Monthly Archives: April 2010

The consequences of giving a 15 year old unlimited power…

I’m reading a book about Charles XII of Sweden (available free on my nook via Google Books).  It was written way back in 1895 so it’s pretty far removed from the headlines of today.  Still, it’s interesting to see what sort of knowledge our leaders have lost over the past two centuries…

“His absolute refusal to countenance torture as an instrument of judicial investigation on the ground that ‘confessions so extorted give no sure criteria for basing a judgment upon,’ showed him to be more humane as well as more enlightened than the majority of his council which had defended the contrary opinion.”

Still, let’s not get too nostalgic or filled with romantic notions of handing the keys to the kingdom to the youth of today.  Chuck also demonstrated why we shouldn’t invest absolute power in a 15 year old:

“…the royal kinsmen frequently amused themselves by smashing all the plates and glasses on the dinner-table and flinging all the furniture out of the palace windows.”


“On another occasion, the French ambassador tell us, the King and the Duke [of Hosltein] tested the sharpness of their swords by decapitating calves, sheep and dogs in the royal apartments and pitching the bleeding heads out of the window.  This engrossing pastime lasted a whole week, by which time the interior of the palace resembled a shambles.”

And you thought Tom Cruise was pushing the envelope in ‘Risky Business‘.


Drill Baby Drill!!!

And ye shall reap what you sow.  After hearing the oil lobby prattle on about how we need to drill anywhere and everywhere there’s a chance to find oil…

The oil leak triggered by a deadly rig blast off the coast of Louisiana has the potential to cause more environmental damage than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, one of the largest ecological disasters ever recorded, some observers say.

And since environmental arguments have always had very little traction with the rabid business lobby let’s hear about how this is going to hurt small business owners.  You know, the ‘engine of our economy’.

Experts said the spill could also destroy the livelihood of commercial fishermen and shrimp catchers and impact recreational fishermen. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the state’s fishing industry is worth $265 billion at dockside and has a total economic impact of $2.3 trillion.Tourism also could take a blow if beaches are fouled.

Virginia’s governor seems intent on not letting this little detail get in the way of lowering gas prices a few pennies a decade from now (maybe).  He’s just reaffirmed his support for drilling off his coast.


Both Jason and Drew write about a NYTimes story yesterday about the scourge known as PowerPoint.  I’m rather agnostic about the program overall.  It can do an adequate job at conveying basic concepts in the hands of the average user and much more in the hands of a competent one but I do think Tufte has some interesting things to say about the boundaries and limitations the program can impose upon the presentation of information.

The poster child for the story was this presentation (that I blogged about here) which is unfortunate because I actually thought it was pretty good if you viewed the entire presentation.  If you were to do that you’d see how you get to that spaghetti monster at the end rather that just trying to untangle the whole mess.

Political disclosure

I really enjoyed this post by Noah Millman at the American Scene where he tries to develop a political taxonomy slightly more informative than our current ‘left-right’ binary choice.  Let’s face it, while that distinction may be pretty good for our political parties (and elected officials who seem intent on becoming caricatures of themselves)  it really begins to break down the further you get from the center and is pretty worthless by the time you get to the extremes.  This is why you had a brief dust up in the wake of Joe Stack crashing his plane into the Austin I.R.S. building over whether the dude was a left wing radical or a right wing crazy.

So, Noah divides the political spectrum into three categories:

  • Liberal – Conservative
  • Left – Right
  • Progressive – Reactionary

Read his whole explanation but the short version is:

1. Liberal vs. Conservative

Put simply: a liberal outlook trusts individuals and questions authority; a conservative outlook distrusts individuals and defers to authority.

2. Left vs. Right

Put simply: a right-wing perspective is animated by an affinity for the winners and their interests, while a left-wing perspective is animated by an affinity for the losers and their interests.

3. Progressive vs. Reactionary

The progressive is future-oriented. Things will – or could – be better in the future than they are now.  The reactionary, by contrast, is past-oriented. Things will – likely – be worse in the future than they are now, just as they were better in the past.

Now, as you’ll see in the comments, there’s plenty to nitpick over this but it’s still an interesting way to look at things.  Noah doesn’t like political compass but, similarly, it’s another data point and another jumping off point for discussions about political orientation (besides, I’m a sucker for graphics).

So, on Noah’s scale I suspect I’m a ‘liberal-progressive’ and not strongly affiliated along his ‘left-right’ spectrum.  I decided to take the political compass test to see how they said I fit along their left/right and libertarian/authoritarian axises.  So, here are the results of that…

Allow me to say I’m in pretty good company with people like the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi.  Although I’m guessing my career choices given my beliefs are a bit odd.  Let me also say that if I was in an actual position of power I’m pretty sure my little dot would shoot up to the authoritarian axis like a rocket.  While powerless I’m an anarchist.  With power I become a despot (but I benign one, I swear!).

I asked my father to take the test as well and he came up with this…

Although I have to admit I’m highly dubious as this would make him (at least according to the PoliticalCompass folks who I suspect may have skewed their estimates some) both more leftist and libertarian than Barrack Obama.  My friends, you’ll just have to take my word for it, if my father is to the left of Barrack Obama the universe would collapse in on itself and the space-time continuum would be destroyed.

I’d like to try to figure out how to overlay Myers-Briggs results over these to see if that provides any additional insight into political outlook but I’m not sure how that would work.

So, why am I engaging in this blogging navel gazing?  Well, first because I can and second I figured this sort of information might give you, dear readers, a better understanding about the lens I look through when writing on various topics.

Flotsam and Jetsam

I have three items for today and they’re all vaguely related in that they’re about the military but I can’t escape the feeling that they’re more deeply related although I can’t figure out why.

Item 1:  For those of you who like internet smackdowns, our friend Simon has taken Michael Yon to task for his goofy behavior recently and in doing so has incurred his wrath with an email exchange that comes to you straight from the seventh grade:

…Simon — the writings on your website have been dishonest.  You seem like a basically dishonest person…

Item 2:  Tom Ricks had a post in response to Col. Gentile’s argument that the Army is too focused on COIN.  Allow me to draw your attention to this part of a comment by (former?) LTC:

Also we got virtually no COIN training at the MOBSITE … only the training I forced on the unit. Indeed I am entirely self-educated on COIN since 2001 when I realized that I was gonna need it eventually. Actually, I had the help of Tom and a lot of really smart guys on an another internet forum I frequent.

This is a common refrain in my military experience as well. While you’re at home station a lot of training is just not done and it’s rationalized away by saying ‘Oh, don’t worry.  You’ll get all that stuff when you go to your mobilization training site.’  Then, when you get to your mobilization site any training not on the program doesn’t get done and is justified with the argument ‘Oh, don’t worry.  You’ll get that stuff when you acclimatize in country.’

And then, once you arrive in country, everyone looks at you with surprise and says ‘You’re in theater!  You should have gotten all this training at home station or at your mobilization station.  There’s no time for training now.’

While COIN may be official doctrine, I’m not seeing a whole lot of evidence that it’s trickling down to the reserve component level.

Item 3:  Slate has an article about the recent report that the dramatic rise of fat youth is leading to a national security crisis.  The author isn’t buying that.  I want to highlight this paragraph which I take a bit of an issue with:

Yet fat soldiers are sometimes given the boot for reasons that have nothing to do with their abilities in the field. According to military guidelines, even someone who’s fit as a fiddle can be drummed out of camp for having the wrong body dimensions. Consider that a young man who’s 6 feet tall must weigh less than 195 pounds, or have a body fat percentage below 26, in order to serve in the Army. (The other branches offer a bit more leeway: In the Coast Guard, for instance, he can weigh up to 233 pounds.) That’s true even if he excels on the U.S. Army’s Physical Fitness Test. The regulations are very clear on this point: Athletic prowess does not make up for cottage-cheese thighs. In fact, it’s listed as one of the “typical excuses” that fatso soldiers should avoid: “I can pass the APFT, so why lose weight?” When it comes to body fat, the regs declare that too much flab connotes, first of all, “a lack of personal discipline.” Another document suggests that it “detracts from soldierly appearance.” So excess weight isn’t just a health problem—it’s a personality flaw. Oh, and it makes you ugly.

Ok, first off, I think everyone knows soldiers who exceed the height/weight standards because they work out.  So long as they are within their body fat standards no problemo.  I’ve also seen soldiers that ‘pass’ their physical fitness test (and once you hit a certain rank you find it common that people will have ‘professional courtesy’ extended to them – otherwise known as ‘administration PT tests’) who can barely fit in their uniform.  You can ‘poo-poo’ the idea of the need for soldiers to present a ‘soldierly appearance’ but once you’ve seen a soldier (especially a senior ranking one that’s supposed to be a role model for junior soldiers) who looks 9 months pregnant the idea doesn’t seem so silly.  But let’s face it, these are the ends of the extreme.  Usually, you’ve got overweight soldiers who also can’t manage to pass their PT test.  Seems like a bit of a red herring to me…

Are you going to fight crime in THAT?

I never really thought about superheros needing some serious fashion sense before donning their masked persona but these guys prove how superficially I thought about comic books while growing up.  Some great observations here (Although there too much emphasis on DC comic characters for my liking.  Marvel was clearly superior when I was growing up.  Better heroes, villains and plot lines):

On Swedish obscenity

Word came from my Swedish nephew (aged 4) that he heard his father utter an obscenity while trying to fix some problem with the TV.  The word worthy of being a special topic of conversation and uttered by children only in hushed tones was ‘jävlar’ which translates as ‘devil’.

Now, a lot of Swedish curses involve the devil compared to our curses which seem to be fixated on bodily functions.  I found this to be particularly interesting since his older brother (aged 6) has learned (and uses endlessly) the word ‘shit’ (which he uses, I suspect, more because as a foreign word it has a cache of ‘coolness’ than any vulgar intent).

So…two interesting things I took away from this.

  1. How different cultures determine what is regarded as unclean or worthy of the focus of our frustration, distaste and contempt (Why do Swedes focus on religious based expletives while English/Americans on excrement?)
  2. How disconcerting it can be to hear a 6 year old swearing like a sailor.