Saturday, March 28, 2020

Say Goodbye to the 355 Ship Navy

In the olden days of the blog, I did quite a bit of writing about Navy oriented stuff. I would post some of those thoughts here, and some at the venerable Information Dissemination blog. But over time, I found that other avenues were more influential in getting my Navy thinking out, especially the guest slots that Commander Salamander has graciously offered me at his site and longer form articles that the great Ryan Evans has posted for me at War on the Rocks.

As I've said, Twitter has eaten into the world of blogs, in a big way. Additionally "content aggregation" sites (that is, sites that have a ton of people writing things for them for free in order that the writer can get their thoughts out--like War on the Rocks above) have enormous readership, so you can squirrel away your work on a blog that 275 people read, or you can submit it to these sites and have tens of thousands of people read it. Because those sites are highly professional (as opposed to this scattershot blog) there are often multi-pass editing processes involved. Because I have the attention span of a three year old, they frustrate me, and so I tweet and I blog. But this is an important one.

The worldwide COVID outbreak will effectively kill the 355 ship Navy planned by this Administration and enthusiastically supported by this author. If I were a betting man, I'd put a hell of a lot more money on a 250 ship Navy emerging from this crisis, than a 355 ship Navy.

All of the major GOP presidential candidates in 2016 supported building a bigger Navy. The Obama Administration had a plan for a two-hub (Far East, Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean) Navy of 308 ships, and was steadily building to that goal. It was however, insufficient. On the Rubio Team, I helped put together a plan that got us to 324 ships within ten years of taking office. When Rubio imploded, I joined a Cruz team (unenthusiastically) that had developed a 350 ship architecture. When Cruz imploded, many of those Cruz national security types meandered over to the Trump team and lo and behold, Trump started talking about a 350 ship Navy.

Trump's instincts are to build, and a larger Navy fit in well with his MAGA approach and his stated promise of rebuilding the military. It was then and remains now one of the few areas of wholehearted support I have given a Trump policy. Truth is, I've supported it a hell of a lot more publicly and effectively than the President has supported it, but that is a different story.

Soon after announcing the 350 Ship goal, the Navy--still under Obama--undertook a "Force Structure Assessment" that reached the conclusion that the requirement had grown from 308 ships to 355 ships. This was to some extent, a pissing contest between the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus--who believed that we needed to build ships--even less capable ones--so that the hulls would be available for future upgrades--and the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who wasn't as interested in a larger Navy. This 355 ship Navy remains the "force structure" goal of record, even though there has been a good deal of churn in the past year about what that number means and how to achieve it. I am not here to get into a deep discussion of fleet architecture--there is plenty of that going on elsewhere. What I am here to do is send a message that we are more likely to see a Navy of 250 ships in ten years than we are to see one of 355.

Alternative futures exercises produce a menu of "futures".  Some of those futures are "more likely" than others, some of those futures are "more disruptive" than others. As I look at the worldwide COVID pandemic, I begin to think in terms of alternative futures. Here's one of the ways I think about things:

You can think about myriad events and then attempt to fit them into the framework suggested above. What I am suggesting is something that I see on the likely side of the graph, and in the disruptive (upper half), don't know where I'd put it, I guess I'd have to look at other possible events/futures and then do a relative assessment. But what I am suggesting is that is is likely that our economy will contract at some point in the next year, and possibly go into depression. Such an event--would I think, be very disruptive. Clearly the economic impact would be enormous, but so too would the social and political costs. 

I simply do not believe that a contracting economy can and will continue to spend $750B annually on defense (round numbers), nor do I believe that the social fabric of the country will permit it. The defense budget is a fabulous pool of resources for pet social projects in the best of times, so in a time of legitimate crisis, the resources DoD consumes will jealously--and rightfully--eyed for other purposes.

I believe that defense planners should begin to think about (my guess is they already are, by the way) what the priorities in a DoD budget will be with cuts of 10, 25, and 40 per cent.  Given the nature of modern defense strategy making and its inability to make hard choices, my guess is that the cuts would ultimately be dealt equally to the armed services and their capabilities. And while I could make an argument under any of these conditions that seapower should be privileged over many other elements of military power and that the NAVY SHOULD KEEP GROWING EVEN IN A DEPRESSION, I harbor no illusion this would come to pass.

Therefore, I think Navy planners should think about a world with considerably less money coming their way. What do we do? Cutting people is would be an enormous savings, as people are enormously expensive. But would this be the time to throw Sailors off the payroll? Tough political decision. An easier decision would be to cancel selected acquisition contracts (ships, submarines, airplanes, satellites, etc) and expensive platform modernization efforts. I fear though, that too much cutting here would leave the Navy dangerously unprepared when the impact of COVID has been completely worked though. Another area where considerable money could be saved is in simply tying ships to the pier, and even decommissioning some of them altogether. My point is--and I concede it is a pretty obvious one--the 355 ship Navy is likely dead, and a smaller Navy is far more likely in the near term than a larger one. What that smaller Navy looks like, what it does, where it does it, and to what extent--are all questions that remain.

Winter is coming.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Q-Life Update: Provisioning in the Time of the Great Quieting

I read on various social media outlets the narratives of parents sheltering in place with their young children, and I am grateful that the Kittens are 18 and 20. I didn't have the patience for full time parenting, so the Lord kindly dropped me into a ready-made family when the girls were 6 and 8 respectively. The little family I joined had its vibes and rhythms, and I joined in as best I could. Well, that's probably not true. I wasn't much of a "get down on the ground and play" kind of parent (though they delighted in it when I did), and I do regret lost opportunities. I suppose I always felt like if they could just hang on until they were young adults, I would have something to offer them that they might value. We're still waiting on the results of this approach.

There is of course, a new appreciation for the role of teachers in our society as adults are caged with their own progeny all day, and the videos capturing these challenges making their way to the interwebs can be pretty funny. But what this post is all about is the challenge of provisioning a house of four, cross-generational, adults of both sexes.

I have made two provisioning runs since the Q-Life began. By my own standards, they were somewhat successful. I was able to bring home steak, pork, bacon, lamb, chicken, eggs, milk, half/half, salmon (both filet and smoked slices), everything bagels, Life cereal, tuna, mac and cheese, pasta, pancake mix, maple syrup, swiss cheese, cream cheese, brussel sprouts, baking potatoes, asparagus, and sundry salad fixings. Bear in mind, this was on top of all the food that already existed in our house. I estimate that if we were to go all in, we have sufficient calories for four adults for 3 to four months on hand. Minimum.

But....we must standards are not necessarily shared standards. For instance, how can one possibly survive without pomegranate seeds? Or cilantro? Or cubed sweet potatoes? Or ginger? Or bibb lettuce? Or chickpeas? Or harissa paste? Or quinoa? Or "fresh" almond butter?

You see where I'm going with this?

Moving on to some other provisioning "issues". How about we all agree that grocery shopping during a pandemic is NOT a social event, hmmm? Dependent children, the handicapped, and the aged (in SOME cases) excepted, the rest of us should be sending ONE HUMAN PER CART into the store to interact with the other humans in the store. I saw multiple instances of three to four person moving roadblocks laughing and frolicking as I (head down) moved through the store.

Also--the toilet paper and paper towels hoarders are filthy animals. Let's just get that out there. They've created a problem that would never have existed but for their utterly selfish and anti-social behavior.

A final observation. I am, by virtue of the profession I've cobbled together, capable at least for a time, of continuing to earn my living while operating in lockdown. I am grateful. I am also grateful for the people who do not have this option, who by virtue of their jobs and the needs of a civil society, have to keep working. Folks in the transportation industry, the grocery stores, restaurants etc are to be admired and praised. Those working in our nation's hospitals--especially under the conditions we read about in population dense cities--are going to be what keeps this society together when all is said and done. I am awed by their sense of duty.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

On the Loss of Sports

As I reflect upon now two weeks of the Q-Life, there are a number of things whose absence is meaningful to me. I miss interacting with smart people in professional settings. I miss whatever it is was passing for normality before all this. I miss 24% of my net worth. What I miss more than anything though, is sports.

I am not a sports freak. I am in fact, a University of Virginia sports freak, and I take a great deal of interest in the success and failure of my Wahoos, irrespective of the sport. But the great mass of public, professional sports is really not on my radar. I follow no professional sports team of any variety with anything close to real interest. I don't mind attending pro sports events in person, but I do it rarely. As I age, I make a promise to myself around New Years every year to watch more baseball, but I never do. My friend Dan and I attend a Packers game every couple of years together, but it is more about the weekend than it is about the sport (at least for me. Dan is a deranged Packers fan). 

With all of that as background, I must admit to missing sports in the time of the great quieting. Of course, I miss March Madness, the greatest sporting event known to man. But I miss pro basketball. I miss the spring training noise. I miss watching the big golf tournaments. It isn't just the watching, though. It is the reading, and the talking, and the listening. Sports--even those in which I have little interest--have formed the soundtrack of my life. Even though I didn't WATCH these sports, I followed them at a distance, if for no other reason than to be an informed participant in the conversations of other men. Ladies, don't take this as a swipe, but to the extent that I have had conversations about professional sports in my life, it has virtually always been with men. There are three grown women in my house, and annually on Super Bowl Sunday, at least one will inquire who is playing. 

Some may consider this antediluvian, but there is a not insignificant component of being a man of a certain age--at least in the circles in which I travel-- that requires one to have at least passing knowledge of what is going on in the major sports of the season. Again--I point to my lovely daughters. They are not only women, but they are young women. There simply is NO requirement for them in their everyday lives to be up on whether LeBron or Giannis should be the NBA MVP, or why the Astros batters seemed to get beaned all through the beginnings of spring training. 

So all of this was sort of a windup to the actual pitch.... and that is, a world without sports (or at least mindless chatter about sports) is a little bit frightening to me, because it is one step closer to the feminist Valhalla of a world without men. Sports small talk is the stuff of a giant slice of male interpersonal relationships. No sports, what do we have to talk about? 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Q-Life: Day 13

We are nearing the end of the second week of what I have taken to calling "The Q-Life", or quarantining at home, and thus far, the program is proceeding swimmingly. Our provisions are holding up well, and our equanimity toward each other remains high. I have in my ManCave, various implements of torture, including a treadmill and numerous dumbbells, in addition to a bit of space in front of my bookshelves. Having now to share the exercise area with the Kittens means working out schedules and the like, not only because of the use of the equipment, but also because of the horrific noise that passes for music they enjoy listening to and its impact on my ability to work in the same space. They have not generally been active in the mornings, and I am all too happy to vacate around 3PM, so we've entered into a reasonable accommodation.

The news greets us today with reports of Senator Rand Paul having contracted the virus, and therefore several other Senators with whom he had been in contact recently going into voluntary quarantine. This news came quick on the heels of reports of several recently frolicking "Spring Breakers" having contracted the virus. You may consider the irresponsibility of both by your own standards.

Talk in the (socially distanced) kitchen last night was that the Kittens' spring semesters are underway in earnest today via the interwebs. With all the classroom instruction and streaming of all kinds going on, this time is providing a solid stress test of  "the internet", to the extent that it can be considered a thing at all.

As I walk about, I see various "Spring Cleaning" kinds of jobs that need doing. I reported to the Obergruppenfuhrer yesterday that I would -- on nice days -- be available for such labors from 3 to 5PM, and she is dutifully working up an OPORDER for my execution.

I had hoped to use this time to pick up my new banjo and get more acquainted with it, but in tuning it, I managed to break two strings. It don't have a feeling that for $179.00, I bought the greatest banjo in the world, but now I need to restring it before I can begin lessons.

As expected, the numbers of reported cases and deaths from the virus are increasing as the testing regime begins to kick in. We need to get more tests out into the public faster, but we cannot look at testing as a silver bullet for combating this thing. It seems common sense to assume that "social distancing" will be at least as influential as testing, if not more influential, in slowing the spread of the virus and allowing for proper treatment of those already sick. As we got into this fight late, the numbers will continue to grow for some time, before they begin to flatten. Things are going to LOOK horrific in the next ten days or so, but as long as we all hunker down, continue to remain distanced, and give the healthcare system the tools it needs, we should begin to see favorable trends in the not too distant future.  But for God's sake....stay home.

There is news of great chicanery going on in Congress as our two dysfunctional parties attempt to figure out how to respond to this crisis. You see, that's the first thing. What they should be thinking right now is that they are passing a "disaster relief" measure-- not a fiscal stimulus or economic recovery measure. Yes, those things are part of the total, but what we are trying to do (or should be trying to do) is to use the vast resources of the nation to buy time and space for the medical effort to succeed. The immense social pressures that will accrue if a fifth of our workforce lose their jobs and great calamities continue in businesses small and large, will have devastating impact on the disaster relief effort. A friend of mine Tweeted the following yesterday:

I snarkily (but honestly) responded "All evidence to the contrary". What I meant by that remark was that if Americans truly valued bi-partisan teamwork in times of crisis, they would elect men and women who practice it in times of calm. Compromise and bipartisan problem solving is not valued by our hyper partisan electorate who would rather watch split screen show-ponies on mindless "news" programs from their easy chairs. We get--and have--exactly what we deserve.

Friday, March 20, 2020

On China and COVID-19

There is much in the news these days about the coronavirus and its origins in China. It seems to me, beyond dispute, that like several other instances of feared viruses, this one too came out of the Far East. And while it is "possible" that the virus was the result of a weaponized biological program of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), I rate that possibility as "barely measurable to remote". Why?  Because (if you click the link above and do a minor bit of online research) as I said, a lot of viruses have their genesis in China. It's sorta just the way it is.

So, the virus appears to have started in China, near the City of Wuhan. Accelerating its spread was the fact that many of the Chinese diaspora came back for the Chinese New Year celebration. Some contracted the virus and then returned to their adopted countries bringing the virus with them and infecting local populations.

Also apparently true is that when the virus began to show up in China, the Chinese government and public health systems failed. Here is a decent timeline that shows both mistakes and likely coverup.

So--we have a massive and influential government with a serious viral outbreak making poor and corrupt decisions and statements designed to minimize the public reaction to the seriousness of the virus. And we had what China was doing too.

Ok. Some of you are going to read that last paragraph as a swipe at our federal government. That is exactly how I meant it. Take a look at this timeline. While I realize that what the President is saying is not the sum total of what the federal government was doing, the President's statements and his obvious desire to minimize the impact on markets and his re-election, had an impact on how subordinate departments reacted to the growing crisis.

And now we come to what appears to be the thing that really has the attention of the inattentive, and that is whether calling this virus the "China virus" or the "Wuhan virus" is racist. I think not. Many viruses and sicknesses across time have taken on the names of locations where they started or where there were major outbreaks. This is not a racist construct. I prefer "coronavirus" or "COVID-19", but that is me.

The next question is, is it wise to use the location names? This is a good question, and for some it is an open and shut case. These people believe that since so much of our supply chain for medical supplies and devices comes from China, it is unwise to piss them off. Short of that, these folks believe that a truly international response to this crisis is required, and we shouldn't be worried about a childish schoolyard fight when what we should be doing is defeating the threat.

Ordinarily, I would tend to agree with this.

The thing that makes this a lot harder is that elements of the Chinese government have undertaken a program of propaganda designed to blame the virus guessed it....the United States. This is largely for domestic consumption, but it--along with their massive humanitarian response elsewhere--is designed to seed doubt as to the US as a reliable partner. Is this a response to leaders in the US "blaming" China by using location names for the virus? Would this propaganda push be happening anyway (i.e., if the virus had started elsewhere)?

I don't know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that smart diplomacy is needed in addition to energetic response. I'll keep talking and writing about corona or COVID. I urge you to do so also.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What Will Never Be The Same?

When the virus (that's the way I'm going to talk about it now, casually calling it "the virus" without differentiating it from the thousands of other viruses there are, because you damn well know what I'm talking about) began to rage, and the American system of higher education decided to send our young folks home with vague promises of internet-based instruction with details to follow, I thought to myself that this could be the beginning of the end for the traditional Western university that has had a pretty decent 1200 year run. After all, if we can do this in an emergency (a bug), why couldn't we do it as a practice (feature). Yes, yes, I know, there are already all kinds of internet learning paths...but what I'm talking about here is the "push" that actually brings about the end of one paradigm and the flowering of others. 

So the purpose of this post is to ask, what else is on the chopping block? You can use the comment section if you like.

Here's one. Healthcare. Yes, I know. There's a lot of "distance medicine" going on right now. But think about a day where a small set of computer peripherals hook directly into a mediating software enabling a proper back and forth in real time between a patient and a provider. What percentage of physical visits could be avoided? How much more efficient could the system be? And as we become more accustomed to telemedicine, could whatever regulatory/rent-seeking barriers that continue to carve up the nation's health insurance markets within state lines begin to fall?

Obviously, Amazon has changed our world. But I need Shake and Bake for pork right now. I only have one packet remaining (crisis). A distribution system that brings it to me today, or a system where I could make an order, get in my car, and drive up to a delivery kiosk where my order would be available for pickup based on code I received?  Yes please.

I think the whole "tele-work" thing could explode after this, with more and more Americans working from home. Or--we could find that after studying this period, we all really did just "phone it in" and our productivity went through the floor. Or maybe we find that because people can and do work when they want throughout the day and life, that there is a productivity increase? I don't know...but it will be interesting to see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID 19 and the American System

Not everyone is going to be happy with this post, but I guess that's the nature of the beast. I want to talk a little about "The American System", specifically the oft-maligned (and Constitutionally enshrined) system of "federalism", in which the national (federal) government is vested with specific (enumerated) powers, with remaining powers vested in the "several" states.

I think this is a good system for a number of reasons. As an ideological conservative, my mantra these days is "smart people existed before me". To this end, I think our Founders were a smart bunch of guys (sorry ladies), and they gifted to us a political system of great genius. A good deal of what passes for governance in our everyday lives is state and local, and the degree to which we interact with the federal government each day is actually quite small. This may strike some as an odd thing to say, given how much power and authority has managed to migrate its way to the federal government in the 233 years of our Republic, and given how a nationalized, internet and cable news driven media environment serves to make us feel that all issues are national and that what's happening around us (Talbot County, MD, for instance) is only our little piece of much bigger national trends and narratives.

And then we get a viral pandemic. We turned to our nationalized media. In some cases, that media, acting as a mouthpiece for our national government, misled us. Watch the video embedded in this Tweet--it is breathtaking. 

Speaking of that national government, you are not a serious person if you do not believe that the go-to move from the Administration was to minimize the threat, and point (well-deserved) fingers at the Chinese. Watch the video contained in this Tweet too:

The funny thing is--as damaging as the slow and stumbling response to the virus from the federal government was, we had fifty other relatively efficient forms of governing happening around the country, and the nation's governors--watching in horror as the feds worried about the stock market and re-election--started making decisions. Now--I don't want to go too far with this. The federal income tax system and the other streams of revenue that the federal government receives pre-determine that it is the most efficient means for centralized resourcing and national response. But utilizing these resources in a coherent response did not happen fast enough because of the government we chose in 2016. State governments have a good deal of resources and tools at their disposal to respond quickly and effectively too, and many have done just that.

What we have in federalism is an insurance policy against bad governing. If--as things are today--we have a feckless presidential administration that ultimately decides to step up its response only after one of their media lackeys turns his criticism on them , strong state responses to disasters (think about Jeb Bush responding to nine hurricanes while in office) can and should mitigate impact. If we have a strong and competent federal government, it can catalyze and coordinate action in concert with governors of energy in order to create truly effective national responses. If one lives in a state with a bad governor right now, I guess the system isn't providing as much solace.

The best of all worlds would have been a competent response from the feds coordinated with competent responses in the states. This may be finally underway, and a truly "federal" system can begin to show its strength.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Signs of Spring

It is a difficult time for all of us. We are in fear and doubt as to what is next and when it will be over. So, let us concern ourselves with what we can count on. Today, that is spring's arrival.  Here are a few photos from around the house to remind us.

The Return of The Conservative Wahoo

This blog has lain fallow for quite some time. It was once a passion of mine. It led to a short-lived internet radio show (before podcasts became all the rage), a good deal of social media exposure, and the small-scale notoriety afforded by the internet to narcissists everywhere. I took full advantage of it and although I often became a slave to it, I enjoyed the writing. I fancied myself a great political thinker and took great pride in that writing, yet time and again, the writing that seemed most likely to resonate across my readership base was everyday stuff.

Then came the election of 2016. I was from the get-go, decidedly against one candidate. That candidate went on to win both the Republican nomination and the Presidency. In the process, I used the blog to vent my spleen and take shots at those I considered to have compromised on whatever principle they once had. I grew more and more disconcerted with people I thought I once knew, and I grew more distant from the blog over time.

Truth be told, Twitter also got in the way. Why would I sit down and write a long form post on something of interest when I could pithily opine away in 144 (and then 288) characters for the instant entertainment of 6000 people? I've pretty much turned all my public writing into Tweets of some sort, with the exception of the Navy related stuff that one or two of you still read.

But things have changed. We are visited by a fast-moving, global pandemic that has caused our various governments to restrain our activities by force, and that has caused our society to exercise self-restraint through public spirit, along with time-honored acts of public shaming. Here in Maryland (for those new to the blog, I live on Maryland's Eastern Shore at the sufferance of a beautiful woman (The Kitten) and her two daughters (The Kittens)), our Governor has closed down most commerce and we are--as one used to hear back in the Navy--sheltering in place. The Kittens were cast out of their womb-like existences in modern university settings, only to land back at home under the command of Obergruppenfuher Momma, whose disciplined approach to social distancing was somewhat more stringent than either had considered.

My social distancing began two-weeks ago, when upon returning from a convention in San Diego early one post-redeye Thursday, I took myself to the local Doc-in-a-Box (from whence comes my "urgent care") feeling god-awful. I brought along a little bag of toiletries and chargers, thinking that I was sure to have the dread COVID 19 virus and would immediately head into immunological prison.  The good news was that it was plain old Influenza A, and since the Kittens were still at school and the Kitten was frolicking among friends elsewhere, I took to my sickbed and began an around the clock regimen of sleep punctuated by big shots of Vicks Nyquil. Always does the trick.

Since then, the virus has exploded and fuller measures have come into practice. We have--as many others have--provisioned ourselves for a long sequester, although I wonder (sometimes aloud, sometimes not) at the various products that find their way into the category of "staples". Somewhere in the last ten years, the number of things calling itself "milk" have proliferated, and there currently resides in the kitchen refrigerator almond milk of several varieties, cashew milk, vitamin D milk (natch), 2 % milk, and half/half. Also something called "Kombucha", which I dare not investigate.

I made the initial victualing run, returning home with pasta, mac and cheese, cans of tuna, bacon, eggs, salad stuff, veggies, etc, along with steak, pork, and chicken. You know. Stuff people survive on. My choices were instantly flagged as insufficient, and several additional runs have occurred since. Our cup runneth over.

I have an office carved out of one of the bays of our garage and the window to my right looks out
over the Miles River upon which The Kitten's house sits. Her people have lived in this part of Maryland for four centuries, and on this particular plot of land for something like seven generations. In my office are my books, a treadmill, some (little used) dumb-bells, a bit of furniture, and a giant flat screen. Ordinarily at this time of year, I would be social distancing in front of the TV watching college basketball, but you know the story there. One of the great regrets I have of this time is that there is no baseball, as it is a later in life goal of mine to once again become a baseball fan. Baseball could fill a lot of this time.

My business is defense consulting, and I can do a good bit of it right here in this office. My clients are also trying to figure out how to deal with all of this, but so far everyone seems to be behaving responsibly. I am determined to do all of the things I have been reading on social media for those who work at home every day. I am showering, dressing in proper button-down shirts, and wearing actual shoes (rather than the dreamy Bean ankle-high shearling slippers in which I generally knock-about. I even shaved today.

So--what is this blog to be? I'm not quite sure. Probably a lot like it was before the 2016 election, with some daily life, some politics, some pop-culture, and some Navy related stuff. Probably a bit of Dafoe's "Journal of the Plague Year". I don't know how long I will keep it up, but as I end this post, I find myself content with its resurrection.
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