Boyd, Trump and OODA Loops

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This very long article and this shorter one both talk about Donald Trump in light of the theories of fighter pilot/Air Force Colonel John Boyd, and specifically his idea about the OODA Loop.

OODA stands for:





Boyd says, whoever cycles through this loop faster wins the dogfight (or battle, orbusiness competition, or whatever).

It’s more complicated than that: see, for example, this version of Boyd’s own chart to describe his ideas:


For one thing, the goal isn’t just to get through your cycle faster.  It’s to screw up the other guy’s ability to get through his cycle.

In the longer version above about Trump, Dan McLaughlin makes the point that Trump, mainly via Twitter, is constantly messing with Bush and now Cruz’s abilities to observe, orient, decide and act.  Before they’ve even oriented he’s changing the whole landscape with some new outrageous thing like declaring he’s not gonna show up to the debate or whatever.

These guys, with their lumbering organizations of consultants and campaign managers, and their political limitations, just can’t orient, decide, or act with the speed and freedom Trump can.

Boyd is a fascinating dude.  I read once that he lived on basically a cot with no furniture because he decided the only ways to be truly free were either to be very wealthy or to have no material needs, and since he wasn’t gonna be wealthy he went full Spartan.

Seeing these articles convinced me it was finally time to pick up this book:


This book is fascinating, hats off to Robert Coram.  Let me tell you a bit about Boyd:

  • Boyd was considered the best fighter pilot of generation.  He could supposedly defeat anybody in forty seconds.  He was not humble about it either.
  • He had an insane appetite:


  • Although Boyd fought in the Korean War, he never shot down a MiG.  This was considered kind of a knock on him by other fighter pilots who had shot down MiGs.  But then again, everyone seems to agree Boyd was still the most badass or at least equally badass pilot around.
  • He proved this during his time at the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Vegas.  In Boyd’s heyday pilots looking to test their stuff would meet over “the green spot,” a rare patch of green in the Nevada desert, and practice dogfighting.  Corum says the green spot could easily be found by any pilot.  I went looking for a picture “green spot Nellis AFB” on Google, and in a development that would no doubt be distressing to Boyd found only medical marijuana stores.   Maybe it was something like this?:Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.05.12 PM
  • Boyd was not really one for going along with the chain of command:IMG_1740
  • Boyd did indeed believe in living in super Spartan fashion.  This was not always easy on his wife and five children, nor on his youngest son’s collection of dangerous spiders and snakes:IMG_1732
  • Boyd became obsessed with designing planes that would give the pilot the most possible options .  He spent huge amounts of his own time developing Energy Maneuverability charts for various airplanes.
  • He was infuriated and frustrated by the bureaucratic stupidities he discovered in the Air Force as he fought for what he believed to be superior airplane design.  Reading Coram’s book, you can’t help but agree with Boyd and get outraged right along with him.  For example, I did not have any idea that in the Vietnam War US planes were often found to be inferior to North Vietnamese planes: IMG_2108
  • Boyd also had strong opinions about pilot training:IMG_2107
  • There were a group of admirers/pupils/younger officers around Boyd called his Acolytes.  He would regularly call them at 2am and talk about Clausewitz and so on:IMG_1737 IMG_1739 IMG_1741
  • Sometimes Boyd could be weird: “When Boyd talked to someone at a party, he gave them 100 percet of his attention.  He did not look over the person’s shoulder to see who else was in the room.  But there were times at a party when Boyd might sit down and sleep for an hour or so.”
  • and:IMG_1746

Dick Cheney was impressed with Boyd, and says of him that Boyd “clearly was a factor in my thinking” about strategy in the first Gulf War.

On YouTube, you can see Boyd give the “Patterns Of Conflict” presentation that became famous in the military.  It’s hard to look at this and see this guy as the amazing badass he must’ve been.  Perhaps it was more compelling in person or the guy was no longer at the height of his presenting powers:

Maybe he just wasn’t made for YouTube.

There’s lots of bros obsessed with Boyd online, and he definitely seems like a real hero, a kind of American samurai.  All the Boyd acolytes talk about a speech Boyd would give about whether you want to “be somebody or do something”:


Something for all our candidates to think about!

Here’s another bit of advice for Trump’s opponents, especially:


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The Deaths Of Great Inventors

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In this NYRB wrapup on the movies about Steve Jobs, Sue Halpern gets to talking about public expressions of grief at Jobs’ death:

Yet if the making of popular consumer goods was driving this outpouring of grief, then why hadn’t it happened before? Why didn’t people sob in the streets when George Eastman or Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell died—especially since these men, unlike Steve Jobs, actually invented the cameras, electric lights, and telephones that became the ubiquitous and essential artifacts of modern life?

“Awww hell no!” I giddily squealed, aflame with the joy-fire of Internet Outrage.  I was good and hot because I knew I had this Sue Halpern in my crosshairs.  I’d just been reading, in Paul Johnson’s Birth Of The Modern, about the death of steamboat inventor Robert Fulton.

Birth of the modern

Says Johnson:

By then Fulton was dead, of a neglected cold which became pneumonia.  The day of his funeral, the legislature went into mourning, and the New York shops shut — they respected inventors in those days.



Johnson’s doing the reverse version of Sue Halpern: “they knew how to act in the old days” vs. “we’ve gotten so weird” but it’s the same conservative (right?) point: things used to be better, more appropriate, whatever.  It’s a point that I love getting mad about, because a quick inspection of the messy, insane past will usually prove it wrong.

“Ugh, Sue Halpern,” I thought, warm in smugness, “Don’t be such a presentist.  There’s nothing new under the sun, babe.  The style might be different, but they made a big show about the deaths of inventors (or maker/producer/facilitator whatever Jobs was) in the past, too.  Did you not know that at the conclusion of Alexander Graham Bell’s funeral they suspended phone service in all of North America in mourning?!  Did you not take two minutes to see if there’s footage on YouTube of people crowding the streets for Edison’s funeral?”

“Hell,” I thought, “when Edison died they preserved his last breath in a tube!”

Imagine my disappointment then when I got to work and discovered the NYRB had already dealt with this in a footnote:

When Bell died, every phone exchange in the United States was shut down for a moment of silence. When Edison died, President Hoover turned off the White House lights for a minute and encouraged others to do so as well.

Darn it, ruined a real satisfying chance for an “ACTUALLY.”  But I’m glad the whole thing happened because it got me reading about the death of George Eastman, founder of Kodak.  Here’s how he went out:

On March 14, 1932, Eastman invited some friends to witness a change of his will. After some joking and warm conversation, he asked them to leave so that he could write a note. Moments later, he shot himself once in the heart with an automatic pistol. The note found by the household staff read simply: “To my friends, My work is done–, Why wait?” When his casket was carried out of the Eastman House, the accompanying music was *Marche Romaine*.

That’s from this site related to the PBS American Experience about Eastman.  They go on:

If there is one thing that can be said about Eastman, it is that he was a rational man. Throughout his life, he sounded the same themes again and again — adventure, happiness and control, and the greatest of these was control. The early death of his father and his family’s subsequent poverty stamped him with an insatiable need for stability, which he found in bachelorhood and a financial empire and held close ever after. As far as he was concerned, there was no world beyond the one he could dominate. Even when he punctuated his labors with travel, his drive for order went with him in his compulsion to plan out every last detail of his itinerary. In this light, Eastman’s career can be seen as act of self-sacrifice. With one of his cameras in hand, it became possible to capture an instant of abandon, even happiness, and so we came to possess, as part of our human heritage, images of people smiling on adventures large and small. Of course, Eastman was often caught in camera in far-off locations as well, but in the end one fact is inescapable: one must look long and hard to find a picture of George Eastman smiling. In harnessing his impulses, he gave the world an experience that he never permitted himself.

Sure enough:


About Halpern’s original point tho: maybe there’s something to public expressions about Jobs’ death that have to do with what people use Apple products for: music, photos, videos, social media, personal expressions of themselves.

If we’re talking about the emotional meaning of Jobs, couldn’t we see him as the guy who did the most to take cold computers and turn them into facilitators of human connection and self-expression machines?  Isn’t that what all Apple ads end up being about, from the 1984 ad to the Think Different ones to this?:

In doing that, wasn’t Jobs not just a tech pioneer but a part of a social revolution?  Who more than Jobs made it as easy to be the star of your own movie and the spectator of everyone else’s?  Is that why we care about him?

And is caring about Jobs wildly exaggerated anyway except among Silicon Valley bros?  Nobody really saw the movie.

Great headline sent by our Rhode Island office

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New book coming in June!


You can pre-order it here on Amazon, and on 6/14/16 your postman or woman will deliver this nice present to you.

Or start gently nudging your friendly indie bookseller to order a pile!

It is 102 short chapters about everything interesting I could find, learn about, or experience between Los Angeles and Patagonia. Topics include:

I hope you enjoy it!

How about that rad cover designed by Anna Laytham?


Triggerfish selfie

via this blogpost, “25 Creepiest Creatures of Narragansett Bay,” ht Sis.

Why wear clothes?

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From this NYT obit of constitutional scholar Forest McDonald:

Interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-Span’s “Booknotes” in 1994, Dr. McDonald revealed that he typically wrote in longhand on a yellow legal pad and in the nude. (“We’ve got wonderful isolation,” he said, “and it’s warm most of the year in Alabama, and why wear clothes?”)


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Amazing letter from The Academy.  Imagine sending out an email in which you described your own organization’s action of slightly adjusting membership rules as “courageous.”