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

arts & letters daily
natalie solent
critical mass
john bruce
joanne jacobs
number 2 pencil
roger l simon
common sense and wonder
sheila o'malley
invisible adjunct
red bird rising
academic game
rachel lucas
betsy's page
one hand clapping
a schoolyard blog
joy of knitting
lead and gold
damian penny
annika's journal
little miss attila
no credentials
university diaries
trying to grok
a constrained vision
victory soap
business pundit
right reason
quid nomen illius?
sister toldjah
the anchoress
reflecting light
dr sanity
all things beautiful
dean esmay
brand mantra
economics unbound
dr melissa
dr helen
right on the left coast
digital Rules
college affordability
the energy blog
tinkerty tonk
meryl yourish
kesher talk
assistant village idiot
evolving excellence
neptunus lex
the daily brief
roger scruton
bookworm room
villainous company
lean blog

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Sunday, July 29, 2007  

...an analysis in which I seek to help John and Elizabeth Edwards in establishing an appropriate policy on tangerine-eating, here.

7:23 AM

Saturday, July 28, 2007  

James Rummel, a fellow Chicago Boyz contributor, in comments here, on people whose education prevents them from learning:

I have had personal experience with this when I was working on my own degree a few years ago, as educated people would lecture me on police procedure and criminal behavior. If I told them they had gotten it wrong, they would dismiss my opinion as being ignorant and not worthy of note. The fact that I had actually helped put a few thousand criminals in jail was inconsequential. After all, they had an advanced degree while I had no degree whatsoever!

7:39 AM

Friday, July 27, 2007  

After converting the DeLorean in his garage into a time machine, Steve Williams was able to retrieve a term paper written in 2027:

Understanding the Decline and Demise of the Banking Industry

Some of the factors involved in the decline and demise are also relevant to other industries.

Steve posts at Gonzo Banker. Link via the wonderfully snarky bankstocks.com.

1:36 PM

Thursday, July 26, 2007  

The proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty is falling.

This trend is strongly related to those myriads of freight containers that I wrote about in the post immediately below this one--and also to the less-tangible traffic that flows through the fiber optic cables beneath the oceans.

I don't assert that global trade has been an unblemished good. I do assert that it has been a primary factor in bringing hundreds of millions of people up from utter destitution.

1:50 PM

Tuesday, July 24, 2007  

James Fallows, in The Atlantic (Jul/Aug issue), writes about his trip to China, which was focused on learning about Chinese manufacturing. Visiting a factory complex near Shenzhen, he remarks:

From the major ports serving the area, Hong Kong and Shenzhen harbors, cargo ships left last year carrying the equivalent of more than 40 million of the standard 20-foot-long metal containers that end up on trucks or railroad cars. That's one per second, round the clock and year-round--and it's less than half of China's export total.

The number sounded a bit high to me, so I did a few minutes of research. Here's a 2003 article from Shanghai Daily putting that year's outbound traffic at 50 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units--so 80 million TEUs in 2007 would not be unreasonable in view of China's export growth rate. I checked a few other sources also, and it appears that Fallows has his numbers right, as he usually does.

The article is well worth reading. It gives a vivid account of the dynamism of the Chinese manufacturing boom, and a balanced assessment of its good and bad aspects, both for China and for the world.

A couple of notes. Container traffic is measured in TEUs, as are vessel capacities. Many of the containers shipped are actually 40-foot units, which count as two TEUs each. Also, the 80 million TEUs are so that come out of China each year are by no means all destined for the U.S. This 2005 analysis puts transpacific traffic at 18 million TEU, Asia-Europe at 12 million, and intra-Asia traffic at 33 million TEUs. As a comparison, trans-Atlantic container flows in the same period were 5.4 million TEUs.

5:18 AM

Saturday, July 21, 2007  

The Bishop of Exeter was giving prizes at a girl's school:

They did a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the poor man stood up afterwards and made a speech and said (piping voice): "I was very interested in your delightful performance, and among other things I was very interested in seeing for the first time in my life a female Bottom."

(C S Lewis, in Of Other Worlds)

5:59 PM


See by post at Chicago Boyz.

8:17 AM

Friday, July 20, 2007  

A couple of days ago, naval aviator Neptunus Lex briefed a group of school teachers and administrators headed out for a 24-hour experience aboard an aircraft carrier at sea.

They will routinely be astonished at the average age of responsible young people on the flight deck - some of whom they may have taught in school only a year or so ago. Some of whom they might have shaken their heads over in academic despair. Seeing them tall and strong and professionally responsible for the lives of their shipmates, for the life of the young lieutenant there in the cockpit, for the safety of a multi-million dollar machine. Heroes working long hours in arduous conditions for very little pay. As the sun goes down they will look out upon an apparently endless sea and know for perhaps the first time what it is to be alone in a throng, to be a small thing in a very large world. To sink the land behind them, the world of people, of buildings, dust and grime.

Being, if for only 24 hours, a part of it. There is wonder in it.

Read the whole thing, including the comments, which include several remarks by sailors about their own experiences with visitors aboard ship.

5:35 AM

Thursday, July 19, 2007  

..to Erin O'Connor on her nomination for Best Educational Blog in the Blogger's Choice Awards.

Erin was one of those who inspired me to start blogging in the first place. Her blog is always interesting and thought-provoking.

7:00 AM

Wednesday, July 18, 2007  

Fortune Magazine profiles Yelp, a participative website which features customer reviews of local businesses. Fortune defines Yelp's business as "a land grab on the $100 billion that's spent every year on local advertising." The article relates the experiences of a hair salon owner in Orange County. He'd been trying to generate new business by running ads in a local newspaper--ten ads resulted in "maybe one call."

Then a Yelp reviewer posted a favorable review of her experiences at the salon. And she wasn't just any reviewer; she was Anita Lau, an enthusiastic Yelper who has posted over 2000 reviews and has received 790 compliments from fellow habitues of the site. The salon now gets 5-15 calls a day from Yelpers. "They come in and then write reviews," says the owner. "Then other people see the reviews, think it must be great, and call. It's its own little biosphere. It feeds itself."

The businesses reviewed on Yelp include restaurants, car washers, dentists, plumbers and many other types of enterprises. Reviewers do it for the glory, and, sometimes, perks such as invitations to opening-night parties. (Reviewers can use screen names, but it sounds like elite status--needed to qualify for the perks--requires the use of one's own name.) Businesses can buy ads and get Yelp stickers for their windows.


Not all Yelping is good for business. It's plausible, for example, that national chains may find a new set of rules in a Yelped market. Why do you frequent Starbucks when you're traveling? Do you really love the coffee, or do you go because you know what you'll get when you walk through the front door? As Simmons (Yelp cofounder and CTO)puts it, "A brand is a proxy for knowledge." What if you found out there was a wonderful little café down the street? Would you still go to Starbucks? Maybe, maybe not. But by providing local knowledge, Yelp may diminish the power of a brand - or at least a franchise's ability to coast on that brand.

A brand is a proxy for knowledge. That is very nicely put.

Christopher Hall, the hair salon owner, is still running ads in the local newspaper. But now they say simply "Splitends. Read our reviews on Yelp."

On the other hand, Neej Gore, the owner of a San Francisco nightclub, has almost eliminated his print budget--which in his case took the form of flyers rather than newspaper advertising. Yelp reviews have made the flyers unnecessary.

Newspapers have already been badly hurt by the migration of classified ads to the web, and services like Yelp could have a serious impact on local business advertising. Some businesses will follow Christopher Hall's approach of using print advertising to reference and reinforce the on-line recommendatios, but it seems clear to me that in the aggregate, Yelp and similar services are not a good thing for he newspapers.

2:17 PM

Sunday, July 15, 2007  

1) The BBC transmitted a picture sequence which made Queen Elizabeth appear to be storming out of an interview session in a huff--although she actually did no such thing.

Melanie Phillips: "If it transposes a picture sequence like this to sex up a story about the Queen by transmitting an outright falsehood, just think what it is doing in the Middle East."

More here.

2)Speaking of the Middle East, bloggers are challenging the objectivity of Associated Press reporting from that region. See for example this from Meryl Yourish concerning AP coverage of Israel and its enemies; also this. Also my post on the way in which the Kassam rocket attacks against Israel have been downplayed.

Regarding Iraq, Power Line observes that AP seems more interested in reporting U.S.-perpetrated atrocities that apparently never actually happened than in reporting terrorist-perpetrated atrocities that actually did happen. (See followups here and here.)

3)Diane Sawyer:

You know, I wanted to sit on a jury once and I was taken off the jury. And the judge said to me, 'Can, you know, can you tell the truth and be fair?' And I said, 'That's what journalists do.' And everybody in the courtroom laughed. It was the most hurtful moment I think I've ever had.

4)Standard & Poors cut the credit rating for The New York Times Company, from BBB+ to BBB.

5)Jon Fine of BusinessWeek wonders which major American newspaper will be first to throw up its hands and stop publishing a print-based product.

1:20 PM

Friday, July 13, 2007  

British secondary schools will drop Winston Churchill from a list of figures to be mentioned in history teaching. Also dropped: Hitler, Gandhi, Stalin and Martin Luther King. The schools will now be emphasizing "lessons on debt management, the environment and healthy eating."


Schools are also being told to tear up the timetable of eight lessons a day and introduce classes lasting a few minutes - or several hours - by mixing different subjects together.

Five-minute lessons on spelling, French or German could be "drip-fed" throughout the day.

The architect of the new curriculum, Dr Ken Boston, insisted traditional approaches had been "exhausted".

Check your calendar. This is not April 1.

Related: The Trivialization of Science Teaching.

(cross-posted at Chicago Boyz>

6:17 AM

Thursday, July 12, 2007  

Two oil pipelines, one operated by Enbridge Inc and the other by Exxon Mobil, are now running in reverse, carrying crude from the Canadian oil sands to distribution hubs in Oklahoma and Texas, respectively. Via WSJ 7/11/

7:34 AM

Tuesday, July 10, 2007  

..because it increasingly seems that the first 3 digits must be one, nine, and three.

See my post at Chicago Boyz.

8:07 PM


I've posted before about the lean-production mantra ask why five times, which developed in Japanese companies but is now fairly well known in the U.S. (Lean-production techniques, although originally created for manufacturing, are now being applied in other enviornments, including healthcare.)

From The Lean Blog, here is a cautionary tale about how "ask why" can go wrong--and how to use this conceptual tool properly.

11:43 AM


This "Live Earth" speech by Robert F Kennedy Jr calls to mind the words "hysterical," "irresponsible," and "demagogic."

11:35 AM

Monday, July 09, 2007  

Stratospheric college costs, coupled with a surprisingly widespread belief in educational mismanagement and the accurate perception that all young people do not have equal access to college, have led ever more Americans to believe that something has gone seriously awry with the once-vaunted system of U.S. higher education.

Read this article, which speaks of widespread "unease - even bitterness" - toward American higher education. I have not yet read the survey on which the article is based; it is linked at Joanne Jacobs, where there is also a discussion.

7:02 AM

Thursday, July 05, 2007  

California has a growing shortage of registered nurses--an estimated shortfall of 40,000 by the year 2014. There are lots of people who want to learn nursing, but can't get into nursing school because of a shortage of instructional capacity--an estimated 17,000 qualified applicants are now on the waiting list.

So what does the University of California system want to do?

Start a new law school. This, despite the fact that the California Postsecondary Education Commission has found that the state has no shortage of qualified attorneys.

Joanne Jacobs has thoughts on this matter.

11:53 AM


Lefty historian Howard Zinn chooses the 4th of July for an essay denouncing the very idea of American "national spirit." In the comments, he gets a good response, which has been highlighted at Chapomatic. See also James Lileks.

It seems to me that the argument since patriotism has been used for evil purposes, then patriotism must be bad makes about as much sense as the argument since railroads were used by the Nazis to ship people to concentration camps, then railroads are bad.

5:39 AM

Wednesday, July 04, 2007  

On July 4, 1940--five months before Pearl Harbor--a long poem titled Listen to the People, written by Stephen Vincent Benet, was presented on nationwide radio. The full text was also printed in Life magazine. Here's the beginning:


This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Gppd-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
And, afterwards,
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.

And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces…

An Angry Voice:

Disperse, ye villains! Why don’t you disperse?

A Calm Voice:

Stand your ground, men. don’t fire unless fired upon. but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!

Narrator, Resuming:

Well, that was that. And later, when he died
Of fever or a bullet in the guts,
Bad generalship, starvation, dirty wounds
Or any one of all the thousand things
That kill a man in wars,
He didn’t die handsome but he did die free
And maybe that meant something. It could be.
Oh, it’s not pretty! Say it all you like!
It isn’t a bit pretty. Not one bit.
But that is how the liberty was won.
That paid for the firecrackers and the band.

A Young Voice Radical:

Well, what do you mean, you dope?
Don’t you know this is an imperialist, capitalist country, don’t you?
Don’t you know it’s all done with mirrors and the bosses get the gravy, don’t you?
Suppose some old guy with chin whiskers did get his pants shot off at a place called Lexington?
What does it mean to me?

An Older Voice, Conservative:

My dear fellow, I myself am a son of a son of a son of the American Revolution,
But I can only view the present situation with the gravest alarm,
Because we are rapidly drifting into a dictatorship
And it isn’t my kind of dictatorship, what’s more.
The Constitution is dead and labor doesn’t know its place,
And then there’s all that gold buried at Fort Knox
And the taxes — oh, oh, oh!
Why, what’s the use of a defense-contract if you can’t make money out of your country?
Things are bad — things are very bad.
Already my Aunt Emmeline has had to shoot her third footman.
(He broke his leg passing cocktails and it was really a kindness.)
And, if you let the working-classes buy coal, they’ll only fill bath-tubs with it,
Don’t you realize the gravity of the situation, don’t you?
Won’t you hide your head in a bucket and telegraph your cngressman, opposing everything possible, including peace and war?

A Totalitarian Voice, Persuasive:

My worthy American listeners,
I am giving you one more chance.
Don’t you know that we are completely invincible, don’t you?
Won’t you just admit that we are the wave of the future, won’t you?
You are a very nice, mongrel, disgusting people –

But, naturally, you need new leadership.
We can supply it. We’ve sent the same brand to fourteen nations.
It comes in the shape of a bomb and it beats as it sweeps as it cleans
For those of you who like Benito Mussolini, we can supply him
(He’s three doors down to the left, at the desk marked second Vice President).
Now be sensible — give up this corrupt and stupid nonsense of democracy.
And you can have the crumbs from our table and a trusty’s job in our world-jail.

Radical Voice:

Forget everything but the class-struggle. Forget democracy.

Conservative Voice:

Hate and distrust your own government. Whisper, hate and never look forward.
Look back wistfully to the good old, grand old days — the days when the
Boys said “The public be damned!” and got away with it. Democracy’s a nasty word, invented by the Reds.

Totalitarian Voice:

Just a little collaboration and you too can be part of the New Order.
You too can have fine new concentraion camps and shoes made out of wood pulp. You too can be as peaceful as Poland, as happy and gay as France. Just a little collaboration. We have so many things to give you.
We can give you your own Hess, your own Himmler, your own Goering — all home grown and wrapped in Cellophane. We;ve done it elsewhere. If you’ll help, we can do it here.

Radical Voice:

Democracy’s a fake –


Democracy’s a mistake –


Democracy is finished, We are the future.

(Music Up and Ominous)

(There's much more--the full text is here)

The poem was presented again on the radio, this time by Ethel Barrymore, on July 5, 1943, and this version is available as a podcast. See the comments on this Chicago Boyz thread for information on how to access it.

6:40 AM

Tuesday, July 03, 2007  

The eight Democratic presidential candidates assembled in Washington last week for another of their debates and talked, among other things, about public education. They all essentially agreed that it was underfunded -- one system "for the wealthy, one for everybody else," as John Edwards put it. Then they all got into cars and drove through a city where teachers are relatively well paid, per-pupil spending is through the roof and -- pay attention here -- the schools are among the very worst in the nation. When it comes to education, Democrats are ineducable.

The above is from a surprising source--liberal columnist Richard Cohen--and appears in a surprising venue--The Washington Post. (registration required for access) Cohen continues:

One candidate after another lambasted George W. Bush, the Republican Party and, of course, the evil justices of the Supreme Court. But not a one of them even whispered a word of outrage about a public school system that spends $13,000 per child -- third-highest among big-city school systems -- and produces pupils who score among the lowest in just about any category you can name. The only area in which the Washington school system is No. 1 is in money spent on administration. Chests should not swell with pride.

The litany of more and more when it comes to money often has little to do with what, in the military, are called facts on the ground: kids and parents. It does have a lot to do with teachers unions, which are strong supporters of the Democratic Party.

Read the whole thing, if you don't mind going through the registration process.

What the Democrats and their allies have done to K-12 education over the last three decades is a terrible crime. Future generations will look back and wonder what was the matter with the American public--why on earth did we just stand back and let it happen?

4:16 PM

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