…Hundreds of Yards Further (or Banking Crises And Memory)

Kevin Drum leads me to Jonah Goldberg’s piece on ‘the Bankers have learned from their mistakes‘…which led directly to my spitting hot tea out my nose, because that was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

In my misspent youth, I took a job as a systems guy at a savings and loan here in LA. Before very long – not because I was wonderful, but because the place was so disorganized – I wound up running the commercial property that they owned (and there was a lot of it…). In that context, I spent a lot of time with our very experienced auditors at Deloitte, and went to a bunch of real estate finance seminars and conventions.

At a conference, one banker told a joke…

A real estate developer and his banker are going elk hunting in the Alaska outback. They charter a plane, and as they are preparing to take off, the pilot explains to them that the carrying capacity of the plane will only allow them to bring back one elk each.

A week later the pilot returns to their bush camp, and discovers that each hunter has two elk carcasses. He explains to them that there’s no way he’ll try fly out carrying that heavy a load.

The banker starts peeling off hundred dollar bills and offering them to the pilot. The developer starts adding to the pile of cash, and pretty soon, greed takes over for sense, and the pilot is strapping the carcasses to the airplane’s skis.

They back the plane up to the very edge of the clearing, rev the engine, and start to take off. The plane is airborne at the end of the clearing, but can’t clear the trees, and smashes into the ground.

The developer and the banker crawl away from the burning wreckage, and one turns to the other and says “That was hundreds of yards further than we made it last year!”

This was just before the S & L crash…

If you think that the problems we’ve had in the last year or so are novel, go read Martin Meyer’s great book ‘The Bankers.’ I still recall a great quote from that book…from an older New England banker about the new crop of Harvard MBA’s running the banks back in the 1970’s “These young bankers. They’re quite good at making loans. Quite good. Not so good at collecting on them, though.

So no, Jonah, we haven’t learned from this time, and yes, we do need to look hard at the ways we regulate banks (note that in my view some of the problems come from regulations – the issue isn’t just more or less regulation, it’s better and worse regulation).

All Tony Pierce, All The Time

I’ve had a series of amusing – head-scratching even – moments with LA Times blog manager Tony Pierce.

There was his delusional claim that Pajamas Media was a DoD ploy…

Then there was his moment in the reflected John Edwards glory – one that, given his early Busboy blog, should have a been a story that Tony owned. Instead he acted as a channel for management’s desire to shut the LAT bloggers up.

Now, as a bonus card, Tony is the only journalist interviewed by Simon Owens of Bloggasm who thinks that the Gizmodo writer who had his computer seized isn’t entitled to the protections due a journalist.

…note that others raised the very real issue that Gizmodo had forked over five grand for a ‘misplaced’ prototype iPhone as a legal bump in their road – but none of them believed that the police raid on the writer’s house – breaking down the door and removing all his computer gear – was legitimate.

Tony’s comment:

But perhaps the most surprising response came from Tony Pierce, the blog editor for the LA Times. Pierce first gained his blogging street cred from his incredibly personal Busblog before landing a gig as editor for LAist. His success there led to his coveted spot at the Times. In a brief G-Chat message to me, he pointed to an interview Gawker founder Nick Denton gave to the Washington Post in which he said that, “We may inadvertently do good. We may inadvertently commit journalism. That is not the institutional intention.”

Pierce’s conclusion?

“So unfortunately I think Gizmodo doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on if their own boss says they don’t really do journalism there.”

You’ve gotta love the journalistic solidarity and attachment to free speech…

The Deadly Decks of Afghanistan

powerpoint ranger-acu.gif

The NYT yesterday had an article on the PowerPoint Rangers in Afghanistan.

Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers – referred to as PowerPoint Rangers – in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.

Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.

“I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,” Lieutenant Nuxoll told the Web site. “Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.”

Despite such tales, “death by PowerPoint,” the phrase used to described the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here to stay. The program, which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to rely on PowerPoint’s hierarchical ordering of a confused world.

As someone who periodically works for organizations that have PowerPoint embedded in their DNA, and who is pretty handy with a bullet list, this terrifies me. It’s part and parcel of a kind of institutional thinking that is 180 degrees from what’s needed in a dynamic, complex decisionmaking environment where information should be organically structured and encourage thinking instead of snappy five-word summaries of thought.

PowerPoint has already been blamed for the deaths of the seven crew members on the Columbia. Here’s the Columbia Accident Investigation Board as cited by Edward Tufte:

As information gets passed up an organization hierarchy, from people who do analysis to mid-level managers to high-level leadership, key explanations and supporting information are filtered out. In this context, it is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this slide and not realize it addresses a life-threatening situation.

At many points during its investigation, the Board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication in NASA.

What’s true in NASA is equally true – if not more so – in the military.

Go read the whole Tufte article.

Some military leaders are pushing back (from the NYT):

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic, which was first uncovered by NBC’s Richard Engel, but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said.

But from everything I hear, the PowerPoint culture is deeply embedded in the military.

As a result, we can expect more bad decisions like the one about Columbia…and more funerals.

…And Then There’s Unintentional Irony

Which is often the best kind of all.

Matty Yglesias – he of the long slog through progressive publications and think tanks to his current position as a paid shill for George Soros talks about ‘The Cushy Life of the Rightwinger‘:

One thread of the argument I’m personally interested in, however, is Goldberg’s apparent belief that it’s somehow extremely difficult for a young conservative with orthodox views “to break-in at places like NR, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, etc.” One could be snide and observe that the very fact that Jonah Goldberg (!) was able to break into those venues is indication enough that it’s in fact quite easy, but to be fair to other National Review writers when you’re talking about a case that extreme you actually do need a boost from nepotism.

…I’d say the absence of a self-reflective ability – at all (as shown in this piece) is the biggest gap (of many) in MY’s intellectual armor.


I’m someone who thinks we need to do something about the current immigration mess – open borders, a high standard of living, and a welfare state really aren’t a combination that can last very long.

But from what I’m reading in the papers, I really – really, really – don’t like the new Arizona law.

The idea that police can ask people who are suspect – i.e. darkskinned – to hand over their papers just creeps me out. My distaste for state power exercised in this way outstrips my real concern about immigration.

Nepotism and Oligarchy

Zenpundit has a incisive post up on the corrosion of nationalism by oligarchic elites, who look beyond the walls to grow and perpetuate themselves.

Oligarchs elevate self-interest and class interest over national interest, it’s the signature of oligarchy, be it the Thirty Tyrants or the Soviet nomenklatura. Milovan Djilas knew what the hell he was writing about as much as did Thucydides.

What to do?

The proto-oligarchical class in America, the elite who are the product of “the good schools”, tend to embrace and celebrate progressive taxation and diversity as high moral principles. What if we applied them?

I think the specifics of his proposal are a little wacky, but he’s got his thumb on a problem.

Then again, maybe I should get him together with Adam Bellow

Stuff I Like

We haven’t been doing our part to support the ailing economy here at Casa Armed Liberal, but we have bought a few things, and I thought I’d comment on them…

My old Lenovo t60 started exhibiting bad behavior – which I finally tracked down to something mechanical – when I moved it while it was running, I’d get a BSOD. Not the best behavior for a laptop that’s often used at the breakfast table or on the sofa.

So I went shopping – for about 3 hours I considered a Macbook Pro – and settled on a Dell Vostro 3400 with an i5 processor, 4GB or RAM, a 350GM HDD and Windows 7 Pro.

Nice!! Very nice!! I’ve migrated my key files over and set up most of what I use, and golly gosh I like it a lot. It’s smaller than my old 15″ notebook, but that’s as much a feature as a bug, and it seems decently solid. So far, great battery life – I can but a 9-cell battery for it if it becomes an issue. The keyboard touch is a little light, but when I do lots of writing, I’m on a regular one.

I do wish it had a docking station – maybe soon.

Windows 7 was a little awkward at first, but now it’s pretty transparent. And the machine is faaaast.

In the course of moving the files to the household desktop to transfer them over, it became obvious that our 10-year old desktop was just filled plumb up. Plus it hasn’t really liked XP (it came w/Win2K)…so when we went to best Buy to look at NAS, we decided to spend a few hundred more and just go buy a new desktop.

Looking at the reviews on my Droid, the ASUS Essentio minitower looked pretty good, and cheap, but while they were looking for a boxed one, we noticed an Asus CG5275…a full-sized tower with great specs – i5 again, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, highly expandable…and only $175 more…so we went from a $250 NAS to a $700 desktop. Someone frugal is going to be mad at me…

It’s running Windows 7 Home, and again it’s been really easy to set up. The biggest hassle has been that it has no parallel port so I had to get a USB cable for the B & W printer (an old, reliable HP1200).

I’ve still got to consolidate 800GB of data on the old XP box – there are like seven images of the laptop files system, and move all the remaining data over. But I can take my time to do that.

So we’ve done our computer spend for the next few years…and you may understand why blogging has been light for the last week.

On the non-computer front, I bought some m/c gear…

My old Held winter m/c gloves had been getting pretty ragged, so I went out and got some Alpinestars 365 gloves. I tend to spend a lot of money on gloves because I figure that in reality, I make my living with my fingers…so I like them to be safe.

They have been great. A little warm for warm days, but great from cool to cold, and yesterday I rode home in a small downpour that soaked through my Gore-tex Aerostich suit in a few places – but my hands were dry and toasty.

So were my feet, because I replaced by seven year old pair of Sidi On-Roads (two resoles, one re-Velcro) with a new pair of Sidi Canyons. Comfy, better-armored than the On-Roads, and again – my socks were about the only garment I had on that wasn’t wet someplace.

So now I’m computing speedily on the road and at home, and have safe and dry fingers and toes. What’s not to like?

California Republicans And The Judean People’s Front

I’ve got to admit that I’m constantly bemused by the California Republican Party. We’re a crazy Democratic state (instead of a sane Democratic state) because the GOP is so insular and Judean People’s Front-like.

For the latest blast from the ‘splitters,’ let me offer the The California Majority Report, the Democratic equivalent). Here’s Fleishman:

Well, the progressive liberals that dominate main stream media newspaper editorial boards are at it again. This time we see it is the sage and wise lefties on the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board who are telling us that Tom Campbell is the best GOP pick for the U.S. Senate. You know what I say to these fine folks on the SacBee Ed Board who in 2008 levied their endorsement of Barack Obama for President of the United States? Butt out!

Yeah those outsiders – you know, people like me, who don’t like Barbara Boxer very much and actually might vote for Campbell in spite of his flaky Middle East views (but wouldn’t in a million years vote for Devore) – ought to butt out and let the GOP pick a pure, truly Republican candidate who can lose by 20 points to Boxer in November.