Tufte

I took a class yesterday – more of a 1000 person lecture – with Edward Tufte, the author of four excellent books on ‘analytic design.’

It was a great class on design, and as someone who prepares large presentations about once a month, his excoriation of Powerpoint had me waving my hands in the air.

But there are two deep philosophies, maybe three, that I saw in his work yesterday that have me in that post-‘Zen slap to the head’ kind of mode, where I see things but can’t yet articulate them. And it has to do with a connection I’m seeing between his work and two issues that are very important to me – agile development and management, 4th generation warfare, and the political theory of praxis (in Aristotle’s sense).

I’m going to try to noodle through this in a few posts today and tomorrow.But I’ll leave you with three things of his – first, a quote.

Making a presentation is a moral act as well as a physical activity. The use of corrupt manipulations and blatant rhetorical ploys in a report or presentation – outright lying, flagwaving, personal attacks, setting up phony alternatives, misdirection, jargon-mongering, evading key issues, feigning disinterested objectivity, wilful misunderstanding of other points of view – suggests that the presenter lacks both credibility and evidence. To maintain standards of quality, relevance, and integrity for evidence, consumers of presentations should insist that presenters be held intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus consuming a presentation is also a moral activity.

Next a key part of his excoriation of Powerpoint – an explanation of why ‘Powerpoint thinking’ doomed the shuttle Columbia.

And finally, an image:

home_stalin_poster-med.JPG

Ricky Jay And His 52 Assistants

Just back from Westwood, where we saw Ricky Jay’s show.

Amazing – just amazing. He made a deck of cards do everything but sing bad folk songs.

About two minutes in, I just gave up on trying to understand how he was doing it, and went with the flow. Until, that is……he mentioned in passing something he’d said to someone “last month as we were playing a game of hold ‘em.”

WHO THE HELL WOULD PLAY POKER WITH RICKY JAY?

I Can’t Not Blog This…

From LA Biz Observed:

Yes, it’s true – being a multimillionaire means having “more adventurous and exotic” sex lives, according to a survey out today by Prince & Associates. The survey, which polled nearly 600 men and women with net worths of more than $30 million and a mean net worth of $89 million, found that 63 percent of the men and 88 percent of the women said wealth gave them better sex.

I’m going back to work now. I’ll be working in the office later than usual tonight…

What’s Winds About?

Blogging has been kind of back-and-forth for me (my personal and business lives are kinda hectic and take priority), and I’ve been trying to settle into what I want from this next phase of my blogging; I wanted to discover a voice in the first phase, got caught up in the debate over Iraq in the second, and now want to step back and think about what I want from this next one.

I’m more ‘establishment’ now – a get published in a newspaper and invited to political conference calls and to faraway conferences (more on that when it solidifies). But I’m not terribly interested in a career as a pundit (maybe if my day job paid a lot less…) or likely to get invited to make one as a research fellow. So I don’t see a career track in this for me.

A big part of what I’ve gotten from it is a sense of ‘place’ – that Winds has become kind of my neighborhood bar where I can go in on the way home from work, order a drink or two, and talk with a consistent stream of folks who I’m interested in hearing from and who are interested in hearing from me. I like that (my wife and a few of my clients who have Googled me may wonder if I like it a little too much – I’m aware of Hesiod’s warning never to spend too much time gossiping at the smithy), and in many ways it’s the biggest benefit I get from blogging.So let me talk a little bit about what I like about this place and what keeps me sticking around.

It’s not agreement, because that’s typically boring. I try and have a fairly wide range of people here, and have offered (and will continue to offer) guest posts to people who disagree with me and make interesting arguments in doing so.

There is an element of tone; I’ve hammered some of my co-bloggers in the past about it – we’re all pretty smart people and I presume that we all have something interesting to say – and that none of us have (or would disclose) secret insight into the plans or thinking of the US political leadership – or that of Al Quieda. We’re armchair gentleman-adventurers, and that’s a fine thing because I’m more convinced than ever that the battle that matters is the battle for the hearts and minds of the folks living in the West – of our neighbors. If we can – collectively – come to a position that makes sense, I think matters will go far better for us.

I’ve had heated debates with Tom Holsinger and Joe over Iran, and over whether there would be a wider war in the Middle East by the end of 2006 (there hasn’t been but may still be). But they made their case, and stuck around to defend it. We had some great discussions – with a lot of viewpoints, a lot of heat but very little smoke and a large portion of what was called ‘graciousness’ – a mutual acceptance of each other’s rights to our views and ownership of the positions we all take.

And in thinking about it, that quality of discussion – often critical, sometimes pointed, but both with some clear underpinning of respect and with a strong commitment to make an argument, not just to make pat statements – is what Winds and blogging are all about to me. I’m no angel, and certainly won’t claim to be perfect in doing that. But I hope you’ll agree that I always try, and that when others show it, I honor them for it.

That’s what I want Winds to be. I have no interest in being a party organ – for either party – but I do believe that the skills I learn and that others learn here and in places like this will help change politics. I do believe that the relationship sand networks that grow out of places like this have a better chance to make change happen than the overtly partisan blogs – which I think are really jockeying at the table of the existing system looking for a place closer to the meat platter.

So while I chew on my personal goals in doing this, let me add one that I’m certain of – of being a part of a place where those things can and do happen. Snide bitchslapping is satisfying – in a kind of empty way – but it tears down the kind of discussion we need to have, and I’ll commit here both to engage in less of it in the future, and to publicly poke at others who do.

The AP Could Take A Lesson – From Al Jazzera

Al Jazzera has a story up about the attack in Zamazola, Afghanistan which was announced by thePakistani government as an attack on Taliban fighters.

In my mind, it’s a case study on what reporters ought to be doing in this complex, media-aware war.

Here’s the lede:

Al Jazzera has obtained exclusive pictures of the aftermath of an airstrike by Pakistani forces which killed at least 10 people.

The footage shows an unexploded bomb that could not have been fired from the helicopter gunships that the Pakistani military said carried out the raid.

Pakistan’s military said the airstrike on Tuesday targeted suspected al-Qaeda compounds but villagers in Zamzola said only civilians were killed.

In Salamat Ghundi, another village, residents told Reuters news agency that an unmanned US drone aircraft carried out the attack.

“This is wrong. We have already denied it. This is usual that such things are said on such occasions but these are wrong,” Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan’s military spokesman, said on Friday.

OK, then they go to the facts on the ground.

On Thursday, journalists, who were escorted to Zamzola by armed men, were shown an unexploded missile which was just under two metres long and marked ‘MFP AMF YORK 0873′. Villagers said it was dropped during the airstrike but its casing appeared to be old and weathered.

[emphasis added]

That’s what I’m talking about. It’s the same thing that Anderson Cooper did when Hezbollah stage-managed press coverage in Lebanon – he described what he was seeing. That way we – the audience – can begin to put the reporting into some kind of perspective and make reasonable judgments about it.

That’s what we have the right to expect from journalists.

That’s why I’m unhappy with AP – they don’t do that. It’s time they started.

MLK Day – More Than Just A Bank Holiday

It’s Martin Luther King day – actually and respectfully, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day – and it’s worth taking a moment to note how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

As I’ve noted a long time ago, I’m ethnically a mutt, and was raised in a fairly eclectic way (in no small part by men who worked for my father – black and white rural immigrants to California who had found a good measure of success working in the construction industry). I went to black churches as a child as well as Southern Baptist ones and Beverly Hills synagogues for my friend’s Bar Mitzvah’s.

I’ve also lived in France and seen firsthand what real racism looks like.

So I’ll suggest a few things; first and foremost that Dr. King and the black and white men and women who marched with him, the other leaders who pushed to end de facto and de jure segregation in the United States did us a colossal favor. The legacy of black slavery and oppression post-Civil War had ossified into a social and legal structure that shamed and hobbled our nation.

We’re two-and-a-half generations past a white governor standing in the schoolhouse door, and while we’re not done yet, I’ll say with some certainty the world my sons will inherit is a far better world than it would have been absent Dr. King and all the other civil rights leaders who we are honoring in his name today.

Just For The Record

Mark Kleiman – who’s generally pretty sensible for someone with BDS (see his take on the Jacob Hacker “$1.6 trillion to $300 Million” health care proposal) makes a passing comment I didn’t want let stand…

Affirmative action is an attempt by an employer to increase the number of workers it draws from groups currently under-represented among its workforce. African-Americans are currently grossly over-represented in the armed services, especially in the enlisted ranks. So I find it utterly baffling that Eugene Volokh sees an inconsistency between (1) supporting affirmative action; (2) celebrating the success of the military in moving African-Americans up its career ladder; and (3) opposing efforts to further increase the over-representation of African-Americans by selectively recruiting them.

[emphasis mine]

I wrote Mark and asked where he’d heard that, since it resembles nothing I’d heard. He commented that he’d read that African-American soldiers in Iraq were bearing a hugely disproportionate number of the casualties there, and so he was pretty sure there was a higher percent of African Americans in military service.

I was pretty sure he was wrong. Actually, I was.The DoD compulsively tracks statistics and this is no exception. They have the most recent stats available (for 2004 – pdf) and find that

Table 3.3. FY 2004 Race of Active Component Enlisted Members,
by Service, and Civilian Labor Force 18-44 Years Old (Percent)
Race Army Navy Marine Corps Air Force DoD 18 to 44 Year Old Civilians
White 63.5 64.5 70.8 72.6 67.1 80.1
Black 25.1 21.5 13 17.3 20.6 12.6
American Indian & Alaskan Native 1 3 1.2 0.5 1.4 0.8
Asian 3 6 2.1 1.9 3.4 4.6
Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander 0 0.3 0.5 0.5 0.3 0.3
Two or more races 0 0.8 0.7 1.1 0.6 1.6
Unknown 7.5 3.9 11.7 6.1 6.7 0
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100

So yes, African-Americans are significantly (like 2x in the case of the Army) over represented in the military.

On the other hand…

I pointed him to iCasualties, which suggests that African-American soldiers have made up about 9.7% of the fatalities in OIF to date.

So why the underrepresentation here?

An interesting question. But I owe Kleiman an apology, and thought it best done in public.

Time And Tide…

Below, I made a comment to hypocrisyrules in which I said:

Really? No they are looking for a ‘decisive battle’ or some ‘magic strategy’ that will make Iraq 90% better in six months. Ain’t gonna happen. It’s an insurgency, and I’ve been saying for a long, time that it’s going to take six to ten years to know how we’re doing.

I said at the outset that it would, and that if we lacked the bottom to stick it out and slowly win we’d better not go.

The alternative, sadly, is Duncan Black’s version of deterrence. And I don’t really want to play that game; genocide makes me kind of queasy. He appears to have a stronger stomach.

Here’s Bill Roggio on the issue of time:

After spending two months out of the last 12 in the land between the two rivers, one thing I’ve learned is nothing is simple about Iraq, and there are no easy solutions to the vast array of problems. But despite the constant media portrayal of Iraq as a hopelessly violent nation, Iraq is not a nation without hope.

The average life of an insurgency is about nine years. In Iraq, the insurgents and al-Qaeda hope to wear down the will of the American government and people, and precipitate a premature withdrawal. When I talk to American troops about Iraq, their greatest concern isn’t for their safety, but they are worried the American public has given up on the war before they can complete their mission. They watch the news – CNN, MSNBC and FOX News are beamed into the mess halls, some even possess satellite dishes with access to BBC World, Al Jazeera and hundreds of programs at their fingertips. Internet is readily available in many areas. I surfed the web in the center of Fallujah on wireless Internet.

American troops watch the news and follow the debate in real time. They will tell you the war they see on television isn’t the war they are fighting. To the troops, the war as portrayed on television is oversimplified and digested into sound bites. The soldiers are portrayed as victims and the violence is grossly exaggerated.

Not much I can add to that.