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PHOTON COURIER
 
Friday, August 31, 2007  
LOOKING IRAQIS IN THE EYE

Last October, Rocco DiPippo took a new job managing renovation and new construction for 17 police stations in Iraq.

Neglected throughout most of the Saddam era, those stations, like most others in Iraq, were in derelict condition. And their condition reflected the state of the Iraqi police forces inhabiting them: broken down, corrupted, barely functional.

I’m an experienced builder, and I’ve successfully managed some very challenging renovation projects. Nevertheless, when detailed pictures of the police stations were dropped on my desk, I looked them over and thought, “How the hell will I get this job get done?”

After six months of difficult work, all 17 police stations had been completed, on time and within budget. That was accomplished in what has been called one of the most dangerous places on earth.

The main reason the police station project succeeded was that most of the Americans and Iraqis assigned to it learned to trust and respect each other, to cooperate, and to focus on a common goal, seeing it through completion. Without the mutual trust and respect, the project would have failed.


and

Iraqis watch us, and they listen to us. What they hear from some of our politicians, political activists and cultural elites has made many of them reluctant to work with the Americans in bringing security to their country. Many Iraqis are afraid of what they are hearing from the Democratic Party leadership and their media shills – that America will abandon them. And as long as they are afraid, they will be reluctant to seize the initiative in their towns and villages and chase out those who are murdering their families.

That reluctance makes sense, since if the Americans leave now, as the Democrats are urging, the murderers will rule them. And the murderers will hunt down and kill anyone who ever worked with or cooperated with Americans.


and

It should come as no surprise to anyone in the placid West that ordinary Iraqis have been slow to rise in defense of their neighborhoods and to join with the Americans in pursuing that task. They have simply been hedging their bets. And why not? The antiwar declarations of the U.S. media, the cultural elites, American academics and high profile Democratic Party politicians tell them that America will abandon them.

Why would Iraqis join with the Americans, risking their necks, if they believe the Americans will leave before the terrorists were defeated? Why should ordinary Iraqis work with American soldiers in hunting down terrorists when prominent Americans like John Kerry, Richard Durbin, Barack Obama, Edward Kennedy, John Murtha and Michael Moore tell them that those soldiers are as cold and as brutal as the terrorists destroying their families, and America’s most publicized civilian activist, Cindy Sheehan, is telling them that the man leading those soldiers, George W. Bush, is the world’s biggest terrorist?

It is a miracle that in spite of these terrible messages, that in ever-increasing numbers, ordinary Iraqis are stepping forward to work with American soldiers to take their country back. It shows that courage and initiative are still alive in ordinary Iraqis. It shows that thirty years of Saddam Hussein is being undone.

The Democratic Party leadership and the media and the U.S. left have had nothing to do with that recovery. Indeed, in the name of trying to destroy a president they hate, they have tried hard to subvert that recovery. I often wonder how many American and Iraqi lives their subversion has cost. I wonder how many mothers have lost their children in Iraq because of the war-time treachery? I know for sure that their subversion has made it harder for ordinary Iraqis to trust American soldiers.


Read the whole thing.


7:37 AM

Thursday, August 30, 2007  
THE ANTI-AMANPOUR

Phyllis Chesler watched the CNN series "Warriors of God," and gives her response here.

See also Roger Simon.


5:51 AM

Tuesday, August 28, 2007  
BUSINESS FICTION

See my post at Chicago Boyz.


4:11 PM

Saturday, August 25, 2007  
PETTY TYRANTS

Putnam County (NY) officials proposed prohibiting free, day-old doughnuts from the county’s five senior centers, which serve about 1,000 lunches each day. Nutritionists questioned whether the doughnuts were suitable snacks for people over 65.

After 250 people signed a petition blasting the idea, the county backed down. Now, "small amounts" of doughnuts, cakes and other baked goods can be served at the centers--but they have to be eaten elsewhere.

via Bitter...and with so much stuff like this going on, no wonder she's bitter...


8:29 PM

 
EMPLOYEE SHORTAGE IN MONTANA

A McDonald's owner in Montana was unable to hire people for the drive-thru, even at $10/hour. So he outsourced the order-taking to a telemarketing firm in Texas.

Unemployment rates in Montana are very low right now because of the expansion of oil drilling and mining, coupled with growing tourism and retirements of older workers.

via BusinessPundit

Related: Unemployment and Employee Scarcity

7:39 AM

Thursday, August 23, 2007  
KENNEDY AND THE WIND FARM

I'm not usually a fan of Greenpeace, but this is pretty funny.

One thing that does need to be pointed out, though...
Read more »

1:02 PM

Wednesday, August 22, 2007  
IMPORTANT READING

The writer Anthony Andrews, formerly of the "progressive" or left-liberal persuasion, has a book out about how the events of 9/11--and the reaction thereto by others on the left--caused him to reassess his political beliefs. Excerpt here. Sister Toldjah has thoughts and a discussion. Another passage from the book is here.

Here's a long article on Iraq which is remarkably balanced--even positive--considering the source. The article is from the German magazine Der Spiegel, which has up to now been very anti-Iraq war, anti-George Bush, and sometimes even anti-American. Comments at Medienkritik.

3:16 PM

Tuesday, August 21, 2007  
MARKETS, TELECOMMUNICATIONS, AND LOCALITY

John Kay, writing in Financial Times:

In an August financial crisis, Masters of the Universe must use their BlackBerries from the beach. They are constantly in touch with the data, but out of physical contact with their colleagues. The contrast with 1929 is complete. Then, investors were in contact with each other, but not the data. They crowded around in panic, commiserating with each other, as the ticker tape lagged behind the market.

The beaches and Blackberries of August not withstanding, Kay goes on to point out that trading activity still tends to be highly clustered in a few geographic locations:

While trading is on screens rather than in physical markets, the screens are grouped together in trading rooms. When hedge funds move out of Manhattan and the City, they move en masse, like lemmings, to Connecticut and Mayfair...There are practical advantages of congregating together. Clustering proved to be as characteristic of the high-technology industries of the 1990s as it was for the manufacturing businesses of potteries and textiles.

He wonders about the effect of proximity on thought processes:

Physical proximity helps create a conventional wisdom. Even among Oxford philosophers, perhaps the most argumentative people the world has ever known, day-to-day contact tends to create a common view, even a school of philosophy. Discussion may genuinely resolve differences, or else the repetition of disagreements just becomes too wearing. But the abstruseness of linguistic philosophy that resulted illustrates the problem. The self-referential world of people whose communication is mostly with each other can, and frequently does, become divorced from external reality.

So Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in history, trades from Omaha and advocates an investment style characterised as "lethargy bordering on sloth". That approach was favoured by John Maynard Keynes, who operated from Bloomsbury and Cambridge and normally traded by telephone from his bed.



7:10 PM

Monday, August 20, 2007  
INTERESTING CHARACTERIZATION OF THE OLD MEDIA

Now, the MSM resembles a family out of a Tennessee Williams’ play. They are obsessed with maintaining appearances and in deep denial about their scandalous secrets. At the same time, they are always keen to heap scorn on the riff-raff who refuse to play along with their self-serving pretenses.

...from Lead and Gold.


5:52 AM

Thursday, August 16, 2007  
UNEMPLOYMENT AND EMPLOYEE SCARCITY

...how is it that we have manufacturers desperately and unsuccessfully seeking new employees...and, at the same time, nearby neighborhoods with high unemployment rates? Evolving Excellence has a thought-provoking post.

Is it really asking too much to expect our schools to produce graduates with the ability to calculate the average of three numbers?


6:47 PM

Wednesday, August 15, 2007  
APPEASEMENT, THEN AND NOW

August 1938. A German aristocrat named Ewald von Kleist landed in London. He was a strong anti-Nazi, and closely associated with other influential Germans holding anti-Nazi views. His mission was to warn the British government of Hitler's aggressive plans, and to plead for a strong and unambiguous warning, backed up by the credible threat of military force, to be issued by British and French leaders. If the statement was strong enough, von Kleist believed, Hitler would back down from his designs on Czechoslovakia, and would likely be overthrown by his own military.

Baron von Kleist was of course taking a great personal risk--"I have come to you with the halter around my neck," he said. He met with Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, and Sir Robert Vansittart. Churchill relayed the substance of the conversation to Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, urging that a serious warning be presented to Hitler in the form of a joint communique signed by the British, the Russians, and the French, with the fullest possible support from the United States.

Neville Chamberlain, though, had other views, telling Halifax that von Kleist was a political enemy of Hitler, blinded by personal hatred. "There are certainly a great many arguments which might be brought to bear against his allegations. We have recently heard other voices from Germany claiming that Hitler's warlike intentions are to be taken seriously and, consequently, this suggests that we should respond to them with gestures of conciliation." The British ambassador to Germany, Henderson, urged the government to ignore any warnings issued by von Kleist and his associates. "Their information," he asserted, "is one-sided, partisan, and intended soley as propaganda against Hitler."

On September 29, the Munich agreement was signed. To wavering German generals, this seemed to confirm that Hitler was unstoppable, or at least that the other great powers had no realistic intention of stopping him.

August 2007. From the Financial Times:

The refusal of Britain and the European Union to engage with Hamas in the Palestinian territories has been strongly criticised by a UK parliamentary inquiry.

In a stinging indictment of the west's approach to the Middle East peace process, a committee of MPs concluded that the international community was partly responsible for the violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas militants in the Gaza strip in June.


and

Referring to the events of June, which led to the break up of the national unity government, the report says that while the actions of both sides in Gaza were "deplorable", the refusal of the international community to lift its boycott of Hamas "meant that this government [the national unity government established by the Mecca agreement] was highly likely to collapse".

Under the policy embarked on by the EU in the wake of Hamas' 2006 election victory, the bloc delivered more than €600m ($820m) in aid to the Palestinians last year but avoided giving financial support to state institutions controlled by the Palestinian Authority.


So in the view of some members of Parliament, the thuggish behavior of Palestinian terrorists in their own territory is at least partly the fault of Britain and other EU countries for not providing them with sufficient recognition and money. The spirit of appeasement lives on.

I'm sure that many liberals, "progressives," and assorted isolationists will object to my comparison of the Nazi threat with the Palestinian terrorists. After all, they will point out, the "militants" (to use their preferred term) have no Panzer divisions and no Luftwaffe.

But this objection ignores the fact that the nature of threats in one era is likely to be different from the nature of threats in another era. Terrorism is a serious menace to all advanced societies, and the threat of terrorism is already having baleful effects on individual freedoms throughout the world--as witnessed by the number of people who have been subjected to death threats, and in some cases actually killed, because of their political and religious views. The failure of the western world to speak out unambiguously against Palestinian terrorism has been a major factor in the spread of a movement which now threatens us all.

Baron von Kleist risked (and eventually lost) his life for his principles, and did not received the attention and support he should have from those then in power in Britain. Today also, there are many who are taking great risks in defense of civilization, and are too often ignored and even undercut by those that should be supporting them. See, for example, this columnist who objects to giving refuge in Britain to those Iraqi interpreters who served with British forces. Observe also the way in which the incredibly courageous Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been severely criticized--mocked as an "Enlightenment Fundamentalist, for example--by certain intellectuals and journalists. (See Dennis Prager's fisking of a Newsweek attack on Hirsi Ali here--also, see this interview of Hirsi Ali by a Canadian TV host who denounced her pro-American views. Her response: "I lived in countries that had no democracy … You grew up in freedom and you can spit on freedom because you don’t know what it is not to have freedom."

In the west today, we have appeasers who in my view go far beyond anything Neville Chamberlain ever did.

UPDATE: The realities of Hamas, here.

UPDATE 2: A discussion of the Hirsi Ali interview, at Chicago Boyz.


2:27 PM

Monday, August 13, 2007  
IRAQI-MADE CLOTHING FOR CHRISTMAS?

Iraqi and some American officials are looking to ship Iraqi-made clothing to the U.S. in time for the Christmas season. The clothing would come from state-owned factories, and initial quantities would be limited--perhaps 10,000 leather jackets and 20,000 suits. Discussions are underway with Sears and Wal-Mart about distribution, and a Memphis-based chain called Shelmar has already ordered "a few thousand units" of children's clothes.

Some American officials, however, are raising red flags. A senior United States Embassy official said last week: “You have to look on a case-by-case basis. One of the interesting trade-offs that we face in looking at these enterprises is that they all tended to be very large consumers of electricity, and this is one of the real tensions...I don’t think anybody has a problem in principle with the idea that if you can put people back to work that is a good thing. That is not in this situation an idea that people would argue with, but the question is at what cost are you going to be doing that? And if the cost is taking a lot of electricity from the grid, maybe you want to look at what the alternative uses of that might be.”

I'm not sure that sufficient creativity is being applied to this situation. If the concern is about taking too much electricity from the grid, then one option would to not take it from the grid. Portable generators, installed adjacent to each factory, might be an attractive option...after all, there were factories for a long time before there was such a thing as a grid. I'm don't know what the official's standard of comparison is when he says that these enterprises are "very large consumers of electricity," but I doubt that they even begin to approach the power demand of, say, an aluminum smelter or an electrical steel mill. My guess is that most apparel and textile facilities are well within the capacity of the large portable generators that are now available. Anyhow, someone should be looking at this option.

Also--based on my limited knowledge of the textile and apparel industries, it is the textile segment that is both capital- and energy- intensive, whereas the apparel segment is more labor-intensive. This suggests a strategy that would (in the near-term) focus Iraq on the apparel side, and import the fabrics from somewhere else. Sewing machines, even industrial ones, just don't use all that much electricity.

"Out of the box thinking" may be a hackneyed phrase, but my sense is that when it comes to Iraqi reconstruction, we need more of it.

Anyhow, if anyone really plans to get this clothing made and shipped to U.S. markets in time for Christmas, there isn't a whole lot of time for indecision.

UPDATE: More on this from the Department of Defense, here.


7:27 AM

Sunday, August 12, 2007  
BEYOND UNBELIEVABLE

I frequently post under the heading Just Unbelievable. Many bloggers do something similar: for example, starting an item with "you can't make this stuff up."

But Rick goes much further. He has now identified a category of news items so strange as to make him doubt his own existence.

3:17 PM

 
WORTHWHILE VIEWING

Pamela now has the entire Frank Capra WWII film series Why We Fight up at her site.


5:39 AM

Friday, August 10, 2007  
BOOKS BY BLOGGERS

Half a dozen families set out from Council Bluffs, Iowa in the spring of 1844, venturing into a barely known and lightly-tracked wilderness. Those fifty men, women and children walked nearly two thousand miles, across plain and desert, fording rivers and climbing mountains, depending on nothing more than their own skill and courage... and each other. They hoisted their wagons up a sheer mountain cliff, got caught in the snow and nearly starved… and when nearly at the end of their epic venture, were press-ganged into participating a small civil war. They were the first to bring wagons over the perilous wall of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and yet hardly anyone has ever heard of them. Until now.

The blogger known as Sgt Mom has published To Truckee's Trail, a fictionalized version of a real-life story. You can order it here--there's also a fairly long excerpt available in PDF form at the link.

Looks very interesting.

Previous Books by Bloggers.


2:02 PM

Tuesday, August 07, 2007  
CZARIST RUSSIA, IN COLOR--NEW PICTURES

<Photobucket>

In 2004, the Library of Congress put up an on-line exhibit of color photographs taken in Russia in the early 1900s. (See my post here.) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii took these pictures using a unique color photography process that he developed himself. Filters were used to split the image into reds, greens, and blues (three different plates were recorded.) Display was done using a slide projection system which combined the images again on a screen.

Almost two thousand of the Prokudin-Gorskii photographs are now available for on-line viewing. (The plates were available all along, but the work of combining three B&W images into one color image had to be done for each photograph.) I've only just started to look at the collection, but it looks pretty incredible.

In the original Prokudin-Gorskii process, the images were displayed by what looks like basically an assembly of three separate slide projectors fastened together. It must have been extremely different to achieve proper registration of the three separate images on the screen, and I wouldn't be surprised if the projection system had to be readjusted for each slide. Here's some information about a modern computer-based process for combining the images.

Via Jonathan at Chicago Boyz.

See also this wonderful picture of Moscow in winter at Sheila's blog. And here are some color photographs from the American depression, a period which we probably tend to subliminally assume happened in black and white.

2:45 PM

Monday, August 06, 2007  
TWO VERY WORTHWHILE CAUSES

There are a lot of WWII veterans who would like to visit the WWII memorial--and other memorials in the DC area--but can't afford to make the trip. Honor Flight is an organization that provides expense-paid travel and accomodations for these veterans. The goal for 2007 is to take 5000 veterans on these trips, and contributions are needed in order to achieve this goal.

Also, Veterans Aircraft Command is a network of pilots and aircraft owners providing transportation for the wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. They're looking for volunteers with the appropriate pilot qualifications (an instrument rating is required) and multiengine aircraft or high-performance singles.


2:29 PM

Sunday, August 05, 2007  
THE FIRST LEAN DENTIST

...he's not called that on account of any extraordinary skininess, but rather because of his application of lean-production principles in his practice. In fact, the judges for the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing have awarded Dr Sami Bahri the title of the world's first lean dentist.

Here's a podcast with Dr Bahri, done by Mark Graban of the Lean Blog. It's worth listening to if you are concerned with improving the effectiveness of any process.

After wrestling for years with scheduling problems, delays, unhappy patients, and staff turnover, Dr Bahri educated himself in Lean principles and specifically in the Toyota Production System. Working closely with his staff, he transformed his practice. There were many specific changes, such as reorganizing the office to avoid unnecessary walking and creating a "flow manager" position to keep activities on schedule--but the real key was reconceptualization of the process, coupled with heavy staff participation in all aspects of the changes.


7:23 AM

Saturday, August 04, 2007  
SHAKESPEARE: THE WESTERN

A week ago Monday (7/27), critic Terry Teachout had a rave review of a production of As You Like It by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. In fact, it was such an enthusiastic review that I went up there for Wednesday's performance.

In this staging, the action is transported to the American old west, with costumes to fit. The lines are identical with the original, or nearly so, but the Elizabethan songs in Shakespeare's original are replaced by western songs.

It sounds kind of nutty--and I'm not usually all that fond of modern adaptations of classics--but in this case, it works! In fact, it works brilliantly!

Both the audience and the cast were having a great time, and I imagine that the spirit was a bit similar to that which existed in the original Globe Theater.

The star of the show is clearly Joey Parsons as Rosalind, but all of the performances were superb. I was particularly impressed by Nance Williamson as Jaques the misanthrope--a part that's usually played by a man, as the name suggests, but once again, the nonstandard approach really works.

The venue is beautiful. The Boscobel Restoration is a 19th-century mansion with extensive grounds, perched on a bluff directly across the Hudson River from West Point--performances are in a large and airy tent. People tend to come early and bring food for picnics--serious picnics, too: lots of couple were wheeling coolers that looked sufficient for a family of five or more.

Really a fun evening, and if you're anywhere near Garrison, NY, you should think about going. Here's the festival's web site, which incudes the schedule of performances. Note that As You Like It is alternating with Richard III.

Nice picture of the Boscobel area here.

And here's Terry Teachout's blog.


2:39 PM

Friday, August 03, 2007  
MARKET-RELATED LINKS

Interesting thoughts on the current situation by fund manager John Hussman.

A study by Jessica Wachter, of Wharton School and Missaka Warusawitharana, an economist with the Fed, suggests that asset allocation strategies work better when moderation is employed--for example, if indicators are suggesting that allocation be shifted from stocks to bonds, you will do better to move the stock-vs-bond lever over by a few notches rather than jamming it all they way over to the "bond" side--and similarly when the indicators are calling for a move in the other direction. (The actual paper is available here; I have thus far read only the summary and the NYT article based on the study.)

If you're interested in the housing market and in the related financial instruments, then you should be reading maxedoutmama, who knows a lot about this stuff.

Calculated Risk is another useful and well-written blog focusing on the financial aspects of housing.

Tanta, who blogs at the above site, has a feature called "Saturday Rock Blogging," in which appropriate songs are selected to summarize the events of the week. For July 21, she selected this classic. But it turned out the worst wasn't over, so for the July 28 edition, there was a call for Walpurgis to repent. I can't wait to see what's next!

Barry Ritholtz suggests an interesting metaphor for stock prices. He also links Marc Faber's argument that the LBO boom has passed its peak, along with more bullish thoughts from James Altucher.

Beware! BusinessWeek's Mike Mandel has in his possession the Market Bunny of Doom.

As always, nothing on this weblog should be considered as investment advice.


7:35 AM

 
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