Friday, February 05, 2010

Design Margin

(fm the BC thread "Until Tomorrow")

Credit Biden with being man enough to stand up and swear Scott Brown in, and clumsy Joe true to form stumbled over the words.

The point about the Macmillian quote is the recognition that things happen. We cannot predict what or when but we must make allowance for them. That is what Design Margin is for. It is a quality needed in every phase of life, in child rearing and finance, in architecture and combat. The world is not ruled according to Cartesian Logic but according to Stochastic processes and human variables that if they were mathematically described might best be called compound irrationalities, that can iterate to produce a positive result. For a sheltered theorist like Obama, who has never had to deal with the real world of costs and limits and consequences, nice neat little paper constructs that jump automatically to conclusions are to be believed. That is a profoundly un-American, in fact un-Anglo-saxon, attitude. The joke in HG Wells' Around the World in 80 Days was that he had the Englishman Fogg state that he would jump mathematically from one conveyance on his schedule to another while his French valet Passepartout was more skeptical. Wells portrayed the English as cold rational and Germanic while he stereotyped the French as hot Latins.

In military operations the design margin is accounted for in the Reserve. Every commander assigns a considerable part of his resources to a reserve and withholds them from his plans to employ his forces in battle. The same commander is also sincerely requesting more forces and supplies from his political masters or administration. There is no hypocrisy there. Even in the heat of combat, even if he fears losing the battle, the wise commander will resist committing his reserve. It exists not to reinforce the exigencies of battle faced by forces dealing with known risks but rather it exists to deal with the unknown event that may suddenly happen like the tidal wave that creeps up unseen. A respect for the unknown allows a wise leader to absorb new information, and nothing teaches new information like a defeat, and then go on to victory.

Lincoln's Army lost over 5,000 men in the First battle of Bull Run. Fortunately Lincoln knew where his reserves were and his Army and his Union lived to fight on. There is a proper balance between the extremes of holding and daring, between calculating and feeling, to much of any of them can paralyze a man like McClellan or to the other extreme make him reckless, like Grant was at the last charge at Cold Harbor. Men like Obama are cold and deal with what the numbers tell them so they have no use for the reserve.

If Obama was POTUS in early December of 1944 he may have had no use for wasteful irrational reserves that dragged his budget and clogged his logistics. He might have ordered Eisenhower and Bradley to better utilize the rear echelon troops being wastefully deployed behind the quiet Ardennes sector.

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