Friday, April 29, 2016

5 Things on a Friday: Trump v. Clinton is your Main Event

Happy Friday, folks!
I’d like to apologize in advance for all the politics this week, but I don’t think there’s any way around it.  The week’s events have made our main event matchup pretty clear in the presidential race, and for better or worse, this leaves us with a lot to talk about.
For what it’s worth, I have an obvious rooting interest that I’m not trying particularly hard to hide.  I doubt I could hide it, regardless.  Still, I realize that I’m not changing any minds here.  Articles below are presented because I think they are interesting or relevant, not because they prove my point.
Whatever my point is, it’s either self-evident or it’s not.  We’ve learned over the course of this cycle that trying to argue on the basis of rationality is simply not worth the effort.  Folks believe what they believe, and if this sometimes infuriates me, it’s also true that we all still need to find a way to live together.  I’m not always particularly good at that, but I’m hoping to change the tone a little this week and be a little more dispassionate.  Whether that effort will be successful or not is an open question.  

Trump had a very good night, but — mathematically speaking — he's pretty much right where we expected him to be. He still needs to win a majority of the remaining delegates to reach the magic number of 1,237. He can't get there before California votes on June 7, meaning he'll still have to sweat it out until the final day of the primary season. A contested convention remains a realistic possibility.
Now, setting the math aside for a moment, there might be intangible benefits to Trump's wide margins of victory on Tuesday. In Pennsylvania, for instance, where 54 delegates are unbound by the results, the billionaire's overwhelming popularity could put pressure on those free agents to honor the will of the electorate.
This is crazy.  I don’t support Trump and have no plans to vote for him, but it is beyond question that he has the support of a majority of Republican voters.  He is the presumptive nominee.  At this point, even if he falls short of 1,237 delegates, he’ll fall short by such a small margin that it surpasses belief to think that he won’t pick up the nomination.  How would that even work?  He falls ten delegates short, and then Cruz stages a coup-d’état?  
The Donald is right; there would be riots.
The Republican Party needs to split formally in order to keep people like me in some vestige of the party, but for the current coalition, Trump is the man.  I don’t have to like this to acknowledge it as truth.

2. Our first-ever college rankings (The Economist)

The Economist’s first-ever college rankings are based on a simple, if debatable, premise: the economic value of a university is equal to the gap between how much money its students subsequently earn, and how much they might have made had they studied elsewhere. Thanks to the scorecard, the first number is easily accessible. The second, however, can only be estimated. To calculate this figure, we ran the scorecard’s earnings data through a multiple regression analysis, a common method of measuring the relationships between variables.
This analysis has some interesting stuff and some stuff that’s more-or-less obvious. 
What’s interesting?  
It turns out that your SAT score is a pretty good indicator of your post-graduate salary.  I’d never have believed that, but perhaps the test measures your personal willingness to prepare for a known quantity event in your immediate future, which in turn correlates to success in the Real World.  That I could believe.
What’s obvious?  
You make a lot more money if you go to a school with a STEM focus and take a specific course of study that focuses on technical skills that are in short supply.  Pharmacists, for example, make a shitload of money because we need a lot of them, and there aren’t a lot of young folks going through the rigorous academics that the discipline requires.  Ditto for engineers with specific specialties like bulk container ship maintenance.  Meanwhile, it’s hard to make money with a Liberal Arts degree regardless of all other factors, though this may be because liberal arts folks don’t self-select for higher paying jobs.  That doesn’t make them bad people, but it does indicate where the rewards are in our current society.
People get paid according to how difficult they are to replace.  Therefore, making money is about doing something that not a lot of other folks can or will do, and doing it in such a way as to maximize your value to your employer and/or your market niche.  That sounds both simple and obvious, and yet people are really struggling with it, and Higher Education in general seems befuddled by the entire concept.

3. White Elephants (Martin van Creveld)

[The] F-35 fighter. Originally it was supposed to be a cheap alternative to the F-22, itself an expensive failure (which is why, out of 750 originally envisaged, only 187 were built). By now, however, each F-35 is expected to cost as much as an F-22. The program has been marked by numerous delays and developmental uncertainties. Only to result in an aircraft that can carry less ordnance than some older ones could. In terms of the critically important thrust to weight ratio it is actually inferior to no fewer than ten different American, Russian, and European fighters. One sometimes feels that the Air Force has forgotten all about the late John Boyd, his concept of energy maneuverability, and the F-16 whose mastermind he was. Instead it has returned to the days when Soviet-built Mig-17s, flown by North Vietnamese pilots, had little difficulty shooting heavier, less maneuverable, American F-105s out of the sky. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
The F-35 will soon go head-to-head against the A-10 in a test of Close Air Support
capability.  However, since the F-35 costs 10x as much, a better test would pit
a single F-35 against ten A-10s working as a squadron.
Found this one via @DoctrineMan, and it’s fascinating.  I disagree with the author’s larger premise that big wars are a thing of the past, that we need to focus more-or-less exclusively on fighting non-state actors--this strikes me as the typical “trying to refight the last war” response that is ingrained into every military ever--but his specific points about defense procurement are excellent.

So here's where I say something nice about Donald Trump: he's the most likely candidate in a generation to burn this procurement system to the ground wholesale, fire everyone, and start again.  That would be worth quite a lot, I bet.
“We have a standards-based force now, and we don’t have a standards-based Selective Service,” Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) argued, joining Democrats, all but one of whom also supported the measure.
“We should be willing to support universal conscription,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said. “There’s great merit in recognizing that each of us have an obligation to be willing to serve our country in a time of war.”
Good.  I totally support this.  Now we need to bring the draft back as a matter of day-to-day policy, forcibly reintegrating the American People with their responsibilities to their communities, and we’ll be well on our way to fixing society’s ills.  To put it another way, we need to force people to put skin in the game, or they’re never going to make responsible choices.  
The standard, post-9/11 Republican foreign policy speech—delivered by men like Rubio, Bush, Graham, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan—goes something like this:
America is a force for good. But the world contains evil regimes and movements: Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, Syria, Cuba, radical Islam. These evildoers are on the march because America has pulled back from its global commitments. It has pulled back because Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t believe America is a force for good. But when I’m president, America will believe in itself again. We’ll rebuild our military and confront our evil enemies and America will once again win great victories for freedom, as we did under Ronald Reagan.
Gah!  This makes me want to scream.  I mean, I agree that it explains why American voters are cynical and complacent in their thinking.  However, that by itself makes neither this nor the Trumpian worldview even marginally excusable.  Neither makes any sense whatsoever.  
That’s the whole fucking point.  It’s why we have Trump in the first place.
Regardless, the article finishes with a very good summation:
The conventional Republican vision is of an America that, by threatening war, can expand its hegemony on all fronts. Trump’s is of an America that, by threatening isolation, can enjoy globalization’s benefits without its costs. Both wildly overestimate American power. Both deny that foreign policy involves painful tradeoffs in a world that America cannot bend to its will.
The idea that we have to find a way to intelligently engage the world in order to protect our own, narrowly-defined international interests has somehow disappeared from the modern frame.  Liberals keep worrying about what’s right while conservatives either want to fight a crusade or, more recently, extort our allies for short-term cash payments.  As the article points out, neither of these policies is grounded in actual capability, which has been a basic problem for this country since at least 2003.
In other news, realpolitik is a thing that most Americans cannot spell.  
That’s all I’ve got, folks.  Have a good weekend!


  1. On foreign policy, I can't help but feel like we're still scratching at the scabs of engagement in Vietnam, having learned less than half of the lessons there. My thinking here comes essentially undiluted from Barbara Tuchman's _March of Folly,_ as her discussions of everyone from Dulles to LBJ and Nixon are unsettling in the extreme. In that war, we did things that were both morally and strategically wrong to defend American prestige - that is, our future ability to expand our hegemony.

    Now you're more educated on military history than I claim to be, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts on present-day policies as the scars of previous wars.

    1. I think Vietnam was a long time ago & that very few Americans think about it much anymore, even those concerned with foreign policy. One of my old professors, COL Cole Kingseed, did two or three tours as both Armor and Aviation officer, and he used to go on at penguin about how "all American engagement in Vietnam was not 'bad'". It's hard to see that--now--but of course, it's obviously true. I have even argued that America WON in Vietnam because the war's purpose was to check the global spread of Communism, which it did successfully in 1989. We won all the battles, and the fate of the S.Vietnamese government is ultimately irrelevant to the war aims.

      For the record, my father though this line of reasoning was madness.

      In any event, I think our current engagements in the Middle East are similar in the sense that we keep finding ourselves in intractable situations because of a misunderstanding of our narrowly defined interests. I also think that maybe the decisive battlefield isn't a BATTLEFIELD at all, though in a different way than was true in Vietnam. Finally, the loss of the draft changes the political calculus dramatically at home. Americans hated Vietnam because THEY DIDN'T WANT TO GO. Today that's not so much of a concern, with the result that we've been much freer with overseas adventurism than we would be with an Army made up of Citizen-Soldiers. On balance, I don't think this has been a particularly good thing.

      Did I answer your question? I have friends who could do a better with it, but while I'm sure I could get opinions out of them over a couple of beers, I'm NOT sure that they'll post here on an open forum.

    2. You've answered one set of questions and triggered more, which is kind of a symptom of all of my understanding coming from a single text.

      From Tuchman's view, Ho Chi Minh had no particular interest in communism-qua-communism, but was pursuing nationalism by any means necessary. Once the French had more or less extorted the US into backing their colonial regime in the region, Ho Chi Minh had to go somewhere for allies, and the communists were it.

      As the title _March of Folly_ suggests, though, Tuchman views Vietnam as a right-down-the-line betrayal of America's best interests. She doesn't believe that communism was likely to spread in the region, specifically because the countries of the region were motivated toward freedom from colonialism and corrupt governments. Mapping that to the Middle East in detail is beyond my knowledge on BOTH fronts, but "intractable war" is a common point. =/

      I do think that a lot of American engagement in Vietnam - really, South Vietnam by the time we're talking about - was well-intentioned, and Diem's government was apparently crooked enough that (much as Americans are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan) a lot of engagement is just about supporting the little guy as a means of supporting the whole edifice of a country.

      As to the long-term legacy - I still kinda think there's something there, but I need to refine the idea a lot further before I can support it. =)

      I have a lot of complicated feelings about the draft, as a totally-non-military guy who would be terrified but willing if his draft number came up. (Flat feet and very bad eyesight, though.) I take your point about adventurism being a consequence of a volunteer army, though having the draft clearly didn't PREVENT us from getting involved in war on distant shores.

      Thank you very much for the thoughtful answer. =)

    3. All I'll say to this is a caution to remember that the height o the Vietnam War was almost 50 years ago. So asking today's young military leaders to put it in context of today's conflicts is--almost exactly--like asking cadets of my era to make sense of World War II and apply those lessons to the contemporary era. As a historical exercise, I agree you can learn something. In dealing with the world, though, a lot f water has gone under the bridge.

      People want to argue about the invasion of 2003 and whether it was right or wrong. Reality is that it happened over a decade ago and now we have to move forward.


      I don't know. However, then as now--and always--it helps to define aims for your own interests. If we cannot explain in simple language what we're trying to do, then our odds of succeeding get much, much smaller.