Pwosesis Ayiti A

No reward for resistance; no assistance, no applause.

— Neil Peart, “Lock and Key

 

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.

— Paul of Tarsus, Epistle to the Romans

La merde a frappé le ventilateur; my earlier post became abruptly more topical on Wednesday the 7th, when we woke to the news of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. This follow-up will consider the implications of developments since late June and will specifically respond to commenters on Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan. Most of the structure of this post will follow the Deming process-workbench model, because history is, to a great extent, a series of contingent events, and because I am a giant process nerd.

Follow along, kids, as I summon the shade of W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) to analyze the biggest mess I’ve ever been in!

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Battle of Britain + 81

This month marks the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  It was the first major battle that was fought entirely in the air, and it pioneered the use of radar as a force multiplier. The history of this battle is very interesting from the military and technology standpoints–but those things are not the focus of this post.

With the fall of France (June 22, 1940), many people believed that further resistance by Britain was hopeless.  The French writer Georges Bernanos, living in exile in Brazil, wrote (in December of that year) about how many establishment figures had been willing to despair…and how epic a story Britain’s survival in fact was:

No one knows better than I do that, in the course of centuries, all the great stories of the world end by becoming children’s tales. But this particular one (the story of England’s resistance–ed) has started its life as such, has become a children’s tale on the very threshold of its existence. It mean that we can at once recognize in it the threefold visible sign of its nature. it has deceived the anticipations of the wise, it has humiliated the weak-hearted, it has staggered the fools. Last June all these folk from one end of the world to the other, no matter what the color of their skins, were shaking their heads. Never had they been so old, never had they been so proud of being old. All the figures that they had swallowed in the course of their miserable lives as a safeguard against the highly improbable activity of their emotions had choked the channels of circulation..They were ready to prove that with the Armistice of Rethondes the continuance of the war had become a mathematical impossibility…Some chuckled with satisfaction at the thought, but they were not the most dangerous…Others threatened us with the infection of pity…”Alone against the world,” they said. “Why, what is that but a tale for children?” And that is precisely what it was–a tale for children. Hurrah for the children of England! 

Men of England, at this very moment you are writing what public speakers like to describe in their jargon as one of the “greatest pages of history”….At this moment you English are writing one of the greatest pages of history, but I am quite sure that when you started, you meant it as a fairy tale for children. “Once upon a time there was a little island, and in that island there was a people in arms against the world…” Faced with such an opening as that, what old cunning fox of politics or business would not have shrugged his shoulders and closed the book?

But only a two years earlier, Britain had signed the Munich agreement.  General Edward Spears, along with many others was overcome by despair:

Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.

Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.

The Battle of Britain has been, fairly, called a battle that saved civilization. But the saving of civilization is not a one-time thing, and there are today very serious threats to individual liberty and the rule of law..really, to civilization itself…in Britain as well as in the US. There are many dark clouds overhead and on the horizon. But the Battle of Britain should inspire us with the thought that battles that seem to be hopeless may, in fact, be winnable through sufficient determination and skill.

“Follow the Science”: the Winning Political Slogan of 2020

Voting in the 2020 American presidential election raised the question posed by Johnny Carson’s game show “Who Do You Trust” (1957-1963). Candidate Biden was chosen based on trust in his half century track record as a political centrist opposed to his Party’s left wing agenda to promote racial, economic and environmental justice. “Follow the Science” on the pandemic became a campaign theme to bolster trust because scientists – unlike lifetime politicians – are perceived as purveyors of truth. The campaign worked, then centrism was abandoned.

COVID 19 brought to the fore the differences between advocates of science-driven management – the premise of not just pandemic management but the entire Biden Administration agenda – and competitive markets. How can producers and consumers stumble onto greater truths than scientists? Economist Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” explained how – almost a century before the naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin’s “origin”. Scientific investigations were historically the domain of idle rich like Smith and Darwin, because in addition to the need for peer review independent from political influence, they were expensive, time consuming and only infrequently produced interesting results.

Today almost-universal government funding either directly or indirectly has inevitably and irredeemable introduced bias (and sometimes worse)  into science, particularly the social sciences. Political narratives feed back into the data, producing more noise .

To Tell The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Panelists grilled witnesses on “To Tell the Truth” (1956-1968) to identify the real from fictitious characters. Economist Raj Chetty notes:

“As is the case with epidemiologists, the fundamental challenge faced by economists — and a root cause of many disagreements in the field — is our limited ability to run experiments. If we could randomize policy decisions and then observe what happens to the economy and people’s lives, we would be able to get a precise understanding of how the economy works and how to improve policy. But the practical and ethical costs of such experiments preclude this sort of approach.”

Hence economists, like virologists, rely on limited models to make generalizations. Virologists study the cellular makeup of a virus to explain pandemics. Economists study discrimination to reach a generalized truth about systemic racism, or financial panics to understand contagion. Physicists search for sub-atomic Higgs Boson particles to explain the origins and workings of the universe(s).

Witnesses in American court rooms on Perry Mason (1957-1966) swore to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” under penalty of law. Scientific truth is a building block. Economists can then apply their tools, e.g., cost benefit, present value, probability, value of life, etc. to various alternatives to determine the whole truth and develop policies that are in the “public interest.”

But economists and politicians don’t take that oath. 95% of social scientists and historians identified as liberal/democratic, a bias toward progressive political action. The word “policy” derives from the Greek word for politics which is generally not aligned with the public interest.

Historians are even more liberal than economists, but most object to the 1619 Project. It’s not the income inequality caused by market capitalism, but government favoritism that’s unjust. Environmentalists use limited anti-capitalist models  to produce seriously sub-optimal policy recommendations. This science isn’t “the whole truth and nothing but.”

Scientific certainties spanning decades or even centuries are often proven wrong with better methods and larger samples or metadata. The federal government has for a half century warned against animal fats in favor of margarine even though metadata disproved the theory in 2018. Just as virology models assume contagion due to irrational public behavior, economic models of “financial panic” assume uninformed individuals irrationally run on solvent banks; in actual fact depositors acted perfectly rational, queuing only at insolvent banks that were paying out at face value on a first come, first served basis. Large scale economic models that suffer from the bias of small scale models tend to over-estimate the benefits of political intervention and under-estimate the unseen “unintended” but predictable indirect costs.

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Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan

Generatim discite cultus

(Learn the culture proper to each after its kind)

— Virgil, Georgics II

Stephen Biddle, Nonstate Warfare: the Military Methods of Guerrillas, Warlords, and Militias (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021)

one-to-many entity-relationship symbol superposed over map of Martissant, Haiti

By way of making this more than a merely armchair review, I will be discussing the developing situation of state failure in Haiti, which is providing a personally harrowing example of the phenomena theorized and studied in this book. NB: additional situation reports like the one I quote from below will appear at this OCHA webpage.

I. Increasingly Scale-Free Military Activity in the 21st Century

In this follow-up to 2004’s Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (also from Princeton), Stephen Biddle continues to elucidate the many ramifications of the one-to-many relationship which came to dominate the battlefield between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Over that century and in the decades that followed, individual-service weapons increased in rate of fire from a (very) few rounds per minute to ~10 rounds per second, in effective range from ~100 to >300 meters, and in accuracy from (optimistically) 10 to 1.5 milliradians. Say 2½ orders of magnitude improvement in RoF, half an order of magnitude in range, and one order of magnitude in accuracy; multiplying these together to create a sort of index of effectiveness, I get an overall change of 4 orders of magnitude, with stark implications for battlefield environments.

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Generally Speaking

I can’t really speak to the matter of general officers from extensive personal experience with the rank; throughout my military career I was mostly in places removed from direct personal contact. A merciful deity, to quote the rabbi from “Fiddler on the Roof” kept the general ranks – kept them far, far from us, although a SAC one-star did show up one day at EBS-Zaragoza, unannounced and unheralded. It was lunchtime, practically everyone save the radio and TV op on duty had left the building. I was sitting in my office, peacefully adding another layer of much-needed polish to my shoes, when a flight-suited guy appeared in the doorway and cheerily asked, “When you’re done with yours, can you do mine?” He was a youngish-looking, personable guy, and it took me at least five seconds to grok the single star that designated his rank. He introduced himself, Brigadier General Something-or-other. said he was visiting for a readiness inspection of the SAC unit. He just thought he would mosey around and drop in to visit some of the other activities on base which supported his people so well … and could he have a tour of our broadcast facility?

Well, duh – like I could say ‘no, general, sir’. He got the brief informal nickel tour, conducted by yours truly, introduced to the few of our staffers who weren’t at lunch, and the other senior NCO, the maintenance chief, who hissed at me: “Why didn’t you tell us there was a one-star on the ground? We should have been prepared!” and I hissed back that I hadn’t had a chance to tell anyone anything, said one-star just appeared. It was likely, I added, that this general was probably much more knowledgeable about what was really going on in the activities that he visited, because of his practice of just casually dropping by … rather than doing the formal, pre-announced official inspection visit.

But to most junior and med-ranked enlisted, general officers are like saints to Catholics – we know of them, about them, recognize their attributes, and experience the effects of their pronouncements and dictates.

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