Abuse of Authority

If you are a teacher or professor, you have a legitimate sphere of authority concerning teaching methods, classroom discussion, grades, etc.  But you do not have legitimate authority to focus class time on selling students on your own personal political or social views–still less do you have authority to assign grades based on compliance with those views.

If you are Chairman or CEO of a publicly-traded corporation, you have a legitimate sphere of authority concerning organization design, business strategy, financing, people-selection, and many other things.  But you do not have legitimate authority to devote corporate resources–of which you are not the owner–to promoting your personal political views.

If you are an Intelligence Officer employed by the federal government, then certain things fall within your legitimate sphere of authority.  One thing that does not fall within your legitimate authority is using your position to influence US domestic election outcomes.

The whole concept that spheres of authority are and should be limited seems to be under assault in America today.  Not only do many people reject the idea of any limits on their own authority; many people object to the idea of limits on the authority of institutions. Indeed, here is a law school dean who seems to reject the principle that courts should be constrained by laws.

I also observe that there are plenty of people in leadership positions who, while showing very poor performance in their own jobs, are insistent that people outside their sphere of authority do things to solve their problems…a prime example being governors and mayors who blame  the skyrocketing crime rates in their jurisdictions on lack of (what they consider) proper gun control in adjacent states, when there are plenty of things they could do within their own scopes of authority and influence to address the problem.  Similarly with education–tolerate increasingly-awful performance on the part of the schools and malevolent interference on the part of the teachers unions, while blaming the problem of uneducated graduates entirely on Systemic Racism…so those politicians are off the hook because Somebody Else does something, or some set of things.

Your thoughts?



Unpacking the Port

I hate silliness – bureaucrats wielding power arbitrarily, ignoring consequences, etc. – ask me about our local Home Owners Association, for instance. But this Instapundit link is to a great, productive, tactful moment when analysis, persuasive writing, an understanding of his audience and human nature wielded the power of a leader, appropriate to such rare skills. Many of you (esp. Dan) have a better appreciation of the common bottleneck but even I can see this “impactful” (an ugly word but so appropriate here) of Peterson’s skill. Of course, why this is a “temporary” fix is another question. And why libertarians have a point about minimal control and why a disproportionately (well, disproportionate to the American tradition) strong state often stifles free enterprise.

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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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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Tiananmen OSINT

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

[Readers are directed to the end of this post for an explanation of my timing and motivation.

UPDATE 6/5, 11 AM CDT: videos embedded!]

I. Anniversary Reconnoiter

At around nine in the morning local time on the thirtieth anniversary of the “June Fourth Incident,” I began a reconnoiter of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to observe security measures and, if possible, witness any attempt at commemorating the massacre. I accompanied Dr. Andrew R. Cline, professor of media, journalism, and film at Missouri State University in Springfield. We were part of group of eleven people—four students, two faculty, and five others including me—comprising a “Study Away” program from MSU which had spent the previous twelve days in China, flying into Beijing and taking high-speed trains to Xi’an and Xining, then on via the Qinghai–Tibet railway to Lhasa before flying back to Beijing. Of all days, Tuesday 4 June 2019 was designated a free day for the group: no itinerary—and no guide. The remaining nine group members, as it turned out, had other ideas about what to do that day.

Andy’s motivation was broadly journalistic, garnished with a specific interest in whether any actual Marxists would show up. I went along out of a feeling that I had something of a reputation to uphold, and quickly decided during our approach that I would evaluate the security measures and write up a more quantitative report, although I will also pass along some thoughts about the organizational behaviors involved.

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