Quotulatiousness

January 24, 2015

QotD: General Elphinstone in Afghanistan, 1842

Filed under: Asia, Britain, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.

No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.

Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.

Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

January 16, 2015

Germany and Canada are neck-and-neck … in the helicopter fail zone

Filed under: Europe, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Every now and again, I’ve reminded you about the sad, sad state of the Canadian Armed Forces’ long quest to get new helicopters. If any other western country has had a worse time trying to re-equip their military with capable helicopters, Germany must come close to the top of the list:

As early as the mid-1980s, German army aviation needed new helicopters. Its Vietnam-era Bell UH-1s and Sikorsky CH-53s had seen better days.

France, West Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom got together in 1985 and drafted a scheme to develop a new fly-by-wire, multipurpose helicopter—the NH90. The U.K. soon left the project.

[…]

The NH90 itself struggled through its long years of development—and ultimately proved less than perfectly reliable. The Dutch have struggled to prevent corrosion in their naval NH90s that deploy aboard warships. The Germans have had problems of their own.

In Germany, the NH90 was originally supposed to open a new era of air-assault operations, wherein different variants of the NH90 would haul troops, vehicles and equipment in lightning-fast attacks behind enemy lines. There would also be a naval version.

But when the Cold War ended, funding became scarce. The German military had wanted more than 200 HN90s but ultimately ordered just 122, making large-scale air assaults unlikely. The first few machines arrived in December 2006.

Another seven years passed before Germany deployed the NH90. In April 2013, several of the copters began flying medical-evacuation missions in Afghanistan.

On June 19, 2014, an engine on one of the deployed NH90s exploded during a training mission over Uzbekistan. On Nov. 17, the German aviation security advisory board grounded the whole fleet.

December 29, 2014

Reason.tv Nanny of the Year for 2014

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

Published on 29 Dec 2014

Our nation’s control freaks got even freakier in 2014 – from jetpacks to parking apps, eco-ATMs and powdered alcohol, they were determined to kill anything cutting edge.

They targeted everything from dogs in parks to births at home, and they’ll sic cops on you for hoarding or smelling bad. You might even get busted for doing things that are legal–like vaping while driving, warning motorists about speed traps, or putting up Christmas lights.

And whether it’s yanking chocolate milk, boogie boards, homemade libraries or sunscreen(?!), the control freaks are (all together now!): Doing it for the children.

It’s fitting, then, that 2014’s Nanny of the Year recipients justified their power grab on the same grounds (although the real reason may have more to do with protecting city officials from future caught-on-tape embarrassments).

Check out how one cop’s rant (“Obama has decimated the friggin’ Constitution”) embarrassed a city council into taking home this year’s top dishonors!

December 25, 2014

A critical view of the Star Wars Holiday Special

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The poor bastards at Red Letter Media sit through a full showing of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special so you don’t have to.

December 6, 2014

QotD: Wartime failures of the peacetime army

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Military operations are, arguably, especially mistake-prone, because militaries aren’t like other organizations. A normal bureaucracy has a job, and it does that job all the time. Militaries, on the other hand, tend to spend most of their time not really engaged in their main purpose: fighting wars.

Teles noted James Q. Wilson’s observation about the fundamental difference between a peacetime army and a wartime army. In peacetime, it’s easy to observe inputs but impossible to observe the output — which is to say, how ready your troops are to go out and kick some enemy butt on the battlefield. When you get into a war, this completely reverses. In the chaos of battle, it’s very difficult to know exactly what your people are doing. On the other hand, it’s relatively easy to observe whether they killed the people they were supposed to kill and took the territory they were supposed to take.

That means that the people who advance in a peacetime army are, unfortunately, not necessarily the same people you want around when the shooting breaks out. Virtually every major war I can think of has had a few well publicized firings early on of senior people who had done very well in the peacetime army but turned out not to be ready to lead their men into a fight. The most famous of these is probably George McClellan, who led the Union Army early in the Civil War. He was everything you could want in a soldier — second in his class at West Point, author of several training manuals, beloved of his men and his fellow officers. There was just one thing he wasn’t good at: winning battles. He was passive in the face of Confederate advances, and he didn’t want to attack until he had absolutely overwhelming force, by which he seemed to mean a huge chunk of the adult male population of the Union. You can argue that this was out of totally admirable concern for his men, but it still let the Confederates push uncomfortably close to Washington.

Ulysses S. Grant, the man who ultimately led the Union forces to victory, was a middling student at West Point and eventually left the army because it didn’t pay him enough to support a family. When the Civil War started, Grant was working for a harness company and not really excelling at it, either. But in some ways, having failed in the peacetime army made him more successful in the wartime version: He was not afraid to take risks, because he’d already tasted failure.

Megan McArdle, “Why Militaries Mess up So Often”, Bloomberg View, 2014-04-24

October 2, 2014

QotD: How not to educate the young

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I’m on the road this week, giving talks on my new book about learning to fail better: that is, first, to give ourselves the permission to take on challenges where we might very well fail; second, to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out. This is, I argue, vital on a personal level, as well as vital for the economy, because that’s where innovation and growth come from.

The other day, after one of my talks, a 10th-grade girl came up and shyly asked if I had a minute. I always have a minute to talk to shy high school sophomores, having been one myself.

And this is what she asked me:

“I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?”

I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is “America, you’re doing it wrong.”

I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time? When you’re ready to splash out on an edgy assisted-living facility?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines. This is not the first time I’ve heard this from kids and teachers and parents. But I’ve never heard it phrased quite so starkly.

Megan McArdle, “Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail”, Bloomberg View, 2014-02-20.

October 1, 2014

German Air Force pushed “to the very limits of its capacities”

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

German magazine Der Spiegel reports on the sad state of readiness in the German military:

Last week, a single person pushed Germany’s air force to the very limits of its capacities: Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s defense minister. Von der Leyen requested that two Transall military transport aircraft with missile defense systems be transferred to Amman, the Jordanian capital. The defense minister and a pool of reporters then flew for eight hours on Thursday morning in one of the aircraft to Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Back in Germany, the military had but a single additional Transall at its disposal.

After her arrival in Erbil, von der Leyen proceeded to the palace of the Kurdish regional government’s president. Her visit was to be concurrent with the delivery of German weapons, intended to aid the Kurds in their fight against Islamic State jihadists. Unfortunately, the machine guns and bazookas got stuck in Germany and the trainers in Bulgaria because of a dearth of available aircraft. One had been grounded because of a massive fuel leak. What could have been a shining moment for the minister instead turned into an embarrassing failure underscoring the miserable state of many of the Bundeswehr‘s most important weapons systems.

[…]

Against that backdrop and pressure from the international community, the ramshackle state of the Bundeswehr is no laughing matter in Berlin. At the moment, if Germany’s allies were to ask it to step up its participation in deployments in the Baltic states or Iraq, for example, Chancellor Merkel would likely have to politely pass, creating a highly embarrassing situation for the country. For the moment, though, most pressure related to the Bundeswehr‘s ailments has been directed at von der Leyen. Her critics argue that she has pursued a foreign and security policy vision that goes beyond the Bundeswehr‘s actual capabilities. Now she faces additional criticism that she tried to play down the military’s problems to members of parliament even though senior officials in her ministry were well aware of major shortcomings in the armed forces.

“Contrary to her own list of needed equipment, she created the impression in parliament that anything that could drive, fly or float was capable of full deployment,” said Rainer Arnold, the defense policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). “But we members of parliament will not be taken for idiots.”

The defense minister hasn’t exactly been blind-sided by the criticism either — she’s known about the problems since before entering office almost a year ago. On Friday, she summoned the heads of the German army, navy and air force as well as the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr to her office for five hours of questioning, much of it centering on events in parliament last Wednesday.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

September 18, 2014

If Rush Limbaugh didn’t exist, the left would have to invent him

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:16

Hans Bader on how Rush Limbaugh is a constant gift to his enemies … almost a Rob Ford of US political commentary:

Rush Limbaugh can take a winning issue for conservatives and turn it into a loser just by shooting his mouth off. He gives advocates of extreme left-wing policies ammunition for their views by making stupid arguments when smarter arguments exist, and by lacing his arguments with sexism or scurrilous remarks. He did it recently in response to my commentary about Ohio State University’s ridiculously overbroad and intrusive “sexual assault” definition — which seemingly requires students to agree on “why” they are having sex or making out, which is none of the university’s business. And he did it in 2012, when his scurrilous remarks about contraceptive advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut” and a “prostitute” drove even moderate liberals to support a contraceptive mandate on religious employers that they had earlier opposed (and which the Supreme Court later ruled 5-to-4 violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)

[…]

But instead of focusing on that in his criticism of Ohio State’s policy, Limbaugh changed the subject to asking whether “no” really means “no,” saying “How many of you guys in your own experience with women have learned that no means yes, if you know how to spot it?” He then temporarily backed away from this remark by saying, “Let me tell you something, in this modern world, that’s simply…that’s not tolerated.” But then he returned to the inflammatory subject of “no” supposedly not meaning “no” by saying “It used to be that it was a cliché. It used to be part of the advice young boys were given.”

Liberal blogs like Think Progress, and newspaper blogs had a field day making fun of his comments questioning whether no means no, and using them to imply that the only reason anybody would ever oppose requiring “affirmative consent” is because they are a misogynistic troll like Limbaugh. In response, a columnist at a major midwestern newspaper endorsed the policy as supposedly being “smart” in light of the need to educate people like Limbaugh about consent. (Never mind that Limbaugh is not a college student, and it’s hard to imagine many college students sharing his ancient views.)

As a result, all of my efforts were undone, by a factor of ten. Overnight, a policy that seemed extreme even to liberals I discussed it with became embraced by many liberal commenters at these blogs, partly out of a desire to spite the hateful Limbaugh. It is being used to depict critics of the extreme policy as themselves being extreme.

August 30, 2014

It is to LOL

Filed under: Gaming, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:12

I loved this:

August 21, 2014

Missing the Target, badly

Filed under: Business, Cancon, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:05

I’d heard lots of good things about the Target chain before they came north to Canada (James Lileks, for example, should be getting a regular cheque from the firm for his regular name-check of the local Target store in his writing). When a new Target store opened in Whitby, Elizabeth and I visited shortly after the doors opened. To say it was disappointing is an understatement. We expected to find a new, clean, fully stocked store with different brands and lower prices. What we found was a new, clean store with exactly the same stuff we’d seen before at pretty much the same prices. In other words, there was literally no reason to come back … and we haven’t been back.

Jason Kirby says that our experience was pretty much what everyone else experienced:

Target Canada is an unmitigated disaster. On that point, everyone, from its customers to investors to the company’s executives, can agree. In reporting its second-quarter results this morning, Target revealed its Canadian operations lost another US$200 million, while same-store sales — a gauge of performance that measures only those locations that have been open for at least a year — fell 11.4 per cent from the same period in 2013.

[…]

In a conference call with Canadian media Wednesday, Target chief financial officer John Mulligan declared: “We bit off way too much, too early. In retrospect, (we would) probably open five to 10 stores last year — refine the operations, refine the supply chain, the technology, get our store teams trained. But again, that’s all hindsight, we are where are right now and we’re focused on moving forward to fix this for our guests.”

[…]

It took Target from early 2011, when it announced the Zellers deal, to March 2013 before it opened its doors and could ring up its first sale. To date, Target has racked up $1.8 billion in losses from its Canadian operations. Here a good breakdown of the losses.

In Wal-Mart’s fiscal 1995 annual report, the retailer said its operating, selling and general and administrative expenses, as a percentage of sales, had risen just 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent in each of the previous two years as a result of the Canadian acquisition and launch. By Wal-Mart’s second year in Canada it had already generated an operating profit, having doubled sales per square foot since taking over from Woolco. By year two it boasted a 40 per cent share of the market.

It’s taken three years for Target to admit just how flawed the Canadian expansion has been. An atrocious inventory management system left shelves empty, while Canadians were completely turned off by Target Canada’s decidedly un-Target-like prices on goods.

August 16, 2014

The downfalls of ceremonial guard duties

Filed under: Humour, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Anyone who’s spent time in uniform can probably identify with the victims of gravity, equine misbehaviour, and cussed bad luck in this collection of military pratfalls during ceremonial duties.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

August 8, 2014

Revisiting the economic brain-fart that was “Cash for Clunkers”

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:44

If you listen to big government fans, you’ll often hear how much better it is for the economy for the government to spend money — much better than letting the taxpayers spend that money themselves — because the government is able to get a much higher “multiple” for every dollar that it spends. The “Cash for Clunkers” story may support that theory, but only if you reverse the sign: the program may have been more economically helpful to the auto makers and the taxpayers if they’d just piled up a few billion bank notes and set them on fire. The program ran for two months, and the government doled out $3 billion in subsidies to new car buyers (their old cars were destroyed). The new car owners benefitted, although it seems to merely have brought forward intended new car purchases in most cases, and the auto makers seemed to benefit by moving out a lot of unsold inventory.

However, a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper shows that the program actually ended up costing the auto makers between $2.6 and $4 billion. Coyote Blog quotes the WSJ‘s summary:

The irony is that the goals were to help Detroit through the recession by subsidizing sales and to please the green lobby by putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road. By pulling forward purchases that consumers would make later anyway, the Obama Administration also hoped to add to GDP. Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, called Cash for Clunkers “very nearly the best possible countercyclical fiscal policy in an economy suffering from temporarily low aggregate demand.”

The A&M economists had the elegant idea of comparing the buying behavior of Texas drivers who owned cars that barely qualified for cash (those that got 18 miles per gallon of gas or less) and those that barely did not (19 mph). Using state DMV sales records, this counterfactual allowed them to isolate the effects of the Cash for Clunkers incentives and show what would have happened without the program.

The two groups were equally likely to purchase a new vehicle over the nine month period that started with Cash for Clunkers, so the subsidy did not create any extra auto business. But in order to meet the fuel efficiency mandate, consumers who got the subsidy were induced to purchase smaller vehicle models with less horsepower that cost on average $2,500 to $3,000 less than those bought by their ineligible peers. The clunkers bought more Corollas, and everybody else more Chevys.

Extrapolated nationally, auto revenues may have plunged by more than what the government spent. And any environmental benefits cannot be justified under the federal social cost of carbon estimate of $33 a ton. Prior research from 2009 and 2013 has shown that the program cost between $237 and $288 a carbon ton.

By taking all those used cars off the road and destroying them, the program also created a nasty price spike in the used car market (which hurt the poor almost exclusively). As P.J. O’Rourke said:

… cash for clunkers was just sinful. You’re taking a bunch of perfectly good vehicles, inexpensive vehicles that could be used by people without much in the way of material means, and crushing them. If someone took a valuable resource — something that could really be useful to people — and destroyed it, they’d be in jail if they were private citizens.

Steve Chapman probably put it best back in 2009, “Cash for Clunkers has been a thrilling moment for advocates of expanded government, who say it proves what we can accomplish when our leaders put their minds to it. They are absolutely right. The program proves the federal government is unsurpassed at two things: dispersing money and destroying things.”

July 16, 2014

Rolling Stone is your top source for reliable, informative gun news

Filed under: Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:10

The folks at Rolling Stone are concerned for your safety, so they’ve helpfully put together a primer on the five “most dangerous” guns in America. Because they love you, America:

Rolling Stone dangerous guns 3

Yes, we’re apparently talking about grenade launchers here. I didn’t even know grenade launchers were available to civilians. Awesome!

Rolling Stone dangerous guns 5

Wait, “the explosive that creates the energy to fire the gun occurs in the fixed shell of a shotgun rather than the metallic cartridge of a rifle”. Why would I expect the charge that propels the shot out of a shotgun to be ignited in a rifle cartridge? Is this some sort of magic that allows you to fire a different weapon than the one you’re holding? No wonder Rolling Stone thinks this is such a dangerous weapon!

H/T to Charles C. W. Cooke for the link.

July 11, 2014

Remember the Y2K bug? It just caused draft notices to be sent to thousands of dead men

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:57

This is a story that rightfully should have been published at the beginning of April (except it actually happened):

A year 2000-related bug has caused the US military to send more than 14,000 letters of conscription to men who were all born in the 1800s and died decades ago.

Shocked residents of Pennsylvania began receiving letters ordering their great grandparents to register for the US military draft by pain of “fine and imprisonment.”

“I said, ‘Geez, what the hell is this about?’” Chuck Huey, 73, of Kingston, Pennsylvania told the Associated Press when he received a letter for his late grandfather Bert Huey, born in 1894 and a first world war veteran who died at the age of 100 in 1995.

“It said he was subject to heavy fines and imprisonment if he didn’t sign up for the draft board,” exclaimed Huey. “We were just totally dumbfounded.”

The US Selective Service System, which sent the letters in error, automatically handles the drafting of US citizens and other US residents that are applicable for conscription. The cause of the error was narrowed down to a Y2K-like bug in the Pennsylvania department of transportation (PDT).

A clerk at the PDT failed to select a century during the transfer of 400,000 records to the Selective Service, producing 1990s records for men born a century earlier.

June 23, 2014

Justice Department staff fall for phishing scam simulation

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:36

This doesn’t speak well of the federal government’s staff security training:

Many of the Justice Department’s finest legal minds are falling prey to a garden-variety Internet scam.

An internal survey shows almost 2,000 staff were conned into clicking on a phoney “phishing” link in their email, raising questions about the security of sensitive information.

The department launched the mock scam in December as a security exercise, sending emails to 5,000 employees to test their ability to recognize cyber fraud.

The emails looked like genuine communications from government or financial institutions, and contained a link to a fake website that was also made to look like the real thing.

What’s even more interesting is that the government bureaucrats fell for this scam at a far higher rate than average Canadian internet users:

The Justice Department’s mock exercise caught 1,850 people clicking on the phoney embedded links, or 37 per cent of everyone who received the emails.

That’s a much higher rate than for the general population, which a federal website says is only about five per cent.

The exercise did not put any confidential information at risk, but the poor results raise red flags about public servants being caught by actual phishing emails.

A spokeswoman says “no privacy breaches have been reported” from any real phishing scams at Justice Canada.

Carole Saindon also said that two more waves of mock emails in February and April show improved results, with clicking rates falling by half.

So in an earlier test, our public servants were clicking on phishing links well over 50% of the time? Yikes.

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