Saturday, April 29, 2006
On Tuesday, Italy commemorated the 61st anniversary of its liberation from fascism. As elderly members of the Jewish Brigade marched past, they were booed by a small group of leftists--which also burned and defaced Israeli and American flags. (Photographs here.) It should be noted that Tuesday was also Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Education Minister Letizia Moratti, who attended the march with her wheelchair bound father--a former partisan who survived deportation to a Nazi concentration camp--was also booed and subjected to vile insults. Prime Minister-elect Romano Prodi saw it all from the stage, and said nothing. He has now apologised on behalf of his centre-left coalition. Judith Apter Klinghoffer observes:
But the truth is that his existential moment like that of Hillary Clinton, who listened smilingly to Suha Arafat asserting that Israelis were infecting the people of Gaza with AIDs, passed and he failed to stand up and be counted.
Here is some interesting and disturbing information about the Prodi coalition.
Joy, who blogs from Italy, has this to say:
Those responsible weren’t hot headed youths, but comfortable looking middle-aged people who should know better. April 25th is de facto a leftist holiday – non-lefties needn’t apply – that celebrates the Resistance. According to the comrades, it was the Resistance that liberated Italy from Fascism, and not Anglo-Americans and their allies. Jewish and American flags were also burned. If it hadn’t been for the Allies, bless’em, Italy would have simply switched from fascism to communism, and this lefties can never forgive or forget.
There is madness loose in the world. Certain carriers of this madness may call themselves "leftists" or "progressives"--but many of their attitudes are similar to those once seen under the labels "Nazi" and "fascist."
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
BISMARCK SUNK, BRITAIN DOOMED (RERUN)
A couple of years ago, I speculated as to how the sinking of the German warship Bismarck (4/27/1941) would have been covered in the newspapers, had the British press then been inhabited by people with the mindset common in today's media. It seems appropriate to run it again.
MR CHURCHILL'S LATEST DISASTER
Editorial...Major London Newspaper
May 31, 1941
The sinking of HMS Hood, and the loss of 1,400 British sailors, is only the latest in the series of disasters that have impacted Britain since Mr Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Our army was forced to retreat at Dunkirk, resulting in a loss of many million pounds' worth of heavy equipment. Our cities have been bombed, and something like 40,000 of our citizens have been killed. Even now, merchant shipping is being attacked by U-boats, and it is by no means certain that adequate supplies of military equipment--or even of food--can continue to reach our island nation.
All of these disasters and failures were a foreseeable consequence of the policy of military adventurism pursued by Mr Churchill..a policy very different from the diplomatically-based policy that had been recommended by Lord Halifax. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a unilateral policy--other nations do not seem to share Mr Churchill's obsessions. The United States, although happy to sell us military supplies, has been most unwilling to commit forces. Even the Communists in Russia have had the sober judgment to come to a diplomatic modus vivendi with Germany, rather than pursuing a military solution.
Mr Churchill seems to have a personal vendetta against the German nation and a strong personal desire to wage war, possibly as a result of his need to recover the prestige he lost in the failed Gallipoli campaign, which he instigated during the affair of 1914-1918. Or possibly (if we may be a bit psychological), the roots of Mr Churchill's combativeness may go back even further, to his frustration with the inattentiveness of his parents. Whatever the cause, British seamen...and British men and women in all walks of life..are paying the price for Mr Churchill's obsessions.
An attempt is being made by the Churchill government to portray the recent clash of naval forces as a British victory. It is true, of course, that the German warship Bismarck was sunk. But few serious analysts view German naval forces as the major threat..the real danger from that country is of course represented by its U-boats, by the Luftwaffe, and by the Wehrmacht. All of these forces are still intact, and Herr Hitler is still very much in charge. So what possible justification is there for the loss of life and treasure represented by the Hood?
And furthermore, the claim to moral superiority--of which the Churchill government has made so much--has been gravely compromised by this affair. Following the sinking of the Bismarck, many German sailors--possibly several hundred--were left in the water. Dorsetshire and Maori did stop to assist these now-helpless former enemies, but the rescue effort was cut short. As is now well known, the British commander on the scene decided to terminate the rescue attempt, based on his belief that there were "U-boats in the area." The pictures of helpless men in the water, abandoned by Dorsetshire and Maori, are now seared into the British conscience. And it is that image--rather than the earlier image of British chivalry--by which our nation is now known around the world.
And those claimed U-boats? The Churchill government has failed to provide any evidence that such "U-boats" actually were present.
It is time for Mr Churchill to resign, so that a new government may begin to undo the damage that he has done.
SHEILA ON THE STAGE
The excellent blogger Sheila O'Malley is doing her one-woman play 74 Facts and 1 Lie this coming Monday (May 1) at the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. If you live in the New York area, or you're going to be there, you might want to check it out.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Natan Sharansky is a Soviet dissident and political prisoner who later became deputy prime minister of Israel. He is currently a member of the Knesset.
Read why he thinks that George W Bush is basically a dissident.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
IRRESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM, #443195343
On April 14, The Baltimore Sun published an article containing the following paragraph:
Hayden (deputy to national intelligence director Negroponte) tried to counter the criticism that the Iraq war has diverted resources from possible threats such as Iran, saying he couldn't recall "being forced to make a trade-off."
The officials said that although Iran announced this week that it had produced 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, it would take years to produce the 54,000 centrifuges needed to build a nuclear weapon.
The article also referred to a statement by Negroponte's chief intelligence analyst, Thomas Fingar: "Asked whether there had been any disagreement among U.S. analysts about Iran's nuclear timeline, Fingar said there had not.'
AMac, one of the contributors at Winds of Change, wrote to the reporter, copying the Sun's managing editor and public editor. The key point:
Unfortunately, the fourth-to-last paragraph of your article is a misstatement of fact that will be very misleading to readers trying to understand the progress of Iran's Manhattan Project for themselves. Here's your paragraph:
"The officials said that although Iran announced this week that it had produced 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, it would take years to produce the 54,000 centrifuges needed to build a nuclear weapon."
The naive reader would calculate that Iran has 0.3% of the needed number of centrifuges to enrich enough uranium for one weapon.
Here's one recent story on the subject. Quoting, [Asst. US Sect'y of State] Rademaker said the technology to enrich uranium to a low level could also be used to make weapons-grade uranium, saying that it would take a little over 13 years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon with the 164 centrifuges currently in use...Iran has informed the IAEA that it plans to construct 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz next year, Rademaker said. "We calculate that a 3,000-machine cascade could produce enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within 271 days," he said.
Clearly, the statement that there is no disagreement among US analysts about Iran's nuclear timeline is incorrect, to say the least. The feeling of safety that readers could derive from the statement "it would take years to produce the 54,000 centrifuges needed to build a nuclear weapon" is entirely specious. (Why would the centrifuges all have to be built in Iran, anyhow? Couldn't they be imported? Does anyone think there is a shortage of countries and companies that would jump at the chance to produce these things and sell them to Iran, given the right price? And how can anyone be so sure about the maximum rate at which Iran could produce centrifuges itself? Isn't this primarily a matter of acquiring the right machine tools? Again, does anyone think that there aren't countries that would sell such equipment to Iran? And are we sure that Iran couldn't possibly produce such machine tools itself? Sure enough to bet the future of the world on it?)
AMac heard back from the reporter, but not from the managing editor or the ombudsman. A week later, no correction has appeared in the paper. Readers who rely on the Sun for their news and analysis will still be under the impression that it would take 54,000 centrifuges to build a nuclear weapon, and that such a thing is necessarily years away. As AMac said in his original email to the Sun: "..an intelligent but uninformed reader will actually have a worse understanding of the state of the Iranian nuclear program after reading your article." (emphasis added)
A democratic society cannot survive if citizens are denied the information necessary to make intelligent assessments of key policy issues. Too often, those who rely on the mainstream media for their information are getting a highly inaccurate or incomplete picture.
Thinking is very hard work. And management fashions are a wonderful substitute for thinking.
(I'd suggest that this principle is also applicable in fields other than business.)
Friday, April 21, 2006
I'm working on a fairly long post, which has tended to inhibit other writing. Meanwhile, here a whole bunch of blogs that I've been reading on a regular basis but hadn't gotten around to adding to the list. I think you'll find all of them to be thought-provoking.
...and, especially, All Things Beautiful--which is truly a blog like no other.
I'm also embarrassed to find that I had never put Dean Esmay on the list. His blog is noted both for excellent posts and for excellent discussions.
UPDATE: Also, if you're interested in business and economics, check out these blogs:
Sunday, April 16, 2006
INTERESTING NEW CARNIVAL
On the Moneyed Midways is a carnival of carnivals, highlighting selected posts from the various blog carnivals on business, finance, investing, and entrepreneurship. It's hosted by Ironman at Political Calculations, who obviously has very good judgment since he picked my post An Engine with
Sterling Stirling Qualities as Best Post of the Week, Anywhere (TM). Thanks, Ironman!
UPDATE: Carnival of the Capitalists is now up, as is Carnival of the Insanities.
THE RIGHT WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD
(or anything else) -continued-
Back in October, I reported on Norfolk Southern's work in recovering from Katrina. This included the repair of the rail bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. Five miles of track and ballast had washed off the bridge, cutting a vital rail link to the west. The bridge was covered with debris, some of the concrete spans were damaged and some had shifted. Many of the crossties were missing, and most of the track was on the bottom of the lake.
In an intensive effort taking only two weeks, 400 NS employees repaired the concrete decks, lifted the track out of the water, and reinstalled it on the bridge. 16 days after Katrina devastated the area, the first train ran across the restored bridge.
Jeff McCracken, the Western Region chief maintenance engineer who was in charge of the recovery effort, reflects on the project in the NS Annual Report:
People came up to me at the end of this project and thanked me for allowing them to be part of it They said this is something they would tell their grandchildren, and they were proud to be a part of it, and they wished they could have done more.
That is: People were saying "thank you" for the opportunity to do hard and even dangerous work, under tight time constraints and under very difficult conditions.
Most people really do want to contribute. The task of leadership is to enable them to do so.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the illusion of knowledge.
--Daniel J Boorstin
Previous Worth Pondering
UPDATE: Corrected missing attribution for the quote.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
IRAN AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Here we have some Iranians, dancing with what purport to be cylinders of uranium hexafluoride.
If it is indeed UF6, then it was made for one purpose. Killing people. Killing them by blast, by crushing, by burning, by radiation. If the Iranian regime is successful in creating nuclear weapons and mounting them in the nosecones of their ballistic missiles, then nuclear nightmares will never be far from the surface in the minds of those who live within the range of those missiles. (more on Iran's missile programs here.)
Many people in the West are attempting to minimize the seriousness of this situation. Their ostrich-like behavior reminds me of a passage in Arthur Koestler's 1950 novel, The Age of Longing. The action of the book takes place in France, where a massive Soviet invasion is clearly impending--but denial of this obvious reality abounds, especially among the intellectuals. Jules Commanche, a Resistance hero and a senior French security officer, explains this phenomenon to a young American woman:
No, Mademoiselle, don't be misled by appearances. France and what else is left of Europe may look like a huge dormitory to you, but I assure you nobody in it is really asleep. Have you ever spent a night in a mental ward? During the Occupation, a doctor who belonged to our group got me into one when the police were after me. It was a ward of more or less hopeless cases, most of whom were marked down for drastic neurosurgical operations. When the male nurse made his round, I thought everybody was asleep. Later I found out that they were only pretending, and that everybody was busy, behind closed eyes, trying to cope after his own fashion with what was coming to him. Some were pursuing their delusions with a happy smile, like our famous Pontieux (a philosopher modelled on Sartre--ed). Others were working on their pathetic plans of escape, naively hoping that with a little dissimulation, or bribery, or self-abasement, they could get around the tough male nurses, the locked doors, the operating table. Others were busy explaining to themselves that it wouldn't hurt, and that to have holes drilled into one's skull and parts of one's brain taken out was the nicest thing that could happen to one. And still, others, the quiet schizos who were the majority, almost succeede in making themselves believe that nothing would happen, that it was all a matter of exaggerated rumours, and that tomorrow would be like yesterday. These looked as if they were really asleep. Only an occasional nervous twitch of their lips or eyes betrayed the strain of disbelieving what they knew to be inevitable...No, Mademoiselle nobody was really asleep.
And today, some tell themselves that Iran's nuclear program is merely for electrical power generation. Others find comfort in the fact that nuclear deterrence did work with the Soviet Union--ignoring the very real differences between the situations, and also ignoring the number of times that superpower deterrence came close to catastrophe. Still others would like to believe that the Iranian regime can be mollified by throwing Israel to the wolves.
The threat of terrorism has already created a great deal of fear and intimidation, especially in Europe but also in the U.S. What we have seen thus far is nothing compared to the fear that will exist if Western Europe is within the range of nuclear-armed Iranian ballistic missiles.
A fear much like the waking nightmares of the patients in Koestler's mental ward.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
All of them at once? What an accomplishment...
Unfortunately, you can't read the article that describes how modern undergraduate education manages to combine all seven, unless you are a subscriber to the Chronicle of Higher Education--but Erin O'Connor has a summary and some thoughts.
After reading Erin's post, see my post Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry, which describes how "educators" systematically create contempt for the past--which surely has something to do with the student attitudes described in the excerpt.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
AN ENGINE WITH
STERLING STIRLING QUALITIES
I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have--power.
--Matthew Boulton, partner of James Watt, to the great biographer Boswell, during the latter's visit to the Boulton & Watt steam engine factory in 1776.
By 1816, when the steam engine was well on the way to its century of dominance, a competitive technology was invented. Robert Stirling, a Scottish clergyman, suggested an engine using air as a working fluid instead of steam. He was motivated primarily by safety considerations--boiler explosions of steam engines were becoming a serious hazard, and Stirling had apparently seen the consequences among his own parishioners--but it soon became clear that the Stirling engine also had a potential efficiency considerably higher than that of the conventional steam engine. (Theory of the engine explained here.)
Over the next two centuries, many attempts would be made to bring the Stirling engine to commercial success as a source of power. It enjoyed a brief popularity for low-power applications for a period after 1850, but was eclipsed by the rapidly-developing internal combustion engine and also by the electric motor.
The Economist (3/9) reports that Dean Kamen, best known as inventor of the Segway, claims to have developed a new and improved version of the Stirling, and is packaging it as a self-contained power source for villages in poor areas. Output will be one kilowatt. Iqbal Quadir, a Bangladeshi, has formed a venture called Emergence Energy for the manufacturing and distribution of the generators in Bangladesh, and intends to apply to ideas of microcredit to this venture.
In microcredit, which was pioneered by the Grameen Bank, an individual--typically a woman--is given a loan allowing the purchase of an income-producing asset, such as a cow, and the loan is then repaid out of that income. Interest rates are reasonable, especially compared with the alternatives which exist in many poor countries, and repayment experience has been very good. Mr Quadir sparked the application of the microcredit idea to cell phones: "telephone ladies" are given loans enabling them to purchase phones, and then resell phone services to others in the village. (GrameenPhone is a consortium which includes the Grameen Bank and the Norwegian telecomm company Telenor.) From the Economist article:
By making telephony widely available, says Mr Quadir, GrameenPhone has increased the country's GDP by a far greater amount than repeated infusions of foreign aid. Mobile phones promote economic activity, prevent waste journeys, make it easier to look for work, and widen access to markets...Its approach is now being repleated in other countries in Asia and sub-Sanaran Africa, including Uganda and Rwanda.
Mr Quadir hopes to achieve similar results with Emergence Energy and the packaged Stirling engine. Stirling engines can be powered by any heat source, and the idea here is that one entrepreneur, funded by microcredit, sets up a business to turn cow manure into methane gas and fertilizer; the second entrepreneur owns the Stirling generator, buys the methane, and sells the resulting electricity. A six-month field test has been conducted in two villages in Bangladesh, and met with a very positive response.
From the Economist article:
Trying to change things from the ground up is more effective than lobbying authorities, insists Mr Quadir. "Without necessarily introducting enlightenment or new arguments, technology can quietly initiate novel ways of making things or trading them, potentially redistributing economic and political clout," he says. Just as economists invoke the "invisible hand" on the market, he likes to speak of a technology as an "invisible leg" that can move an economy from one state to another.
I think Matthew Boulton would have understood.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Claire Berlinski, on the emotional roots of anti-Americanism in Europe:
What I’ve noticed is a quasi-religious and messianic character to this anti-Americanism, particularly in the way it seems inevitably to be linked to anti-modernism and anti-Semitism. Indeed, my grandmother—who would know—upon witnessing footage of the anti-American rallies in Europe prior to the invasion of Iraq instantly reached for the word “Nuremberg.” It is this mystical element of the anti-American movement that is both most interesting and alarming.
("Nuremberg" refers, of course, to the massive, well-choreographed, and highly-emotional Nazi Party rallies that were held in that city during the Hitler era.)
Read the whole thing: it's important.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Royal Philips Electronics makes products such as microcontrollers, electronic displays, medical imaging, ultrasound, and patient-monitoring systems...also light bulbs and consumer electronics. So what is it doing in the wood-burning stove business?
Smoke and toxic emissions from wood stoves, as used in poor countries, are said to cause 1.6 million deaths per year. The Philips stove uses a thermoelectric generator to produce electricity directly from the heat of the fire; this electricity is then employed to spin an electronically-controlled fan. The air from the fan makes the wood burn hotter and more efficiently, reducing fuel consumption by up to 80%, smoke by 90%, and organic volatile emissions by up to 99%. There is enough electricity left after running the fan to also power devices such as radios and lights. (Philips press release here.)
Field tests have been running in various regions of India, and have shown good acceptance. Philips is planning a commercial pilot in India later this year, and is looking for distribution partners who can help bring the stove to rural areas.
(Disclosure: I'm a Philips shareholder)
Hat tip: Winds of Change and theWatt.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
PREJUDICE AGAINST IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS?
See my post at Chicago Boyz.
Sharon Dijksma, a leading parliamentarian of the Dutch Labour Party, is quoted as saying:
A highly-educated woman who chooses to stay at home and not to work – that is destruction of capital,” she said in an interview last week. “If you receive the benefit of an expensive education at society’s expense, you should not be allowed to throw away that knowledge unpunished.
Her ideas about capital, and ownership of capital, seem quite analogous to those that might be expected from a slaveholder in the American South circa 1860.
It's increasingly obvious that for many "progressives," the ability of ordinary people to make their own decisions is not something deserving of respect.