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  • Archive for November, 2014

    On Russia and Ukraine

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th November 2014 (All posts by )

    For many years I’ve studied the Russian front during WW2, where the Germans and their allies battled the Russians (and their empire) in some of the largest and deadliest battles on earth. The war went far beyond the battlefield, with the Russians taking over the ancient German capital of Prussia, evicting / killing all the (remaining) citizens, and turning it into today’s Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This is fair desserts; the Germans planned to turn Moscow into a reservoir. That war was about annihilation, a complete extermination and permanent subjugation of their foes.

    In recent years I’ve tried to turn away from this focus, since I didn’t think that this conflict, ancient by modern standards, had much to teach us anymore, and just following along a well-worn narrative was teaching me nothing. And I did move on, reading about more modern conflicts, and today’s volunteer and high-tech military as opposed to the “old world” of conscripts, artillery, heavy armor, utter destruction of cities and the civilians trapped inside them, and political control superseding military objectives.

    The Russian armed forces also seemed to be gliding towards irrelevance, other than their ubiquitous nuclear weapons. Their performance in Chechnya was poor until they basically razed (their own) cities into ruin with heavy artillery fire; to this day I don’t understand why this wasn’t called out as a giant atrocity. In Georgia they were able to beat a tiny, poorly armed adversary, but their motorized divisions seemed to be driving by compass and they did not cover themselves in military glory. Their military transitions from conscript forces with older weapons and tactics also seemed to be foundering in the face of objections from old-line military-industrial complexes.

    When Ukraine slipped out of Russia’s orbit and the vast presidential compound of the ex-president was paraded on TV worldwide, Putin obviously viewed this as a direct threat to his authority. The Russians historically had been at odds with the Ukrainians over natural gas prices and on other topics, but it wasn’t obvious that this was going to move into a warlike situation. Ukraine is rich with agricultural resources but these resources aren’t prized by the Kremlin; they need easily extractable resources like oil, natural gas and various iron ores that they can pull out of the ground and sell for hard cash overseas. John McCain’s recurring joke that Russia isn’t much more than a gas station with nuclear weapons in fact has a lot of merit. Other than around Moscow, parts of St Petersburg, and in “showplace” locations like Sochi and Vladivostok Russia in fact was falling into ruin and shambles.

    But something was happening; the Russian forces that invaded the Crimea (even though they were never formally identified as Russians) appeared to be well organized and well armed. It was not the “Keystone Cops” group that I might have expected. They handled themselves with relative distinction, fulfilling their objectives with limited civilian casualties and using discretion against the Ukrainian military forces they encountered. This was the complete opposite of the blundering incursions into Chechnya.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in China, Economics & Finance, Military Affairs, Russia | 59 Comments »

    What is going on with Ferguson, MO ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 29th November 2014 (All posts by )

    The Grand Jury gas returned a “no bill” in the case of the Policeman Darren Wilson and the riots have erupted as anticipated. We still have silly demonstrations around the country. Even interrupting Christmas tree lighting.Why ?

    I have been following this all along, and even see some merit in some of the resentments of the black residents. That does not excuse rioting, of course.

    We know a lot more about what happened now and it does still not explain why this continues today. A lot of what is happening just doesn’t make sense.

    Here is one possible explanation.

    SO WHY ALL THE FERGUSON HOOPLA? Last time the Dems and Sharpton made a big deal of a shooting, it was the Trayvon Martin case, hyped to keep up black turnout for 2012. But now there’s not an election. So why Ferguson, and why now? Polling indicates that most people aren’t all that sympathetic, and protests that tie up Interstates, etc. aren’t going to attract swing voters.

    So why now ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Elections, Immigration, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Obama, Politics | 34 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – The Enemy Within

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 28th November 2014 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Black Friday Week Deals

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Chicago Boyz is an Amazon and B&H affiliate.

    Shop Amazon: Amazon Black Friday Week Deals

    Shop B&H:

    (Bumped.)

    Posted in Announcements | Comments Off on Black Friday Week Deals

    25 Stories About Work – Small Unit Cohesion

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th November 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, 2010, at a Shooting training center

    In 2010 my dad and I went to an all-day class to learn how to shoot properly. The first four hours were in a classroom and the last four hours were outside when it was a brisk fall day and we learned various techniques of how to shoot and spent over 800 rounds.

    In the beginning of the class, the instructor asked everyone about their background. My dad and I said we were complete amateurs. When the others talked about their experience I didn’t fully understand what they were saying until later but many were ex military who were now contractors in Iraq or elsewhere with very extensive experience. They were attending for what must be some sort of required periodic classroom time.

    The reason that this is interesting is because the instructor went through firearm basics that was all news to me but must have been the most banal and simplistic discussion that these guys have ever heard. It would be like sending me back to school for mandatory training and showing me a balance sheet or explaining the very basics of systems technology. In five minutes of this I would be agitated and distracted and frankly a bit insulted that someone wasn’t properly valuing my corporate and career experience. Because that is how a corporate or business person would view the process, but not a military person. Each of the military guys sat in their seats for four hours and if anything they constructively helped the instructor, who was ex-military himself. In hindsight no one was joking around or making a mockery of anything.

    When we were shooting the guys all helped each other and the team immediately without asking. We had a lot to cover so they leaped up and changed the targets and moved and anticipated and everyone was part of a larger mission. After a while it was completely obvious to everyone that me and my dad (who was in his late 70s at this point) were behind the game so they subtly starting helping and coaching us in addition to what the instructor was doing. Sometimes you had to shoot multiple targets to clear a level and I think a few times guys helped me by shooting my targets too.

    Only in hindsight did I recognize the “cohesion” concepts that SLA Marshall talked about in his famous book. He talked about the value of leadership and training in motivating and getting the best out of the men under your command. While these sound like commonplace lessons, and ones the military has likely long since learned in its recent brutal wars overseas, these lessons are usually nowhere to be found in corporate America and most private businesses.

    I watched “The Last Patrol” (highly recommended) last night on HBO and they had a similar observation. The protagonists are walking across America (even in Baltimore, I was scared for them) and asking people what is great about America. These ex-military guys and ex-combat photographers (with 20+ years in the middle of all of it) were trying to wind down and find their bearings without the adrenaline rush of combat and surviving possible death. They met a woman in an American flag bikini and she said she worked in an old folks home for veterans and she said that they all helped and looked out for each other. However, she said, it wasn’t like that once you left the facility – it’s not like that outside in America today.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    Sgt. Mom’s Thanksgiving Bird

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Fresh out of the oven – right alongside the other dishes for the feast! Behold, Sgt. Mom’s Thanksgiving bird!
    Thanksgiving Bird - 2014 - Even Smaller

    It is, in fact a Rock Cornish game hen, butterflied and baked on a small dish of Sgt. Mom’s rye bread and sausage stuffing. Not everything in Texas is bigger…

    What – there are only the two of us, and the HEB was out of fresh turkey breasts. I am sorry, but a whole turkey for two people would have us eating leftovers until St. Patrick’s Day.
    A most blessed Thanksgiving to you all – especially to those of us who were working today…

    Posted in Americas, Photos | 8 Comments »

    Lex’s Family at Thanksgiving

    Posted by Lexington Green on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Thanksgiving dinner

    (No, really. That is exactly what we look like.)

    Posted in Holidays | 2 Comments »

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Posted by Lexington Green on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Mayflower Compact

    The Mayflower Compact

    In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
     
    Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
     
    In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.

    Thanks to all the people who came to America at the hazard of life and limb and who built this country and gave it to us to build up and make better and pass on in our turn.

    God bless the Pilgrims who settled in New England and brought (almost) the first seeds of Constitutional self-government to this continent. They arrived in what is now Massachusetts on November 21, 1620 (under the current calendar). It is cold in Massachusetts in November. They had thousands of miles of stormy sea behind them, and a cold, bare, unfriendly wilderness before them, not a single roof or fireplace for shelter or warmth. It was touch and go. They lost many of their number during the first winter. They had many practical details to attend to when they arrived. But the first thing they did before they set foot on the new continent was to covenant and combine themselves in to a “civil body politic” to live under law and by orderly political processes. We can learn from their example.

    God bless America. God bless our Chicago Boyz contributors and readers. God bless our service members, past and present, especially those in harms way to defend our nation. God bless the people travelling and staying with families.

    Thank you to Jonathan for starting this blog in 2002 and keeping it going.

    May there be peace and happiness in all homes and across the land — and if we fall short of this high standard, here and there, let us work to do better in the days ahead.

    I hope no one is too busy poking around the Internet and not paying attention to the turkey. Make sure you don’t over-cook it. May the gravy come out perfectly, and may there be enough pie for everybody to get two pieces of the kind they like best.

    Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

    Posted in History, Holidays | 4 Comments »

    Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry

    Posted by David Foster on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    (rerun, with updates)

    Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

    She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

    The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is “computers.” But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I’m not talking about programming and systems design), you don’t need much knowledge. You need “keyboarding skills”–once called “typing.” And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That’s about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.

    Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge–mostly “tacit knowledge,” rather than book-learning–of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.

    Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare’s plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?

    (In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather–a farmer–as an example.)

    Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a good time to resist temporal bigotry by reflecting on the contributions of earlier generations and on what we can learn from their experiences.

    As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)

    How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?

    11/27/2014: In the Hawaiian traditional religion, there is apparently a saying that goes something like this–

    A monster cannot survive in an environment of gratitude.

    It seems likely that the decline in the emotion of gratitude in our society is indeed correlated with the rise of monsters.

    Previous CB discussion threads here and here. See also related posts by Jonathan and Ginny.

    Thoughts on the lessons of the Plymouth Colony from Jerry Bowyer and Paul Rahe.

    Posted in Education, History, Holidays, Society, USA | 9 Comments »

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Posted by Helen on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Happy Thanksgiving from this side of the Pond. We are all very envious of a holiday that has all the good things of Christmas and none or, at least, very few of the bad ones.

    And for those brave souls who, sated with turkey and pumpkin pie, would like to read something about the situation over here, I have a couple of links: one to a blog posting about Owen Paterson, a fairly senior back-bench Conservative MP (Cameron should never have sacked him from the Cabinet) calling for British withdrawal from the European Union and another one on a different blog that concentrates on the fisheries issue on that speech and its importance as against the presence of two UKIP MPs in the House of Commons. Hope they will not spoil the festivities.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Europe | 7 Comments »

    Weather

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th November 2014 (All posts by )

    storm clouds

    Posted in Photos | 1 Comment »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 25th November 2014 (All posts by )

    A special Russia-focused issue of National Geographic, in 1914

    Does automation make people dumb?

    Strategies for dealing with randomness in business

    Labor market fluidity in the US seems to be declining

    There are very different reactions to the waving of an Isis flag and the waving of an Israeli flag at Berkeley

    Strategies for dealing with toxic people

    Czars as political officers

    Two princes:  Machievelli’s Il Principe and Antoine de St-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince

    “Speaking Truth to Power.”  A great post by Sarah Hoyt on the way this expression is being used:

    One of the most fascinating conceits of our ruling powerful elites — be they in entertainment, politics, governance, jurisprudence or news reporting — is the often repeated assertion of being some kind of underdog “speaking truth to power.” This comes with the concomitant illusion that anyone opposing them is paid by powerful interests.

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, History, Human Behavior, Management, Politics, Russia, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Autumn Tree

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd November 2014 (All posts by )

    The leaves are finally turning after last week's cold snap.

    The leaves are finally turning after last week’s cold snap.

    Posted in Photos | 8 Comments »

    Obama’s Amnesty

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 23rd November 2014 (All posts by )

    I am not happy about Obama making his speech about amnesty and defying the GOP newly elected Congress to do anything about it. However, there is less here than it seems.

    First: And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.

    king obama

    I don’t believe him but the GOP could do worse than assume this is true. The next steps would be to take actions assuming he was not lying.

    Obama clearly wanted to make himself look like the compassionate actor in this debate, and Republicans the heartless, cruel nativists. Instead of trying to fight that battle, make Obama own it and bypass it for the real battle the GOP wants to win on border security. Make Democrats vote against a border security bill, and make Obama veto one while his own amnesty remains in place.

    Not everybody is willing to accept this as a phony gesture which I think it is.

    When President Obama announces that he will be suspending laws to bless the illegal presence of millions of foreigners in the United States, he will have adopted the most basic philosophy of John C. Calhoun: some laws can be tossed aside because his ends justify the lawlessness.

    I don’t trust Obama’s intent but I think he is a fool and did not plan this correctly, or else chickened out. There is more interesting comment at Powerline today.

    Procedurally what happens is an undocumented person applies for ‘deferred action’ and then after receiving this ‘quasi-status’ – he/she is eligible for work authorization.

    See the last paragraph on page 4 of this key memo: “Applicants must file the requisite applications for deferred action pursuant to the new criteria described above. Applicants must also submit biometrics for USCIS to conduct background checks similar to the background check that is required for DACA applicants. Each person who applies for deferred action pursuant to the criteria above shall also be eligible to apply for work authorization for the period of deferred action, pursuant to my authority to grant such authorization reflected in section 274A(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

    I still think the Republicans can trump this with real reform. Then they can send a bipartisan bill to Obama and see if he vetoes it. That Powerline post also emphasizes that Silicone Valley is pushing this and that explains their support of Obama.

    How many Senate Democrats would be willing to sustain that veto before the 2016 election? I’m betting not too many. But Republicans have a perfect opportunity to turn the debate in that direction now and force Obama and his shrinking number of allies on Capitol Hill to go on the record.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Immigration, Law Enforcement, Obama, Politics | 14 Comments »

    Retrotech: An On-Line Discussion Board

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd November 2014 (All posts by )

    …in 1907

     

    Interesting that girls as well as boys were participants in this network

    Posted in History, Society, Tech, USA | Comments Off on Retrotech: An On-Line Discussion Board

    Ed Paschke Art Center – And Steve Schapiro Photo Exhibit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 23rd November 2014 (All posts by )

    We watched an episode of “Chicago Tonight” the PBS news program where they discussed the Ed Paschke Art Center, a museum highlighting the work of the vibrant visual artist Ed Paschke, a Chicago native who died in 2004. They also have other artists featured at the museum, and when we went it was photographer Steve Schapiro, who photographed Warhol, Reed and Bowie among many others.

    The museum is easy to reach – by car you can take the Kennedy and get off at Lawrence, and it is an easy walk from the blue line or the metra (if you take that line). Here is the outside of the building, which is painted in the style of his work. The museum is free (we made a donation) and the docent working there was friendly and interested if you had any questions.

    We talked to the museum employee and the building used to be a call center; they redesigned it to hang his big art canvas projects and set it up so that the light illuminated everything properly. Downstairs they had his paintings, and upstairs they re-created his studio, including the last painting that he was working on at the time of his death.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Chicagoania, Music, Photos | 2 Comments »

    Alas, Poor Yorick!

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    this post smells fishy

    Between boating and nothingness: Chicagoboyz ponder the eternal mysteries.

    Posted in Photos | 5 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola Realities and the True Test

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    as airline stocks tracked – and predicted – Ebola did not become established in the US

    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 »

    When Law Yields to Absolute Power (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    (I should have included this post in my Theme roundup on totalitarianism and the fully politicized society. It’s important enough, I think–especially in our current circumstances–to be worth putting up as a stand-alone rerun post.)

    Almost five years ago, I reviewed the important and well-written memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. I think the state of affairs in America today makes it appropriate to re-post some excerpts from the review and from the book.

    In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, Haffner was working as a junior lawyer (refendar) in the Prussian High Court, the Kammergericht. He was comforted by the continuity of the legal process:

    The newspapers might report that the constitution was in ruins. Here every paragraph of the Civil Code was still valid and was mulled over and analyzed as carefully as ever…The Chancellor could daily utter the vilest abuse against the Jews; there was nonetheless still a Jewish Kammergerichtsrat (high court judge) and member of our senate who continued to give his astute and careful judgments, and these judgments had the full weight of the law and could set the entire apparatus of the state in motion for their enforcement–even if the highest office-holder of that state daily called their author a ‘parasite’, a ‘subhuman’ or a ‘plague’.

    In spring of that year, Haffner attended Berlin’s Carnival–an event at which one would find a girlfriend or boyfriend for the night and exchange phone numbers in the morning…”By then you usually know whether it is the start of something that you would like to take further, or whether you have just earned yourself a hangover.” He had a hard time getting in the Carnival mood, however:

    All at once I had a strange, dizzy feeling. I felt as though I was inescapably imprisoned with all these young people in a giant ship that was rolling and pitching. We were dancing on its lowest, narrowest deck, while on the bridge it was being decided to flood that deck and drown every last one of us.

    …..

    Though it was not really relevant to current events, my father’s immense experience of the period from 1870 to 1933 was deployed to calm me down and sober me up. He treated my heated emotions with gentle irony…It took me quite a while to realize that my youthful excitability was right and my father’s wealth of experience was wrong; that there are things that cannot be dealt with by calm skepticism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Germany, History, Law, USA | 6 Comments »

    Narratives, Scenarios, and Strategies

    Posted by Grurray on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”

    -George E.P. Box

    Models, predictions, and forecasts are always wrong, or, more accurately, they’re never completely right. That’s obvious since the map can never truly be the territory. Some are better than others, but no matter how hard we try and how much information that we gather, we’ll never construct a representation of reality better than the real thing. That being the case, forecasts therefore reveal more about ourselves and our present state of mind than anything about the future.

    The Research Feature in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives” (link here – requires a one time registration – or purchase Kindle article here for a few dollars), concerns a certain type of forecasting called scenario planning. The authors studied a tech company that was being hit hard during the 2001 economic crash and needed to find new strategies to navigate the rough seas ahead.

    Their research revealed that

    “future projections are intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present. Strategy making amid volatility thus involves constructing and reconstructing strategic narratives that reimagine the past and present in ways that allow the organization to explore multiple possible futures.”

    These explorations of possible futures, more commonly referred to as scenarios, are stories intended to describe possible futures, identify some significant events, main actors, and motivations, and convey how the world functions.

    The authors note that constructing forecasts based on these methods usually doesn’t work very well because the future is uncertain and often unfolds in a way that is very different from current trajectories. The current paths are comfortable and familiar, so they are difficult to deviate from. Constructing scenarios of the future actually first requires constructing paths that connect the past, present, and future. The narratives are those paths.

    ”In comparing strategy projects within CommCorp, we found that the more work managers do to create novel strategic narratives, the more likely they are to explore alternatives that break with the status quo. In other words, to get to an alternative future, you have to create a story about the past that connects to it.”

    Predicting, prognosticating, and prophesying have been around since time immemorial. The modern version of strategic scenario planning can be attributed to Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute and his “thinking the unthinkable” about nuclear war by taking into account non-linear, disruptive changes that lead to an uncertain future. The first to bring scenarios into the business world was the pioneering strategy guru Pierre Wack at Shell Oil who coined the term. Wack was a colorful and imaginative individual who took Kahn’s insights and repurposed them to affect the quality of judgment rather than quality of predictions.

    Among the many books, case studies, and articles on the Shell planning department, I just completed The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, a history of the scenario group culled from interviews of former members. Pierre Wack helped found it and headed it throughout the 1970s. The book concerns the entire history from then until the present, but it devotes a large part to Wack’s work and legacy.

    In contrast to Kahn’s theories, Wack was less concerned about decoding uncertainty or getting predictions right and more concerned with making future uncertainty more relevant to the present situation.

    “Wack was interested in scenarios as a way to ‘see’ the present situation more clearly, rather than as a basis for knowing about the future. The value of the scenarios is not in better forecasting what ‘the’ future will be, but in encouraging already smart people to learn by ‘seeing’ the present situation afresh, from the perspective offered by plausible, alternative futures , in a process that Wack termed ‘disciplined imagination’.”

    With an emphasis on present adaptation instead of future clarity, their first attempts happened to be nicely prescient. Their November 1971 scenarios covering “Producer Government Take/World Economic Development” and their January 1973 scenarios for “Impending Energy Scarcity” presented different tracks for oil prices including: a low slow growth scenario based on the continuation of past agreements with producer countries, a track that the corporate leadership expected; and a high price growth scenario which factored into concerns that producer countries were reaching limits to how much more capital inflows they could absorb.

    These scenarios involved explorations for prices through the late ’70s into the early ’80s. It’s important to keep in mind that, in keeping with the notion that they weren’t meant to be exact predictions, the high price track scenario still ended up being off by a factor of 20 as oil embargoes and inflation pushed prices higher than anyone could have imagined. Despite the fuzziness of the numbers, however, presenting a possible future far off from what was expected shifted thinking outside the company’s comfort zone.

    There was some initial skepticism from top executives, but the scenario planning helped the company to think differently and conditioned them to adjust in flexible ways that they wouldn’t have considered previously. Consideration of the high price track eventually led to Shell investing in nuclear and coal which helped offset the political turmoil and price shock that would arrive in the mid ’70s.

    “In October 1973, the first oil crisis began to unfold, and the entire organization became aware of the possibilities that scenarios offered. The 1973 scenarios report had provided a new frame of reference – the mindset of the oil producer countries. This new frame was significantly different from the usual analytical frame – the mindset of an oil company. The scenarios had enabled Shell executives to rehearse the future as a thought experiment rather than a crisis exercise. When the crisis actually occurred, Shell was able to collectively re-interpret the turbulent situation and to respond much faster than its competitors.”

    In order to be taken seriously, the Shell scenario team had to relate to top management how the oil producers’ situation related to their own situation.

    “In September 1972, Wack gave what those present remember as a three-hour, enthralling performance that was based on an image of the six scenarios as a river forking into two streams, each of which divided into three tributaries. The insight about hither oil prices and possible energy crisis… were integrated into one of these scenarios.”

    This technique demonstrated the narrative of how the high price scenario was linked to Shell’s operations and how it could have sprung forth from Shell’s past. The key was teasing out the culture, values, and qualities of the past that could make that future plausible.

    Similar re-interpretations of the past are what the MIT researchers found were most successful for their tech company. It wasn’t that they provided better predictions, but it helped provide a unifying vision and get everyone to buy into course changes that didn’t seem to fit before.

    “the crash in the market for its existing products had forced everyone at CommCorp to reevaluate the company’s historical strategic trajectory. This questioning enabled one manager to reinterpret CommCorp’s history, not only as a provider of big-ticket hardware for the backbone of the Internet but also as a provider of communications technologies across the whole network. By seeing the company as all about “communications,” the manager was able to propose a project for improving access at the “last mile” of the network. This reinterpretation made a radical shift in a future vision possible: CommCorp could provide small-ticket, standardized products as well as customized, high-end technologies.

    The narratives and scenarios became a way to define the company as it was today and illustrate a more coherent organizational structure. This is possible because of the rich potential of examining the past.

    “strategy making is not about getting the ‘right’ narrative. It’s about getting a narrative that is good enough for now, so that the organization can move forward and take action in uncertain times. This recognizes that strategy will in some ways always be evolving and “emergent.”

    Everyone loves to try to make predictions, but the real value lies in re-evaluating the past and restructuring past trajectories to provide for a launching point to navigate into the future. This “re-programming” the past is the way to deal with an uncertain future. Instead of forecasting futures that merely extrapolate from the status quo or futilely fighting future models that conflict with conventional mental maps, the use of narratives, scenarios, and strategies provides ways to create stronger and more harmonious models of the present.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Management, Predictions | 16 Comments »

    Air strike: interdiction vs close air support

    Posted by TM Lutas on 21st November 2014 (All posts by )

    The news media writes about air strikes in Iraq and Syria and those who are uneducated in military affairs read one thing. Those who are in the community read something different. The difference between the two means that the vast majority of the country thinks that we have ordered something to be done and is evaluating the action on that basis, even though it has little tie to reality. It would be important for the Pentagon to fix this misperception, however there seems to be little concentrated effort to do that work. If you are an interested civilian, as I have been, it’s possible to sort things out and get educated fairly quickly because the military does publish the necessary resources. They just don’t push them enough to actually create an educated public.

    When the military sends an aircraft out to conduct an airstrike, there are two subcategories of strikes that are relevant, close air support and interdiction strikes. The former is a much harder task than the latter because with very small errors, you end up killing men on your own side and not the enemy’s. Interdiction strikes lack this danger because they are conducted behind combat lines. They are designed to starve the front line of supplies, ammunition, and further military units to replace combat losses. Close air support effects are immediate, direct, and measurable. They require close coordination with someone on the ground to properly identify the targets. There is a checklist of bits of information that need to be provided to ensure a proper strike. The more holes or errors in the checklist, the more likely you are to kill your own instead of the enemy. There are courses to teach how to do this. The people we are aiding in Iraq include personnel who have taken these courses. The people we are aiding in Syria have not.

    Interdiction attacks take longer to matter and depending on how robust the enemy’s behind the front lines operation is, you have to do more to get any perceptible effect at all. If the enemy counts on you knocking out 3 trucks in 10 and your interdiction rate is only 2 in 10, the effect of your interdiction effort at the front line is negligible.

    We are providing both interdiction and close air support in Iraq but as a result of the lack of trained personnel, only interdiction missions in Syria. Confusing media stories make it clear that the distinction is not generally understood. Few seem to be asking the question of when or how the ability to do close air support missions in Syria will happen, what is the pace of operations needed to overcome ISIS’ logistics design margins, or much of anything else useful.

    Media on the left, center, and right are all guilty of this lack of discernment. In a US with a volunteer military with popular oversight of the government, civilians need to do better so we’re at least educated enough to ask the right questions and intelligently hold the politicians accountable.

    Posted in Media, Military Affairs | 7 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st November 2014 (All posts by )

    David Harsanyi:

    No, the president didn’t kill the process all by himself. Bush did it! Reagan did it! True or not, twenty years from now, the minions of some Republican Napoleon will be screaming ‘Obama did it!’ And they’ll have a sad story or a chilling warning that will justify why it’s ok. Because all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States – unless the president says it’s super important. Then anything goes.

    Posted in Current Events, Immigration, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, Quotations | 21 Comments »

    Theme: Totalitarianism and the Fully Politicized Society

    Posted by David Foster on 20th November 2014 (All posts by )

    As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value.  One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs.  At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.

    The posts in this first “theme”  roundup focus on the nature of the politically-dominated society, ranging from the effects of extreme political correctness in America and Europe today to the nature of life under absolutist totalitarianism.

    Stasiland.  Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, author Anna Funder traveled to the previous East Germany to interview both those who had lived under Communist oppression and the perpetrators of that oppression.

    The Nature of Dictatorships.  Thoughts from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, maker of the excellent film The Lives of Others, which is set in Communist East Germany.

    Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society. A 1953 science fiction story, Sam Hall.

    Eric Hoffer on the destruction of individualism. “Even in the freest society power is charged with the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata. When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual – the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker – and that every device they employ aims at turning man into a manipulatable ‘animated instrument,’ which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.”

    Bitter Waters.  A Stalin-era Soviet factory manager writes about his experiences.  Describing the chaos into which the Russian lumber industry had been thrown by Soviet central planning:  “Such is the immutable law. The forceful subordination of life’s variety into a single mold will be avenged by that variety’s becoming nothing but chaos and disorder.”

    Rose Wilder Lane.  The author and political thinker describes a debate she had with a Russian village leader, back in 1919 when she was still a Communist, about the centrally planned society.   “It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

    The mentality of the totalitarian revolutionary.  Thoughts from the Russian writer of Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak.

    Life in the fully politicized society.  Michelle Obama explains what Barack Obama wants to make you do, Sebastian Haffner writes about those 1920s and 1930s Germans who needed to have “the entire content of their lives…all the raw material for their deeper emotions”  delivered gratis by the public sphere, and Ayn Rand paints a vivid picture (based on personal experience) of the dreariness of living in a society in which everything is political.

    Life in the fully politicized society, continued.  Even Maureen Dowd may be finding limits as to how much politicization of art she wants to see.

    The bitter wastes of politicized America.  “The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them.  The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust.  People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you…When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on.  That’s not a good thing.”

    “But would you want your daughter to marry one?”  Americans increasingly say they would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing political party.

    Deconstructing a Nazi death sentence.  The text of the justification for the sentence passed on three members of the White Rose resistance group provides useful insight into the totalitarian mind.  (The link to the transcript in the post doesn’t work anymore; use this instead)

    Defying Hitler. This important and well-written (but mis-titled) memoir deals mainly with the social environment in Germany prior to the Nazi takeover, but the latter part of the book demonstrates what life was like under a new totalitarianism that was rapidly tightening its grip. The section about the author’s father–who was given the choice of either endorsing political opinions he did not share or losing his pension and being reduced to destitution, along with his family–is painful to read and is unpleasantly reminiscent of certain recent events in America today.

    The party of paranoia, racial obsession, and totalitarian thinking. Link to a post by Daniel Greenfield, aka Sultan Knish, in which he explains the nature of today’s Democratic Party.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Europe, Germany, History, Leftism, Politics, Russia, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Password Change

    Posted by Jonathan on 19th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Chicagoboyz contributors should reset their passwords per the email link everyone will receive. Please contact me if you do not receive a link or have any questions or problems. Thanks.

    Posted in Announcements | Comments Off on Password Change

    Feminists – Doing It Wrong

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th November 2014 (All posts by )

    I have to say this about the sh*tstorm over what is being irreverently termed shirtgate – it’s the final and ultimate straw in moving me away from ever calling myself a feminist again … at least, not in mixed company. Ah, well – a pity that the term has been so debased in the last few decades. Much as the memory of very real repression and denial of rights in the persons-of-color/African-American/Black community has been diminished, overlaid, generally abused and waved like a bloody shirt by cynical operators (to the detriment of the real-life community of color/African-American/Black-whatever they wish to be called this decade), so has the very real struggle for substantive legal, economic, economic and social rights for women also been debased and trivialized. Just as the current so-called champions of civil rights seem to use the concept as an all-purpose cover for deflecting any useful discussion of the impact of welfare, the trivialization of marriage, and glorification of the thug-life-style in the persons-of-color/African-American/Black community, the professional and very loud capital F-feminists seem to prefer a theatrical gesture over any substantial discussion of the real needs and concerns – and even the careers of ordinary women. Women whom it must be said, are usually capable, confident, tough, and love the men in their lives – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Diversions, Feminism, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Personal Finance, Society, Space, Tech, That's NOT Funny | 66 Comments »