The Five Dangerous Faults in a General

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Sun Tzu was doing lists long before bloggers, so why not follow his lead? With Gen. McChrystal’s sudden fall from grace, this is a good topic to address.

1. Recklessness

A general who is brave but not judicious – that is, makes bad calls – gets his troops and his army in a lot of trouble. Recklessness means taking stupid chances out of a need to prove one’s courage to others.

2. Cowardice

Obviously, cowardice itself is also a vice. In organized conflict, it is the power of organization which makes the soldiers into an army, an entity greater than the sum of its parts. An army has much more fighting power than a collection of individuals of equal number. Cowardice wastes this energy and coherence.

3. A Hair-Trigger Temper

A general with a hasty temper is easily provoked by insults. This can lead him to making reckless mistakes. This is a product of a lack of self-discipline.

4.  A Thin Skin

Someone who is so thin skinned that any insult to his honor is a vile provocation that must be answered in kind is little different from 3), which leads to 1). Having honor (that is, pride) is hardly a defect, but insecurity leading to knee-jerk reactions is a dangerous fault indeed.

5. Losing Sight of the Big Picture

It’s great to care for the rank and file. It’s the sign of a decent human being. However, caring too much and valuing the men over the mission generally brings ruin to both. A general obsessed with his men will make small-scale decisions intended to help them, leading to large-scale ruin.


A general must recognize that war is bigger than any one man (including him); no one is irreplaceable. A general must tolerate small injuries to his pride and even to the lives of his men to make the decisions that lead to mission success and fewer net casualties. Obsession with any small issue leads to hasty and reckless decisions that sacrifice the mission and (usually) the troops as well. However well-intended thinking small might be, a general who isn’t thinking big is leading his army into deep trouble.


My Discovery Of Zen

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Now, in fairness, it isn’t really Zen that I discovered; it’s that I actually understand it to the point of writing a couple of articles about Zen and also, Chi, the Asian concept of internal energy. My work has now become the basis of a new feature on Technorati.

My article on Chi.

My article on Zen.

I like writing. I’m very bad at the chore of inserting links and other grunt work. I haven’t used Twitter enough. Put these three things together, and it forms this conclusion: I’m probably going to blog traditionally less, but do a lot more micro-blogging with Twitter, replying to articles, linking to articles with Twitter, and so on.

Many people say you should be very narrow in what you Tweet. I find that this just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s different in other areas. For mine, I have to blog as a complete person and not just leave part of myself out. It doesn’t mean I have to write indiscriminately. I still intend to avoid politics from my own lips, even if I may mention what others write about it from time to time (as a source of news on recent events). Even so, the point is to spread what little knowledge I have about this vast, complex world to others.

Will it work? Who knows? All I know is, I have more Zen in me than I suspected. More will come.

What I’ve Been Doing: Teaching Awesome Japanese

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Not that I’m happy about having such little time to blog here – most of my blogging has been at – but I’ve been trying to keep distractions and kinks in the schedule from doing anything to disrupt my helping my tutoring of a long-term student in Japanese. His goal remains to pass the EJU and study at a major Japanese university. These goals are achievable, though not minor.

Today, I was taking a break from heavy introduction of 2nd grade kanji and showed a few kanji for important verbs, that is, for to stop, to move, to walk, to run, to use; very valuable, very fundamental stuff. I also covered, in a “I won’t quiz about this” way, words for grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, chart, chapter/ subject, “the following,” “the preceding/ above-mentioned” etc. These are words that he will see again, to use the military teaching expression.

Finally, we covered some examples of how these things can be put together, very briefly, and covered a point of grammar involving a particle and set the stage for the next lesson: the meaning of “doubutsu,” or “animal.” This word combines the kanji for “to move” (which is why I introduced it) and “tangible thing.” Thus, an animal is what we call an animate object, a non-person living being that moves significantly on its own. That’s why we use the same existence verb for animals that we do for humans (“iru”) instead of that for inanimate objects (“aru”).

I still want to be teaching a lot more people, but it’s important to give quality to the student I currently have, even as I pursue more projects.

A current project is coming up with kanji slides that have a “bamboo wood” background and can anchor a voice presentation by having big, glorious black kanji against that background. Andre Klein of Learn Out Live was the originator of this idea, but I’m fully supporting it with the help of an old friend with graphical aptitude.

What I don’t have is a friend with iPhone/ iPad programming capability to do what must be a ridiculously simple application: a randomizer for flashcard purposes. Each picture would have to be pegged to a short .mp3 file. This done, we could have flashcard “programs” for the masses. I’d love that, but I don’t know how to bring it about.

Still, I’m going to appreciate what I have and be glad that my student thought it was an awesome lesson and that he is learning a lot. I think he is, though the process is not even; it was never expected to be even. Over time, however, it works. That’s what matters.

Just Because You Don’t See It, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t There

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This phrase, one of my great lines that I use for Japanese instruction, apparently applies to astronomy as well. Forget dark matter: 90% of the universe’s distant galaxies were there all along, but our method for seeing them was inadequate.

A very enjoyable read.

The Flawed But Awesome Majesty of the Law

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The law is not perfect. This is a basic truth about all societies that are based upon concepts of law and order. However, today I read the most remarkable argument, which I will post in summary form from without alteration:

What’s Really Troubling

Thanks to John Roberts’ comments yesterday I suspect we’re about to go through another round of hand-wringing about how the Supreme Court needs to be more insulated from the political brawls of the day.

Before it begins in earnest, let me make a distinction that will be quickly lost. The courts should be independent and free of political taint, and I’d man the barricades shoulder to shoulder with Roberts to defend that principle. But there’s no good reason to insulate the courts from the rough and tumble of politics and the complex world we live in, protecting them like a fragile flower.

To the extent the Supreme Court has been demystified by modern media and contemporary politics, that’s been a good thing. To the extent that it has lost some its institutional authority, it need not look beyond its own marble walls for the cause.

–David Kurtz

With all due respect, this is shockingly wrong.

In a Republic, there is no King but the Law. This is an ancient principle at the root of the country. People may disagree about what the law should be; indeed, the entire Civil War can be summarized as a dispute about who shall lay down the law of the land, and how.

What President Obama did was not about “demystifying” the Supreme Court. It was not about afflicting the decisions of the Court with political taint, though this writer says on the one hand the Court should be free of such taint, yet on the other hand argues that had the Court simply made rulings in line with what the Democratic Party wanted, the Court would not be of such supposedly ill repute. Finally, what President Obama did was not removing the court’s insulation from the “rough and tumble of politics.”

What President Obama did was make the Court a public laughing stock in a setting where even the slightest response to this mockery and derision would be assaulted as interference with the noble practice of politics by mere judges. Indeed, with the case of Justice Alito, that is exactly what happened; and now, weeks later, Justice Roberts’ intervention (link at bottom) is being spun on Talking Points Memo as “Roberts Slams Obama,” an inappropriate perversion of the political order.

The point is this: the President attacked people who were expected to just stand there and take it, using the bully pulpit to bully, and using the gallery to emphasize the derision placed upon the Court for having defied the President’s political and personal beliefs in a matter of law. The President tarnished the majesty of the law, and sought to make politics king instead.

If a President wants to change a Supreme Court decision, let him pass a constitutional amendment. That the restrictions on corporate contributions were contrary to the First Amendment in principle was no secret; people simply argued that the political case behind it was so strong that it must be so. Once a party was wronged that actually had such narrow interests that it sued all the way to the Supreme Court rather than deferring to political reality, the court made the only decision the law, properly followed, favored. Yet clearly, there was a larger point to what the President did, and what Talking Points Memo is doing today: making the Court just another tarnished institution that need not be paid attention to, and legitimizing politics as the greater source of majesty.

I do not believe that this will resonate with the public at large; nor do I believe that it should. The law has never been perfect, but it has always been grand and great; its power is awesome and the respect given unto it, while not perfect either, is far greater than in tinpot dictatorships and countries where personal authority matters far more than the strict letter of the law, amounting to a principle of, “if no one stops me, it isn’t illegal.” If you will, “If the President does it, it is legal.” That is a principle that the United States never quite accepted; nor is it particularly ready to accept this idea now, as far as I can tell.

The law may be flawed, but it still has majesty. Flinging mud at the law and making a laughing stock of it may be rooted in deeply seated and entirely honest beliefs, but I do not see that it is wise big-picture politics. To change the law is a noble endeavor. To tear down the law itself, and a country’s embodiment of that law, and to blame that embodiment for having in essence tarnished itself by not making the “right” rulings, is simply destructive to society in its entirety.

For more information concerning the debate, and what TPM and its readers are saying about it, see for yourself without me as a middleman:

Forgive The Site Changes

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For Technorati

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Yes, this blog is mine 🙂 JQP3VBMQ4NTE

Incidentally, I wrote this on the Jay Leno flap:

Conan O’Brien Takes Care Of His Own

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