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

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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
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neptunus lex
the daily brief
roger scruton
bookworm room
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010  

An interesting essay by Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychologist who has worked extensively in prisons. Via psychiatrist Dr Sanity, who adds thoughts of her own.

My sense is that the self-esteem movement started benignly enough, with the sensible idea that it is usually better to focus on praising people for things they do right rather than on condemning them for their inadequacies. But it soon fell into the hands of various airheads, many of them professors in "education" schools, who too frequently have been hostile to the whole notion of individual achievement and individual accountability.

continued at Chicago Boyz

5:36 PM


David Mamet on how to write drama.

Erin O'Connor has the trailer for The Cartel, a new film about the failure of the public schools and the urgent need for school choice. (Erin was a consultant during the post-production of this film and is also assisting with the marketing efforts.)

Sean Penn think you should go to jail if you refer to Venezeulan dictator Hugo Chavez as a dictator.

Actress Maria Conchita Alonso, who knows something about Latin American dictators, tells Penn some things he ought to know. Not that he's likely to pay any attention, of course.

7:07 AM


In Wiltshire, England, school staff left a five-year-old boy stranded in a tree for 45 minutes because the school's "health and safety policy" barred them from helping him down. When a woman passing by rescued the boy and returned him to class, she was reported to the police for trespassing.

Read the whole ridiculous thing.

A similar story, which had much more serious consequences, here.

Is the UK as a society now officially insane? And if it is, can we be far behind?

5:53 AM

Sunday, March 28, 2010  

Financial Times writer Martin Wolf suggests that even though China and Germany are very different countries, they have--from an economic viewpoint--certain important similarities: they are the largest exporters of manufactured goods, they have massive surpluses of saving over investment; and they have huge trade surpluses.

He also argues that both of these countries are pursuing short-sighted and unrealistic strategies in their economic relationships with other countries:

Both also believe that their customers should keep buying, but stop irresponsible borrowing. Since their surpluses entail others' deficits, this position is incoherent. Surplus countries have to finance those in deficit. If the stock of debt becomes too big, the debtors will default. If so, the vaunted "savings" of surplus countries will prove to have been illusory: vendor finance becomes, after the fact, open export subsidies.


Meanwhile, countries that ran huge external deficits in the past can cut the massive fiscal deficits that result from post-bubble deleveraging by their private sectors only via a big surge in their net exports. If surplus countries fail to offset that shift, through expansion in aggregate demand, the world is inevitably caught in a “beggar-my-neighbour” battle: everybody seeks desperately to foist excess supplies on to their trading partners. That was a big part of the catastrophe of the 1930s, too.

Read the whole thing, if you can...the link may or may not work for you...FT's paywall apparently allows a few free accesses per user each month, but after that insists on a subscription.

7:07 AM


Gateway Pundit describes Barack Obama's appalling behavior toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and says:

I very much doubt that even third world tyrants would be received in such a rude fashion by the president. In fact, they would probably be warmly welcomed by the Obama White House as part of its "engagement" strategy, while the leaders of Britain and Israel are frequently met with arrogant disdain.

Bookworm excerpts some thoughts from Peter Wehner:

The entire theory on which the Obama administration is operating is false. The problem isn't with Israel's unwillingness to negotiate or even any dispute over territory; it is with the Palestinians' unwillingness to make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state.

Yet in thinking through all this, what is most striking to me is the disfiguring of moral considerations. Barack Obama is treating one of our best allies, and one of the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, worse than he treats the theocratic dictatorship in Iran or the anti-American dictator Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Obama bows before autocrats and shakes the hands of tyrants and speaks with solicitude and undeserved respect to malevolent leaders. Yet with Israel he is petulant and angry, unable to detach himself from a weeks-long tantrum.

...she also adds thoughts of her own. Read the whole thing.

Obama's behavior has not gone unnoticed in Israel...PowerLine cites surveys showing that only nine percent of Israeli Jews believing that the current U.S. President is pro-Israel.

Hostility to Israel on the part of Barack Obama is really not very surprising. His political roots are on the "progressive" Left, which has demonized that country with increasing intensity over the last two decades. He has had long-term associates who have been stridently anti-Israel and in some cases have demonstrated outright anti-Semitism.

Related: It sounds like Obama isn't all that fond of India, either.

Update: PowerLine has some astute thoughts on Obama's policies and attitudes toward Israel.

6:16 AM

Thursday, March 25, 2010  

Some Canadian university professors are objecting to scholarships for the children of Canadian soldiers killed while serving in Afghanistan.

via University Diaries

See my related post An Incident at the Movies.

Update: The Assistant Village Idiot also has a relevant post.

7:46 PM

Tuesday, March 23, 2010  

Back in December, I posted Great Demos of All Time, which was about some creative and attention-getting demonstrations of new products and new business ideas. Here's another one, from Dev Patnaik's recent book Wired to Care:

When a guy at Disney proposed the development of the theme park that would become Animal Kingdom, Disney CEO Michael Eisner was unimpressed: he thought of zoos as boring, depressing places.

In the presentation, (Joe) Rhode (the project advocate) answered skeptical questions about development costs and guest traffic. He showed that the project could make money. But there was still the zoo thing. During the discussion, Disney CEO Michael Eisner fundamentally questioned the idea that looking at animals would get people excited. "They're just animals," he wondered aloud. "So what?"

Rhode got up and opened the door to Eisner's office...outside, a 400-pound Bengal tiger was waiting with its handlers. They led the tiger up to Eisner: she brushed her head against him and growled in low rumbles.

"I see your point," said Eisner.

Lots more great demos at the link.

6:20 AM

Monday, March 22, 2010  

AnoukAnge's post on ambition, which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe's Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay. Although this may seem like a strange thing to spend time blogging about at the moment, given all the political news and events, I believe this topic is in fact highly relevant to current affairs.

The word "Faustian" is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it's a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe's definitive version.

Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge--in many different scholarly disciplines--and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.

If it's not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants "gold and guns and girls." This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.

Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:

FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
To offer you my arm and company?
GRETCHEN: I'm neither fair nor lady, pray
Can unescorted find my way
FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
I've never seen the like of her
She is so dutiful and pure
Yet not without a pert allure
Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
I never shall forget, I know
Her glance's timid downward dart
Is graven deeply in my heart!
But how she was so short with me--
That was consummate ecstasy!

continued at Chicago Boyz

8:21 AM

Saturday, March 20, 2010  

I've never met Meg Whitman (former eBay CEO, who took the company from $4 million revenue and 30 employees to $8 billion revenue and 15,000 employees), but a friend who knew her well has spoken very positively about her. On the strength of that recommendation, I picked up a copy of her recent book The Power of Many. It's a likeable and frequently wise, if rather disorganized, book. Here's a pretty funny story...

In 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom, Whitman attended an annual conference which includes "CEOs, politicians, philanthropists, and investors." She was talking with some acquaintances when a prominent California politician walked up and introduced himself.

POLITICIAN to Whitman: "And who are you married to?"
WHITMAN: "His name is Griff Harsh"
POL: "And what does he do?"
WHITMAN: "He's a neurosurgeon"

Politician turns to the other men and demands, "Since when are doctors invited to this thing?" Other guys try to signal him with raised eyebrows that he needs to shut up.

WHITMAN: "Actually, he's not here."

Politician is slowly becoming aware that he's messed up. Finally:

WHITMAN: "Oh, there's no reason you should have known. I'm the president and CEO of eBay...(the politician) then emitted a strange sound, sort of like those underwater recordings of whales singing to each other. Then he threw his head back and searched the heavens for a tractor beam to take him away."

I think Whitman will probably make a very good Governor for California.

6:33 AM

Thursday, March 18, 2010  

A couple of days ago, I linked to a report/analysis of some historically-ignorant comments Tom Hanks made about U.S. motivations in WWII...specifically, in the Pacific Theater of that war.

Comes now Bookworm, whose mother was in a Japanese concentration camp during that war. Tom Hanks should read her post. He won't, though. You should, even though it's not exactly pleasant reading.

8:00 PM


My post of a couple of weeks ago, Sleeping with the Enemy, (which expanded on an old novel by Arthur Koestler) has drawn some extensive and thoughtful remarks from Shrinkwrapped...definitely worth reading.

Also, it is possible to discern a slight relationship between the woman called "Jihad Jane," an accused of terrorist activities, and Koestler's protagonist Hydie Anderson. But as I noted in the post

today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined

To put it mildly, judging from appearances in this case. Looks like I called that one right!

Comment at Shrinkwrapped or at Chicago Boyz, where this is cross-posted.

4:00 PM

Wednesday, March 17, 2010  

The California Water Resources Board has ruled that 19 natural gas power plants, located in coastal areas, are in violation of the Clean Water Act for using a technique called "once-through cooling." According to this article, it appears that this ruling will result in the shutdown of most of these plants.

(Once-through cooling, which has been used since the days of James Watt, means simply that water is used to condense steam and is thence returned to the source from whence it came. The cooling water is not polluted, but is warmed up a bit. IIRC, the returned cooling water is somewhere in the range of 85-90 degrees F, ie less than the temperature of the typical hot tub.)

The state of California has taken other actions which make it difficult for the capacity of these 19 plants to be replaced. California has a moratorium on new nuclear power plants and coal plants. New natural gas plants, which are less polluting than coal plants (and emit less CO2, for those who care about this issue) are also banned in much of california.

A project to build large-scale solar plants in the Mojave Desert is encountering opposition from environmentalists who object to the construction of transmission lines to carry the power to San Diego. And California Senator Dianne Feinstein is apparently also opposed to this solar project on grounds that it threatens a species of turtle. There is also environmentalist objection to wind turbines because of the danger they post to birds and bats.

If you live in California, expect your electricity bills to rise significantly. If you run an energy-intensive business located in that state, you probably need to think about alternative locations.

Although unfortunately, these California polities are merely the currently-most-extreme version of the policies that the Democratic Party, in its war on energy, wants to impose on the country as a whole.

The only possibility we as a nation have to overcome our very serious debt problems and to restore anything like full employment is to grow our way out of the problem. The Democrats' war on energy is one of the primary threats to such growth.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

9:05 AM

Tuesday, March 16, 2010  

Do you recognize this image?

Do you think it is something that journalists ought to be able to recognize?

Probably says something about the state of history education in American schools and universities, as well as about the hiring practices of media organizations and the self-selection involved in the choice of that profession.

Related: Some ignorant thoughts by Tom Hanks about U.S. motivations in WWII (Pacific Theater)

11:34 AM

Friday, March 12, 2010  

Erin O'Connor on California's universities and their role in the state's economic debacle.

Climategate: it was an academic disaster waiting to happen. Interesting and contrarian thoughts about the role of peer review.

Richard Fernandez wonders if World War III has already started...without many people even noticing. (via Isegoria)

Solar arbitrage in Germany. (via Maggie's Farm) It's hard to believe he will really get away with this, but still pretty funny. See also this related post from Evolving Excellence: Better Call the Waaaahmulance!

AnoukAnge writes about ambition. (One of the great literary works that deals with this subject is Goethe's Faust...memo to self: a blog post on the treatment of ambition within Faust could be very interesting)

AnoukAnge also has a nice photographic essay on color...including the psychological connotations and cultural-symbolic meanings of various colors.

Speaking of color, this year's winning images have been chosen for GE's In Cell Analyzer photography contest. The In Cell system used used by scientists for better understanding disease processes and for drug development; as it happens, it also produces images which are appealing and even beautiful, in a psychedelic sort of way. There's a nice video, with music, at the bottom of GE's post about the contest.

One more photography-related link: British industry in the 1950s and 1960s. (via Brian Gongol)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

7:17 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2010  

An unlikely and beautiful poem by Jeff Sypeck.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.

6:29 AM

Tuesday, March 09, 2010  
by Leo Marks

We have a little time left
The wise doctor said
Unless there's a miracle
Which is another man's trade

Selfish as always
I've started missing you now
Want to say so
Don't know how
Want to hug you
Don't know if I should
Hope you understand
I'd take your place if I could

In 1942, at the age of 22, Leo Marks joined the secret British agency known as Special Operations Executive, and soon became the organization's Codemaster, responsible for the security of communications with SOE's resistance and sabotage agents in occupied Europe. He usually briefed these agents...soon-to-be-legendary individuals like Violette Szabo and Forest Yeo-Thomas...before their departures and they all left indelible impressions on him. His memoir is a very emotional book: frequently heartbreaking, sometimes very funny. There is a lot about the technical aspects of cryptography, but these sections can be skipped or skimmed by those who are primarily interested in the powerful human story. Poetry, much of it written by Marks himself, played an important part in SOE's cryptographic operations and hence plays an important role in this book.

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:35 AM

Monday, March 08, 2010  

Laura and her husband have been thinking about moving to a town with a better school system:

The school system in this town is pretty good, but I went to one of top public high schools in the country and I hate to give my kids' a second-best school. The downside to moving would be a much smaller, uglier house and a community of rich, spoiled kids.

Right now, my kids have zero stress about stuff. Their friends wear Payless sneakers and jeans from Old Navy. Jonah never comes home agitating for clothes or fancy vacations or expensive haircuts, because his friends don't have that stuff. It may be a girl-boy thing. I'm not sure.

Since we have moving on the brain, I've been quizzing other parents about their schools and communities. One woman in a nearby fancy town said that ten year olds get made fun of for wearing Children's Place clothes. The kids somehow know which t-shirts came from which store.

Lots of discussion at Laura's site. This link is via Joanne Jacobs, with additional discussion there.

3:15 PM

Sunday, March 07, 2010  

...can sometimes be a very good idea. Even if you're not Jewish.

Especially, perhaps, if you bear the lonely burden of warship command.

Story here.

Via Neptunus Lex, with commentary from his knowledgeable crew.

6:42 AM

Friday, March 05, 2010  

Erin O'Connor observes that for most colleges, only 60-70% of incoming freshmen--and sometimes far less--will graduate within six years. She's concerned that simplistic approaches to getting these numbers up will result in the sacrifice of educational quality.

Erin also writes about the issue of academic accountability. Note especially the definition of institutional corruption in the comment by "Art Deco."

Kitchen Science: You can measure the speed of light using some chocolate and a microwave oven. Really! (via Newmark's Door)

Speaking of science...MaxedOutMama suggests that in view of certain trends in climate science, it may be necessary to bring back Bernard Gui's Manual for Inquisitors, written circa 1300.

Entrepreneur & venture capitalist Steve Blank writes about the minimum feature set. His post reminded me of something said by Antoine de St-Exupery:

It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

AnoukAnge and her readers comment on a recent George Will column about the state of the American male.

Somewhat related to the above, Kevin Meyer writes about American manufacturers who are bringing previously-offshored work back to this country. He cites examples ranging from wind turbine components to curling irons to cookware.

7:18 PM


A woman in the UK was left at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft for six hours, despite the fact that the human and technical capabilities to rescue her were available. Apparently, safety rules banned firefighters from saving her.

A senior fire officer at the scene admitted that crews could only listen to her cries for help, after she fell down the 60ft shaft, because regulations said their lifting equipment could not be used on the public. A memo had been circulated in Strathclyde Fire and Rescue stations months previously stating that it was for use by firefighters only.

The woman, who had two children, died as she was (finally) being rescued.

This is what happens when a government turns people into robots by attempting to regulate all aspects of human life--presumably with the very best of intentions, of course. And no one should kid themselves that this kind of thinking is limited to the UK.

(via Common Sense & Wonder)

Related: Kevin Meyer on unintended consequences.

6:39 PM

Wednesday, March 03, 2010  

Even if you're a very-well-informed individual, I bet you've never heard of Rudolf von Havenstein--I certainly hadn't until I read this piece at Isegoria. (Follow the links for much more detail.)

Havenstein was a "decent, hard-working, intelligent and well-intentioned public servant" who, as president of the Reichsbank, had much control over Germany's financial policies during WWI and in the early interwar era. These policies ultimately led to the great hyperinflation of 1922-23. Sebastian Haffner, a teenager during this era, describes what it was like:

By the end of 1922, prices had already risen to somewhere between 10 and 100X the pre-war peacetime level, and a dollar could purchase 500 marks. It was inconvenient to work with the large numbers, but life went on much as before.

But the mark now went on the rampage...the dollar shot to 20,000 marks, rested there for a short time, jumped to 40,000, paused again, and then, with small periodic fluctuations, coursed through the ten thousands and then the hundred thousands…Then suddenly, looking around we discovered that this phenomenon had devastated the fabric of our daily lives.

continued at Chicago Boyz

4:53 AM

Tuesday, March 02, 2010  

Kevin Meyer writes about the reasons why policies and regulations lead so very frequently to outcomes that are quite different from the ones intended by their designers. He is summarizing a series of posts by Eric, which include a very interesting case study.

Parachuting cats are involved.

10:51 AM


...to Sarah and her husband.

5:52 AM

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