Thursday, May 31, 2007
DUNKIRK AND CALAIS
On this day in 1940, the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk (which began on May 27 and ended June 4) was at its peak. 120,927 men were taken off the beaches on May 30-31.
On May 25, the British government had decided that the garrison holding Calais should not be withdrawn but must fight to the end--as part of the overall strategy for the Dunkirk operation and possibly for symbolic reasons as well. The final decision was made by Churchill, Eden, and Ironside at about 9PM. The force at Calais included Anthony Eden's own regiment, in which he had served in the First World War and in which he surely still had many friends.
Here is the message that was sent to Brigadier Nicholson at Calais.
Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the B.E.F. Government has therefore decided you must continue to fight. Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not (repeat not) take place, and craft required for this purpose are to return to Dover. Verity and Windsor to cover Commander Minesweeping and his retirement.
After this message was transmitted, the three men sat in silence. Churchill reports that he felt physically sick.
See Their Finest Hour and these articles on Durkirk and Calais.
(Note that the dates in the Churchill book and the Calais article do not match: it appears that the message must actually have been sent on the evening of March 25 rather than March 26th as reported by Churchill.)
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
NEW FRONTIERS IN MICROMANAGEMENT
A kindergarten teacher reported how she was instructed to ask her students, on the third day of class, "to reflect on how they’d grown as writers."
A six-year-old child whose classroom was under the project’s tutelage remarked to me, "Once upon a time is against the law in our school."
Read the whole thing.
Via Joanne Jacobs.
Monday, May 28, 2007
MEMORIAL DAY, 2007
A long and thoughtful piece by naval aviator Neptunus Lex.
Numerous links at Mudville Gazette.
Dr Sanity writes about America, The Singularity.
Fred Thompson asks "How can you remember something that you've never learned?"
Michael Yon has a message from Iraq.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
BISMARCK SUNK: CHURCHILL IS A FAILURE
Today is the 66th anniversary of the sinking of the Bismarck. How might today's media have covered this story? See my post at ChicagoBoyz.
Terry Teachout, writing in The Wall Street Journal (5/26), reports that the Chicago city council has banned smoking, on stage, by actors--even when the smoking is explicitly included in the script of the play.
Charles Newell, artistic director of the Court Theatre, responds:
"There are plenty of scenes where I can't imagine what you'd do without smoking. I mean, how could you possibly do a Noel Coward play without it? And we often use directors like JoAnne Akalaitis who are aggressive, even intentionally provocative about using smoking as a way of physicalizing the internal agitation of a character."
As Teachout points out, "To perform "Streetcar" without cigarettes, or "Twelve Angry Men" without a smoke-filled jury room, is to insult the intelligence of audiences who hae come to see these well-known plays expecting to see them performed as written."
There is a strong faction in American politics which seems to regard all aspects of human life as matters for the involvement of the police. And the size and influence of this faction seems to be growing.
When all aspects of life are increasingly controlled by regulations, then the very spirit of America--"It's a free country, I can do what I want"--is harmed. And the more this spirit is lost, the fewer objections there will be to further intrusions.
American "progressives" declaim hysterically against the supposed threat to freedom represented by measures to protect us from the very real threat of terrorism, but typically have little objection to the creeping overregulation of day-to-day life...indeed, they are often the principal proponents of such overregulation.
Friday, May 25, 2007
TRENDS IN GLOBAL MANUFACTURING
Financial Times (5/24) has the following headline:
US to lose role as world's top manufacturer by 2020
I expect this headline will generate a certain amount of surprise--because there seem to be a lot of people who think the U.S. has already lost its role as the world's leading manufacturer. Indeed, I regularly see blog and media assertions to the effect that there is very little manufacturing remaining in this country.
The article quotes a study by the consultancy Global Insight which puts the current U.S. share of world manufacturing output (2006) at 25.5%, compared with a 12.1% share for China. Global Insight's forecast for 2020 is 22.2% for the U.S. and 22.4% for China. Irritatingly, the end point used for other countries/regions is 2024 rather than 2020: a share decline from 13.9% to 8.6% for Japan and from 26.1% to 19% for Western Europe.
As Jim Womack, chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute, says: "If you told most people in the US that the country was still the biggest manufacturer and is likely to remain so for some time, they would say you were lying. There's a lot of netative feeling in the US (about manufacturing) and this leaves people thinking the country is doing worse than it really is."
Forecasts for 2020 and beyond should, of course, be taken with several carloads of salt: there are an awful lot of factors that will influence the various national shares of manufacturing.
Here's the on-line version of the FT article: the headline is slightly different from the one in the print edition.
See also my post Misvaluing Manufacturing.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
A SNARL FROM THE GUILDHALL
Film critic and book reviewer Richard Schickel doesn't have a very high opinion of reviews by bloggers. He seems particularly bothered that one blogger who is "a former quality-control manager for a car parts maker" posted 95 book reviews at his site last year.
Lead and Gold responds here.
And I wonder what possible bearing Schickel thinks the former profession of the car-parts guy has on the goodness or badness of his writing. If Schickel sees something wrong with the reviews, why doesn't he focus on the substance instead of on the man's professional background?
I wonder if Schickel is aware that the famous America poet Wallace Stevens had a day job as a Vice President of the Hartford Insurance Company. Should this have disqualified Stevens from having his poems read and taken seriously?
Monday, May 21, 2007
INTELLIGENCE AND THUGGERY
See my post at ChicagoBoyz.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
A paper in the Journal of Marketing suggests that companies with high customer satisfaction scores have better stock price performance, going forward, than do companies with lesser customer-satisfaction scores. Summary here.
Pretty obvious, you might say--clearly, companies with happy customers are going to do better than those with unhappy cusomers. But if it's the relationship is that obvious to investors, then you might expect the release of quarterly ACSI (American Consumer Satisfaction Index(tm)) to have a significant impact on stock prices of companies for which the ACSI changed--from my reading of the study, no such relationship was found, implying that the effect of these scores is not being immediately factored into the stock prices, which in turn implies that ACSI-based analysis could be a useful factor in stock selection
This link via Barry Ritholtz.
As always, nothing on this weblog should be considered as investment advice. Trademark acknowledged.
...from Melanie Phillips. Excerpt:
Why is a liberal society so reluctant to defend its own most cherished values of freedom and tolerance? The answer, I suggest, lies both in the intrinsic nature of liberalism — and also in what I would call our dominant culture of corrupted liberalism, in which true liberal values have actually been turned on their heads.
Our corrupted liberal culture has torn up the key precepts of liberalism so that it no longer knows what they are, let alone stands ready to defend them to the death. Authentic liberalism was a doctrine of social progress based on maximising the good in people’s behaviour and minimising the bad. It thus depended upon making moral distinctions between good and bad.
At the same time, we have the innate weakness of liberalism in spades. We see everything through the prism of the profound liberal delusion that the world is governed by reason and that all people have goodwill. This means that liberals cannot grasp that some of the things that divide people are insuperable barriers and are not susceptible to reason. They cannot acknowledge the transcendent and irreducible nature of religious fanaticism. They think instead that everything is subject to negotiation and compromise. So their instinct is to reach out to Islamists to reason with them, to draw the poison of this extremism by giving it rewards and inducements that will play to the fanatic’s self-interest and turn him into a pillar of western society. That is why liberals do appeasement; and Britain, the cradle of liberalism, does it better than anyone else.
What we are living through in the west is nothing short of a repudiation of the Enlightenment, a repudiation of reason; and its substitution by irrationality, obscurantism, bigotry and clerical totalitarianism — all facilitated by our so-called ‘liberal’ society, and all in the name of ‘human rights’.
Read the whole thing.
Friday, May 18, 2007
THE PROVERB OF THE POODLE
Once, there was a black poodle who was very intelligent--and knew it. (I am confident that this was a standard poodle, although this fact is not specified in the story.)
One evening, the poodle was returning from the public library, where he had been reading fables by Aesop. He was not happy with the way Aesop presented dogs, and and was particularly irritated by the story in which a dog drops a real bone in order to get its larger-looking reflection in the water. "No dog is that stupid," the poodle said to himself, and he resolved that he, for one, would certainly never do such a silly thing.
On the way home--carrying a small bone in his mouth for dinner--he crossed a bridge and noticed a large and delicious-looking bone in the water beneath. "Well, I'm certainly not as stupid as Aesop imagined," he thought as he hurried on, congratulating himself on his astuteness. The bone in the water--an excellent one, dropped that very afternoon by the grocer's deliveryman--remained where it was.
This story is a slightly-modified version of the one told by Gerald Weinberg in his 1982 book--Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design--a book which is broader in its relevance than its title might lead one to believe.
More Weinberg wisdom here.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
I'm sorry to see that Annika plans to stop blogging in a few days. In her Fairwell Tour, she mentions this post from 2004, in which she channels Samuel Pepys.
The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.
(via Dean's World)
Previous Worth Pondering
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
INTERESTING AUTOMOTIVE NEWS
General Motors says that it is doing the production engineering on the Chevrolet Volt--the plug-in hybrid that debuted as a concept car at the Detroit auto show in January. "It is a formal product program within our company, just like the Chevrolet Malibu is a product program," according to Larry Burns, who runs R&D for GM. Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, estimates that the design, engineering, and tooling will cost in excess of $500 million.
The main thing that has been delaying plug-in hybrids--and the key success factor for the Volt--is the availability of an appropriate battery technology. The GM announcement suggests that they have some confidence that the batteries will be ready by 2010, which industry analysts project as the launch date for the Volt product line. GM has awarded two contracts for battery development--one went to Cobasys LLC, a Detroit maker of nickel-metal hydride batteries, and the other to a joint venture between Johnson Controls Inc. and Saft Advanced Power Solutions, a French company. (More on the battery development programs here.)
Meanwhile, Toyota announced that it has cost-reduced its hybrid vehicles significantly and projects that when sales volumes hit one million per year, its margins on hybrids will be as good as for conventional vehicles. (Expected sales for this year: 430,000 units.) The company went on to say that by 2020 it expects all of its vehicles to be hybrids.
The cost reductions should not be surprising: the company has been subsidizing early production, as have its customers (since in most cases they are buying hybrids which cannot be justified on strict economic grounds and are being purchased for reasons of environmental committment and/or social prestige)--but, as normally happens in manufacturing, Toyota has been able to "move down the learning curve" as it gains volume and optimizes its production techniques for these vehicles.
Interestingly, Toyota in its statement was not sanguine about the outlook for the plug-in hybrid, stating that they are "years away." Why is GM more optimistic about this technology than is Toyota? Does GM know something about battery technology that Toyota doesn't? Or does Toyota have plans that it prefers not to telegraph?
Or is GM simply spending a half billion to buy a call option (in the sense of real options theory) on the plug-in hybrid? That is, if the battery technology is ready, GM will be ready to move quickly into production since the other elements of the product program would be in place...if it's not ready, then the payoff from the startup costs will be delayed or, in the worst case, written off. It stikes me that this would be a rational thing for GM to do, given the upside if the technology works and GM effectively exploits it, and the downside if it works and somebody else gets there first.
GM link via The Energy Blog.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
COMMERCE ON THE NET, 1852
If, on the arrival of an European mail at one of the northern ports, the news from Europe reports that the supply of cotton or of corn is inadequate to meet the existing demand, almost before the vessel can be moored intelligence is spread by the Electric Telegraph, and the merchants and shippers of New Orleans are busied in the preparation of freights, or the corn-factors of St Louis and Chicago, in the far west, are emptying their granaries and forwarding their contents by rail or canal to the Atlantic ports.
--An English visitor to the U.S., quoted in Nuts and Bolts of the Past by David Freeman Hawke.
By 1866, the Atlantic telegraph cable was in place, and it was no longer necessary to wait for the arrival of the vessel carrying the European mail.
See The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage for an interesting view of parallels between the impact of the telegraph in the mid-1900s and the impact of the Internet today.
UPDATE: Via an email from Triticale comes a modern story about the impact of communications on the distribution of food supplies.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
A NEGLECTED BUT SIGNIFICANT ANNIVERSARY
67 years ago today, the German army invaded Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. See my post at ChicagoBoyz.
The S&P 500 since the end of 1999, denominated in various commodities including dollars, yen, euros, oil, corn, and houses.
THE SUPERBNESS OF SHORPY
If you're not checking the photoblog Shorpy on a regular basis, you're missing some really great photographs.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
According to a poll, 35% of all Democrats believe that President Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance...and 26% are "not sure." So just under half of Democrats believe that the attacks of 9/11 were a surprise to the President.
For comparison: Republicans, by a 7-to-1 margin, believe that the President did not know about the attacks in advance.
The leaders of the Democratic party, together with their allies in academia and in the media/entertainment industries, have created a climate of paranoid hysteria so pervasive that it is interfering with the reasoning abilities of large numbers of people.
Here's an example of the practical impact of this mental climate:
MIAMI -- Many potential jurors in the Jose Padilla terrorism-support case say they aren't sure who directed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because they don't trust reporters or the federal government.
(It's somewhat amusing to note the comment about not trusting reporters, given the role that media figures have played in creating the climate of suspicion and distrust--but that's the way it works with such things. Persuade people not to trust anybody, and you will find that "anybody" includes you.)
See Shrinkwrapped for more on the causes on this kind of thinking. Also, Lead and Gold explores conspiracy beliefs and draws on Michael Kelly's concept of "knowingness" and my post The Dictatorship of Theory, as well as Bill Whittle's extensive work in this area
Sunday, May 06, 2007
The New York Times, in pre-election coverage this morning, said that a Sarkozy win wouldn't have much impact. Roger Simon analyzes this assertion and what the victory says about the declining influence of the old media.
See also these throughts from Paul Mirengoff, who blogs at PowerLine.
And here's a long interview with Sarkozy at The Jerusalem Post.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
DANGERS OF FOLLOWING THE HERD
Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, graduated from Harvard B-school in 1982. He recently observed that the most sought-after employer among members of his graduating class was a then-trendy videogame company, Atari.
Seventeen members of Immelt's graduating class chose to go to work at Atari.
Interesting thoughts on bubbles and herd behavior in general at the linked article.
French candidate Segolene Royal said that France risks "violence and brutality" if her opponent, Nickolas Sarkozy, wins the Presidential election.
"Choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice," Royal told RTL radio.
"It is my responsibility today to alert people to the risk of (his) candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country (if he won)," she said.
The linked article makes it quite clear that she is not referring to any "violence and brutality" that would be conducted by Sarkozy and/or his supporters, but rather to violence that would be conducted by those unhappy with his election.
Thus, she is recommending that Frenchmen and Frenchwomen cast their ballots based on the "thug's veto"--on a cowardly policy of appeasement toward the most violent elements in the country. No society can long survive under such a dispensation.
Hopefully, many French people will react to Royal's statement with the revulsion it deserves and resolve to cast their votes for Sarkozy.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
GATHERING CUSTOMER FEEDBACK:
HOW NOT TO DO IT
Bankstocks.com has some examples.