Search topics on this blog

Showing posts with label Donald Rumsfeld. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donald Rumsfeld. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Things we know we don’t know …

65 campaigning days left until the Scottish Parliamentary elections on May 5th. What will happen during those days?

Two quote are always trotted out about the unexpected in the public arena - a week is a long time in politics, and Harold Macmillan’s reply, when asked what was the most challenging thing for politicians - “Events, dear boy, events …

The following comment, by the awful Donald Rumsfeld, Defence Secretary in the equally appalling George W. Bush administration is often derided, and widely regarded as one of the dumbest quotes on record -

We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know."

But Rumsfeld, despite the fractured syntax, was actually attempting to articulate the perfectly valid concept of uncertainty in human affairs, as contrasted with risk. Risk is quantifiable, risk can be calculated - a figure can be put on it. But uncertainty cannot. We know it exists, but the best we can do is make some kind of arbitrary contingency plan for it, something set aside for the lightning strike that may never come.

(The likelihood is the Rumsfeld had attended a high-powered lecture that included an explanation of the uncertainty principle, and was regurgitating his flawed and primitive understanding of it. I remember the Managing Director of a company I worked for coming back from a week-long course in Management Centre Europe, which had blown a quarter of my training budget for the financial year, and replying to my question about what he had learned by saying “There was something about a window with four panes …” I eventually realised that he was talking about the Johari Window, a perceptual model that included uncertainty.)

This has been dramatically illustrated by the sudden uprising of the people in dictatorships throughout the Middle East over the last few weeks, triggered in Tunisia by the self-immolation of a market vendor, which caught a global mood, fed by Wikileaks and new media such as Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones.

The stunned reaction of the world’s diplomatic and intelligence services, caught with their collective pants round their ankles, and the spluttering indignation of professional political pundits everywhere, in denial over the fact the new media and the new ‘journalism’ exemplified by Wikileaks had left them looking like the ponderous, irrelevant commentators that they often are, was quite something to see and hear.

This was not quite the uncertainty principle  in action - some prescient and well-informed journalists had scented the wind of change - but it came close to being “Events, dear boy, events …

So what uncertainties, what unforeseen events will beset the Holyrood election campaign? Don’t be silly, dear boys - if I could predict them, they wouldn’t be uncertainties

But I will have a go at the risk factors, although I can’t quantify them -

The way in which the whole Megrahi/Gadaffi/Libya debacle plays with the electorate will be a factor.

How the relentless onslaught of  British Empire and monarchical nostalgia, from Downton Abbey, the new Upstairs, Downstairs through the King’s Speech to the Royal Wedding will affect the forelock-touching, flag-waving, cap-doffing voters is an open question. Right at this moment, someone is doubtless frantically trying to get something up and running on Dunkirk, a re-run of The Dam Busters, and any stiff-upper lip, all-pulling-together-against-the-Nazis quota quickies from the 1940s and ‘50s they can squeeze into the schedules. (A photographic exhibition of the Royal Children is already running.) But the SNP are committed to a constitutional monarchy after independence, to Elizabeth, Queen of Scots (carefully avoiding Elizabeth the I or the II question and giving pillar boxes a wide berth) and can pull a forelock and doff a cap with the best of them, so who knows?

Somewhere, a financial or sexual scandal - ideally both, from a  News International perspective - may be about to blow, and phone-tapping, bugging tabloid journalists will bite their thumbs in frustration at the constraints laid upon them by their own scandal.

A Glasgow land deal with a dodgy developer may be simmering away, relying on the compliant West of Scotland Labour Press to keep it under wraps until after the election.

A member of the Judiciary may be discovered in a lap dancing club, dressed in a top hat and fishnet tights, and again ideally, from a News International perspective, singing No Surrender or The Soldier’s Song.

A prominent person may inconveniently die, perhaps even a Royal.

Sir Sean Connery may suddenly and publicly endorse Iain Gray for First Minister - or renounce his knighthood.

Gail Sheridan may win the lottery (I hope she does …) and pump millions into George Galloway’s campaign (I hope she doesn’t …).

Stop it, Peter! You’re just being silly now - you’ve taken it too far …