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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Friday, July 31, 2009  

Victor Davis Hanson on our angry aristocracy. (via Bookworm, who has a discussion)

Michael Chabon on the lost wilderness of childhood. (via Joanne Jacobs, also with discussion)

Manufacturing coffee-making equipment in California. It's not easy. (via Dean Esmay)

Tax breaks for lawyers--a proposal for legislation that would provide significant tax benefits to trial lawyers. Note that all the Congresspeople mentioned as supporters have a "D" by their names. I disagree that the assertion made by an advocate of this proposal that it merely levels the tax playing field between law firms and other types of businesses, and I agree with the conclusion here that it would increase class-action lawsuits, with resultant damage to the economy. (via ShopFloor)

3:24 PM

Wednesday, July 29, 2009  

Owen D Young, who served as president and chairman of GE from 1922-1939, told a story on himself (quoted in the Ida Tarbell biography) about his days as a young lawyer working for Stone & Webster. His assignment was to obtain streetcar franchises for the company in various cities, and he was particularly proud of the contract he negotiated with El Paso...it explicitly gave S&W the right to run trolley tracks "in every street, present and future of the city."

Shortly after Young left El Paso, though, another guy--a real operator named Theodore Barnsdall--visited the city, and after paying $25000 to the owner of a tiny, mule-powered street railway (which Young had viewed as having no value other than the $50 that the mule was worth) got introduced to the city council. He also obtained a contract from the city--identical to Young's except for the words "in the middle of every street, present and future."
Read more »

3:30 PM

Monday, July 27, 2009  

In October 2004, I visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. One of the exhibits there is a Minuteman III ballistic missile. It's not a very impressive-looking object, and I hadn't paid much attention to it on previous visits. But this time, I stopped in front of it for a while.

It was only about a month since the terrorist attack on a school in Russia, in which 186 children were murdered. And it struck me that had this missile ever flown, it would quite possibly have killed thousands of Russian children very much like those who were murdered by the terrorists.

I am not a pacifist or a nuclear disarmer, and I am not making a moral equivalence argument here; not in any way suggesting that American missileers are somehow similar to child-murdering terrorists. At the dawn of the age of strategic airpower, George Orwell summed up the situation: "If someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother."

While the argument that the only defense against air attack was retaliation proved to be somewhat overstated during WWII, in which radar-directed fighters and AA guns did provide some meaningful defense against bombing, the argument was quite true throughout most of the Cold War era, given the existence of unstoppable ballistic missiles. I think that as a country we did the right thing in building and deploying Minuteman--and Atlas, and Polaris, and Trident, and the rest of them. But we must never forget that these things are the instruments of nightmares, and words like "deterrence" and "nuclear umbrella" and "massive retaliation" should never be allowed to hide the underlying realities.

continued at Chicago Boyz

10:13 AM

Saturday, July 25, 2009  

Mark Graban, who has extensive experience in manufacturing and is now focused on process improvement in healthcare, writes about how he became interested in the Lean methodology and convinced of its efficacy. Several interesting stories in the comments, too.

Speaking of healthcare, here's a study that asserts that certain techniques used by air traffic control (flight strips, to be specific) could assist in the care of emergency patients. Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to get any real detail on this study is to be a subscriber of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. (via Gongol)

BusinessWeek has an interesting article about efforts to save a furniture factory in Ohio.

BW also has an item on a study (by researchers at Pennsylvania State University) of the use of language which suggests a "charismatic vision" in CEO letters to shareholders and how this correlates with "buy" recommendations from analysts. (The study concludes that such a correlation does indeed exist.)

The above reminds me of an earlier study, done by Laura Rittenhouse and her firm, which also dealt with the use of language in CEO letters. In this study, the use of jargon and obfuscation was found to be negatively correlated with future stock returns for the company. See my post the clarity clue.

It would be really interesting for someone to create a graph of CEO letters, with one axis being the "charismatic language" index and the other being the jargon and obfuscation factor.

6:21 PM

Thursday, July 23, 2009  

Many Unhappy Returns, by Charles Rossotti, is the story of Rossotti’s experiences as IRS Commissioner, which position he held from 1997-2002–having previously spent his career in the private sector and been cofounder & chairman of American Management Systems Inc. I picked the book up for a dollar at a library book sale, thinking it might offer an interesting case study on the challenges of managing and improving a very large bureaucratic organization.

And I’m sure it does. On the very first pages of the book, though, are some stories which are very relevant to our current political situation.

continued at Chicago Boyz

12:01 PM


(a new Photon Courier series)

Nancy Astor: Winston, if I were your wife, I'd put poison in your tea.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I'd drink it.

11:53 AM

Wednesday, July 22, 2009  

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

--Robert Louis Stevenson, quoted by John Hussman in an article on investment strategy.

previous Worth Pondering

5:48 AM

Tuesday, July 21, 2009  

See my post at Chicago Boyz.

12:51 PM


The New York Times seems to have a problem understanding the difference between 15 feet squared and 15 square feet.

6:02 AM

Monday, July 20, 2009  

Here's an interesting piece about the Apollo guidance computer, which played an important role in the moon-landing mission. The computer's read-only memory, which stored the program and various constant data, was a "rope memory," woven by women working at a factory near Boston. The pattern of the weave determined the "ones" and "zeros" of the permanantly-stored data. (via Isegoria)

Among the strange people who assert that the moon landing was a fake, one of the arguments used is that computers in 1969 lacked the computational capacity to guide such a mission. This ignores the fact that the guidance problem for intercontinental ballistic missiles is similar to that for space flight--do they also believe that the American and Soviet missile fleets were make-believe?

It is interesting, though, to compare the AGC with present-day computers. The AGC clock speed was about 2MHZ...around 500 to 1000 times slower than that of the computer on which you are probably reading this. The computer's RAM was 2000 words, or 4000 bytes (that's bytes, not kilobytes or megabytes) and the rope-memory ROM was 36KW, or 72KB.

And here's a guy who built his own working replica of the AGC.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

10:27 AM

Saturday, July 18, 2009  

Wriston's Law. Rich Karlgaard argues that while it once worked on America's behalf, it is now working in the other direction.

Ancient Rome, in 3-D. Here's a company that specializes in detailed CAD models...and actual physical reconstructions...of buildings from the Roman era.

A very difficult number. Is the number 3/8 too complicated for most people to understand?

Graduate schools of journalism. Why do these programs still exist?

12:02 PM

Wednesday, July 15, 2009  

Four customer service stories:

1)Telephoning a restaurant. Call a restaurant on the phone--to make a reservation, check on the specials, whatever..and you will likely hear something like this:

Thank you for calling Snarfer's Steakhouse, where the elite meet to eat. My name is Tiffany...how may I be of assistance to you today?

You can bet Tiffany didn't come up with this string of words herself. She has been told exactly what to say, has to say it 100 times a day, and is so tired of saying it that she often slurs the words together:


Often, the message is so slurred and incomprehensible that I'm not sure I've called the right number, resulting in a question:

Is this Snarfer's Steakhouse?

This kind of thing originated with chain restaurants but can now often be found at many independent restaurants as well.

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:45 AM

Monday, July 13, 2009  

Dan Kennedy writes about the climate of fear that Obama is creating among small and medium-sized businesses. (via NeoNeocon, who has a discussion of this article)

Victor Davis Hanson: the war against the producers. (via Dr Helen, who also has a discussion)

Not to mention the dreadful Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which is having a baleful effect on businesses of all sizes--but particularly small and home-based businesses.

Obama/Pelosi/Reid are clearly hostile to business in general, but they seem particularly hostile to small and medium-sized businesses. They do not appear to either to understand the importance of this class of enterprises or to have any empathy whatsover with the people who start and run them.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

8:46 AM

Sunday, July 12, 2009  

Victor Davis Hanson has some thoughts.

It's important to discuss this topic not only because of the injustice that has been done to Palin (and her family) but because of what the anti-Palin campaign reveals about the class prejudices so prevalent among certain influential groups in American society.

via Common Sense & Wonder

12:05 PM

Thursday, July 09, 2009  

Here's a guy, Thomas Thwaites, who is attempting to make a toaster, literally from the ground up, starting with primary materials such as iron ore and mica.

For real retrotoasting, though, seems like he also should make the power source from scratch, with a small generator powered by either a waterwheel or a steam engine. The waterwheel approach might be fairly straightforward, but I'd guess it would be pretty hard to make a viable steam engine without using any machine tools.

Which raises, of course, the interesting proposition of making a machine tool without any machine tools to make it with...

Via Isegoria, who sadly says:

As you might imagine, Thwaites is not celebrating trade, technology, and mutually beneficial exchange; he's condemning it. Sigh.

Hopefully the project will turn out to be a little more nuanced than that--Thwaites does say "The project won't be a 'how is it made?' industrial promo or an anti-industry tirade either"...we'll see.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

8:07 PM

Wednesday, July 08, 2009  

Ralph Peters writes about Obama's wheeling and dealing in Moscow.

Via Robert Avrech, who has his own thoughts on this and other aspects of Obama's performance to date.

10:50 AM


Erin O'Connor. Note especially the comment by J Remarque.

Neptunus Lex.

David Kahane.

Kahane link via Chicago Boyz.

4:56 AM

Saturday, July 04, 2009  

On July 4, 1941–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 whole thing. I posted an excerpt of this poem at Chicago Boyz in 2006…in the comments, Steve Barton points to a podcast of a 1943 performance of this work.

UPDATE: Some Independence Day thoughts from Cassandra. Worth reading more than once.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

6:17 AM

Thursday, July 02, 2009  

A week ago today, the House of Representatives passed the very long and complex Waxman-Markey energy bill. This bill included 300 pages of amendments which were added by the Democratic leadership at 3:00 AM Friday morning. It is impossible that any of those voting on the bill could have read and understood this complete bill as amended. (Many of the amendments were apparently of the "subparagraph (c) of paragraph XXII is amended to replace AAAA by BBBB" type, which require careful and undisturbed thought to comprehend.)

This bill, should it become law, will have enormous impact on the lives of all Americans and on future generations. There was no particular reason why it had to be voted on last Friday, except possibly for Nancy Pelosi's vacation plans. It says much about the character of the majority of members of this House that they passed it without reading and understanding it.

What would we think of a financial manager/advisor who invested all of a family's money into a particular investment without doing serious due diligence--who, for example, put all the money into purchasing a fast-food franchise without bothering to read either the prospectus or the franchise agreement? How about "violation of fiduciary responsibility?" What this House has done is similar in principle, though obviously much further-reaching in its implications.

Dear liberal and "progressive" friends: When you talk about drastically expanding the role of government in American society, remember that "government" is not some abstract and benign entity. Are you really comfortable having every detail of your life planned for you by people who take their responsibilities with as little seriousness as that demonstrated by the House last week?

If government by the people is "democracy," and government by an elite is "aristocracy"...I wonder what the proper Greek would be for "government by clowns"?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

7:27 AM

Wednesday, July 01, 2009  

Jack Hough argues that "The four-year college degree has come to cost too much and prove too little. It's now a bad deal for the average student, family, employer, professor and taxpayer" and goes on to say:

A student who secures a degree is increasingly unlikely to make up its cost, despite higher pay, and the employer who requires a degree puts faith in a system whose standards are slipping. Too many professors who are bound to degree teaching can't truly profess; they don't proclaim loudly the things they know but instead whisper them to a chosen few, whom they must then accommodate with inflated grades. Worst of all, bright citizens spend their lives not knowing the things they ought to know, because they've been granted liberal-arts degrees for something far short of a liberal-arts education.

via Five Feet of Fury

Donald Sensing, who worked extensively with the Honduran military while serving with the U.S. Army in that country, has an interesting post about the military's role in Honduran society. Also see Don's post on the Honduran Constitution and Roger Simon's Iran, Honduras: Is Obama "objectively pro-fascist"?

UPDATE: Extensive discussion on Honduras at Chicago Boyz.

8:44 AM

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