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
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Thursday, December 31, 2009  

In 2003, I wrote:

When people think about India, in the context of the global economy, they tend to think mainly about software and call centers...the country that tends to be most heavily associated with manufacturing is China. But some interesting things are also happening on the industrial side of India's economy...and went on to discuss Bharat Forge as an example of a successful Indian company in the field of heavy industry.

This recent BusinessWeek article says that through September of this year, India actually exported more cars than did China...292000 vs 221000. Many of these Indian-made vehicles are being sold in Europe, while Chinese manufacturers tend to concentrate more on their large home market. Volkswagen, Ford, and PSA-Peugeot Citroën are all building/expanding plant capacity in India, and indigenous manufacturer Tata has invested in dealerships in Britain and Italy in order to sell and support its Indian-made products.

India has achieved amazing things in economic development, but it still has millions of very poor people. The growth of a vibrant manufacturing sector is key to the further improvement of economic well-being in that country.

9:53 AM

Wednesday, December 30, 2009  

Large numbers of people in Iran are taking huge risks in an attempt to free themselves from a despicable regime. There are many horrifying reports and images available on the web demonstrating clearly the levels of brutality that the regime is willing to use in suppressing dissident voices: see for example here and here.

Barack Obama's expressions of condemnation for the regime and support for the dissidents have consistently been a day late and a dollar short. He eventually says what he thinks he is expected to say, but there's not much fire in it. He comes across like an IRS official reciting some section of the tax code for the 495th time, or, at best, like a student giving a report on some long-ago historical event that he really didn't want to study study but which was important for his grade. His genuine passion has been reserved for domestic issues.

As Joshua Muravchik has pointed out, the current administration has been much less focused on international issues of human rights and democracy than has any other administration in decades. Why?

continued at Chicago Boyz

7:17 AM

Tuesday, December 29, 2009  

An 18 gigapixel panorama of Prague...said to be the largest spherical panorama in the world.

via Newmark's Door

6:36 AM

Saturday, December 26, 2009  

I was pleased to see a recent newspaper article that mentioned Jeannie de Clarens, Vicomtesse de Clarens, previously Jeannie Rousseau, aka Amniarix.

Clarens, now 90, was honored for her WWII activities in a ceremony at the Elysee Palace. In her early 20s, she was a member of a French Resistance organization called the Druids--whence her code name, Amniarix. She took great risks to gather information relating to the German V-1 and V-2 programs, thereby providing critical advance notice of the flying bomb and ballistic missile attacks on London. The key recipient of her reports, the British defense scientist R V Jones, was curious about the originator of these documents, but was told only that she was "Une jeunne fille plus remarquable de sa generation," which I think means something like "The most remarkable young girl of her generation." The two only met for the first time in 1973, and immediately became fast friends.

In her introduction to Jones's book, Most Secret War, Clarens writes:

Those who worked underground in constant fear--fear of the unspeakable--were prompted by the inner obligation to participate in the struggle; almost powerless, they sensed that they could listen and observe. During the war, they could but hope that what they did would be of some service, but seldom knew for sure...It is not easy to depict the lonesomeness, the chilling fear, the unending waiting, the frustration of not knowing whether the dangerously obtained information would be passed on--or passed on in time--or recognized as vital in the maze of the 'couriers.'

Shortly before D-day, Clarens was arrested by the Gestapo: by quick thinking, she was able to save one of her companions. She survived three concentration camps: Ravensbruck, Konigsberg, and Torgau. Here is the transcript of the 1993 ceremony at which Jones and Clarens were honored by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which gives a fair amount of detail about her activities.

In his book, Jones mentions several other underground agents who helped to gather information on the V-1 and V-2 programs. One of them, Olivier Giran, was executed in 1943 at the age of 21. In his last letter to his parents, Giran wrote:

Among men I did what I thought was my duty--but I did it with joy in my heart. It was war, and I fell, as other did, and as many more must do...I saw them on the Marne, buried in long rows. Now it is my turn--that is all...Yes France will live. Men are cowards, traitors, rotters. But France is pure, clean, vital.

I am happy. I am not dying for any faction or man, I am dying for my own idea of serving her, my country...and for you too whom I adore.

I am happy I love you. The door is opening.


In the very improbable event that Jeannie de Clarens should see this blog post--thank you, for what you and your friends risked and sacrificed and accomplished.

Related stories about WWII underground operations in France:

Noor Inayat Khan

Violette Szabo

5:14 PM


The current Barrons (12/28) has an interview with fund managers Kevin Duffy and Bill Laggner, two guys who seem to have a gift for expressing themselves well and concisely. A few excerpts:

Barron's: You've said that perhaps the most redeeming feature of capitalism is failure. Please explain.

Duffy: Any healthy system needs a way to correct error and remove waste. Nature has extinction, the economy has loss, bankruptcy, liquidation. Interfering in this process lengthens feedback loops. Error and waste are allowed to accumulate, and you ultimately get a massive collapse.

Capitalism is primarily attacked by two groups: utopians who wish to impose a more "compassionate" system, and political capitalists who want to enjoy the fruits of success without bearing the pain of failure. They use the coercion of the state to gain privileges, at the expense of everyone else.

continued at Chicago Boyz

4:59 PM

Wednesday, December 23, 2009  

A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link--then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out. (via Pamela)

Rick Darby has some thoughts on the season.

A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon.

On December 25, 1944, the Battle of the Bulge was still very much in progress. Here is a contemporary radio report.

The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. Or maybe not.

An air traffic control version of The Night Before Christmas.

UPDATE: More from Rick Darby.

Silent Night in Gaelic

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Steve Blank

Neptunus Lex

6:58 PM


ART: Urban Sketchers defines itself as "a network of artists around the world who draw the cities where they live and the places they travel to. We always draw on location, indoors or out, from direct observation."

FILM: Robert Avrech remembers Brittany Murphy, who worked on one of his films.

MANAGMENT: Steve Blank has a story about a very expensive cost-reduction attempt, involving free sodas, which was initiated by a new CFO.

EDUCATION AND CULTURE: A Babson College instructor says "My 'C,' 'D,' and 'F' students this semester are almost exclusively American, while my students from India, China, and Latin America have - despite language barriers - generally written solid papers, excelled on exams, and become valuable class participants."

TECHNOLOGY AND WARFARE: As you've probably heard, video feeds from American UAVs are being intercepted by the enemy in Iraq: discussion here.

POLITICS: It has been a very, very good year for lobbyists.

PSYCHOLOGY: The power of magical thinking for children.

Update: MANUFACTURING: General Motors, prompted an by Obama Administration task force," plans to run certain assembly plants on a continuous 24x7 basis. I was curious about what the manufacturing experts at Evolving Excellence would think of this idea--here's Kevin Meyer with an analysis.

7:57 AM

Tuesday, December 22, 2009  

Where does all that tuition money go?

More detail, for one specific university, here.

1:18 PM


Nat Hentoff is a man of many talents--columnist, historian, jazz and country music critic (jazz and country music? that must be an unusual combination)--he is best known as a civil libertarian. As such, he has had his differences with all administrations. But he is particularly concerned about the behavior and attitudes of the current one.

Read this interview for his reasons.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

6:55 AM

Monday, December 21, 2009  

Literature professor David Clemens:

Teaching Introduction to Literature, I see a curious new phenomenon: more and more students complain, bitterly, about how dark the readings are. I'm not sure what this new critical term means; I employ a canonical set of works including Hawthorne, Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Sophocles, and newer works by Phillip Larkin, Tobias Wolff, and J.G. Ballard. If such authors do anything, they force us to face existential questions. Once, students went to college to experience just this sort of perennial questioning. Today, questioning is a nonstarter having been replaced by what Phillip Rieff called "the triumph of the therapeutic" and, as he predicted, by students preoccupied only with themselves and with attaining a "durable sense of well-being." This ends any interest in reading about what Victor Davis Hanson calls "the tragic limitations of human existence and how to meet them and endure them with dignity."

I wonder if this is really a common phenomenon, or if there is something atypical about Clemens' students. Certainly, adolescence has been a time at which people (and not only college students) have traditionally felt a strong connection to what Arthur Koestler called "the tragic plane of existence." Has the therepeutic worldview really changed human nature to that extent?

Via Joanne Jabobs, who has a discussion.

6:06 AM

Sunday, December 20, 2009  

No, really.

Via Robert Rapier, who is looking at buying a whole bunch of them.

(What is the proper collective noun for a group of robot pigs? A herd? A drove? A passel? A fleet?)

5:03 PM


Here's the great French scientist Sadi Carnot, writing in 1824:

To take away England's steam engines to-day would amount to robbing her of her iron and coal, to drying up her sources of wealth, to ruining her means of prosperity and destroying her great power. The destruction of her shipping, commonly regarded as her source of strength, would perhaps be less disastrous for her.

For England in 1824, substitute the United States in 2009. And for "steam engines," substitute those power sources which use carbon-based fuels: whether generating stations burning natural gas, blast furnaces burning coke, or trucks/trains/planes/automobiles using oil derivatives. With these substitutions, Carnot's paragraph describes the prospective impact of this administration's energy policies: conducting a war on fossil fuels, without leveling with people about the true limitations of "alternative" energy technologies and without seriously pursuing civilian nuclear power.

continued at Chicago Boyz

12:02 PM

Saturday, December 19, 2009  

In recent years, there's been a lot of talk about computing technology as a potential enabler of major cost reductions and quality improvements for healthcare.

A recent study by the Harvard Medical School suggests that results with hospital computer systems so far are disappointing, to put it mildly.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

5:35 AM


"If you would have them be brothers, have them build a tower. But if you would have them hate each other, throw them corn."

--Antoine de St-Exupery, in his philosophical novel Citadelle (published in English under the unfortunate title Wisdom of the Sands)

Previous Worth Pondering

4:57 AM

Friday, December 18, 2009  

EDUCATION: How do they sleep at night?

LITERATURE/FOLKLORE: Perrault's Fairy Tales

MANAGEMENT: Lean management methods should not be oversimplified. Mark Graban particularly disapproves of "experts" who fail to emphasize respect for people as a key component of Lean. Mark also has some negative things to say about a certain practice which is apparently popular in hospital management.

POLITICS: What happens when you rush to a vote.

ECONOMICS: A Greek Bearing Promises. An important point here: "If Greece still had its own currency, it would have chosen, or been forced, to devalue, and thereby gotten a quick boost to competitiveness, albeit at the cost of raising inflation as imported goods would have cost more. But that is not possible within the euro zone."

The more generalized point: When you centralize a system--any kind of system--you tend to make it more brittle, so that failure grow and propagate rather than adjusting themselves on a local basis.

ENERGY: Robert Rapier thinks Di-methyl-ether (DME) may have a lot of potential as a fuel. It can be made from biomass, coal, or natural gas, and Robert says that it would make a great fuel for diesel engines. In this application, it burns very cleanly, without sulphur or particulate emissions.

8:24 AM

Monday, December 14, 2009  

...in Afghanistan

The article describes the ways in which bureaucracy and micromanagement are harming the accomplishment of the U.S. mission in that country. (via Neptunus Lex)

This passage:

The red tape isn't just on the battlefield. Combat commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed.

..reminded me of something written by French general Andre Beaufre, describing his experiences as a young staff captain in the years immediately prior to WWII:

I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan--but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about..."I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…" Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.

And we all know how that turned out...

(Beaufre quote is from his important and well-written book 1940: the fall of France.

6:48 AM

Saturday, December 12, 2009  

Currently reading Turning Points in Western Technology (D S Cardwell, 1972.) The author observes that during the late 1700s and early 1800s, the state of French science and mathematics was very advanced--more so than that in Britain--and asks the question: Why was industrial development in Britain so much more successful than that in France?

continued at Chicago Boyz

9:44 AM

Thursday, December 10, 2009  

Imagine that some of our Congresspeople--Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and Robert Byrd, for example--formed a professional sports team. Baseball, basketball, football--take your pick.

Would anyone invest money in such a team? Would anyone go to watch it, for any purposes other than mockery? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Well, the average Congressperson probably knows far more about sports than he knows about business. Almost certainly, he watches sports on TV...he may well have played himself in his younger days...whereas the typical Congressional knowledge of business is comparable to a baseball-watcher who doesn't understand the difference between balls and strikes. Yet this Congress, with the encouragement of the Administration, is arrogating to itself the power to micromanage every business in the country in excruciating detail.

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:46 AM

Wednesday, December 09, 2009  

EDUCATION: The perfect is the enemy of the good. See also NEA as Grinch.

ENERGY: Refinery closures in the northeast result in a pipeline capacity crunch.

ARCHITECTURE: Brad Pitt very generously contributed money to build replacement housing in New Orleans: some people, however, are concerned that the houses don't fit either 'Awlins aesthetics or the lifestyles of their residents.

INVESTING: Continuing thoughtful coverage of the financial markets, from John Hussman.

ECONOMICS: Eleven recessions compared.

8:01 AM

Monday, December 07, 2009  

In 1920, Robert Goddard was conducting experiments with rockets. In an editorial, The New York Times sneered at Goddard's work and particularly at the idea that a rocket could function in a vacuum:

That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

In 1969...the year of the Apollo moon mission...the NYT finally got around to issuing a correction for their 1920 mistake.

What is noteworthy about the original editorial is not just the ignorance, but the arrogance and the outright nastiness. As the AstronauticsNow post points out, "The enlightened newspaper not only ridiculed the idea that rocket propulsion would work in vacuum but it questioned the integrity and professionalism of Goddard." The post goes on to say that "The sensationalism and merciless attack by the New York Times and other newspapers left a profound impression on Robert Goddard who became secretive about his work (to detriment of development of rocketry in the United States)..."

It appears that some of the attributes of the NYT which make it so untrustworthy and unlovable today are actually cultural characteristics of long standing.

Worth keeping in mind when reading NYT analyses of Climategate.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

12:23 PM


a date which will live in infamy

Update: Bookworm has a post and a video.

Update 2: Some alternate history.

6:58 AM

Sunday, December 06, 2009  

Product demonstrations can sometimes be useful in convincing prospective customers that your product is a Good Thing, or in convincing prospective investors that your company represents a substantial opportunity. (Although many demos are so badly executed that they do more harm than good)

In business history, there are a few examples of demos that stand out for their dramatic nature and their impact. Here are the ones that come to mind:

1)In the early 1850s, elevators had been invented and were in limited use, but were generally--with good reason--considered unsafe. At the Crystal Palace exposition of 1854, Elisha Otis demonstrated his elevator safety device. He had himself hauled up to a considerable height in an open cage, and then directed his assistant to cut the hoisting rope. The safety mechanism, as designed, clamped its jaws to the elevator's guide tracks and kept it from falling.

2)In the 1890s, most ships were powered by reciprocating steam engines (with commercial sail still holding a pretty respectable share.) Charles Parsons, who had invented the steam turbine in 1884, set up the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company in 1893, with the objective of applying the invention to the propulsion of ships. He built a nifty little ship called the Turbinia, and, after initial trials, brought it unnanounced to the Naval Review for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (1893). Turbinia, which had an impressive top speed of 34 knots, raced between the lines of large ships, easily evading a Navy picket boat that had been sent to stop it, and indeed almost swamping the Navy vessel with its wake.

continued at Chicago Boyz

7:53 AM

Friday, December 04, 2009  

Chris Matthews of MSNBC, commenting on Obama's choice of a West Point venue for his Afghanistan speech:

"He went to--maybe--the enemy camp tonight)"

(video clip here)

Does Matthews himself consider the U.S. Military Academy to be "the enemy camp?" If a commentator with a strong reputation for neutrality had said something like the above, then we might believe he was stating a conclusion about the beliefs of others, rather than an opinion he himself necessarily agreed with. But it would be hard for anyone to argue that Matthews is "a commentator with a strong reputation for neutrality."

Whatever Matthews' personal beliefs may be, I think his comment reflects the belief of a substantial part of the "progressive" movement which represents Obama's core support. These people are very reluctant to use words like "enemy" in talking about America's terrorist adversaries. They are primarily concerned with instigating conflict within American society itself, and in achieving victory in such conflict--and the American military, along with many other important parts of American society, does indeed in their view constitute an enemy.

Here are some relevant thoughts from Neptunus Lex, which I've previously quoted because they are so insightful:

The innate character flaw of the political right, with its thrumming appeals to the logic of blood and soil, is its lamentable tendency to go in search of enemies abroad. The left, on the other hand, with its own appeals to the politics of envy and class warfare, is content to find mortal enemies closer to hand.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

7:12 AM

Tuesday, December 01, 2009  

Here's a woman who bought a bunch of old ribbon-making machinery (made in Germany in the 1920s), moved it to a new location, and started a factory.

Main company web site is here.

7:04 AM

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