The Rummymemo flap is depressing on a number of levels. Oh, in one respect, it’s heartening; you could take it to mean “okay, we’ve conquered Afghanistan and Iraq; is there anything else we should be doing?” - a sentiment which would have seemed quite reassuring to some after 9/11. (And horrifying to others, who hoped that having been knocked flat by a sucker punch, we would crawl back to our corner, spit into the bucket, and request permission from the French and German judges to declare the bout a draw.) It’s not an “admission of failure, ” as Daschle put it - hell, the administration could put Osama’s head on a stick in the Rose Garden, and Daschle would call it an admission of failure that they hadn’t located the torso. I will never trust these people with national security again. Never, never, never. We’re in the fight of our lives, and all they can do is carp and bitch and piss and moan, because - as was the case with many conservatives in the Bosnian conflict - it’s not their war.

But in another respect, the memo gives you a sick sinking feeling. Why do we need to be asking these questions now? Shouldn’t these things be obvious? And of course they are to Rumsfeld, but not to many in the great immovable bureaucracy that apparently regards national defense as a 9 to 5 job whose purpose is a pension, not the survival of liberal democracy. You’d like to think that everyone in the Defense establishment has walked at a quicker pace in the last two years. Taken shorter lunches. Cut to the chase. You’d like to think that from the janitor to the Joint Chiefs, the mood was simple to describe: urgency.

You want to talk about what we can do when things seem urgent? Remember: they built the Pentagon during the war. That’s gearing up. That’s focus. At a congressional hearing on July 17, 1941, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations suggested that the War Department might solve the problem of its scattered offices by building, you know, one building. That was a Thursday. A request was made for plans to be delivered to the War Department on Monday morning. Tuesday morning the plans were presented to Congress; they were approved by the House on July 28, and by the Senate two weeks later. (Typical.) The bill authorizing construction was signed on August 25.

Construction began in September, 1941.

September 11, to be exact.

Construction took sixteen months.

So let’s make this the new standard for national defense: any change in the way the Pentagon does business should take no longer than the time it took to build the Pentagon itself.

Anyway. The memo itself is not that surprising, given the source. I’d be more alarmed if the memos consisted of back-slaps and promises off shiny medals for all. As I wrote to Hugh Hewitt today: this is the difference between American military culture and Middle Eastern military culture. Saddam would never have wondered whether he was doing the right thing, because everyone in his chain of command would have assured him that they were 110% successful 24-7. And no one who got Rumsfeld’s memo worried that it would be followed by a bullet in the head for giving the wrong answer to question #17.

Hugh read that letter on the air to Mark Steyn, which made me pause: whoa. Mark frickin’ Steyn. A few minutes later Mr. Hewitt, who as far as I know no longer hangs around schoolyards selling joints made out of oregano, asked Steyn if he collected Hummel figurines, like Lileks. This is one of Hugh’s lies: I’m a Hummel collector. I am not. I collect Simpsons figurines. Big difference. Simpsons figurines can be dropped without breaking. They can be thrown at the head of nationally syndicated radio hosts without breaking. Steyn said he did not collect them, but that he wouldn’t be surprised to learn than I did, since I appeared to collect all sorts of things.

Gnat was hanging on my leg demanding that I come and write ABCs in her book, but I had to say not now, honey, a brilliant prose stylist is making general observations about daddy and his website.

“Why?” She asked.

She asks that a lot.

Addendum to the chain discussion, which continues here over at Fraters Libertas. I'd add:

The market doesn’t make high-quality judgments if the people driving the markets have low standards, or they have a variety of standards that don't put product quality first. I’d rather have a slightly great cup of coffee in an incredibly cool cafe than a great cup of coffee in a dive festooned with Nazi memorabilia. I’d rather have a so-so burger in a dive with a friendly waitress than a great meal in a place where the staff sneered at me and never refilled my drink.

It’s very complex. Starbucks’ regular coffee tastes like old donkey hooves soaked in burnt crankcase oil. But their Americano coffee is okay by me. For those who like the elaborate sugared drinks, Starbucks hits the spot. They have many products, some good, some bad; they also have a big ambiance factor, with the chairs, the art on the coffee bags, the custom CDs, the cleverly designed mint-tins, etc. Caribou Coffee, a local chain, serves coffee that's indistinguishable from Starbucks, really - but they have a different ambiance. They both do some things well, they serve a market. They're popular. Doesn't mean that their basic roasts aren't grossly inferior to Dunn Brothers. Likewise Applebee’s - regular customers have metrics I might not share. They value a certain kind of decor, a predictable level of cheer and alacrity in the staff, and a menu that recycles the standards in new trendy formats that still seem familiar. Doesn’t mean the food is good; doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means that there are all sorts of intangibles that go into these things. The market is a curious blend of logic and emotion, and when you add something as intangible &
subjective as food preferences, objective standards are Dali tools that melt in your hands. I’ve come to the conclusion that modern-day McDonald’s hamburgers are abominations best avoided, but if we’re on a road trip, and the McD has a Playland and the Wendy’s across the street doesn’t, we head for the Scottish place with the excellent pomme frittes, to quote H. G. Wells.

I don’t assume that popularity = crap; I don’t assume that popularity = excellence. I assume that popularity = popularity, and the reasons for that will vary. And let’s remember, he said in his most annoying professorial tone, that consumer tastes are not as fickle and mercurial as we think. McDonald’s had such a huge installed base that they could make really, really lousy food for a decade before the numbers started to drop off. George Lucas had so many people invested in Star Wars that a deathblow like Jar-Jar still didn’t wound the franchise. Instapundit could devote itself to nature photography, and it would still take 7 months before I considered whether I wanted it as my home page.

I could say more, but why? Let these half-baked, unsupported remarks carry the conversation a few more versts. It's late and I'm just making this up as I go, anyway.

Now, the petty whining of a yuppie deprived of his favorite toy:

Vodkapundit had an epic run-in with Ultimate Electronics a while ago; now it’s my turn. Seven months ago I bought a small camcorder at a large price. While in New York it malfunctioned, and I lost most of the footage I shot. It’s a Canon Elura MC, and this is the second Canon device I’ve had go south, the other being a camera. They’ve lost me as a customer for good. But what of Ultimate? I took the camera back, and the sales associate said it probably needed a good cleaning. I had the service contract, so all was well. Until today. Got a call from the company Ultimate uses for its repair work; they said they couldn’t fix the camera, and they were sending it back to Canon for repair. Three to six weeks. They’d had it for a week before sending it off, too. Why? To run a series of tests? To clean it? To give it a fur jacket and carry it around pretending it’s a tribble? No: paperwork. They had to contact the people who underwrote the service contract, and see what they would pay for. Beyond a certain cost, I would get a new camera. You’d think they would know this, but no. They didn’t even clean it - in most cases, the helpful fellow on the phone said, it was something much more complex, so there really wasn’t any point to cleaning it.

"Unless cleaning it would have solved the problem," I remarked.

" Yes, but it rarely does." Cleaning will not protect you from the terrible secret of space!

But we’ll never know, will we. So. At the outside, seven weeks without a camera I use nearly every day. No Thanksgiving footage. No first snow. Six weeks of Gnat antics unrecorded. Not good. I call Ultimate, expecting nothing, but what the hey. I talk to a nice, decent guy who understands my frustration but can’t do jack about it. Once it leaves their hands to go to the shop, they have no control. He can let me talk to a manager, but the manager would say the same thing.

This weekend I’m going to drop into the store, find a manager, explain my situation, ask him to call up my records so he can see my history of regular patronage, and then I will ask him: if you were in my position, with the holidays coming up and no guarantee, really, that you’ll be able to shoot a single second of it, what would you want this company to do for you?

If he’s smart, he’ll make a command decision, walk me over to the camcorders, point out a new model that costs a few hundred bucks more than the one , and offer to apply, say, 3/4ths of the purchase price
of the defective model to this Shiny New One. That would be the creative, meet-you-halfway move that satisfies the customer, even if he doesn’t take the offer. I want to be clear: Ultimate has no obligation to replace my defective camera at this point. None. But, well, you know. Urg. Grrr. You sold me this. Now This No Work. You Fix! Hulk Smash!

Remember if you will the tale of the Contour Shuttle Pro, that device I brought back to the Apple store after it ceased to work. The Apple techs called the tech support line; the company president answered the call, and told them to give me a new one and ship the old one back; he’d eat the cost.

Well, a few weeks ago I got the G5, and the Shuttle Pro stopped working. Hmm. I called tech support. Got the President again. He spent fifteen minutes on the phone with me; within an hour he had posted to the website some downloads that made my device work.

This is the sort of attention to customers that makes me want to buy another one just so I have a fresh unit when the old one finally dies.

It's not a popular product, but it is good.

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