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"He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing."
- Paul "Muad'Dib" Atreides (Obligatory Dune reference)
Lately I've read lots of articles on the escalating tension between the US and Iran, but remarkably few commentators have drawn attention to Iran's ability to cripple global oil trade. It would be trivial for them to mine the narrow Straits of Hormuz. Around 20% of all traded oil and some 35% of seaborne oil shipments pass through the straits aboard enormous, highly vulnerable tankers. Even if Iran's military capabilities were miraculously nullified and the mines somehow cleared, the cost of insuring the tankers would skyrocket, driving up oil prices globally.
Iran could also use its long-range missiles and/or other methods to destroy major oil refineries and vital desalination plants on the Arabian peninsula, with ensuing chaos and shortages.
Even if the US were not still dependent on oil from the Middle East, all its major allies and trading partners are. The global economy needs a steady flow of oil from the Middle East, and the US economy is dependent on the global economy. War with Iran is madness any which way you look at it. The spines on this hedgehog are too sharp.
The Prussian general Kurt von Hammerstein may have made one of the most insightful observations of all time. This stuff is perennial:
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90% of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
This is a very good point (old article from 2012):
The assassination strategy the US pursues is interesting, not in what it says about the US’s foes, but what it says about the American leaders... American leaders are obsessed with leadership because they lead organizations in whose goals no one believes. Or rather, they lead organizations for whom everyone knows the leadership doesn’t believe in its ostensible goals. Schools are led by people who hate teachers and want to privatize schools to make profit. The US is led by men who don’t believe in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Police are led by men who think their jobs are to protect the few and beat down the many, not to protect and serve. Corporations make fancy mission statements and talk about valuing employees and customers, but they just want to make a buck and will fuck anyone, employee or customer, below the C-suite... Making organizations work if they’re filled with people who don’t believe in the organization, or who believe that the “leadership” is only out for themselves and has no mission beyond helping themselves, not even enriching the employees or shareholders, is actually hard. People don’t get inspired by making the C-suite rich. Bureaucrats, knowing they are despised and distrusted by their political counterparts, and knowing that they aren’t allowed to do their ostensible jobs, as with the EPA generally not being allowed to protect the environment, the DOJ not being allowed to prosecute powerful monied crooks, and the FDA being the slave of drug companies and the whims of politically-connected appointees, are hard to move, hard to motivate, making it hard to get to anyone to do anything but the minimum.
So American leaders, and indeed the leaders of most developed nations, think they’re something special. In fact, getting people to do anything is difficult, and convincing people to do the wrong thing, when they joined to actually teach, protect the environment, make citizens healthier, or actually prosecute crooks, even more so. Being a leader in the West, even though it comes with virtually complete immunity for committing crimes against humanity, violating civil rights, or stealing billions from ordinary citizens, is, in many respects, a drag. A very, very well-paying drag, but a drag. Very few people have the necessary flexible morals and ability to motivate employees through the coercion required.
So American leaders, in specific, and Westerners, in general, think that organizations will fall apart if the very small number of people who can actually lead, stop leading. But that’s because they think that leading the Taliban, say, is like leading an American company or the American government. They think it requires a soulless prevaricator who takes advantage of and abuses virtually everyone and is still able to get people to, reluctantly, do their jobs.
Functioning organizations aren’t like that. They suck leadership upwards. Virtually everyone is being groomed for leadership and is ready for leadership. They believe in the cause, they know what to do, they’re involved. And they aren’t scared of dying, if they really believe. Oh sure, they’d rather not, but it won’t stop them from stepping up.