Quotulatiousness

March 31, 2017

QotD: Government as Superman … reality as Kryptonite

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

… politics is all details. And each of those tiny little details has to be endlessly negotiated, because the system is set up precisely to frustrate a powerful guy with a big idea. You may recall your middle school social studies teacher talking about “checks and balances.” This is what that looks like. Kryptonite, if you will.

So there is no shortcut around the long days spent debating whether the tax credit should be 3.45 percent or 3.65 percent, and drafting pages of legislation that amend some obscure subclause of the immigration code to read “that” rather than “which,” and ending up with a middling, pork-riddled program that costs too much and doesn’t do anything close to what its visionary proponents promised.

Governing is not like building a building; it’s not like running a business. It’s like, well, trying to herd three branches of government in roughly the same direction. These branches are composed of thousands of people, each of whom has their own agenda, and represents millions more, each of whom has their own agenda, and will hound out of office anyone who strays too far from it. This is a wildly ponderous and inefficient way to do anything, which is why I am a libertarian; almost anything can be done better when you’re not trying to build it by a committee.

But in a representative democracy, this is what we have. There is no superhero strong enough to overcome the villain. There is actually not even a villain to defeat, only the unslayable amoeboid agglomeration of 300 million citizens’ worth of unenlightened self-interest. In the immortal words of P.J. O’Rourke: “Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us.”

Megan McArdle, “Voters Want Change. Candidates Disappoint. Repeat.”, Bloomberg View, 2015-08-21.

March 20, 2017

“We call this pope’s persistent heresy ‘Marcionism'”

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren calls out the pope for his heterodox views:

The Left mildly disguise their anti-Semitism by substituting the term “Zionists” for Jews. Our pope does it by substituting “Pharisees” and like terms, in his daily homiletic attacks from Santa Marta — aimed chiefly against Catholic doctrinal precision. Our Saviour, who could hardly have been an anti-Semite, being Jewish himself, did make actual Scribes and Pharisees the butt of parables, and was very sharp on religious hypocrisy. But this was not to the purpose of disowning their religion; rather of showing how representative characters were disowning their own.

As many popes before him were at pains to explain, to Catholics and to others, we are Jews ourselves and our religion is not a contradiction of, but a continuation from, the Truth and truths going back to Moses and before. The Ten Commandments apply to us, too; the Great Commandment that Our Lord specified was itself paraphrased from Hebrew Scripture. He does not “invent” this, He shows it to be the structural and hermeneutic core of the Torah and the Prophets. Echoes of the ancient Scripture are everywhere in our Gospels.

Christ did not come to overthrow the Law, but to fulfil it. He said as much. He came as a scourge not to those who upheld the Law in their lives and hearts, but to those who twisted it. He preached Love, in all its mystery and toughness, not Climate Change.

We call this pope’s persistent heresy “Marcionism,” after Marcion of Sinope, who came to Rome about the year 140, after the Bar Kokhba revolt. Marcion taught that the revelations of Christ and the traditions from Paul were incompatible with what he thought the legalistic, bellicose, jealous and spiteful God of the Jews and their Torah. Gnostic not Christian, he may be found in the roots of the Eastern religion of Manichaeism, which spread through the declining Roman Empire in the fourth century, and flourished in competition with Catholic Christianity for many centuries thereafter.

While I don’t have a god in this fight, isn’t it a bit … presumptuous … to denounce the leader of your own religion as a heretic?

March 15, 2017

Serbian Field Marshal Stepa Stepanovic I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 14 Mar 2017

Serbia’s turbulent history of the late 19th and early 20th century created some hard-boiled military leaders to the front lines of World War 1. One of these was Stepa Stepanovic – but he was not just hard boiled, he also stood with his country throughout the entire war which included the Serbian Exodus to Korfu.

March 3, 2017

Conrad Loses His Job – Nivelle’s Coup I THE GREAT WAR Week 136

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 2 Mar 2017

The new Austro-Hungarian Kaiser is not happy about his Empire’s dependence on the German ally. And he is also not happy about their own military decisions and over the winter has worked to replace key positions with his own men. The last step in that process is convincing Conrad von Hötzendorf to take a position on the Italian Front. At the same time, French Commander Robert Nivelle is trying to get control over the British Armies on the Western Front and the Zimmermann Telegram is released to the press.

February 25, 2017

Updating the junior rank structure of the Canadian Army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Earlier this week, Ted Campbell offered his suggestions on how to address some issues he notes in the lower ranks of the Canadian Army, based on both Canadian and allied armies’ experiences:

There was always a problem with the old (1850s to 1960s) Army rank structure: there was some need to tie rank to trade, but not as tightly, many military people believe, as […] in the Canadian Armed Forces today. Some branches (corps) used to have fairly strict rules; in the old (1960s) Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, for example, the technicians, amongst the very highest paid soldiers in the whole army, could not attend the long, difficult and expensive, advanced (3rd of 4 levels) technician course until they had passed the junior leadership course and they could not attempt the senior leadership course until they had passed the advanced technician’s course, and so on. But that system always excluded some good people. There were, and still are today, many people who can be excellent, even outstanding technicians but cannot lead or manage soldiers. The United States Army addressed this same issue by creating the “specialist” grouping which allowed soldiers to “advance” through part of the pay system ~ higher salaries for technical skills ~ but not the other ~ even higher salaries for leadership. In past years there were many different (paid) grades of specialist but now it is a “rank” equivalent to the US Army corporal for soldiers who have not yet or cannot pass the first level junior leader course. The British Royal Air Force has a similar and, in my opinion, better system …

… which recognizes both technical skill and leadership requirements.

In my opinion we should undo much of what Mr Hellyer did, while thanking him for addressing the pay problem, and restore the junior leadership positions, especially the tank and rifle section commanders, to the real, and younger, junior leaders: those in the rank of master corporal. This will restore the senior leaders to their traditional roles as “guides” and mentors to the junior leaders: both to the corporals and the lieutenants. The ranks of sergeant ~ in several “grades” and warrant officer are often, and very correctly, referred to as the backbone or even the “heart and soul” of the army. That is partly because, traditionally, they stood ever so slightly “aloof” from the rank and file. The lieutenants gave orders, advised, coached and mentored by the sergeants, to the corporals who, then, directly led the riflemen but were also mentored by the sergeants. It was, to repeat the words I used to describe the US constitution, “a fine and finely balanced system;” we upset the balance 50 years ago to solve a pay problem. We should, also, adapt the RAF’s aircraftman/technician to our own needs to allow some soldiers to advance “up” in their technical field (and be paid more) without becoming leaders (and being paid more for that, too).

To do that the Army will have to reform itself.

First, it will have to repose trust in its junior leaders; that’s something that will be hard to do, even after the Army, of absolute necessity, makes junior leader training ~ making privates into corporals and civilians into second lieutenants ~ its highest priority and the job it assigns to its very, very best senior leaders.

Second, it will have to restore the “sergeant’s mess” to its traditional pride of place in the Army by giving the sergeants and warrant officers back the senior supervisory and management duties that have, in far too many cases, migrated “upwards” until they are now done by captains and even majors. Once again, it is a trust issue and we live in a world where many of the most senior leaders are timid because they have been “burned” too often, by their own superiors, when a subordinate makes a mistake. Mistakes are part of human nature; they have to be corrected, forgiven, in most cases, and, very often, used as teaching aids.

Third, the government will need to revise the pay system so that junior leaders are paid more and, meanwhile, the gap between corporal and master corporal and sergeant is maintained.

Fourth, promotions, in the Army, at least, to corporal and to captain must not be automatic. Promotion to corporal must require that one pass a very tough junior leaders course; promotion from lieutenant to captain should be by examination.

But, doing these four things will, in my opinion, give the Army a firm foundation upon which to build and fight.

February 22, 2017

TEDxWarwick – Tim Harford – Management Lessons from the War in Iraq

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Uploaded on 17 Mar 2011

Tim Harford is an economist who writes about economics theories behind our daily lives in books and as a Financial Times columnist. All of his books have been sold worldwide and widely translated, namely The Undercover Economist that has sold one million copies. He is the also only person who runs a problem page “Dear Economist” in Financial Times in which readers’ problems are answered with the thought-provoking economic ideas. Tim currently presents the BBC radio series More or Less and contributes regularly to other radio, TV programmes and publications. His talk in TEDxWarwick this year focuses on the similarities between the War in Iraq and the organisation’s top-down management.

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Interestingly, the name H.R. McMaster pops up a few times in this talk…

February 15, 2017

QotD: Authoritarian politicians and “the little Hitlers of the corporation”

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Conventional politicians and commentators are stranded because they were wholly unprepared for the new breed of leader who lies as a matter of policy as well as a matter of course. They are flailing around, and inventing phrases like “fake news” and “post-truth politics” to capture a state of affairs they think is entirely novel. Instead of saying that we are seeing something new, it is better to accept that something old and malignant has returned like foul water bubbling up from a drain.

Comparisons with 20th-century totalitarianism are not wholly exaggerated. With Trump, the lies are a dictatorial assertion of his will to power. “I am in control,” he says, in effect, as he conjures imaginary crowds at his inauguration or invents millions of illegal voters so he can pretend he won the popular vote. “You may know I am lying. But if you contradict me, I will make you pay.”

No one in the west has seen Trump’s kind of triumph in politics since the age of the dictators. But look around your workplace and perhaps you won’t be so surprised by their victories. If you are unlucky, you will see an authoritarian standing over you. The radical economist Chris Dillow once wrote that, while the fall of communism discredited the centrally planned economy, the centrally planned corporation, with the autocratic leader who tolerated no dissent, not only survived 1989, but blossomed.

Dillow is not alone in worrying about the harm the little Hitlers of the corporation might bring. Since the crash, economists have looked as a matter of urgency at how hierarchies encourage petty tyrants to brag their way to the top. They exhibit all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder: a desire to dominate, overconfidence, a sense of entitlement, an inability to listen to others or allow others to speak and a passion for glory. […]

Narcissists in business are more likely to seek macho takeovers and less likely to engage in the hard work of innovating and creating profitable firms, the researchers found. They are more likely to cook the books to feed their cults of the personality and make, if not America, then themselves look great again. Academics from the University of California have asked the obvious question: why would rational companies let the fascism of the firm survive? Surely they ought to be protecting their businesses, as free market theory dictates, rather than allow dangerous and grasping men and women to risk their destruction.

Nick Cohen, “Trump’s lies are not the problem. It’s the millions who swallow them who really matter”, The Guardian, 2017-02-04.

February 4, 2017

Simón Bolívar – VI: All Good Things – Extra History

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

Published on Dec 24, 2016

Simón Bolívar hoped to bring the nations of South America together in one great federation, but he feared that people would think he meant to make himself a king. He tried to step back, but revolution threatened from within his ranks and his body had grown weak with illness.

January 28, 2017

O’Leary is not a maple-scented Trump-lite

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley on the “appeal” of recently declared leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary to Canadian conservatives:

Partly this is just human nature: we fixate on what is nearby and recent. Partly, I think, it’s a convenient way for Canadians to feel superior and comfortable — “at least [INSERT PROBLEM] isn’t as bad as in the States.” And I’m convinced the same phenomenon is at play in much of the coverage of Kevin O’Leary’s candidacy for the Conservative leadership. He is constantly compared with Donald Trump and found much more dissimilar than similar … and yet the comparisons keep coming. He’s been on TV, he’s never been a politician, he’s notably braggadocious; someone like that just became president, ergo it’s more plausible O’Leary can succeed.

Succeed he might. But there are many reasons to think he won’t. The votes are ranked ballots and every riding is weighted equally, which does not benefit a divisive candidate. His pitch that “surfer dude” Justin Trudeau is literally ruining the country will play well among a segment of the party base. But that same segment will be turned off by his stances on CBC (“a premier news gathering organization”), the military (“there’s nothing proud about being a warrior”), peacekeeping (“I don’t want to bomb or get involved in any campaigns … other than keeping the peace”), ISIS (“the last nationality ISIS wants to put a bullet through is a Canadian”), the Senate (why not sell seats for profit?), legalizing marijuana (“a remarkable opportunity”) … well, I’ll stop. Not only is he not particularly conservative, he’s well designed to drive Conservatives batty.

Trump promised jobs to people who had lost them under both Democratic and Republican administrations; to the extent he violated Republican orthodoxy it was that of the elites, not of the blue-collar voters. O’Leary is promising little of substance while violating various orthodoxies of the Conservative elites and base alike. Loving the military, rolling eyes at peacekeeping, loathing ISIS and CBC — these are the things that kept Conservatives warm at night when Harper was governing not very conservatively. Why would they vote against them?

A “Conservative” party led by O’Leary would take a lot of pressure off Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in the next federal election, which may indicate at least one reason why O’Leary gets as much media attention as he does.

January 19, 2017

QotD: Elphy Bey rides again

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

William G. K. Elphinstone (1782-1842) commanded the British 33rd Regiment of Foot (later the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, and today incorporated in the Yorkshire Regiment), and was almost certainly the worst battalion commander in any of the armies during the campaign. His troops broke at Quatre Bras and lost their colors at Waterloo, which he afterwards tried to cover up by secretly ordering new colors; a deception that failed to retrieve the regimental honor. He went on to prove quite possibly the most inept officer ever to command an army, when, as a major general during the First Afghan War (1839-1842), he dithered on so heroic a scale that, of his 4,000 troops and 10,000 camp followers, only one man escaped death or capture.

Al Nofi, “Al Nofi’s CIC”, Strategy Page, 2015-06-18.

January 18, 2017

The bilingual “rule” for prospective Canadian Prime Ministers

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh explains why unilingual Conservative party leadership hopefuls should just plunge right into those French lessons already:

There is clamour in the press right now about the “rule” that a federal Conservative party leader ought to be able to speak in both official languages. I could probably stop this column after the following statement: It’s not a rule. It’s just a very strong precondition for electoral success. Calling it a rule implies that there is some sense in arguing about the ethicality or the practicality of the principle — that it is an idea someone has the power to revoke after discussion of its philosophical merits. It invites verbal volleying over whether Canada is essentially a bilingual country, whether it is proper to exclude qualified unilingual leaders from the Prime Minister’s Office, etc., etc.

You get the normative questions mixed up with the factual ones awfully quickly. You start discussing whether a bilingualism requirement is right or wrong, just or unjust; and political reality stands off to the side, remaining intractable, utterly insensitive to the feelings of ambitious monoglots and their media advocates.

The various Conservative parties have proven that they can, very occasionally, win elections without Quebec. But francophone Canada is just a little bigger than Quebec, and a unilingual leader would now be compromised in campaigning and sidelined in television debate. If he had promised to learn French, which seems to be the hope of Conservative leadership candidates who don’t speak it well, he would be challenged on his skills every week for the remainder of his career. Every speech would be a tiny test, its contents overlooked.

And he would be excruciatingly vulnerable to the good faith and sense of his francophone MPs. When you take all the added challenges for a unilingual party leader into account, it might be easier to go ahead and just learn the damned language already. (One thing worth remembering is that Quebec’s representation in this Conservative leadership race, and probably in future ones, is proportional to its House of Commons delegation. It may be strategically possible to win a general election as a leader without Quebec, but you do have to win the leadership first.)

It was still feasible for unilingual candidates to win the Conservative leadership (back when they were the “Progressive Conservative” party) into the 1970s, but in practical terms it was nearly impossible to win a general election without substantial support from Quebec (which would not be given to a monolingual leader). At this late stage, I read any Conservative leadership hopeful who does not speak both official languages to be angling for a “Kingmaker” or power broker role rather than expecting to actually win.

January 17, 2017

Vice Chief of the Defence Staff relieved of duty

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Vice Admiral Mark Norman, former head of the Royal Canadian Navy, was relieved of duty as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff on Monday. Details are sketchy, but Robert Fife and Steven Chase report on the highly unusual activity for the Globe and Mail:

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was relieved of his duties as the Canadian military’s second-highest-ranking officer over alleged leaks of highly classified information, The Globe and Mail has learned.

A source said General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, ordered Mr. Norman’s removal after an investigation of “pretty high-level secret documents” that had allegedly been leaked.

The source would not provide further information on the nature of the sensitive leaks. It is unknown whether the alleged leaks were to journalists, business interests or another country.

The military is offering no explanation for this extreme measure which took place Monday morning.

Vice-Adm. Norman has served in the Forces for 36 years and was previously in charge of the Royal Canadian Navy. He commanded the Royal Canadian Navy for more than four-and-a-half years until General Vance appointed him as vice-chief in January 2016.

The use of the term “temporary” to describe Admiral Norman’s relief may indicate that further investigation is required (my speculation), but no official explanation has been provided yet.

January 11, 2017

Luigi Cadorna – The Generalissimo I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

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

Published on 10 Jan 2017

Luigi Cadorna was the Italian Chief of Staff when World War 1 broke out and when Italy joined the conflict a year later. He was a man of tradition and believed that most important factor of military success was the will and determination of his soldiers. During the numerous Battles of the Isonzo River, this doctrine proofed disastrous for his troops.

December 24, 2016

QotD: Getting NATO nations’ attention

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

How to make some NATO members move in the right direction? Here’s an idea. Let me pull one of my “NATO Motivator” concepts out of my goodie-bag.

You learn quickly in NATO that one of the most critical and important things to many in the alliance is a thing called Flags-to-Post.

It is when NATO decides which nations will get which senior uniformed and senior civilian adviser billets. Trust me on this; the conflict in AFG, refugee crisis, etc – none of that stuff goes in front of anything related to Flags to Post.

If you’d like to bring attention to the “Press allies on defense spending” point, do this; the minute an Estonian General (pop. 1.3 million, percent of GDP on defense, 2.04%) take a position usually held by say, a Belgian General (pop. 11.2 million, percent of GDP on defense, 1.05%), then you will get people’s attention.

Just an idea.

CDR Salamander, “Make NATO Great Again”, CDR Salamander, 2016-11-14.

December 16, 2016

The Mesopotamian Front Awakes – Joseph Joffre Gets Sacked I THE GREAT WAR Week 125

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

Published on 15 Dec 2016

After the humiliating defeat at Kut, the British forces in Mesopotamia have been busy building a proper supply chain up the Tigris river. Their goal is Basra and they are even dreaming of taking Baghdad. At the same time, French general Robert Nivelle, the new hero of the French army, is promoted while Joseph Joffre is no longer needed.

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