April 10, 2012

In praise of Britain’s National Trust

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:37

When we used to travel more frequently to the UK, we were members of the National Trust. It was a great investment for anyone interested in historic properties, and quite a bargain at the time. We let our membership lapse because we were no longer able to visit on a regular basis. Kelvin Browne discusses the great things the National Trust is doing and wonders why there’s no Canadian equivalent:

The Trust has lofty ambitions, but it’s not elitist: They know that without wide enthusiasm for the organization, it won’t survive.

Founded in 1895 to save Britain’s architectural heritage and open spaces, the organization’s initial purpose hasn’t changed much. In fact, many of its goals relate to today’s pressing issues, including stewardship of the environment and concern for the preservation of small communities.

The Trust protects and opens to the public more than 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments. They also look after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves and villages “for ever, for everyone.”

Its operating model addresses many of our own concerns related to preserving pieces of Canadian history. However, unlike our system, Britain’s is completely independent of government. the Trust relies on income from membership fees, donations and legacies and revenue raised from its commercial ventures such as cafés, event rentals, the sale of produce from its gardens and farm properties and from leasing a number of its smaller properties to individual tenants.

In other words, no additional taxes are raised to save heritage properties and no meddling bureaucrats inefficiently telling the Brits about their history.

As he points out, the reasons for Canada not having a direct equivalent are two-fold: we are a far younger country and therefore have far fewer truly historical buildings, and we default to expecting the government to take care of preservation of what little we have.

Jack Granatstein calls for the heads of the deputy and associate deputy minister of defence

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:24

Jack Granatstein is very well respected as a military historian and analyst. His interpretation of the F-35 situation leads him to — in effect — call for the dismissal of people whose names are not generally being bandied about in the media:

Then let us look at the decision-making process in the Department of National Defence. Almost all the commentary in the media and Parliament has pointed fingers at the CDS, Gen. Natynzcyk. But he is only the military leader of the department, not the sole ruler. Co-equal to him — and, in fact, in most knowledgeable observers’ judgment substantially more than that — is the deputy minister, Robert Fonberg, in his post since 2007. The associate deputy minister materiel, responsible for all procurement projects, reports to Mr. Fonberg, and the deputy determines what his minister, Peter MacKay, and eventually the cabinet sees. The public messaging in the department is handled by the assistant deputy minister (public affairs), who also reports to Mr. Fonberg. The civilian defence bureaucrats truly wield the power.

The point is this: The uniformed officers of the department provide the best military advice they can. Sometimes they are incorrect; most times they pray they are right because they know their decisions will affect their comrades’ lives. But the estimates of costs, and the spin that has so exercised the Auditor-General, the media and the Opposition, are shaped and massaged by the deputy minister, in effect DND’s chief financial officer, who advises the minister of national defence.

No one comes out of the F-35 affair smelling like a rose. Mr. MacKay undoubtedly made mistakes in overselling the aircraft, and Gen. Natynzcyk likely did as well. But it would be a miscarriage of justice if these two lost their heads to the vengeful axe demanded by an aroused media, and the deputy minister and his civilian bureaucrats escaped unscathed.

Mark Steyn: Derbyshire should not have been fired

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:46

On the National Review Online‘s “The Corner” blog, Mark Steyn expresses the unpopular-even-among-Republians thought that John Derbyshire’s sins did not amount to a firing offence:

… for what it’s worth, I regret the loss of John Derbyshire to National Review. Short version: Didn’t like the piece, but don’t think NR should have hustled him into the drive-thru guillotine on the basis of 24 hours of hysteria from the Internet’s sans-culottes.

[. . .]

On the career-detonating column, I don’t have anything terribly useful to add. But Derb’s wife is Chinese and his children are biracial. And I can see why, in a world in which a four-time mayor of America’s capital city can disparage your own family’s race (“these Asians coming in . . . those dirty shops . . . they ought to go”) and pay no price, a chap might come to resent the way polite society’s indulgence of racism is so highly selective.

[. . .]

The net result of Derb’s summary execution by NR will be further to shrivel the parameters, and confine debate in this area to ever more unreal fatuities. He knew that mentioning the Great Unmentionables would sooner or later do him in, and, in an age when shrieking “That’s totally racist!” is totally gay, he at least has the rare satisfaction of having earned his colors. Yet what are we to make of wee, inoffensive Dave Weigel over at Slate? The water still churning with blood, the sharks are circling poor old Dave for the sin of insufficiently denouncing the racist Derbyshire. Weigel must go for not enthusiastically bellowing, “Derbyshire must go!” Come to think of it, I should probably go for querying whether Weigel should go.

The easy days of piracy are fading rapidly

Filed under: Africa, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

Strategy Page has an update on the anti-piracy efforts off the Somalian coastline:

After two years of immense prosperity, the last year has been a disaster for the Somali pirates. For example, in the last eight months, only six ships have been captured, compared to 36 ships in the same eight month period a year ago. Pirate income is down 80 percent and expenses are up. Pirates have to spend more time at sea looking for a potential target, and when they find one, they either fail in their boarding efforts (because of armed guards, or better defense and more alert crews) or find anti-piracy patrol warships and armed helicopters showing up. Unlike in the past, the patrol now takes away the pirates weapons and equipment, sinks their mother ships and dumps the pirates back on a beach. The pirates claim that some members of the anti-piracy patrol simply kill pirates they encounter on the high seas (some nations have admitted doing this, at least once, in the past). But no one does this as official policy, and the rules are still basically “catch and release.” The big change is that the patrol has become much better at detecting pirates, on captured fishing ships, and shutting these pirates down. Often the pirates bring along the crew of the fishing ships, to help with the deception. But the patrol knows which fishing ships have “disappeared” and quickly identify those missing ships they encounter, and usually find pirates in charge. The anti-piracy patrol also has maritime reconnaissance aircraft that seek to spot mother ships as they leave pirate bases on the north Somali coast, and direct a warship to intercept and shut down those pirates. The pirates have been losing a lot of equipment, and time, and money needed to pay for it.

[. . .]

Pirates have responded by finding new targets (ships anchored off ports waiting for a berth) and using new tactics (using half a dozen or more speedboats for an attack.) The pirates still have a powerful incentive to take ships. In 2010, for example, pirates got paid over $200 million in ransom. The year before that it was $150 million. Most of that was taken by the pirate gang leaders, local warlords and the Persian Gulf negotiators who deal with the shipping companies. But for the pirates who took the ship, then helped guard it for months until the money was paid, the take was still huge. Pirates who actually boarded the ship tend to receive at least $150,000 each, which is ten times what the average Somali man makes over his entire lifetime. Even the lowest ranking member of the pirate gang gets a few thousand dollars per ransom. The general rule is that half the ransom goes to the financiers, the gang leaders and ransom negotiators. About a quarter of the money goes to the crew that took the ship, with a bonus for whoever got on board first. The pirates who guard the ship and look after the crew gets ten percent, and about ten percent goes to local clans and warlords, as protection money (or bribes).

[. . .]

For the last four years, Somali pirates have been operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers from the African coast. The islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. While ships making the Gulf of Aden run know they must take measures to deal with pirate attacks (posting lookouts 24/7, training the crew to use fire hoses and other measures to repel boarders, hanging barbed wire on the railings and over the side to deter boarders), this is not so common for ships operating a thousand kilometers or more off the east coast of Africa. Ships in this area were warned last year that they were at risk. Now, the pirates are out in force, demonstrating that the risk is real.

The 7 rules of bureaucracy

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:27

A long post by Loyd S. Pettegrew and Carol A. Vance at the LvMI blog explains the seven rules (and many sub-rules) of modern bureaucracy:

In order to understand the foundation of America’s morass, we must examine bureaucracy. At the root of this growing evil is the very nature of bureaucracy, especially political bureaucracy. French economist Frédéric Bastiat offered an early warning in 1850 that laws, institutions, and acts — the stuff of political bureaucracy — produce economic effects that can be seen immediately, but that other, unforeseen effects happen much later. He claimed that bad economists look only at the immediate, seeable effects and ignore effects that come later, while good economists are able to look at the immediate effects and foresee effects, both good and bad, that come later.

Both the seen and the unseen have become a necessary condition of modern bureaucracy. Max Weber, considered the father of modern bureaucracy largely in response to the Industrial Revolution, is credited with formalizing the elements of bureaucracy as a fundamental principle of organization. He was also painfully aware of the arbitrariness of bureaucratic decision processes.

[. . .]

One of the truisms of bureaucracies, be they government or private sector, is that if left to their own devices, they will grow bigger, bolder, and less manageable over time. Teasley has seen this happen over and over again and put his considerable intellect to how its apparatus works. John Baden has offered us one of the most promising, yet ignored, solutions to the bureaucratic leviathan. Baden (1993) puts the problem at the feet of politicians concentrating benefits and dispersing costs and believes “predatory bureaucracies” would allow bureaucracies to feed on themselves with the most effective and efficient bureaucracy taking money and responsibility away from those that are less efficient and effective. While a provocative theory, the problem lies in the very rules that underpin bureaucracies. Despite the concept being nearly 20 years old, it has not been attempted, let alone enacted in any meaningful or widespread way.

[. . .]

Rule #1: Maintain the problem at all costs! The problem is the basis of power, perks, privileges, and security. [. . .]

Rule #2: Use crisis and perceived crisis to increase your power and control. [. . .]

Rule 2a: Force 11th-hour decisions, threaten the loss of options and opportunities, and limit the opposition’s opportunity to review and critique. [. . .]

Rule #3: If there are not enough crises, manufacture them, even from nature, where none exist.

Bureaucracies are always on the lookout for a new crisis. In his “Guiding Principles of Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Bureaucracies,” Harry Teasley points to three examples:

  1. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, where an alleged attack took place on two US naval destroyers by a North Vietnamese torpedo boat, allowing President Johnson to deploy conventional military forces to Vietnam without congressional approval.
  2. The attribution of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to Saddam Hussein permitted President George Bush to invade Iraq (again, without the need of congressional approval), after which no WMDs were found.
  3. Man-made global warming. The first two resulted in loss of life and a terrible toll of people maimed and injured. We are still in the throes of discovering the effects of the third crisis.

[. . .]

Rule #4: Control the flow and release of information while feigning openness. [. . .]

Rule 4a: Deny, delay, obfuscate, spin, and lie. [. . .]

Rule #5: Maximize public-relations exposure by creating a cover story that appeals to the universal need to help people. [. . .]

Rule #6: Create vested support groups by distributing concentrated benefits and/or entitlements to these special interests, while distributing the costs broadly to one’s political opponents. [. . .]

Rule #7: Demonize the truth tellers who have the temerity to say, “The emperor has no clothes.” [. . .]

Rule 7a: Accuse the truth teller of one’s own defects, deficiencies, crimes, and misdemeanors. [. . .]

First order of business this morning was…

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:40

The Guild Wars 2 Pre-purchase page went live first thing this morning (Seattle time).

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