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Saturday, February 28, 2009 NICELY PUT
Stephen Marche on the iconography of "progressive" t-shirts, particularly those featuring the likeness of Che Guevera:
These T-shirts send a message, which effectively boils down to this: I have vague left-wing sympathies but don't read history. I am educated enough to want nonconformity but not intelligent enough to avoid conformity.
This link is not about a zoological species, but rather about Israel-bashing, anti-Semitism, and political intimidation on an American college campus. It deserves careful reading.
The "rhinoceros" reference is, of course, to Eugene Ionesco's 1959 play, which is summarized at the link. (The play has also been made into an excellent film, featuring Zero Mostel--this would be a very good time to order it from Netflix or pick it up at a local video store.)
It appears that the Obama administration is about to name Chas W. Freeman Jr, a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
Some statements Freeman has made about Israel, as quoted at the above link:
To restore our reputation we must correct these policies. And the problem of terrorism that now bedevils us has its origins in one region the Middle East. To end this terrorism we must address the issues in the region that give rise to it.
Principal among these is the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to mark its fortieth anniversary and shows no sign of ending.
Demonstrably, Israel excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace.
We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel's approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home. We are now paying with the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on battlefields in several regions of the realm of Islam, with more said by our government's neoconservative mentors to be in prospect.
Carolyn Glick says: "Since it came into office a month ago, every single Middle East policy the Obama administration has announced has been antithetical to Israel's national security interests." See her comments on the Durban conference, an anti-Israel hate-fest that was boycotted by the Bush administration but which the Obama administration apparently plans to participate in, under the naive belief that they will be able to positively influence its outcome. See also some important reporting from Anne Bayefsky on the activities of Obama's Durban II planning team, which has ignored several opportunties to object to anti-Israel bias.
I fully expected that an Obama administration would be much less friendly towards Israel than the Bush administration had been or a McCain administration would have been--but the activities and rhetoric to date are even worse than what I had expected.
UPDATE: An organization of which Freeman serves as President has published an absolutely bizarre "textbook" about the Middle East. Details here.
UPDATE 2: See Obama's Intelligence Choice in today's WSJ. It appears that Freeman, in addition to his evident hostility toward Israel, also has considerable sympathy for some of the darker aspects of the Chinese regime, including their suppression of the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. Note also his snarky comments about the American military.
What are we to make of an administration that would even consider such an individual for head of the National Intelligence Council?
Last week, I picked up a copy of American Scientist on the strength of a couple of interesting-looking articles, one of them relevant to our ongoing discussion of America’s energy future. It contains a graph which, at first glance, looks pretty unbelievable. The graph is title “U.S. electric industry fuel-conversion efficiency,” and it starts in 1880 with an efficiency of 50%. It reaches a peak of nearly 65%, circa 1910, before beginning a long decline to around 30%, at which level it has been from about 1960 to the present.
How can this be? Were the reciprocating steam engines and hand-fired boilers of the early power plants somehow more efficient than modern turbines?
Graphics and animation used very creatively to explain some concepts and events. It leaves out some causes of the crisis which I believe have been important...namely, government housing policy and, especially, excessive reliance on oversimplified mathematical models on the part of lenders, investors, and rating agencies...but provides a good general framework for understanding what happened.
Link is here...the site also has other work by the designer, Jonathan Jarvis.
Friday, February 20, 2009 REGULATING ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING
From a National Review (2/23) article on anorexia:
Nonetheless, some lawmakers are calling for bans on skinny models. Madrid and Milan have prohibited those with a body-mass index lower than 18 from their fashion shows...Similar bans have been proposed in Quebec, London, New York City, New York State, and France's national assembly.
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated...It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd...That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.
Money magazine has an interesting article (yeah, I'm surprised, too) on the subject of "what makes a good forecaster?" Philip Tetlock, a professor at UC-Berkely, suggests that you are much better off with a fox than with a hedgehog,in the sense that these terms were used by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin.
How do you tell the difference?
Foxes often qualify their arguments with "however" and "perhaps," while hedgehogs build up momentum with "moreover" and "all the more so."
(This reminds me of some of the thinking in Dietrich Doerner's book The Logic of Failure, which I review here.)
Link via Barry Ritholtz, who also has thoughts for journalists who are covering financial crises. (He also has a new puppy.)
A team of MIT undergrads has developed a shock absorber which recovers some of the energy which is now wasted when the vehicle goes over bumps. They're projecting as much as a 10% overall efficiency in vehicle fuel efficiency...I'm going to guess that this is a bit optimistic, based on the numbers they provide (1KW average output per shock absorber, on a heavy truck)...but even if it's 5%, that might be enough to make the technology feasible, if the added manufacturing costs aren't too high. There are also some applications where fuel efficiency is absolutely critical, as in the military example mentioned at the link, in which the case for this technology might be particularly strong.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 THE IMPACT OF REGULATORY OVERKILL
This is so depressing that I barely have the heart to write this post.
Back in December, I posted about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was passed with the intent of protecting children from harmful substances in clothing, toys, and other products. This legislation, as I said at that time, was apparently drafted without proper attention to the practical issues involved with compliance, and it appeared likely to devastate the businesses of many companies–especially small ones–and to greatly reduce product diversity.
In early January, Trying to Grok reported that this legislation will likely have a very constraining influence on homecrafters.
It now seems that the legislation requires, or at least is being interpreted to require, the removal from trade of children’s books which were printed prior to 1985. According to a comment at one thread on this subject:
I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders” from the top of the box, but so many!
Please read the links, especially the last one. This comes via Shop Floor.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 LEAVING A TRILLION ON THE TABLE (RERUN)
(I originally posted this in 2006. With the current push toward top-down micromanagement of virtually all aspects of the economy, it seems worth posting again. I should also note that a trillion is probably way too small a number to use for an estimate of the economic value of this technology)
The invention of the transistor was an event of tremendous economic importance. Although there was already a substantial electronics industry, based on the vacuum tube, the transistor gave the field a powerful shot of adrenaline and brought about the creation of vast amounts of new wealth.
As almost everyone knows, the transistor was invented by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, all researchers at Bell Laboratories, in 1946. But a recent article in Spectrum suggests that the true history of the transistor is more complex…and interesting not only from the standpoint of the history of technology, but also from the standpoint of economic policy.
The story begins in Germany, during World War II. Owing to short-sighted decisions by the Nazi leadership, Germany’s position in radar technology had fallen behind the capabilities of Britain and of the United States. (Reacting the the prospect of airborne radar, Herman Goering had said "My pilots do not need a cinema on board!")
But by 1943, even the dullest Nazi could see the advantages that the Allies were obtaining from radar. In February of that year, Goering ordered an intensification of radar research efforts. One of the scientists assigned to radar research was Herbert Matare, who had been an electronics experimenter as a teenager and had gone on the earn a doctorate.
Samir Kantar is a terrorist best known for smashing in the head of a 4-year-old Israeli girl with a rifle butt. He was released from prison after almost 30 years, and last week, he visited Iran, where he was honored by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The tone of President Obama's communications with Iran, and regarding Iran, makes it very unclear whether he really graps the true nature of the Iranian regime.
Paul Reynaud--who became Prime Minister of France just prior to the German invasion--said in 1940:
People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan. (approximate quote)
And in 2006, Ralph Peters--a writer and former army intelligence officer--said:
One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.
When a regime honors a man convicted of smashing a little girl's head with a rifle butt, one would think that the nature of that regime would be clear to everyone. But maybe not.
Related: In today's Wall Street Journal, Judea Pearl--father of the murdered reporter Daniel Pearl--condemns those who have sought to justify and even to glamorize terrorism. He describes a "symposium on human rights" held at his own university, UCLA:
The primary purpose of the event was evident the morning after, when unsuspecting, uninvolved students read an article in the campus newspaper titled, "Scholars say: Israel is in violation of human rights in Gaza," to which the good name of the University of California was attached. This is where Hamas scored its main triumph --another inch of academic respectability, another inroad into Western minds.