Posted by Jay Manifold on 31st January 2015 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
(I am informed that the DoD is soliciting memorial essays for the recently-departed monarch of the House of Saud. My entry, somewhat inspired by a Facebook post by Robert Zubrin, is below. Other ChicagoBoyz contributors are encouraged to compose entries as well.)
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Posted in Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Christianity, Current Events, History, Immigration, International Affairs, Islam, Libertarianism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Religion, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd January 2015 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
So, OK, my employer made me burn off some vacation days before the end of the fiscal year, in the form of a cap on the number of PTO hours that can be carried over from FY14 into FY15, which boundary has shifted by 3 months due to our recent change of ownership. Much lower down, my management intimated that due to certain software-release and testing milestone dates, no significant block of time off in February or March would be approved. But thanks to an unrelated M&A a few years back (a spectacularly problematic one, destined to be a business-school case study for decades to come), we now get the MLK holiday off. I decided to take the whole week and head southwest in search of sunlight. After a swing through New Mexico, I am spending a few days at Crow’s Nest, a 10-minute hike from the 6+ acres I own near Bloys Camp. It’s my first visit in four years.
Mitre Peak (1887m/6190’) as seen from my lot
This is what I would write if somebody made me enter one of those hoary MLK essay contests that middle- or high-school students get sucked into. The entries that I’ve read over the years have seemed pretty unimaginative, but it’s hardly realistic to expect much historical perspective from a teenager. The tone I’m aiming for here is, of course, originality combined with some mildly discomfiting assertions, while avoiding stereotypical politics. The structure is a simple three-parter: past, present, and (near) future.
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Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Current Events, History, Holidays, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Libertarianism, North America, Personal Narrative, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Transportation, USA | 23 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 6th January 2015 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you
I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg, and I worry about you …
– Neil Peart, Distant Early Warning
But wouldn’t it be luxury to fight in a war some time where, when you were surrounded, you could surrender?
– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Reading through background material on the UN’s recent request for $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid in 2015, I find that the number of displaced people was already at its highest since World War II at the end of 2013, and has risen by several million since then. Nearly all are somewhere inside or on the perimeter of the Muslim world, with Ukraine the only sizeable exception. My sense, in which I am hardly alone, is that we are reliving the mid-1930s, with aggression unchecked and chaos unmitigated by morally exhausted Western institutions. That “low dishonest decade” ended in global war with a per capita death toll around 1 in 40. A proportional event a few years from now would kill 200 million people.
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Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, China, Christianity, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, India, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Libertarianism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics, Predictions, Society, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 31 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 28th November 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
And yet there are signals of personal defeat which are like red lamps on broken roads, to these we must pay heed. I grew anxious when a man’s speech began to betray him; when he was full of windy talk of what the Boche had done in the new sector the battalion was taking over, of some new gas. It was always about something which was going to happen; the wretched fellow must have known the mess would muzzle him if it could, but he seemed driven by some inner force to chatter incessantly of every calamity that could conceivably come to pass. It was as if he had come to terms with the devil himself, that if he could make others as windy, his life would be spared. How full of apprehension the fellow was; death came to him daily in a hundred shapes. This was fear in its infancy. It was a bad sign, for when a man talked like that, his self-respect was going, and the battle was already half lost. It was just a matter of time. Such a man did the battalion no good for the disease was infectious; I was glad to get him away.
– Lord Moran, The Anatomy of Courage
[Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola or Black Heva?; and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola Realities and the True Test.]
Not everyone is helpful in what Strauss and Howe call a Crisis Era. This is not a matter of ability or resources, but of attitude. I have recently encountered numerous highly intelligent, capable, and often firmly upper-middle class men who at the slightest provocation vehemently insist that the United States is doomed. This year alone, they have predicted at least three of the last zero national calamities. Repeatedly failed scenarios make no impression on them. Some of these people are actually planning to run and hide somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Leftism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Quotations, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 7 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
as airline stocks tracked – and predicted – Ebola did not become established in the US
Although the false alarms might continue for a few more weeks, we have obviously transitioned into the lessons-learned phase of the Ebola non-outbreak in the US. I will list those lessons below, but first, a useful summary of a talk I attended on the evening of Tuesday the 4th.
[Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series; and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola or Black Heva?]
The venue was the Johnson County Science Café, a monthly forum sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science. Johnson County is, by some measures, the wealthiest county in the country outside of the DC and NYC metro areas; greatly simplifying, this is a product of a somewhat unique combination of blue-state salaries and red-state cost of living. Kansas Citizens for Science was founded in the wake of upheavals on the Kansas Board of Education, which resulted in the initial imposition of, and subsequent drastic changes to, science-curriculum standards for public primary and secondary schools for ~300 school districts half a dozen times between the early 1990s and mid-2000s. The most famous was a 1999 board vote to remove key questions about the historical sciences (including astronomy, geology, and paleontology) from assessment testing, but there were several others which either re- or de-emphasized those sciences as the makeup of the board fluctuated with each election. After a decade and a half of chaos, as of now the board is relatively quiescent – its makeup was ironically substantially unaffected by this month’s wave election – and teaching and testing of the historical sciences is in place. I know several of the key personalities involved, and could certainly tell some interesting stories, but that controversy is not the subject of this post. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Bioethics, Civil Society, Current Events, Ebola, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Markets and Trading, Medicine, Organizational Analysis, Personal Narrative, Predictions, USA | 5 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 17th November 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Posted in Academia, Ebola | 9 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 2nd November 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
[Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age, and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series.]
Time is running out, the man explains, speaking calmly and confidently, in the manner of a university professor. A deadly disease, spread by primitive tribespeople through dead bodies, will kill vast numbers of Americans unless the Federal government uses its powers to stop it.
The man is Russell Eugene Weston Jr., a paranoid schizophrenic who murdered two policemen inside the Capitol building in the summer of 1998. He has been institutionalized ever since.
As I write this, the most widely-read individual blog in the English-speaking world, written by a genuine university professor, is infested with (invariably pseudonymous) commenters not readily distinguishable from Weston; we can only hope that none of them will act on their impulses as he did. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Big Government, Bioethics, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Libertarianism, Medicine, Politics, Science, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, Tradeoffs, USA | 8 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 16th October 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
[Readers needing background may refer to the first member of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age, posted last month. This post, unlike that one, was hastily written due to time constraints involving, perhaps ironically, international travel to a Third World country.]
Constructive foreword: suggested case studies in disruption are the Chicago blizzard of 1/13-14/1979 (~3 million commuters immobilized) and the Milwaukee Cryptosporidiosis outbreak of 3/23-4/8/1993 (~400k residents sickened simultaneously).
Thesis: I argue that, at least with Ebola, inept and overwrought responses pose far greater risks to American society than the disease itself. With regard to managing the risks associated with Ebola in the US, it is vital that we identify easily disrupted institutions and design our processes intelligently to avoid creating bottlenecks, mostly by resisting the urge to overreact; likely candidates include …
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Posted in Big Government, Bioethics, Civil Society, Current Events, Ebola, Health Care, Human Behavior, Organizational Analysis, Predictions, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs, Transportation, USA | 9 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 21st September 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare …
– Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 1”
Imagine that you just stepped out of a time machine into the mid-1930s with a case of partial historical amnesia. From your reading of history, you can still remember that the nation has been beset with economic difficulties for several years that will continue for several more. You also clearly remember that this is followed by participation in a global war, but you cannot recall just when it starts or who it’s with. A few days of newspapers and radio broadcasts, however, apprise you of obvious precursors to that conflict and various candidates for both allies and enemies.
As mentioned several times in this forum, I adhere to a historical model, consisting either of a four-part cycle of generational temperaments (Strauss and Howe), or a related but simpler system dynamic/generational flow (Xenakis). That model posits the above scenario as a description of our current situation and a prediction of its near future: a tremendous national trial, currently consisting mostly of failing domestic institutions, is underway. It will somehow transform into a geopolitical military phase and reach a crescendo early in the next decade. It cannot be avoided, only confronted.
Nor will it be a low-intensity conflict like the so-called “wars” of recent decades, which have had US casualty counts comparable to those of ordinary garrison duty a generation ago. Xenakis has coined the descriptive, and thoroughly alarming, term genocidal crisis war for these events. Some earlier instances in American history have killed >1% of the entire population and much larger portions of easily identifiable subsets of it. Any early-21st-century event of this type is overwhelmingly likely to kill millions of people in this country, many if not most of them noncombatants. And besides its stupendous quantitative aspect, the psychological effect will be such that the survivors (including young children) remain dedicated, for the rest of their lives, to preventing such a thing from ever happening again.
I will nonetheless argue that no matter how firmly convinced we may be that an utterly desperate struggle, with plenty of attendant disasters, is inevitable and imminent, we must avoid both individual panic and collective overreaction.
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Posted in Book Notes, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Leftism, Media, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric, Science, Systems Analysis, Tech, The Press, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 18th August 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying “I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.” The other is “You want fries with that?”
– Robin Williams
I suppose I should say something here, because this quote turns out to be a bit on the poignant side. Readers already aware of some portion of the following detail may be excused for skipping this one; I have alluded to various portions of it in posts and comments on different blogs over the years, and I tend to feel like I’ve worn friends and acquaintances out with it in conversation. It’s that worst of topics, my autobiography.
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Posted in Current Events, Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Tradeoffs | 9 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 1st June 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Judging by what I see communicated by many of my longtime friends, there are a whole lot of confused people out there these days. Here is a helpful list for them:
- Only a small minority of projects, even in relatively successful organizations in highly competitive industries, deliver their promised scope, on time, within budget. A large majority are drastically scaled back, incur huge cost overruns, deliver years later than intended, or are canceled outright. Anything nefarious either fails or is publicized by whistle-blowers or investigators. There are no secret, vast criminal enterprises pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace, and the best-known entities in society, both public and private, can be astonishingly inept.
- Large publicly-funded initiatives, other than those intimately connected to the physical survival of the societies in which they are undertaken, are quite likely to be mainly for show, irrespective of their supposedly spectacular significance. The current American example is the ACA, which has not resulted (and almost certainly will not result) in either greater insurance coverage or lower costs, is notoriously not a fully government-operated, “single-payer” system, and has no pathway to lead to one. None of this matters; indeed, many of its provisions, if they ever go into effect, will do so only after the current Administration has departed from the scene. All that matters is that its perpetrators get to claim to have passed “historic” legislation ostensibly providing “universal” health care. For an example from an earlier generation, see the Space Shuttle, which was supposed to fly 50-60 times per year at $5.5 million per launch. The actual flight rate hovered around a tenth of what was promised, and each launch cost nearly a hundred times the original projection. Hilariously, President Obama is now being criticized for ending this, even though it was collapsing from its own weight and consisted mainly of workfare jobs in Republican congressional districts.
- Notwithstanding phenomena like the above, the United States is probably the most successful large-population country in the world due to its sheer realism, in particular the relative openness and process orientation of English common law, which (to quote myself) “rather than construct elegant theories and then shoehorn (or bludgeon) societies into an unchanging mold,” exhibits “a willingness to work with the world and human nature as it is.”
- Even ignoring the fantastic technological advances, quality of life in the US has improved immensely in the past two decades. Social pathologies have plummeted. The rates of some categories of crime are down 90%, to all-time recorded lows. There are now fewer abortions per capita than at the time of Roe v Wade. Probably three-quarters of Americans live in neighborhoods where violent crime is effectively nonexistent. And the worst labor market in 80 years has done nothing to reverse these trends.
- Large-scale, institutionalized technologies range from the very safe (electric-power generation [including nuclear] and transmission) to the so-safe-there-is-no-instance-of-recorded-harm (agricultural genetic engineering). The problem is that in much of the real (that is, Third) world, they are insufficiently available to provide the thoughtless, comfortable existence that pervades most of the West. Living “off the grid” / following a soi–disant “natural” lifestyle is a plaything of rich people who can slink away into town whenever they get tired of hewing wood and drawing water. Especially water with enterotoxigenic E. coli in it.
- Pharmaceutical companies are not trying to kill you, nor to provoke health crises to sell new drugs. They may in some instances be trying to convince you that your life depends on continuing to purchase their products, whether it actually does or not. Then again, so is the “health food” store down the street, and in all likelihood, what it’s pushing is far more dangerous.
- All religions are not equal. The general heuristic is to judge them by their effects, or at least by their efforts. Those prescribing global expansion through conquest and coercive displacement, and those (especially if they don’t refer to themselves as religions) prescribing the extermination of followers of other religions, are particularly problematic.
- Any conspiracy theory that mentions the Mossad, Rothschilds, etc, is every bit as viciously anti-Semitic as Mein Kampf and should be treated as such. Anyone expressing admiration for Marxist notions and personages is no better. Conspiracy theories involving the CIA quaintly ignore the NSA (which is ~6x larger) and, in any case, descend from Stalinist and Maoist propaganda during the early Cold War and the Korean War. Facile anger about the NSA, however, ignores its well-publicized activities with the analog wireline telecommunications of 30-40 years ago, as amply documented in Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace. The phenomena of Wikileaks and Snowden’s massive data theft are an existence proof that such activities can neither be kept secret nor have much influence on real-world events; as someone who read through the supposedly devastating Wikileaks cables remarked, “[American diplomats] sound like Canadians with better access.”
- No amount of “smart diplomacy” or supposed avoidance of provocation will protect a country from attack. Only a convincing ability to make an attack more trouble than it could possibly be worth can do that, and even such an ability may be insufficient to deter non-state actors and small groups. In combination with steadily declining costs of dual-use technologies, a more-or-less freelance WMD attack somewhere in the world seems inevitable. When it occurs, the greatest hazards to the immediate survivors will be 1) official overreaction, as by ordering the evacuation of a far larger area than was actually affected and 2) popular derangement, which in the worst-case scenario may create a conspiracy theory popular enough to put an extremist political movement in power, even in a large, democratic nation.
Commenters are encouraged to provide additional examples and corollaries.
Posted in Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Health Care, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Management, Military Affairs, National Security, Organizational Analysis, Predictions, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 17 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 4th May 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Many thanks to the commenters on my review. I won’t be agreeing with all of you, but I value your input for increasing my understanding of what others think. I have some related ideas on how to think about the issues raised specifically by Lightning Fall and generally by “preppers” and, indeed, anyone anticipating a societally disruptive crisis in the near future.
NB: this is an essay in the original sense of “attempt.” It is unlikely to fully represent my thinking on these issues even a few years hence; and whether you agree with me or not, I encourage you to think these things through based on your own abilities and experience, and then act as your specific situation appears to require. Hayekian distributed local knowledge may save us. Central planning, as I hardly need admonish this audience, will not, and therefore any attempt by me to impose a uniform mental framework should (and undoubtedly will) be firmly rejected.
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Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Markets and Trading, National Security, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, Tradeoffs, Urban Issues, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 20th April 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
While this will not be a uniformly positive review, I must immediately note that the purely literary quality of Bill Quick’s Lightning Fall (subtitled either “A Novel of Destruction” or “A Novel of Disaster,” depending on whether one is looking at the spine or the cover of the paperback edition) ranks it alongside Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon and comes within metaphorical striking distance of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer. It is a classic page-turner and a serious threat to a good night’s sleep; I began reading it after awakening shortly before 3:00 AM one morning, expecting to drift off in a few minutes, and eventually noticed that I was somewhere around page 250 and the time was after 6:00 AM. This sort of thing has not happened to me more than a handful of times in a half-century of reading, and I read a lot.
Other reviews have included – well, not exactly spoilers, but more specifics about the events in the novel than I intend to provide here. I will mention three things that I think it useful for prospective readers to know, and then use the general thrust of the novel as a springboard for extended commentary of my own.
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Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, International Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 16 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 15th April 2014 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
A year ago I was dispassionately composing my analysis. Today, when I left the Sprint campus and drove east on 115th Street to turn north on Nall toward I-435, there were TV news vans with telescoping antennae lining the street at the entrance to the Jewish Community Center.
Coincidentally the number of dead is identical. There are, however, no (physically) injured survivors, and the motivation for the attack was similar only in that it was intended to draw attention to a cause. I fear that the perpetrator is cunning enough to succeed in that; his previous notoriety was due to legally forcing some radio stations to briefly carry Nazi ads during an election campaign season. Much has been made of the gentile – and indeed seriously committed Christian – identity of the victims, but I believe that was unimportant to him. What mattered was that he seize a mechanism for dissemination of conspiracy theories, and now, given the administrative blockheadedness of the American justice system and the puerile conventions of American journalism, we are all too likely to be subjected to many hours and tens of thousands of words of exceptionally vicious, totalitarian propaganda, varying portions of which will be heard by tens of millions of people. This guy knew exactly what he was doing.
I could tell that from the video snippets of his arrest, just as I could tell, hours before it was officially confirmed, that he would turn out to have come from rural Missouri (Aurora is nearly a 3-hour drive from Overland Park; he had to have cased both facilities beforehand) and would turn out to be a southerner with prior Klan involvement. It was completely obvious from his accent, his tone of voice, and his attitude on camera. He is now operating inside the American institutional OODA loop. Our entirely proper determination to grant a scrupulously fair trial – when we’re not piling on the charges in order to ram a plea bargain through, that is – will be roughly equivalent to giving him not airtime for advertisements, but his own highly rated nationwide radio network.
Fortunately, he is also sufficiently sui generis that copycat attacks are unlikely, at least in the immediate future. Should an American Dolchstoßlegende catch on, however, things may deteriorate sharply. The general case is to scapegoat a relatively small, easily-identified minority: it was the “1%,” or twenty-five guys on Wall Street, or the Koch brothers – or George Soros, or Obama/Pelosi/Reid, or the leftist academics on their Long March through the institutions – or (of course) Jews, or Latino immigrants or Asians stealing our jobs. If we just expropriate, or deport, or exterminate them, and everyone like them, the story goes, our country will be purified, and Utopia ensue. The ideology may be Nazi or Communist; either will do in a pinch, as Hayek wrote nearly three-quarters of a century ago: its adherents are uncertain, and know only that they hate Western liberal civilization.
Just to make things more complicated, tolerance can definitely be taken too far. Interviews with the perpetrator’s neighbors in Lawrence County, Missouri, immediately elicit idiotic postmodernist comments to the effect that he seemed like a nice enough guy but had some opinions that they didn’t agree with. Great. Your assigned reading is here, you nitwits.
So when blood ran in the streets of my city, did I follow my own advice in the ostensibly-uplifting conclusion to my analysis of a year ago, and immediately redouble my efforts on whatever it is I was supposed to be doing? Well, it was a Sunday, so there was somewhat less of that, although I tend to devise more projects for my spare time than I could possibly execute anyway. But in the event, whatever it may say about me, I felt tremendously violated, as though the murders had occurred in my driveway rather than six miles away. And what I actually did was drink rather more cheap boxed red wine than usual and break down a couple of times. I don’t have any particular aversion to weeping, but I don’t need to do so very often. Turns out I needed to on Sunday evening. The question of how I will react should much larger-scale events occur in even closer proximity remains unanswered.
The problem, of course, is that this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen here … which is a rather hypocritical sentiment in light of the actual statistics on violent death locally. A couple-three people a week get murdered in this town, three-quarters of them in an area covering only one-tenth of the municipality of KC, Mo., and a tiny fraction of the area of the entire MSA. Assuming that the said area (34 mi²) has the same population density as zip code 64130 (of which it largely consists), a moment with a calculator establishes that the homicide rate in question – the southwestern boundary of that area reaches to within two miles of my house – is nearly 80 per 100,000 per year, making it one of the most dangerous places in the Western world, and also as dangerous as Iraq before the Surge, which the media thoughtfully informed us at the time was the Worst Thing Ever. Gallivanting off to Haïti is all very well, but perhaps I should find a more local ministry to volunteer with while I’m at it.
But it really isn’t supposed to happen here, and not just because Overland Park is a world away from the East Side. Side-by-side, indeed inextricably mixed, with the ongoing mayhem five minutes’ drive from my doorstep is a deep reservoir of peace and contentment. God damn it, we just want to listen to jazz and eat barbecue. In its best moments, there is no gentler place on Earth. The lives of those taken on Sunday bear witness to that.
“The new thing — the thing which we had not known — the thing we have learned now and should never forget, is this: that a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however disciplined, however centralized.” – Harry S. Truman, Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference, 9 August 1945
“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.” – Harry S. Truman, to reporters, 13 April 1945
Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, History, Judaism, Law Enforcement, National Security, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Quotations, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA | 3 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 23rd October 2013 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
My profession is much in the news at the moment, so I thought I would pass along such insights as I have from my career, mostly from a multibillion-dollar debacle which I and several thousand others worked on for a few years around the turn of the millennium. I will not name my employer, not that anyone with a passing familiarity with me doesn’t know who it is; nor will I name the project, although knowing the employer and the general timeframe will give you that pretty quickly too.
We spent, I believe, $4 billion, and garnered a total of 4,000 customers over the lifetime of the product, which was not aimed at large organizations which would be likely to spend millions on it, but at consumers and small businesses which would spend thousands on it, and that amount spread out over a period of several years. From an economic transparency standpoint, therefore, it would have been better to select 4,000 people at random around the country and cut them checks for $1 million apiece. Also much faster. But that wouldn’t have kept me and lots of others employed, learning whatever it is we learn from a colossally failed project.
So, a few things to keep in mind about a certain spectacularly problematic and topical IT effort:
- Large numbers of reasonably bright and very hard-working people, who have up until that point been creating significant wealth, can unite in a complete flop. Past performance is no guarantee, and all that. Because even reasonably bright, hard-working people can suffer from failures of imagination, tendencies to wishful thinking, and cultural failure in general.
- Morale has got to be rock-bottom for anybody with any degree of self-awareness working on this thing. My relevant moment was around the end of ’99 when it was announced, with great fanfare, at a large (200+ in attendance) meeting to review progress and next steps, that we had gotten a single order through the system. It had taken various people eight hours to finish the order. As of that date, we were projecting that we would be doing 1,600 orders a day in eight months. To get an idea of our actual peak rate, note the abovementioned cumulative figure of 4,000 over the multi-year lifespan of the project.
- Root cause analysis is all very well, but there are probably at least three or four fundamental problems, any one of which would have crippled the effort. As you may infer from the previous bullet point, back-office systems was one of them on that project. Others which were equally problematic included exposure to the software upgrade schedule of an irreplaceable vendor who was not at all beholden to us to produce anything by any particular date, and physical access to certain of our competitors’ facilities, which they were legally required to allow us into exactly two (2) days per year. See also “cultural failure,” above; most of us were residing and working in what is one of the most livable cities in the world in many ways, but Silicon Valley it ain’t.
- Not to overlook the obvious, there is a significant danger that the well-advertised difficulties of the website in question will become a smokescreen for the fundamental contradictions of the legislation itself. The overall program cannot work unless large numbers of people act in a counter-incentived (possibly not a word, but I’m groping for something analogous to “counterintuitive”) fashion which might politely be termed “selfless” – and do so in the near future. What we seem likely to hear, however, is that it would have worked if only certain IT architectural decisions had been better made.
This thing would be a case study for the next couple of decades if it weren’t going to be overshadowed by physically calamitous events, which I frankly expect. In another decade, Gen-X managers and Millennial line workers, inspired by Boomers, all of them much better at things than they are now, “will be in a position to guide the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds,” to quote a relevant passage from Strauss and Howe. But getting there is going to be a matter of selection pressures, with plenty of casualties. The day will come when we long for a challenge as easy as reorganizing health care with a deadline a few weeks away.
Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Commiserations, Current Events, Customer Service, Health Care, Internet, Law, Medicine, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Systems Analysis, Tech, USA | 6 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 25th September 2013 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
La Vallée-de-Jacmel, Haïti
If all goes well, I will be arriving at MIA on American 1665 from Port-au-Prince at 3:35 PM local time this Saturday. The plan, such as it is, is that I call Jonathan once I am through customs. I somewhat inappropriately made reservations for lodging much closer to FLL, just because I like the place (Villa Europa in Hollywood) and haven’t had the chance to stay there in a while. So anyway, southern Floridians interested in a probable wide-ranging and somewhat ethanol-assisted discussion (#civilsociety #crisisof2020 #statefailure #younameit) are encouraged to contact Jonathan and … figure something out. Hey, I have people for that.
Posted in Americas, Announcements, Blogging, Civil Society, Latin America, Personal Narrative, Predictions, Schedules, Transportation | 4 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 20th April 2013 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Negative items (weaknesses and threats) first.
Overconcentration of political belief systems by geography and especially by vocation, notably in journalism; the corresponding threat is misdiagnosis of motivation and identity of perpetrators.
This was on full display over the past week, and although the most prominent examples were instances of the amazingly robust narrative about a supposed right-wing fundamentalist Christian underground, the persistence of which reveals a great deal about the mindset of the “liberal” bien-pensant, they’re not the only ones who have this problem. Claiming that people in Boston are cowering under their beds and wishing they had AR-15s, or casually accusing various (and singularly unimpressive) American politicians of being Communists, isn’t much better than fantasizing about entirely nonexistent WASP terrorists. And there has already been at least one wild-goose chase in recent years, the nationwide Federal investigation to find the co-conspirators of Scott Roeder in the assassination of George Tiller. He didn’t have any, and was known very early on to have acted alone. Your tax dollars nonetheless went to work; see also “memetic parasitism,” below.
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Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Current Events, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Iran, Israel, Media, Middle East, National Security, Organizational Analysis, Politics, Predictions, Society, Terrorism, Tradeoffs, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 24th March 2013 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
“Bus attacks by suicide bombers have fairly monotonous features. They occur during the morning rush hour because ridership is high at that time. Bombers board buses near the end of their routes in order to maximize the number of people in the bus at the time of detonation. They preferentially board at the middle doors in order to be centered in the midst of the passengers. They detonate shortly after boarding the bus because of concern that they will be discovered, restrained, and prevented from detonating. They stand as they detonate in order to provide a direct, injurious path for shrapnel. Head and chest injuries are common among seated passengers. The injured are usually those some distance away from the bomber; those nearby are killed outright, those at the ends of the bus may escape with minor injuries. The primary mechanism of injury of those not killed outright by the blast is impaling by shrapnel. Shrapnel is sometimes soaked in poison, eg organophosphate crop insecticides, to increase lethality.”
Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts
Chapter 13, Taking Things in One’s Stride: Cognitive Features of Two Resilient Performances
Richard I. Cook and Christopher Nemeth
“But wouldn’t it be luxury to fight in a war some time where, when you were surrounded, you could surrender?”
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Posted in Book Notes, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, War and Peace | 4 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 2nd December 2012 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
“On the afternoon of December 2, 1942, the Atomic Age began inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field. There, headed by Italian scientist Enrico Fermi, the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction was engineered. The result—sustainable nuclear energy—led to creation of the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants—two of the twentieth century’s most powerful and controversial achievements.”
I was there halfway between then and now. I am a by-product of the Manhattan Project, being the son of a onetime rifleman in an infantry platoon who was on a troopship in the Pacific on August 6, 1945, in transit for Operation Downfall. He went to the Philippines instead, and never heard a shot fired in anger. I did not matriculate at Chicago to repay a debt – which is fortunate, because as things went, the University spent a good deal of money on me for (so far) no return whatsoever.
Earlier today I went to a lecture, “Talking Tolkien: War and J.R.R. Tolkien,” in the appropriately subterranean research center of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. It was given by Janet Brennan Croft of the University of Oklahoma, who has a book out that I suppose I will buy, to add to the same shelf containing the Hobbit, the trilogy, the Silmarillion, the Letters, and Tolkien and the Great War (all of which were referenced at some point in her talk).
I didn’t hear all that much that was new, but I didn’t expect to. It was well worth going, however; I suppose the biggest “delta” was about how his writing changed after he had children and especially when two of them served in the military in WWII. She also pointed out that all the heroic leaders in the trilogy lead from the front, while the villainous leaders are far in the rear, the equivalent of the “chateau generals.”
Another insight was how much the “black breath” and Frodo’s melancholia resemble PTSD. In combination with her remarks about parent-child relationships, this caused me to ask a question about what turns out to be Letter #74, written to Stanley Unwin on 29 June 1944, which includes the sentence: “I have at the moment another son, a much damaged soldier, at Trinity trying to do some work and recover a shadow of his old health.” – a reference to his son Michael, who was pretty severely PTSD’d for a while. So out of slightly morbid curiosity, I asked if she knew anything more about that episode. She did not but said that there are probably more letters, unpublished, that would have details, and perhaps they will eventually see the light of day.
Scripture reading in church this morning was Isaiah 2:1-5. Verse 4 is of course poignant in light of today’s anniversary. If we really are entering the Crisis of 2020, those swords won’t be beaten into plowshares any time soon. Indeed, some future analog of December 2nd, 1942, presumably involving nanomachinery rather than tons of graphite blocks and lumps of enriched uranium, will happen in a laboratory somewhere in the world in another decade or so.
Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Chicagoania, History, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, Religion, Science, War and Peace | 4 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 12th July 2012 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
A short list, and not intended to be exhaustive. Read to the end for a special announcement.
- A Gold Standard – I could have put one of the others first, but this is the one that gets mixed up with libertarianism the most often, presumably as a result of FDR’s seizure of gold in 1933. All libertarianism requires is free banking, and how the competing currencies are backed is the banks’ problem. I suppose some would attempt a commodity standard, and a few might even try to do it with gold, absurd as that is in an age of e-currencies. Attempting to predefine it for the entire financial industry ahead of time is … not wise.
- Pacifism – This is really my one-word epithet for the mentality that blames the US for most of the world’s problems, and asserts that every conflict we find ourselves in is ultimately an unforced error on our part. Most of it can be traced to Stalinist and Maoist propaganda of the early Cold War period, not a great thing to base one’s libertarianism on. “It takes but one foe to breed a war, not two.” – JRR Tolkien
- Anarchism – I would prefer to think that an entirely stateless civil society is possible. But I do not know, and neither does anyone else. Insisting on it as a precondition of libertarianism pretends to knowledge that we do not have.
- Minarchism – The logical complement of the above, left as an exercise for the reader.
- Sectarianism – Speaking from my own background, all political advice in the New Testament adds up to “stay out of trouble.” Attempts to ineluctably tie libertarianism to other belief systems, including ostensible non-belief systems, are no better. To be sure, I think a Biblical value system at least implies a concern for human freedom and tends to nudge a population adhering to it in the direction of greater liberty. But this is not the same as asserting that it is directly prescriptive.
- Conspiracy Theorizing – Leave the Birtherism and Trutherism to others. And if something like that is the reason you self-identify as libertarian, the question is obvious: would you still be fighting for freedom if you learned your theory wasn’t true?
- Scapegoating – The general case of conspiracy theorizing, indulged in by many more people. The current classic example is the OWSers’ “1%.” Nice that they only want to expropriate or murder 3 million Americans, I suppose, not that anybody who’s been paying attention should think they would stop there. But far too many supposed libertarians are prone to ranting about “banksters,” et al, in language that, to borrow a phrase, sounded better in the original German. Or perhaps Russian.
OK, The Announcement: I am about to be in South Florida for about 18 hours, from midday Saturday to early Sunday. Contact Jonathan for info on a possible meetup, which as I write this is an idea without a plan; I will be calling him after deplaning at FLL.
Posted in Announcements, Anti-Americanism, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | 17 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 26th October 2011 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Cato obituary here. Requiescat in pace.
Posted in Libertarianism, Obits | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 2nd July 2011 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Warning: spoilers, I guess, though with a film like this it’s hard to give anything away so as to really detract from the experience. Maybe a few autobiographical spoilers of my own.
Having only seen it once so far, I am aware of having gotten at most glimpses of its full intent. I cannot easily describe Terrence Malick’s oeuvre except in superficial ways: mostly out-of-doors, with nature as a significant element; spectacular cinematography; more or less nonlinear storyline; voice-over narrations. I have not seen Badlands but have seen everything from Days of Heaven on.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Christianity, Diversions, Film, History, Human Behavior, Judaism, Morality and Philosphy, Music, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Space, USA, Vietnam | 8 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 16th April 2011 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Commenters on the earlier post having raised several good points, I decided to write a follow-up rather than attempt to provide individual responses.
I should first say something general about technological advance and prediction horizons. Due to the immense effects of nanomachinery, as hazardous as near-future speculation may be, it becomes extraordinarily difficult more than about 20 years out. What interests me in this context is what can be done with “bulk technology” before the transition to nanotech, and how many of the developments forecast by Drexler et al may occur relatively gradually and in unlikely places, rather than swiftly and obviously emanating from North America or some other high-technology region. Jim notes the potential of the combination of desktop fabricators and satellite links. I believe that few people on Earth will see more change in the next generation than young Haitians.
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Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Environment, International Affairs, Latin America, North America, Personal Narrative, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 13th April 2011 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
Last month I went to Haiti to help out with an IT project in Petit-Goâve, a medium-sized town about seventy kilometers west-southwest of Port-au-Prince, on the northern shore of the Tiburon Peninsula, opposite Île de la Gonâve on the Canal de Sud. The project’s objective is to create, or rather restore, a computer lab at “College” Harry Brakeman (actually a primary and secondary school, hereafter “CHB”), and provide greatly improved internet access, via wireless links, at five sites (including CHB) in Petit-Goâve owned by L’Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti (EMH). The epicenter of one of the larger aftershocks of the January 2010 earthquake was directly beneath Petit-Goâve.
Numerous ongoing projects for the EMH throughout Haiti are being funded by United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and staffed by United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), but my personal involvement is not occurring as a result of direct involvement with any of those organizations. I have for many years been attending an informal Friday lunch group that for the past decade or so has included Clif Guy, who is the CIO of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, generally known as “COR” throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, in which it is by several measures the largest single church – big enough to have its own IT department (larger than most church staffs altogether) and a CIO.
In mid-January I returned from a solitary and somewhat monastic sojourn in New Mexico and the trans-Pecos region of Texas to 1) get back to work at Sprint; 2) bury my just-deceased 18-year-old cat; and 3) talk to Clif about opportunities in Haiti, which he had mentioned several times over the previous year. Two months of frantic preparation later, which included among many other tasks the filling out of a “Mission Trip Notification of Death” to specify the disposition of my corpse, I was landing at Toussaint Louverture International Airport.
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Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Environment, History, International Affairs, Latin America, North America, Personal Narrative, Religion, Tech, Transportation, USA | 8 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 5th January 2010 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
— which is here (h/t Instapundit):
There will be no trucks after the singularity. Plenty of delicious lunches and really great furniture, though.
Posted in Humor, Photos, Predictions | 3 Comments »