The simple things can trip you up

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 8/3/21

My brother, the great wit, posted a meme the other day that read “If we started burying the dead with their shoelaces tied together, we wouldn’t have to worry about a zombie apocalypse any …

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The simple things can trip you up


My brother, the great wit, posted a meme the other day that read “If we started burying the dead with their shoelaces tied together, we wouldn’t have to worry about a zombie apocalypse any more.”

Sure, that’s offered with tongue buried firmly in cheek, but … he’s not wrong. Have you ever seen a zombie bend down from the waist? Even in a Michael Jackson video? And zombies have famously bad fine motor skills.

This is one of those ideas that highlights the “linchpin” concept. The idea is that one small but crucial element of any system can bring the entire system to a halt if it breaks down.

The idea is nothing new — there are entire martial arts built around the concept. Hapkido and Aikido are sister arts which emphasize using joints (especially the wrist) to gain control of an opponent and inflict pain; Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a slightly more violent version of those which emphasizes joint holds, breaks and chokes to overwhelm an opponent.

A few weeks back I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “The Bomber Mafia.” In the first half of the book, he details how members of “the mafia” developed a plan for shutting down the entire Nazi war machine by taking out one factory. The BMW engine factory? No. A gun or artillery factory? Nope.

A ball bearing factory. Think about it for a moment. Can a single machine of any significance (airplane, tank, etc...) be made or be functional without ball bearings? But who would think of attacking something that, to a lay person, would have such minor psychological significance? Well, for one thing, the geniuses of the Bomber Mafia.

In reverse, that same strategy worked for the North Vietnamese and their allies to get the U.S. to leave Vietnam in the early 70s. They knew that America’s vulnerabilities were not military or strategic (intel, perhaps); rather, they understood that the way to victory was to sap the domestic American will to fight. The Tet Offensive was the linchpin event. The “conventional wisdom” remembers Tet as an American defeat, but in military and strategic terms, it was far from it. The North Vietnamese gained zero strategic objectives, captured zero significant cities or military objectives, and lost 7 soldiers for every U.S. and South Vietnamese soldier killed (that ratio is 10:1 if you only count American soldiers). But it was reported back in America as a show of strength from the North, and the domestic will to fight began to ebb.

I think about things like this because, well, I have too much time on my hands, apparently. But also because we have set ourselves up, it seems, as a target-rich environment for linchpin attacks. From the mundane: I went to Wendy’s the other day to get dinner for myself and dessert for the kids. Couldn’t do it. You know why? Because their “system” was down and nobody knows how to run a manual cash register any more. To the significant: Those of you who aren’t in the schools have no idea about this, but, literally, everything we do in the schools these days is done on Google, from attendance to textbooks to testing and grade books. If somebody were to shut down Google, the schools would be paralyzed.

Think about your own business: how much of your work flow and creative product goes to a cloud, or to a shared drive somewhere? If somebody hacked in and shut down your cloud, how would that work for your business? How many man-hours would be lost trying to recover from that?

But, then again, can we play this to our advantage? There is no real doubt or question that we are a horribly, dysfunctionally fractured nation right now. Is there a weak spot in the system that, were we to apply just the right amount of pressure, we could shut off the fringes and let a sane center emerge to get us back on track?

Worth thinking about.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Michael Alcorn, lynchpin


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