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

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Monday, July 30, 2012  

A millinery shop in Liverpool, 1848. The characters:
–Miss Flounce
–Miss Flaunt
–Miss Flout
–Master Wilberforce Romney
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

9:31 AM

Sunday, July 29, 2012  

A Justice Department official, testifying before Congress, repeatedly refused to promise that the Obama DOJ will never seek to criminalize speech against any religion. Report and video here. Via Pam Geller, who has plenty to say about this.
For decades now, some of American leading universities have been normalizing the idea that interference with free speech is OK, indeed is a positive good. This has been done on two levels: first, directly, via administrative restrictions and required indoctrination, second, indirectly, by allowing students and others to get away with interfering with the free speech of others, for example by theft of opposing newspapers and by outright violent intimidation. With this precedent, it was inevitable that attacks on free speech in the wider political sphere would come to be viewed as more acceptable.
I don’t think it is at all far-fetched that a second Obama Administration, coupled with a Dem-controlled Congress, would attempt to push through what would be in effect a thinly-disguised blasphemy law, using a variant of the “crying fire in a crowded theater” argument. Whether they would get away with it or not would depend on the mix of Supreme Court Justices on the Court at that time.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:50 AM

Thursday, July 26, 2012  

Spokesweasel Jay Carney refused to say.
(via Instapundit)
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:54 PM


The new improved Panama canal.  It will reduce the cost of shipping containers from the Far East to the US East Coast...perhaps as much as $400 cheaper from Shanghai to Columbus compared with the current route...but astute companies will carefully consider the tradeoffs with transit time and the consequent impacts on inventory and customer service.

The end of the solution-selling paradigm?

How to hire and support a great sales manager

Social and psychological effects of hyperinflation

Northern and Southern lights as seen from space (videos)

An interesting piece by Nicole Gelinas on the history of New Orleans

Women in Paris and London in the early 1900s (photos)

The secret city of London (video)

How to write a good screenplay...thoughts from Robert Avrech, himself an Emmy-award-winning screenwriter

1:52 PM

Tuesday, July 24, 2012  

A banking equity analyst at a major bank talks about the growing uniformity in banks:
In the old days you got people who had applied in their last year at university or who had other careers, in the industry or in trade papers. These days you get people who have started working at getting that job from the first year of university. The recruitment process has been industrialised and professionalised, it’s become so difficult to get in.

“The result is paradoxical. Diversity has increased, with far more women and ethnic minorities than before. On the other hand it’s become a terribly homogenous bunch of people. You don’t get graduates who did not at 18 want to work at a bank. You only get people who spent their summers in internships at banks, who went straight from college into the bank. Their biggest exposure to the world outside is… business school.

“This homogenous bunch deals quite badly with paradigm shifts. Quarter to quarter they are really, really good at cleaning out a bank’s books, digging up the one-offs, accounting tricks. What they’re missing is the big picture.

“Also, they are not sufficiently cynical. Quite a lot of regrettable stuff was written in the last years of Lehman Brothers. This was in part because the young people writing it were unable to take a step back, psychologically, and ask themselves if they were being lied to, flat out.
The whole interview is interesting.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:54 AM

Monday, July 23, 2012  

Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director and is now a vice chairman at Citigroup, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.
I’m with Jeremy LottBut to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education — the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform — and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.
I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children. In this post, I said:
The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them–waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.
Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.
Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jeri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?
Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.
Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?
Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?
And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.
And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:57 AM

Saturday, July 21, 2012  

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke:
Get to work Mr. Chairman
The deep problems with our economy are not primarily matters of monetary policy (although excessively low rates maintained by the Greenspan Fed did contribute materially to asset overvaluation and the consequent 2008 crash.) Rather, our current problems are primarily a function of bad policies driven by Mr Schumer’s Democratic Party, ranging from suppression of American energy supplies to overweening regulatory arrogance to a legal climate encouraging destructive litagation to a dysfunctional public school system which every year produces millions of almost illiterate and virtually unemployable graduates.
Instead of taking their foot off the air hose of our economy, Chuckles and many of his fellow Democrats are demanding that the Fed simply turn up the air pressure. And when the hose breaks, I’m sure they’ll find lots of people other than themselves to blame.
Related post here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:27 AM

Thursday, July 19, 2012  

Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.
To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.
Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.
Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?
The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?
There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.
The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.
To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.
Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:
One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.
The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:36 AM


This HBR article requires (fairly easy) registration, but is worth reading.

7:03 AM

Wednesday, July 18, 2012  

How the average American has changed since the 1960s

How the paperback book changed America

The dog as angelic creature (image)

General Electric has an interesting piece on the early development of the jet engine

New Chicago Girl Margaret Ball writes about her husband's attempt to volunteer at an Austin museum

Some great images of the northern lights

4:34 AM

Tuesday, July 17, 2012  

What should Marissa Mayer do with Yahoo?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:00 AM


Some Africans living in the US, faces with bad public schools and certain unpleasant aspects of contemporary American culture, have decided to send their kids back to Africa for schooling. Link.

The linked article quotes Edem Andy, who has taught in both Nigeria and the US and is now teaching in Prince George's County, MD:

During his 16-year stint as a teacher in the county, he has noticed that those children come back “better organized [and] basically more prepared. A child that has been to school in Nigeria knows how to study and take notes, which is lacking with American kids.”

via Instapundit

5:14 AM

Sunday, July 15, 2012  

A couple of weeks ago, there was a growing forest fire in northwestern Nevada. Fortunately, the Washoe County sheriff's department had aloft in the area a fire-fighting helicopter tanked up with 323 gallons of water.

Unfortunately, it wasn't clear whether the Federal land on which the fire was burning was under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management or under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. If the former, then the chopper had approval to legally drop the water, if the latter, then it did not. So the team in the helicopter did nothing. More than 200 acres burned.

There have been a lot of stories like this lately. The thicket of rules governing life in America today has become so thick, and belief in the importance of adhering to these rules even in defiance of common sense has become so strong, that the default for many people has become the belief that inaction is safer than action.

In 1805, Lord Nelson said:

When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and Country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.

"Unexpected occurrences" occur quite frequently, whether it is they take the form of a forest fire in a jurisdictionally-ambiguous area, a kid in school having an asthma attack, or a transatlantic flight losing its airspeed indication capabilities. Human beings need to be ready and empowered to use their judgment and intelligence in such situations, not constrained to act like rigidly-programmed computers.

A couple of years ago, I would have posted this story under the "Just Unbelievable" category. Sadly, that category no longer applies, because stories of rule-driven bureaucratic rigidity have become a commonplace of American life.

In 1797, a Spanish naval official named Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana wrote about the reasons his country tended to lose naval engagements with the British. One of his points:

An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support. 

Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeuvres…

In my 2007 post on Don Domingo's comments, I linked a Washington Post article on "the increasing propensity of Americans to be driven by rules and procedures, rather than doing what makes sense" and noted that "there are certainly trends in our society which, if not reversed, will make us increasinly similar to the (French / Spanish) Combined Fleet of 1805, rather than Nelson’s victorious fleet." Over the last 4 years, I am afraid that we have traveled much further down that road.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:59 AM

Thursday, July 12, 2012  

The fact that some environmental groups want to destroy existing dams, in the name of returning rivers to their natural states, is of course old news. Now, though, they have moved beyond the tearing down of dams and want to destroy bridges as well.

 And, in the case of the historic Stoneman Bridge in Yosemite National Park, it appears that they may well get their way. 

Environmentalists claim to have great respect for the works of nature. (Though--given the number of cars I see with environmentalist bumper stickers and the windows rolled up tight on beautiful days--it seems that quite a few of them want to minimize their actual contact with the natural environment.) But, all too often, they seems to have no respect at all for the work of human minds and hands.

 Related: Frankly, my dear, I do need a dam

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:17 PM


George Will writes about the the attack that Obama's EPA is conducting against the Navajo Generating Station, which together with the coal mine that feeds it represents an important factor in Arizona's economy and an important source of employment for members of the Navajo tribe.

Will notes that the NGS provides 95 percent of the power for the pumps of the Central Arizona Project, which routes water from the Colorado River and which made Phoenix and most of modern Arizona possible. A study sponsored by the Interior Department estimates that the EPA’s mandate might increase the cost of water by as much as 32 percent, hitting agriculture users especially hard.

Read the whole thing.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:10 AM

Wednesday, July 11, 2012  

Right here

See also: The 10 most important numbers in the world

6:07 AM

Tuesday, July 10, 2012  

A recently-retired college instructor writes about some of the...interesting...ways in which his students have used the English language. Link

I especially like email from the guy who couldn't come to class because he'd gotten in trouble with the law, having been charged with a "mister meaner."

7:33 AM

Monday, July 09, 2012  

Two interesting articles:

Narcissism and the difference between high achievers and high leaders

The effect of CEO narcissism on corporate behavior and performance

(first link via Newmark's Door)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

4:30 AM

Saturday, July 07, 2012  

The Apple supply chain..is it really so unique?

The emotional adventure of leadership

Oldest map containing the word 'America' was found between two geometry books in a German university library

Spanish cave paintings..the oldest in the world

Whiteboard art

Some remarkable acrylic paintings

12 unique views of rooms from above

Remember Peter Thiel's "20 under 20" project, in which he offered $100K to each of 20 teenagers to drop out of school and pursue a startup venture? Here's the first success story.

4:54 AM

Thursday, July 05, 2012  

...and of the entire era of reliable and affordable electricity?

Is it hot where you are? Have you been enjoying your air conditioning? Appreciate it a little more after the power has come back on after an extended outage?

The American economy has made air conditioning broadly affordable, even by those whose incomes are fairly low. But how many people are going to be able to afford their A/C if electricity prices rise to the $.70 or $.80/kwh range?

Remember, Barack Obama said (in 2008) that under his plan, electricity rates would "necessarily skyrocket." The only things that have prevented such skyrocketing from happening so far are (a) the unwillingness of Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill, and (b) the vast expansion in supplies of natural gas--a key fuel for electricity generation--driven by advanced fracking technologies. In a second Obama term, neither of these factors would likely be operative. A court decision has now given the EPA the ability to do pretty much what it wants to do regarding regulation of CO2, and in an Obama administration, what it wants to do is to shut down America's coal-based electricity generation. Also, the scale of the success of oil/gas fracking clearly took the Obama administration by surprise, and in a second Obama term there would be far more regulatory effort to tie the hands of this industry and limit the development of America's natural gas resources.

(Electricity bills have increased in recent years--from a residential average of $.0945/kwh in 2005 to $.118/kwh in 2011...but that's nothing compared to what will happen if Obama is reelected and the inhibiting factors described above are removed.)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:58 AM

Wednesday, July 04, 2012  

 The above question was asked in a post by a contributor at Ricochet; no point in linking directly to the post, however, since it's in the members-only section of the site. Suggestions so far have included Johnny Termain, The Crossing, The Alamo (both versions), Gettysburg, Band of Brothers, The Patriot, Last of the Mohicans, John Adams (miniseries), and the various Ken Burns miniseries. I suggested The Awakening Land (miniseries), to which I now add Far and Away and Once an Eagle.

Your thoughts?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:56 PM


Read Roger Simon's sobering post: The Last Forth of July.

For the last several years, on July 4th I've posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet's poem Listen to the People. On July 7, 1941--five months before Pearl Harbor--this poem was read over nationwide radio. The title I've previously used for these posts is It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet's poem.


This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
And, afterwards,
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.

And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

Benet's poem ends with these words:

We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

But shall it?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:12 AM

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