Some have suggested that President Barack Obama may not really be an American citizen. I've never paid much attention to these arguments; however, I'm now increasingly convinced that Mr Obama's true origins may lie in a place much further away than Kenya or Indonesia.
Consider the presidential following statement, made at a recent press conference:
My job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about: the spill.
The Anchoress writes about the loathsome Tom Friedman and his longing for Chinese-style authoritarian government in America.
Mark Steyn on the riots in Greece: "Unlovely as they are, the Greek rioters are the logical end point of the advanced social democratic state: not an oppressed underclass, but a pampered overclass, rioting in defence of its privileges and insisting on more subsidy, more benefits, more featherbedding, more government."
The Schenectady Museum found recordings of some of the earliest radio broadcasts, 20 shows aired between 1929 and 1931. They were recorded using a forgotten film-based audio recording technology called the pallophotophone. To recover the programs, a GE engineer built a modern version of a pallophotophone, based on an 80-year-old sketch. More here, including the voice of Thomas Edison.
Update: A Keyhole View of the Soul. Shreve Stockton, of the wonderful blog Daily Coyote...which chronicles the adventures of an adopted and much-loved coyote...asks her readers to tell one thing about themselves.
About a month ago, I wrote about a provision in the "finance reform" bill that had the potential to do great harm to venture capital and angel investing, and hence to America's economic growth and productivity. I'm happy to note that this provision has now been removed from the Senate bill.
I refer to this as a small victory, despite its importance, because this is only a single win against the flood of virtually insane regulatory and tax policy that threatens to engulf the entire American economy. As the WSJ article notes:
"...the fact that such a destructive provision made it that far shows how little the Members and staff now running Congress understand about wealth creation and the sources of American prosperity."
Even more disturbing than the lack of understanding of the economy is the lack of understanding of their own limitations. Indeed, this Congress and Administration seem to me like someone who holds an administrative job at an airline--establishing flight schedules and ordering the in-flight meals, let's say--who decides that his executive title gives him the right to fly a 777 with passengers. Or a political appointee at the Department of Transportation who goes out to the Potomac Approach facility, sits down at a radar screen, and starts directing traffic.
There appears to be no limit to the arrogance of those now dominating our political process.
It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.
The reason for this is that when the dynasty follows the ways (sunan) of the religion, it imposes only such taxes as are stipulated by the religious law, such as charity taxes, the land tax, and the poll tax. They mean small assessments, because, as everyone knows, the charity tax on property is low. The same applies to the charity tax on grain and cattle, and also to the poll tax, the land tax, and all other taxes required by the religious law. They have fixed limits that cannot be overstepped.
When the dynasty follows the ways of group feeling and (political) superiority, it necessarily has at first a desert attitude, as has been mentioned before. The desert attitude requires kindness, reverence, humility, respect for the property of other people, and disinclination to appropriate it, except in rare instances. Therefore, the individual imposts and assessments, which together constitute the tax revenue, are low. When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total of (the individual assessments), increases.
Paul Levy describes redesign of the pharmacy in the hospital he runs, making use of Lean principles, including mock-ups and heavy participation from those who will be using the new space. (via Lean Blog)
Here's an economics paper suggesting that when politicians are successful in obtaining large earmarks (aka "pork") for their districts, the implications for most area businesses are generally not good. (via Newmark's Door)
Guy Sorman wonders what California's awful business climate will do to Silicon Valley.
Steve Blank doesn't think much of the business plan competitions that are becoming popular at many b-schools.
Here are a couple of guys who feel that the skills and orientations they learned on Wall Street were the opposite of helpful when they decided to start a start-up.
Unsurprisingly for a governmental take on a flagship program, the report takes pains to minimize the extent of the economic harm. Yet despite the soft-pedaling, the document reveals exactly why electricity rates "necessarily skyrocketed" in Spain, as did the public debt needed to underwrite the disaster. This internal assessment preceded the Zapatero administration’s recent acknowledgement that the "green economy" stunt must be abandoned, lest the experiment risk Spain becoming Greece.
The government is not the parent in this family. The government is one of the teenage children we hire to do some work around the place (and if you keep screwing up, we'll give the job to your younger sister, even if she doesn't (yet) know how to start the lawnmower). The citizens are the parents, not you
Present-day computers are remarkably fast...a garden-variety laptop can do over a billion basic operations (additions, multiplications, etc) every second. The machine on which you are reading this can do more calculating, if you ask it nicely, than the entire population of the United States. And supercomputers are available which are much faster.
Yet there are important problems for which all this computational capacity is completely inadequate. In their book Natural Computing, Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere describe the calculations necessary for the analysis of protein folding...which is important in biological research and particularly in drug design. Time must be divided into very short intervals of around one femtosecond, which is a million billionth of a second, and for each interval, the interactions of all the atoms involved in the process must be calculated. Then do it again for the next femtosecond, and the next, and the next...
To perform this calculation for one millisecond of real time (which is apparently a biologically-interesting interval) would require 100,000 years on a conventional computer.
I've been pretty down lately. I need to remember that no matter how things may seem on a day to day basis, people are still capable of producing wonders if they can just manage to forget about themselves for a moment. 8:07 AM
ATTENTION ASPIRING PILOTS
If you've always wanted to learn to fly, but have never gotten around to taking the first step...Saturday (May 15) is International Learn to Fly Day. Just enter your zip code in the form to find an event near you.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Can Israel's experience offer a lesson for Greece? This post, which expands on a Jerusalem Post article, reminds us that Israel suffered very serious economic problems back in 1985, and suggests that the steps that it took to save itself are relevant to the current Greek situation.
Robert Avrech describes Billy Wilder's ten rules for screenplay writing.
Here's an argument that elementary school curriculums need to be pretty broad, because there are students who may struggling with, and bored by, the "language arts" instruction which dominates the school day--but whho might be energized by (say) history or science.
David Bernstein observes that if Elena Kagan is confirmed then every single Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools. He also observes that:
The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency.
..and asks, "Isn't this a bit much?"
His post reminded me of something that Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1968:
Monday, May 10, 2010 A NEGLECTED BUT SIGNIFICANT ANNIVERSARY
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin, ‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin. When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go, And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe… When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
An ICM poll to mark the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain found that some were not even sure that Britain was fighting the Germans, saying instead that they thought the enemy was the Romans or Normans - while 10 per cent thought the French were the foe. Some people were also confused as to whether their wartime leader was Winston Churchill or King Alfred.
For the survey, 1,000 people were asked four questions about the Battle of Britain - but fewer than half of those aged between 18 and 24 knew it was an air battle.
I doubt if the general level of knowledge has improved much in the last 10 years.
C S Lewis observed (I'm quoting very loosely here) that if you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjacent units..and if you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. Such cutting-off seems to be proceeding, on both sides of the Atlantic, at a rapid pace.
Saturday, May 08, 2010 SOLAR IN SPAIN, THEN AND NOW
"The sun in Spain shines brightly on the plain"
Here's Barack Obama, speaking in January 2009:
Think of what’s happening in countries like Spain ... where they’re making real investments in renewable energy. They’re surging ahead of us, poised to take the lead in these new industries.
...and here's a report on what's happening in Spain currently:
Only two years ago, Spanish solar energy companies feasting on generous government subsidies expanded at a feverish pace, investing €18 billion (then worth roughly $28 billion) to blanket rooftops and fields with photovoltaic panels. They briefly turned the country into the top solar market in the world.
Spain's subsidies for solar were four to six times higher than those for wind. Prices charged for solar power were 12 times higher than those for fossil fuel electricity. Germany and Spain received about 75 percent of the world's photovoltaic panel installations that year.
The inhabitants of fifteenth century Florence included Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Verrocchio, Botticelli, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Milan at the time was as big as Florence. How many fifteenth century Milanese artists can you name?
There are roughly a thousand times as many people alive in the US right now as lived in Florence during the fifteenth century. A thousand Leonardos and a thousand Michelangelos walk among us. If DNA ruled, we should be greeted daily by artistic marvels. We aren't, and the reason is that to make Leonardo you need more than his innate ability. You also need Florence in 1450.
Nothing is more powerful than a community of talented people working on related problems. Genes count for little by comparison: being a genetic Leonardo was not enough to compensate for being born near Milan instead of Florence. Today we move around more, but great work still comes disproportionately from a few hotspots: the Bauhaus, the Manhattan Project, The New Yorker, Lockheed's Skunk Works, Xerox PARC.
--Paul Graham (surely one of the very few venture capitalists to have attended art school) in his book Hackers and Painters.
Update: Meant to mention that Graham's website/blog is here...it includes an extensive and interesting collection of quotes.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010 NINE YEARS versus NINE MONTHS
After nine years of litigation and regulatory maneuvering, the Secretary of the Interior has given the approval for construction of the Cape Wind offshore power-generation facility. (Well, sort of...there are still a few more regulatory hurdles to clear before any actual wind turbines can be erected.)
Nine years is a long time, and it's worthwhile to look at what Americans have been able to do in that amount of time...and in much shorter amounts of time...in other periods of our history.
Here's a product that allows you to read with a child, sharing the same pages of same book, even though you may be thousands of miles apart.
Founder/CEO Coby Neuenschwander got the idea for the product while he was living in Chicago with his son Oliver and wanted Oliver to spend more time with his grandparents, who were a long distance away. More about the product, called Readeo, here.
Not a whole lot about the company itself on their web site...they were founded in 2009, and VentureBeat reports that their initial startup capital was $350K.
Obama advisor and confidante Valerie Jarrett, speaking about the President:
He knows exactly how smart he is…He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.
Strangely, it would appear that Jarrett believes that the above statement reflects positively on Obama.
In reality, individuals who are exceptionally intelligent--at least those who are possessed of any degree of creativity--are rarely bored. Rather, boredom is the domain of the spoiled brat, the overprivileged aristocrat, and the person with the flat and empty interior landscape.
And many individuals who are exceptionally intelligent--especially those who have leadership aspirations and abilities--have in fact spent a considerable amount of time "doing what ordinary people do," and have learned a great deal from the experience.
The people now running the White House are a very strange crew indeed.
The seed haunted by the sun never fails to find its way between the stones in the ground. And the pure logician, if no sun draws him forth, remains entangled in his logic. I shall not forget the lesson taught me by my enemy himself. What direction should the armored column take to invest the rear of the enemy? Nobody can say. What should the armored column be for this purpose? It should be weight of sea pressing against dike.
What ought we do? This. That. The contrary of this or that. There is no determinism that governs the future. What ought we be? That is the essential question, the question that concerns spirit and not intelligence. For spirit impregnates intelligence with the creation that is to come forth. And later, intelligence is brought to the bed of creation. How should man go about building the first ship ever known? Very complicated, this. The ship will be born of a thousand errors and fumblings. But what should man be to build the first ship? Here I seize the problem of creation at the root. Merchant. Soldier. In love with the prospect of faraway lands. For then of necessity designers and builders will be born of that love. They will drain the energy of workmen and one day launch a ship. What should we do the annihilate a forest? The question is not easy. What be? Obviously, a forest fire.
This article suggests that the trucking industry may soon face a serious driver shortage...that although capacity to handle increased freight may appear to be there based on the number of trucks available, it isn't really, because there is no one to drive them. Some laid-off drivers have certainly gone on to doing other things, and federal regulations for the qualifications of commercial drivers have become more stringent.
This is interesting to me as a railroad investor since it suggests an additional factor helping to move long-haul freight from road to rail. More generally, though, it points to limitations in the accuracy of capacity estimates for the overall economy. When economists look at the available capacity of the trucking industry, as part of their capacity estimates for the overall economy, I doubt that they are looking at the impact of prospective driver shortages. This kind of thing matters, because these capacity estimates are used to project the potential for future economy-wide price increases.