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
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neptunus lex
the daily brief
roger scruton
bookworm room
villainous company
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Monday, October 31, 2011  

From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye
And the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye!

That of your five sound sense
You never be forsaken
Nor wander from
Yourself with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon

The moon's my constant mistress
And the lonely owl my marrow
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow

I know more than Apollo
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars
At mortal wars
And the rounded welkin weeping

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a burning spear
And a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander

By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end
Methinks it is no journey

(Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn't it? This is Tom O'Bedlam's Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)

3:09 PM

Thursday, October 27, 2011  
by Stefan Zweig

A remote village in Austria, shortly after the end of the First World War. The 28-year-old protagonist, Christine Hoflehner, is the sole employee at the town's Post Office. Her once solidly-middle-class family has been impoverished by the war, in which her brother was killed, and the subsequent inflation. Christine's days are spent working at her boring Post Office job and caring for her chronically-ill mother. Except for a brief encounter with a crippled soldier when she was 20 ("two, three feeble kisses, more pity than passion") she has never had a boyfriend. Her future looks bleak, but she knows many people are even worse-off than herself.

Here's Christine at the Post Office:

Not much more of her is visible through the wicket than the pleasant profile of an ordinary young woman, somewhat thin-lipped and pale and with a hint of circles under the eyes; late in the day, when she turns on the harsh electric lights, a close observer might notice a few slight lines on her forehead and wrinkles around her eyes. Still, this young woman, along with the hollyhocks in the window and the sprig of elder that she has put in the metal washbasin today for her own pleasure, is easily the freshest thing in the Klein-Reifling post office; she seems good for at least another twenty-five years of service. Her hand with its pale fingers will raise and lower the same rattly wicket thousands upon thosands of times more, will toss hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of letters onto the canceling desk with the same swiveling motion, will slam the blackened brass canceler onto hundreds of thousands or millions of envelopes with the same brief thump.

Of all the commonplace items in the Post Office--the pencils, the stamps, the scales, the ledger books, the official posters on the wall--the only objects that have anything of mystery and romance attached to them are the telephone and the telegraph machine, which via copper wires connect this tiny village to the width and breadth of Austria and the world beyond. And on one hot summer day, as Christine is drowsing at her desk, the latter instrument comes alive. Getting up to start the tape, she observes with amazement--this is something that has never happened before!--that the telegram is addressed to HER.

continued at Chicago Boyz

5:56 AM

Thursday, October 20, 2011  

The Austrian state suffered from its strength: it had never had its range of activity cut down during a successful period of laissez-faire, and therefore the openings for a national conflict were far greater. There were no private schools or hospitals, no independent universities; and the state, in its infinite paternalism, performed a variety of services from veterinary surgery to the inspecting of buildings. The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce 'log-rolling,' and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

--AJP Taylor quoted in Wilson's War, by Jim Powell. Original source: Taylor's book The Habsburg Monarchy

(I think it's fair to say that the term "national," as used here by Taylor, basically means what we would call "ethnic," since all of these various nationalities were subjects of the same empire.)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:45 AM

Wednesday, October 19, 2011  

A Chicago Boyz discussion about cats reminded me of a passage in Robert Carse's book The River Men...I was going to post it but didn't have the book available. Now I do, so here it is belatedly.

Brother Gabriel Sagard was a French missionary working in what is now Canada. In the winter of 1624, he stayed with the Huron Indians, and in appreciation of their hospitality he invited them to a feast at the nearest convent. For each of his Huron friends he selected an appropriate gift--for one of them, the captain of the canoe which had brought him from the village to the convent, he chose a large house cat. These Hurons had no prior experience with cats.

This good Captain thought the cat had a rational mind, seeing that when he was called, he would come and play with one, and so he conjectured that the cat understood French perfectly. After admiring this animal, he asked us to tell the cat that he should let himself be carried home to his country, and that he would love the cat like his own son. "Oh, Gabriel!" he cried, he will have plenty to live on at home! You say that he is very fond of mice, and we have any amount of them. So let him come freely to us!" So saying, he tried to embrace the cat; but that wicked creature, who did not understand his way of caressing, immediately thrust out all his claws and made him let go quicker than he had clasped him.

"Ho, ho, ho!" said the good man. "So that's the way he treats me! Ongaron ortischat! He's ugly, he's bad! Speak to him!" Finally, having got the cat with a great deal of trouble into a birchbox box, he carried the him off in his arms to the canoe, and fed him through a little hole with bread that he had received at our convent.

But when he tried to give the cat some sagamite, to his despair the cat escaped and flew up on a tree and they could not get him down again. And as far as calling him down, nobody home (personne a la mason); he didn't understand any Huron, and they didn't know how to call a cat in French, and so they were forced to turn their backs on them and leave him in the tree, very unhappy at losing him, and the cat very worried about who was going to feed him in the future.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:20 AM

Monday, October 17, 2011  

Quasicrystals--a Nobel-prize-winning discovery that was originally viewed as impossible by many prominent scientists...indeed, the first reaction of the discoverer himself was to say "Eyn chaya kazo", which is Hebrew for "there can be no such creature."

A visit to the USS Carl Vinson by the blogger known as Bookworm

What happened to downtime? The extinction of deep thinking and sacred space

The world's oldest museum...built by a Babylonian princess 2500 years ago

The end of the future, a thought-provoking essay by Peter Thiel

A world of brilliant colors--that was the Middle Ages, according to Hugh O'Reilly

11:32 AM

Sunday, October 16, 2011  

The poisonous nature of so much of today's political discourse is in large part due to the climate of blame-casting encouraged by Barack Obama. Given any difficult situation whatsoever, it is clear that Obama's primary instinct is to use it as an opportunity to demonize a selected group. The man has remarkably little interest in problem-solving. Despite his faux reputation as an intellectual, there is nothing of the scholar or analyst in him. It's all about speech-making..."the use of his vocal chords is to him inseparable from thinking, as Freud and Bullitt wrote about Woodrow Wilson...and the speeches, especially these days, are usually mainly about an attack on a targeted group.

A strong contrast is offered by presidential candidate Herman Cain..a man who has lived in an environment of problem-solving....ballistics problems for the US Navy, programming problems while getting his CS degree, marketing and production and management problems at the pizza company. You can't solve trajectories or write code or make and sell pizzas by seeking out someone to blame.

This is a contrast that it would be wise for the Cain campaign to emphasize strongly.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:50 PM

Monday, October 10, 2011  

Sigmund Freud and William Bullitt (who worked closely with Woodrow WIlson at the Versailles conference) wrote a book titled Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study. Excerpt:

Throughout his life he took intense interest only in subjects which could somehow be connected with speech...He took no interest in mathematics, science, art or music--except in singing himself, a form of speaking. His method of thinking about a subject seems to have been to imagine himself making a speech about it...He seems to have thought about political or economic problems only when he was preparing to make a speech about them either on paper or from the rostrum. His memory was undoubtedly of the vaso-motor type. The use of his vocal chords was to him inseparable from thinking.

Remind you of anyone we know?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:22 PM

Sunday, October 09, 2011  


Otis Elevator (part of United Technologies) is moving elevator production from Nogales, Mexico to a new plant in Florence, South Carolina. The company expects the move to cut its freight/logistics costs by 17%, and expect additional benefits from the colocation of engineers and toolmakers with the production operations. Otis also expects marketing benefits: it will be easier for US customers to visit the plant. Overall, they expect these advantages--combined with a higher degree of automation than the Nogales plant--to outweigh the higher US labor costs.

The problems created by lengthy supply chains and long travel times are, of course, even more substantial when production is located in China rather than Mexico. (The above link contains an interesting graph showing the estimated cost of sourcing an automotive wiper assembly from China, from Mexico, and from the US.) Bill Waddell, who was the source of the Otis link above, believes that Mexico has a golden opportunity in manufacturing right now, and has written an interesting paper explaining the reasons.

7:21 AM

Wednesday, October 05, 2011  

For discussion:

1)Who would be a better President: Herman Cain or Sarah Palin?

2)Which of the two would be a more effective candidate?

Comment at Chicago Boyz

6:01 AM

Monday, October 03, 2011  

(...at least, women in Weimar in 1828....possibly with broader applicability.)

continued at Chicago Boyz

9:02 AM

Saturday, October 01, 2011  

Sometime in the early 1800s, Goethe was walking a secluded, narrow path which led to a mill. There he met an (unnamed) prince, and the two fell into conversation about many subjects, including theatre and particularly Schiller's play "The Robbers." The prince's comment about this work was:

If I had been the Deity on the point of creating the world, and had foreseen, at the moment, that Schiller's ‘Robbers’ would have been written in it, I would have left the world uncreated.

(from Conversations with Eckermann)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:52 AM

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