Friday, June 29, 2007

Goebbels' Echo

It's not surprising when a modern leader, faced with a similar problem to one a historical leader faced in the past, echoes that historical leader in his speeches.

It is surprising to see how differently the same basic idea can be phrased, though.

Joseph Goebbels, the unquestioned evil master of the art of political rhetoric, frequently gave a speech on the eve of Hitler's birthday. It is fascinating to read through them in order to see the arc of his rhetoric, from the triumph of 1933, where he portrayed Hitler as a great man, uninterested in the silliness of political celebration:

Today he has left the bustle of the capital. He left the wreaths and hymns of praise in Berlin. He is somewhere in his beloved Bavaria, far from the noise of the streets, to find peace and quiet. Perhaps in a nearby room someone will turn on a loudspeaker. If that should happen, then let me say to him, and to all of Germany: My F├╝hrer! Millions and millions of the best Germans send you their best wishes and give you their hearts...

to the one he gave on April 20, 1944, when it was becoming obvious Germany was losing the war:

Not only fortune, but also reputation is always shifting during a war between great men and nations. It is therefore difficult, perhaps even impossible, to determine the political and military importance of individual events in the midst of war. What yesterday seemed a brilliant move can within several weeks or months prove a major mistake, and that which seemed short-sighted and mistaken can later become a decision of deep wisdom. Only when a war is over, and usually some time after that, once its lasting results have become clear to all, is it possible to objectively weigh and evaluate its individual events.

That was true of every past war, and presumably of this one as well. The war can be evaluated only as a whole. Beside the events of the moment, a war has larger historical significance. Only a trained and practiced eye can understand that larger significance during the war itself. For example, consider the vast differences in Frederick the Great's reputation during the Seven Year War, particularly from 1760 to 1763. His personal reputation and that of his work during his day was influenced by partisan considerations, but today we evaluate him historically, that is, objectively and justly. His individual actions and decisions were evaluated in various ways. Given the circumstances of the time, some seemed to lead to victory, others to defeat. Even those in his entourage could not properly evaluate them.

A genius acts from instinct, sometimes consciously but often unconsciously, which raises his actions out of the ordinary sphere. Great, timeless personalities have to fulfill not only the tasks of the moment, but larger historical missions as well. Unfortunately, the two do not always agree. A war of vast historical significance brings with it the heaviest sacrifices and burdens. The less these problems are seen by people in their broader historical significance, the likelier the struggling generation will be misunderstand them, or even to think them avoidable.

This explains why those at the time and posterity evaluate historical events differently. We can think of numerous historical examples. We can hardly understand today why the contemporaries of Alexander the Great or Caesar or Frederick the Great did not understand their true significance.

To us there are no secrets any more.

In other words: "We will be vindicated by history."

A line we've been hearing a lot lately.

No doubt we will continue to hear it forever, in one form or another.

There will always be another war that is going badly for somebody.

Here is an excellent archive of Goebbels' speeches and writings that have been translated into English. It is well worth taking a little time to browse through them, if only so you can spot which modern politicians have, too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What can Brown do for you?

Gordon Brown takes over as British Prime Minister today.

One ranking of past Prime Ministers:

1Clement Attlee (Lab. 1945-51)8.34
2Winston Churchill (Con. 1940-45, 51-55)7.88
3David Lloyd George (Lib. 1916-22)7.33
4Margaret Thatcher (Con. 1979-90)7.14
5Harold Macmillan (Con. 1957-63)6.49
6Tony Blair (Lab. 1997- )6.30
7Herbert Asquith (Lib. 1908-16)6.19
8Stanley Baldwin (Con. 1923-24, 24-29, 35-37)6.18
9Harold Wilson (Lab. 1964-70)5.93
10Lord Salisbury (Con. 1895-1902)5.75
11Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Lib. 1906-08)5.01
12James Callaghan (Lab. 1976-79)4.75
13Edward Heath (Con. 1970-74)4.36
14Ramsay MacDonald (Lab. 1924, 29-31, 31-35)3.73
15John Major (Con. 1990-97)3.67
16Andrew Bonar Law (Con. 1922-23)3.50
17Neville Chamberlain (Con. 1937-40)3.43
18Arthur Balfour (Con. 1902-05)3.42
19Alec Douglas-Home (Con. 1963-64)3.33
20Anthony Eden (Con. 1955-57)2.53

Wonder where Brown will finish up.

Five things that don't bear close scrutiny well

1. Hotel linens
2. Restaurant meals
3. Election results
4. Wars
5. News reports

I'm sure there are others...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who is killing civilians in Afghanistan?

According to the AP, the tally so far this year is:

NATO - 236 civilians killed
Taliban - 178 civilians killed

Hearts and minds.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, six of the al-Anbar tribal chiefs we'd talked into fighting on our side were killed in Baghdad today.


Maybe we should have provided them with better security?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Perfect competition

I've attended several graduation ceremonies over the past couple of weeks. They all had good speakers, but they tended to discuss the world in rather idealized terms. Work hard, don't cheat, be kind to others, brush off setbacks, etc. and you will be a success at whatever you choose to do with your life.

But in reality, few career paths are perfect competitions.

What is the model for a perfect competition?

A few factors I believe to be crucial:

1. Everybody needs to know they are competing for something.

2. Everyone in the competition has the same knowledge.

3. The competition, at least at the lowest level, is open to anyone.

4. The goals of the competition are known to all competitors.

5. Performance is judged objectively.

6. There is turnover at each stage so people can advance.

Professional sports are the only careers I can think of that come close to being perfect competitions. Sure, there is the occasional cheating, but in most cases, the best players can and do rise to the top.

How do other career paths get corrupted?

In addition to fields where cheating isn't actively monitored for and punished, a few "isms:"

Credentialism - The requirement that people who want to compete have to first acquire an expensive and limited in number credential.

Cronyism - The friends and family members of the "judges" get advanced before the most talented players.

Team Playerism - Quiet, uncritical "players" get promoted. Players who offer up opinions are not.

No room at the top"ism" - The "winners" in a field stick around forever...and the entire competitive ladder below then becomes a logjam, too.

Stolen Creditism - Another player (usually their boss) steals credit for player's successes.

False Blame"ism" - Players get blamed for other player's mistakes.

One of my favorite quotes is: Seeing through the game is not the same as winning it.

Not sure who first said it, but it is an important idea.

Cynicism is usually what overcomes people once they realize the "game" they're playing isn't fair.

Cynicism comes, at least in part, from the idealized view of competitions gotten in youth.

It would be nice if our graduates got a little realistic career advice along with the encouragement:

If you want to succeed in a field, understand how the game is played first...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Nixon's 1968 GOP nomination acceptance speech

Full text here.

An interesting snippet:

Look at our problems abroad. Do you realize that we face the stark truth that we are worse off in every area of the world tonight than we were when President Eisenhower left office eight years ago? That's the record.

And there is only one answer to such a record of failure, and that is the complete house cleaning of those responsible for the failures and that record. The answer is the complete reappraisal of America's policy in every section of the world. We shall begin with Vietnam.

We all hope in this room that there's a chance that current negotiations may bring an honorable end to that war. And we will say nothing during this campaign that might destroy that chance.

And if the war is not ended when the people choose in November, the choice will be clear. Here it is: For four years this administration has had at its disposal the greatest military and economic advantage that one nation has ever had over another in a war in history. For four years America's fighting men have set a record for courage and sacrifice unsurpassed in our history. For four years this Administration has had the support of the loyal opposition for the objective of seeking an honorable end to the struggle.

Never has so much military and economic and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively. And if after all of this time, and all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the mistakes and policies of the past. That is what we offer to America.

And I pledge to you tonight that the first priority foreign policy objective of our next Administration will be to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In praise of the British honours system

I caught a commercial for a show that promised an appearance by Sir Paul McCartney and decided to check out what the Sir thing was all about. Turns out its quite complicated and a pretty good idea.

First, consider how lame America's civilian honors are. An unscientific survey revealed that few Americans know that the Presidential Medal of Freedom is actually the highest civilian honor America can bestow on a citizen. I think the first time most Americans heard about this award was when Bush awarded it to three of the guys who brought us the Iraq War.

Here are the Presidential Medals of Freedom awarded by Bush and Clinton.

A respected civilian honors system has some obvious benefits:

1. It encourages people to be better citizens (in the hopes they will be awarded one).
2. Once awarded, they encourage continued good behavior (the award can be taken away).
3. It hardly costs anything to run.

How the British honours system work:

A list is released on the Queen's birthday in June and another list is released at the end of the year. Up to 1000 people received an honour each year.

There are quite a few awards, here are the "main" ones:

A Life Peer - You are created a Baron (but your children don't inherit the title) and you get to serve in the House of Lords.

A Knights Bachelor - The one most Americans know, you are knighted and get to put Sir in front of your name.

Order of the British Empire - This is the one I found most interesting. There are five ranks:

1. Knight (Dame) Grand Cross
2. Knight (Dame) Commander
3. Commander
4. Officer
5. Member

A vast majority of British honours fall in this category.

A few facts:

The first two levels also allow its recipients to call themselves Sir.

So if the Queen (on advise from the government), wants to "Knight" someone, she can either award them a "Knights Bachelor" or name them a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

I don't believe woman can be given a Knights "Bachelor" award, so they seem to get awarded a Knights Commander more often so they can call themselves "Dame," (Dame Judi Densh).

The top rank seems quite rare. Here is a list on Wikipedia of GBE's (not sure if it's complete). The first King of Jordan got one for some reason. He was assassinated, just like his poor grand nephew, the last King of Iraq.

Recipients can affix to the end of their name their rank: GBE, KBE, CBE, OBE or MBE.

You can receive more than one honour.

Paul McCartney is actually Sir James Paul McCartney, MBE.

He was awarded a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1965 and a Knights Bachelor in 1997 (Sir).

So, you can receive multiple honours (keep being good!) and you can be "promoted" within the Order, from MBE to CBE for example.

I left out several orders, like the Bath, St. Michael and St. George, etc., but the idea is the same if on a rarer and smaller scale.

Here is the honours list where Sir Sean Connery was Knighted.

Anyway, I think it would good if America had a decent, well-recognized system of civilian awards, too. As I said, they motivate people to do good works and they don't cost a thing.

If Britain, with a population of 60 million, awards around 1000 a year, then America, with 300 million civilians, could award around 5000 a year.

Most would be at the lowest level, in recognition of public work.

I know some people think it would smack of Royalty, but few people would confuse Sir Paul McCartney with a stuffy monarchy, would they?

It's not like Americans don't already have titles (Dr., Gen., Honourable, etc.).

Order of America, perhaps?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Did Congress really cut off funds to South Vietnam?

In a word, no.

U.S. military assistance to South Vietnam:

Fiscal Year 1974 - $813 million.
Fiscal Year 1975 - $700 million.

Fiscal Year 1975 ran through September 30, 1975.

Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.

Congress only cut military funding to South Vietnam by 14% in its final year of existence, but, that cut combined with increased fighting against the North Vietnamese and a 12% inflation rate that year that made things like ammunition and spare parts more costly, ate up the money fast.

Here is the best write up I found on the subject.