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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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
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right on the left coast
digital Rules
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Saturday, November 30, 2013  

…because it increasingly seems that the first three digits must be One, Nine, and Three.
Kanye West says Obama’s problems with getting things done are because “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people”…(also, “Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people.”)
New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio praises Al Sharpton, who was one of the primary instigators of the Crown Heights Pogrom.
Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) recently asserted that “President Obama should drop the charade of democracy and rule directly through executive orders.”
Obama-supporting protestors demand that Obama make even more use of government by executive order than he has already done.
Obama’s frontmen at Organizing for America told their members to propagandize for Obamacare at family Thanksgiving dinners. As Byron York notes, politicization of all aspects of life is a standard feature of totalitarian societies.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is one example of those “progressives” who think patriotism is all about obeisance to the government and the Leader, rather than being about love of country.
A third-grade textbook, said to be compliant with the new Common Core standards, portrays Obama with the kind of messianic iconography commonly used by totalitarian governments in praising their rulers.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:13 AM

Thursday, November 21, 2013  

Majority Leader Harry Reid has succeeded in getting the Senate to change the rules such that most of Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees no longer need to clear a 60-vote threshold to reach the Senate floor and get an up-or-down vote.
This action is simply one more manifestation of the Democrats’ hostility toward any limitations on government power…at least, any limitations of government power as long as they are in control (which they clearly intend to be for a long, long time.)
While the Obama administration is clearly more hostile toward the institutions of American democracy than even most previous Democratic presidents have been, still, the desire of Democrats to remove constraints on government power goes back a long ways. As I noted in a comment to this post, Woodrow Wilson believed that separation of powers was obsolete…he argued for this viewpoint based on extremely simplistic reasoning about the “organic” nature of government and the assertion that an organism could not have “organs offset against each other as checks, and live.” (As I also noted in the same comment thread, one would think that anyone who had run any kind of organization would understand the need for “organs offset against each other as checks.” even at the simple level of an auditing department and the separation of payment authorization from payment execution…and, of course, the concepts of feedback control and homeostasis clearly demonstrate the need for those “organs offset against each other” in any complex system.)
Also in the same thread, Vader cited someone who had said that Wilson’s belief in his own moral righteousness was so great as to approach mental illness. This is clearly also true of Obama, probably to an even greater degree than it was true of Wilson. And people with this level of arrogance, of course, tend to be especially impatient of any restraints on their power.
But it goes far beyond Obama himself. The growth of educational credentialism has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people who believe that their college degrees…entirely irrespective of any actual accomplishments that they have made or actual knowledge that they possess…have given them preternatural wisdom and hence they right and duty to control the lives of their less-enlightened countrymen.
American democracy is in grave danger. The 2014 elections will probably be the last chance to keep this country..and the world…from going down a very dark path. I’m reminded of a speech Winston Churchill gave during the years of appeasement, specifically in March 1938, in which he spoke of Britain and its allies:
descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.
See also my related post When law yields to absolute power.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:52 AM


Just re-read Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (outstanding) and watched the 1994 movie (pretty good.) The book, like much Victorian literature, was originally serialized in a magazine, in this case Belgravia: a Magazine of Fashion and Amusement.
I found the original illustrations that accompanied the serialization here. Inclusion of illustrations was apparently quite expensive in comparison with straight text, even after the efficiency improvements that went with higher print volumes, so they tended to be fairly scarce–only 12 of them for the whole serialized novel, in this case.
More about the book and the economics of Victorian publishing here…it is interesting that the high cost of book encouraged lending libraries to insist that books be published broken into multiple volumes, so that reader access to the book could be “timeshared,” resulting in a higher ratio of revenue to cost.
Hardy and the artist who did the illustrations (Arthur Hopkins) were able to collaborate only by mail, and Hardy was not thrilled with the first image of his main female protagonist, Eustacia…he was happier with the later versions of this character.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:52 AM

Monday, November 18, 2013  

Tyler Cowen, in his recent book Average is Over, argues that computer technology is creating a sharp economic and class distinction between people who know how to effectively use these “genius machines” (a term he uses over and over) and those who don’t, and is also increasing inequality in other ways. Isegoria recently excerpted some of his Tyler’s comments on this thesis from a recent New Yorker article.
I read the book a couple of months ago, and although it’s worth reading and is occasionally thought-provoking, I think much of what Tyler has to say is wrong-headed. In the New Yorker article, for example, he says:
The first (reason why increased inequality is here to stay) is just measurement of worker value. We’re doing a lot to measure what workers are contributing to businesses, and, when you do that, very often you end up paying some people less and other people more.
The second is automation — especially in terms of smart software. Today’s workplaces are often more complicated than, say, a factory for General Motors was in 1962. They require higher skills. People who have those skills are very often doing extremely well, but a lot of people don’t have them, and that increases inequality.
And the third point is globalization. There’s a lot more unskilled labor in the world, and that creates downward pressure on unskilled labor in the United States. On the global level, inequality is down dramatically — we shouldn’t forget that. But within each country, or almost every country, inequality is up.
Taking the first point: Businesses and other organizations have been measuring “what workers are contributing” for a long, long time. Consider piecework. Sales commissions. Criteria-based bonuses for regional and division executives. All of these things are very old hat. Indeed, quite a few manufacturers have decided that it is unwise to take the quantitative measurement of performance down to an individual level, in cases where the work is being done by a closely-coupled team.
It is true that advancing computer technology makes it feasible to measure more dimensions of an individual’s work, but so what? Does the fact that I can measure (say) a call-center operator on 33 different criteria really tell me anything about what he is contributing the the business?
Anyone with real-life business experience will tell you that it is very, very difficult to create measurement and incentive plans that actually work in ways that are truly beneficial to the business. This is true in sales commission plans, it is true in manufacturing (I talked with one factory manager who said he dropped piecework because it was encouraging workers to risk injury in order to maximize their payoffs), and it is true in executive compensation. Our blogfriend Bill Waddell has frequently written about the ways in which accounting systems can distort decision-making in ultimately unprofitable ways. The design of worthwhile measurement and incentive plans has very little to do with the understanding of computer technology; it has a great deal to do with understanding of human nature and of the deep economic structure of the business.
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:22 AM

Thursday, November 14, 2013  

Some of this is just because people enjoy having and using a fireplace, which is good…much of it, though, is apparently because people can’t afford to heat their houses due to increasing energy prices, which is not so good.
I wrote about similar phenomena in Germany, here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:53 PM

Monday, November 11, 2013  

The war was in color

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:38 AM

Sunday, November 10, 2013  

Over at Sister Toldjah, Phineas cites an email which notes:
Putting things in perspective: March 21st 2010 to October 1 2013 is 3 years, 6 months, 10 days.  December 7, 1941 to May 8, 1945 is 3 years, 5 months, 1 day.  What this means is that in the time we were attacked at Pearl Harbor to the day Germany surrendered is not enough time for this progressive federal government to build a working webpage.  Mobilization of millions, building tens of thousands of tanks,  planes, jeeps, subs, cruisers, destroyers, torpedoes, millions upon millions of guns, bombs, ammo, etc. Turning the tide in North Africa,  Invading Italy, D-Day,  Battle of the Bulge, Race to Berlin – all while we were also fighting the Japanese in the Pacific!!  And in that amount of time – this administration can’t build a working webpage.
To be fair, the Obamacare support system is more than just a “webpage”…it also encompasses various back-end information-exchange systems. Still, it is a system that did not require the development of any truly new technologies or any conceptual breakthroughs in the use of existing technologies. Compared to any of a large number of WWII technology, manufacturing, and logistics efforts…proximity-fused ammunition, airborne radar, computer-based codebreaking, mass-production of airplanes and ships, the petroleum pipeline under the English Channel…the Obamacare support system is a very small thing indeed.
History and experience teach us that large, complex, time-critical programs only get done successfully when they are run by individuals who are tough-minded, possessed of practical wisdom, and willing to put their careers on the line to accomplish the goal…and when higher authority is willing to delegate sufficient scope and empowerment to such leaders. A couple of years ago, I wrote about one example of such a leader: General Bernard Schriever, who ran USAF ballistic missile programs.
In order to achieve his goal of delivering Atlas and other missile programs in the required time frames, General Schriever found it necessary to break a lot of china. For example, when Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott, ordered him to relocate certain missile facilities from the west cost to the midwest (supposedly based on industrial dispersion for survivability, but actually probably driven by political factors) Schreiver flatly refused, citing his “prior and overriding orders” to get the program done in the shortest feasible time. By then a general, Schriever stuck by his position on this even when Talbott threatened him that “Before this meeting is over, General, there’s going to be one more colonel in the Air Force!”
I don’t think people with strength of character like that of Bernard Schriever do very well in the Obama administration or that they remain with it for very long. A man who can say, as Obama did, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director” is a very small man. Small men tend to hire and retain only other small men and women.
And small men and women don’t run large and complex projects effectively.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open 

6:03 PM

Sunday, November 03, 2013  

Here’s David Cote, CEO of Honeywell Inc:
Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting.
And here’s Barack Obama, President of the United States:
I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.
Is it likely that a person with the latter worldview will come out of a meeting knowing/understanding more than he did when he went into it?
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:46 AM

Saturday, November 02, 2013  

…said Richard Nixon, famously. Comes now Joe Biden, with “I am not a geek.” Specifically, in responding to questions about the problems with the Obamacare website and its supporting systems, Biden said:
“Neither (the president) or I are technology geeks and we assumed that it was up and ready to run.”
I don’t think the main problems with this implementation have to do with a lack of geekitude–most likely, there are many quite competent software developers working on this project–but rather with a lack of effective management. (And if there is a shortage of competent developers on the project, well, that’s a management issue, too, isn’t it.)
Real managers, real executives, don’t assume that important things will be ready when they’re supposed to be ready, and they aren’t satisfied with superficial answers to superficial  questions, either. These effective leaders are people who have developed effective questioning skills so they can find out what is really going on. They establish open, non-fear-based organizational cultures so that people with concerns feel able to bring them forward. As I noted in my post about Benghazi (excusing failure by pleading incompetence), it is the responsiblity of an executive to establish an information and decision-flow architecture…including clear assignment of responsibilities…to ensure that the right things are seen and acted upon by the right people at the right time. Failure to do this..and to maintain and tune the system over time…will predictably result in catastrophes.
Later in the interview with Biden, the Vice President also said he didn’t know the specifics of why the website isn’t working, but that he was told the platform “is fine, but they have to change an awful lot of the inputs.”
“Look, all I know is they talk about 50,000 lines of this and this, I don’t know the technical reasons,” Biden said.
”So I don’t know, I wish I could tell you, that’s why I became a lawyer,”
A pretty flippant response to a serious situation. Slow Joe might not be able to understand the technical reasons for the failure, but he should be able–if he were competent at his job–to investigate and understand the management reasons for the failure.
Some of the questions that come to mind about this debacle are: How were the contractors selected? Why was it decided to have the government (CMS) act as prime contractor, rather than choosing an external company for that role? What do the contracts with the outside contractors actually specify, in terms of deliverables? What remedies are provided in the contracts for failures in delivery? If these remedies are inadequate, why did the government not require that they be more stringent? What was coordination vehicles were there between the government group writing and interpreting the Obamacare regulations and the separate group that was attempting to act as prime contractor? Was there a single individual in charge? What project scheduling and tracking methods were employed throughout this effort?
These are not issues that are specific to software technology–the above questions are ones that any good executive, whether his background is in construction or in theater or in wholesale distribution, would understand that he should ask.
A United States President is not elected as a philosopher king; he is elected to run the executive departments of government and to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress. The members of the present administration have repeatedly demonstrated their utter incompetence to perform these tasks.
An administration that seeks endless expansion of government’s role–but is at the same time completely incompetent at carrying out basic executive tasks–will drive expanding circles of chaos throughout ever-broader reaches of American society and the American economy.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:58 AM

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