Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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Saturday, December 31, 2005  

Today will be one second longer than usual. A "leap second" is being added to keep clock time in sync with variations in the earth's rotation.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation system is now being used as a primary time source for many purposes. According to the GPS Operations Center, here is what will happen tonight at midnight:

Normally at midnight, the sequence of time transmissions is from the satellites is:

23h 59m 58s
23h 59m 59s
00h 00m 00s

Tonight, the transmission will be:
23h 59m 58s
23h 59m 59s
23h 59m 60s
00h 00m 00s

...and, hopefully, all the various software systems that receive this unusual message sequence will know how to handle it.

1:27 PM


Venture capitalist Ed Sim had what sounds like a pretty painful meeting with an entrepreneur who was seeking funding, and has put together some thoughts on how to pitch to a VC. Actually, I think his points will be useful to anyone who is trying to sell an idea (or a product or service embodying an idea) of any kind, particularly when presenting to an individual or a small group. There's also a good discussion.

One of Ed's points that sparked some controvery is this: "Deal with questions as they come up, not later. VCs can be impatient at times, and it really bothers me when an entrepreneur says, "Let's wait until slide 15" especially when you are just on slide 3. Meetings have a rhythm so be in sych with your audience."

One commenter, also a VC, responded with a different view: "I don't like to interrupt an entreprenur's pitch to have him talk about something on slide 15 if we're only on slide 3. To me it's more valuable to learn about him by listening to the entire pitch. How he's crafted his pitch is a critical piece of my evaluation. I don't want to shortcircuit that learning."

My view is that the presenter's response to questions should be very dynamic and context-sensitive. In general, I think it's a good idea to address the question very briefly, then returning to the flow if that's OK with the audience. Let's say you're pitching a startup which will develop an improved version of the glomperon. You're on slide 4, pitching your little heart out on the state of the glomperon market and the vast potential for your new design. Then:

VC: So, how are you going to actually manufacture these things?
ENTREPRENEUR: We're going to outsource the parts to Hungary and the Philippines, and assemble the products to order here in the U.S. I've got a few slides on manufacturing strategy later in the pitch.

Most likely, the VC will say "OK" and you can return to the flow of the presentation. But suppose he wants to dig deeper into the question:

VC: Yeah, but I understand these things are really hard to make. All the glomperon companies I know of have put a lot of money into custom production equipment, which is apparently really tricky to build and to align properly, and there aren't a lot of people in the world who know how to do it.

Now you've discovered that the VC is really worried about manufacturing issues, and he probably isn't going to pay of a lot of attention to your market forecasts until he is satisfied that you're actually going to be able to make the stuff. So now is probably the time to switch gears:

ENTREPRENEUR: Actually, we've put a lot of thought into design-for-manufacturability, and we think we can avoid most of those problems. Let me get into that a bit now.

...and then go to the appropriate section of the pitch.

8:14 AM

Thursday, December 29, 2005  

Red Herring, the venture capital magazine, has a piece on a company called Theranos, founded and being run by Elizabeth Holmes. The company has been developing a device which detects adverse drug reactions. It works by analyzing a tiny amount of blood from a person's finger or arm, then transmitting the data to a Theranos server, which uses biostatistics algorithms to profile the information. In 2004, there were more than 400,000 adverse drug reactions reported to the FDA, and Ms Holmes wants this device to bring the numbers down. She also believes that the device could fundamentally change healthcare by determining of a particular drug is working on an individual basis.

She just turned 21--and this is her second company. Theranos has funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, among others.

Startups like this are vital to the future of the American economy. Remember, every Fortune 100 behemoth was once a startup.

As a side note: I've written before about the tendency of many companies to be overly-specific in their hiring specifications, focusing on things like years of experience with specific software tools--often to the detriment of attributes that matter much more. In poking around the Theranos website, I was happy to see that they seem to have avoided this trap. In their job posting for an electrical engineer, for example, they are looking for things like "(experience in) integrating electrical and electro mechanical mechanisms in a small consumer product," "exceptional skills in CAD for circuit simulation and logic design," "experience designing, executing, and documenting experiments and presenting the data to management in a clear manner," and "ability and personality to take responsibility for several projects at one time." In my not-so-humble opinion, that's the right way to do it.

UPDATE: More on this story at Daily Duck

9:09 AM

Wednesday, December 28, 2005  

I won't try to summarize it; just click:

The Suicidal Pursuit of Perfection

9:40 AM

Tuesday, December 27, 2005  

Seems like a whole lot of writing has been going on, not all of it on blogs...

Education blogger Joanne Jacobs has written Our School, the story of a charter school in San Jose. Most of the students earned D’s and F’s in middle school and are years behind in reading and math when they enroll as ninth graders at DCP. Yet the school now outperforms the California average on the Academic Performance Index and sends all its graduates to four-year colleges.

Paul Holton, known to the blogosphere as "Chief Wiggles," has written about his experiences in Iraq in Saving Babylon. Paul is the founder of Operation Give, which sends toys by the container load to kids in Iraq, and he will send you an autographed copy with a $100 donation.

Robert J Avrech wrote and published The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden, which is set in the years immediately following the Civil War. The entire book is downloadable (PDF), but is probably more convenient to read if you get it the old-fashioned way.

And Roger Simon's wife, the screenwriter Sheryl Longin, has written Dorian Greyhound: A Novel, which tells of the dog's adventures from his own point of view.

I haven't read any of these yet (except for a few pages of the PDF version of the Hebrew/Apache book), but I'd be surprised if any of them were less than excellent.

1:53 PM

Monday, December 26, 2005  

Carnival of the Capitalists is up.

And so is Carnival of the Insanities.

4:29 PM

Sunday, December 25, 2005  

Listen to this radio news broadcast from December 25, 1944. The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16 of that year, and was still very much in progress on Christmas day.

(via Midwest Conservative Journal)

5:11 PM


Reflecting Light has some really beautiful images that were created mathematically. Follow the links for lots more.

UPDATE: Don't miss this snowflake picture. Remarkable, the things you can find on an economics blog.

7:26 AM

Saturday, December 24, 2005  

Here are some Christmas-time posts from previous years:

Christmas Eve 1906--the first voice radio broadcast

Christmas in the Radar Room--an air traffic control version of "The Night Before Christmas"

A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon

6:33 PM

Friday, December 23, 2005  

Here's a whole blog devoted to cuteness.

10:15 AM

Thursday, December 22, 2005  

Germany has released terrorist Mohammad Ali Hamadi, who participated in the hijacking of TWA flight 847 (in 1985) and the murder of Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver. Stethem was so brutally beaten that he could be identified only by his fingerprints. The terrorist was supposedly serving a "life without parole" sentence in Germany.

Debbie Schussel has been following this case closely. Most recent update and links here; also read the post she did on the 20th anniversary of the hijacking back in June.

Also this week, the U.S. and Iraqi governments chose to release the biological weapons experts known as "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax."

Is there some sort of contest going on this week as to which government can make the dumbest decisions?

UPDATE: From today's Wall Street Journal comes this description of what the terrorists did to Robert Stethem:

"They singled him out because he was American and a soldier," said one eyewitness. "They dragged him out of his seat, tied his hands and then beat him up...They kicked him in the face and knee caps and kept kicking him until they had broken all his ribs . Then they tried to knock him out with the butt of a pistol--they kept hitting him over the head but he was very strong and they couldn't knock him out...Later, they dragged him away and I believe shot him."

After Hamadi was captured, the U.S. requested extradition, but this request was denied by the German government, which does not consider the use of the death penalty in America to be civilized. Well, now we see what "life without parole" actually means under present German laws and policies.

It's not clear if the decision to release Hamadi was a policy decision at the highest levels of the German government (possibly as part of a hostage exchange) or if it resulted from the "normal" operation of a parole board; either way, it's very disturbing. This case is being tracked closely by the German blog Medienkritik; check in there for updated information.

The appeasement mentality seems to be very strong in Germany, along with the anti-American and anti-Israel attitudes which usually accompany it, but fortunately these views are not shared by everyone there. See this courageous article by Mathias Doepfner, CEO of the publisher Axel Springer AG.

And don't miss this Dr Seuss cartoon--it was directed at American appeasers in the pre-WWII, but Medienkritik finds it equally applicable to European appeasers today.

1:27 PM

Monday, December 19, 2005  

The United Nations recently held a "Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People." The meeting, which was attended by Kofi Annan and other UN officials, featured:

1)A so-called "map of Palestine" which did not include Israel...a country which has been a member of the UN for 56 years. The map does not even demarcate the partition lines of November 29, 1947.

2)A request to everyone present "to rise and observe a minute of silence in memory of all those who have given their lives for the cause of the Palestinian people and the return of peace between Israel and Palestine.“ According to Anne Bayefsky, who reported on the event for the Eye on the UN organization, the ceremony's wording was aimed at giving honor to suicide bombers. (There was, of course, no moment of silence for their Israeli victims.)

The video of the opening of the meeting is here. Click the link, and see and hear the "moment of silence" for yourself.

After watching this video, I was reminded of some words by C S Lewis:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

5:14 PM


Integrity and common sense are evidently not very welcome in today's Democratic Party. (via Sister Toldjah)

See my earlier post on Lieberman and the Democrats here.

4:53 PM


Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Coyote Blog.

And Carnival of the Insanities is at Dr Sanity.

Both of these are excellent blogs, in addition to their carnival-hosting role.

3:46 PM

Sunday, December 18, 2005  

In a BusinessWeek retrospective on Peter Drucker (11/28), the following passage appears:

..he was always thought to be an outsider--a writer, not a scholar, ignored by the business schools. Tom Peters says he earned two advanced degrees, including a PhD in business, without once studying Drucker or reading a single book written by him. Even some of Drucker's colleagues at NYU had fought against awarding him tenure because his ideas were not the result of rigorous academic research. For years professors at the most elite business schools said they didn't bother to read Drucker because they found him superficial.

Responding to this article, one reader had this to say:

A few years after completing my MBA in 1964 and then my PhD at the Wharton School, I was assigned to teach a beginning management class at a major state university. Having been introduced to Drucker in the first business course I took as an MBA student at Wharton, I chose three Drucker books to constitute the course readings: Concept of the Corporation, The Practice of Management, and The Effective Executive. The students kept asking about the absence of a textbook and my colleagues thought "nonacademic" material should not be included in the course. (12/19 issue)

Considering Prof Drucker's accomplishments and his vast scope of learning, it seems fairly presumptuous for a group of garden-variety B-school professors to regard his work as "nonacademic." (It also seems fairly bizarre that students would rather wade through a "textbook" than deal with Drucker's easy-to-read books, but that's for another time.)

In their article How Business Schools Lost Their Way (Harvard Business Review, May 2005), Warren Bennis and James O'Toole point out some real problems with the way today's business schools think about their mission. They believe that the paradigm of business teaching and research suffers from a phenomenon they call "physics envy," and go on to say:

Why have business schools embraced the scientific model of physicists and economists rather than the professional model of doctors and lawyers? Althought few B school faculty memers would admit it, professors like it that way. This model gives scientific respectability to the research they enjoy doing and eliminates the vocational stigma that business school professors once bore. In short, the model advances the careers and satisfies the egos of the professoriat. And, frankly, it makes things easier: though scientific research techniques may require considerable skill in statistics or experimental design, they call for little insight into complex social and human factors and minimal time in the field discovering the actual problems facing managers.

The authors point out that practical business experience is not highly valued in today's B-school environment. While once, many years ago, the course in production management at MIT was taught by the manager of a nearby General Motors assembly plant, "Virtually none of today's top-ranked business schools would hire, let alone promote, a tenure track professor whose primary qualification is managing an assembly plant, no matter how distinguished his or her performance." Indeed, they remark that "Today it is posible to find tenured professors of management who have never set foot inside a real business, except at customers."

So on the one hand, the B-schools reject the "big picture" work of someone like Prof Drucker, which has been of value to many CEOs and other high-level executives. On the other hand, they also tend to discount the teaching potential of individuals with hands-on practical experience, like an auto assembly plant management--even though the experience and insights of such individuals could be of particular value to people early in their careers. To a large extent, what they (the B-schools) seem to be primarily concerned with is formal, and preferably quantitative, research, and the development of methodologies and techniques. And excessive emphasis on technique, of course, leads to what Henry Mintzberg has called "the rule of a tool": "Give a little boy a hammer and everything looks like a nail." (More of Prof Mintzberg's critique of management education here.)

Modern society is, in Drucker's phrase, "a society of organizations," and management is a critically important skill. Substantial resources are being spent on the education of future managers, and it's time for some serious rethinking about the effectiveness of this process. I'm glad to see people like Mintzberg, Bennis, and O'Toole showing leadership by raising the questions that badly need to be asked.

8:24 AM

Saturday, December 17, 2005  

On December 17, 1935, the Douglas DC-3 airliner made its first flight. It's an airplane that has had a tremendous impact on the aviation industry. More than 10,000 were built (including the military version, the C-47.) Quite a few are still flying. Interestingly, the first flight of the DC-3 came exactly 32 years after the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.

The plane was originally known as the Douglas Sleeper Transport, and was configured to carry 14 passengers in reasonable comfort, with Pullman-style convertible berths. It was intended for long flights, specifically the American Airlines New York-to-Chicago run. (Cruise speed of the DC-3 is about 160 mph.) A version was soon created that eliminated the berths, but seated 21 passengers (more in some cases), and it was this configuration that accounted for most of the production. The DC-3 is given much of the credit for the almost 600% increase in airline passenger traffic between 1936 and 1941.

During the war, DC-3s were built in large quantities, and served in all theaters. Their contribution in delivering supplies "over the hump" after the Japanese closed the Burma Road, was particularly noteworthy.

After the war, DC-3s were heavily used for short and intermediate-length airline routes, as well as for freight. DC-3s also played an important role in the Berlin Airlift.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary, pilot and aviation writer Julie K Boatman got her DC-3 rating at an airport in Georgia. The plane she flew was originally license-built by Fokker in the Netherlands in 1938 and originally flown by SwissAir. From 1955 to 1967, it worked for Ozark airlines in the U.S., and hauled cargo from 1974 until 2001. Comparing the plane with her experience in light airplanes, Boatman found that the main difference was this: "You think about making a turn, and a few seconds later, the airplane thinks about making the turn as well." Along with this slow response goes stability: "While setting up a turn takes forethought, once the DC-3 settles in and hunkers down, it feels like it's carving through the turn on rails. This staility makes for a pleasurable ride, and also translates to other fundamentals of flight." She found the DC-3 particularly nice to fly on the landing approach: "Once it's configured, the DC-3 traks the course like a knife through butter, smooth and true. I'll take an instrument checkride in a DC-3 any day."

Boatman was pleased to find that the pilot's side window in the DC-3 slides open, and she was able to fly along with her elbow out in the breeze. Can't do that in your modern airliner.

Here's the Wikipedia article on the DC-3.

More DC-3 history here.

A summary focusing on the military aspects of DC-3 history.

Julie Boatman's article about her DC-3 experience appears in the December issue of AOPA Pilot magazine (subscription required.)

7:57 AM


In case you haven't already seen it, there's lots of excellent coverage in the blogosphere, considerably better in aggregate than anything in the mainstream media.

Iraq The Model provides an Iraqi view, direct from Baghdad.

Pajamas Media has extensive coverage and links.

Dustin Hawkins has a great set of photos.

Mudville Gazette has thoughts and observations from American military people in Iraq.

7:26 AM

Tuesday, December 13, 2005  

A couple of years ago, I excerpted some thoughts by C S Lewis about what it might feel like to be a nonhuman animal (from his novel That Hideous Strength.) I'm reposting this in memory of my wonderful dog Abby, a miniature poodle, who died last Saturday at the age of 15. She often lay right beside me while I used the laptop, on the couch where I'm blogging this now.

Lewis was writing specifically about a pet bear, but the thoughts seem equally applicable to a dog.

Mr Bultitude's mind was as furry and unhuman in shape as his body. He did not remember, as a man in his situation would have remembered, the provincial zoo from which he had escaped during a fire, nor his first snarling and terrified arrival at the Manor, nor the slow stages whereby he had learned to love and trust its inhabitants. He did not know that he loved and trusted them now. He did not know that they were people, nor that he was a bear...everything that is represented by the words I and Me and Thou was absent from his mind. When Mrs Maggs gave him a tin of golden syrup, as she did every Sunday morning, he did not recognize either a giver or a recipient. Goodness occurred and he tasted it. And that was all. Hence his loves might, if you wished, all be described as cupboard loves: food and warmth, hands that caressed, voices tha reassured, were their objects. But if by a cupboard love you meant something cold or calculating you would be quite misunderstanding the real quality of the beast's sensations. He was no more like a human egoist than he was like a human altruist. There was no prose in his life. The appetencies which a human mind might disdain as cupboard loves were for him quivering and ecstatic aspirations which absorbed his whole being, infinite yearnings, stabbed with the threat of tragedy and shot through with the colours of Paradise. One of our race, if plunged back for a moment in the warm, trembling, iridescent pool of that pre-Adamite consciousness, would have emerged believing that he had grasped the Absolute...Sometimes there returns to us from infancy the memory of a nameless delight or terror, attached to any dlightful or dreadful thing, a potent adjective floating in a nounless void, a pure quality. At such moments we have experience of the shallows of that pool. But fathoms deeper than any memory can take us, right down in the central warmth and dimness, the bear lived all its life.

7:27 PM

Sunday, December 11, 2005  

One of the people interviewed for the Fortune issue on leadership (12/12) was Fred Brooks, who managed the development of IBM's OS/360 operating system and then wrote a book about the experience. (The Mythical Man-Month, 1975)

Brooks was asked what advice he would give to a young manager--although the question was specifically about advice to someone managing software development, I think the response is more generally applicable:

The best single advice is a motto I read on the ceiling of a German drinking fraternity in Heidelberg--this cave had been there, I guess, since the 16th century. It said, Numquam incertus; semper apertus: "Never uncertain, always open." Sometimes the first part is put as saying, "You can't steer a ship that's not underway." At any given time, you ought to have pretty clear goals, and know where you're going, and be going there. On the other hand, you should always be open to saying, "Is that really what we ought to be doing? Here's another idea." But sitting still in the water waiting to decide which way to go is the wrong thing to do.

The other is when I was a new IBM employee and heard Vin Learson, a VP at the time, later CEO. He said, "The problem is not to make the right decision; it's to make the decision right." I thought that was the most anti-intellectual thing I had about ever heard. I was fresh out of graduate school, and of course to me, the problem is to make the right decision.

I came to understand that he was talking from an executive-level point of view. As decisions bubble up they are first 80/20 decisions, then 70/30, then 60/40, and then they are 49/51 decisions. At that level the arguments on each side are pretty strong; going either way can be made to work, but it's very important to pick one and then go whole hog.

(Brooks gives as an example IBM's PL/I language, which he believes suffered from indecisiveness in execution.)

Although may usually be true that decisions that bubble up to the top are 49/51, in the sense that either alternative can be made to work with proper execution, I don't think it's always true. Indeed, had IBM's then-CEO (Tom Watson Jr) not chosen to pursue the development of System/360--had he chosen instead the more conservative course of continuing the development of separate and incompatible product lines, which would have been a much easier decision psychologically and politically--then I think it's pretty clear that IBM would have been far less successful than it in fact was. But it's true that there are many decisions that are 49/51, and for these it's more important to pick something and do it than to sit around agonizing about which path is optimum.

9:07 AM


The Democratic Party leadership is not happy with Joe Lieberman's support for U.S. policy in Iraq, and that's putting it mildly. The Washington Post quotes a "senior Democratic aide" as saying: "Senator Lieberman is past the point of being taken seriously in the caucus because everything he does is seen as advancing his own self-interest, instead of the Democratic interest."

I guess the idea that a Senator might do things that he believes advance the national interest, or the interest of the entire world, is not something that exists in the mental universe of today's Democratic leaders.

7:39 AM

Thursday, December 08, 2005  

A few days ago, John Kerry referred to American soldiers in Iraq as "terrorizing kids."

An excerpt of the Kerry statement: "And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the--of--the historical customs, religious customs. Whether you like it or not..."(You can read the Kerry interview for the complete context at the link above.)

Sarah has a response to Senator Kerry, complete with pictures.

If Kerry wanted to argue that it would be better to have all internal security operations (such as searches) performed by the Iraqi forces, for reasons of language and culture, that would have been a legitimate expression of opinion. It would have been wrong, in my opinion, because the Iraqi forces are not yet ready to handle this responsiblity in all cases. But it would have been much less destructive than what he in fact did say. Using wildly inflammatory language--referring to American soldiers as "terrorizing kids and children"--is certainly destructive of the morale of Americans serving in Iraq (or elsewhere), and only a person seriously lacking in empathy could fail to see this. Also, Kerry's clumsy statement surely gives encouragement to enemy leaders who are hoping for a collapse of American willpower. Unfortunately, this kind of thing has become quite common among the Democratic leadership.

Also: Here is another story about American soldiers and Iraqi kids which is well worth reading.

2:23 PM


The Mighty Jimbo is traveling in Egypt, and has posted a fine collection of photos.
(via Sheila)

9:12 AM

Wednesday, December 07, 2005  
DECEMBER 7, 1941

Here is a summary produced by the US Navy.

And here is a story about teachers in Montana who are working to ensure that their students know about this history.

UPDATE: La Shawn Barber has an extensive collection of Pearl Harbor links. And Sheila has an interesting historical document.

7:59 AM

Sunday, December 04, 2005  

I've written before about the way in which verbal imagery affects decision-making. In stock market investing, the phrase "Caterpillar jumped up by 5% today" will be interpreted differently from "The price of Caterpillar increased by 5% today," even though the two statements are semantically identical. Here's an even more interesting example of why metaphors matter:

During the opening campaigns of WWI, in 1914, the British Commander-in-Chief (Sir John French) was tempted to withdraw his army into the fortress of Maubeuge. General Sir Edward Spears, who in 1914 was a liason officer between the British and French armies, describes the C-in-C's thought processes:

Sir John often spoke to me in after years of the lure of the fortress, so inviting, so protective with its belt of forts. It had loomed out of the fog of war like a safe and welcoming haven in the eyes of the leader of the small British force, who saw his command assailed in front by greatly superior numbers, his left flank threatened, his Ally melting away to his right. Why not take refuge in Maubeuge? As he reflected, so he told me, faintly, insistently, a sentence, not clear at first but demanding attention, began to echo in his memory. What was it he wanted to rememer? How did the sentence go? Suddently he had it. It was a phrase out of old Hamley's "Operations of War," read many years before; he did not remember the exact words, but the sense of it was clear: "The Commander of a retiring Army who throws himself into a fortress acts like one who, when the ship is foundering, lays hold of the anchor." Whether Sir John took this as a warning, or whether the image evoked gave him a truer picture of the situation, I do not know, but the fact remains, and he often said so, that suddenly the fortress appeared to him as nothing but a snare; the mirage of safety faded, the illusion of a place of refuge vanished, and Maubeuge seemed to cry out: "I am Metz, would you be another Bazaine?" (The latter phrase referring to a disaster of the Franco-Prussian war.)

The Commander of a retiring Army who throws himself into a fortress acts like one who, when the ship is foundering, lays hold of the anchor. As General Spears points out, had Hamley chosen an image less vivid to express his meaning, it would probably not have remained engraved in Sir John's memory. The C-in-C might well have withdrawn into Maubeuge, which, in the educated opinion of General Spears, would have likely been a serious mistake.

This passage shows vividly the power of the right verbal imagery. But it also shows the danger, as well as the power, of metaphor and analogy. For there certainly were situations during WWI in which withdrawal into a fortress was a rational thing to do--indeed, there were probably situations in which it was the only sane thing to do. Suppose Sir John had been confronted with one of those situations..would the power of the "anchor" image then have seduced him into doing the wrong thing?

It would be impossible to communicate well, indeed even to think, without the use of metaphor and analogy. But while we should all strive to use verbal images effectively, we should always remember: Metaphors and analogies are only conceptual models--they are not reality itself. A stock is not really an animal that "jumps," and a fortress is not really an "anchor."

(The Spears quotes are from his memoir, Liason 1914. General Spears also played a liason role during WWII: he was Churchill's personal represenative to the French army and government, and has described those experiences in the well-titled Assignment to Catastrophe. Brief excerpts from this book are here and here.)

7:16 AM

Saturday, December 03, 2005  

In a test, Israel used its Arrow missile defense system to intercept and destroy a ballistic missile similar to Iran's Shahab-3. In October, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in October said that Israel must be "wiped off the map," and Israel is within Shahab-3 range from points in Iraq.

More information about the Arrow system can be found here. Substantial components of the system are built by Boeing and 150 other U.S. companies, with integration and final assembly done in Israel.

For three decades now, American and European "liberals" have opposed work on antimissile systems. Very fortunately, R&D on these systems has continued despite their efforts.

11:03 AM

Friday, December 02, 2005  

The Green Party of the United States is calling for "divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel." Link here.

These days, being anti-Israel seems to be pretty much a prerequesite for being a leftist, or a "progressive," or a "liberal," or whatever they call themselves at the moment.

If you read the linked post, you'll see that this particular anti-Israel move seems, like so many bad things in today's world, to have originated on a university campus.

10:17 AM

Thursday, December 01, 2005  

Grey Eagle is a female American soldier (combat medic) serving in Iraq. She's also a blogger. She has received many offensive e-mails and comments from "antiwar" people, and these individuals have recently been vandalizing her blog and attempting to shut it down.

Here's a particularly repellant form of vandalism: Grey Eagle has been posting tributes to the 49 female soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also to the women who have won awards for valor. Some cretin hacked the script so that when Grey Eagle attempts to add a new tribute, the script displays "you have been hacked....Bush lied" on the website.

This kind of hacking is, of course, is a crime. I hope that the perpetrators will be caught and convicted and, in the meantime, I hope that some helpful techies will drop by Grey Eagle and help her fireproof the site.

And everyone should take a stand against the goons who attempt to shut down free speech. Read Grey Eagle and, if you're a blogger, link to her.

2:45 PM

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