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Monday, November 29, 2004
SIGNS AND PORTENTS
Here's an analysis that says there are now around 4 million weblogs, and that the number has more than doubled since the beginning of the year.
Most of these, of course, will have very little traffic--indeed, the linked article says that 45% of "older weblogs" have not had a post in 3 months. Certainly, many of these blogs will sooner or later be flat-out abandoned.
But. It seems very probable that people who create blogs are likely to become blog readers--and that the blog-reading habit will in many cases continue, even if their own blogs are soon dropped.
It doesn't seem entirely improbable to me that we will soon have an aggregate blog readership on the level of 10 million or so.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
THE HARVARD INDICATOR
Many different indicators have been used in an effort to project future stock market directions--everything from interest rates to transportation volumes to the length of women's skirts. Here's a new one. Roy Soifer suggests that the collective career decisions of Harvard MBA graduates are a contrarian market indicator...that when the graduates are heading for Wall Street in droves, then the market is likely headed for a fall--whereas, when they are choosing jobs that aren't stock-market-oriented, then the future of the market will be bright. Specifically, Soifer (who is himself a Harvard MBA)says his data implies that: when the percentage of Harvard MBA grads going into market-related jobs is under 10%, it's a signal that stocks are a long-term buy...and when the number is over 30%, it's a sign that the markets are overvalued and due for a fall. (The most recent number is 26 percent, at the very high end of "neutral" territory.)
Right after reading the post describing Soifer's analysis, I chanced across the following, in the Roger McNamee's new book, The New Normal. (McNamee is a well-known venture capitalist, not to mention a rock guitarist.)
When it comes to career planning, no group is more predictably short term in its thinking than business school students. Most of them want to pursue a career in whatever sector is hot right now. For a whiole it was the Internet. Now it's private equity. For some, that choice makes sense. For most, it merely reflects business school groupthink.
To the extent that the Soifer indicator works, I suspect that it's mainly simply a reflection of the Wall Street jobs outlook. When the market is booming, the related firms are recruiting heavily; when it's suffering, they will have fewer positions to fill. But one would hope that MBAs from a leading school--who have certainly studied business cycles--would reflect more on the principle of "buy low, sell high" before deciding among their various offers. The best time to get in any industry is usually just before a time of dramatic expansion--not right after that expansion has already occurred. Following the herd is rarely profitable, and it may also conflict with true job satisfaction.
To quote McNamee again: Most careers last decades, if not lifetimes. They should be chosen carefully, after a thorough analysis of strengths and interests and in conjunction with other factors.
As always, nothing on this weblog should be considered as financial advice.
SIGNS AND PORTENTS
Browsing through the magazines at Borders the other day, I ran across a copy of Red Herring. For a moment, I thought I was caught in a time loop, or alternatively that an old copy had somehow managed to remain on the shelf for almost a year and a half.
Red Herring followed the venture capital and startup-company fields, and was a popular--and very thick--magazine during the days of the Internet boom. After the fall, it struggled for a while and finally ceased operations in early 2003. (The name "Red Herring" comes from the colloquial name for a preliminary prospectus form, which is required to have red lettering identifying it as preliminary.)
Now Red Herring is back, under new management--much thinner, and with more of an international focus.
(Their website is here.)
Saturday, November 27, 2004
BLAME IT ON BYRON
Movie stars and popular musicians have probably never heard of Lord Byron, for the most part...but Joy of Knitting suggests that many of them are following in his footsteps.
SIGNS AND PORTENTS
Nissan has temporarily halted auto production at three plants in Japan, because of a steel shortage.
Hot-rolled steel is now quoted in the US at $704/ton, up from $273 a year earlier, and up 17 percent from the second quarter.
The Wall Street Journal (11/26) suggests that Nissan's heavy use of "just in time" supply-chain practices has likely exacerbated the impact of the shortages, since minimal inventories of components and materials are kept on the plant premises.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
INDIAN WORDS OF THANKSGIVING
Via Common Sense and Wonder, here is the Seneca thanksgiving addresss, and also the Mohawk version. And here is the Iroquois version.
And Don Sensing offers a fine Thanksgiving photo essay.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
THROUGH IMMIGRANT EYES
Ralph Peters rides with a Pakistani-American taxicab driver, and passes along this man's (very positive) thoughts on life in the United States. I'm not sure if Peters meant this explicitly as a Thanksgiving column, but it makes a good one, in that it reminds us that many things we view as ordinary are not really--in a global and historical context--ordinary at all.
Monday, November 22, 2004
The New York Daily News has an article entitled Hate 101: Climate of Hate Rocks Columbia University. Sample:
In classrooms, teach-ins, interviews and published works, dozens of academics are said to be promoting an I-hate-Israel agenda, embracing the ugliest of Arab propaganda, and teaching that Zionism is the root of all evil in the Mideast.
In three weeks of interviews, numerous students told the Daily News they face harassment, threats and ridicule merely for defending the right of Israel to survive.
After the showing of a student-made documentary about faculty bias and bullying that targets Jewish students, six or seven swastikas were found carved in a Butler Library bathroom last month.
...even some faculty members say they fear social ostracism and career consequences if they're viewed as too pro-Israel, and that many have been cowed or shamed into silence.
Definitely read the whole thing. If this is even approximately correct, then Columbia University is a very sick institution.
Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that this kind of thing is occurring at many American universities. See Berkeley vs the Jews, and note the comment of the student who says Berkeley is now the epicenter of real hatred.
There appear to be multiple such "epicenters" in American academia. Many universities, in fact, appear to be functioning to a significant extent as factories of hate and as training grounds for the repression of dissent.
Rose's dog was sick, but is happily now better. She finds in the incident some lessons about the role of wealth and technology in society.
Friday, November 19, 2004
Shanti links to a fine set of photographs from India.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Please go and read this. I don't have the emotional energy right now to write about it in the way it deserves. More on this later.
OL' MAN RIVER, STILL ROLLIN'
In the early days of the United States, river transportation was critically important. There was no other cost-effective way to transport heavy freight over long distances inland. Major canal-building projects, like the C&O Canal and the Erie Canal, were implemented to extend the natural river systems. But with the coming of the railroad, and later the automobile/truck and the airplane, river transport lost its dominant position. It has continued to play an important role in the national transportation system, but has been limited to bulk commodities such as grain, coal, and chemicals.
Comes now Osprey Line, a Houston-based shipping company, which is introducing container-freight services over the vst Mississippi river system. A single Osprey "service" (a towboat and its associated barges) can carry up to 400 containers, the equivalent of 200 truckloads (or of 2-3 trainloads, I would guess.) Initial service wil be available at New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Memphis, and Chicago, with an additional 3-4 container ports to be added in coming months.
The tradeoff, of course, is between cost and speed. To get freight by truck from New Orleans to Memphis will cost you about $40/ton and take 8 hours; by barge it will cost about $6/ton and take 3 days. Osprey is betting that there will be a significant set of customers for which the tradeoff makes sense. One exaple is coffee importers, who can easily transfer their cargoes from ship to barge. And a logistics expert at Georgia Tech thinks the biggest application of river-based container freight will be in returning empty containers to their point of origin.
No one thinks that river-based container freight in the US will reach the levels it has in Europe, where 40% of inland container freight goes by river, but even 5-10% would help in relieving the rail and road systems (and would be a great opportunity for Osprey.)
See Financial Times (11/16)
UPDATE: See also this article in Inbound Logistics, which discusses container-on-barge service in the context of the overall highly-stressed condition of the U.S. freight transportation system.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
PROF DRUCKER'S 95th
A friend once took a college class from Peter Drucker--who is, of course, renowned for his writings on managment and for his work as a management consultant. The class my friend took from Drucker was't a business class, though--it was a class in oriental art. This is just one indication of Prof Drucker's versatility. In addition to his work on business, he has written extensively on broader societal issues, and even has a novel to his credit. A true intellectual, in the best sense of the word.
Financal Times (11/16) reports that today is Drucker's 95th birthday. Drucker was born in Austria, but came to the U.S. in 1937. All of his writing is very worthwhile; I especially like "The Practice of Management," "The Age of Discontinuity," and Drucker's autobiography, "The Adventures of a Bystander."
Monday, November 15, 2004
WORTHWHILE NEW BLOG
Larry Kudlow, he of the CNBC show Kudlow & Cramer, has a blog. He does have comments enabled, but the level of the discussion has mosly, IMHO, not been terribly sophisticated on the average. Y'all get on over there and check it out.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
ARAFAT, ONCE AGAIN
Trying to Grok is a very fine blog written by Sarah, an American who lives in Germany while her husband is serving in Iraq. He is on leave now, and has taken time out to put together a post with his thoughts on Arafat. Please go and read it--even though Sarah's husband is only 24 and is a soldier rather than a professional writer, what he has to say is a lot more worthwhile than most writing on this subject that you'll find in the mainstream media.
BUGGY WHIPS, REVISITED
Just about everyone in business has heard the old saw about the company that went broke because it thought of itself as being in the buggy-whip business rather than being in the transportation-equipment business, or something like that. It's alwasys struck me that there is something dangerously superficial about this formulation, and I've been intending to write a post on the subject for some time. It turns out that Mike Hammer (former MIT professor and now President of Hammer & Co) has pretty much beaten me to it:
Every MBA knows the story about the company that failed because it thought of itself as being in the buggy-whip business when it should have seen itself in the transportation business. In fact this old chesnut entirely misses the point. Strategy is not primarily about markets, either the narrow market for buggy whips or the broader one for transporation. Indeed a company that made and sold whips was highly unlikely to be positioned for manufacturing automobiles. What would have enabled it to succeed in a world of internal combustion engines? The company that sold buggy whips should have asked itself what it did best, at what processes it excelled. Perhaps its real strength lay in its leather fabrication processes, or in its process of filling orders from a network of independent small manufacturers, or in its product development process. Its future was more likely to lie with leather gloves or bags than with metal chassis. What a company does is central to deciding what it is, and where and how it should compete.
In the development of strategy, markets do matter a great deal, of course; however, they must be assessed at a much more specific level than "transportation," and they must be viewed in the light of actual and potential corporate delivery capabilities. The buggy-whip company should have analyzed who their customers were, and where they were going. Were the customers carriage manufacturers who had a decent chance of succeeding in the automotive world? If so, then perhaps it would have made sense for our buggy-whip company to pursue the automotive market--most likely by providing leather interiors for cars, sold through the medium of companies they were already doing business with. They might then be able to expand into supplying other components, including components having nothing to do with leather. But if the customers were carriage manufacturers who were not pursuing automotive product lines, or unlikely to succeed with them, then a leather car-interior strategy would be less attractive--our company would have no relationship advantage with the new automobile manufacturers over any other potential supplies, since our company hasn't been selling to the new guys anyhow. In that case, we might do better with gloves, handbags, and luggage--although there might be branding issues (as we now call them) in following such a path. Still other considerations would apply if the company was selling buggy whips through retail stores or via mail order, rather than to the buggy manufacturers.
Sometimes strategy needs to follow a customer vector--sell new products to the existing customers. And sometimes strategy needs to follow a capabilities vector--build on existing capabilties to provide (existing, new, or modified) products to new customers. Neither model should be assumed be be optimum in advance of analysis, which is what is wrong with the buggy-whip parable: It assumes that because you are selling products that have something to do with "transportation" now, you should continue to do so in the future--which may or may not be the case.
(The Hammer quote is from his book, Beyond Reengineering.)
ARAFAT AND HIS ENABLERS
If you seek his monument, look around you.
The above words appear on a plaque in St Paul's cathedral (in Latin, to be precise) and they refer to Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who designed the cathedral.
If you look around you to see what Arafat has wrought, many things are conspicuous by their absence. He was not interested in the creation of schools, hospitals, farms, highways, factories. He had no interest in the arts of peace. His only creations were violence and hate. He was the initator of the wave of terrorism that is now causing so much human suffering in so many different parts of the world. In the words of Investors Business Daily (11/12):
Arafat built no schools or hospitals. Most of the money he was given by his American and European benefactors was either deposited in an unknown number of personal accounts around the world or used to buy weapons and explosives...In 1970, starting with the bombing of SwissAir flight 330 bound for Tel Aviv, he pioneered the hijacking of airliners for terror. in 1973, decades before al-Qaida got the idea, Palestinian terrorists attacked the Saudi embassy in Sudan, killing U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and others..In 1985, terrorists reporting to Arafat hijacked the Italian curise ship Achille Lauro, shooting Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly, wheelchair-bound American, before throwing him overboard. Arafat's time line of terror goes on and on. ...Not since the Third Reich have a people been so thoroughly indoctrinated in hate, with children taught that their life's mission is to die killing Israelis, and mothers told their job is to raise martyrs..This is the key to understanding Arafat's "legacy," if you can call it that. Generations of Palestinian children have been raised to hate their Jewish neighbors...
But Arafat's career of terror was encouraged and enabled by many in the West, who thought his actions were courageous, or progressive, or even chic. And they're still doing it--look at the outpouring of fulsome praise for the man over the past few days. Without these enablers, Arafat would never have become the force he became, and the threat of global terrorism would not have reached the level that it has now reached.
One of the most important questions of our time is why so many educated people make are eager to make excuses for terrorists of the Arafat stamp--are eager, indeed, to admire and even romanticize the Arafats of the world. There has been nothing secret about Arafat's atrocities; the "we didn't know" excuse doesn't work here.
Some of the enablers are motivated by cynical realpolitik. Some are motivated by outright anti-Semitism. Many are mere conformists, people who will go along with whatever is fashionable at the moment. And many, I feel certain, are basically nihilists--people attempting to make up for the cold and emptiness at their cores with a frisson of second-hand violence.
Whatever the motivations, it is frightening that so many people in our society--many of them in quite prominent positions--are willing to normalize a terrorist mass murderer.
Update: See these comments by an Archishbishop in Wales. Melanie Phillips characterize these comments as "warped and disgusting," and I don't think she is wrong. See also my post below.
Update 2: See also this, from the Jerusalem Post:
Several French municipalities governed by communist and left-wing majorities are considering naming a street or a square after Yasser Arafat.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
UNBELIEVABLE BUT NOT SURPRISING
The World Counsel of Churches has issued a press release on Arafat, The press release includes a copy of the letter sent to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei, which is quoted below in full:
On the sad occasion of the death of President Yasser Arafat, we extend our condolences to the Palestinian people and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. We also ask Godís comfort for the members of his family in this time of deep grief.
President Arafat will be remembered for bringing the Palestinian people together and for his unique and tenacious contribution to the cause of establishing their national home.
We stand with the Churches of the Holy Land to honour his commitment to their place in the Palestinian society, its affairs and its future. President Arafat often made sure to mention the church as well as the mosque as core institutions of Palestinian national life. True to the customs of mutual respect among his diverse people, he celebrated Christmas with the churches of Bethlehem as circumstances permitted.
On his long road as a leader, Yasser Arafat came to the recognition that true justice embraces peace, security and hope for both Palestinians and Israelis. His path has now ended, amid the rocks and thorns of occupation, at a distance from the goal he sought. As he is laid to rest the world will see - from the location of his final resting place - how far the Palestinian people must still travel together.
In solidarity with the Palestinian people, the World Council of Churches will continue to work for human rights, sustainable livelihoods, medical care and basic freedoms, in the days and years that lie ahead and until there is peace.
Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
World Council of Churches
In response to this travesty, Midwest Conservative Journal has this to say;
Let's see now. Adolf Hitler will be remembered for bringing the German people together and for his unique and tenacious contribution to the cause of the establishment of the dominance of the Aryan race. Josef Stalin will be remembered for bringing the Russian people together and for his unique and tenacious contribution to the cause of establishing a socialist Russia. Pol Pot will be remembered for bringing the Cambodian people together(out in the country) and for his unique and tenacious contribution to the cause of establishing a new Cambodia. Osama Bin Laden will be remembered for bringing Muslims together and for his unique and tenacious contribution to the cause of reestablishing the Caliphate.
Who are these people? What on earth is wrong with them?
Thursday, November 11, 2004
VETERANS DAY 2004
Winds of Change has two excellent Veterans Day posts; the first one written in 2003 and the second written in 2004. Both are well worth reading.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
NEW FRONTIERS IN COWARDICE
A march commemorating the anniversary of Kristallnacht was held in Oslo (Norway) last night. But according to TV2 News, no Norwegian Jews were present. The authorities, saying that they did not want any trouble, forbade any Jewish symbols, including Stars of David and Israeli flags. On the TV2 evening news, a group of Jews and their friends who wanted to take part in the commemoration were shown being firmly told by a policeman to "please leave the area." (from Andrew Sullivan)
The authorities "did not want any trouble."
I am reminded of a character in Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz who observes that the excessive pursuit of maximum security and minimum suffering often leads to its converse, minimum security and maximum suffering. I'm afraid that the people of some countries are soon going to find out the truth of this observation.
UPDATE: The Oslo affair might not be quite as bad as it sounded. Another correspondent of Andrew Sullivan's indicates that Stars of David were not banned; "only" Israeli (and Palestinian) flags ("displays of partisanship for either side in the Middle East conflict")...also that the banning was not by government officials but rather by demonstration organizers. (Andrew's letters column here)
Still...I don't much like the moral equivalence involved in equating "partisan" support for Israel--a legitimate democratics state--with support for an organization that stands for terrorism.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
AN ATYPICAL SILENCE
Roger Simon, a novelist and screenwriter, says this:
It's stunning how silent the American artistic community, Hollywood in particular, has been about the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam. Do they even know what happened to one of their own? Have they even heard of him? Do they care someone was killed for making a film which protested violent abuse against women? Are they even interested?
The "American artistic community, Hollywood in particular" is a set of people who, of course, usually just can't wait to share with us their opinions on any subject whatsoever.
Monday, November 08, 2004
Carnival of the Capitalists is up. Lots of worthwhile posts; check it out.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
EDUCATION FOR BUSINESS
Classics and Computer Science for the Aspiring Executive?
Michael Hammer, the renowned management consultant, says this: I often recall advice once offered to me by a senior executive at a major pharmaceutical firm, an Englishman with the advantage of a traditional public school education. "All one need learn," he said, "is Latin and computer programming--Latin for communication and programming for thinking." He wasn't far off
It's very unlikely that this executive ever writes any computer programs at work, and it's even more unlikely that he uses any Latin in his job. So why did he say what he did, and why does Hammer agree with him?
Hammer argues that learning programming is a good way to develop thinking skills of a particular kind. "...computer programming is nothing but an exercise in systems thinking. Each line of software that you write will interact with each and every other line of software. Unless you develop some big-picture thinking capability, your program will never work. The marvelous thing about a cognitive capability is that it operates across domains; the thinking style that one needs to write and debug a substantial computer program is the same one needed for solving problems in a business process. Once the synapses are put in play, they'll snap on anything." Exposure to other kinds of engineering can also help develop these cognitive skills, in Hammer's opinion: "The heart of an enginering education is not learning and applying equations but learning how to create large systems built from small components...once again, I am not concerned with the content of the discipline but with the cognitive style it requires and engenders. I like the old definition of education: what remains when you forget what you have been taught."
Hammer goes on to argue that the conceptual skills developed by programming/engineering are only part of the mental set needed by today's businesspeople; 'They must know how to ask why...Once again, I would submit that critical thinking operates across domains. Once learned in one area it can be applied to virtually any other. To this end, I maintain there is no better preparation for our technological age than a classical education...It might seem odd to suggest that the works of Plato and Madison and Joyce prepare one for the twenty-first century, but they are constants in a world of change...Wrestling with questions of good and evil, of democracy and justice, of personal and communal responsibilities is a quest without end. But, having engaged in this struggle, one is better prepared to deal with the more mundane, but nonetheless challenging, issues of the workplace."
Hammer's (rather contrarian) recommendation for aspiring businesspeople is this--a double major in computer science and classics. For those who don't find this combination particularly appealing, he suggests alternative double-major possibilities:
--electrical engineering and philosophy
--mechanical engineering and medieval history
--aeronautics and theology
The general idea is one "hard" and one "soft" discipline. (I'm sure, though, that Hammer would be looking for humanities disciplines/programs which, while "soft" in the conventional sense, are taught in a highly-rigorous manner.)
Hammer goes so far as to say "If you aspire to a career in the business world, avoid an undergraduate major in business at all costs. You may learn some superficially useful skills, but not the fundamental capabilities needed for the long haul...There is plenty of time to develop expertise on the job or in a professional school." This experise must include "An appreciation of the basics of business--the concepts of strategy, cost structure, market economics, cash flow, and capital utilization.."
I think Hammer's argument is fundamentally sound: the student who pursues (for example) both an aeronautical engineering program and an intellectually-rigorous theology program is likely to develop conceptual skills that will serve him well in industries and jobs having nothing to do with either aviation or religion. When pursuing his first job out of school, however, he may well face a challenge in explaining to the hiring manager (and the HR people) why he is a better choice for the position than is the garden-variety undergraduate marketing major.
Universities need to do a better job of thinking out what business education should consist of, and businesses need to do a better job of giving them input--and more, a better job of thinking out what the hiring criteria for particular jobs should really be--rather than just doing the easy thing and going with the obvious keywords. Mike Hammer's thoughts on this matter have, once again, made a significant contribution to the general level of business thought.
The Hammer quotes are from his book Beyond Reengineering (1996).
Friday, November 05, 2004
I'm travelling right now, and probably won't have the opportunity to post again before Sunday evening.
I did want to express my appreciation for Senator Kerry's decision to concede in a reasonably prompt manner rather than engaging in scorched-earth litigation tactics. While I didn't see the concession speech, by all reports it was appropriate and even gracious.
On the other side of the ledger, there have been a number of extremely vitriolic comments from media personalities (and many others on the left) that reveal very clearly just how they really feel about this country and most of its people. More on this later.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
During the Spanish Civil War, Antoine de Saint-Exupery travelled widely in Spain, meeting people on both sides of the conflict. Here, he writes about the way in which the political beliefs of an individual are formed by his experiences:
One man finds that his essential manhood comes alive at the sight of self-sacrifice, cooperative effort, a rigorous vision of justice, manifested in an anarchists' cellar in Barcelona. For that man there will henceforth be but one truth--the truth of the anarchists. Another, having once mounted guard over a flock of terrified little nuns kneeling in a Spanish nunnary, willthereafter know a different truth--that it is sweet to die for the Church.
(In Wind, Sand, and Stars)
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