Davos Newbies Home

The Rumsfeld memo 

Read Donald Rumsfeld’s memo on whether the US is winning or losing the war on terror. It’s a great scoop for the often-derided USA Today.

For all the dissembling that characterises the Bush administration, there’s still an intellect at work in the Pentagon (however malevolent that intellect may be). He certainly asks a lot of the right questions: “Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists’ costs of millions. Do we need a new organization? How do we stop those who are financing the radical madrassa schools? Is our current situation such that ‘the harder we work, the behinder we get’?”

Not for worriers 

Bill McGuire has the knowledge to scare people.

“A collision with an asteroid large enough to cause global mayhem happens only once every hundred millennia, while a gigantic volcanic blast occurs perhaps every 50,000 years. They are, however, certain to happen. Both trigger rapid and severe global cooling that, apart from the absence of radiation, is in every way comparable to the nuclear winter that would follow an all-out exchange of atomic hardware.”

Adoption v use 

James Crabtree makes a valuable distinction between adoption and use.

“I have just written a report on broadband which heavily criticises the broadband industry for seeing adoption as its primary measure of success. It isn’t. Use is. And there is, I think, a high possibility that people will have 3G phones, but will not use much of the 3G functionality. This could happen much in the same way that everyone has a WAP phone now. But does everyone use WAP? I’m talking about a world in which everyone has a 3G phone, and they use it mostly to call other people. 3G could be like an oven: everyone has one; but while a few people make cordon-bleu, most people make chicken tonight.”

Never-reads-newspapers Achilles 

Nicholas Kristof hits many of my hot buttons today. A wonderful column.

“The Iliad is the greatest war story ever told, but it’s not fundamentally about war — after all, it never mentions the Trojan horse and covers only a few weeks in a war that lasted 10 years. No, The Iliad is ultimately not about war but rather about how great men confront tragedy, learn moderation and become wise.

“In case The Iliad isn’t lying around the Oval Office, let me recap for our warriors in Washington. Achilles is both the mightiest warrior and a petulant, self-righteous, arrogant figure. A unilateralist, he refuses to consult with allies; he dismisses intelligence about his own vulnerability; he never reads the newspapers.

“So the Greeks are nearly defeated, and while Achilles sulks in his tent, his dearest friend, Patroclus, is killed. Then the impulsive Achilles careers into action and overdoes it in the other direction, desecrating Hector’s body, but in the end he returns to his tent, calms down and shows a new sense of his own limits, a new compassion, a new moderation and a new wisdom.

“That is a constant theme in the classics: ancient heroes like Achilles and Odysseus do not avoid mistakes, but they learn from them. Through their errors, they come to understand moral nuance as well as moral clarity, and to appreciate moderation. Indeed, the subtitle for The Iliad could be Achilles Grows Up.

“Unfortunately, until recently this administration hasn’t shown much signs of growing. Yet over the last few weeks, there have been a few hints of a rosy-fingered dawn, signs that President Bush may be learning from his mistakes and moderating his impulsiveness. I’m hoping that’s the case, and it’s reassuring to remember what happened in the last electoral cycle: Mr. Bush turned his campaign upside-down after his loss to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000.

“It helps that Mr. Bush has made plenty of mistakes to learn from.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *