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.
John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy

Making strategy in the real world

Smart talk on strategy
So how can we reconcile these two propositions? How can Ad Contrarian's analysis be on the money if strategy is not a luxury but absolutely essential?
Part of the answer can be found in an old Borscht-belt joke. To restate it for our purposes:
To the client you're a strategist, to the agency you're a strategist. But to a strategist, you're no strategist.

We know that they are not strategists because their solutions ignore the short-term imperative that their clients face. A strategy is a map from here/now to there/future/better. What matters is the path forward. Too often advertising strategists ignore the path and just emphasize the beautiful, desired end-state.

That isn't strategy--- it is hope repackaged as sales hype.

Conquest's Law definitely applies.

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Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-14

Sunday, October 31, 2021

The robust hypocrisy of white SJWs

Someone should ask Robin DiAngelo about this.

Their Sin, Your Penance

It is also significant that fervent identitarianism, which Azerrad correctly describes as a secular version of sin and redemption, is described as transformative but enacted in ways that are merely performative. There are no known examples of any white liberal giving up a tenured professorship or syndicated column so that the vacancy may be filled by a member of an oppressed, under-represented minority group. Though tormented by complicity in the oppression of victims, white liberals reliably devise penances that will be performed by other people. Their ferocity in denouncing housing discrimination, for example, is matched by their resourcefulness in keeping low-income housing out of liberal enclaves like Marin County, California.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The more things change ...

Winston Churchill, St. George's Day speech (1933):

The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within…. They come from a peculiar type of brainy people always found in our country, who, if they add something to its culture, take much from its strength. Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians.… Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.

Monday, August 09, 2021

A confederacy of (sinister) dunces

Or maybe a conspiracy of sorts

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

They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders – signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. – Douglas Adams

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization. – Jerry Pournelle

Q: Which group shows up on cable news shows as “respected” experts?


The system they are defending has failed America repeatedly. From Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the opioid epidemic to China to the COVID pandemic – their system has produced death, impoverishment, misery and despair.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Following in Russia's Footsteps

The revolution of Peter the Great replaced the obsolete squirearchy of Russia -- with a European bureaucracy; everything that could be copied from the Swedish and German laws. everything that could be taken over from the free municipalities of Holland into our half communal, half absolutist country, was taken over. But the unwritten, the moral check on power, the instinctive recognition of the rights of man, of the rights of thought, of truth, could not be and were not imported.

Aleksandr Herzen, From the Other Shore (1855)
Russian reformers did not (or could not) recognize the intangible values and beliefs that represented the essential underpinnings of the liberal West and its modern economy. This, ironically, is a fairly common modern bias. Scholars and bureaucrats focus on what can be counted, graphed, and diagrammed. Those things that do not yield easily to those modes of analysis are ignored, dismissed, and disparaged.

But this is not about Russia's failure to become a liberal nation or modern society.

No, what is striking about the West in 2021 is that we have, for a variety of reason, forgotten and discarded so many of those habits and principles that are the foundation of our liberty and the engines of our economic success. What is wrong with our civilization can be said with one word — unreality. We are in no danger either from the vices or the virtues of vikings; we are in danger of forgetting all facts, good and bad, in a haze of high-minded phraseology.

G. K. Chesterton
Herzen was a Russian intellectual, an exile, and a socialist. Yet his diagnosis of Russia's problem is almost identical to that of Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis de Custine – a French aristocrat and enemy of the Revolution. When Custine travelled to the Tsar's realm he was struck by the pervasive, active unreality of the place. Truth was something to be feared and avoided.

For all the Romanovs's evident piety and the Tsar's public orthodoxy, the Russian regime was soul-crushing. Custine meant this literally: To him “the two greatest gifts of God” were “the soul and the speech that communicates it.” In Russia honest speech was dangerous, hence rare. As a result souls withered.

Theodore Dalrymple:

People became hypocritical, cunning, mistrustful, cynical, silent, cruel, and indifferent to the fate of others as a result of the destruction of their own souls. Moreover, the upkeep of systematic untruth requires a network of spies: indeed, it requires that everyone become a spy and potential informer.

If Custine were among us now, he would recognise the evil of political correctness at once, because of the violence that it does to people’s souls by forcing them to say or imply what they do not believe but must not question. Custine would demonstrate to us that, without an external despot to explain our pusillanimity, we have willingly adopted the mental habits of people who live under a totalitarian dictatorship.

A century passes. Russia has its own Revolution. The Tsar is no more. And yet some things remain the same:

Sir Isiah Berlin was an often astute observer who spent time in FDR's Washington and in the Soviet Union during the peak of Stalin's Terror. As historian John Lewis Gaddis notes the contrast was stark and immediately discernible:

America and Russia differed, he could now see, not just in geographies, histories, cultures, and capabilities, but also, critically, in necessary ecologies. One thrived on cacophony. The other demanded silence.
As Dalrymple notes, a great number of ostensible leaders in the West seem eager to create a regime in which everybody must either affirm lies or remain silent.

Custine was scathing about the public art and architecture of St. Petersburg. The city had its grandeur, but it was built on an inhuman scale. By design the individual was made to feel insignificant and isolated. Many of the governmental offices were magnificent but to Custine that meant they were “temples erected to clerks”.

Exhausting the resources of the country, they only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people.... The state swelled up; the people grew lean.

Vasily Klyuchevsky
In the West the clerks have gradually morphed from public servants to a privileged Mandarin class.

It was not always so.

Making (Big) government work

La Guardia the crusading and compassionate liberal was also in the habit, when he witnessed city workers great or small behaving incompetently, of firing them on the spot. (Sample story: He finds a group of park workers lounging during working hours. He fires sixty of them for "loitering.") The city is to be run tautly, seriously, and whining drives La Guardia the crusading liberal crazy. I pay no attention, he declares, to "political whiners." Merit is a sacred idea to La Guardia the compassionate liberal.


When do disasters become catastrophes?

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Warning from a disillusioned Old Bolshevik

True literature can only exist where it is created not by diligent and trustworthy officials, but by madmen, misfits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and sceptics. When a wrtiter must be sensibly and rigidly orthodox, when he must make himself useful today, when he cannot lash out at everyone, like Swift, or smile at everything, like Anatole France, there can be no bronze literature, there can only be a paper literature, a pulp literature read today and used for wrapping bars of soap tomorrow.

Yergeny Zamyatin I am Afraid (1921)

Friday, July 16, 2021

Gulags, guillotines, and iconoclasts

Perhaps the best proof of the excellence of the Claremont Review of Books is how well the articles hold up over time. For instance, this article from last summer by Agelo Codevilla:

Millenarian Mobs
An old and dangerous story.

Destroying symbols, however, has had no place within Christian civilization. As the equivalent of torturing dead men, it has always been the work of cowards likelier to run from living enemies. On the other hand, war against statues, paintings, books, biographies, etc., has been a defining feature of civilization’s revolutionary enemies, consistent with their chosen identities as alien tribes.
Codevilla agrees with the New Left that the “issue is never the issue.” For the leaders of the woke mobs the goal is revolution guided by noble and pure leaders (i.e. them). Like McLuhan, Codevilla locates the source of their moral fervor, not in intrinsic righteousness, but in those leaders mediocrity:

Almost invariably the leaders have been outcasts, or what Marxists call “lumpen-intellectuals.” In the Middle Ages they were half-educated, dissident or apostate lower clergy. Their initial focus was some obvious evil. As often as not, they claimed heavenly messages or apparitions as their authority. Their audience was twofold: those who saw themselves as the evil’s primary victims and those who wished to shed their responsibility for it. To the former, the prophets promised redress and immediate relief, while to all, and especially to the latter, they promised a role in a holy enterprise. Some sort of confession of sin and cleansing ritual would follow. Some of these—the Flagellants’ self-abuse, for example—were bloody impressive. Most ritual cleansing, however, was symbolic.

Those who had undergone cleansing believed themselves so pure that they were no longer capable of sin. These elect believed they could, and even should, engage in the very practices that they had decried in others. Ridding the world of misbelief and misbelievers motivated the ritually purified elite.
He offers an equally dark view of what drives many of the foot soldiers:

But the masses to whom they transmitted their mission dispensed with self-cleansing. They reduced the mission to killing their enemies. They would cleanse themselves as well as the world while entitling themselves to primacy and vengeance by wreaking destruction.
These movements “held out the prospect of long-sought vengeance—of taking power over the evil ones and destroying them utterly. At the very least, they offered a justification for the robbery, rape, and murder they had always dreamt of committing. “Soon we will drink blood for wine” was a common refrain.

As Codevilla notes, one thing united Robespierre, Hitler, and Stalin: a hatred of established institutions, especially the Christian church.

Hitler, in his published table talk, claimed that he and Stalin were the only true revolutionaries because, unlike Mussolini, they were tearing down their countries’ intellectual and physical ties to the past. Mussolini, he noted, had done nothing to cut Italy off from its past. He had neither destroyed buildings and statues nor burned any books. The king still reigned, and the priests ran the educational system. Hitler was proudest of the Nazi party’s burning of bad books.
On Stalin's war on Christianity:

No one will ever know how many Russian Orthodox priests Stalin ordered either to be shot outright or murdered in the Gulag—350,000 is a low estimate. Few Ukrainian Catholic priests escaped murder. Eradicating knowledge of Russia’s past while denigrating Christian civilization as the enemy of the proletariat became the focus of the Soviet regime’s educational system. Ostentatiously, it desecrated churches or simply razed them. The 1931 demolition of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior—by some measures Christendom’s biggest church—was Stalin’s boldest statement in support of Marxism’s contention that all previous history had been an abomination, and of the Communist Party’s right to crush its enemies. It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of civilization’s symbols.
Readers of the CRB are not surprised by the wave of church burnings sweeping Canada.

Chris Bedford: Media Are Activists That ‘Want To Destroy Christianity’ While Egging On Church Attacks
More importantly, they understand the sources of the violence and what may yet come.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Hard truths about cyber-security

We Already Know How to Stop SolarWinds-Like Hacks

We currently have a situation where users expect software to have bugs, and programmers are encouraged to rush software out the door first and fix it later. Instead of penalizing the manufacturers for security bugs, we treat them almost as natural disasters—no one’s fault. The way that updates are easily distributed and automatically installed over the Internet encourages this, but it’s a major problem when it comes to security. Until this situation is changed, we can expect to keep hearing about security breaches despite PUFs and other exciting new technical tools.
Millions of computer users have paid a high price so that Bill Gates could become insanely rich and hangout with Jeffrey Epstein.

The Threat

Back in the early 1990s, for example, if you visited the Microsoft campus in Redmond and you pointed out that something people were working on had a flaw or could be done better, they’d say, “No, we’re going to ship it Tuesday and get it right by version three.” And that’s what everybody said: “Ship it Tuesday. Get it right by version three.” It was the philosophy. IBM and the other established companies were really down on this. They were saying, “These guys at Microsoft are just a bunch of hackers. They don’t know how to write proper software.”

But Bill had understood that in a world where markets tip because of network effects, it’s absolutely all-important to be first. And that’s why Microsoft software is so insecure, and why everything that prevails in the marketplace starts off by being insecure. People race to get that market position, and in the process they made it really easy for people to write software for their platform. They didn’t let boring things like access controls or proper cryptography get in the way.

Once you have the dominant position, you then put the security on later, but you do it in a way that serves your corporate interests rather than the interests of your customers or your users.

Bill Gate’s most brilliant coup was to export the ethos of a hobbyist sub-culture over to the business and consumer marketplaces.


The 100 billion dollar idea

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Everything old is new again... and again... and again...

From the June 2021 Sloan Management Review:

Why Good Arguments Make Better Strategy

Great leaders create ways of engaging their teams that can cut through this strategic fog. They may adopt frameworks to guide their analysis, but they expect participants in strategy discussions to contribute coherent reasoning and defensible ideas. Amazon is well known for its requirement that major initiatives be proposed in the form of a six-page memo. The virtue of the memo — versus a slide deck — is that writing in full sentences and paragraphs forces leaders to clarify how their ideas connect to each other. Similarly, Netflix has driven stunning transformations in the media landscape in part through its success at encouraging its leaders to debate ideas frankly and its willingness to empower them to take risks without waiting for an annual strategy planning process. It is no surprise that CEO Reed Hastings views working from home as “a pure negative” for the company, in part because “debating ideas is harder now.”

The emphasis on vigorous debate at Netflix and Amazon clarifies a truth that many approaches to strategy obscure: At their core, all great strategies are arguments. Sure, companies can and do get lucky; sellers of hand sanitizer, for instance, have done very well during the pandemic. But sustainable success happens only for a set of logically interconnected reasons — that is, because there is a coherent logic underlying how a company’s resources and activities consistently enable it to create and capture value. The role of leaders is to formulate, discover, and revise the logic of success, making what we call strategy arguments.

Amazing discoveries by Amazon and Netflix. Cutting edge insight – breakthrough thinking.

Or something

The war on Powerpoint isn't measured in years; it's measured in decades.

Soon we will refer t it as a multi-generational struggle.

Louis Gerstner started shaking things up at IBM in 1993 by banishing slides and bullet points. He recounted his triumph in his 2002 book.

Before that the Harvard Business Review hailed 3M for reinventing strategic planning by using prose.

Strategic Stories: How 3M Is Rewriting Business Planning (1998)
Imagine how much time, effort, and money could be saved if B-schools assigned real books instead of ephemera.

Reading makes a full Man, Meditation a profound Man, discourse a clear Man.

My brother, Cecil Edward Chesterton, was born when I was about five years old; and, after a brief pause, began to argue. He continued to argue to the end. . . . I am glad to think that through all those years we never stopped arguing; and never once quarrelled. Perhaps the principle objection to a quarrel is that it interrupts an argument

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; and, therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend


Fortune and fashion

Imperial power

Power is a far more complex and mysterious quality than any apparently simple manifestation of it would appear. It is as much a matter of impression, of theater, of persuading those over whom authority is wielded to collude in their subjugation. Insofar as power is a matter of presentation, its cultural currency in antiquity (and still today) was the creation, manipulation, and display of images.

Jas Llmer The Art of the Roman Empire: 100-450 AD

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

May 1942: The end of empires

By the end of May 1942 the Japanese military had completed their conquest of the Asian colonies of France, Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. Although Japan was eventually defeated, the Western powers could not re-establish their hold over their former colonies.

A colonial officer in Burma neatly summed up the issue.

The old unquestioning confidence had gone – on both sides. We had been driven out of Burma. The Burmans had seen this happen. In the trite phrase, things could never be the same again.
Successful empires depend on a combination of power, competence, and inertia to maintain their sway over their subjects. The Japanese victories demonstrated that European power and competence were illusory. Vichy France acceded to Japan without a struggle. Britain fought but still suffered repeated, humiliating defeats. The Netherlands existed only as a government-in-exile whose last vestige of independent power – their navy-- now rested at the bottom of the Java Sea. The US Navy was powerless to save the Philippines.

Correlli Barnett called war “the great auditor of institutions”. Nearly all the institutions of the colonial powers failed their audit in the spring of 1942.  

Richard Frank is unsparing in cataloging the egregious failures of the British in the Far East. The military and colonial administrators took bad situations and turned them into catastrophes. What few bright spots he points to were not the Apollonian experts who were tasked with running the colonies: these failed at nearly every juncture. Instead, the only organizations were groups like the Burma Forest Department and the Assam Tea Planter Association.

In Assam, the Indian Authorities proved ineffective. Filling the desperate breach was the Assam Tea Planters Association, towering heroes of the whole tragedy. An elite group of thoroughly practical men, mostly of Scottish origins, dominated this organization. They were accustomed not to polo and gin drinking on the veranda, but to hard practical organizational work demanding an early rise and a full day's effort. They mobilized and deployed 60,000 workers on criticl roads to support the military effort until they encountered the humanitarian disaster. They proceeded to round up the ragged, starved trekkers and assemble them in transient and redception camps the government failed to establish

Without their efforts thousands more would have died.


When do disasters become catastrophes?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

#FakeNews secrets: How the sausage gets made

This might be the most important book published this year:

A review from Jason Foster in The Federalist:
New Book From Former NYT Reporter Eviscerates The Bogus Steele Dossier And The Journalists Who Peddled It

Out today, Barry Meier's book contains a comprehensive, page-turning narrative of the massive media and political dumpster fire that was the Steele dossier.

The New York Times published an excerpt:

Secret Sharers: The Hidden Ties Between Private Spies and Journalists
A booming, renegade private intelligence industry is increasingly shaping (and misshaping) the news.
Foster's review focuses on the role Fusion GPS played in fomenting the Russia-gate hoax via the Steele Dossier. Meier's book is much more than a debunking of that stew of lies, partisan talking points, and resistance wishcasting. Spooked raises serious questions about the news industry and professional journalism. Knowing what we now know about their practices and methods, any fair-minded reader has to ask: “Why should we trust the legacy media about anything?”

As the title suggests, the problem goes beyond Glenn Simpson, Michael Steele and their Ahab-like quest to bring down President Donald Trump. Fusion GPS also worked for Theranos while that firm was desperately trying to hide the truth about their business. Black Cube worked for Harvey Weinstein to silence victims and scare off reporters.


Harvey Weinstein counted on a complicit media

"The gossip industry is run on the barter system. If I've got a story about you and you don't want it printed you say 'Hold it. I'll give you something better' and I'll print the other story and save you."
Meier reveals that prestige journalists played the same barter game with Simpson that Weinstein exploited before his fall:

Simpson’s animus for Bill Browder apparently remained unrequited. “In order to get Glenn, you first had to do a hit piece on Browder,” said Schwartz, adding that she and Ross weren’t interested in taking up Simpson on that deal.

“Who wanted it known”

At best this behind the scenes barter system is a terrible disservice to news consumers. It hides, rather than reveals, vital information.

Reporters and private investigators long have had a symbiotic relationship that is hidden from the public. Hired spies feed journalists story tips or documents and use reporters to plant stories benefiting a client without leaving their fingerprints behind.
Renata Adler in a review of one of Woodward and Bernstein's books, zeroed in on a critical flaw in modern journalism: the use of anonymous sources and the attendant machinations of source and reporter. Such methods, she noted, “makes stories almost impossible to verify. It suppresses a major element of almost every investigative story: who wanted it known.”

Firms like Fusion GPS now exploit these questionable practices. They make money by misleading the public on behalf of the rich and powerful. Reporters enlist (wittingly but secretly) on the side of the rich. The whole ethos of journalism is turned upside down.

This doesn't accord with the image journalists present to the public. It probably doesn't accord with the self-image journalists have of themselves. Sadly, it is our media reality now.

The bigger scandal is the silence of the rest of the media. Many organizations knew about Fusion GPS's history and its attempt to promote the Russian-hoax. They knew, that is, a vitally important part of the story: “who wanted it known”. They knew, as well, about Glenn Simpson's aggressive demands for quid pro quo for access to his “super spy”. They knew it and concealed this from their readers and viewers.

The “watchdogs” protected each other with a code of omerta.

Photographers hate to be photographed. Surgeons require nearly twice the amount of anesthesia ordinary patients require to undergo surgery. Journalists are the least receptive to professional scrutiny by their colleagues.
Renata Adler

An inconvenient book: The problem with sources

Why ‘investigative journalism’ is problematic


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

When intellectuals celebrated rudeness

These New York writers constituted the first intelligentsia in American history – which is a shade different from a group of intellectuals. The figures near Emerson formed a community of intellectuals but not an intelligentsia – not, at least, as defined by Renato Poggioli: "an intellectual order from the lower ranks ... an intellectual order whose function was not so much cultural as political. Poggioli had in mind the Russian writers of the late nineteenth century, but one can find points of similarity with the New York writers. We too came mostly from "the lower ranks" (later composing rhapsodies about the immigrant parents from whom we insistently fled). We too wrote with polemical ferocity. We too stressed "critical thinking" and opposition to established power. We too flaunted claims to alienation.

A footnote about this "Russianness" of the New York milieu came from Lionel Abel in the forties. Invoking, or improvising, "the tradition of the Partisan," Abel wrote: "For good or ill, modern politics is a school of rudeness… The exquisite aristocratic tact which subtly specified the circumstances under which things could be called by their right names is today something we know about largely from books, not from anybody's public behavior."

Insurgent groups hoping to rouse anger against established authority will always be tempted to violate rules of decorum. Rudeness becomes a spear with which to break the skin of complacency. In its early years Parttsan Review was often rude, sometimes for no reason whatever, as if to demonstrate its sheer prickliness. But there were serious reasons, too. Rudeness was not only the weapon of cultural underdogs, but also a sign that intellectual Jews had become sufficiently self-assured to stop playing by gentile rules.

Irving Howe
A Margin of Hope


Sunday, April 11, 2021

“With our backs to the wall ...”

In the spring of 1918, Germany made one last bid for victory in WWI. With Russia out of the war and the US not yet a factor in the military equation, there was a window of opportunity to defeat France and Great Britain and bring the war to an end. The German high command knew that the military balance was shifting against them; in a few months the Allies would possess an overwhelming superiority in men and material. March 1918 represented a “now or never” moment.

The first attack (Operation Michael) was launched on 21 March against the British Fifth Army. It gained more ground than any attack since the opening battles of 1914. Relentless pressure and innovative tactics threatened to shatter the Allies's front and win the war for Germany.

The crisis came in early April. The Kaiser's troops were within 15 miles of the vital rail lines and communication centers on which everything depended. Haig understood that the position of the entire BEF hung by a slender thread. There could be no more retreats.

He issued as special Order of the Day on 11 April 1918.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
Haig's order possessed strategic insight as well as military desperation:

Haig’s ‘Backs to the Wall’ order had hit upon the key to victory: standing firm. The German tactics would succeed only if the initial blow shattered the cohesion of the defenders so comprehensively that the stormtroopers had little to do but mop up what was left. By fighting stubbornly, the British bought time for reserves to arrive.

Gary Sheffield, Forgotten Victory
The Germans failed to win the war in April. In so doing they expended their strategic reserve and set the stage for their final defeat in the fall of 1918.


“Lions led by donkeys”


Thursday, April 08, 2021

“How an organization deals with change in a time of crisis.”

This book looks interesting:

Learning to Fight

Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918

Learning, innovation and adaptation are not concepts that we necessarily associate with the British Army of the First World War. Yet the need to learn from mistakes, to exploit new opportunities and to adapt to complex and novel situations are always necessary. Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), by Dr. Aimée Fox, Lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London, grapples with this most intriguing of topic, particular for academics with their generally less than positive views of the mental capacities of the armed forces. Dr. Fox's book is the first institutional examination of the army's process for learning during the First World War.

An interview with the author:

Ep. 73 – Learning to Fight

Q:: Many people think that the British army during the Great War was a rigid conservative institution full of butchers, bunglers and individuals like Blackadder's Goes Forth General Melchett - and that it was the same organization pretty much in 1914 as it was in 1918. Is there any truth to this perception? 

A:: I think that perception is influenced by a number of different factors. First off is the Second World War - the ‘good war’ which makes the First World War appear somewhat futile. Also, the Second World War is generally perceived as being more mobile - with really wizzy technology - and I think that makes the First World War seem even more antiquated. I also think that we have a tendency, rightly so I think in some respects, to focus on battles like the Somme and Passchendaele and the incredible losses within those - and I think that reinforces the perception of stupidity. And finally generals always appear quite aloof in their photographs. They've stiff upper lip and you know, they're back behind the lines where cause they're better able to oversee operations, but they're still not sharing the privations of private soldiers. So I accept all of those perceptions there, but I think as with any organization, there are people who are skeptical. There are people who might be over-promoted and might have a limited experience in a particular context. The Army is absolutely no different. There are of course generals who simply aren't cut out for the war that they fought. ButI think it's pretty much a generalization to say that the Army was rigid and conservative because for me at least in my research, I think it demonstrates a lot of flexibility and we just need to look at how it changes. It goes from a small regular army to a mass citizen Army made up of volunteers, of conscripts of different backgrounds, of different nationalities ... It is such a different organization and I  think that the Army's incredibly innovative - and in a way it has to be, because it wants to find the ways and means of shortening the war, but also because it's fighting tenacious armies like the Germans and the Ottomans. So I guess, in short, I think the traditional perception doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny.

The challenges the BEF faced cannot be overstated. Warfare changed more between 1914 and 1918 than at any other time in history.

A British or German battalion commander from summer 1918 could have understood the underlying concepts governing warfare in 1940, 1944, or even 1991. But a 1914 battalion commander magically transported to the Western Front battlefields of summer 1918 would have great difficulty in understanding what he saw.

MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050
It is fair to say that the British army between 1914 and 1918 carried out the greatest feat of organizational learning ever recorded.


“Dollars can't buy yesterday” (II)

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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Russian disinformation shows up in the most interesting places

The most influential treatment was probably Joan Littlewood’s 1963 Theatre Workshop production of Oh! What a Lovely War. This was a seminal work whose influence stretches far beyond the comparatively few people who have actually seen it on the stage. Richard Attenborough’s 1969 film version, although inferior as art, was seen by a much wider audience, both at the cinema and in subsequent showings on television. For whatever reason, Oh What a Lovely War came to symbolise for many people the essential ‘truth’ about the First World War, and was much quoted, alluded to and parodied.

The play has a seductive message: the war was pointless and the soldiers died for nothing. The Allied military victories of July to November 1918 are literally written out of the script. Instead, in the film version, the fighting just stops, the front lines apparently in place. For the original play, Joan Littlewood chose as the finale not the victory of the Allies (which might appear logical) but a scene from Henri Barbusse’s novel Under Fire in which French soldiers follow an officer in a hopeless attack ‘baa-ing like sheep till they were all mown down’.

Theatre Workshop’s ‘Military Advisor’ was Raymond Fletcher, a future Labour MP. His perspective on 1914-18 can be judged by his own description of the content of a lecture he gave the Theatre Workshop company on the War; ‘one part me, one part Liddell Hart [a military historian fiercely critical of British high command] the rest Lenin!’ Only six months before the play was first performed, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the USA and the USSR close to nuclear war. Parallels with the way Europe had apparently slipped into war in August 1914 seemed all too obvious. Fletcher’s ‘Lenin’ remark is especially interesting in view of the fact that in 1999 it was revealed that the KGB recruited him in 1962, the year before Oh What a Lovely War was first performed

Gary Sheffield Forgotten Victory


Sunday, April 04, 2021

Rejoice! He has 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 02, 2021

"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 31, 2021

“Lions led by donkeys”

Circling back.

Steve Sailer
This is certainly true when we look at the image of the British Army in World War One: Stupid callous, pompous officers blithely ordering men to slaughter from the comfort of their chateaus.

'Twas not always so. As Professor Stephen Badsey reminds us, WWI “was also, for Britain, one of the most popular and widely supported wars the country has ever fought, from its beginning to its end. It was also one of the most successful.”

FM Douglas Haig was celebrated as a hero when he died in 1928. It was only later that his reputation fell into decline.

A strong case can be made that it is teachers of English, not history, that have had the greatest impact on the shaping of views on the First World War through the teaching of war poetry. It is not generals and politicians but the ‘War Poets’, a small and unrepresentative group of junior officers, who are the most frequently quoted British figures of 1914-18, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg (who actually served in the ranks), Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden are still remembered, while the very names of most British generals of the First World War have slipped from public consciousness.
Gary Sheffield, Forgotten Victory
The “war poets” were consequential, but their influence was slow to take hold. In the 1920s popular culture still was more likely to have heroes who were bored by the peace rather than disillusioned by the war. (Bulldog Drummond, for example, or Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford).

Agatha Christie, however, was not taught in universities. The War Poets and Paris expatriates were. Over time, this led to a complete reversal of the image of the war, the generals, and the experience of the soldiers.

A half-century after his death, the revision was complete.
One doesn't want to be too hard on Haig, who doubtless did all he could and who has been wll calumniated already. But it must be said that it now appears that the one thing the war was testing was the usefulness of the earnest Scottish character in a situation demanding the military equivalent of wit and invention. Haig had none. He was stubborn, self-righteous, inflexible, intolerant –especially of the French-- and quite humorless. And he was provincial: at his French headquarters he insisted on attending a Church of Scotland service every Sunday. Bullheaded as he was, he was the perfect commander for an enterprise committed to endless abortive assaulting.

Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory )
Fussell, a professor of English, sounds uncomfortably like Bill Haydon here. His verdict substitutes an aesthetic sensibility for strategic analysis. It also manages to combine snobbery with moralizing. (Never a good look for a historian.)

A few years after Fussell published his book the tide began to turn. Historians who studied the war (as opposed to reading poets and novelists) made it quite clear that the Western Front generals rarely had good options in 1915-1917. The correlation of forces was such that if the war was going to continue then it would have to be a war of frontal assaults and strategic attrition. Contra Fussel, “wit and invention” could not provide any path to bloodless victory.


Rational actors choosing self-destruction

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sheep ruled by donkeys?

“Lions led by Donkeys” One of the enduring images about World War One. Brave soldiers sent to their deaths by callous and stupid generals who remained safe and coddled in their chateau headquarters.

This myth is interesting on two counts. First, this image of the detached, unfeeling general pointlessly sacrificing his men's lives is false. But let's circle back to that.

One reason the myth persists is that we find it hard to sympathize with the “donkeys”., As Richard Holmes put it, the generals appear, to us, to be “comfortable, well-breakfasted, privileged, and remote”.

While that is unfair to FM Haig, et. al., the description fits our modern mandarins to a T. It seems completely fair to describe the US today as a nation of “sheep ruled by donkeys”.

The past year has been devastating to the nation: schools closed, students abandoned, senior citizens condemned to unending solitary confinement, the economy crushed, civil liberties shredded. All of this was done at the whim of bureaucrats and governors largely insulated from the consequences of the policies they inflict on the citizenry.

It's bad enough that policy is being made by people with many opinions but no skin in the game. Even worse, every day brings new examples of their arrogant refusal to live by the rules they impose on others.

Spring Breakdown: LA Teachers’ Union Tries to Hide Vacations Amid School Reopening Fight

Teachers union boss in California caught taking daughter to private school becomes poster boy for school choice

PA Health Secretary Moved Mother From Nursing Home to Hotel When Pandemic Hit State

Professor Lockdown Resigns After Breaking Own Lockdown Rules to Meet Lover: Report

Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledges family members have been in Florida and Wisconsin during coronavirus shutdown

Celebrities slammed for maskless appearances at Grammys: 'Elite still party while you lose your businesses'

This strikes close to home
Exhausting the resources of the country, they only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people.... The state swelled up; the people grew lean. “
And let's not forget the role journalists played in this disaster. Nearly every news outlet spread misinformation and promoted pandemic porn. But as the honchos at CNN happily admit it was good for ratings and hurt President Trump. So totally worth it.

This is a calculus that is only open to the comfortable and the privileged. Sadly,much of the legacy media has become the preserve of such people.

CNN Journo Complains $2,000 Peloton Wasn’t Delivered On Time

Journalist Mocked After $22 Avocado Toast Purchase Backfires: ‘Ultimate First World Complaint’

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Kaus-Reynolds in the UK

The Kaus-Reynolds Paradox:

1. A government agency fails.

2. When it finally ‘fesses up, the failure is immediately consigned to the memory hole and no one in power is held responsible.

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.

Green Party's Baroness Jones suggests 6pm curfew for men

UK police officer arrested over the disappearance of Sarah Everard, authorities say

Sarah Everard suspect probed over 'indecent exposure' 3 days before she vanished
Give more power to the police after a policeman commits murder. The logic of the Administrative State is something out of Lewis Carroll. The answer to every problems always involves increasing the power of government-- even when the problems come from government in the first place.

There are no consequences for failure and malfeasance. To the contrary, they are rewarded and, hence, encouraged.

Saturday in London we saw one of the results that arise when the Kaus-Reynolds Paradox is ignored.

London police face backlash after dragging mourners from vigil for murdered woman
Having failed to protect Sarah Everard and having failed to police their own ranks, the London Metropolitan Police took the opportunity to remind the people of London who was in charge.

The Met cannot keep London's streets safe, but they can still bring the hammer down on women at a vigil for a murder victim.

This is becoming a troubling pattern for the UK. After the revelations about grooming gangs and the exploitation of thousands of young girls, police departments across the country re-doubled their efforts – to shut down mean posts on social media.

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.
Honore de Balzac, The Bureaucrats

Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

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Saturday, March 06, 2021

This strikes close to home

Exhausting the resources of the country, they only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people.... The state swelled up; the people grew lean.
It is not a bad description of what public health “experts” and pandemic porn addicts have done to the US over the last twelve months.

It is from historian Vasily Klyuchevsky (1841-1911) and he is describing the effects of Tsarist authoritarianism on Russian society.

Given all the performative concern about the threat posed by Putin/Russia/Trump/authoritarianism, we should probably ponder what Tsar Fauci and the corona panic are doing to us.

Just don't expect to see this sort of analysis on CNN or the Washington Post. The worst consequencs are not felt by the people who work for those operations. To the contrary, the pandemic has been, in many ways, an enormous benefit for them.


WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar APOLOGIZES after saying COVID has been 'really good for CNN's ratings'

Amazon posted record sales and profit for the second consecutive quarter, as it continues to capitalize on a pandemic-driven surge in online shopping.

Blue-checks are afraid of life getting back to normal.
At least one astute observer recognized this aspect of the crisis from the get-go.

Monday, March 01, 2021

The only sound basis for a great State is stately egoism and not romanticism, and it is not worthy for a great state to fight for a cause which has nothing to do with its own interest.

Otto von Bismarck (1850)

Monday, February 22, 2021

We have learned that a wild young man can learn wisdom as he grows older -- if he survives-- but a spiritless young man cannot learn the dash that wins battles.

John Masters,
Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas


Friday, January 08, 2021

The American Spirit

Sir John Keegan on the American GI's who arrived in Britain during WWII:

Americans did not defer; that was the first and strongest of the impressions they made. European travelers to the United States had made that observation even in the eighteenth century, and it was made wholesale by British observers of the GIs. In a society which worked by deference, there were many who were shocked by the upstandingness of the individual American soldier. Enlisted men did not know their place, and their officers seemed unconcerned by the free-and-easy ways of their men. Many of the British, who had been taught their place well, found they liked the Americans for their casualness and admired a system of discipline which worked by getting things done. American energy: that was the second impression. 
Keegan was just a boy when the Americans set up camp in his quiet patch of England. Another historian who served alongside them came away with similar opinions:

One was that they were unteachable. When America entered the war, we in Britian had been at war for more than two years. We had made many mistakes, and had learned something from them We tried to pass these lessons on to our new allies and save them from paying again the price that we had paid in blood and toil. But they wouldn't listen -- their ways were not our ways, and they would do things their way, not ours. And so they went ahead and made mistakes -- some repeating ours, some new and original. What was really new and original -- and this is my second point lastiing impression -- was the speed with which they recognized these mistakes, and devised and applied the means to correct them. This was beyond anything in my experience."

Bernard Lewis, "Second Acts,: Atlantic Monthly November 2007
In the First World War the British and French leaders knew that their hopes for victory rested on American troops. Their generals, however, had no confidence in American commanders. They wanted American soldiers to be incorporated into French and British armies. They bluntly informed General Pershing, that it would take thirty years for the American army to create a command and staff system capable of handling the millions of new draftees. (The US Army had increased ten-fold in less than 18 months).

Pershing's response was equally blunt: “It never took America thirty years to do anything”.

Bravado and energy are not enough – in fact they can be a dangerous combination without competence, Fortunately, the US was able to harness a great deal of competence in both world wars.

Winning a modern war requires more than just battlefield competence. At critical junctures in WWII great victories hinged on matters of logistics, repair, construction, and innovation. Without the Mulberry harbors, Pattorn has no chance to race across France; without the epic repair job (3 days) on the Yorktown after Coral Sea, the US Navy probably fails to win the decisive victory at Midway.

The three volumes of memoirs by Radm. Edward Ellsberg provide one of the best accounts of what American competence and energy can accomplish under even the most adverse conditions.

The net effect of our efforts in heat too intolerable for work was to produce the first Massawa miracle. One American officer and six American supervisors, using nothing—labor or materials or tools—that was not on hand in Massawa or thereabouts when we arrived, in only one month after my arrival had every sabotaged Italian shop in the naval base working at at least the full capacity intended by the Italians themselves; in some cases more. The United States Naval Repair Base at Massawa was fully ready for business the first week in May, 1942, and yet not one of the new outfit of shop machines ordered in America to make it serviceable had as yet been loaded for shipment out of New York!

Under the Red Sea Sun 

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