Saturday, December 30, 2006
A venture capitalist remembers a phone conversation he had back in 1998.
And here are some of the dumbest calls to customer service call centers in Britain.
A wide-ranging discussion on opinion change, political and otherwise, at ShrinkWrapped.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
AN ENGLISHMAN IN GERMANY, IN 1934
Patrick Leigh Fermor, then 18 years old, hiked around Germany shortly after the Nazi accession to power. He had many conversations with young Germans, mostly over mugs of beer:
In all these conversations there was one opening I particularly dreaded: I was English? Yes. A student? Yes. At Oxford, no? No. At this point I knew what I was in for.
The summer before, the Oxford Union had voted that “under no circumstances would they fight for King and Country.” The stir it had made in England was nothing, I gathered, to the sensation in Germany. I didn’t know much about it. In my explanation—for I was always pressed for one—I depicted the whole thing as merely another act of defiance against the older generation. The very phrasing of the motion—“fight for King and Country”—was an obsolete cliché from an old recruiting poster: no one, not even the fiercest patriot, would use it now to describe a deeply-felt sentiment. My interlocutors asked: “Why not?” “Für König und Vaterland” sounded different in German ears: it was a bugle-call that had lost none of its resonance. What exactly did I mean? The motion was probably “pour épater les bourgeois,” I floundered. Here someone speaking a little French would try to help. “Um die Bürger zu erstaunen? Ach, so!” A pause would follow. “A kind of joke, really,” I went on. “Ein Scherz?” they would ask. “Ein Spass? Ein Witz?” I was surrounded by glaring eyeballs and teeth. Someone would shrug and let out a staccato laugh like three notches on a watchman’s rattle. I could detect a kindling glint of scornful pity and triumph in the surrounding eyes which declared quite plainly their certainty that, were I right, England was too far gone in degeneracy and frivolity to present a problem. But the distress I could detect on the face of a silent opponent of the régime was still harder to bear: it hinted that the will or the capacity to save civilization was lacking where it might have been hoped for.
Fermor was a Special Operations Executive officer during WWII, and published extensively after the war. Jan Morris called him "the greatest of living travel writers." The whole article at the link is well worth reading.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
(Tom Peters identifies the source as Philo of Alexandria; others believe the quote may actually be from Plato.)
Mr Peters expands on the thought:
In my experience, Philo, our Greek guide, got it exactly and frighteningly right. Hidden from sight is an ailing parent, a life-long battle with excess weight, abiding shyness, or whatever/s. This "great battle" colors our mate's or employee's every action.
Be sure and read the comments at Tom's site, especially the second one.
Previous Worth Pondering.
CHRISTMAS EVE, 1906
A couple of years ago, I posted the following item:
98 years ago this evening, a few shipboard radio operators--listening through the static for signals in Morse code--heard something that they had never before heard on the radio, and that most had never expected to hear. A human voice.
The first voice radio broadcast was conducted by Reginald Fessenden, originating from his experimental station at Brant Rock, Massachussetts. After introducing the transmission, Fessenden played a recording of Handel's "Largo" and then sang "O Holy Night" while accompanying himself on the violin. Fessenden's wife and a friend were then intended to conduct a Bible reading, but in the first-ever case of mike fright, they were unable to do it, so the reading was conducted by Fessenden as well.
The signals were created by a high-frequency AC generator, an electromechanical device created by Ernst Alexanderson of GE and modified by Fessenden. The transmission took place at around 80KHZ. (Low frequency compared to today's normal radio, where the AM band starts at around 500KHZ; high frequency compared to the 60HZ that rotating machines normally produce.) I believe that the generator was powered by a steam turbine.
The Alexanderson machines were expensive and very large--broadcast radio on a commercial scale was not practical until the introduction of the vacuum tube for both transmitting and receiving, many years later.
More about Reginald Fessenden and his pioneering broadcast here.
This year is the centennial of the event, and commemoration events have been taking place in Brant Rock, culminating in today's re-enactment of Fessenden's pioneering broadcast by local radio station WATD.
In searching around for information to update this post, though, I came across something interesting: the Christmas Eve broadcast may have never actually happened. Critics point out that the only documentary evidence of the broadcast is a letter written by Fessenden in 1932--more than 25 years after the event--and they argue that Fessenden, a major publicity hound, would scarcely have missed the opportunity to hype the broadcast right after it took place.
There's no question, though, that Fessenden made major contributions to the development of radio, and he did conduct a demonstration of voice transmission on Dec 21, 1906--this was a point-to-point transmission for invited guests, though, rather than a broadcast.
It still seems to me quite possible that the original story may be true, and that Fessenden didn't publicize the Christmas Eve broadcast because he was focused on the business potential of point-to-point transmission, which had obvious revenue potential, rather than on the then-nonexistent broadcast market. The controversy is an interesting example of just how difficult it often is to achieve anything like certainty in historical research, even at the relatively close distance of 100 years.
FRENCH CHRISTMAS CAROLS
A pretty cool site here.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Men will die for a slogan who will not stir for a conclusion.
--John Cardinal Newman
Previous Worth Pondering
Thursday, December 21, 2006
GREAT LIBRARIES OF THE WORLD
Sheila O'Malley has some really excellent pictures.
Financial Times reports that the British government has terminated a fraud investigation involving a British company--because of pressure from the Saudi government. The FT article says that Saudi Arabia threatened to withdraw all co-operation on security-- including intelligence sharing on al-Qaeda--and downgrade its embassy in London--unless the investigation was stopped. There are also British arms sales to Saudi Arabia at stake, and it isn't clear to what degree the decision was based on that factor rather than on the security issues.
The decision to terminate the investigation is being challenged by two UK organizations.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
A Rutgers student meets President Bush and talks with him about the anti-Israel atmosphere she found on campus and the work she is doing to improve things there.
(via Meryl Yourish)
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Chuck Hagel, a United States Senator who calls himself a Republican;
Kofi Annan served as secretary general during 10 of the most difficult, complicated and dangerous years of the U.N.'s history. He did it with grace, humor, determination, and always doing what he felt was in the interests of mankind.
More here on the actual performance of the organization that Kofi Annan has been leading.
I think Annan's tenure as Secretary General was best summarized by Dr Sanity.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
SIGNS & PORTENTS
This report says that there have recently been large discoveries of natural gas off the coast of India. At present, India suffers from a signficant gas shortage: gas-fired power plants aggregating 12,000 megawatts of capacity are running at only half capacity because of lack of gas. With the new fields, the Ministry of Petroleum expects the supply situation to swing to a surplus over the next two years. Indeed, the ministry expects commercial vehicles to switch over to CNG (compressed natural gas) in place of gasoline.
If the gas finds are as large as claimed, this is pretty significant. In addition to being an energy source, natural gas is a common feedstock for petrochemical plants, and the new sources should make India more competitive in that field. (The production of fertilizer, which is obviously important to India's still-very-agricultural economy, is very natural-gas intensive.)
Speaking of natural gas, work is progressing on an alternative method for transporting gas by sea. At present, gas must be liquified at a temperature of -162 degrees C and maintained at this temperature during the voyage. Special ships (LNG tankers) are required for the purpose, in addition to extensive shore-based equipment. With the projected approach, gas is combined with water and frozen--interestingly, this freezing takes place at only about -20 C. The resulting product--natural gas hydrate, nicknamed "burning ice"--is more stable than LNG and can be transported in less-expensive ships. It would be expecially useful for exploitation of smaller gas fields, without sufficient scale to justify LNG facilities. Indeed, there are now combined oil/gas fields at which the oil is recovered but the gas is merely flared off, because there is at present no economical way to transport it. "Burning ice" may help eliminate this waste.
As always, nothing on this blog should be considered as investment advice.
(via The Energy Blog, here and here)
Saturday, December 16, 2006
HEROD, PILATE, AND THE ISG
Ralph Peters sees some connections.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
ANTI-SEMITISM AND ANTI-AMERICANISM
Barry Rubin explores the relationship between the two.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Some Iranian students are protesting against Ahmadinejad's obscene Holocaust-denial conference.
The conference "has brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world," said one student activist. Ahmadinejad's picture was burned by protestors at Amir Kabir University.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
KOFI ANNAN IS STEPPING DOWN
...and Dr Sanity has a musical tribute.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
WORST COVER LETTERS OF ALL TIME?
Killian Advertising gets lots of resumes, each with a cover letter--and they collect outstandingly bad examples of the genre. You can see some of them here.
Many of the perpetrators of these things are college graduates.
Killian prescribes Strunk & White. I'm afraid, though, that the situation is beyond a one-book cure.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
THE BAKER REPORT:
SOME REACTIONS FROM AROUND THE BLOGOSPHERE
From Annika's Journal:
It's almost like a bunch of guys sitting around a table on Saturday night, playing Risk, or Dungeons & Dragons. The panel members imagine a world in which all the players would act rationally if only they talked to each other. With their "New Diplomatic Offensive," they've conjured a mythological universe that sounds nice, but doesn't actually exist.
The Iraq Study Group's major error was their assumption that parties with a strong negotiation position will trade away strength for promises by a weaker adversary. The kind of negotiation that the ISG envisions could only work if the parties shared mutual interests and goals, which is absolutely not the case in Iraq or in the broader Middle East.
Robert Tracinski is reminded of a campus comedy troupe that did a recurring skit about a superhero named Captain Obvious. In each scene, a character would face a mundane problem, only to be "saved" by the banal and utterly unhelpful advice offered by Captain Obvious:
I've locked my keys in my car. What am I going to do?" "Well then," replies Captain Obvious, "all you have to do is open the door to your car, and then you can get your keys." Each scene ended the same way, with Captain Obvious proclaiming, "No, don't thank me. It's all in a day's work for Captain Obvious.
Tracinski sees the Iraq Study Group as following in the footsteps of Captain Obvious:
The problem in Iraq is that Iran and Syria are arming, funding, and encouraging Sunni and Shiite insurgents? Well then, all we have to do is to convince Syria and Iran to stop supporting these insurgents.
The problem in the region is that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict inflames anti-American sentiment? Well then, all we have to do is to convene a conference to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
See how simple that was? It's amazing that no one ever thought of these ideas before the Iraq Study Group came along. But no, don't thank them. It's all in a day's work for Captain Obvious.
When you desire a result without enacting the means for achieving it, that's called a "fantasy"which is ironic, considering that James Baker is a dean of the "realist" school of foreign policy.
The whole thing is inexplicable, except for this: A surgeon sees the world as a scalpel. James Baker, talker to the stars, sees negotiation and compromise in all he does.
Based on the historical record, the advocates of U.S. engagement with these regimes (Iran, Syria--ed) are delusional. The record, from Carter to Bush II, strongly suggests that neither regime has any interest in cooperating with us in Iraq, and are more likely than not to view the Carter-Brzezinski-Hagel approach as a demonstration of American weakness.
Dr Sanity, commenting on the above:
Delusional is precisely the word for it. Some, apparently prefer to refer to it as "realism".
I see this sort of cognitive process all the time with patients who simply can't figure out why responding in the same dysfunctional manner to events in their life doesn't seem to work any better on the third, fourth, or fifth try. God forbid they examine those thought processes and adjust their behavior to the reality of the situation.
T F Boggs, a 24-year-old Sergeant who has completed two tours in Iraq:
The Iraq Survey Group’s findings or rather, recommendations are a joke and could have only come from a group of old people who have been stuck in Washington for too long. The brainpower of the ISG has come up with a new direction for our country and that includes negotiating with countries whose people chant “Death to America” and whose leaders deny the Holocaust and call for Israel to be wiped from the face of the earth. Baker and Hamilton want us to get terrorists supporting countries involved in fighting terrorism! If I am the only one who finds something wrong with that then please let me know because right now I feel like I am the only person who feels this way.
Not only are the findings of the ISG a joke but the people who led the group (Baker and Hamilton) treat soldiers like they are a joke. One of the main recommendations of the ISG is to send more troops to Iraq in order to train Iraqis so they can secure their own country, but they don’t feel that we are doing a good job of that right now because training Iraqis isn’t an attractive job for soldiers to do because it isn’t a “career advancing” job. As someone who trained Iraqis from time to time I take personal offense to this remark. In my experience soldiers clamored for the chance to train Iraqis. Any soldier who doesn’t think training Iraqis is worth their time because it isn’t a “career advancing” job shouldn’t be part in the war on terror plain and simple.
I feel like all of my efforts (30 months of deployment time) and the efforts of all my brothers in arms are all for naught. I thought old people were supposed to be more patient than a 24 year old but apparently I have more patience for our victory to unfold in Iraq than 99.9 percent of Americans. Iraq isn’t fast food-you can’t have what you want and have it now.
...and, just to demonstrate to Sgt Boggs that not all older people share the opinions of the ISG members, here's Victor Davis Hanson.
PEARL HARBOR DAY
Pictures at Castle Argghhh.
Thoughts from Michelle and Debbie.
President Roosevelt's speech to Congress. (via Sarah)
UPDATE: More at Tinktery Tonk.
Monday, December 04, 2006
REALLY, REALLY AWFUL
John Bolton is out.
The fact that Mr Bolton was not acceptable to the Democratic leadership of the Senate says a great deal about today's Democratic Party.
UPDATE: Following the German anschluss of Austria in 1938, Winston Churchill spoke as follows:
For five years I have talked to the House on these matters--not with any great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on these break beneath your feet.
In our own time, the ouster of John Bolton marks a movement of a considerable distance down the stairway. And the further down we go, the greater will be the human costs of retracing our steps.
See also MaxedOutMama.
UPDATE 2: Annika has some ideas for Bolton's replacement.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
COOL STARTUP STORY
Lindsay Smith, a screenwriter, was unhappy about the fate of the ficus trees in her neighborhood--city crews were cutting them down in order to keep the roots from destroying adjacent sidewalks. She managed to get a 48-hour reprieve for the surviving trees, and went in search of a new kind of sidewalk material--one that could more easily coexist with trees and their roots.
She's now CEO of Rubbersidewalks Inc, which installs footpaths made of recycled tires. These sidewalks can be placed closer to trees without problems--also, they avoid accidents involving people who trip over broken concrete, and save money by reducing the need for root pruning, concrete repair, and easements. Overall economics will depend on how durable the Rubbersidewalks turn out to be--Smith says they should last at least seven years.
She started the business by combining a grant from a California govenment agency with money borrowed against her credit cards, and then obtained a $100K investment from an angel investor.
The full story is at BusinessWeek (12/11 issue, subscription required)
Previous cool startup story
Saturday, December 02, 2006
"Protesters" attempted to disrupt an event at Michigan State University which featured Congressman Tom Tancredo. The chairman of an organization co-sponsoring the event, Kyle Bristow, said he was kicked and spat upon by some of the protesters. This happened outside the MSU College of Law, where the discussion was being held. (more here)
This is not protest--this is thuggery. And this kind of violent interference with the free speech of others is all too common among "progressives." Consider, for example, the events at Columbia University on October 4, and this story from last year's Liberty Film Festival. And this, in Washington DC.
The use of violence to suppress political speech is not limited to the university, but it seems to be most common there--indeed, I suspect that many "progressives" learn this form of political behavior during their college years, and then take it out with them into the wider society.
Writing about an experience at Berkeley, Laurie Zoloth wrote, "This is the Weimar republic with Brownshirts it cannot control."
The American people need to stand up and insist on a respect for law and free speech on the nation's campuses. It's become pretty clear that--in the absence of strong external pressure--most administrators aren't going to make much of an effort in that direction.
(via Sister Toldjah)