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

site feed

A link to a website, either in this sidebar or in the text of a post, does not necessarily imply agreement with opinions or factual representations contained in that website.

<< current

An occasional web magazine.

For more information or to contact us, click here.

E-mails may be published, with or without editing, unless otherwise requested.

Saturday, January 29, 2011  

I've posted several times about the horrible piece of legislation known as the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, which has been devastating to many small manufacturers--especially makers of children's clothing, toys, science kits, etc--and homecrafters. (It has also had a malign impact on the children's book industry and on libraries.) In today's WSJ, Virginia Postrel has a good article on this legislation and its effects.

Postrel observes that the recently-enacted Food Safety Modernization Act does a better job than did the CPSIA of exempting small operators from burdensome and unnecessary record-keeping requirements, and attributes this to the fact that the agricultural industry is far better organized from a lobbying standpoint than are the small manufacturers who are impacted by the CPSIA. (Also, the kind of well-connected people for whom grocery shopping is a religious experience are more likely to have a concern about protecting small farmers than about protecting small manufacturers and homecrafters.)

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:57 AM

Thursday, January 27, 2011  

Elizabeth Scalia (aka The Anchoress) cites the case of Pete Hamill--author of over a dozen books, writer of a syndicated newspaper column and of countless essays and articles covering a broad range of subjects--who finally got around to getting a degree from the high school he dropped out of 59 years ago. "It was the last period when you could do that and still have a life," Hamill told the New York Times.


We live in an era where a well-educated journalist can declare the Constitution to be “over a hundred years old” and therefore difficult to understand, and remain credibly employed; it does seem that credentials matter more than ability. Demonstrating that one is able to conform to curricula currently trumps boldness; seat hours in the auditorium count more than audacity.

I wonder if that’s really good for America, though. To become educated is a marvelous thing; to have the opportunity to study is a privilege too many take for granted. But have we become a society that places too much weight on the attainment of a diploma, which sometimes indicates nothing more than an ability to keep to a schedule and follow a syllabus, and underappreciates the ability to wonder, to strike out on an individual path, and to learn on one’s own?...to paraphrase Gregory of Nyssa, it’s the wondering that begets the knowing.

continued at Chicago Boyz

1:24 PM


Ayo Gorkhali!

(via Neptunus Lex)

6:00 AM

Tuesday, January 25, 2011  

Protein folding at home for fun & science

In this approach, volunteer players use a video-game-like interface to help come up with solutions to protein-folding problems--different from the approach I mentioned in this post, in which people volunteer their home videogame equipment to participate as elements in a distributed supercomputer. In the second case, the computer power is widely distributed; in the first case, the human intelligence being applied is widely distributed as well.

via this WSJ article

6:50 AM

Saturday, January 22, 2011  

The Center for American Progress notes that per-pupil education spending has tripled over the past four decades, even after adjusting for inflation. There are clearly some serious issues as to how effectively this money is being spent.

The CAP has done an extensive analysis of educational productivity at a district-by-district level, attempting to control for the effect of non-school factors influencing cost and performance. Here's a nifty interactive map--note that you can select from three different variants of the calculation methodology.

I've looked at the methodology and results only at a very cursory level, but this study--which clearly involved a lot of work--looks worthy of attention.

(via Joanne Jacobs)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:26 AM

Thursday, January 20, 2011  

Some of the conditions attached by the FCC to the Comcast/NBC Universal merger should be raising serious concerns, and need a lot more attention/discussion than they are getting.

Comcast will make available to approximately 2.5 million low income households: (i) high-speed Internet access service for less than $10 per month; (ii) personal computers, netbooks, or other computer equipment at a purchase price below $150" and "we require Comcast-NBCU to increase programming diversity by expanding its over the-air programming to the Spanish language-speaking community, and by making NBCU's Spanish-language broadcast programming available via Comcast's on demand and online platforms."

Providing subsidized $10/month broadband Internet access to low-income households..or not..is a decision that should be made by legislative action. It represents in effect a tax on all existing Comcast customers for the benefit of the identified groups. For the FCC to take such an action absent explicit legislative authorization seems like regulatory overreach, to put it mildly.

Even more important, there are issues of speech control here. It is no secret that NBCU programming has a generally leftist slant. Actions that broaden the distribution of this programming--which will surely be accomplished both via the additional Spanish-language programming and via the subsidized Internet access, which will assist Comcast in selling non-Internet services to the same households--will benefit the Democratic Party and the leftist movement in general. (Of course, once Comcast takes control of NBCU it has the ability to change the programming and will hopefully reduce the leftist slant, but large organizations have substantial inertia, particularly in industries as inbred and prone to herd thinking as the media field.) The precedent is not a good one.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:58 AM

Sunday, January 16, 2011  

Richard Fisher, of the Dallas Fed, on the limits of monetary policy. (Via "MaxedOut Mama.) See also this related post from Scott at PowerLine, who quotes some lines from Bob Dylan:

And here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice

Bunny slippers of the apocalypse. See also this discussion thread at Neptunus Lex, including comments from people who have served as launch officers in missile silos.

Not good: Midwife shortage in Britain. (via Common Sense & Wonder)

Human vs computer in 'Jeopardy'

Why adding safety improvements to a system may actually make that system less safe. (via Newmark's Door)

2:29 PM

Friday, January 14, 2011  

(or at least "less")

...to rare earths

There has been much concern, and rightly so, about the increasing dependence of the U.S. and other economies on the elements known as rare earths, for which the primary current supplier is China. These concerns have been further increased by the rather high-handed manner in which the Chinese government has conducted itself in this matter. As a result, stocks of companies with access to rare-earth mineral deposits outside of China have been doing pretty well.

A couple of weeks ago, General Electric posted about their efforts to reduce the need for rhenium in jet engines. Although it is not technically a rare earth, rhenium is indeed rare--world production about 50 tons per year--and expensive. GE's rhenium-reduction project has three elements: recycling metal grindings from the manufacturing process, developing alloys that require less or no rhenium, and reclaiming rhenium from used engine parts.

When reading the GE post, it struck me that just about every company that is highly dependent on rare earths probably has similar projects underway. Comes now Toyota, with an announcement that it's making good progress in developing an electric motor (for hybrids) which has no need of neodymium, a mainly-Chinese-source element that is a key component in today's hybrid motors. (Toyota's new motor is based on the induction-motor principle--scarcely a new technology, but one that has required considerable reengineering to meet the weight and efficiency needs of the hybrid application.)

continued at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:08 AM

Monday, January 10, 2011  

...on the seen and the unseen.

E J Dionne, an establishment liberal who writes for the Washington Post, complains that many House Republicans "behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas"--ideas, that is, about limitations on the power of government--and says:

Their rhetoric is nearly devoid of talk about solving practical problems--how to improve our health care, education and transportation systems, or how to create more middle-class jobs.

Instead, we hear about things we can't touch or see or feel, and about highly general principles divorced from their impact on everyday life...

Daniel Jackson, a rabbi who lives in Israel, says:

Now, it was this last sentence that grabbed my attention. Why is it problematic to discuss things that are abstract? I would have thought that for those who style themselves as intellectuals, keeping abstract, non-tangible concepts in mind would not be an issue.

Perhaps, however, that is precisely the problem. This is not a new conflict--between those who maintain a fiduciary responsibility to unseen concepts and those who simply cannot understand such phenomena.

Read the whole thing.

In reality, of course, the size, scope, and structure of government has an enormous effect on a nation's prosperity or lack of same. As an extreme example, a society with Soviet-union-level centralization can implement endless detailed programs for improving the lives of its people: it is going to remain a much poorer society than it would have been with a less-controlling structure.

In the corporate world, a bad CEO may work very hard to make the right decisions in dozens of different areas--but if he fails to delegate and to put the right incentive structures in place, if he strangles the initiative of his subordinates by centralizing everything in his own hands, then he is very likely to fail---and the larger and more complex the corporation, the more likely this failure is to occur.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:38 PM


...and just a little bit spooky.

Printing a flute

(via Instapundit)

5:22 PM

Saturday, January 08, 2011  

Ace has an interesting post comparing class distinctions in mid-1800s England with those that are arising in American society today. Citing the book Victorian London by Liza Picard, he says:

She noted, for example, that a Bank of England clerk would be a member of the middle/professional class, despite the fact that what he did all day was hand-write numbers into ledgers and do simple arithmetic and some filing work and the like, whereas, say, a carpenter actually did real thinking, real planning, at his job, with elements of real creativity.

And yet it was the Bank of England clerk who was considered a "mind" worker and the carpenter merely a hand-laborer.

and, moving to the present era:

I noticed in the mid-nineties the new buzzword was "the Information Elite," a proposed new class that included, by definition, anyone in the media, no matter how low-level or rote/mechanical in their actual job function. And you know who couldn't get enough of talking about the "Information Elite?" The media, of course! Because everytime they brought it up, and fretted about this new class distinction that might have harmful effects for sooociiiiety, they were of course flattering themselves by naming themselves "the Elite"...And this all goes hand in hand with my own Great Big Idea, that liberalism is largely, by subconscious design, a machine of class-differentiation for those aspiring to be part of an upper class to count themselves as part of that upper class, even if (especially if!) their credentials for belonging to that class are otherwise slim.

Read the whole thing. Link via Maggie's Farm.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:10 PM

Wednesday, January 05, 2011  

That would be the bicycle.

Some rather breathless thoughts on the social implications of this technology from a contemporary Atlantic Monthly article by W J McGee:

A typical American device is the bicycle. Invented in France, it long remained a toy or a vain luxury. Redevised in this country, it inspired inventors and captivated manufacturers, and native genius made it a practical machine for the multitude...Typical, too, is the bicycle in its effect on national character. It first aroused invention, next stimulated commerce, and then developed individuality, judgment, and prompt decision on the part of its users more rapidly and completely than any other device; for although association with machines of any kind (absolutely straightforward and honest as they are all) develops character, the bicycle is the easy leader of other machines in shaping the mind of its rider, and transforming itself and its rider into a single thing. Better than other results is this: that the bicycle has broken the barrier of pernicious differential between the sexes and rent the bonds of fashion, and is daily impressing Spartan strength and grace, and more than Spartan intelligence, on the mothers of coming generations. So, weighed by its effect on body and mind as well as on material progress, this device must be classed as one of the world's great inventions.

Source: From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932, by David Hounshell.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

2:08 PM

Tuesday, January 04, 2011  

Piano manufacturing, with an emphasis on quality at affordable prices. Bill Waddell sees lessons for other manufacturers.

6:30 AM

Sunday, January 02, 2011  

(well, just a little bit)

Imagine being in a management position at the IRS. Your job is to implement and enforce the tax laws, as enacted by Congress.

As anyone who has ever run anything knows, actions in the real world involve lead times. In the case of tax law changes: forms must be designed and printed, instructions for those forms must be written and distributed, and computer systems must be programmed and/or reprogrammed.

Due to the irresponsible screwing around of our CongressClowns, tax-law changes were made late in the year, with inadequate provision for the lead-time requirements of the IRS. As a result, many taxpayers will see delays in their ability to file their returns and get expected refunds.

The main issue here, of course, is the inconvenience and financial impact on taxpayers. But also, imagine how much (not) fun it must be to work at the IRS and have your professional life dependent on rulers who show no recognition or appreciation for the realities of your work.

Now just think...as government becomes more and more controlling of all aspects of the American economy, the same kind of problem that afflicts the IRS and taxpayers today will increasingly afflict all industries, their customers, and their suppliers. In a limit case, with a highly socialized economy, you can imagine farmers being delayed in their planting decisions while Congress debates what the appropriate mix of crops should be...widespread hunger soon to follow.

If Congress can't even show a reasonable level of responsibility in managing the administrative aspects of a traditional government function such as taxation, why would anyone think they are able to intelligently micromanage a vast array of industries, many of which are extremely complicated?

(Link via Instapundit)

Related post: Be afraid

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

3:07 PM

This page is powered by Blogger.