Enumerating saddles

Nestled between the foreword and the introduction of this Andrew Natsios essay on counter-bureaucracy (it’s much more interesting than the tile suggests), is what I believe is the world’s first recorded instance of people in the field complaining about the bureaucratic demands from their colleagues at headquarters. I’m sure that today many field officers feel equally as burdened by reporting and short-term management constraints. The message is pitch-perfect.


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the
approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been
diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by
His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch
to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles,
and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s
Government holds me accountable.  I have dispatched reports on
the character, wit and spleen of every officer.  Each item and
every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable
exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains
unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there
has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of
raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm
in western Spain.  This reprehensible carelessness may be related
to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France,
a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request
elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so
that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over
these barren plains.  I construe that perforce it must be one of two
alternative duties, as given below.  I shall pursue either with the
best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for
the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or,
2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,


—Attributed to the Duke of Wellington, during the
Peninsular Campaign, in a message to the British
Foreign Office in London, 11 August 1812.1

I heart CGD and apologies

First, the apology: I should have been blogging a lot more last week from the Clinton Global Initiative, but it turned out to be pretty much impossible in light of many work related obligations. I will say, though, that I was really glad to be involved only from afar with the logistics of this event (unlike my NY based Clinton Foundation colleagues) – so much work goes into the organization of a high-level conference such as this one, I was tired just looking at the small army of Clintonites running around for 3 solid days.

It was a really great experience – even though I sometimes felt a little out of place, a little bit like a “fly on the wall”, as the majority of those present are incredibly accomplished individuals from all sectors – NGOs, governments (although not enough Western reps in my sense), private sector, international institutions. They all gather for 3 days around Bill Clinton (seriously – they gather around him), and make promises to change the world. It’s pretty incredible. This year, members made 250 commitments, valued at $8 billion, to impact 158 million lives.

Those are some serious numbers.

One of the most positive aspects of this conference is that it allows attendees to mingle during pretty fascinating working sessions (the one on poverty alleviation chaired by Madeleine Albright was great for instance). It allows for views and perspectives to be confronted in interesting ways. Then, the fact that throughout the 3 days, commitments are made by the prestigious attendees, really enhances the quality of the gathering. If anything, this conference encourages meaningful cooperation between sectors, and the search for common solutions to common problems prevails over particular interests (at least in the short run – I am not that idealistic…)

While not my field of predilection, I highly recommend to reading/watching/listening to some of the sessions on climate change, particularly this one, which features John McCain and Barack Obama, among others – and, because he was such a great speaker, Al Gore’s comments in the opening plenary.
Or just watch the whole thing here.

In related news, Nancy Birdsall, the president of CGD, delivered some sharp remarks at the UN, highlighting the painful truth of highly inefficient and non-transparent official development aid:

“How ironic that the United Nations carefully assesses and reports on the progress of developing countries against the MDGs, but has no measures or indicators and no periodic official reports on the progress of the rich countries against their commitments to those goals!

“At the moment the only concrete measure of rich country commitment is the proportion of GDP dedicated to aid. Yet the quality of aid is on average so poor—because it is tied, fragmented, uncoordinated and unaligned with developing country programs and budgets, and almost entirely input-based instead of outcome-oriented—that the quantity from any one donor is a poor measure of even that donor’s own real contribution. And of course aid itself is only one measure of a rich country’s overall commitment to development and the war on poverty.”

It makes me wonder whether a case could be made that international development (not humanitarian efforts, which are different), should be undertaken by non-governmental actors (in

the broad sense of the expression). I’m not the biggest free market advocate out there, but something should be said about how much more efficient private sector efforts are in bringing about positive systemic change in the developing world.

Some photos of CGI:

Mayor Bloomberg, Lance Armstrong, WJC

The Queen of Jordan, Ellennnnnnn!!!, the chairman of Coca-Cola, Bono and Al Gore.

H.W. Bush and WJC

A pretty crappy shot of Gordon Brown

Here is Bono, spreading the good word – apparently, he’s been doing it elsewhere too.