Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.

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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

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The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005  

Senator Joe Lieberman just returned from Iraq (his fourth trip in the last 17 months), and has some pretty strong opinions.

UPDATE: Because of his stand on Iraq, Senator Liberman is being stridently attacked by various leftists, "liberals," and "progressives."

(via Sister Toldjah)

2:29 PM

Sunday, November 27, 2005  

Abandoned at birth, Olivia Lum grew up in a tin-roofed hut in Malaysia. She attended high school and college in Singapore, and became a research chemist at Glaxo (now GlaxoSmithKline), where she developed an interest in water treatment technologies. Although entrepreneurship was not popular in Singapore at the time, she quit her job, sold her car and apartment, and started a company: first, acting as a distributor of equipment made by others and later developing new filtration technologies. Hyflux is now a substantial enterprise, with 600 employees in Singapore and China and with revenues last year of about $51MM (US dollars). The company recently completed a large desalination plant in Singapore, and is now building two desalination plants in northeast China. Hyflux is public, but Ms Lum, now 45, still owns a third of the shares.

Hyflux competes with large international companies such as Suez and General Electric (which has been building its capabilities in the water treatment business over the last several years.) "We are a company that focuses on filtration technology, while water treatment is just one part of bigger conglomerates like GE," says Ms Lum. "We are small enough to be nimble and flexible, and since we are in Asia, we understand Asian culture."

She should be careful not to put too much reliance on these factors as competitive advantages, though. GE understands decentralized management better than just about anybody, and while it's true that water filtration is just "one part" of GE as a whole, it's a very big thing for GE Water & Process Technologies and for the CEO of that business unit..and that's who she's going to be face-to-face with in the marketplace. Moreover, GE Water is now part of GE Infrastructure, a group of business which are especially focused on providing products and services to developing countries, and as cynical as I usually am about the concept of "synergy", I think there will probably be some genuine synergies in that grouping. So while I think the "focus" advantage and the "culture" advantage for Hyflux vs GE are real, I don't think they are decisive. It will come down to innovation, sales and project management execution, and business creativity. The latter attribute has been demonstrated by Ms Lum throughout her career, and currently, she is turning her creativity to financial matters (such as the creation of "business trusts", similar to the real estate investment trusts, for the financing of water projects.)

The competition between Hyflux and GE Water should be very interesting, and should benefit everyone by driving the development and deployment of new technologies. Somebody should sell ringside seats! (I don't mean to shortchange the other major player, Suez, but don't know enough about them to comment intelligently.)

Ms Lun beleives that Hyflux's biggest contribution will be to break down cultural barriers toward entrepreneurship in Singapore. "When I statrted the business, people would say that I did it because perhaps I didn't do well in school or nobody wanted to hire me. The whole culture discouraged entrepreneurship. But attitudes are changing. The cultural barriers are disappearing and the government knows they must promote entrepreneurs because Singapore can not longer rely on MNCs and government-linked companies."

(quotes are from Financial Times, 11/23)

8:49 AM

Wednesday, November 23, 2005  

Remarkably, the UN has issued a condemnation of Hizbullah's Monday attacks on Israel:

Following intense US pressure, the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday issued an unprecedented condemnation of Monday’s Hizbullah attacks on northern Israel.

This condemnation - slamming Hizbullah by name for “acts of hatred” - marked the first time the Security Council has ever reprimanded Hizbullah for cross-border attacks on Israel. The condemnation followed by two days a failed attempt to get a condemnation issued on Monday, the day of the attack, when Algeria came out against any mention of Hizbullah in the statement.

When asked what changed from Monday to Wednesday, one diplomatic official replied: “John Bolton,” a reference to the US ambassador to the UN. Bolton lobbied vigorously for the passage of the statement.
(emphasis added)

Meanwhile, here are some remarks made to the Lebanese press by the spokesman for a delegation sent by the Presbyterian Church (USA):

We do not wish to defend the U.S. administration. We all elected the Democratic Party against the Republican Party. Rest assured that we will return to the U.S. in order to continue our activity for peace, and we want to hear about the charity activities and the cultural and social activities organized by Hizbullah in south [Lebanon]. The Americans hear in the Western media that Hizbullah is a terrorist organization, and they do not hear any other opinion. They know nothing about the party's concern for the people of the south.

Should one also conclude that the Roosevelt administration should have had more appreciation for the charitable activities conducted by the Nazi party of Germany, (such as the Winterhilfe)? Could any rational person maintain this position? How would that be different in principle from the position taken by the church spokesman quoted above?

(hat tips: LGF, Damian Penny)

7:22 PM


Half of our mistakes in life arise from feeling when we ought to think, and thinking when we ought to feel.

--John Churton Collins (quoted in IBD, 8/29)

Previous Worth Pondering

9:42 AM

Monday, November 21, 2005  

Speaking to political science students in Toronto, Chris Matthews of CNBC said this:

The period between 9/11 and Iraq was not a good time for America. There wasn’t a robust discussion of what we were doing,” Matthews said.

If we stop trying to figure out the other side, we’ve given up. The person on the other side is not evil — they just have a different perspective.

Just a different perspective, huh, Matthews? Wonder how the parents of the Iraqi kids deliberately blown up by those with a "different perspective" would feel about your theory.

And note the headline in the Toronto Sun article, Matthews. I know you didn't write the headline, but you certainly set it up. Are you proud of that?

7:36 PM


Wonderful photos from Michael Yon. No explosions, ruins, or people in tears. Michael visited 50 schools all over Iraq, and this is what he saw.

(via Sister Toldjah)

7:08 PM


On Friday, SBC Communications completed its acquisition of AT&T. The combined company will adopt the AT&T name.

Prior to the board vote on the acquisition, Dave Dorman, CEO of (the old) AT&T had two portraits moved into the boardroom: Alexander Graham Bell and Theodore Vail, who created AT&T and ran it for many years.

"Those guys built this company," Dorman said. "This is a historic company, one of the most enduring and widely used by mankind, in terms of the telephone. I just wanted them there."

7:14 AM

Sunday, November 20, 2005  

The Wall Street Journal (11/16) covers the growing tendency of companies to do hiring based on a long string of highly-specific requirements. The article deals specifically with engineering jobs, but the same trend can be seen--though maybe not quite to the same level--in other fields, such as marketing and sales.

A couple of examples: A company that makes automobile bumper parts was looking for a shift supervisor at a plant in Pennsylvania. They eliminated all candidates who didn't have a BS degree, even though many had relevant experience. They also insisted on experience with the specific manufacturing software that was in use at the plant. Although the job came open in February, the woman who finally got the job wasn't selected until August. That's six months.

Wabtec, which makes components for railcars and buses, needed a mechanical engineer. They wanted a BS and appropriate work experience; they also wanted experience with a computer-aided design system Pro/Engineer. And they would only consider candidates who had experience with Pro/Engineer Wildfire, not an earlier version of the software which was called 2000i. "The basic difference between Wildfire and 2000i is not that significant," says Mike Sylvester, VP at the recruiting firm that handled the search. "I say smart people can learn sister applications, but there is a reluctance among hiring managers to see that. If they use a SAP database system, they won't even look at someone with experience with a PeopleSoft system. There is a major fear of having to bring someone up a learning curve. They want them to hit the ground running."

Wabtec's HR VP says that the company usually specifies jobs more broadly, and is willing to train new employees, but that in some cases "you get in a jam where someone left and we have a very specific search." Maybe so. But I suspect that if a newly-hired mechanical engineer doesn't work out, or does less than a stellar job, the cause will usually not be his lack of experience with the latest version of a CAD system. More likely, it will be a lack of good design intuition...or poor interpersonal skills...or an inability to integrate mechanical design with electrical and electronics aspects of the same product...or fit with the cultural style of the organization. Maybe he comes from an environment where he was closely supervised, and the new environment is more open and requires more self-starting...or vice versa. These things are not easily represented in "checklist" form, as is knowledge of a specific software package and version, but they matter a lot.

Mike Sylvester says that there's a lot of this sort of thing going on. He was asked to find an engineer to oversee a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system at a hospital. "A pump is a pump and a duct is a duct, but they wouldn't even look at candidates who had HVAC experience in a mill instead of a hospital," he says.

The WSJ article blames much of the claimed "shortage" of engineers on such overly-specific hiring requirements. "Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn't mean there is a shortage of butterflies," says Richard Tax of the American Engineering Association.

The article doesn't mention it, but the same kind of excessive specificity in hiring is also happening in fields other than engineering. I'm quite sure that there are talented salesmen who won't be hired this week because of a lack of experience with some particular sales automation or customer resources management system...representing knowledge that they could have easily picked up during their first couple of weeks on the job.

And for the employer, this kind of thing has real costs. It's a basic reality of life that you can't optimize everything at once. So, if you insist on a perfect fit for certain things, you are probably getting less of some other attributes--and these may be ones that matter more. I'd personally rather have a salesman who has demonstrated (for example) skill at managing the customer politics in a large and complex sale than one who has specific experience with the Snarkolator CRM system. It's a lot easier to train for the second than for the first.

Why this increased focus on "checklist" items? The WSJ article blames it largely on Internet job boards, which encourage a flood of resumes and enable the use of keyword screening as a means of coping with that flood. That's certainly part of it. I also think that fear of litigation has led hiring managers to focus on more "objective" criteria and less on intuition, and that this tendency has now been internalized to the point that people do it without even understanding why they do it.

But I think there's something else, too. Our society has focused so much on the importance of education and training that we have to some extent lost sight of just how much people can learn on their own. Human beings are not some kind of special-purpose machine that is manufactured with a fixed program and can't do anything else without going back to the factory for rewiring, and too many people seem to treat them as if they are.

To further develop Richard Tax's analogy: There are many beautiful butterflies in the world, and success in hiring will go to those who develop an astute appreciation of butterly beauty. It's not easy, and it can't be learned entirely from books--but it's very worthwhile.

6:05 AM

Saturday, November 19, 2005  

Investors Business Daily reports that combined ad revenue for ABC, CBS, and NBC fell 21% in the third quarter (vs same period in prior year.) January thru September revenue was $7.95B vs $8.47B in 2004, which I calculate as an 8.4% drop. Not clear if the rate is increasing or if the 3rd quarter is just a fluke, but 8.4% would be bad enough.

Overall newspaper ad revenue is not cited, but average weekday circulation fell 2.6% over the six month ended September 30. The Los Angeles Times is cutting 85 newsroom jobs, The New York Times says that it is cutting 500, and Knight Ridder, under pressure from investors, is putting itself up for sale.

In contrast, U.S. online ad revenue grew 26% in the first half of the year. "Premium ad pages on top Web sites in many cases are sold out months in advance," said Rick Bruner of DoubleClick. "In certain categories like automotive web sites, they an be sold out more than a year in advance." (See comments from Jeff Jarvis on the whole idea of "sold out" in the online ad space--here and here.)

Somehow, this post seems to go very well with this one.

5:43 PM

Friday, November 18, 2005  

The American Enterprise (Oct-Dec issue) says that anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe are on the rise, and that these attitudes are being imported into the U.S.--with the ports of entry being America's universities.

Luntz interviewed 150 randomly chosen graduate students from elite colleges in five cities. A majority espoused the point of view now common among the European Left: that Israel "is an aggressor against the helpless, victimized Arab masses of Palestine." Luntz suggests this shift in views of Israel is "also having a negative impact on attitudes to Jews right here in America." Most of the U.S. graduate students surveyed now consider Jews to be too politically influential. As one student put it: "Palestinians are poor, thus they have less value to American politicians."

These grad students may be opinionated, but they're not very knowledgeable:

Few of the grad students surveyed by Luntz knew anything about pre-1948 Palestine, the original U.N. plan for a two-state solution, the repeated Arab threats to destroy Israel, or the fact that israel has been the lone functioning democracy in the region, with considerable safeguards for human liberties. "Liberalism is increasingly the politics of ignorance--it's amazing what these kids don't know," worries Fred Siegel, who teaches history at Cooper Union in New York City. Luntz traces student views to the information they are geting from the professoriate, which is increasingly anti-Israel and toleratnt of anti-Semitism. The establishment media--particularly the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times--were also identified as sources of misinformation.

Americans have generously supported higher education in part because of a belief that university education helps to develop the ability to think about public issues in ways that are broadminded, knowledge-based, and tolerant. I don't think the universities are doing a very good job in holding down their side of the bargain.

UPDATE: Here's an article about anti-Israel attitudes among academics and journalists, and another one about the growth of virulent anti-Semitism in Europe.

1:31 PM


The New York Times and the Jews. The American Thinker says that coverage has been negatively slanted over a long period of time.

The New York Times and the Ukranians. A Ukranian-American group will demonstrate in front of the Times building today, demanding that the newspaper relinquish the 1932 Pulitzer prize awarded to Times reporter Walter Duranty, whose coverage of the Stalin-imposed famine was--to put it mildly--extremely misleading. Making the case against Duranty, Volodymyr Kurylo (President of the United Ukrainian American Organizations of Greater New York) cites Zara Witkins memoir "An American Engineer in Stalin's Russia," which recalls how New York Herald Tribune reporter Ralph Barnes asked Duranty how he was going to report about the Stalin-made famine.

Duranty reportedly replied: "What are a few million dead Russians (Ukrainians) in a situation like this? Quite unimportant. This is just an incident in the sweeping historical changes here. I think the entire matter is exaggerated."

Kurylo also talks about the rather flippant attitude that the Times has displayed toward this matter:

In November of 2003, the Pulitzer Panel announced that it wouldn’t revoke Duranty's 1932 prize. Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. issued a statement which ended with: "We regret his [Duranty's] lapses and we join the Pulitzer Board in extending sympathy to those who suffered in the famine."

Lapses? We're talking about 7 to 10 million human beings, not car keys. And, we're not looking for Arthur Sulzberger's sympathy. We want Duranty's blood-stained Pulitzer.

8:09 AM

Wednesday, November 16, 2005  

The enterprise formerly known by the working title Pajamas Media is being launched today under its official title, Open Source Media.

UPDATE: Pamela has pictures from the pre-launch dinner.

12:12 PM


So here's Bill Clinton doing what he does so well: emoting in public, this time in Jordan.

Stepping over broken glass, silver knives and napkins on a carpet soiled by blood and plaster dust, Bill and Hillary Clinton held hands to affirm their abhorrence of the bomb that tore through Wednesday’s wedding party.

But The Anchoress remembers some recent history:

I read this and all I can remember is Hillary kissing Suha Arafat on the cheek after Mrs. Arafat’s speech wherein she charged that Jews were killing Palestinian children by poisoning the water. Afterward, Hillary’s people said she hadn’t realized what Arafat was saying…she “had a bad translation.”

Everyone else there had an accurate translation, but the First Lady of the United States got a substandard one. Got that? You totally believe that, right?

Even if, unaccountably, Hillary really didn't know about the "poisoning the water" comment, there was still no excuse for a demonstration of affection toward Suha Arafat. If there is anyone who played a leading role in creating the plague of modern terrorism, it was Yasser Arafat. Surely, the "understanding", acceptance, and even romanticization of terrorism by so many in the Western world has played a role in its spread. Arafat should not have been treated like a normal leader of a normal state, and the actions of the Clintons in doing so played a part, however small, in the train of events that led to the atrocity in Jordan.

Can anyone imagine a scenario in which Eleanor Roosevelt would have kissed, say, Magda Goebbels on the cheek? The cases aren't absolutely identical, but they are pretty close.

8:30 AM

Monday, November 14, 2005  

Here is the latest attempt to force "divestment" from Israel.

The people who push these things are delegitimizing Israel's right to protect its cititens--and, implicitly, legitimizing the terrorist tactics used against those citizens. They are bluring the line between civilization and barbarism, encouraging those who commit acts of terror everywhere in the world.

I think there is blood on the hands of the "divestors." Israeli blood, and the blood of many others as well.

(via Pamela)

7:48 PM


Carnival of the Capitalists is up. There's a special section on Peter Drucker, and lots of other stuff as well.

And Rob has temporarily replaced his blogroll with Drucker links.

9:49 AM

Sunday, November 13, 2005  

In Managing in the Next Society, Drucker writes about the tension between liberty and community:

Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive.

One recent example. My family and I lived in rural Vermont only fifty years ago, in the late 1940s. At that time the most highly popularized character in the nation was the local telephone operator in the ads of the Bell Telephone Company. She, the ads told us every day, held her community together, served it, and was always available to help.

The reality was somewhat diferent. In rural Vermont, we then still had manual telephone exchanges...But when finally around 1947 or 1948, the dial telephone came to rural Vermont, there was universal celebration. Yes, the telephone operator was always there. But when, for instance, you called up to get Dr Wilson, the pediatrician, because one of your children had a high fever, the operator would say, "You can't reach Dr Wilson now; he is with his girlfriend." Or, "You don't need Dr Wilson; your baby isn't that sick. Wait till tomorrow morning to see whether he still has a high temperature." Community was not only coercive; it was intrusive.

And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventy or twelfth century. The serf who managed to escape from the land and to be admitted into a city became a free man. He became a citizen. And so we, too, have an idyllic picture of the city--and it is as unrealistic as the idyllic picture of rural life.

For what made the city attractive also made it anarchic--the anonymity; the absence of coercive communities. The city was indeed the center of culture. It was where the artists and the scholars could work and flourish. Precisely because it had no community, it offered upward mobility. But beneath that thin layer of professionals, artists, and scholars, beneath the wealthy merchants and the highly skilled artisans in their craft guilds, there was moral and social anomie.


The city was attractive precisely because it offered freedom from the compulsory and coercive rural community. But it was destructive because it did not offer any community of its own.

And human beings need community. If there are no communities available for constructive ends, there will be destructive, murderous communities...

7:06 AM


On Picking People:

In The Frontiers of Management, Drucker observes that what appears to be exactly the same job may at different points in time require very different kinds of people:

When putting a man in as division commander during World War II, George Marshall always looked first at the nature of the assignment for the next eighteen months or two years. To raise a division and train it is one assignment. To lead it in combat is quite another. To take command of a division that has been badly mauled and restore its morale and fighting strength is another still.

When the task is to select a new regional sales manager, the responsible executive must know what the heart of the assignment is: to recruit and train new salespeople because, say, the present sales force is nearing retirement age? Or is it to open up new markets because the company's products, though doing well with old-line industries in the region, have not been able to penetrate new and growing markets? Or, because the bulk of sales still comes from products that are twenty-five years old, is it to establish a market presence for the company's new products? Each of these is a different assignment and requires a different kind of person.

6:33 AM

Saturday, November 12, 2005  

Peter Drucker, who died yesterday, was best known as a writer on management and as a management consultant. But he was also an astute social analyst and a genuine renaissance man, with interests ranging from psychology to Japanese art. A true intellectual, in the best sense of the term.

On this blog, I've frequently posted excerpts from Prof Drucker's writing and references to his thought. Here are some links:

On the history of pluralism

Second careers, and why they matter

The specific case and the general principle in management practice

...and a few short quotes:

On Craftsmanship: In his pseudo-autobiography Adventures of a Bystander, Drucker tells of what he learned while taking wood shop in elementary school in Austria....even Miss Sophie could not make a craftsman out of me...But I took from her a lifelong appreciation of craftsmanship, an enjoyment of clean honest work, and respect for the task. My fingers have never forgotten the feel of well-planed and sanded wood, cut with rather than against the grain, which Miss Sophy--her hand on mine and guiding my fingers--made me sense.

On Academic Arrogance: In The Age of Discontinuity (1970), Drucker writes: It is highly probably that the next great wave of popular criticism, indignation, and revolt in the United States will be provoked by the arrogance of the learned.

On Knowledge as a Battleground: ...it is quite possible that the great new 'isms' of tomorrow will be ideologies about knowledge. In tomorrow's intellectual and political philosophies knowledge may well take the central place that property, i.e. things, occupied in capitalism and Marxism. (Also from The Age of Discontinuity)

On Courage: Whenever you see a sucessful business, someone once made a courageous decision. (quoted in Investors Business Daily)

UPDATE: See also Drucker on picking people and Drucker on the tension between liberty and community.

5:43 PM


Peter Drucker died yesterday.

Rob is looking for Drucker-oriented posts for Carnival of the Capitalists. They are due tomorrow afternoon.

UPDATE: Some good thoughts on Prof Drucker's work at ChicagoBoyz, and an interview with Drucker here.

9:09 AM

Friday, November 11, 2005  

Donald Sensing has several links.

UPDATE: A nice pictorial tribute from Sarah.

And a "thank you" from the Kurds.

And Damian writes about somebody who really doesn't seem to get it.

UPDATE 2: Read the heartwarming story of what happened to Buster, son of The Anchoress, while visiting Washington DC in his scout uniform. Some Europeans still remember.

And Blackfive writes about some people well worth knowing.

7:21 AM

Wednesday, November 09, 2005  

Project Valour-IT stands for Voice-Activated Laptops for Our Injured Troops. The idea is to provide soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are recovering from hand and arm injuries or amputations with voice-response software installed on laptop computers: operating a standard keyboard would be difficult or impossible for many of these individuals. Bloggers are trying to raise significant funds for this project by Nov 11.

More information, and a link for donations, here.

UPDATE: CalTechGirl eloquently explains why you should donate.

7:34 AM

NOVEMBER 9, 1938


7:26 AM

Sunday, November 06, 2005  

If you fly on the airlines a lot, you've probably been on an Embraer recently. These airplanes are made in Brazil by the eponymous company--which, when privatized in 1994, was near bankrupt and in disarray. It's now a thriving business, and Fortune gives much of the credit for the turnaround to Embraer's CEO, Mauricio Botelho, who is profiled in the 11/14 issue.

Betelho grew up in Rio de Janeiro, but often visited his family's cattle ranch in the interior. One of his vivid childhood memories is of the time he joined his father on a roundup:

We stayed three days and two nights getting the cattle into the corral to have them vaccinated and marked. Imagine you were 12, driving a horse for three days and sleeping in the woods in a hammock, with your father and other cowboys, crossing rivers. It's something you never forget.

What did he learn from the experience? "I was not made for that sort of business," he tells the interviewer.

But I suspect Botelho did indeed learn some other things from his experiences on the cattle ranch.

When he took over Embraer, there were four separate cafeterias: for assembly workers, for engineers, for office workers, and for senior staff. He got rid of the separation, and put in a single cafeteria where everyone now eats. Things like this may seem trivial, but they make a real difference in the culture and spirit of an organization.

If Botelho had not had his experiences on the ranch--if he had had a hermetically-sealed upper-middle-class upbringing, associating only with people of his own economic status--would the weirdness of the 4-cafeteria system have still hit him? Or would he have accepted it as normal?

9:23 AM


Lots of interesting thoughts over at Chicago Boyz, including one intriguing post on the way in which bad architectural ideas have contributed to the problem.

9:21 AM

Saturday, November 05, 2005  

Four people have been arrested in Los Angeles and charged with smuggling vital defense secrets to China. The information believed to have been transferred includes details on the Aegis battle-management system, a vital component of U.S. cruisers and destroyers, and on the new Virginia-class attack submarines. Officials said that based on a preliminary assessment, China now will be able to track U.S. submarines. It is also believed that information was provided which would facilitate the development of electromagnetic pulse weapons, which could disrupt electronics over a wide area, as well as information on unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. intelligence officials said the case remains under investigation but that it could prove to be among the most damaging spy cases since the 1985 case of John A. Walker Jr., who passed Navy communication codes to Moscow for 22 years.

Here is the (rather brief) New York Times article on this matter. Read it for yourself, and see if you think it properly represents the seriousness of what has apparently happened here.

Do you think that this will receive anywhere near the media attention which has been devoted to the Valerie Plame affair?

7:30 PM


In his book Managers Not MBAs, which strongly criticizes the current state of affairs in graduate business education, Henry Mintzberg (McGill University) muses about the role of technique in business education and in business itself. "A technique might be defined as something that can be used in place of a brain," he writes, and continues;

MBA programs tend to attract pragmatic people in a hurry: they want the means to leap past others with experience. Techniques--so-called tools--seem to offer that, so this is what many such students demand, and what many of the courses offer; whether portfolio models for financial resources, competitive analyses for strategic resources, or empowerment techniques for human resources. Offer enough of this, and you end up with schools of business technology.


Technique aplied with nuance by people immersed in a situation can be very powerful. But technique taught generically, out of context, encourages that "rule of the tool": Give a little boy a hammer and everything looks like a nail. MBA programs have given their graduates so many hammers that many organizations now look like smashed-up beds of nails.


Managers can certainly use a toolbox full of useful techniques--but only if they appreciate when to use each. As the chief executive of a pharmaceutical company told a group of MBA students, "My problem is that when I face a problem, I don't know what class I'm in."

This critique of an excessive reliance on contextless technique in business is, I believe, also applicable to the current excessive dominance of "theory"--ie, specific techniques for things like textual criticism--in the teaching of the humanities. See my earlier post The Dictatorship of Theory; also Management Mentalities, which immediately follows it.

Note especially Mintzberg's comment about "pragmatic people in a hurry (who) want the means to leap past others with experience." I don't think there's any question that a focus on technique can represent an effective strategy for age-group warfare: after all, if a technique is powerful enough, who needs the tacit knowledge that comes from experience? The assertion of the importance of technique can tend to level the playing field between the 28-year-old and the 45-year old. This is as true in academia as it is in business. The problem is that while there are indeed many circumstances where technique can partically replace experience, there are also many cases where the claims of technique turn out to be overstated--and often, this overstatement is discovered the hard way. And the problem of wisely choosing which technique to apply is, as Mintzberg says, a very nontrivial one.

UPDATE 10/16/06: See also these posts:

Management Mentalities

Education for Business: Classics and Computer Science?

The Dictatorship of Theory

1:57 PM

Friday, November 04, 2005  

In response to Iran's call for the elimination of Israel, Wednesday evening in Rome, thousands, probably tens of thousands, will demonstrate in support of the Jewish state. The demonstration has been organized by Giuliano Ferrara, the larger-than-life editor of the feisty daily newspaper il Foglio, and the demonstrators will range from members of some Italian Islamic organizations to foreign minister Giancarlo Fini (long a bete noire of America's "leading" newspapers and networks), just back from a trip to the Middle East.

It takes courage to stand up publicly for Israel against the world's leading sponsor of terrorism, especially in contemporary Europe, where anti-Semitism is on the rise, where the Jewish population is minuscule (there are slightly more than 40,000 in all of Italy, less than one percent of Italians), and where the Islamic population is expanding rapidly. I have not noticed any such demonstrations here, for example.

Read the whole thing.

(via Damian Penny)

3:45 PM


On Wednesday, I posted some remarks from Sven about anti-Semitism in Sweden. Sven is now living in the U.S., and has written about his experiences teaching in an American university. Important reading.

(note: Pamela's blog is very graphics-intensive, so it may take awhile if you use dialup. Worth it, though.)

3:34 PM

Thursday, November 03, 2005  

Thoughts about realism and idealism, from Cassandra, at Blackfive.

7:21 PM


One might assume that elevator technology is fairly static, but then one would be wrong. The New York Times (11/2) has an article about significant improvements in elevator control systems. The idea is that you select your floor before you get on the elevator, rather than after, thereby allowing the system to dispatch elevators more intelligently--a 30% reduction in average trip time is claimed. Some vendors are also linking the elevator controls (for office buildings) to employee identification cards, so the system knows automatically where the individual wants to go..no button-pushing required. (The advantage here is that the elevator system can keep track of exactly how many people are going where, allowing it to better manage its capacity.)

All good stuff; shorter waiting times and presumably lower energy consumption as well. But what struck me was this quote from an installation director at Schindler:

Say I'm a VIP, and I really don't want to ride with anybody else...So when I swipe my card, the system assigns me an elevator with nobody in it, and that elevator gives me an express trip to my floor.

Dear Schindler: Please publish a nice set of customer case studies with the names of companies using this feature prominently displayed. That way, I can be sure to avoid taking long positions in any of them.

Because any senior executive who deliberately cuts himself off from the people of his organization is doing something very unwise, and this unwisdom will, sooner or later, show up in the business results.

I certainly don't think George Westinghouse would have chosen to use the "nobody in it but me" feature.

See also: The Edifice Clue and The Harvard Indicator.

9:35 AM

Wednesday, November 02, 2005  

In Wind, Sand, and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupery refers to the legend of the monkey that dances for the boa constrictor--in the hopes that the snake will be so enchanted that it will let the monkey go on living. (St-Ex was making an analogy with a man he met in a village during the Spanish Civil War, who was trying very hard to be extra-friendly to his neighbors...in the hope that they wouldn't shoot him for political differences.)

A lot of people in the world are dancing for the boa constrictor right now, and apparently some of them live in Sweden. Sven, a Swede now living in the U.S., writes to Pamela, and I'm posting his entire letter here since her blog pretty much requires a wideband connection.

Subject line: A beacon in the twilight of civilization

I like your blog. It is refreshingly free of
compromise and attempts to tell both sides of every
issue. I share your values all the way, and I am
especially appreciative of your support for Israel.

Where I come from, Sweden, being a Jew is almost like
trying to be anything except a muslim in the nexus of
islamo-fascism. Jewish students are assaulted on a
regular basis in schools, and even Jewish teachers are
bullied by students without any reaction from school
administrators. Jewish students in public schools use
code words when talking about, e.g., bar mitzvah or
going to the synagogue. They try to use Swedish family
names instead of their Jewish names, and they
certainly try to avoid wearing religious symbols in

Anti-semitic violence is at an all time high. Last
winter an anti-racist rally in Stockholm, organized by
leftist groups and muslim organizations, culminated
with a raging assault on a small group of Jewish
teenagers. Other anti-racist events have been held on
the same day as Jews commemorate the victims of the
Kristallnacht, but the organizers have purposely
chosen to locate their events as far away as possible
from the Jewish commemoration ceremony. The Swedish
supreme court has even ruled that it is not racism if
a muslim speaks in defamation of Jews, but it is
racism if a native Swede does it.

Islamo-fascism is spreading like bonfire among muslims
in Scandinavia. I have tons of anecdotes to tell about

I came to America three years ago, much because I wanted to give something back to the country that has stood so relentlessly by Europe's side against totalitarianism. Today, many Europeans have turned their back on America, and more do it every day. Some are scared by the onslaught from islamo-fascism, but
they still try to find a reason to blame America for it. It is a sad thing to witness, and it infuriates me at the same time because Europe was the cradle of modern, Western civilization. Today, it seems almost as if Europe is going to become the grave of that same civilization.

It was not easy to come here, though. As a
conservative college professor I soon realized that I
had left the lion's den only be hurled into the snake
pit instead. I taught for three years at Skidmore, a
small liberal arts college here in upstate NY that
does its best to put two meanings into "liberal". It's
a long story that I won't bore you with now. Suffice
it to say that I soon discovered that the venom that
is slowly killing free society in Europe is also being
injected into America, little by little, day by day.

Postmodern collectivism opens the door for
totalitarianism and tyranny. It is the greatest threat
to free society. It must be stopped. You are doing a
great job at it with your blog. Keep it up!


"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction."
Ronald Reagan

He attaches a cartoon from a Swedish newspaper, which can be seen, together with appropriate commentary, here. The post on Pamela's website is here.

Note particularly Sven's comment about what is happening in the United States, as viewed from a college campus.

See also my previous Dancing For The Boa Constrictor post.

3:33 PM

Tuesday, November 01, 2005  

Roger has some thoughts and an interesting discussion.

8:32 PM

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