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September 23, 2013


And I remember one article the gist of which was that systems don't matter; people do.

There is more than one way to interpret that. A decent understanding of how things are going can be subverted by either a) overly rosy reporting, b) design of the inquiries so as to more reliably obtain the desired responses, or c) both a) and b).

Also, the assumption that either sufficiently smart or sufficiently right-thinking people will be unquestionable fonts of TRVTH.

A peaceful story from some near bureaucracies:

An interview with Eric Schlosser, the author of the book on our near misses with nuclear weapons--


That's a pretty good interview. I only have minor objections.

First: the Army doesn't have nuclear weapons anymore. Nuclear artillery and bazooka (Davy Crockett was closer to a bazooka than a rifle) rounds are no longer in inventory. It may be that the Army has a few devices locked away for Just In Case, but there are no longer tactical nuclear missiles such as Lance and Pershing in the inventory.

Second, Schlosser talks about a 20 year delay to implement sophisticated interlocks on nuclear weapons, which supposes that such interlocks existed at the start of (or any time during) said 20-year interval. Remember that nuclear weapons were invented prior to the semiconductor age.

I would tend to be thinking that safety devices for nuclear weapons were implemented right about the time when they became reliable enough to become a net plus for safety.

Somewhere I imagine the accidental, inadvertent loading of nuclear-tipped ALCMs on a B-52 for shipment to Barksdale AFB circa 2004 (IIRC) is mentioned. I have little doubt that there are lots of incidents that are not mentioned. I also tend to think that people focus so much on Broken Arrow scenarios that Bent Spear incidents get no attention.

I don't find the explanation of 'bureaucracies are fundamentally dishonest' to be terribly compelling or terribly useful

How about this as an idea, then ?

An essential characteristic of a bureaucracy is that the system by which they manage and achieve their aims is prescriptive rather than descriptive, and the power to set or change policy is located exclusively at the highest level of management.
Functionaries at the sharp end have little or no personal discretion to alter or deviate from policy or make individual judgments.

Not all large organisations are pure bureaucracies (though arguably all large organisations will have elements of bureaucracy), but the more bureaucratic an organisation, the more likely poor leadership and/or poor policy effectively compels the rest of the organisation to behave badly.

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