Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Can Not Believe People Do This For a Living

Disclaimer: If you find yourself lost while reading this post, please reference my last post to find out what a Marshall Brief is. Otherwise this will not be a pleasant experience for you.

I'm finding it harder and harder to believe there are people out there that make policies as a profession. Writing this Marshall Brief may be one of the most frustrating/terrifying/confusing/eye-opening things I've ever done. I feel obliged to give an immense amount of respect for whoever has the courage, and the divine patience, to take on the job.
My group got together this morning at a quarter to eight to discuss the fact that our project was compromised, and how cool it was that we thought of a legitimate American foreign policy plan. We decided quickly that we were going to salvage the mega-hours of research that we had already done by proposing a plan to simply switch our plan around in order to incorporate a GMO that will fix the vast malnourishment in India, in lieu of the shortage of food. Of course, as soon as we decided on this strategy, we found out that India already approved a plan to implement Golden Rice when it becomes commercially available in 2011.

After that it seemed every time we thought of a strategy we later came across a piece of information which would render our plan illegitimate. We repeated this process until it got to the point when we agreed that India was doing everything that we could possibly think up for replenishing its food supply. This left only one question for us, "Why are people still starving?!"

What happened next turned out to be a bit of an an eye-opening experience for me. We went to a boardroom in order to meet with our mentor for an hour to discuss what we had so far. In this meeting we confessed that everything we were thinking of was being done already. He simply said "I'll tell you what everyone is told at some point while writing a dissertation, 'Just write it.' You already know plenty about the subject, so make a plan and start writing." What he meant was that we were never going to learn everything about food deficits in India, especially in four days. He advised us to stop researching and come up with a solid plan based on the knowledge we had and that that was all we could do.

I realized that this lesson coincides with the message of a lecture that we heard the other day. The speaker told us about a friend of his that was pulled out of bed in the middle of the nigh to give a briefing at the white house on an issue of national security. This man did not have anymore than a 10 minute car ride to prepare the brief. While he was an expert in the general field he obviously could not have learned all of the facts about the situation in these ten minutes and must have been grossly uninformed while giving a brief that would affect the lives of thousands of people. The speaker went on to explain that this is common practice.

This revelation that even the people creating foreign policies which generally affect millions, if not billions, of lives don't always have all the facts, speaks volumes to me about the potential instability of our world. However, it also instills in me a sense of hope and pride in the natural composition of humanity as a whole. I figure that since the system which creates our policies doesn't protect us from human error, then it must be true that natural human skills are responsible for the fact that we haven't blown ourselves up yet. As sad as it seems, this fact is very encouraging to a growing intellectual, such as myself, who has just listened to a man talk at length about all of the countries that have the capability of blowing the world a couple times each.

I apologize for the lack of information in this post. I thought it might be interesting to take you inside my inner monologue for the day.

Hope all is well on the outside.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Matt,

    Here’s a suggestion for answering that question you asked about why the people of India are still starving: How much of India’s resources are spent developing a nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver their nuclear weapons to Pakistan that might otherwise be used to develop and feed their own people?

    Just a few days ago India launched their very first nuclear submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles. India has only one perennial enemy so it was no secret that they had spent billions of dollars on this weapons delivery system, on top of developing nuclear missiles on top of developing nuclear weapons—all the while their people have been starving and living in poverty.

    That story you referenced about uninformed briefers helping to set national policy sounds an awful lot like what we’ve seen out of the White House in recent years so it’s a pretty believable story.

    I have to disagree with your analysis about “natural human skills” helping to prevent us from blowing ourselves up yet. Take a look at many of the decisions made post 9/11 and tell me again that we’re in better shape than we were before. Congress authorized a war against Iraq based on unreliable data and a briefing made by people who didn’t know what they were talking about. Of course, they were pushed along by ideologues with their own agendas. The fact that we’re still here is almost a miracle but the future of the United States and the direction the world is heading in has been seriously compromised because of a rush to judgment and the use of policy briefers who were ill informed.

    Sometimes we set arbitrary timetables and we make decisions using those timetables. What we need to do as we approach our self-set deadlines is whether we have all of the information we need to proceed or whether we should adjust our timetable. THAT’s what makes a good leader, Matt. A good leader is someone who knows when to put on the brakes and wait until he’s sure.

  2. Matt,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas about public briefings. I don't know much about this kind of thing so it is quite interesting to hear what you are getting from all of your lectures! I'm looking forward to sitting in on another session on Monday.

    I wish you guys luck in finishing up your projects. I am sure you will do great and I hope to meetup with you after you've turned them in tomorrow if you have time. I know you guys have been completely swamped with work.

    Ms. Larson