Wednesday, December 31, 2003
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Merely the first post of 2004 (Eastern Standard Time)
Update 6/12/07: Welcome, Daily Dish readers! The Pynchon excerpt is here. Another Pynchon-related post here.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
THE USA TODAY ARTICLE
As you probably already know, USA Today has a front-page article on blogging today. I thought it was a pretty good article...
the focus seemed to be mainly on bloggers who are interested in what has sometimes been called the "inside baseball" view of politics--ie, the mechanics--who's winning, who's losing, what are the strategies and tactics. In pointing out that the influence of bloggers will probably be far greater than might be guessed simply from the numbers of their readers, the article gives as a reason that the blog audience "tends to be an elite crowd of political junkies."
I'm sure there are many political junkies among blog readers, but that's not the big story. To me, the big story is that there are large numbers of bloggers and blog readers who are actually interested in the underlying issues, not just in the political gamesmanship. There are many in the blogosphere who care passionately about terrorism/Iraq/economics/civil liberties, but who would quickly fall asleep over any discussion of (say) delegate counts for the primaries.
And that's one of the main things that distinguishes weblogs from the typical inside-the-beltway TV talk show--as well as from much newspaper coverage.
SECURITY OR ABUSE?
We want TSA screeners to be attentive, eagle-eyed, and hard-nosed. But there is a point at which security becomes simply an excuse for bullying.
Read the tale of a fish named Osama Fin Laden.
(hat tip: Kimberly Swygert)
BOOK REVIEW: The Logic of Failure
Dietrich Doerner.....Rating: 4 Stars
In any bookstore, you will find dozens or even hundreds of books devoted to "success." In this book, Dietrich Doerner works the other side of this street. He studies failure. Doerner, a professor of Psychology at the University of Bamberg (Germany) uses empirical methods to study human decision-making processes, with an emphasis on understanding the ways in which these processes can go wrong. His work should be read by anyone with a responsibility for making decisions, particularly complex and important decisions. (more)
Monday, December 29, 2003
Some Chinese companies are no longer content to be the manufacturer in the background behind someone else's products. They are acquiring recognizable brand names--either via licensing or by acquiring an American or European company--and taking on the responsibility for marketing and product design. (This from The Wall Street Journal, 12/26)
Techtronic Industries, located in Hong Kong, had been making Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners for Royal Appliance, even since that company stopped building them in Cleveland. When a major investor in Royal wanted to cash out, Techtronic made an offer and wound up buying the company. The Journal article mentions several other examples of similar transactions.
Psychologically speaking, from the standpoint of the management of a Chinese company, this kind of thing is probably difficult to resist. It can be frustrating to be the anonymous manufacturer of someone else's product--you will always be seeing things you think they could be doing better, whether it's the way the product is designed, or the way it's marketed. It's very tempting to integrate forward in the value chain and take it all on yourself.
But is it good business? In some cases, certainly. When things work out right, you can improve margins and build a more sustainable competitive position. But there are downsides and risks. Once you have your own brand in the U.S. market, companies with competing brands are unlikely to turn to you for outsourced manufacturing. And there are skills in end-user marketing and in product design that may be new to your company. You will also have increased exposure to certain risks, from market trends to transportation costs.
In general, this kind of forward integration seems to run contrary to the trend toward value-chain disaggregation (different companies doing different parts of the process) which has been ongoing for some time in many different industries.
It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out. And this points out once again that a common view on outsourced manufacturing ("let other countries do the repetitive stuff and we will focus on the creative aspects") may be more than a little naive.
DUMB COMPANY TRICKS
Irritating On-Line Ads
I do a lot of investing, in stocks, bonds, and other assets. For first-pass information gathering on stocks, and for ongoing updates, I like your site. It pulls together a lot of information in a convenient manner.
But the flashing ads that you have recently introduced simply drive me crazy. It's hard to concentrate on serious analysis with an ongoing carnival atmosphere on the page.
Keep it up, and I may have to look elsewhere. I expect that there are other serious investors who feel the same way.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
LETTING THE TROOPS DOWN--AGAIN
The Washington Post reports that Army Reserve units are being sent to Iraq without adequate armor protection for their vehicles. One reserve unit, the 428th Transportation Company (Jefferson City, Missouri) has taken matters into their own hands. A local business donated money to buy 13,000 pounds of steel plate, and another business donated the labor for the fabrication work.
However, the Army may or may not permit the soldiers to actually fasten the armor to the vehicles. Some of their reasons are stupid ("policy") and some of them are possibly valid (too much weight could damage the suspensions and cripple the vehicles.) But the real question, of course, is this: why hasn't the Army already provided and delivered a solution to the armor problem?
In every war, of course, there are shortages and deficiencies, and it is not realistic to expect instant perfection. I've read that early in WWII, some fighter pilots had to improvise their own armor by purchasing heavy frying pans and locating them strategically around the cockpit.
But in WWII, the U.S. seemed to move much more quickly in solving problems of this kind than we seem to be doing now. (See this post for another example of a current supply problem.) Have we a society become so enamoured of the universe of words--argument, litigation, analysis, theory--that we have lost some of our edge when it comes to actually making things happen? Let's hope not.
In any event, something has to be done to insure that problems such as this are addressed with an appropriate sense of urgency. As I've previously suggested: President Bush should establish a new position--Director of Industrial Mobilization--with a broad, cross-organizational scope of oversight and authority. The job: insure that we have the equipment and supplies that we need for the war on terrorism--whether it's X-ray equipment for baggage screening, explosive-sniffing dogs, armor for vehicles, or medical supplies for injured troops. There are any number of experienced and respected executives who would, if asked, serve in such a position--and who could make a significant difference.
(see also this post from a soldier serving in Iraq)
Friday, December 26, 2003
THE FOUNDATIONS OF BIGOTRY?
Read this Wall Street Journal editorial on Ford Foundation funding of dubious Palestinian (and other Arab) organizations. The editorial cites Edwin Black (a writer for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) as reporting that some of this funding went to those who transformed the UN conference at Durban into an anti-Semitic and anti-American hatefest. (Durban was so bad that Colin Powell ordered the American delegation to return home.)
To quote the editorial directly: Among the noisiest of these recipients was the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), which since 1997 has received $1.1 million from Ford. Mr. Black reports that LAW's officers assumed leadership positions on the Durban steering committees that were instrumental in making the thrust of that conference an international indictment of the state of Israel.
Or take PNGO--an umbrella group of 90 Palestinian NGOs that's also received more than $1 million from Ford. Its director is quoted as admitting that PNGO gets almost no Arab support and that Ford is its biggest funder. Yet this is the same group that denounced as "unacceptable" a U.S. government requirement that Palestinian NGOs partnering with tax-exempt American charities sign a pledge promising that no funds would ever find their way to "advocate or support terrorist activities."
Ford Foundation, of course, claims to abhor any anti-Semitism, and says the funding of such organizations represents only a fraction of what is really a broad Ford effort to build a moderate Palestinian civil society. But, according to the WSJ, the Jewish weekly Forward raised issues about Ford's funding policies back in 1999--"Nothing happened," says the Journal. "The difference today is a post-9/11 environment, where the combination of press exposure and Congressional pressure has made it harder for Ford to look the other way."
The editorial also raises a broader issue: Foundations are a growing part of U.S. life and are playing an ever larger role in political debate. Under current law they are also tax subsidized for eternity. Congress hasn't revisited that policy since 1981, and it's about time it did.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
A CHRISTMAS READING
I've always liked this passage from Thomas Pynchon's great novel Gravity's Rainbow, and thought I would pass it along (in highly excerpted form).
The setting: it is the grim winter of 1944, just before Christmas. The military situation in Europe is not good, and WWII seems as if it will never end. London is under attack by V-2 rockets and V-1 cruise missiles (as they would be called today.) Roger and Jessica, two of the main characters, are driving in a rural area in England and come upon a church where carols are being sung. They decide to go inside.
They walked through the tracks of all the others in the snow, she gravely on his arm, wind blowing her hair to snarls, heels slipping once on ice. "To hear the music," he explained.
Tonight's scratch choir was all male, epauletted shoulders visible under the wide necks of white robes, and many faces nearly as white with the exhaustion of soaked and muddy fields, midwatches, cables strummed by the nervous balloons sunfishing in the clouds, tents whose lights inside shone nuclear at twilight, soullike, through the cross-hatched walls, turning canvas to fine gauze, while the wind drummed there.....The children are away dreaming, but the Empire has no place for dreams and it's Adults Only in here tonight, here in this refuge with the lamps burning deep, in pre-Cambrian exhalation, savory as food cooking, heavy as soot. And 60 miles up the rockets hanging the measureless instant over the black North Sea before the fall, ever faster, to orange heat, Christmas star, in helpless plunge to Earth. Lower in the sky the flying bombs are out too, roaring like the Adversary, seeking whom they may devour. It's a long walk home tonight. Listen to this mock-angel singing, let your communion be at least in listening, even if they are not spokesmen for your exact hopes, your exact, darkest terror, listen. There must have been evensong here long before the news of Christ. Surely for as long as there have been nights bad as this one--something to raise the possibility of another night that could actually, with love and cockcrows, light the path home, banish the Adversary, destroy the boundaries between our lands, our bodies, our stories, all false, about who we are: for the one night, leaving only the clear way home and the memory of the infant you saw, almost too frail, there's too much shit in these streets, camels and other beasts stir heavily outside, each hoof a chance to wipe him out.......But on the way home tonight, you wish you'd picked him up, held him a bit. Just held him, very close to your heart, his cheek by the hollow of your shoulder, full of sleep. As if it were you who could, somehow, save him. For the moment not caring who you're supposed to be registered as. For the moment, anyway, no longer who the Caesars say you are.
O Jesu parvule
Nach dir is mir so weh...
So this pickup group, these exiles and horny kids, sullen civilians called up in their middle age.......give you this evensong, climaxing now with its rising fragment of some ancient scale, voices overlapping threee and fourfold, filling the entire hollow of the church--no counterfeit baby, no announcement of the Kingdom, not even a try at warming or lighting this terrible night, only, damn us, our scruffy obligatory little cry, our maximum reach outward--praise be to God!--for you to take back to your war-address, your war-identity, across the snow's footprints and tire tracks finally to the path you must create by yourself, alone in the dark. Whether you want it or not, whatever seas you have crossed, the way home...
THE GLOBAL COFFEE HOUSE
WHERE do you go when you want to know the latest business news, follow commodity prices, keep up with political gossip, find out what others think of a new book, or stay abreast of the latest scientific and technological developments? Today, the answer is obvious: you log on to the internet. Three centuries ago, the answer was just as easy: you went to a coffee-house. There, for the price of a cup of coffee, you could read the latest pamphlets, catch up on news and gossip, attend scientific lectures, strike business deals, or chat with like-minded people about literature or politics.
This quote from an article at Economist.com, comparing the role of the Internet with the coffee houses that sprang up in Europe starting around 1650. Well worth reading.
(Thanks to Glenn, who has also drawn the same analogy)
THIS SOUNDS INTERESTING
There's a new college textbook out called Inventing America (Pauline Maier, Merritt Smith, et al). Invention and Technology magazine calls it "the first general American history text to draw significantly on scholarship in the fields of science, technology, and invention."
The focus of the book, as its name suggests, is on innovation--not only technical innovation, but social and political innovation, and in the linkages among these types of change.
Co-author Maier says that she has successfully used material of this type in her own teaching. In one class, she assigned Charles Sorenson's book My Forty Years with Ford. (Sorenson was Ford's chief manufacturing executive at the River Rouge plant.) One student asked "what such an interesting book was doing in a boring old American history course." Maier replied that "what the book talked about was history," and the student "noticed that history isn't boring."
Maier also has this to say about the craft of the historian:
The moral challenge of the humanities, I was once told, is to develop the imagination to get out of ourselves and learn what it is or was be to be someone else, which includes someone else who lived in another time.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
CHRISTMAS PAST AND PRESENT
Christmas is just not what it once was. Something seems to be missing. So says the author of this little essay.
It was written in 1740.
(Many thanks to Invisible Adjunct.)
Monday, December 22, 2003
MORE SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
Frederick Turner, a professor at the University of Texas (Dallas), observes:
...perhaps we can take note of the very strange period through which we have just passed--a period in which it is if many among the old elites of the West seemed almost to be taking the side of the dictator (Saddam Hussein) against his people and against their liberator.
Indeed, it seems that those who are most vocal about their humanitarianism often seem to have a strange sympathy for terrorists and dictators. Those who are most strident in their calls for cultural relativism seem strangely enamoured of those whose approach to the world is totally absolutist.
Why is this phenomenon happening?
In his article, Turner offers a partial explanation in terms of two alternative foundations for law, which he calls what is good and what is right. The commonality between the American/European left on the one hand, and the radical Islamic fundamentalists on the other, he suggests, is this: although they may disagree as to the nature of "the good," they want "the good" to be something enforced by state power, rather than freely chosen by individuals.
There are many thought-provoking ideas in the article, which is well worth reading. I'm not convinced, however, that this formulation addresses the core of the (very real) phenomenon which it seeks to explain.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
UNLEASH THE DOGS OF PEACE
About a year ago, I mentioned a then-new organization called Pups for Peace. Their mission is to train a large number of explosive-sniffing dogs and send them to Israel.
I just noticed that PFP has a great website, well worth a visit. There are wonderful dog pictures, and there is a wealth of interesting information on the role of dogs in Jewish history and lore.
And there are heartbreaking pictures of the victims of terrorism--a reminder of the vital nature of the mission for which these dogs are being trained.
PFP would welcome any financial contributions.
Friday, December 19, 2003
BETTING ON MANUFACTURING
Jeff Gendell, a successful investment advisor and fund manager, is placing large bets on the manufacturing sector. "A lot of people think U.S. manufacturing is dead," he told a Barrons interviewer. "This is going to be the strongest recovery in the last 25 years--my entire investing career--and it is all going to be centralized in the industrial sector of the economy."
What's behind this rather contrarian outlook? It's about shipping rates. As I've previously noted, heavy demand from China has led to radical increases in ocean shipping rates, especially for bulk carriers. To ship a ton of iron ore from Brazil or Australia to China now costs more than the ore itself does. Gendell believes that this will make U.S. steel much more competitive with imported steel--he also says that steel scrap is now in relatively short supply, which will result in more demand from the large integrated steel producers. These same factors, he believes, will benefit companies which are relatively low on the steel value chain--"low-end casting and forging businesses."
Is he right? It seems likely that the shipping bottlenecks will moderate in a few years as new capacity is built. However, by this time there may also be enough time for other factors favoring domestic manufacturing to operate--such as higher wage rates in China and India, and possible changes in exchange rates--not to mention continued productivity increases in U.S. manufacturing.
There's also a larger point here. It takes a container ship about 15 days to transport goods from a Far East port to a U.S. west coast port (bulk carriers, of course, take longer for the same distance.) Compare this with the amount of time it takes to transport information over the same route--less than 100 milliseconds. The outsourcing of manufacturing will always be subject to certain limits based on the timing and cost of physical goods transportation--in certain service sectors, these limits are much less binding--because only information is being transported. It's quite possible that the "lost jobs" issues of the next 5 years will center much more around services than around manufacturing--and that many of the jobs lost will be those of highly-educated "symbolic analysts"--the very jobs that many experts, only a few years ago, were telling us were those that would be most secure over the long term.
(This post is general commentary and not investment advice. These are extremely complex topics, and you should do your own research and analysis before investing based on any of these considerations.)
(Barrons quote from 12/8 issue)
Thursday, December 18, 2003
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
Following the arrest of Saddam Hussein, the following comment was made by Renato Martino, the head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace department:
"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures."
Andrea Harris has some words of wisdom about the Cardinal's comments:
"..I can identify this ostentatious display of compassion on the part of Cardinal Martino and others: I believe it has to do with something the Christians call "pride." Remember that? "I'm better than you," these caretakers of Hussein's human dignity are saying. "I'm so full of love for humanity that I even refuse to feel anything but pity and sorrow for mass murderers! Beat that, Americans/Righties/Warmongers/Whatever!""
There is also some brilliant analysis by C S Lewis which relates closely to the Cardinal's behavior: excerpted at my earlier post here.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF MANNED FLIGHT
It's 100 years ago today, December 17, 1903, that Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew. President Bush honored the occasion with a nicely done speech. He probably particularly enjoyed saying the following:
The New York Times once confidently explained why all attempts at flight were doomed from the start. To build a flying machine, declared one editorial, would require "the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians from one million to ten million years." As it turned out, the feat was performed eight weeks after the editorial was written. (Applause.) And not only did the machine perform its function, that little wood and canvas aircraft had brought together all the essentials that still give flight to every modern aircraft -- from a single-prop plane to Air Force One.
BONHOEFFER AND IRAQ
Theologian and professor George Hunsinger compared his stand against the war in Iraq with Dietrich Bonhoeffer's stand against Nazi Germany, according to The Weekly Standard. Like Bonhoeffer, he declared, "I pray every day for the defeat of my country."
Well, there are a few little differences between the situations. The German army, for whose defeat Bonhoeffer prayed, was enabling the shipment of people to death camps--the U.S. Army, for whose defeat Hunsinger is praying, has stopped the shipment of people to death camps. And Bonhoeffer was hanged for his stand--Hunsinger has a prestigious (and doubtless well-paid) professorship at Princeton.
It should be noted that Bonhoeffer, unlike many members of the German resistance, was willing to use force against the Nazi regime--i.e., to have Hitler killed. (There were many individuals in the Christian and even the military resistance who, although they showed great individual courage in their stands against Naziism, were too concerned with their own moral purity to advocate such a killing. I have written about this previously: What would Dietrich Do?)
If Bonhoeffer indeed prayed for the defeat of his country, this implies that he was in effect also praying for the victory of the Allied forces--which also implies that his pacifism was not absolute. Is it not conceivable that if he were here today he might have been praying for the defeat of the power most closely resembling Nazi Germany--ie, Saddam's regime? I do not assert this as a conclusion, merely as a possibility.
In any event, it seems to me quite obscene for American professors, in their comfortable and secure positions, to compare themselves with noble and courageous figures like Bonhoeffer.
Here's also an interesting post in which a Christian, with strong pacifist leanings, wrestles with Iraq and with the example of Bonhoeffer.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
SADDAM AND EICHMANN
As options are being considered for the trial of Saddam Hussein, a writer in the Jerusalem Post thought it might be interesting to look at a historical precedent--the trial of Adolph Eichmann.
In 1960, this Nazi criminal was captured by Israeli agents (in Argentina), flown to Israel, tried, and executed. All of this is common knowledge. What is probably not common knowledge is the reaction of those who consider themselves to be experts on morality and on international affairs.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously – with US support – to condemn Israel for endangering international peace and security. The Washington Post said that the capture and planned prosecution of Eichmann were "tainted by lawlessness." Time Magazine accused Israel's leaders of "inverse racism," while The New York Times rejected the Israeli claims that Eichmann's role in the Nazi genocide justified Israel's intrusion into Argentina, on the grounds that "no immoral or illegal act justifies another."
On the religious front, the Catholic publication The Tablet said the Eichmann trial was a reminder "that there are still some influential people around who – like Shylock of old – demand their pound of flesh." And, lest you think that reactions like this came only from publications of traditionalist denominations, an article in the Unitarian Register compared "the Jew-pursuing Nazi and the Nazi-pursuing Jew."
We will doubtless see similar reactions to the trial of Saddam Hussein, very likely from many of the very same institutions.
(hat tip: LGF)
Saturday, December 13, 2003
AN INTERESTING PARALLEL
The Iraqi blogger who calls himself The Mesopotamian has been thinking about one of his favorite movies. It's the Japanese film The Seven Samurai, which was westernized (in two meanings of the word) as The Magnificent Seven.
He sees some parallels with the current situation in Iraq.
He also sees a difference:
here is a difference, though; our Samurais are no dying race but vibrant civilizations in the prime of their youth and height of their vigor; and our village is no obscure place but the birthplace of civilization. So take courage, friends, victory is assured, despite all the trials and tribulations. It is the will of God.
Friday, December 12, 2003
THE EDIFICE CLUE
Here's an unusual but intriguing approach to making investment decisions--specifically, deciding which companies in which not to invest. In Fortune (12/22), Donald Sull of Harvard Business School has this to say: "If I see a big, spanking-new headquarters, the stock's a sell. There's just too much shareholder cash sloshing around." He specifically cautions investors against companies possessing any of the following in their new headquarters: an architectural award for design, a waterfall in the lobby, or a heliport on the roof. When such things make their appearance, Sull believes, "Management is saying, 'We've declared victory, and now we're building a huge monument to our victory.' "
I'd register a partial caveat about the heliport on the roof--if the executives are doing a great deal of travelling, the heliport might be justifiable in practical terms, rather than as an image thing. Sull's overall point makes sense to me, though.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
A TRIPLE BETRAYAL
The mainstream media has done an inexcusably poor job in covering the counterterrorism demonstrations in Iraq. A network news program that I watched last night had time to talk at length about new Viagra-type drugs...and they had time to talk about ancient snarky comments made by Richard Nixon and directed at Ronald Reagan. Not exactly time-critical stuff. But not one word about the demonstrations.
This failure in reporting represents a triple betrayal by the media people involved.
1) First and foremost, it is a betrayal of the people of Iraq. Thousands of people demonstrated, often at great personal risk...and the media, by failing to cover this event properly, has substantially undercut the impact of their efforts.
2) Second, it is a betrayal of their readers/viewers, who are entitled to the full picture of what is going on--not just the negatives.
3) Third, it is in the long term a betrayal of their shareholders (and almost all of these media enterprises are public companies.) As it becomes more and more obvious that news from these organizations does not represent a serious attempt to be objective, their market share will suffer accordingly. Indeed, it appears that some of this has already happened to the network news programs.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
In the blogosphere and in the media, there have recently been many comments running basically as follows: "We're better off without all those manufacturing jobs, anyhow...let the boring assembly line jobs be done somewhere else, and let our people concentrate on high-value knowledge work."
I believe that comments like these reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of manufacturing.
It's true that in a typical manufacturing plant there are many jobs which are repetitive in nature and require fairly low skill levels. But there are also many other kinds of jobs--jobs requiring high levels of skill and education. When a manufacturing plant leaves, these jobs usually leave as well.
What are these jobs? Here's a sampling. First, there are the skilled crafts--tool-and-die makers, for instance. These are people who must have a good knowledge of materials and production processes, as well as the ability to do precision work. Then, on the white-collar side, there are the production control people, responsible for managing the flow of work through the plant on an ongoing basis. Often, there will be Operations Research specialists, typically with masters degrees or Ph.Ds, assisting in this process. There are systems designers and computer programmers, who develop and/or customize the production control software. There are industrial engineers who set up and optimize processes, and cost-accounting specialists who measure results. Finally, there are several levels of management, including the owner (in a small plant), the plant General Manager (in a larger company), and the Vice President of Manufacturing (in a multiplant organization).
And outside the company itself are the jobs of those who provide it with products and services. There are, for example, those who sell and service the production machinery (industrial robots, machine tools, etc)
Among these jobs, there is plenty of "knowledge work." It would be silly to argue that a computer programmer in a bank is a "knowledge worker" and a programmer in manufacturing is not. And, as manufacturing becomes more automated, the ratio of the knowledge-work jobs to the relatively unskilled "direct labor" jobs is increasing.
In an otherwise-good Business Week article on India (12/8), the following statement is made: "If India can turn into a fast-growth economy, it will be the first developing nation that used its brainpower, not natural resources or the raw muscle of factory labor, as a catalyst."
I admire what India is accomplishing. But this BW statement is ridiculous. The development of Japan, for example, was not based soley on "the raw muscle of factory labor." There was a very high intellectual content in the development of the Toyota Production System and the many other manufacturing innovations created by Japanese companies. Indeed, Japanese assembly-line workers--not just specialists--have made many contributions to the development and success of these techniques. If BW would look through their own archives from a few years ago, I bet they could even find some articles on these things.
Manufacturing is a smaller proportion of the U.S. economy than it used to be, but it remains a vast and critically-important industry. Those who write about it should make an effort to understand it more deeply.
The demonstrations in Baghdad went off as planned today; over ten thousand participants were estimated to be present. Here's an on-the-scene report.
UPDATE: Shanti has some good comments:
It is also really interesting to see the difference between the so-called anti-war protesters and the Iraqis marching against terrorism in Zeyad’s photos (he has three sets of pictures up on his site). Where as there is nothing but blood, hate and a freaky carnival atmosphere in the “peace” protests, the Iraqis as you can see are well-dressed and almost every face shines with hope and happiness. The people look repectable and they seem to be proud in whatever they are doing.
Again, I am reminded of the comments I made in this post about the thought processes of many of those "anti-war" protesters.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
ON A POSITIVE NOTE
Via Business Pundit comes this inspirational story about a small but growing American manufacturing company.
"Innovation" doesn't always mean "computers and software."
A VOICE FROM SPAIN
Pilar Rahola, a Catalan from Barcelona, is a leftist, a feminist, and a former member of the Spanish Parliament. She has given a thoughtful interview on the rise of Judeophobia is Europe, particularly among the left. Excerpt:
What I want is to launch an appeal to the collective European way of thinking, and especially to the intellectuals and journalists, because, from my point of view, they are in the process of creating a collective reality that is Judeophobic. Today one must prove oneself to be on the left ; it is necessary to be anti-Semitic to have credibility. Things have reached the point where, for instance, Sharon is always guilty of being guilty, while Arafat is seen as an honest figure, innocent, a tireless old resistance fighter, a heroic figure, a kind of Gandhi—in brief, a person gussied up in romantic finery, when in reality he is head of an oligarchy that has so much blood on its hands.
Definitely read the whole thing.
IRAQIS AT RISK
Yesterday, I wrote about the risks faced by Iraqis who speak out against terrorism, or who support American forces. Here is a chilling confirmation of just how real those risks are.
Chief Wiggles, stationed in Iraq, was recently told about 4 teenage girls who are in hiding. Their lives are being threatened because they have tried to help the Coalition in locating criminals/terrorists in their neighborhood. (Post at Dean's World.)
The Chief is looking for an organization to sponsor these young women, so that they can come to America before they it is too late.
If the U.S. withdraws from Iraq before stability is established, the possible fate of these girls will be multiplied manyfold. If you favor a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, you should ask yourself your conscience can justify the certain deaths of thousands of people like this. Because, however you dress it up, this is the consequence of what you are advocating. Maybe you have reasons that make you believe it would be worth it...but don't kid yourself that it wouldn't happen.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Three former media executives were convicted of genocide for their role in encouraging the murder of 800,000 people in Rwanda. Two of them were sentenced to life in prison, and the other to 35 years. Through radio broadcasts and magazine articles, they openly called for murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
But their guilt is shared by others, who should also be called to account.
General Romeo Dallaire, the UN peacekeeping force commander, pleaded for US assistance in neutralizing the broadcasts calling for genocide. This could have been done by jamming, or more directly by destroying the transmitters.
The Clinton administration turned the request down, based on a combination of reasons--mainly cost and "international legal conventions." (I'm sure those hacked to death with machetes were comforted to learn that the international legal conventions were being observed). There were also excuses about the difficulty of jamming in "mountainous terrain," which don't sound very convincing to me...in any event, if this was indeed an issue, it could have been overcome by simply destroying the transmitters (and there is no target easier to locate than an active radio transmitter.)
Most likely, business as usual was more important than saving lives.
The guilt of the US officials in this case is of a different level from that of those just convicted, and obviously, prison sentences are not called for. But Americans and others should draw the approrpriate conclusions those who stood by and, in the face of genocide, refused to take simple and common-sense measures to help prevent it.
(You can read more about General Dallaire and his efforts to save Rwanda here.)
INFORMATION AND TRANSPORTATION
Getloaded.com sounds like it might be a web site for heavy drinkers. It's not. It's kind of a computer dating service for trucks and freight.
A big issue in the trucking industry is the problem of "deadheading." You might have a cargo that needs to go from Atlanta to Denver in a particular timeframe: if you can't locate freight going the opposite direction during an appropriate time window, you may need to return empty. This is inefficient in terms of equipment utilization, driver time, and fuel. Various partial solutions to this problem have been developed over time; freight brokers, for example, play an important role in matching up the cargo and the trucks. Computer-based matching solutions have been developed in the (pre-Internet) past, but have had a hard time achieving enough critical mass to be really effective.
If Getloaded.com can succeed in a big way, it can be a real contribution to transportation efficiency..a great example of how bits can substitute for steel, diesel fuel, and man-hours.
COURAGE, REAL AND PHONY
Demonstrations against terrorism, led by children carrying flowers, have been held in Iraq. Aziz Al-Yassiri secretary of the Iraqi Democratic Trend described the daily attacks in Iraq as acts of terrorism and said that any attempt to legitimize or justify these acts as 'resistance' are ridiculous. "We organized this demonstration because the terrorists now kill a lot of people," he said. "They kill the children, kill women, kill the people, kill the police. They want to stop our plan for a democratic system."
The number of participants in these demonstrations was relatively small, evidently somewhere under 1000 (larger demonstrations are planned for the near future), and this has probably led many to underrate their significance. But consider the realities faced by Iraqis. If you are an Iraqi, you know that participating in such a demonstration could put you--and your family--at risk of being murdered by Baathist elements. You know, moreover, that if the U.S. abandons Iraq, you will be exposed to the full fury of a renascent Saddamite regime. And if you follow Western media, you know that such abandonment is desired by powerful elements in U.S. politics, media, and academia.
Thus, it requires tremendous courage for Iraqis to participate in these demonstrations. The fact that hundreds of them were willing to do so says a lot about their personal committment to the future of their country.
While these Iraqis are showing true courage, there are many "antiwar" activists in the U.S. and Europe who feel they are showing courage by demonstrating against the war. It's nonsense, of course. Peaceful demonstrators against the war are at no risk of being arrested/tortured/executed. Most of them are not even taking any risks of social disapproval. Among Hollywood luminaries, few are likely to condemn you for demonstrating against the war. Ditto among the denizens of the faculty lounge. So let's hear less self-congratulation about "courage" by those who haven't shown any, and more appreciation for those who are truly putting themselves at risk.
Larger demonstrations are planned for December 10. Here's a web site with banners you can used to show your support for these brave Iraqis, as well as a petition to sign.
Sunday, December 07, 2003
A NEW BLOG
Some people venture into space. Others explore the oceans, thousands of feet below the surface. Still others travel through jungles inhabited by wild beasts.
And here's someone who is attending grad school in English--even though he is a conservative.
You can read about his adventures here.
Sorry for the infrequent blogging...I've been out of town without much access to Internet.
Monday, December 01, 2003
MORE TRANSPORTATION BOTTLENECKS
I posted previously on the current shortages in ocean shipping capacity, particularly for bulk cargoes, and the consequent increases in transporation charges. Now a similar phenomenon is occurring in the rail sector. The Wall Street Journal (12/1) reports that growing grain exports from North America (largely a function of poor harvests in Europe and elsewhere), combined with traffic increases resulting from the overall economic recovery, are creating railroad bottlenecks and equipment shortages. One grain elevator has been waiting for a train that was originally supposed to arrive November 1. At another, 400,000 bushels of corn and soybeans have been dumped on the ground since the elevator is full. Affected railroads are increasing capital expenditures for cars and locomotives, and are also ramping up hiring, but these actions will likely take too long to have much impact on the immediate situation.
Rail freight rates are increasing due to basic supply-and-demand factors, and some buyers and sellers of grain have been forced to use truck transportation, a more-expensive solution, as an interim measure.