Saturday, December 28, 2013
A COUPLE OF WORTHWHILE POSTS
It is important to distinguish between meritocracy and credentialism.
Actually, I would not have used the term “redistribution” in this context. The policies of the Democratic Party are not so much a redistributor of dreams as a broad-spectrum killer of same.
Friday, December 27, 2013
BOOK REVIEW: HERMAN THE GERMAN
by Gerhard Neumann
This is the autobiography of a man who was born to a Jewish family in Germany, apprenticed as an auto mechanic, attended engineering school, moved to China in 1938, was interned by the British as an enemy alien in 1939, transferred to the American forces, joined Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers, repaired the first Japanese Zero fighter to be captured in potentially-flyable condition, became a U.S. citizen by special act of Congress, and went on to run GE’s entire jet engine business, which he played a major role in creating. (The preceding may be the longest single sentence I’ve ever written in a blog post.) The book should be of interest to those interested in aviation, technology, management, social history, the WWII era, and/or China.
Gerhard Neumann was born in Frankfurt/Oder in 1917, where his father was owner of a factory that processed feathers and down. Gerhard’s parents were Jewish but nonpracticing–a Christmas tree was traditional in the Neumann home–and their approach to child-raising was closer to stereotypically Prussian than to stereotypically Jewish: ”You did exactly as you were told by your parents. There was no such thing as saying no to them!…You were not to have a hand in your pocket while talking to grown-ups…Showing any emotion in Prussia was considered sissyish. There was no kissing between parents and children–only a peck on the cheek before going upstairs punctually at nine o’clock; and there was absolutely no crying.”
On the other hand, Neumann could do pretty much what he wanted with his spare time. In 1927, at the age of 10, he rode his bike out to a grass strip where someone was giving airplane rides for 5 marks, which he paid with money from his piggy bank. His parents weren’t angry at him for taking this flight without permission; indeed, they were so entranced with his description of the way the town looked from the air that they soon took an airplane ride themselves! At the age of 13, Neumann bought a folding kayak and, with some camping gear and a 12-year-old friend, took long journeys on the Oder River, all the way to the Baltic Sea. Few parents in America today–or in Germany either, I’d bet–would now allow this level of independence to a 12- or 13-year old.
Neumann had no interest in the family feather business; he wanted to be an engineer. A 2- or 3-year machinist or mechanic apprenticeship was mandatory for admission to any German engineering academy: Neumann’s father asked the 10 cab drivers of Frankfurt/Oder to recommend the garage where they thought the boy would learn the most, and the answers were unanimous: Albert Schroth’s. So began Gerhard Neumann’s apprenticeship, which, other than the technologies involved, could have been something out of the Middle Ages. “In winter my hands were frozen purple. Wear work gloves? ‘What’s the matter, boy, are you a girl?’ When my hands were bleeding, Herr Schroth pointed to the large bottle of iodine in the backroom and mumbled something about faules Fleisch (lazy flesh.) No Band-Aids, no pitying, no time out.”
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.
Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.
A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link–then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya
Monday, December 23, 2013
KIPLING ON INCOME INEQUALITY, CONTINUED
A couple of weeks ago, Chicago Girl Margaret excerpted a little-known poem by Kipling…the poem’s context being a proposal (circa 1890) by the new German Kaiser for an expanded social-welfare system, ideally to encompass other European countries in addition to Germany and to limit “destructive competition” in industry. The poem seemed relevant to Stuart Schneiderman’s post this morning, so I posted the whole thing in comments there.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Sunday, December 22, 2013
THE PROCUREMENT / BUREAUCRACY EXCUSE, AND THE DRIVE FOR EXPANDED PRESIDENTIAL POWER
President Obama has been unwilling to admit that the problems with the Obamacare roll-out might suggest that he needs to work on improving his management skills. Instead, he has chosen to blame the complexities of government bureaucracy, and in particular the complexities of the government procurement process–all matters that have seemed to be rather surprising to him–and this view has predictably been echoed by some in the pundit class.
I have several thoughts on this matter:
1) It is not yet clear to what extent the Obamacare systems problems are a function of too much bureaucracy in the procurement process versus too little bureaucracy in that process as employed in this specific case. In particular, were Serco and CGI and other key contractors selected based on the robot-like processes of the Federal procurement system…or was heavy political influence involved? I don’t think we know yet.
2) A good workman understands the limitations of his tools and materials. We wouldn’t think much of a civil engineer who designed a high-traffic-carrying bridge without paying close attention to the load-bearing characteristics of the steel girders and cables used; nor would we think much of an architect who designed a house in which a family was investing much of their financial net worth without considering the weather resistance of the wood and other materials he was specifying. Shouldn’t Obama, before embarking on a plan to greatly increase the Federal Government’s role in healthcare, have seriously considered the characteristics and limitations of the tools and materials that he was using–the Federal agencies and their policies and procedures–for this purpose? He stands convicted out of his own mouth for not performing this basic level of due diligence.
3) Whatever the encumbrances of the Federal bureaucracy–and yes, we all know they are significant–nothing prevented Obama from taking a more serious and responsible executive role in supervising the roll-out, and/or putting effective people in key leadership positions. Can there be any doubt that if a person of the quality ofGeneral Bernard Schriever, for example, had been put in control of the technology and paperwork process implementation, the odds of success would have been considerably better?
4) Most important: Obama and his media/academic sychophant refuse to understand the inevitable limitation of government micromanagement. I’ve previously quoted Peter Drucker:
Whether government is “a government of laws” or a “government of men” is debatable. But every government is, by definition, a “government of paper forms.” This means, inevitably, high cost. For “control” of the last 10 per cent of any phenomenon always costs more than control of the first 90 per cent. If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive. Yet this is what government is always expected to do.
The reason is not just “bureaucracy” and red tape; it is a much sounder one. A “little dishonesty” in government is a corrosive disease. It rapidly spreads to infect the whole body politic. Yet the temptation to dishonesty is always great. People of modest means and dependent on a salary handle very large public sums. People of modest position dispose of power and award contracts and privileges of tremendous importance to other people–construction jobs, radio channels, air routes, zoning laws, building codes, and so on. To fear corruption in government is not irrational.
This means, however, that government “bureaucracy”— and its consequent high costs—cannot be eliminated. Any government that is not a “government of forms” degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society.
(I’m confident Professor Drucker would agree that whether the forms are paper or electronic makes no difference at all in this context.)
As I also noted earlier: the expansion of government into all aspects of human life leads to increasing inefficiency–while the increasing frustration with bureaucracy results in a widespread demand to “make government more responsive” by giving more discretionary authority to administrators and to their political superiors. This is exactly what we are seeing with Obamacare, with the emphasis at present being on an increase of discretionary authority for the political superiors of the administrators. This, in turn, must result in a government which is not only a looting society (Obamacare waivers or special privileges for politically-well-connected groups, for example) but increasingly a tyranny. Yet at the same time, there will still be enough baroque proceduralization (selectively enforced) to ensure high levels of inefficiency and very high government administrative costs. And the discretionary authority–the movement away from a Government of Laws and toward a Government of Men–must create widespread uncertainty and, consequently, equally widespread economic damage.
Friday, December 20, 2013
THE CLUELESSNESS WAS NOT JUST ABOUT "TECH"
Michael Wolff, writing in USA Today, says that Obama’s strange comments about the Obamacare technology debacle are symptomatic of a broader problem: CEO’s being “clueless” about technology.
Uh, no. The problems with the Obamacare systems do not particularly reflect Obama’s cluelessness about technology, they reflect his complete lack of competence and experience in the field of executive management. Basic executive functions such as organizing work carefully and appropriately, putting the right people in charge, checking up to see how things are going, and making adjustments as necessary rather than just “hoping that something will turn up” are not specific to software and telecommunication systems. I have no doubt that Obama’s approach to management would be equally disastrous if he were running a railroad or a factory or a retail store…even a railroad or a factory or a retail store in pre-computer days.
The very strong support for Obama among people who write and talk and create images for a living reflected, in many if not most cases, an arrogant belief that their own skill sets were applicable to just about any important task, and a failure to understand that in order to run things effectively, a person has to have some experience in running things, and, even more important, an interest in the process of running things. An individual who has been “bored to death his whole life,” as Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett said of him, is most unlikely to either possess such an interest or to develop it.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
110 YEARS AGO TODAY...
...the Wright Brothers' first flight.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Monday, December 16, 2013
RERUN: A TRULY DIABOLICAL MONETARY POLICY
(The leadership transition at the Fed inspires me to rerun this post, which initially appeared in December 2008)
In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles desires the introduction of paper money. At his instigation, courtiers approach the emperor at a masked ball and get him to sign the following document:
To all it may Concern upon Our Earth
This paper is a thousand guilders worth
There lies, sure warrant of it and full measure
Beneath Our earth a wealth of buried treasure
As for this wealth, the means are now in train
To raise it and redeem the scrip again
In the bright sunlight of morning, the now-sober emperor observes hundreds of pieces of paper, each bearing his signature and claiming to be equivalent in value to gold, and demands to know what is being done to apprehend the counterfeiters.
Treasurer: Recall–Your own self signed it at the time,
Only last night. You stood in Great Pan’s mask
And with the Chancellor we approach to ask:
“Allow yourself high festive joy and nourish
The common weal with but a pen’s brief flourish.”
You signed: that night by men of a thousand arts
The thing was multiplied a thousand parts
So that like blessing should all accrue
We stamped up all the lower series too
Tens, Thirties, Fifties, Hundreds did we edit
The good it did folk, you would hardly credit.
Your city, else half molded in stagnation
Now teems revived in prosperous elation!
Although your name has long been widely blessed
It’s not been spelt with such fond interest
The alphabet has now been proved redundanct
In this sign everyone finds grace abundant
Thursday, December 12, 2013
SOURCE OF AMERICA'S PROBLEMS DISCOVERED
…quite a few of them, anyway
The above poster was apparently often found on the walls of high-school guidance counselors in the 1970s. So says Mike Rowe, who has proposed an improved version of the poster. Link.
Monday, December 09, 2013
HERE'S SOMETHING DIFFERENT...
Sunday, December 08, 2013
DANGERS OF "A PLAGUE ON ALL THEIR HOUSES"
Many former Obama supporters…especially the younger crowd…have lost considerable faith in Obama and the Democratic Party. Neo-Neocon notes that the political disillusionment encompasses both parties, and cautions that the “throw the bums out” mentality, however understandable, can be dangerous. She quotes from a book by Milton Mayer called They Thought They Were Free, which is an exploration of German attitudes from the 1920s through World War II. Interviews were conducted with 10 “typical” Germans, who Mayer refers to as “friends,” a couple of years after the war’s end. Excerpt:
National Socialism was a repulsion of my friends against parliamentary politics, parliamentary debate, parliamentary government—against all the higgling and the haggling of the parties and the splinter parties, their coalitions, their confusions, and their conniving. It was the final fruit of the common man’s repudiation of “the rascals.” Its motif was “throw them all out.” My friends, in the 1920′s, were like spectators at a wrestling match who suspect that beneath all the grunts and groans, the struggle and the sweat, the match is “fixed,” that the performers are only pretending to put on a fight. The scandals that rocked the country, as one party or cabal “exposed” another, dismayed and then disgusted my friends…
My friends wanted Germany purified. They wanted it purified of the politicians, of all the politicians. They wanted a representative leader in place of unrepresentative representatives. And Hitler, the pure man, the antipolitician, was the man, untainted by “politics,” which was only a cloak for corruption…Against “the whole pack,” “the whole kaboodle,” “the whole business,” against all the parliamentary parties, my friends evoked Hitlerism, and Hitlerism overthrew them all…
Indeed, revulsion against the dysfunctionalities of a parliamentary democracy can lead to something much, much worse. Weimar government and Weimar society had their problems, but they were infinitely preferable to what replaced them.
Also, most Germans in the 1920s and 1930s—like people in other European countries—keenly remembered the spirit of self-sacrificing idealism that had prevailed in 1914, and a considerable proportion of them believed that this idealism had, in one way or another, been exploited and betrayed. Idealism betrayed leads to cynicism, and cynicism can lead to new and twisted forms of idealism.
Erich Maria Remarque’s novel The Road Back is largely about the loss of idealism and social trust in the years following World War One…although it is set in Germany, the same factors were operative, if to a lesser degree, in the other European belligerent countries. One of the characters in the story is Ludwig Breyer–a serious aspiring intellectual as a student, a dedicated and responsible officer in wartime. A few years after the war’s end, he is shattered by the feeling that it was all for nothing:
They told us it was for the Fatherland, and they meant the schemes of annexation of a greedy industry.–They told us it was for honour, and meant the quarrels and the will to power of a handful of ambitious diplomats and princes..They stuffed the word Patriotism with all the twaddle of their fine phrases, with their desire for glory, their will to power, their false romanticism…And we thought they were sounding a bugle summoning us to a new, a more strenuous, a larger life. Can’t you see, man? But we were making war against ourselves without knowing it!…The youth of the world rose up in every land believing that it was fighting for freedom! And in every land they were duped and misused; in every land they have been shot down, they have exterminated each other.
One could do a present-day riff on this speech: “They told us it was for the environment, and they meant the handouts of taxpayer money to crony capitalists. They told us it was about improving education for the poor, and they meant protecting the privileges of incompetent administrators and teachers’ union…etc”
In the book, Ludwig Breyer’s despair drives him to suicide…and there were doubtless many real-life veterans who came to similar ends. Others, though…among veterans but also among those who had been too young or too old to fight..attempted to recapture the 1914 sense of idealism and unity through involvement in extremist politics of one band or another…and we know how that ended.
Thursday, December 05, 2013