History Friday:War in the Borderlands – Juan Cortina

In the last few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, another war stalked the borderlands of the Rio Grande Valley, this one between Mexico and Texas, personified by a reckless young Mexican grandee named Juan Nepomunceno Cortina. He was the ‘black sheep’ son of a large and wealthy family with considerable holdings on either side of the border; a handsome, dashing and impulsive man, quick to take offense at insult. For a number of reasons, most to do with his family wealth and influence, he was also seen as the champion of the poorer Mexican residents, who were not infrequently stung by Anglo contempt and injustice. For his own part, Cortina violently resented certain Anglo ranchers, including one Augustus Glavaecke, who had often accused Cortina of helping himself to his and other Anglo rancher’s livestock.

In spite of this, in 1858, Cortina was living at one of the family properties near Brownsville – close enough that he rode into town every day and whiled away the morning at a popular local coffee shop, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. But one mid-June day, a former employee of his – Tomas Cabrera was drunk and disorderly, disrupting the peace and quiet of the coffee shop. Robert Spears, the city marshal, tried to arrest Cabrera, over the objections of Cortina. Spears answered Cortina with an insult, whereupon Cortina whipped out his pistol and shot Spears in the shoulder. He then grabbed his horse, pulling Cabrera up behind him, and galloped out of town. It was a spectacularly theatrical exit, and made him even more popular than ever among the poorer Mexicans along the border.

Cortina lay low at the ranch for some month, while those Anglo residents of Brownsville – especially those who entertained lively suspicions about him – wondered what he would get up to next. He was buying horses and recruiting men for some purpose, probably nefarious. It didn’t come clear until the end of September, the morning after a grand ball in Matamoros, which practically everyone of means, Anglo and Mexican had attended. In the wee hours of the morning, Cortina rode into town with a hundred of his mounted, well-armed new best friends, and took it over, lock, stock and both barrels. He was after a number of his bitterest enemies, rancher Glavaecke and Marshal Spears among them. They escaped, but three other Americans and a Mexican who tried to shield one of the Americans died at the hands of Cortina’s men. They broke into the jail, liberating about a dozen prisoners, but murdering the jailor. They also tried to hoist the Mexican flag over the deserted American compound of Fort Brown.

Read more

New Book Review at Pragati Magazine – The Violent Image by Neville Bolt

[cross-posted from zenpundit.com]


The Violent Image by Neville Bolt 

I have a new book review up at Pragati this morning. (Pragati magazine is India’s equivalent of The National Interest with some emphasis on freer markets and economic liberalism in the classic sense):

Lethal ideas and insurgent memory 

….One expert who does acknowledge a paradigmatic shift and posits a powerful explanatory model for the behavior of what he terms “the new revolutionaries” is Dr Neville Bolt of the War Studies Department of King’s College, London and author of The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries. Taking a constructivist view of irregular military conflict as the means by which insurgents weave an enduring political narrative of mythic power and shape historical memory, Bolt eschews some cherished strategic tenets of realists and Clausewitzians. The ecology of social media, powered by decentralised, instant communication platforms and the breakdown of formerly autarkic or regulated polities under the corrosive effects of capitalist market expansion, have been, in Bolt’s view, strategic game changers “creating room to maneuver” in a new “cognitive battlespace” for “complex insurgencies”.  Violent “Propaganda of the Deed”, once the nihilistic signature of 19th century Anarchist-terrorist groups like the People’s Will, has reemerged in the 21stcentury’s continuous media attention environment as a critical tool for insurgents to compress time and space through “…a dramatic crisis that must be provoked”.

As a book The Violent Image sits at the very verge of war and politics where ideas become weapons and serve as a catalyst for turning grievance into physical aggression and violence. Running two hundred and sixty-nine heavily footnoted pages and an extensive bibliography that demonstrates Bolt’s impressive depth of research. While Bolt at times slips into academic style, for the most part his prose is clear, forceful and therefore useful and accessible to the practitioner or policy maker. Particularly for the latter, are Bolt’s investigations into violent action by modern terrorists as a metaphor impacting time (thus, decision cycles) across a multiplicity of audiences.  This capacity for harvesting strategic effect from terrorist events was something lacking in the 19th and early 20thcentury followers of Bakunin and Lenin (in his dalliances with terrorism); or in Bolt’s view, the anarchists “failed to evoke a coherent understanding in the population” or a “sustained message”.

Read the rest here.

 

Quote of the Day

[C]ontrary to what liberals are saying, these technical problems [with Obamacare] are actually a sign of deep problems with the law itself. And I would go further: I think it is the sign of a deeper problem with government intervention in general. This is yet another piece of evidence that no matter how good lawmakers’ intentions are, no matter how much money government spends, government solutions are very likely to fall short of solving most of our problems, and often turn into massive disasters. Government fails to address most problems it tackles because the incentives are arranged in such a way that it favors interest groups and doesn’t reward success or punish failures in the same way as the market does.

Veronique de Rugy

“Boeing’s 747 is an icon, but future is in doubt”

An interesting article on the history and current state of the 747 market:

For decades, the Boeing 747 was the Queen of the Skies. But the glamorous double-decker jumbo jet that revolutionized air travel and shrunk the globe could be nearing the end of the line.
 
Boeing has cut its production target twice in six months. Just 18 will be produced in each of the next two years. Some brand-new 747s go into storage as soon as they leave the plant. Counting cancellations, it hadn’t sold a single 747 this year until Korean Air bought five on Thursday.
 
Boeing says it’s committed to the 747, and sees a market for it in regions like Asia. But most airlines simply don’t want big, four-engine planes anymore. They prefer newer two-engine jets that fly the same distance while burning less fuel.

(Via Rand Simburg, who tweets: “I remember when Boeing announced development of 747. It was a wonder of the world. Thanks, Juan Trippe.”)

On Being an IT Project Manager

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.