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PHOTON COURIER
 
Thursday, September 30, 2004  
COMMENTS ON THE DEBATE

Watching slightly delayed on TIVO. Kerry just said in the same statement that (a) the war in Iraq is unneccesary (quoting someone who said it makes about as much sense as if the U.S. had invaded Mexico as a response to Pearl Harbor), and (b) that he, Kerry, were he President, would get other allies to see what the stakes in Iraq are.

What stakes? He just said, a couple of sentences earlier, that the stakes didn't matter. Believing this, or at least having said it, how is he going to then turn around and convince Germany and France that they do matter?

How could anyone believe this sequence of statements makes even minimal logical sense?

UPDATE: Kerry just referred, again, to the incident during the Cuban missile crisis (during the Kennedy administration) when the U.S. ambassador offered to show satellite photos to Charles de Gaulle, and de Gaulle waved them aside, saying "the word of the President of the U.S. is good enough for me"...arguing that Bush would never get such a response from allies today.

Did he ever consider that maybe the explanation doesn't lie in the difference between Kennedy and Bush, but rather the difference between de Gaulle and Chirac?

UPDATE: Hard to imagine, but it sounds like Kerry just said we should supply nuclear fuel to Iran, and "check" to make sure that they were going to use it for peaceful purposes.

Right. That's what they want it for, since there's no oil in Iran. Unbelieveable...

UPDATE: Kerry said that he will secure the nuclear material in Russia in "four years." How can he possibly make such a committment? He doesn't run Russia. What precisely would he do? How would he cause it to happen? An assertion is not an argument. The man seems to think he has magical powers of some kind...demand allies and you get allies; say that you want nuclear materials in Russia secured and, somehow, secured they will be.

6:44 PM

 
SEPTEMBER 30, 1938

On this date in 1938, Neville Chamberlain returned to Britain bearing a peace agreement signed by Adolph Hitler. To a cheering crowd at the airport, Chamberlain announced: "I believe it is peace in our time."

(link via Betsy's Page)

See also Chamberlain's defense of the Munich Agreement in the House of Commons, here.

8:36 AM

Wednesday, September 29, 2004  
INTERESTING FIND

The complete text of the Tatler and the Spectator is now available on-line. These periodicals flourished briefly in the early 1700s: the Tatler from 1709 to 1711, and the Spectator from 1711 to 1714. The Tatler came out 3 times a week, and the Spectator was a daily. Steele and Addison were the primary driving forces behind these publications; Jonathan Swift also wrote for the Tatler.

These papers provided fodder for much discussion in the coffee houses of the time; indeed, in the Tatler, the subjects were grouped under the names of popular coffee houses: "All accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-house; Poetry, under that of Will's Coffee-house; Learning, under the title of Grecian; Foreign and Domestic News you will have from Saint James's Coffee-house; and what else I have to offer on any other subject shall be dated from my own apartment."

Great work by the Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities at Rutgers and by scholars from other universities who also participated in this effort. A plug-in is required to view the documents, but I found it easy to install, and it is very slick in operation.

So pour yourself a cup of coffee (or chocolate), and take yourself back in time, here.

7:57 PM

 
ANKLE BITERS

As most everyone knows by now, Steven Levy recently referred to bloggers as "..looking more and more like a nation of ankle-biters."

Clayton Christensen's carefully-researched work on business strategy seems to me to imply very strongly that: industries that think about emerging competition in these dismissive terms are likely to soon find themselves in very serious trouble.

I'm sure that big-steel executives, circa 1987, referred to their emerging mini-mill competitors using terms similar to "ankle biters."

My analysis of the ideas in Christensen's book, applied to the specific case of bloggers vs MSM, here.


4:52 PM

Tuesday, September 28, 2004  
IMPROVING FUEL ECONOMY

The Wall Street Journal (9/28, registration required) discusses a promising technology for improving the fuel economy of gasoline engines. It's called "homogenous-charge compression-ignition," or HCCI, and combines ideas from both the traditional gasoline engine and the diesel engine. The technology may be able to provide a 25-30% boost in the fuel economy of a gasoline engine, without the emissions problems of diesel or the high cost of hybrids.

The HCCI engine runs very lean: that is, with a high ratio of air to fuel. The fuel is premixed with air, as in a normal gasoline engine. Ignition, however, takes place without a spark plug--spontaneously, from compression heating, as in a diesel. The high proportion of air eliminates the destructive impact that such autoignition would have in a normal gas engine. And since the pressure is the same everywhere in the cylinder, autoignition takes place basically simultaneously throughout the air-fuel mixture, eliminating the problems of flame propagation in a normal spark engine.

There do exist problems with HCCI; it requires advanced control systems to make it run properly--and there are still problems with getting it to run well either at very low speeds or at very high speeds. But, based on the WSJ article, the industry seems confident that HCCI engines will indeed be commercially deliverable.

Interesting article here that includes a discussion of HCCI here; the main focus is on the use of computer modelling techniques for improving engine performance.

Note also that there is nothing to prevent HCCI techniques and hybrid techniques from being combined.


9:16 AM

 
READ THIS

Sarah, at Trying to Grok, visited a concentration camp. Here is her description of her feelings. A very short but very powerfully-written paragraph.

8:21 AM

 
CARNIVAL TIME!

Carnival of the Liberated is up at Dean's World. It's a collection of posts from Iraqi bloggers.

Carnival of the Capitalists, a collection of posts on business and economics, is at Crossroads Dispatches.

And Photon Courier is honored to have a post included in the Blog Mela, a collection of posts by Indian bloggers. (The post is the one about the WWII heroine Noor Inayat Khan).


8:07 AM

Monday, September 27, 2004  
KERRY'S DIPLOMATIC POWERS

John Kerry seems to have tremendous faith in his own diplomatic abilities. He seems to feel very confident, in particular, that he could persuade France and Germany to commit troops and other resources to Iraq--resources that they have been so far unwilling to even seriously consider.

Why would Chirac and Schroeder change their view of their national interests--and, more to the point, their own personal political interests--just because a different American President is in office? Kerry acts as if he thinks that international relations is an extension of junior high school--that the other clubs will like our club better if an acknowledged "really cool kid" is running our club. (And, obviously, he thinks of himself as the ultimate really cool kid.)

Here's what I think is going on here. I think that Kerry is, at his core, a snob...not just an ordinary snob such as one often meets, but an extreme snob, one whose whole being is defined by his sense of superiority and entitlement. I think his central political belief has nothing to do with any particular issue or set of issues...it is rather the belief that people like him have the right to govern (where "like him" is defined in terms of schools attended, mannerisms of speech, family connections, recreational preferences, etc etc) He sees himself as a member of a global ruling class, and sincerely believes that other members of this ruling class would be more receptive to a fellow member than to an "outsider"...which is what he sees George W Bush as being.


7:02 PM

Sunday, September 26, 2004  
JUST PLAIN SCARY

Speaking in Pueblo, Colorado, Teresa Heinz Kerry criticized the Bush administration for sending warning signals to Iran about developing nuclear weapons.

"There are about 50 countries in the world that have the capability to build nuclear weapons," she said. "Are we going to attack them all?" she said.

Capability and intent are, of course, different. Very likely, Finland could build nuclear weapons if they wanted to--but they probably prefer to continue focusing on cellular phones and forest products, instead. Whereas Iran has clearly signalled its intent to built nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in ways that are clear to anyone who is paying attention.

And even if a country does obtain nuclear weapons, it makes a difference--a real difference--what it intends to do with them. Again, the belligerent intent of Iran's rulers should be very clear to anyone with even minimal awareness of waht is going on. And these rulers have clearly demonstrated their utter brutality and their lack of respect for human life.

The rulers of Iran are people who hanged a 16-year-old girl for having sex and for making sassy comments to a judge. The idea of these people having nuclear weapons seems to me to be a lot scarier than the idea of the Finns--as an example--having such weapons.

Heinz Kerry's comments have not--as far as I can tell--been disclaimed by the Kerry campaign.

There is a lack of elementary prudence, judgment, and logic in Heinz Kerry's comments which is absolutely astounding. Treating all countries which have a certain technical capability as equivalent from a risk standpoint, just because they are "countries" and have that capability, is like treating a kitten and a tiger as being equivalent just because they are both "felines." If you dealt with cats on such a basis, your survival would be in serious doubt. And if we elect an administration that deals with international relations on such a basis, our survival may well be in serious doubt.

(thanks to Rose at No Credentials for surfacing this story, which should be getting a lot more attention)





5:35 PM

 
BOND MARKET TRANSPARENCY

Investors Business Daily (9/27 issue) reports news that should be of interest to bond investors and to those who have considered investing in bonds. On October 1, the National Association of Securities Dealers will expand the public version of its bond database to 17,000 bonds (from 4,500 today).

Bonds trade differently from stocks. While stocks are usually bought and sold with an explicit commission charge, for bonds a markup is embedded in the price. It can be difficult for an investor to understand how much markup he is paying; about all one can do is to call several brokers and get quotes from each. And, unless the bond is a heavily-traded one, it may be hard to find a broker who has the bond available. With the NASD database, it will be much easier to discover what the bond has recently been trading at. I would expect this to make the bond market seem a bit less mysterious to those individual investors who have shied away from it in the past.

The article also reports that Fidelity Investments has launched an online service that provides trading information for bonds. Fidelity has also established a commission-like fixed price schedule for bond transactions: fees are quoted per $1000 of bonds, and range from $1 for U.S. Treasuries (other than those purchased at auction, on which commissions are not charged) to $4 for corporates and $5 for mortgage-backed securities. (Certain exceptions seem to apply to these rates.)

Very interesting.

(As always, nothing in this weblog should be considered as an investment recommendation.)

9:21 AM

Saturday, September 25, 2004  
A SAGA OF HOT METAL

Commenting on my post referencing Clayton Christensen's ideas on business strategy, blogger Martin Lindeskog reminds me of a book I read several years ago. American Steel, by Richard Preston, is the story of Nucor Corporation and its project to install the first Compact Strip Production machine (in 1987) for the continuous casting of sheet steel ("compact" in this sense means only 1100 feet long and three stories high).

The author basically lived with the project while it was underway, spending a great deal of time with both executives and hourly workers. Few business books are as vivid.


3:08 PM

Friday, September 24, 2004  
DISRESPECTFUL AND DISGRACEFUL

Regardless of how you feel about the war in Iraq--surely it is clear that interim PM Awad Allawi has a difficult nad dangerous job. He puts his life on the line every day. And danger is nothing new to him--while living in exile in London, he was attacked by one of Saddam Hussein's goons with an ax, and spent a year in the hospital as a result.

After Allawi's recent speech, senior Kerry operative Joe Lockhart had this to say:

The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips.

Absolutely shameful.

(see Roger Simon's comments here)


6:06 PM

Thursday, September 23, 2004  
NO DISCUSSION, NO ALTERNATIVES

Suppose you are running a division for a car manufacturer. It's time to select the engine design for your forthcoming model. What should it be...gas, diesel, hybrid? Turbocharged or supercharged? Variable valve technology? Lots of stuff going on in engine technology; lots of choices to make.

Now comes the head of one of your engine design teams--a recently-hired guy you don't know very well--sketch in hand. It's his proposal for the new engine. "Only an idiot wouldn't like this," he says--there's no smile on his face, and he doesn't seem to be kidding. He goes on to say that any opponents of this engine design will be jeopardizing their careers.

How do you react? The reaction of most people, I believe, would be to wonder if the guy isn't some kind of crackpot. Because, of course, there are lots of ways to build an engine, and to say "only an idiot wouldn't like this"--with the impliction that there should be no further discussion of what engine to manufacture--shows a poor sense of the realities of the situation coupled with an overweeing sense of arrogance.

A couple of weeks ago, Teresa Heinz Kerry, in speaking of her husband's health care plan, said "only an idiot wouldn't like this." (link here)

The design of a national health care plan is, of course, far more complex and subtle than the design of a car engine. There are lots of alternatives, lots of interactions, lots of values at stake. And human behavior on a large scale is more difficult to understand and predict even than the gas dynamics inside a cylinder. So if it would be arrogant to make the "only an idiot" remark about something as relatively tangible as a design for an engine...how much more arrogant to make such a remark about a proposal for a health care system?

Again, is this what they call "nuance?"


7:20 PM

 
TOLERATING TERRORISM

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Palestinian attack--way back in 1974--on a school in Israel, in which 21 children were killed.

In today's WSJ "letters" section, someone makes this point:

Just five months after the attack, in which 21 Israeli schoolchildren died, the world rewarded the PLO with a seat at the United Nations. On nov 13, 1974, Yasir Arafat marked the six-month anniversary of the Ma'alot massacre by addressing the General Assembly for the first time, memorably for a presumed world leader, with a pistol in his belt.

For three decades now, many people have justified and glamorized Palestinian terrorism. We are now seeing the consequences, in acts of brutality throughout the entire world.


2:56 PM

Wednesday, September 22, 2004  
JOHN EDWARDS ON IRAQ

In a speech on Monday night, John Edwards said the this:

...the truth of it is, the truth is -- that Iraq is a mess. Right?

And it's a mess because of the failures of George Bush and Dick Cheney. It is that simple.


It's that simple...really?

So, in Edwards' view, the problems in Iraq seem to be entirely the fault of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Not of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist supporters. Not of those members of the "international community" who supported the Baathist regime as long as it was convenient and profitable. Not of those who for years have legitimized and even glamorized terrorism through their support of attacks on Israeli civilians.

It's simple-it's all Bush and Cheney's fault.

Is this what Democrats mean when they talk about "nuance?"




7:33 PM

Tuesday, September 21, 2004  
GOON SQUAD, AGAIN

19-year-old Foster Barton was seriously injured in Iraq--he almost lost a leg--when the Humvee he was riding in ran over a landmine. Back in the U.S., he was injured again, this time in Columbus, Ohio. The local NBC affiliate reports that he was attacked by a man who was screaming profanities and making "crude remarks" about U.S. soldiers. (Barton was wearing an Iraqi Freedom t-shirt).

"I don't remember getting hit at all, really," said Barton. "He hit me in the back of the head. I fell and hit the ground. I was knocked unconscious and he continued to punch and kick me on the ground." Barton was injured badly enough that he will be unable to return to Iraq as scheduled.

See also: Goon Squad (1), Goon Squad (2), Peace and Love (1), and Peace and Love (2); also, Be Afraid--the rise of political violence and intimidation in America.


7:54 PM

 
WORTH PONDERING

The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

From Silas Marner, by George Eliot
Quoted by veteran money manager David Richard in Barron's (9/20)

Previous Worth Pondering


8:48 AM

Sunday, September 19, 2004  
BLOGS, MEDIA, AND BUSINESS STRATEGY

A while back, I reviewed The Innovator's Solution, by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor--in my view, one of the most important of the recent business books. I think that the concepts developed in this book also illuminate some of the current dynamics between blogs and mainstream media.

The authors argue that disruptive innovations--those destined to change the structure of an industry--tend to attack from below. They usually first appear in a form that is in some ways inferior to the existing dominant technologies, and hence are unlikely to get the attention or respect of industry incumbents. They provide examples in industries ranging from steel to semiconductors. In steel, for instance, the challenger technology was "mini-mills" using electric arc furnaces to melt scrap. At first, the steel produced in these mills wasn't as good as the steel produced with the incumbent technology, the gigantic integrated steel plants, so they focused on an unglamorous and relatively low-margin market: reinforcing bar (rebar). Big-steel executives could afford to disregard the mini-mills and to focus on higher-end business.

I would bet that the comments made by some big-steel execs about their mini-mill counterparts were quite similar in tone to the comment recently made by a CBS exec about bloggers in their pajamas. After all, they (the big steel guys) had the vast facilities, stretching out for miles. They had the globally-recognized brand names. They had the big cash balances and large market capitalizations.

But the mini-mill people steadily improved their processes and their products, until came the day when they could compete and win against the integrated steel firms across a wide range of products. Things became very ugly indeed for the integrated steel companies, their employees, and the communities that had relied upon them.

This kind of thing happens all the time. Manufacturers of mainframe computers--and their corporate IT customers--tended to discount the personal computer, which was initially a toy for hobbyists. Most incumbent telephone companies did not intitially perceive the Internet as a threat. And so on.

Things in their early stages usually just don't seem as impressive as things in their later stages. Look at a military airplane from 1925 or so, and a battleship from the same time period. Which looks more confidence-inspiring? But only 15 years later, the airplane would change the entire dynamic of naval combat.

Internet media, of which blogs are a subset, don't seem as impressive as mainstream television. They have technical limitations: full-motion video is still pretty restricted for most users. They don't have comparable audiences or advertising rates. The brand names, even for corporate Internet media, aren't as well-known as those for conventional media. And, in the case of bloggers, we've talking about single individuals as compared with the large staffs of the MSM.

So, it's natural that MSM people would tend to underemphasize the importance of Internet media, and especially of blogs. Natural, but very dangerous, from their point of view.

The MSM--particularly newspaper and traditional (noncable) network TV--are already facing very challenging times, purely as a result of technological and demographic change. I would think that the last thing a responsible MSM executive would want to do is to further multiply these problems by letting political bias (and outsized egos) play an excessive role.


9:38 AM

 
CARNIVAL OF THE LIBERATED

Carnival of the Liberated is up at Dean's World. It's a collection of posts from Iraqi bloggers, including The Mesopotamian, IraqTheModel, Riverbend, Hammorabi, and (new blogger) Neurotic Iraqi Wife. Check it out!


9:17 AM

Saturday, September 18, 2004  
WORTH PONDERING

Lead and Gold passes along this interesting passage from Chesterton:

The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing that is really narrow is the clique....The men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment like that which exists in hell,

...and, having pondered: I think that Chesterton's words represent an important truth, but by no means the whole truth. It is true that much is lost in modern society to the extent that people only associate with others like them. But it is also true that much is lost in traditional societies to the extent that people are denied the opportunity to seek out others of similar interests. And also, in traditional societies, the "fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences" of which Chesterton writes are often to a large extent mediated by standardized and ritualistic behavior.

I'd really like to hear other thoughts on this.

Previous Worth Pondering

7:14 AM

 
GOON SQUAD, CONTINUED

A couple of items down, I posted about a Kerry supporter who grabbed and destroyed a sign being held by a Bush supporter. Here's another incident, as reported by Gainesville.com:

In Gainesville, FL, an instructor at a community college entered the local Republican headquarters and punched the face of a George Bush cutout. When the Republican chairman came out to object, the man "proceeded to say how he had a Ph.D., and he was smarter than me. I'm a stupid Republican," and other comments laced with obscenities. The Republican said he was hit and knocked into a wall. His lips were cut and his nose injured. He then fought back, and just then the police came up.

It's interesting to note that the behavior of the instructor in this incident was substantially more violent than the behavior of the union boilermaker in the previous (West Virginia) incident. (It should also be noticed that the boilermakers union has issued an appropriate apology for the behavior of its member in the WV incident.)

CORRECTION: The person who tore the sign in the WV incident was a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, not the boilermakers, and it was the IUPAT that issued the apology referred to above. It's a very clear, no-bull statement, and one that CBS executives would do well to study.

6:57 AM

Friday, September 17, 2004  
NEW LINKS

I've added a few new blogs to the list, namely: Lead and Gold, Damian Penny, Annika's Journal, and Little Miss Attila. All well worth checking out.

2:57 PM

Thursday, September 16, 2004  
GOON SQUAD

Yahoo News links sometimes tend to be short-lived, so I'll quote this news item in full:

Three-year-old Sophia Parlock cries while seated on the shoulders of her father, Phil Parlock, after having their Bush-Cheney sign torn up by Kerry-Edwards supporters on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2004, at the Tri-State Airport in Huntington, W.Va. Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards made a brief stop at the airport as he concluded his two-day bus tour to locations in West Virginia and Ohio.

Link here, at least for now.

I'm very concerned about the normalization of political violence in America. Earlier comments here.


6:43 PM

 
I ADMIRE THIS MAN

Legend has it that Galileo, after being forced by the Inquisition to recant his conclusion that the earth moves around the sun, whispered under his breath:

"But it does move." (Eppur si muove)

This kind of concern for truth is all too rare these days--on the part of intellectuals, of journalists, and sometimes even scientists. Too often, people are not concerned with the truth value of a statement, but only the extent to which the statement supports/fails to support their political beliefs and interests.

Some people, though, still do care about truth. Joseph M Newcomer is clearly among them. Newcomer, an expert in typography and in software, is the creator of this exhaustive analysis of the CBS memos, in which he concludes that the documents are definitely fraudulent.

And Newcomer is not motivated by partisanship, for he has stated: "I do not like George Bush." In the analysis linked above, he said "I am not a fan of George Bush. But I am even less a fan of attempts to commit fraud, and particularly by a complete and utter failure of those we entrust to ensure that if the news is at least accurate. I know it is asking far too much to expect the news to be unbiased. But the people involved should not actually lie to us, or promulgate lies created by hoaxers, through their own incompetence."

Newcomer has issued a new statement, here, which is well worth reading.


9:28 AM

Wednesday, September 15, 2004  
THE CBS MEMOS

Why have they done it this way?

When credible doubts were raised about the authenticity of the memos, it seemed obvious to me what CBS needed to do: Present the evidence, on both sides. Interview experts who believed the memos were fraudulent, as well as people who believed they were authentic. Interview Killian's wife and son, as well as his secretary.

After all, these people are supposed to be investigative reporters. So, why didn't they deal with the situation by investigating?

But, given the way they've chosen to handle it, they're reached the point where now--even if the memos by some improbable chance should prove to be authentic--it will be a long time, if ever, before I trust a CBS news story. Clearly many other people feel the same way.

It's not as if there was no one at CBS who understands the business value of a reputation for objectivity. Here's a quote from Andrew Heyward, President of CBS News:

"We have to accept that there is a broad array of news, pseudo-news, ersatz news, metanews," he added. "And one of our roles over time is going to be to sort through all those things and actually say, ‘What are the facts?’ I can actually see a more powerful role for network news growing out of this cacophony of different sources where we say, ‘You know what? If you knew that when you came to CBS you would absolutely get something that we could verify and prove and present with backup and credibly say that we have no agenda whatsoever,’ that would actually be — not to sound crass about it — not only valuable to the public but very marketable."

So, why did CBS respond to the challenge of the documents in a way that positioned them (CBS) as participants in the issue, rather than as objective journalists reporting about it? (Of course, they are automatically participants to some extent in view of the fact that they accepted the memos initially, but it would seem that this factor would have been minimized if they had been willing to quickly and objectively consider possible issues with the documents, rather than reflectively acting as advocates for their authenticity.)

My initial opinion was that there were probably two major reasons: political bias on the one hand, and individual and organizational egos on the other. As a guess, I would have estimated the weights of these factors at 60/40 or so. (And one should never underestimate the role of ego in organizational decision-making. A consultant--a guy who specialized in working with corporations that were in serious trouble--once told me that: in every case he had seen where a company actually went under, the root cause was management ego.)

In the light of recent developments, however, there is another possible explanation for CBS's stance. Document examiner Emily Will, speaking with ABC News about one document that CBS had her hired to examine, said: "I found five significant differences in the questioned handwriting, and I found problems with the printing itself as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter," and went on to say that she sent the CBS producer an e-mail message about her concerns and strongly urged the network the night before the broadcast not to use the documents. "I told them that all the questions I was asking them on Tuesday night, they were going to be asked by hundreds of other document examiners on Thursday if they ran that story," Will said.

If her statment is accurate (which CBS seems to be challenging), then it would seem that CBS clearly failed very seriously in its responsibilities to evaluate the validity of the documents before putting them on the air. If that were indeed the case, it might help explain why CBS was not eager to shift to a mode of public investigation of document validity.

And yes, this all matters. It matters very much. If the memos are forged, then there has been a malevolent attempt to tamper with a Presidential election. The idea that we should focus on the "content" of the memos, rather than their authenticity, is spurious. Would anyone say that, if the police created a forged confession for a person they believed to be guilty, that we should ignore the forgery and concentrate on the content of the confession? The forgery would be criminal malfeasance, irrespective of whether the accused individual was actually innocent or guilty. And, obviously, if the confession were forged, its "contents" would have no truth value in determining guilt or innocence.

CBS needs to join in an open and public effort to establish the authenticity or fraudulence of the documents, and to do it quickly. Such an effort should exclude personnel who have been unable or unwilling to perform in an objective manner. If the documents turn out to be fraudulent, CBS must clearly withdraw them, in a manner that does not attempt to further cloud the issue. Then, to the extent that they have other evidence--independent of GWB's National Guard service--let them present it...but, again, with an opportunity for refutation rather than as one-sided advocacy.

7:16 PM

Tuesday, September 14, 2004  
CORRECTION

The "more" link in my post on Noor Inayat Khan (a few posts down) was wrong, and has now been corrected.


7:53 AM

Monday, September 13, 2004  
COTC

This week's Carnival of the Capitalists is up here. It's a collection of posts on business and economics.

5:48 PM

Sunday, September 12, 2004  
DECISION-MAKING IN ORGANIZATIONS

When a decision is made in an organizational context (as opposed to a decision by an entirely autonomous individual), additional layers of complexity and emotion come into play. The person who must make the decision is often not the person who has the information/expertise on which the decision must be based. Indeed, the information and expertise are often distributed across multiple individuals. These individuals may have their own objectives motivations, which may differ from the objectives and motivations of the formal decision-maker, and which may conflict with each other. And the making of the decision may alter power relationships within the organization, as well as influencing the phenomena about which the decision is ostensibly being made.

The above factors are illustrated with crystalline clarity in the story of a seemingly very simple decision, which had to be made onboard a U.S. Navy destroyer sometime during the 1950s.

Don Sheppard was the newly-appointed Engineering Officer of the USS Henshaw, with responsibility for its 60,000-horsepower turbine plant. But his knowledge of propulsion equipment came entirely from study at the navy's Engineering Officer School. Reporting to Sheppard was the "Chief," an enlisted man with no theoretical training but with twenty years of experience in the practical operation of naval power plants. When Sheppard assumed his new duties, the Chief's greeting "bordered on rudeness." He clearly believed that engineering officers might come and go, but that he, the Chief, was the one who really ran things, who was the "Prince of the Plant." (more)


10:09 AM

 
COULD THIS BE FOR REAL?

"I am no great genius man, no man with letters after his name,” Somender Singh says, “and what I have invented is really very simple."

What Singh has invented is an improvement to the internal combusion engine, which he believes can make it up to 20% more fuel-efficient...while at the same time improving its low-end torque characteristics, thereby simplifying transmission design and perhaps in some cases even eliminating the need for a transmission.

Singh is not employed by a corporate, university, or government research lab; he is an independent mechanic with a love for rock-n-roll and for motorcycle racing, working out of a small shop in Mysore. His idea is simply to cut a series of grooves in the cylinder head--which he believes increases the turbulence within the cylinder and thereby improves the combustion process (specifically, by propagating the flame front from the spark plug to the edges of the cylinder). His tests have demonstrated considerable improvement in fuel efficiency, and the engines also run cooler and quieter. Low-end torque? "...he was able to keep his car in fourth gear at 500 rpms without sputtering or pinging, even while navigating the local congestion of bullock carts, rickshaws, bikes and cars. His engine ran so slow that it nearly didn’t need the gearing of a transmission..."

Singh has not been able to afford proper testing equipment, and has had little success in interesting manufacturers or government agencies in his idea--until very recently, when Tata Motors has expressed an interest.

Can this engine improvement really be as good as it sounds? It seems unlikely, when you consider how many companies have a huge stake in improving IC engine performance. Surely, one would think, there are people in these organizations who unerstand combustion and turbulence well enough to have already thought of this, if it's really such a good idea.

But, of course, almost every great invention looks simple, once it's been thought of.

I found a discussion of this topic on a message board for performance-car enthusiasts (can we still call them hot-rodders?) and the common view seemed to be that the grooves might indeed help with older engine designs--but that with newer designs, the cylinder geometry had been improved to the point where it is already doing, in effect, what the grooves would do. But several people were interested enough that they were going to go get their Dremel tools and try it for themselves.

Overall, it seems to me that the odds are against Mr Singh, at least as far as something that could be applied to improve efficiency across the entire range of automotive engines. (But even if it doesn't turn out to help the latest engines from Toyota or GM, perhaps the invention could still be useful in creating low-end cars with no transmissions or minimal transmissions.)

But on the other hand....wouldn't it be great if he turns out to be right?

8:51 AM

Saturday, September 11, 2004  
A DIFFERENT SEPTEMBER 11 ANNIVERSARY
The Heroism of Noor Inayat Khan

60 years ago today, a woman named Noor Inayat Khat was executed at the Dachau concentration camp. The name is not something one would expect among a roster of concentration camp inmates in 1944. She was not Jewish, nor indeed European. Although she had been in France at the time of the German invasion of 1940, she had escaped with her family to England, and could have remained there safely for the duration of the war. Why was she in Dachau?

Her story is one that deserves to be better known. (more)


8:05 AM

Thursday, September 09, 2004  
THE REACTIONARY LEFT

David Gelernter is a writer, painter, and professor of computer science. Here's a worthwhile article in which (among other things) he observes that much of today's Left is in fact reactionary in their instincts--reactionary in the sense that reactionaries recoil from new ideas and try to suppress and defeat them.

Definitely worth reading.

7:40 PM

Wednesday, September 08, 2004  
NOT THE FIRST TIME

On May 15, 1974, Palestinian terrorists broke into a high school in Maalot (Israel). They immediately killed a security guard and some of the children, and the remainder of the children and teachers were held hostage.

During the Israeli military operation to retake the building, the terrorists killed 21 children, using firearms and explosives. (link here.)

This atrocity--and many others--did not prevent Palestinian terrorists from being excused, and even romanticized, by large numbers of American and European "progressives."

3:13 PM

Tuesday, September 07, 2004  
RATIONAL CRUELTY?

Writing in the Guardian, Isabel Hilton has this to say about Beslan:

Beslan is an extreme example of what is rightly seen as a depraved military tactic. But the equally unpalatable truth is that hostage taking is also a rational tactic in the desperate context of asymmetrical warfare. Despite the likelihood of a bloody end to most hostage situations, they are likely to grow more, rather than less, frequent.

and

Today's hostage-taking, though, from Iraq to Ossetia, is more savage, born of the spread of asymmetrical warfare that pits small, weak and irregular forces against powerful military machines. No insurgent lives long if he fights such overwhelming force directly. His tactical success has always been in surprise and in picking his target. If insurgent bullets cannot penetrate military armour, it makes little sense to shoot in that direction. Soft targets - the unprotected, the innocent, the uninvolved - become targets because they are available.

Mark Steyn calls Hilton's comments "hyper-rational to a fault." and he doesn't mean it as a compliment. I'd go further: I'd say her view is hyper-rational to the point of being irrational. She writes as if this terrorist action were the result of reading Clausewitz and running a few game theory simulations.

Does she think that the Sophie's Choice maneuver was motivated by some sort of tactical thought? How about running the bayonet through the body of the boy who asked for water? Could it be that these actions were motivated by sadistic cruetly--that they were done because the perpetrators enjoyed watching the victims suffer? Isn't it clear that for many terrorists, the cause--whatever it is--becomes secondary to the pleasures of violence?

There are people in the world who enjoy the suffering of others. Anyone even vaguely acquainted with history should be aware of this. Why is it so hard for certain members of the intelligentsia to grasp?


3:33 PM

Monday, September 06, 2004  
LEGITIMIZING TERROR

The years of overt legitimization of Palestinian and other terrorism has eroded the civilian status of every human. The road from the point blank shooting of a pregnant Israeli mother and her two little children in the name of dead Palestinians leads directly to the bombing of homes in Riyadh when some Salafists find the Saudi regime not in compliance with their version of Islam.

Jane, at Armies of Liberation, argues that the world's tolerance for terror--as long as it was directed against Israelis--has played a big role in unleashing the waves of terror leading to the atrocity at the school in Beslan. Read her post, here.


9:56 AM

Sunday, September 05, 2004  
BIG HEAVY THINGS

It is a commonplace among economics and business pundits that our economy is moving--indeed, has largely already moved--from the tangible to the intangible--from an era when the archtypal product was, say, a locomotive, to an era when the archtypal product is a piece of (weightless, dimensionless) software. And even where the product is something tangible, the glamor product of our time are usually things that are small and light--a computer chip, a flat display screen, etc.

While there's much truth in this view, it is by no means the whole story. An article in a recent Wall Street Journal (8/30) is enlightening.

AU Optronics of Taiwan, which makes flat screen for TVs and monitors, recently took delivery on a new piece of production equipment. The "sputter" machine, which coats glass to make the screens, weighs 210 tons. (That's heavier than many locomotives.) The machine was made in Germany, and to get it to Taiwan in a timely fashion, AUO chartered the world's largest airplane, the Antonov 225, for a shipping cost of about $500,000. The Antonov could only carry 160 tons worth of the machine, so a 747 was used to haul to other 50 tons. (It sounds like the quoted shipping cost includes both airplanes.)

The machine was destined for installation in AUO's new factory, which has 2.4 million square feet of clean-room space. Building the plant required 140,000 tons of steel, twice as much as Taipei 101, the world's largest skyscraper. This plant--together with other flat-screen facilities being built in Taiwan--consumed so much concrete that it created a shortage of sand!

It was never true that there is an "old economy" and a "new economy." There is a single economy, composed of segments which interact with one another in many ways. It is in the understanding of these linkages that many opportunities are to be found.


1:55 PM

Saturday, September 04, 2004  
PROFILING THE PROTESTERS

The New York Sun surveyed 253 protestors during the Republican Convention. (Specifically, these were participants in the 120,000-person march organized by "United for Peace and Justice" on Sunday.) Results:

--76% plan to vote for Kerry
--52% agree that America is "overall a negative force in the world"
--50% say that America should end all military aid to Israel
--58% agree that "a few neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle who have close ties to Israel's Likud party manipulated America into going to war in Iraq," and
--67% say that "Iraqi attacks on American troops occupying Iraq are legitimate resistance"

How valid is the survey? 250 people isn't totally unreasonable as a sample size, assuming the interviewees were selected randomly from among the marchers. But if a single subgroup of marchers was selected for interview (members of a particular organization, for example), that could have skewed the results. But, to the extent that these results are representative, they are pretty disturbing (but not very surprising.)

2:11 PM

 
THE BESLAN ATROCITY

In a scene reminiscent of "Sophie's Choice," a dozen women were allowed by the terrorists to take only one of their children away from the school, leaving the other to face likely death.

Zalina Dzandarova cradles her son Alan as he sleeps with his small face buried against her stomach. He is the child Dzandarova was able to save. The child she chose to save, really... It is the other one, little Alana, her 6-year-old daughter, whose image torments her: Alana clutching her hand, Alana crying and calling after her. Alana's sobs disappearing into the distance as Dzandarova walked out of Middle School No. 1 here Thursday, clutching 2-year-old Alan in her arms.

Yet the writer of this AP news item doesn't even refer to the people who did this as "terrorists," preferring the more neutral term "guerillas."

Read what soldier-writer Ralph Peters has to say:

The mass murder of children revolts the human psyche. Herod sending his henchmen to massacre the infants of Bethlehem haunts the Gospels. Nothing in our time was crueler than what the Germans did to children during the Holocaust. Slaughtering the innocents violates a universal human taboo.

and

The mass hostage situation wasn't about Chechen rebels (and at least 10 Arabs) opposing the Russian government. It was a continuation of the universal struggle between good and evil. And there is no doubt which side is evil, scorned though the word may be by our own elite.

and

A final thought: Did any of those protesters who came to Manhattan to denounce our liberation of 50 million Muslims stay an extra day to protest the massacre in Russia? Of course not.

The protesters no more care for dead Russian children than they care for dead Kurds or for the hundreds of thousands of Arabs that Saddam Hussein executed. Or for the ongoing Arab-Muslim slaughter of blacks in Sudan. Nothing's a crime to those protesters unless the deed was committed by America.


Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Sunday Times of London, via New York Post: During the siege of the school, a boy begged one of the terrorists for water. The terrorist's response was to drive a bayonet through the boy's body.


8:34 AM

 
EMPLOYMENT DATA

Chuck plots the employment/unemployment data in a useful format, showing long-term trends, based on the BLS raw data.

Much better work than the typical media coverage, which typically just throws out a few numbers or shows a 6-month graph or some such.

8:18 AM

Friday, September 03, 2004  
IS JOHN KERRY SMART?

Howell Raines, the deposed editor of The New York Times, recently asked:

Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush?

Yeah, I doubt it. Despite the aura of intellectualism that clings to him, I've seen no evidence that Kerry has a particularly high level of intelligence. I haven't seen the things that would be indicators of an outstanding mind. Where are the profound and incisive analyses of issues? Where are the persuasive chains of logic? Where are the well-thought-out historical analogies? Where is the evidence that he is able to adopt and even create new paradigms as necessary?

As Holman Jenkins said about Kerry's supposed intellectual capacities:

We could understand how you might make this mistake about Al Gore, who labored to present himself as an "intellectual" and even wrote a pretentious book. But John Kerry? If you listen carefully, his spontaneous utterances are unusually banal and his thinking, with few exceptions, besotted with obvious and unimaginative tropes. Nor is there much in the way of real wit--which, whether it's your taste or not, Mr. Bush's combative, wisecracking style occasionally contains.

Those Kerry attributes that many take for signs of intelligence seem to me to be something very different: markers of class status. Enunciating precisely, using long and complex sentences, not having certain regional accents...to a certain set of people, these things say "one of us" in a manner similar to the role that upper-class accents once played (and, to an extent, still play) in Britain.

Jenkins also remarks that Mr. Raines has a history of being obsessed with class and status issues and that he confuses the stereotype that Mr. Kerry inhabits (northeastern intellectual) and the stereotype that Mr. Bush inhabits (southwestern good ol' boy) for the entirely unrelated matter of originality and smarts.

I suspect that a substantial proportion of the NYT's base reads the paper precisely because they look to the Times to tell them how to have the perceived class position that they want: how to dress, what products to buy, and what opinions to hold. And I also suspect that for many of these people, voting for Kerry is basically another vehicle for class identification.

(see also: Is John Kerry a Leader?)



8:59 AM

Thursday, September 02, 2004  
NEW YORK TIMES ON ISRAEL

Today's New York Times contains an editorial entitled "Mr Bush and the Truth About Terror." Here's the section that talks about Israel, quoted in its entirety:

If Mr Bush is going to speak seriously about terrorism tonight, he also needs to talk about Israel. With its fixation on Iraq, the administration has allowed the situation in Israel to turn into a stalemate in which the Sharon government continues to expand its suicidal West Bank settlements while attempting to keep the Palestinians under control with sheer military force. The West Bank is not just a breeding ground for terrorists; it is the perpetual wound Arabs use to justify supporting and financing violent extremists. (new paragraph) Iraqis can go to the polls to vote, but the Middle East will still be a hotbed of terrorism if the Palestinians cannot grow up with hopes for a decent life in a land over which they have some control. There is no way that the current mess is going to improve without the very aggressive intervention of United States diplomacy.

That's the whole thing. From this it sounds like the NYT believes that the Israeli/Palestinian problems are entirely the fault of Israel..particularly Ariel Sharon...and of the United States...particularly George W Bush. There is not one word about the failure of the Arafat regime to control terrorism. There is not one word about the money provided by Europeans to the Palestinian Authority, some of which has evidently gone to sponsor terrorist activities. There is not one word about the failure of the Palestinian Authority to give serious attention to pursuing education and economic development in order to fulfill "hopes for a decent life," or anything other than the hatred of Israel. And there is not one word about the complicity of American leftists and academic elites in glamorizing Palestinian terrorism and thereby encouraging it. One does not have to believe that Israel is as pure as the driven snow to see how completely distorted this NYT editorial is.

The New York Times, of course, often closely mirrors the views of the Democratic Party. This editorial may well give us a feeling for what the Middle East policy of a Kerry administration would look like...a conclusion which is strongly supported by statements made by a professor who has advised the Kerry campaign, quoted here in Lebanon's Daily Star. (See also discussion of these remarks here.)


2:26 PM

Wednesday, September 01, 2004  
IS JOHN KERRY A LEADER?

From the New York Daily News: Sen. John Kerry is angry at the way his campaign has botched the attacks from the Swift boat veterans and has ordered a staff shakeup that will put former Clinton aides in top positions.

"The candidate is furious," a longtime senior Kerry adviser told the Daily News. "He knows the campaign was wrong. He wanted to go after the Swift boat attacks, but his top aides said no."


Of course, Kerry could have overridden their advice. But, as Instapundit says: It's not my fault. It never is. (Remember Kerry's outburst after a fall while skiing: I don't fall down. That son of a bitch ran into me.)

Antoine de Saint-Exupery: A chief is a man who takes responsibility. He does not say 'my men were defeated;' he says 'I was defeated.

8:49 AM

 
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