Memorial Day

When this movie is over, you’ll forget me. The only ones who will remember are us.

– from Gunner Palace

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and as usual, we’re spending it in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on a motorcycle-riding weekend with our friends.

It’s funny how in small towns, this weekend means more than it does at home in the city, where it’s largely an excuse for a long weekend. They seem to remember things better, for some reason.

One of my personal projects is learning to remember better as well.This weekend is set aside as a holiday to encourage us to remember the simple fact that we have what we have today – freedom, prosperity, hope – because people sacrificed their lives for it.

Today, we are asking people to sacrifice themselves so that our children and the children of others can have those things, and it’s important that we not ignore the harsh reality of that sacrifice and make sure to always ask ourselves whether the things we will gain are worth the cost.

This isn’t the place – the post – for that debate. But it is the place to take a moment and remember what the debate is really about, outside our egos and our politics and words.

It’s about the men and women who gave everything – and those who risked giving everything – for us and ask more than anything that we remember them.

Pajamas Media

Roger Simon is working out some questions about Pajamas Media in public over on his site – “What is Fair and Balanced?” – a discussion and comment thread which came to the interesting conclusion that a better motto would be “honest and transparent” as well as “How can we be an online Joe Friday?” If you haven’t already, go over and join the conversation.

I’ll comment on the broader meta-issue which I think is important, which is Pajamas’ commitment to take some of the basic questions and exercise them in public. I am and have been a big believer in dialog – both in terms of using this blog as a way of triggering and promoting dialog (as opposed to pronouncements) and in terms of the power of blogs in general as being the power of dialog.

In my day job as a technology manager, I’ve been introducing the concepts of ‘open-ended’ solutions which we can distribute to be developed from the bottom up rather than trying constantly to build them from the top down.

I’ve spread a lot of copies of fellow firearms owner Eric Raymond’s work around – specifically the updated versions of ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar.’

He has a great chapter title in it – “How Many Eyeballs Tame Complexity”. He’s talking about testing and QA specifically, but the same principle, carefully applied, can also help resolve complex business and social issues.

How do you test and grow ideas within a community? How do you keep the community broad and inclusive enough not to become an echo chamber while keeping it cohesive enough to make sure that all points of view are listened to?

I’ll throw those out as my questions about something like Pajamas Media, and I’m obviously interested in what folks have to say.

Star Wars – “…finally out of this picture!!”

I saw a screening of Revenge of the Sith this week. No tickets, no waiting, free snacks, $1 for parking.

I paid too much.

I’ll have to see it again with the boys, but I can still save you.I haven’t seen acting or dialog this wooden since the last porn or traffic safety film I saw. The porn was less boring, because it was shorter, better acted, and involved gratuitous nudity. I had to sit through the traffic safety film because I was in traffic school. The effects don’t save it, because they make up in laborious effort what they lack in grandeur.

Even great actors like Ewan McGregor and Sam Jackson get buried in this. Jackson dies with a look of gratitude on his face…”I’m finally out of the picture!” I imagined him thinking.

Wait for the highlight reel of lightsaber fights. Don’t wait in line.

Nazi Apologists and Revisionist History

I challenged conservative historian Niall Ferguson’s misinterpretation of World War II’s cost below; Robin Burk added a great precis of Walzer on war afterwards.

But it takes one of the original idiotarians, Pat Buchanan, to misinterpret the end of that war.

Stephen Green shows Buchanan for the fool his arguments make him. My favorite line:

It took 40 years, but today Pat Buchanan hit bottom on the slippery slope from Young Turk conservative columnist to Nazi Apologist troglodyte.

I usually think I have a pretty good imagination.

But it has limits. When my wife took IMPACT training (which I recommend highly), a form of combatives training that uses full-contact against aggressors wearing full-body padding, I was talking to one of the trainers about it, and when she realized that I had some martial arts background and supported what they were doing, she asked if I would consider being a ‘mugger.’

The muggers act out realistic scenarios of assault, mugging, and rape, and in that stressful environment, the women are taught some basic and effective techniques to take the fight to the attacker.

I think it’s a great program. I’ve encouraged every women I’ve ever had a serious relationship with to go through it.

And when asked if I’d help out, I realized that I couldn’t act out those scenarios to save my life.

And today, I read of a father who has been charged with murdering his eight year old daughter and her nine year old friend.

I can’t imagine it. I can’t picture it. I know it’s real; I have enough cop friends to have heard the litany of misery and horror dished out by some adults to their children.

I don’t know what these adults – these creatures – are. I’m going to go hug my eight-year old and put him to bed now.

‘Tainted’ Victory

I’m doing updated plans and budgets for Pajamas this weekend, and one thing I’m doing (which I typically do) is adding a line for “contingency.” For something relatively inchoate, I’ll typically budget 35% above expenses for contingency; as the projects mature and we get more control over what’s going on, I’ll lower it to 15 – 20%.

Sometimes it’s enough.

But the fact that I do that, and that that’s an intelligent thing to do in most cases, is a reflection that we all understand the contingency of things – that futures depend on present-day events that we don’t completely control.Some of those things are just outside our imagination and control – “unknown unknowns” as they say. The outside world doesn’t often behave as we expect it to, and so we build in reserves of various kinds to cope. Some of those things are things we expect, but hope to avoid. Employees will misbehave, projects will fail, critical vendors will demand payment early and critical customers will make payments late.

I’ve been fairly successful in many of the projects I’ve run because I expect these things to happen, and budget for them. That doesn’t mean I want them to happen, or that I don’t spend lots of energy working to keep them from happening. But I expect to fail sometimes in my efforts.

No one who succeeds in the world, after all, expects perfection in the real things they do. Good systems and good people who operate them are good exactly because they expect imperfection, and can compensate for it and still achieve the goals they set.

There’s a broader point here…

In the Sunday LA Times, Niall Ferguson, author of “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire,” treats us to his view of World War II:

V-E Day — a Soiled Victory; A look at the WWII Allies’ moral shortcuts.

His litany is a familiar one to anyone familiar with World War II history: strategic bombing, the killing of innocents, the compromises with bloody Stalin to check bloody Hitler. But his conclusions are surprising – or ought to be, and sadly, are not.

None of this is intended to detract from the valor of the millions of Allied service personnel who lost or risked their lives in World War II. Nor is it to deny that the war had to be fought to rid the world of two of the most evil empires in all history. There is a moral difference between Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The Axis cities would never have been bombed if the Axis powers had not launched their war of aggression. And the Axis powers would have killed even more innocent people had it not been for the determination of the Allied powers to prevail.

Nevertheless, we would do well, this V-E Day, to face some harsh realities about the nature of the Allied victory — if only to remind ourselves about the nature of all wars. To win World War II, we joined forces with a despot who was every bit as brutal a tyrant as Hitler; we adopted tactics that we ourselves had said were depraved; and we left too many of those we set out to liberate firmly in the grip of totalitarianism.

For all these reasons, the victory we commemorate needs to understood for what it was: a tainted triumph.

The notion that it is ‘tainted’ – that we have acted throughout our history less than perfectly, sometimes awfully and therefore our history is tainted – underscores much of the thinking that I criticize in looking at ‘Bad Philosophy.’ It suffers from two defects in particular: it fails to ask tainted as compared to what? and it searches for and emphasizes commonality between the bad and the good by abstracting to a high level.

The first question – as compared to what? – is a critical one. I genuinely think that some people somehow believe that the world is a lab where perfect wars can be fought, or perfect legal cases made – or perfect businesses run, or perfect marriages maintained, or children can be perfectly raised. And if you can’t – if in retrospect, your parents damaged you, or the business execution was clumsy, or if a war was fought by soldiers who were on occasion brutal or if decisions were made in weakness, fear or anger that were – again in light of historical omniscience, bad – then the whole enterprise is certainly subject to question and certainly shouldn’t be celebrated.

Sadly, the legitimacy and social cohesion that societies need to ‘work’ come in some part from celebrations of their history, as awful and imperfect as it may be.

Ferguson may not care about social adhesion for this society; he may view it as beyond redemption and look forward to its collapse. He may not understand the role of history, particularly in a society like ours where ‘blood and land’ are not the roots of our self-understanding.

I do understand the role of history, and have no romantic notions about wiping our culture from the planet.

I’m not blind to the errors made and acts that can’t today be justified in World War II. But I understand them differently. I see men and women who were fallible, afraid, exhausted, enraged, and who did the best they could and whose best was thankfully damn good. I look at their mistakes as opportunities, not to criticize them from the safety of my position of retrospection, but to try and learn how we can – as we fumble through our own fallible, contingent history – learn.

3 – 0 In The Only Polls That Count

Today, Tony Blair’s Labor Party is widely expected to win a plurality in Commons and keep Blair in his seat as Prime Minister.

That’s 3 – 0 for Western pro-war candidates.

Atrios may be crowing over a CNN poll showing 57% of those polled did not see the war as worth it…but in the only polls that count, the voters seem to feel differently.

And Duncan, the next time you raise the tired “chickenhawk” argument against Jonah Goldberg, I’m gonna ask you why your boss – who supports higher taxes on the rich – doesn’t just pay them.

Of course it’s a nonsensical and insulting argument, but no more nonsensical or insulting than yours.

Wicked Iraq

There’s a debate going on over at Kevin Drum’s place between Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch over the role of the invasion of Iraq in the recent democratic twitchings going on in the Middle East.

It’s an amusing debate, as each side tries make a conclusive argument one way or the other. But it’s a wicked hard argument to win, as they say in Boston.

Sadly, reality is, as Rittel and Weber say, a “wicked” problem. They defined a wicked problem as:
# There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
# Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
# Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
# There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
# Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
# Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
# Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
# Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
# The existence of a discrepancy in representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
# The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong.

And in their “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” they suggested that classical failures in planning came from assuming that problems in the wicked sphere (political reality) could be modeled and ‘rationalized’ using the methodologies that can be successful in the tame sphere (engineering).

History only runs one way.