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I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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Thursday, October 31, 2002  

A kid I know got his first introduction to self-esteem training a couple of years ago, when he was six. All the children in the kindergarten had to watch a video on the general theme "You are wonderful." Sam came home and asked his mom, "How can the people who made the video be so sure I'm wonderful? They don't even know me!" So a 6-year-old has more sense than the mainstream of our educational establishment.

I say "mainstream" because this kind of thing is endemic. Betsy Hart tells about how her son had to make a poster with the remarkable title "It's all about me." And the self-esteem obsession extends beyond the schools: a Google search on the phrase "self-esteem" turns up over 1 million hits.

The self-esteem concept had its roots in a worthwhile concept: that high expectations lead to high performance. But this concept has been perverted to mean unconditional praise (especially self-praise) with no expectations whatsoever. In a recent column, Andrew Sullivan talks about the damage this is doing. Educator friends tell him that students with excessive self-esteem are basically unteachable--if you're already that wonderful, why do you need to learn anything? Sullivan also cites academic research (by Brad Bushman of Iowa State and Roy Baumeister of Case Western) showing that "people with high self-esteem can engage in far more anti-social behavior" than those possessing less of this commodity. Also see Kimberly Swygert (10/29) and Joanne Jacobs for more on this topic.

Apparently, something very like the self-esteem movement existed in the England of the early 1900s. Here's G. K. Chesterton:

"Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Anyone who knows anybody knows how it would work; anyone who knows anyone from the Higher Thought Center knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within." (Orthodoxy, 1908.)

Oh, well. A Google search on "self-esteem" combined with "fraud" turns up 16,600 hits. Anyone want to project in which direction this number will be moving?

9:47 AM

Tuesday, October 29, 2002  

At Yale last Wednesday, vandals destroyed a cardboard memorial which had been made in remembrance of 14 Israeli victims of a car bombing. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced--in the law school.

1:46 PM

Friday, October 25, 2002  

Last month, the California Federation of Teachers (which represents over 100,000 teachers and school employees) passed a resolution condemning any attack on Iraq. Of the many remarkable statements in this resolution, the most remarkable is this:

"..the Bush administration has presented no credible evidence that Iraq has intentions of harming the citizens of this country." (emphasis added.)

Fact: On over 100 occasions, Iraqi gun and missile sites have fired at American aircraft...it is only a matter of luck and skill that no planes have been shot down. It speaks volumes that the authors of this resolution seem to have not considered attacks on the pilots of these aircraft under the heading of "harming the citizens of this country."

Or perhaps they believe that these aircraft shouldn't be there in the first place, and that their pilots deserve to be shot down. The planes, of course, are enforcing the terms under which the Gulf War was ended, and are also protecting the Kurds of Northern Iraq--many of whom would be killed within a week if the patrols were discontinued.

The resolution also condemns the U.S. and British bombing of Iraq conducted since the end of the Gulf War...bombing which has been conducted primarily in response to the attacks on our aircraft and has been directed at the antiaircraft facilities which carry out those attacks.

2:19 PM


In The Age of Discontinuity, written more than 30 years ago, Peter Drucker talks about the changing role of knowledge in society, and says "...it is quite possible that the great new 'isms' of tomorrow will be ideologies about knowledge. In tomorrow's intellectual and political philosophies knowledge may well take the central place that property, i.e. things, occupied in capitalism and Marxism." This is a remarkable forecast of postmodernism and its intellectual cousins.

2:04 PM


At a location near L.A., 17 dogs recently graduated from training school. They are destined for anti-terrorism work in Israel. These dogs are among the first products of the "Pups for Peace" initiative, the brainchild of Glenn Yago (Milken Institute). In a very short time, Yago raised $500K, hired an expert dog trainer named Mike Herstik, and created what The Wall Street Journal calls "the first industrial scale dog-training facility."

Appropriately-trained dogs are, of course, valuable partners against terrorism in the U.S. as well as in Israel--and they are in short supply. Another article in the WSJ (10/2) told of the difficulties being encountered by U.S. airports in acquiring and caring for these animals. Some dogs working the New York City airports are so overworked that their paws are getting sore. It is entirely possible that acts of terrorism will take place that could have been avoided if a bomb dog had been on duty. So why hasn't anyone in the U.S. government shown the same initiative as Glenn Yago in creating an "industrial scale dog-training facility"? On September 12, 2001, it should have been an obvious step to take.

It's not just dogs that are in short supply. Since 9/11, we have heard much about the shortage of x-ray equipment for baggage screening. Usually, this is presented as if the limited supply of x-ray equipment were a fact of nature, like the slow growth of redwood trees. So where were the phone calls from high government officials to the CEOs of companies that have the capability to build this stuff, demanding an immediate ramp-up in production capability? Where were the firm purchase orders, allowing companies to produce without fear that they would be left holding the bag? Where were the government lawyers working on emergency cross-licensing agreements, so that GE (for example) could produce x-ray equipment designed by another company, if that is what is required? Maybe all of these things have been happening behind the scenes, but I don't think so. We need much more of a sense of urgency in dealing with today's situations. The industrial mobilization efforts of World War II should provide a useful guide for what needs to happen.

8:20 AM

Thursday, October 24, 2002  

If all airline pilots had been armed, then 9/11 would never have happened. This point is almost indisputable. Why, then, a year after the event, are there still no guns in cockpits? Clearly there is a powerful body of opinion that is vehemently opposed to this commonsensical policy. The nature of the arguments made by the opponents of armed pilots sheds light not only on this specific issue, but on much that is wrong with today’s political dialogue.

First, we see an unwillingness to face reality. Pundits opposed to arming the pilots repeat, like a mantra, the phrase “the pilot needs to concentrate on flying the plane.” Often, this is expanded to “..flying the plane and getting it on the ground.”

Of course, in an ideal situation, the pilot would concentrate exclusively on flying the plane. But in a situation of successful terrorist attack, the pilot will not be flying the plane. The pilot will be dead, and the terrorists will be flying the plane—directly toward the highest-value target they can find.

The pundits seem unwilling to face this reality, which since 9/11 should have been painfully obvious to all. In many cases, their thought processes seem driven by raw emotion rather than by logical thought—one noted TV personality said that it would make her “nervous” to know that the pilot of her plane was carrying a gun. Thus, she would rather accept an increased risk of her own death….and the deaths of hundreds of others…than be made to think, even incidentally, about an unpleasant matter. An ostrich looks intelligent by comparison. Or perhaps in her mental world, a “gun” is an icon of such negative power that context cannot be considered. This is not thought at all; this is reaction at a stimulus-response level.

Second, we see an obsession with “training” and “expertise”. Opponents of arming pilots make much of the fact that pilots are not trained law enforcement officials. At a deeper level, it seems to disturb them for someone to play a role other than their formal, assigned function…i.e., pilots should fly, law enforcement officers should deal with threats, passengers should sit passively in their seats, etc.

But people have the ability to do things for which they have not been formally and extensively “trained”. Consider the passengers of Flight 93 (the “let’s roll” group), who almost certainly saved the White House or the Capitol from disaster. They were not “trained law enforcement professionals,” but they did what they had to do.

Pilots carrying weapons would certainly receive training in weapons handling, but this is evidently not enough for the critics—who speak of the need for a multi-month training program such as law enforcement professionals receive. This mindset—that people are only qualified to perform a function if they have received a specific length and type of training—is becoming endemic in our society, with baleful results. The requirement that public school teachers hold “education” degrees, for example, reflects much the same type of thinking.

Human beings are not preprogrammed computers, much less special-purpose tools that can only do one thing. As Robert Heinlein put it: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” These observations are doubly true in a time of crisis.

Third, we see again the excessive role played in our society by lawyers and specifically by civil litigation . In general, the airlines themselves oppose arming pilots…largely, most likely, for reasons of potential liability. Their liability concerns may not just be the obvious one..ie, pilot shoots passenger by mistake, but a more subtle one…if pilots are armed, the airline may be perceived as taking on an increased duty to prevent hijackings, and hence, damages in the event of a successful hijacking might be increased.

The explosion of civil litigation in this country has led organizations and individuals to view every situation from the standpoint of self-protection against lawsuits. To mention the schools once more, educational policy is being increasingly driven by fear of lawsuits, with baleful results. In case of war, lawyer-driven policy is even more harmful. An especially egregious example of that may have occurred in Afghanistan, where it was reported that we had Osama bin Laden in our sights but let him get away...because the decision on whether to fire was deferred to a JAG lawyer rather than being made promptly by the commander on the scene.

During World War II, we shot down Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s plane, which we were able to locate because of an intercepted radio message. Can anyone imagine that a lawyer would have been consulted before taking this action? Can anyone imagine that we would have won the war if we had fought it that way?

Fourth, we see an obsession with fictional images. Critics of armed pilots refer to “gunfights at 35,000 feet” as something “out of a Tom Clancy movie”. Haven’t they thought that deliberately crashing airplanes into buildings might be something out of a Tom Clancy movie, too? And whether or not something might appear in a movie is obviously irrelevant to its validity from a policy standpoint.

The critics seem particularly disturbed by the image of the pilot as John Wayne, holding off the bad guys with his trusty six-shooter—there have been sneers about “pilots and highjackers” taking the place of “cowboys and Indians.” Indeed, only two weeks ago the Atlanta Journal-Constitution referred sneeringly to the arming of pilots as “a cowboy idea that conjured a cowboy image.” The core image of the Western film—a man on his own, taking action—is clearly very threatening to some people—indeed, so threatening that they would rather die than admit it may have some truth in it.

Fifth, the opponents of arming pilots seem to have little comprehension of the relevant technologies. Reading their comments on this issue, one gets a feeling that they have no understanding of either aviation or of firearms. They seem to have a mental image of the pilot firing and missing, hitting the fuselage and bringing about explosive decompression…with the plane meanwhile careening wildly out of control as the pilot neglects his flight duties.

In actuality, frangible bullets are available which are unlikely to penetrate the fuselage. And even if they did, a small hole is unlikely to have much effect. Airliners are continually pressurized by multiple pumps (turbocompressors), and an “outflow valve” allows air to escape to maintain the desired pressure level. If air begins to escape from a bullet hole, the outflow valve will immediately begin to close in order to maintain the pressure.

Furthermore, there is no reason for the airplane to careen out of control. Airliners carry two qualified pilots: one can fly the airplane while the other deals with the terrorists. And all airliners have autopilots, which are perfectly capable of flying the airplane by themselves for several minutes. In most areas of the country, air traffic controllers will have the flight on radar, and will be able to vector other traffic out of the way.

Finally, those opposed to arming pilots seem unable to understand the concept of urgency. Pundits point out that the ideal situation would be to have an air marshal on every flight, make cockpits impenetrable, screen passengers better, etc. But even ignoring the huge economic impact, the problem of recruiting, screening, and training would be enormous. It could take years to staff up fully. But in the meantime, we must deal with reality as it is day-to-day. If another airliner crashes into a building, or has to be shot down by an F-16, then all the projects that were “in process” will provide mighty cold comfort.

There is always a tradeoff between speed and perfection, as reflected in the old proverb “the best is the enemy of the good”—ie, if you wait for the perfect solution, you will miss out on the practical solution that is available right now. In business and engineering, the perfectionist attitude can cost billions of dollars. In times of conflict, the implications can be much more serious. It is said that the Battle of Britain was won by the decision to go with a “third-best” radar—the best technical solution being un-buildable in practice, and the second being buildable but taking too long. Government officials who are unable to make such tradeoffs are a danger to national security.

On this specific issue of arming pilots, there is still hope. Both the House and the Senate have passed bills on this subject. Final legislation remains to be accomplished, however, and forces in the bureaucracy are likely to drag out the implementation. We may hope that effective action will occur before there is another dreadful occurrence.

But the mindset which has delayed action in this case still remains. As we have seen, it is a mindset which encompasses: unwillingness to face reality, excessive reliance on specialization and training, overemphasis on lawyer-driven solutions, obsession with fictional images, technological ignorance, and lack of a sense of urgency. This set of attitudes has become increasingly dominant among America’s opinion-making elite: the people who write editorials, anchor news shows, and teach college classes. If such thinking can prevail for so long--even in a life-and death matter where the facts are readily available--what hope is there for rational discussion on more complex and subtle matters, such as education?

Lionel Trilling has spoken of “the moral obligation to be intelligent.” Those who publicly “reason” along the lines discussed above are in violation of this obligation, and should be considered guilty of intellectual gross negligence.

3:02 PM


Hinge points in history rarely announce themselves. Often, it is only in retrospect that they become evident--and then, we say "if only..." and "why couldn't they see?" To identify key turning points before it is too late, historical parallels are useful. A parallel often used by those who favor military action in Iraq is the Munich crisis of 1938. But a much better parallel can be found earlier, in Germany's 1936 remilitarization of the Rhineland. The similarities to our present dilemma are eerie...particularly the forms of logic employed by those who favor inaction.

At the end of World War I, French generals insisted that the Rhine River must be permanently held by France. As Churchill put it: "..the Rhine, the broad, deep, swift-flowing Rhine, once held and fortified by the French Army, would be a barrier and a shield behind which France could dwell and breathe for generations." But American and British diplomats rejected this idea, for it would have involved the permanent annexation of German territory. A compromise was struck: the Rhineland was to remain a part of Germany, but German military forces would be forbidden (by treaty) to come within 50 kilometers of the river. This at least insured against surprise attack; it also insured that if Germany should launch an attack into Eastern Europe, there would be minimal obstacles to a French counterattack into the heart of Germany.

So the entire international order was challenged when--on Saturday, May 7, 1936--twenty-five thousand German troops moved into the Rhineland. France's first instinct was for a military response--at the time, her Army was certainly more powerful than the German. But she was deterred by several factors. First of these was a lack of support from Great Britain. "They are only going into their own back-garden," said one prominent British statesman...and the Rhineland was indeed German territory. He was echoed by a newspaper editorial: "There is no more reason why German territory should be demilitarized than French, Belgian, or British.” (The Observer, quoted by James Pool) It is a statement befitting our own time, when relativists ask why, if we have a right to attack Iraq, other nations shouldn't have a right to attack us...or ask how we would like someone telling us what weapons we can and cannot have.

A second reason for French caution lay in the structure of her armed forces. French military planning was based on the assumption of total mobilization--a massive call-up of the reserves. "General Gamelin consulted the specialists," says Andre Beaufre, then a young Captain on the French general staff, "the reply was precise--it was impossible for us to put an effective expeditionary force into the field...without starting full mobilization, about a million men, and requisitioning vehicles." The government was reluctant to take action on such a large scale, which would cause nationwide disruption. It asked if there was a way to assemble a smaller, but still sufficient, force.

"Sunday passed in frantic studies," Beaufre continues, and the conclusion was that there was no viable smaller-scale plan..."the only sensible thing to do was to carry out the plan and mobilize a million men." But the government still hesitated, and the lack of support from Britain was palpable..."the opinion of the ruling classes and of the best informed was not in favor of the adventure," says Beaufre mordantly. "Multilateralists" in France were reluctant to act without British support. And there were other concerns as well. At dinner on Monday night, a financier told Beaufre that the essential thing was not to stand in the way of economic recovery. By Tuesday, the German occupation of the Rhineland was a fait accompli, and France arrived at her final decision--a protest to the League of Nations.

Today, with regard to Iraq, we see the same dynamics--particularly the opinions of large segments of "the ruling classes and of the best informed" (viz. the readers of The New York Times.) If these forces are allowed to prevail, the probable consequences will also be similar. "The reoccupation...decisively shifted the balance of power in Europe," writes historian James Pool (in Hitler And His Secret Partners). Once the Rhine was fortified by the Germans, the French Army no longer had the power to move into Germany without suffering horrendous casualties. If Iraq is allowed to attain nuclear capability, the same will be true of all operations in the Middle East by the U.S. armed forces.

If France had taken action in 1936, World War II would never have happened. Without control of the Rhineland, Hitler's threats against Czechoslovakia would not have been credible...and his invasion of Poland would have been unfeasible.

Some--a few--understood at the time that the Rhineland backoff represented an irreversible turning point. Ralph Wigram, a British diplomat, was cast into despair. To his wife, he said: "War is now inevitable, and it will be the most terrible war there has ever been...wait now for bombs on this little house."

Writing in 1965, Andre Beaufre--now General Beaufre--summed up the lesson (in his book, France 1940). "The die was cast. We had let slip our last chance of stifling at birth the rise of Hitler's Germany...Through idleness, stupidity, political blindness, or simply frivolity, general opinion lived through these grave events, the result of which was to be a great and catastrophic war, in a kind of sonambulism on which it is necessary to dwell at some length, because it shows how fate deals the cards of history and lulls to sleep its chosen victims."

2:40 PM

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