Friday, September 29, 2006
COLLEGE AND KNOWLEDGE:
Is There Any Connection?
According to a recent study, American college students demonstrate a dismal lack of knowledge concerning American history and government, not to mention current affairs.
*28 percent of seniors thought that the American Revolution was ended by the Battle of Gettysburg
*More than 75 percent of college seniors failed to properly identify the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine.
*Fewer than half of all seniors could identify the Baath party as the main source of Saddam Hussein's political support. In fact, 12.2 percent believed that Saddam Hussein found his most reliable supporters in the Communist Party. Bizarrely, more than 5 percent chose Israel!
College administrators will probably defend themselves by pointing out that much of the knowledge covered by the survey has traditionally been taught at the K-12 level. Indeed, the survey should probably be thought as a measurement of the combined effectiveness of K-12 and college education, rather than the effectiveness of college education alone.
Which doesn't let the colleges off the hook. After all, K-12 teachers are trained in colleges. If American university administrators were serious about the importance of learning, they would attempt to do something about the usually-ridiculous schools of "education" within their domains.
Maybe the only solution is this.
(via Joanne Jacobs)
Monday, September 25, 2006
Victor Davis Hanson writes about fascism, then and now.
UPDATE: See also this interesting article at about "cosmopolitanism," anti-Semitism, globalization, and many other things--at The Brussels Journal. Related: these thoughts from Ralph Peters.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
A WHOLE LOT OF SPINNING:
50 YEARS OF THE MAGNETIC DISK
In September 1956, IBM began customer shipments of the first computer to incorporate a magnetic disk, the IBM 305 RAMAC. The disk/computer combination was about the size of two refrigerators, and weighed around a ton. Total storage capacity of the disk was 5 million characters, or about 3.8 megabytes in modern terms. The active electronic components were vacuum tubes.
IBM's sales pitch for RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) is that it would allow business transactions to be processed as they occurred, updating multiple files as necessary, rather than be accumulated in large batches with resultant inflexibility and processing delays.
Could anyone have imagined, looking at a RAMAC in 1956, that there would one day be something called a "laptop computer"--and that magnetic disks would become so small and so dense that a laptop could store Social Security information for everyone in the United States (with resultant information-privacy issues)?
Saturday, September 23, 2006
The President looked at me in the eye and said, "Part of my job is to make sure we'll never be too late."
Read about a Rabbi's meeting with President Bush.
LIKE SWIMMING IN GLUE
See my post at ChicagoBoyz.
Friday, September 22, 2006
PELOSI VS PELOSI
Nancy Pelosi: And if [bin Laden] is caught tomorrow, it is five years too late. He has done more damage the longer he has been out there,” she told reporters. “But, in fact, the damage that he has done is done. And even to capture him now I don’t think makes us any safer.
Nancy Pelosi: "I have five children," she said. "Five grandchildren, going on six. And I consider myself the ultimate security mom." By way of clarification, she felt compelled to add: "Democrats are committed to hunting down Osama bin Laden."
Even standing by itself, the first statement makes no sense--why would it have been important to capture bin Laden earlier, but not now? And the combination of the two statements represents an obvious contradiction.
I have to wonder--is there anything at all in Pelosi's head other than catch-phrases and "talking points"?
It is terrifying to consider that, if the Democrats do well in Novemember, this individual might become Speaker of the House.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
RALLY IN NYC
A large rally was held outside the UN today in support of Israel, the United States, and free people everywhere, and in opposition to the madness represented by Iranian leader Ahmadinejad. Pamela has pictures and commentary.
UPDATE: Meryl observes that there has been very little coverage of this rally by the legacy media, even though the speakers included people such as U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, New York Gov. George Pataki, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
...at The Glittering Eye.
A New York Times article about Cuba (8/6) contains the following paragraph:
With his bushy beard and his booming anti-American rhetoric, Mr. Castro, who turns 80 next Sunday, will linger in the Cuban imagination far into the future as a double image — one, the romantic revolutionary of 1958, promising Cuba equality, prosperity and independence; the other, the prisoner of a half-century of confrontation with the United States that kept Cuba from evolving in a way that could deliver on the promises.
Uh...maybe the factors that "kept Cuba from evolving" might have something to do with the tight central control of the economy, combined with the complete absence of political freedom? Just maybe?
The article also has this sentence: "But the American embargo that followed the rebels' triumph froze Cuba out of any hope of building a future based on trade with the biggest economy in the Americas."
Why, exactly, would Cuba's future have needed to be based on trade with the United States? Cuba is an island--it has no road or rail connections to the U.S. Everything that Cuba exports or imports has to go by ship or airplane, in any event. Had the Cuban society and economy been freer and more rationally-managed, then Cuba could have done fine economically, even given the U.S. embargo, with other trading partners. China, for example, has developed a very large trade with the U.S.--and China is a lot further from the U.S. than Cuba is from Europe and from other Latin American countries.
Decade after decade of Marxist economic failures in all parts of the world, and it's still difficult for some people to look at reality.
Monday, September 18, 2006
NOT YOUR FATHER'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Some thoughts from Matthew Brooks. (via Judith at HNN)
See also my post on the same theme.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
THE ROBOTICIZATION OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
Almost every day, one encounters some business that is attempting to micromanage the interactions between its employees and its customers.
At lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for bacon & eggs, so I went to a restaurant (part of a local chain) that has breakfast items all day long. The interaction went something like this:
Waitperson: Welcome to Snarfers-by-the-Lake, my name is Linda, I'll be your server today.
Me: Hi, Linda. I'm kind of in a breakfast mood, so I think I'll have the bacon & eggs.
WP (looks confused, as if she'd never heard of this dish before): Bacons & eggs? I don't think...Oh, that would be our "eggs any style."
Me: OK...style I like 'em is over medium, with the bacon pretty crisp.
WP: Over medium...and would you like bacon or sausage with that?
Me: Bacon...pretty crisp.
WP: And our soup today is cream of broccoli.
Me: Soup with breakfast? That would be something different!
WP: I know it's silly, but they make me say it.
I know it's silly, but they make me say it. In how many consumer-oriented businesses could employees say the same thing?
Also a couple of weeks ago, I had to call my local telco, always a dreaded experience. After I had finally gotten through the levels of the voice response menu and got a person, it was:
CS Agent: Thank you for calling, how may I provide you with exceptional service today?
How may I provide you with exceptional service today? You can bet the agent didn't come up with this phrase all by herself. And I doubt if her management came up with it all on their own. No, I detect the fine hand of a consultant here--maybe the pointy-haired guy in Dilbert went into the CS consulting business.
What imaginable purpose is there in requiring this phrase to be used in thousands of calls per day? Customers will decide if the service is "exceptional" or not based on what gets done or not done. You're not going to convince them by using the word. And from the standpoint of the CS agents, this kind of thing can only breed cynicism.
Many retail and customer-service operations seem to have recently discovered the work-study methods of Frederick Winslow Taylor, 80 years or so after they started to be used in manufacturing, and to be applying them without much thought. People--and customer service situations--are much more variable than are semifinished materials in a factory environment. And, even in manufacturing there has been some retreat from strict Taylorism.
Increasingly, customer service interactions are reminiscent of an automated machine tool doing something without regard for the context--say, a CNC milling machine going through an elaborate cutting pattern, totally oblivious to the fact that no workpiece is present, and the only thing it is cutting is air.
I think it was Peter Drucker who quoted an old business saying: "You can't just hire a hand. Its owner always comes with it." Too many people running customer service operations seem to think that they can just hire a voice, without mind or heart attached.
At the same time customer service operations are micromanaging verbal interactions, they often undermanage the flow of work. In call centers, it's often pretty obvious that no one has systematically thought through the question: What are the most common kinds of customer issues, and how might each of them best be handled? To use a manufacturing analogy again, it's like an auto assembly plant that conducts elaborate time-and-motion studies to determine the best way to tighten a particular bolt--but never notices that the seats are being put on before the bolt in question...which is underneath one of the seats...and hence that seat has to be taken back out again before the bolt can go in.
There are big opportunities, in the form of revenue, customer loyalty, and profit, for those businesses that choose to apply serious thought to their customer service processes, rather than just going with whatever is trendy at the moment.
There's plenty of mindless customer-service activity going on in government and in K-12 education, too--probably much worse than in business, on the average, but arguably harder to fix due to things like interest-group politics and Civil Service rules. Business should be providing a good example, not an increasingly awful one.
For a positive customer service story, see this, from Laurence Haughton.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Here's an interesting visual representation of the economic cycle.
And Mike Mandel of BusinessWeek has an article on the impact of healthcare on the U.S. economy, and especially on employment. Link and discussion at his blog.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
IT SHALL BE SUSTAINED
Here is a Stepher Vincent Benet poem from the World War II era, which I believe we would all benefit from reading at this particular point in time.
Monday, September 11, 2006
9/11 PLUS FIVE YEARS
I am increasingly worried about our prospects for success in the battle against those who would destroy our civilization. America and the other democracies possess great military, economic, and intellectual strengths--but severe internal divisions threaten our ability to use these resources effectively.
Within days of the collapse of the Towers, it started. "Progressive" demonstrators brought out the stilt-walkers, the Uncle Sam constumes, and the giant puppets of George Bush. They carried signs accusing America of planning "genocide" against the people of Afghanistan.
Professors and journalists preached about the sins of Western civilization, asserting that we had brought it all on ourselves. A well-known writer wrote of her unease when her daughter chose to buy and display an American flag. Some universities banned the display of American flags in dormitories, claiming that such display was "provocative."
Opinions such as these have metastacized to the point at which they are no longer irrelevant to mainstream politics. Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, along with other leading Democrats, attended a special screening of Michael Moore's movie Farenheit 9/11. Moore is well-known for his outrageous statements about the country in which he lives--things he is credibly reported to have said include: "(Americans) are possibly the dumbest people on the planet . . . in thrall to conniving, thieving smug [pieces of the human anatomy]," (in an interview with the British newspaper The Mirror) and "That's why we're smiling all the time. You can see us coming down the street. You know, `Hey! Hi! How's it going?' We've got that big [expletive] grin on our face all the time because our brains aren't loaded down" (to a crowd in Munich) and "You're stuck with being connected to this country of mine, which is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe." (to a crowd in Cambridge, England.) And about the terrorists who are killing Americans and Iraqis on a daily basis in Iraq, Moore had this to say: "The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not `insurgents' or `terrorists' or `The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win."
This is the individual who shared Jimmy Carter's box at the Democratic National Convention, and who continues to be very popular in "progressive" circles.
Imagine if a former President, in the midst of World War II, had embraced a man who spoke to foreign audiences about the stupidity of the American people and referred to our German and Japanese enemies as "heroes." Imagine also that such attitudes had been openly embraced by a large part of the Republican Party leadership and by many well-known writers and entertainers. Could Franklin Roosevelt have led the nation to victory under such circumstances?
And continuously, there has been the steady drip-drip-drip of moral equivalence. In September 2003, Howard Dean, now Democratic National Committee Chairman, stated that the US should not "take sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Actually, the refusal to draw a bright line against Palestinian terrorism is a major factor that enabled 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities.
Susan Turnbull, Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, referred to the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as murder. Follow this link and you can hear it for yourself. Yes, she corrected herself and changed it to the "bombing" of Zarqawi. However: As far as I can tell, Turnbull is a native speaker of the English language. And I don't think any native English speaker would use the term "murdered" unless they disapproved of what had been done. Certainly, few Americans during WWII would have referred to the "murder" of Admiral Yamamoto (whose plane was shot down after his movement plans became known via communications intercepts) or the "murder" of German war criminals who were executed after the war.
Many individuals, particularly among religious leaders, show a stunning naivete. Annika quotes from a homily at a church in her neighborhood: "What if, instead of bombing Afghanistan, we had dropped food, medicine and education?"
How could anyone with an IQ above refrigerator temperature say such a thing? Even if education could somehow be "dropped," isn't this priest aware that the Taliban specifically denied education to women, and greatly limited the kinds of education that were available to men? Does he think the Taliban's executions at the soccer stadium, or its destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, were motivated by a desire for food and medicine?
People who say such things are so caught up in the catch-phrases they have been taught that they are completely unable to understand the real motivations of the enemy.
Bryan Preston: Rather than accept the reality of an enemy that cannot and therefore will not negotiate away what he believes to be the will of God, and rather than accept that this enemy will understand nothing outside total victory or total defeat, and rather than understand that this enemy’s goals include enslaving the entire world in a global caliphate, and rather than accept that this reality necessitates the use of all tools including military might to defend ourselves, millions have embraced an alternate reality. The reality of the enemy outside the West and its motivations being too terrifying and too far beyond their own control, millions now imagine that the enemy in this war is within. The enemy, to them, isn’t the turbaned man behind the plot to hijack multiple airplanes and crash them into multiple buildings in America. The real enemy, to these millions, is the man in the Oval Office, and the man or men behind him.
Five years on, the illness of replacing an implacable, indeed alien enemy with one from our own civilizational family has spread and metastasized through the majority of one of our two political parties, and may yet claim a majority of the country itself. History has a way of fading out as the day’s current noise rises in volume, and to them 9-11 is either history or a historic lie. The loudest voice, though not always or even often right, is often the one that gets the last word. And the 9-11 deniers and their allies across the left are nothing if not loud.
Five years on, it’s hard to take a positive look at the war because we are failing to comprehend it. The mass denial of reality is taking half our arsenal of unity and morale away from us. Those of us who see the threat for what it is still say that we will prevail because we are right and because we are America, but that’s just letting the others off the hook. If we’re going to prevail anyway, why should they snap out of their fog? And why should we demand that they do? The truth is, we need the denial to end and we need our countrymen to understand and help, but since we’re powerless to cure it with reason we shrug or laugh at it. But it’s eating away at our ability to defend ourselves.
It has to be said: The mass denial of reality is taking half our arsenal of unity and morale away from us. We are not dealing here merely with normal differences about policy that can be debated by rational individuals. We are have in our midst a significant number of individuals who are filled with rage toward their own country, who are highly susceptible to bizarre conspiracy theories, who lack any form of historical perspective, who are increasingly eager to engage in scapegoating.
A couple of days ago, I visited an old industrial facility that has been restored to operating condition. One of the machines there, dating from around 1900, was called an attrition mill. It contains two steel discs, which rotate at high speed in opposite directions, crushing the kernels of grain between them.
I fear that our civilization is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one disc being the terrorist enemy, and the other being the reality-deniers within our own societies.
Links worth following:
Roger L Simon
There is an extensive collection of links at Pajamas Media.
Jane Galt links to a post she wrote six months after 9/11, when she was volunteering at the World Trade Center site.
UPDATE: A worthwhile essay at The American Thinker: The Moral Emptiness of the Left. Also see Bret Stephens on some of the roots of the left's confused thinking on terrorism.
Finally, Reflecting Light has some eloquent words.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Ralph Peters has an article in The Weekly Standard (9/4) which is worth careful reading and consideration. Excerpt:
Globalization is real, but its power to improve the lot of humankind has been madly oversold. Globalization enthralls and binds together a new aristocracy--the golden crust on the human loaf--but the remaining billions, who lack the culture and confidence to benefit from "one world," have begun to erect barricades against the internationalization of their affairs. And, from Peshawar to Paris, those manning the barricades increasingly turn violent over perceived threats to their accustomed patterns of life. If globalization represents a liberal worldview, renewed localism is a manifestation of reactionary fears, resurgent faiths, and the iron grip of tradition. Except in the commercial sphere, bet on the localists to prevail.
When the topic of resistance to globalization arises, an educated American is apt to think of a French farmer-activist trashing a McDonald's, anarchist mummers shattering windows during World Bank powwows, or just the organic farmer with a stall at the local market. But the swelling resistance to globalization is far more powerful and considerably more complex than a few squads of drop-outs aiming rocks at the police in Seattle or Berlin. We are witnessing the return of the tribes--a global phenomenon, but the antithesis of globalization as described in pop bestsellers. The twin tribal identities, ethnic and religious brotherhood, are once again armed and dangerous.
Men dream of change, but cling to what they know. Far from teaching the workers of the world to love one another (or at least to enjoy a Starbucks together), the economic and informational effects of globalization have been to remind people how satisfying it is to hate. Whether threatened in their jobs, their moral code, or their religion, human beings dislocated by change don't want explanations. They want someone to blame.
Read the whole thing here.
HERE ARE THE WINNERS
...of the George Orwell Creative Use of Language Award and other awards for "achievement" in the field of education.
Read, laugh, and weep.
(via Newmark's Door)
Monday, September 04, 2006
THIS IS SAD
Our new, young principal has discovered "professional learning communities" and "collaboration".
So what is the first thing he does? He breaks up all of the school's teaching partnerships, some of which went back for a decade.
..from the comments to this post.
I think this kind of thing is related to the growing obsession, in many fields, with technique. Far too many people are so obsessed with methodology/technique that they can't even recognize something unless it's called by precisely the right name...as in the inability to recognize a "professional learning community" if it's called something else (or not named at all.)
See my post, Management Education and the Role of Technique.
Friday, September 01, 2006
ON THIS DAY IN 1939...
Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, igniting the Second World War. Thanks to Annika for the reminder; be sure and read her post.
Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland's assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain's government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. "If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty's Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier."
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment's silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. standing up he shouted across the Greenwood: "Speak for England!" It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country's honour. What in effect he said was: "The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will." That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation's pledged word.
Greenwood then made a speech which I noted that night as certain to be the greatest of his life; a speech that would illuminate a career and justify a whole existence. It was remarkable neither for eloquence nor for dramatic effect, but the drama was there, we were all living it, we and millions more whose fate depended on the decisions taken in that small Chamber.
The reaction of the House evidently made an impact on Chamberlain: the declaration of war came the next day. France aso declared war on Germany, but little effective action in support of the Poles was taken by either country. Spears continues:
Many of my fellow Members of Parliament were as worried as I was that we were doing nothing by way of air attack on Germany to relieve the intolerable pressure the German Luftwaffe was exerting on Poland...The Polish Ambassador, Count Raczinski, a young man gifted with rare qualities of fortitude and courage, asked to see me. He was justifiably upset at an answer given by the Minister concerned in the House of Commons on September 6th, to the effect that the information available indicated that the Germans were only bombing Polish military objectives and were not attacking the civilian population as such.
Spears was aware that this was not true--that according to press reports the Germans were in fact attacking population centers, and Raczinski provided him with further details. Spears met with Kingsley Wood, the Secretary of State for Air, demanding that aggressive action be taken in place of the propaganda-leaflet drops on Germany that were then the only British activity in the air.
It was ignominious, I told him, to stage a confetti war against an utterly ruthless enemy who was meanwhile destroying a whole nation, and to pretend we were therey fulfilling our obigations. We were covering ourselves with ridicule by organizing this kind of carnival. It was as futile as reading a lesson on deportment to a homicidal maniac at the height of his frenzy.
France, also, did very little to provide support to the Poles. An advance from the Maginot line was announced, with the intention of drawing off German troops, but it was more of a political demonstration than a serious military operation.
Writing after the war, General Spears quotes German sources on the opportunity that was missed by not taking more aggressive action:
The Germans, notably General Zlander, were puzzled by Allied inactivity in the air. He wrote (February 1941) that it was a grave error on the part of the Allies not to have made a maximum effort at the time their opponent was fully occupied in Poland. Their attitude, he avowed, completely justified the German strategy of temporary non-aggression in the West.
(German) General Jodl declared at the Nuremberg Trial: "In 1939, catastrophe was only avoided because the 110 French and British Divisions remained inactive in front of our 23 divisions in the West."
On September 17, the Soviet Union also attacked Poland, in accordance with Stalin's agreement with Hitler. Despite a valiant resistance, there was no longer any hope of preserving Poland's independence, and the country was partitioned between the two dictators.
The Polish Government went into exile. Many Polish troops and pilots escaped, along with naval units, and went on to support Allied operations throughout the remainder of the war. Polish codebreakers also made a great contribution to the Allied victory: they took the first steps toward breaking the German "Enigma" code and devised the earliest form of the "Bombe" device (later improved by Alan Turing and others) which partially automated this process.
More on the war in Poland and its consequences here.
The Spears quotations are from his remarkable memoir, Assignment to Catastrophe.