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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critical mass
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number 2 pencil
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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
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right on the left coast
digital Rules
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the energy blog
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Friday, April 26, 2013  

A couple of months ago, I posted some links about 3-D printing, aka Additive Manufacturing.

Here’s an interesting piece on 3-D printing applications in the jewelry industry.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:02 AM

Wednesday, April 24, 2013  

US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade. Here’s what Kerry said:
I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody – I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that. 

Kerry is here conflating the legitimate use of force by an allied state, against people who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way by challenging a naval blockade, with a terrorist act against the wholly innocent citizens of Boston. His statement insults the citizens of Boston, it demonstrates hostility toward Israel, and it blurs moral distinctions and projects a sense of weakness which can only encourage more terrorist attacks against the United States in the future.
As Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said, “It’s unconscionable to compare the loss of life resulting from an act of self-defense to the results of cold-blooded, premeditated murder by terrorists.”

In related news, Richard Falk, the Princeton professor emeritus who is a high official of the UN “Human Rights Council,” blamed the Boston terror attacks on US foreign policy and “Tel Aviv.”  More at Breitbart:

The Obama administration has long championed the UN Human Rights Council, which it decided to join as one of its first foreign policy moves in 2009. Thanks to the Obama administration, U.S. began a second three-year term on the Council this past January. At the opening of the Council’s most recent session in March, Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer traveled to Geneva to address what she called “this esteemed body.” As author Anne Bayefsky says:
There is nothing about a “human rights” body that countenances the likes of Richard Falk that is “esteemed,” and the United States should resign–effective immediately.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:22 AM


The importance of a sense of autonomy in the work environment

Leadership behaviors that should not be tolerated in startups

Micromanagement as a form of editing

The Wealth Effect, and Greenspan's simplistic view of economic growth

Do today's jobs really require more cognitive skills?

Government schools and the culture of cowering

Video images from the International Space Station

Some nice images of the night sky

6:11 AM

Thursday, April 18, 2013  


Most readers will have at least heard of the anti-Nazi resistance movement known as The White Rose, which was centered around the University of Munich.

On February 22, 1943, three leading members of the group--Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, and their friend Christoph Probst--were tried by a "People's Court" and sentenced to death. The sentences were carried out that same day.

The transcript of the People's Court's verdict provides useful insight into the totalitarian mind. It can be found here.

I have some comments on this document, but before posting them I'll wait to see what others have to say.
What, if anything, particularly strikes you about the transcript?

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

8:10 AM

Saturday, April 13, 2013  

On April 8, 1838, the steamship Great Western..the first steamship to be purpose-built for the transatlantic passenger traffic…left Bristol for New York City. Four days earlier, though, another steamship, the Sirius, had left Cork for the same destination.  Sirius had not been designed for the Atlantic run; it was a small channel steamer which had been chartered by the rivals of Great Western’s owners. This competitive enterprise had encountered delays in the construction of their own Atlantic liner, the British Queen, and had chartered Sirius to keep Great Western from scoring a win in the PR battle. Sirius did arrive at New York first, on April 23, but Great Western came in only 12 hours later…its crossing of a little more than 15 days was the fastest ever from England to America.
There were earlier crossings that had been at least partly steam-powered: the American ship Savannah in 1819 (which actually used only sails for most of the voyage),  and the Dutch Curacao and the Canadian Royal William, which made their crossings in 1827 and 1833 respectively. But it was the Great Western vs Sirius race which marked the beginning of steam passenger and mail service across the Atlantic.
The paddle wheels and auxiliary sailing rigs of the early steamers gave way to screw propellers and total reliance on steam, and reciprocating steam engines were later supplanted by steam turbines…which in turn have now largely been replaced by diesels and in some cases gas turbines. Aircraft carriers and submarines still use steam turbines, though, with the steam generation done by nuclear energy rather than the burning of coal or oil.
Here’s the British actress Fanny Kemble, writing circa 1882,  in annotation of her years-earlier comments about the difficulties and emotional pain caused by slow communications between the continents:
To those who know the rate of intercourse between Europe and America now, these expressions of the painful sense of distance from my country and friends, under which I suffered, must seem almost incomprehensible,—now, when to go to Europe seems to most Americans the easiest of summer trips, involving hardly more than a week’s sea voyage; when letters arrive almost every other day by some of the innumerable steamers flying incessantly to and fro, and weaving, like living shuttles, the woof and warp of human communication between the continents; and the submarine telegraph shoots daily tidings from shore to shore of that terrible Atlantic, with swift security below its storms. But when I wrote this to my friend, no words were carried with miraculous celerity under the dividing waves; letters could only be received once a month, and from thirty to thirty-seven days was the average voyage of the sailing packets which traversed the Atlantic. Men of business went to and fro upon their necessary affairs, but very few Americans went to Europe, and still fewer Europeans went to America, to spend leisure, or to seek pleasure; and American and English women made the attempt still seldomer than the men. The distance between the two worlds, which are now so near to each other, was then immense.
(The quote is one of several passages cited in my post Further Fannyisms)
Also: the ultimate development of the steam-turbine-powered passenger liner was represented by the SS United States. Sadly, this beautiful ship is in imminent danger of being turned over the the scrapper’s’ torches…to save her, the SS United States Conservancy needs to raise $500K in the next month and will welcome contributions.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:48 PM

Tuesday, April 09, 2013  

(Originally posted in January 2010–now an April perennial)
Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.
PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wonders how these people are now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.
The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they’re missing a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.
Consider, for starters, direct employment by the government. Most Americans still probably think of government work as low-paid, but this is much less true than it used to be. According to this, 19% of civil servants now make $100K or more. A significant number of federal employees are now making more than $170,000. And, of course, the more the role of government is expanded, the more such jobs will be created, and the better will be the prospects for further pay increases.
If one member of a couple is a federal employee making $100K and the other is making $150K, that would be sufficient to allow them to live in Chevy Chase and occasionally partake of the shopping and restaurants. But to make the serious money required to really enjoy the Chevy Chase lifestyle, it’s best to look beyond direct government employment and pursue careers which indirectly but closely benefit from government activity…which are part of the “extended government,” to coin a phrase.
continued at Chicago Boyz

4:56 AM

Monday, April 08, 2013  

Patty Murray is a United States Senator.
Speaking to a group of high school students in 2002, she explained the appeal of Osama bin Laden to his followers, thusly:
“He’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He’s made their lives better. We have not done that.”
Day-care facilities. Yeah, women in Taliban-controlled areas like the convenience of dropping the kids of at the day care center before they check themselves in for the whipping or the stoning.
Murray’s deficiencies of understanding are not limited to foreign policy matters. Michelle Malkin:
” I’ll never forget interviewing her many years ago when I worked for the Seattle Times editorial board. We were talking about federal entitlement spending. I asked her about FICA taxes. She didn’t know what I was talking about; when I said “payroll taxes,” she still had a frozen blank look on her face.”
Another example of Murray’s ignorance shows her also to be a nasty bigot. When lobbying against a contract award for an Air Force tanker plane to Northrop Grumman, she said:
“I have stood on the line in Everett, Wash., where we have thousands of workers who go to work every day to build these planes. I would challenge anybody to tell me that they’ve stood on a line in Alabama and seen anybody building anything.”
This blogger responds:
Perhaps Senator Murray has heard of “Hyundai.” They manufacture “automobiles.” She might be shocked to learn that Hyundai has a “manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama. She might also find it surprising to learn that Mercedes-Benz has a huge, state of the art manufacturing facility  just outside of Tuscaloosa. The last time I heard, manufacturing plants had “lines” where people “build things.” In fact, according to the Manufacture Alabama! website, Alabama has a strong manufacturing base.
Patty Murray is chairman of the  Senate Budget Committee. What do you think are the chances that this individual is able to understand the complexities of the Federal Government budget, or that she is willing to work seriously and objectively to analyze the issues involved?
Of course, not ALL the dumb politicians are on the Democratic side of the aisle…though they certainly do seem to have a lot of them…for example, the Congresswoman who thought Ben Bernanke had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, and the Senator who is unable to comprehend the difference between “carbon” and “carbon dioxide.” Of course, there are  some dumb politicians on the Republican side, too.
But it is especially the Democratic Party…and most especially the “progressive” wing that now dominates that party…that wishes to restructure American society in order to give ever-increasing power to the political class. Which means giving ever-increasing power to people like Patty Murray.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:53 PM

Thursday, April 04, 2013  

(Originally posted November, 2009. See also this 2010 post: “Protocols” and Wealth Creation.)
Continuing my retro-reading of old Forbes ASAP issues. In the October 1993 issue, Rich Karlgaard, arguing that book value is of declining importance in evaluating companies, says:
Human intelligence and intellectual resources are now any company’s most valuable assets.
(Note that word “now”…we’ll be coming back to it)
Rich quotes Walter Wriston:
Indeed, the new source of wealth is not material, it is information,knowledge applied to work to create value…A person with the skills to write a complex software program that can produce a billion dollars of revenue can walk past any customs officer in the world with nothing of ‘value’ to declare.
I think Rich Karlgaard (now publisher of Forbes) is a very smart and insightful guy. (His blog is here.) And Walter Wriston was one of the giants of banking, back when it was possible to use such a phrase without snickering. But in this case, I think they are seriously overestimating the newness of the importance of knowledge in the economy. And such overestimation has continued and increased in the years since 1993.
The reality is that the leading companies of the much-maligned “industrial era” were themselves based on knowledge. The original Boulton & Watt steam engine business (which James Boswell visited in 1776) was based on James Watt’s design knowledge of how steam engines could be made more efficient and Matthew Boulton’s process knowledge about how they could be better manufactured. The original General Electric Company was based on Thomas Edison’s knowledge about numerous topics related to electricity. And so on.
And it would be a mistake to believe that while these businesses may have been based on an original brilliant idea or two, everyone other than the original inventors was restricted to uncreative drone work. The truth is, any substantial and surviving business requires thousands of innovations big and small, on a continuing basis, by many people. This is not new.
And knowledge isn’t something that only applies in laboratories, engineering departments, and executive suites…and has never been. I recently picked up an interesting autobiography by the engineer-writer L T C Holt, who grew up in the Welsh border area and worked in several factories in the 1920s and 1930s. Here’s his description of the work of a steam-hammer operator in a locomotive factory:

continued at Chicago Boyz

7:27 AM

Tuesday, April 02, 2013  
by J W von Goethe

Charlotte and Eduard were in love when they were very young, but parental pressures separated them. Twenty years later, they are finally able to be together, and now they live contentedly on Eduard’s large estate, somewhere near Weimar.
Eduard is in correspondence with his long-time friend, the Captain, who is frustrated by his current inability to find suitable employment, and suggests to Charlotte that he should come and live with them on the estate, where his surveying and construction-management skills would be very useful. Charlotte, though, has the sense that bringing a third party into the mix will somehow compromise the happiness for which they have waited so long. She makes her case nicely but determinedly, drawing from Eduard the reaction that a woman like Charlotte is “quite invincible” in debate:
First you are reasonable, so that it is not possible to contradict you; then charming, so that giving in to you is a pleasure; then full of feeling, so that a man wishes to avoid causing you any pain; then full of foreboding, which alarms him.
Despite Charlotte’s persuasiveness, though, Eduard remains concerned about the Captain’s situation, and does not drop the matter. Finally, Charlotte agrees that the Captain can join them, but with a proviso: she would also like her adopted daughter, Ottilie–who is having some difficulties at bording school–to move in with them.
The rather strange title of this book is taken from late-18th-century science, where it refers to the separation and combination of chemical substances…the Captain knows a bit about chemistry and shares his knowledge with Charlotte and Eduard after joining them at their estate.
The story is primarily concerned with Charlotte, Eduard, Ottilie, and the Captain—the four “substances” in the chemical analogy, whose varying affinities for one another create the drama of the book. There are also a few other important characters. One is a strange man named Mittler, whose self-appointed calling it is to travel about, seeking out conflicts among people and attempting to help resolve them. Another is Charlotte’s daughter Luciane, a budding socialite whose extremely hyper personality I found rather exhausting even at a distance of 200 years.
My description above may influence the reader to think that Elective Affinities is merely a rather trivial romance novel. And the stye of the book, the Arcadian setting, the unfailing courtesy with which the characters address one another…all these may at first seem to confirm such an opinion. But what Goethe is really dealing with here are the polarities of social structure versus passion and of free will versus fate.
Charlotte, who like her kindred spirit the Captain is a very organized and controlled person, at first sees an absolute distinction between the blind, automatic affinities of chemical substances and the freely-chosen affinities of human beings. But a year and a half later, her views about her  degree of control over her own fate–and even her own feelings–have, as a result of experience, changed considerably.
Really sort of a mix between novel and essay, Elective Affinities is a short book, easy to read, and emotionally involving if not emotionally overwhelming. I read the Oxford edition, with the translation by David Constantine…one reviewer at Amazon strongly recommended this in preference to the Penguin version.
Here’s an intereasting review of Elective Affinities  from 1885. It’s chock-full of spoilers, so if you plan to read the book, you may want to hold off on the link until you finish it.
There is also a 1996 movie based on the book–made by Italian filmmakers and with the action transposed from Germany to Italy. I’ll comment on it in a later post.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:29 AM

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