Monday, May 23, 2011

Bet, Call

You can bet the following paper, prepared by two military consultants to the Joint Chiefs, and published under the pseudonym "Y" was released with the chiefs' knowledge and permission. The forward was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. It is fair to conclude that this paper has broad administration support.

Foreign Policy did a piece on the paper and referred to it as "the Pentagon's secret plan to slash its own budget".

Don't believe it. There is nothing secret about this push. The Pentagon has been fighting congress for years, trying unsuccessfully to limit the expansion of their budget, being forced to acquire weapons that satisfy a congressperson's need to bring home the pork. This must read transcript from a 1992 show on "AMERICA'S DEFENSE MONITOR" proves the point.

Another discussion of the Y paper is far more cynical and provides a context for understanding the military's internecine branch competition.

All of the above discussions are by wonks with a history of commenting on military affairs. What jumped off the page for me was the extent to which the military accepts as real threats; the global social unrest, climate and environmental issues, and problems of developing meaningful work for the youth of the world. These concepts are not what we think of when we imagine what is being discussed in the Pentagon. That the Pentagon is willing to run around congress and try to agitate for a more relevant peace agenda and a budget to support it, can not be ignored by the rest of us. The following is the preface to the paper.

By Anne-Marie Slaughter

Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs

Princeton University

Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State, 2009-2011

The United States needs a national strategic narrative. We have a national security strategy, which sets forth four core national interests and outlines a number of dimensions of an overarching strategy to advance those interests in the 21st century world. But that is a document written by specialists for specialists. It does not answer a fundamental question that more and more Americans are asking. Where is the United States going in the world? How can we get there? What are the guiding stars that will illuminate the path along the way? We need a story with a beginning, middle, and projected happy ending that will transcend our political divisions,

orient us as a nation, and give us both a common direction and the confidence and commitment to get to our destination.

These questions require new answers because of the universal awareness that we are living through a time of rapid and universal change. The assumptions of the 20th century, of the U.S. as a bulwark first against fascism and then against communism, make little sense in a world in which World War II and its aftermath is as distant to young generations today as the War of 1870

was to the men who designed the United Nations and the international order in the late 1940s. Consider the description of the U.S. president as “the leader of the free world,” a phrase that encapsulated U.S. power and the structure of the global order for decades. Yet anyone under thirty today, a majority of the world’s population, likely has no idea what it means. Moreover, the U.S. is experiencing its latest round of “declinism,” the periodic certainty that we are losing all the things that have made us a great nation. In a National Journal poll conducted in 2010, 47% percent of Americans rated China’s economy as the world’s strongest economy, even though today the U.S. economy is still 2 ½ times larger than the Chinese economy with only 1/6 of the population. Our crumbling roads and bridges reflect a crumbling self-confidence. Our education reformers often seem to despair that we can ever educate new generations effectively for the 21st century economy. Our health care system lags increasingly behind that of other developed nations – even behind British National Health in terms of the respective overall health of the British and American populations.

Against this backdrop, Captain Porter’s and Colonel Mykleby’s “Y article” could not come at a more propitious time. In 1947 George Kennan published “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym X, so as not to reveal his identity as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The X article gave us an intellectual framework within which to understand the rise and eventual fall of the Soviet Union and a strategy to hasten that objective. Based on that foundation, the strategic narrative of the Cold War was that the United States was the leader of the free world against the communist world; that we would invest in containing the Soviet Union and limiting its expansion while building a dynamic economy and as just, and prosperous a society as possible. We often departed from that narrative in practice, as George Kennan was one of the first to recognize. But it was a narrative that fit the facts of the world we perceived well enough to create and maintain a loose bipartisan national consensus for forty years. Porter and Mykleby give us a non-partisan blueprint for understanding and reacting to the changes of the 21st century world. In one sentence, the strategic narrative of the United States in the 21st century is that we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement.

At first reading, this sentence may not seem to mark much of a change. But look closer. The Y article narrative responds directly to five major transitions in the global system:

1) From control in a closed system to credible influence in an open system. The authors argue that Kennan’s strategy of containment was designed for a closed system, in which we assumed that we could control events through deterrence, defense, and dominance of the international system. The 21st century is an open system, in which unpredictable external events/phenomena are constantly disturbing and disrupting the system. In this world control is

impossible; the best we can do is to build credible influence – the ability to shape and guide global trends in the direction that serves our values and interests (prosperity and security) within an interdependent strategic ecosystem. In other words, the U.S. should stop trying to dominate and direct global events. The best we can do is to build our capital so that we can influence events as they arise.

2) From containment to sustainment. The move from control to credible influence as a fundamental strategic goal requires a shift from containment to sustainment (sustainability).

Instead of trying to contain others (the Soviet Union, terrorists, China, etc), we need to focus on sustaining ourselves in ways that build our strengths and underpin credible influence. That shift in turn means that the starting point for our strategy should be internal rather than external. The 2010 National Security Strategy did indeed focus on national renewal and global leadership, but this account makes an even stronger case for why we have to focus first and foremost on investing our resources domestically in those national resources that can be sustained, such as our youth and our natural resources (ranging from crops, livestock, and potable water to sources of energy and materials for industry). We can and must still engage internationally, of course, but only after a careful weighing of costs and benefits and with as many partners as possible. Credible influence also requires that we model the behavior we recommend for others, and that we pay close attention to the gap between our words and our deeds.

3) From deterrence and defense to civilian engagement and competition. Here in many ways is the hard nub of this narrative. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen has already said publicly that the U.S. deficit is our biggest national security threat. He and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have also given speeches and written articles calling for “demilitarizing American foreign policy” and investing more in the tools of civilian engagements – diplomacy and defense. As we modernize our military and cut spending the tools of 20th century warfare, we must also invest in a security complex that includes all domestic and foreign policy assets.

Our credibility also requires a willingness to compete with others. Instead of defeatism and protectionism, we must embrace competition as a way to make ourselves stronger and better (e.g. Ford today, now competing with Toyota on electric cars). A willingness to compete means a new narrative on trade and a new willingness to invest in the skills, education, energy sources, and

infrastructure necessary to make our products competitive.

4) From zero sum to positive sum global politics/economics. An interdependent world creates many converging interests and opportunities for positive-sum rather than zero-sum competition. The threats that come from interdependence (economic instability, global pandemics, global terrorist and criminal networks) also create common interests in countering those threats domestically and internationally. President Obama has often emphasized the

significance of moving toward positive sum politics. To take only one example, the rise of China as a major economic power has been overall very positive for the U.S. economy and the prosperity and stability of East Asia. The United States must be careful to guard our interests and those of our allies, but we miss great opportunities if we assume that the rise of some necessarily means the decline of others.

5) From national security to national prosperity and security. The piece closes with a call for a National Prosperity and Security Act to replace the National Security Act of 1947. The term “national security” only entered the foreign policy lexicon after 1947 to reflect the merger of defense and foreign affairs. Today our security lies as much or more in our prosperity as in our military capabilities. Our vocabulary, our institutions, and our assumptions must reflect that shift. “National security” has become a trump card, justifying military spending even as the domestic foundations of our national strength are crumbling. “National prosperity and security” reminds us where our true security begins. Foreign policy pundits have long called for an overhaul of NSC 68, the blueprint for the national security state that accompanied the grand strategy of containment. If we are truly to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in the

deeply interconnected world of the 21st century, then we need a new blueprint.

A narrative is a story. A national strategic narrative must be a story that all Americans can understand and identify within their own lives. America’s national story has always see-sawed between exceptionalism and universalism. We think that we are an exceptional nation, but a core part of that exceptionalism is a commitment to universal values – to the equality of all human beings not just within the borders of the United States, but around the world. We should thus embrace the rise of other nations when that rise is powered by expanded prosperity, opportunity, and dignity for their peoples. In such a world we do not need to see ourselves as the automatic

leader of any bloc of nations. We should be prepared instead to earn our influence through our ability to compete with other nations, the evident prosperity and well being of our people, and our ability to engage not just with states but with societies in all their richness and complexity. We do not want to be the sole superpower that billions of people around the world have learned to hate from fear of our military might. We seek instead to be the nation other nations listen to, rely on and emulate out of respect and admiration.

The Y article is the first step down that new path. It is written by two military men who have put their lives on the line in the defense of their country and who are non-partisan by profession and conviction. Their insights and ideas should spark a national conversation. All it takes is for politicians, pundits, journalists, business people, civic leaders, and engaged citizens across the country to read and respond.

The paper continues here.

These ideas are far too important to be narrowly debated by the beltway crowd. The authors have upped the ante, made a bet, and I for one am going to call. I am going to share this document with everyone I know. I am going to alert my representatives of its presence and my support of it, and I am going to find ways and means to disseminate this paper as widely as I can. I hope you will do the same.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Truth will save you bucks

Harold McGee was inducted into the James Beard hall of fame last night. For thirty years his book "On Food and Cooking" has been my go to guide when I wanted to know what was happening on the stove or in the oven. In addition to applying basic scientific understanding to the cooking process he is a great myth buster, and can save you a great deal of money if you heed his advice.

You will notice that I added his blog site to the roll on the right column of this page. I go there constantly.

One of his entries that I particularly appreciated was his discussion of the testing he did on cooking oils. When I could still watch the food channel I would cringe every time Mario would insist that you had to fry or saute in EVOO. It was clear what brand he was using and though I don't know that this was a product placement, it smelled of it. In any case the effect must have been to convince viewers that he knew what he was talking about, he was Mario. So McGee subjects a variety of cooking oils to the taster, smell, test as they are heated and concludes that his testers could not discern a difference between the oils he used. Something changes when you heat them and in fact olive oil scored poorly for taste when heated. Use olive oil for dressing and finishing food, not for cooking. There is more bad news re. olive oil. Most of the so-called EVOO isn't. This confirms an earlier test. In the course of the initial study Berio was consistently identified as an honest brand. Why pay more?

While on the subject of oil consider the idea that frying chicken at lower temps, 300 instead of 350 and up, is a preferred temp as it allows the interior moisture more time to dispel without burning the surface.
Here are some counter intuitive tips for deep frying.

The following article points up another frying practice that makes for better cooking:
"While European and Western cooks deep-fry with a single frying, the Chinese deep-fry in stages. After being marinated, foods are then deep-fried at a low temperature, maybe 290°F, and later finish-fried at a high temperature, 365°F to 385°F. This staged cooking increases crispness and color. Batters reduce surface moisture, and a dryer surface reduces initial boiling. In addition, batters add color, flavor, and texture to many deep-fat fried foods, with green tomatoes, eggplant, okra, and even ice cream being examples of foods that are battered before they are fried. A meunière is a thin, light breading, or flour dusting, often used on fish and popular in traditional French kitchens. But batters can also be thick, as in the case of double, triple, or breaded coatings used for fried fish and chicken." Mark F. Sohn enotes

David Chang changed many cooking practices for me. I had treated brining as a gimmick that never seemed to change the moisture content of turkey and so the concept was dismissed as ineffectual. Then Mr Chang suggested I brine my chicken wings in salt/sugar water for a few hours before I dried and deep fried them. You will taste the difference. The science is explained on this page from the Exploratorium in SF.
The contents of this page dispel another myth; searing meat retains its moisture. What happens when we heat meat in a pan is called the Maillard reaction. It is explained as the browning phenom that gives meat flavor as the heat caramelizes sugars on the meat's surface. You want this to happen but not because it retains moisture, it doesn't.

While we are on the subject of surface temperature lets dispel yet another myth; gas is a better heat source than electric. It might look cooler and the grates suggest real cooking is going on here but the fact is that gas is wasteful and in some cases unhealthy. Gas does not burn at 100 percent efficiency meaning that some noxious gases are released into the environment. It is no more accurate or controllable then an electric dial and the idea that it burns hotter is foolish as you don't want to use extreme high heat. High heat kills pans. I have praised the virtues of induction cooking and hope the price point drops as the stove tops and portables become more available.

Here is a truth that is so simple one wonders why anyone buys ersatz mayonnaise. Some will argue they can taste the difference between blender and hand whisked mayo. Harold, are you listening?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Gods must be crazy.

Back from NYC. Two weeks of rubbing shoulders with the band of others, stepping up to what's new for us on the culture beat. Airbnb works and it landed us in the upper west side, a block from Fishtag, a restaurant that has drawn a lot of controversy.
The disconnect between what the "highly educated" professional food critics had to say (uniformly poor), and the comments on yelp or chowhound (exalting praise), provoked me to visit the restaurant's web site. There, the menu appeared set up to promote the idea that wine pairing was essential. Forget that. I hold to my belief that most wine pairing is a fraud and I am not interested in boosting a restaurant's bottom line. However, the same menu set forth such interesting options that I couldn't resist the temptation to blow the big one here. My strategy, for a restaurant unknown and potentially expensive, is to start small and see where it goes from there. That means an early walk in, before the rush, and ordering an app or two and see what happens. If we like what we had, we press on to other dishes until we are sated. In this case, we were so impressed and well fed that we hurried back the next night to taste out more of the menu. I'll spare you the details. But I do want to say that a lifetime in some form or another of the food industry does prepare one to make an informed judgement. I "know" how hard it is to source an ingredient, suss out a flavor, and prepare a dish with care. Others with similar knowledge would hold opinions I would trust when making a decision about where to eat. If I were a restaurant reviewer I would inform my readers of my baseline tastes. There is a world of difference between someone who likes food rich and spicy, and one for whom a twist of pepper is sweat provoking. So if you know that I like my flavor deep and obvious and I write that I enjoyed the food, you can surmise the place delivered a rich dining experience.

What then to make of the critics who are paid to opine and seem so consistently to get it wrong. I am beginning to think that reviewers (as opposed to critics of whom there are far too few) are calling it in. Film, book, or restaurant reviews often contain such glaring errors that I wonder did they actually see, read, or eat the products they write of. In one review of Fishtag the writer described a dish I ate, as mussels, prepared and served in a disgusting lamb broth. The truth is the dish is served in a tomato base with a smookie dark pork flavor. Others criticized this same dish as a stretch, showing off by combining strange pairing, when in fact a fish/meat combo is as common as paella, All of this is to say that I think the pros' days are numbered. I trust and use the social media far more than any professional big name reviewer and I believe their papers will dump them sooner rather than later. Not a minute too soon for me.

We chased the pig around the city. After a visit to the Secret Garden in Central Park, Chuck, Mary, Carrie and I "dared" to walk the 20 blocks through east Harlem in search of the perfect pork torta. I had heard this sandwich might be made at Taco-Mix.

We had the name of the joint confused with the name of a sandwich and thus just trying to confirm we were where we wanted to be turned into a form of street opera. However the welcome was so warm and the food on display so appealing it didn't matter. It turned out we had the right place.

We snuggled in among the jammed locals, Chuck found a surface in the back and spread papers upon it, and we began the process of ordering, and getting help from others and staff in selecting what we might enjoy. It was a riot of food and smell, and seasoning, and cultural exchange. They got crazy white people pigging out, we got the best mex you can eat out of hand. No professional reviews. Here's what the yelpers have to say.

I saved ten thousand dollars this week by not flying to Japan to get a plate of Takoyaki, octopus dipped in batter and cooked in special cast iron trays made for the dish. Otafuku on ninth street does the job from this tiny slot, no tables, no pro reviews.

The Japanese American woman about to graduate NYU in econ was engaging as we waited our turns and she bemoaned the limits of a curriculum that denied her "no growth" models, or steady state economic options. We also agreed that this was a fantastic dish, she added, "as good as it gets in Japan".

The bomb exploded in Xi'an Famous Foods
I found that Bourdain and others have explored this place and the opinions are universal: It is fantastic. A new twist in seating arrangements is expressed in the form of a sign that signals that three nearby bars will accept you, food in hand, to sit and eat while having one of their drinks.

None of the above are coming to a storefront near you. But I think I know what will. Rice to Riches has the formula: A perfect comfort food, great profit margin, easily replicated graphics and style, and too cute by half. The place was packed. Which doesn't really tell you anything other than a lot of people like rice pudding. The myth of the truck driver somehow knows where to eat, or perusing a menu from the street is info that might tell you what to expect, are really false leads. Observing what people are eating in the sidewalk seats, or walking through a restaurant ostensibly to wash before dinner and seeing patrons plates is a far better strategy.

These are my opinions offered with the intention of sharing a process of how to improve your eating experience. The flaw in a system of user friendly opinions is that we are learning how easy it is to fake entries on social media to either create buzz or blow off a competitor. Opinion spam is becoming endemic but you can learn how to spot it. Finally, there is no substitute for face to face sharing.