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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Wednesday, March 31, 2004  

How would you like to play baseball against the IRS? Your neighborhood team against the local office. Here are the stakes: if you win, no taxes for the next three years. But if they win, your taxes this year will be tripled.

Oh, and another thing. You friends and yourself haven't played since you were kids. But the IRS guys play all the time--in fact, they play more than they work. And the rules of the game have changed--a lot--since you played it.

This is basically the plot of the movie Lagaan (available on video), except that the game is cricket rather than baseball and the setting is in India, at the end of the 19th century. An impoverished village is under the sway of an exceptionally arrogant British officer, who informs them that their taxes are to be doubled--despite the fact that the monsoon rains have not come, and they are facing agricultural disaster. The villagers, on their way to plead for relief, observe a group of British officers playing cricket. They observe that it looks like a game they played as children, and that it seems like a silly way for grown men to spend their time. The comment is overheard by the British commander, whose pride is stung. If you think it's so easy, he challenges them, then accept this wager: you win at cricket, no taxes for three years. But if we, the British, win, then your taxes won't be doubled; they'll be tripled.

Bhuvan, a young farmer, accepts the wager, much to the dismay of some of his fellow-villagers. He now has to assemble his team and get them ready for the big game. An Englishwoman--the brother of the senior British officer--volunteers to help them. There are lots of subplots. Will Bhuvan be able to gain the support of the other villagers? How will his relationship with the Englishwoman develop? How will higher-level British officials react when they hear about this unconventional approach to tax-collecting? And, most of all, what will happen on game day?

It's a 4-hour Bollywood production, with a lot of singing and dancing--the film is almost, but not quite, a musical. Fine performances, and lots of fun. Not quite up there with the wonderful Monsoon Wedding, but still definitely worth seeing.

2:54 PM

Tuesday, March 30, 2004  

Interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the operations officer of al Qaeda, revealed that after 9/11, follow-up attacks were planned on the Library Tower in Los Angeles and the Sears Tower in Chicago. This from The Washington Times, using information from the London Sunday Times.

According to The Washington Times: But the terrorists seem to have been surprised by the strength of the American reaction to the September 11 attacks. "Afterwards, we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run," Mohammed is quoted as saying. Al Qaeda's communications network was severely disrupted, he said. Operatives could no longer use satellite phones and had to rely on couriers, although they continued to use Internet chat rooms. "Before September 11, we could dispatch operatives with the expectation of follow-up contact, but after October 7 [when U.S. bombing started in Afghanistan], that changed 180 degrees. There was no longer a war room ... and operatives had more autonomy."

If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is telling the truth, then the U.S. operation in Afghanistan may well have prevented two more major terrorist attacks in the U.S. This seems like an important piece of information.

And on Tuesday, this was indeed the headline story in The Washington Times.

And in Tuesday's Washington Post, what was the top page 1 headline? "Grocers, Union Agree on Pact." Well, it's a major local story, I guess. But the story doesn't appear anywhere else on page 1, either--or anywhere else in the paper, as far as I can tell.

How about The New York Times? The main headline was "9/11 Panel Wants Rice Under Oath In Any Testimony." Again, no mention of the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed story on the front page, or anywhere in the paper that I could find. Maybe tomorrow.

The invasion of Afghanistan is considered noncontroversial at this point, but I don't remember it being noncontroversial at the time the decision was made. There was a considerable faction talking about "quagmires" and "U.S. genocide of Afghans." Most of the people talking like this were on the left.

If Al Gore had been in office instead of President Bush, I feel fairly confident that the invasion of Afghanistan would not have taken place. And if what Khalid Shaikh Mohammed said about this al Qaeda plan is true, then two more major terrorist attacks would likely have taken place in American cities.

2:45 PM

Sunday, March 28, 2004  

Yossi Klein Halevi, writing in The Washington Post, makes an important point about the decision to target Yassin:

Though the world didn't seem to notice, Hamas crossed a red line on March 14, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the port of Ashdod, a city south of Tel Aviv. What stunned Israelis about that attack wasn't the casualty rate: Ten dead and dozens wounded is now considered a middle-level atrocity, no longer warranting banner headlines. Instead, the shock this time was that the bombers had penetrated a strategic site and blown themselves up near storage tanks containing toxic chemicals. Only their ineptitude prevented a mega-attack that could have claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

The targetting of the leader of Hamas did not take place in a vacuum. It directly followed a major escalation of violence--an escalation intended to take the violence to the level of WMDs--on the part of the organization he controlled.

And meanwhile, here's what a leader of the Church of England has to say:

Serious damage has been done to the whole of the peace process by the assassination of the paraplegic founder of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, according to leading Anglican conciliator, Canon Andrew White.

In Canon White's view...if the terrorists had succeeded in getting at the benzine tanks and killing a thousand people or so, would that have been harmful to the peace process? Just wondering.

(thanks to Midwest Conservative Journal)

7:31 PM

Saturday, March 27, 2004  

As everyone knows by now, John Kerry took a tumble on a snowboard recently. His reaction has also been widely reported:

"I don't fall down. That son of a bitch ran into me." (The latter sentence referring to one of his Secret Service agents.)

Most blogosphere discussion of his incident has focused on the second sentence. And it's true that you can tell a lot about someone by how he behaves toward people who are in positions of significantly less power than himself. This kind of an off-the-cuff putdown says a lot about what kind of person Kerry really is. (And I'm not persuaded at all by the suggestion that this comment was just "joking around." There have been too many other reports of similar arrogance on his part.)

But I think the first sentence of the outburst is equally interesting. I don't fall down -- what a strange thing to say! Is there any skier or snowboarder who never falls down? Why did Kerry feel impelled to make a claim of invulnerability concerning what is, after all, only a sport? Doesn't this betray a certain Napoleon complex, or, at minimum, an extremely brittle ego?

Investors Business Daily (3/26) has come up with an interesting historical precedent. In 1948, when Thomas Dewey was running against Harry Truman, Dewey was standing on a train, poised to speak at a whistle stop. Suddenly, the train lurched forward a few feet, "touching off screams and panic." (I guess some of the crowd must have been standing on or very near the track.) Dewey angrily suggested that the engineer "probably ought to be shot at sunrise." According to Truman biographer David McCullough, the "cold arrogance of the remark did Dewey great damage."

But I think Dewey's outburst is far more forgiveable than Kerry's. At least there were other people involved in the train incident, and Dewey might have been thinking partly about their safety (although it was still inappropriate to verbally assault the engineer in this way.) Kerry, however, was clearly thinking about nobody but himself.

8:04 AM

Thursday, March 25, 2004  

The Japanese mantra "ask why five times" is by now pretty well known, I believe, in U.S. manufacturing companies. But "ask why five times" has value outside manufacturing, and indeed in nonbusiness organizations as well as businesses. For those who are interested, a brief summary of the concept, taking the form of a manufacturing example:

There's a puddle of oil on the shop floor. One of the machines is leaking.

ACTION: Clean up the oil. But then ask...
WHY is there oil on the floor?

The machine has a bad gasket.

ACTION: Replace the gasket. But then ask..
WHY was the gasket bad?

Check out the condition of the gaskets on some other machines.
Looks like we've been buying inferior gaskets.

ACTION: Change the specifications so we don't get any more of these. But also ask..
WHY did we decide to buy the gaskets that we did?

Uhh...they were cheap? Turns out the purchasing policy for supplies like this says "always buy the low bid."

ACTION: Change the policy to give more weight to quality as well as price. But also ask...
WHY did the head of Purchasing ever approve a policy like this in the first place?

Maybe because his *incentive program* includes a big component for year-over-year reductions in supplies cost, with no measurement for downtime impact of bad items?

ACTION: Change the incentive program.
WHY did a one-sided incentive program like this get created and approved?

Turns out no one in Human Resources has any experience in incentive program design.

ACTION: Assign someone in HR to take some courses and do some reading in the field of incentive programs, how they go right, and how they can go wrong.

(This example is adapted, with some changes, from the one in the book The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey K Liker.)

A couple of things should be noted about the example and the principle in general. First, this is a search for "root causes," but it is not an excuse for avoiding fixing the immediate problem. If all you did was to look for the "ultimate" root cause, you wouldn't bother to clean up the pool of oil, and someone would most likely slip on it and hurt themselves..not to mention, if you didn't replace the gasket because you were to busy with "root cause analysis," the machine would probably lose all its oil and destroy itself.

That said, though, the example demonstrates how important it is to continue asking "why" and not stop at the first or second level of symptoms. If all you did was to clean up the oil and replace the gasket, then it would probably only be a matter of time until another bad gasket--or another, seemingly-unrelated part procured under the same misguided purchasing policies--failed at a very bad time and caused serious problems.

All of this might seem like simple common sense. But in most cases, problem analysis probably stops with a fairly low level of symptom. And to do the analysis suggested by "ask why five time" is not as easy as it sounds. As you go up the levels of successive "why"s, the nature of the problems changes, and hence, the set of people who must be involved in resolving them changes. You can expect a machine operator to notice the oil on the floor, and perhaps to assess and replace the gasket, but it would be unreasonable to expect him to identify the problems in the incentive plan for the director of Purchasing. Hence, handoffs in some form need to occur between the successive levels, and it is at these handoff points that the thread of the problem is likely to be lost.

More on this at some future time.

8:05 PM


San Francisco State University has dropped its plan to expel Tatiana (I've previously written about the case here.) The university backed down after Students for Academic Freedom and the local Jewish Community Relations Counsel got involved in the case.

Why did the university want to expel Tatiana in the first place? According to Lee Kaplan, her "offense" was "..allegedly arguing with pro-Palestinian and pro-Marxist leaders on school grounds. In one instance she responded to calls that “Hitler should have finished the job” and “Jews go back to Russia” with an expletive. However, police reports revealed she made no physical or verbal threats to anyone, did not disrupt any school functions, and her case was based more on her politics on the Bay Area campus than anything else. Tatiana had written several articles critical of SFSU for FrontPage Magazine prior to the threats of expulsion."

Lee also has this to say: "Subsequent readings of the police reports surrounding the case showed a pattern of campus police working with pro-Palestinian groups on campus to silence her. (One of the police reports actually referred to Palestine as being “occupied by Israel,” an odd political statement to be found in a police report.) In addition, the campus police had sought to have felony charges brought against Tatiana with the local District Attorney, who instead stated in writing that Tatiana had committed no crimes but was merely speaking her mind."

SFSU seems to be an extraordinarily vile place. Continuing with Lee's article: "San Francisco State University has been in controversy before with the Jewish community. Last year, pro-Palestinian demonstrators plastered the campus with flyers of a dead baby on the face of a can that read “Palestinian Baby Meat, Packaged Under U.S. and Israeli License.” The student union building once had a mural displaying a Star of David dripping with blood and covered in swastikas. The General Union of Palestinian Students, unlike many other campus groups, has a private office on the taxpayer-supported campus. The office has a door adorned with a PLO flag and has been used by the pro-PLO group on campus for 16 years, a courtesy denied most other campus organizations. (Jewish student organizations have been turned down for office space in the same building and elsewhere on campus.)'

Perhaps it's time to ask whether SFSU really deserves to be considered a university at all. Should the taxpayers of California be supporting an entity which seems to be largely devoted to the promotion of left-wing, anti-Israel, and even anti-Semitic causes?

7:53 PM

Wednesday, March 24, 2004  

Chuck has usefully summarized the crimes in which Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was implicated...some of them, anyway. It's quite a list.

And here, from the BBC, is a photo essay on Yassin's life. To me, the tone seems positively eulogistic and adulatory....it's the kind of thing one might put together for a much-loved old headmaster or vicar.

Caption of photo #1: "Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin, assassinated by Israel, was an inspiration to disillusioned young Palestinians and a hate figure for Israel. Hamas is one of the largest and most militant Palestinian groups fighting Israeli occupation."

Caption of photo #2: "He devoted his early life to Islamic scholarship and was considered by supporters primarily as a religious figure."

Read the whole thing.

8:24 PM


Invisible Adjunct is retiring from blogging. She's made a decision to leave academia.

IA will be greatly missed. She's been one of the most sensible voices on academic issues, and her blog has been an important forum for discussion of these issues.

It speaks volumes about the current state of academia that a person like IA--who is obviously committed strongly to learning, teaching, and understanding--would feel that she has no future there.

Best of luck to her in her new career, and hopefully she'll start blogging again someday.

And on a happier note...Megan McCardle (Jane Galt / Asymmetrical Information) will be on CNBC Friday around 4:30 or 4:45 EST, on Maria Bartiromo's market roundup show

8:29 AM

Monday, March 22, 2004  

This photograph was taken in 1910:

In the early 1900s, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii won the Czar's support for an extensive photographic survey of the Russia empire. He developed his own color photography process, using filters to split the image into reds, greens, and blues (three different plates were recorded.) Display was done using a slide projection system which combined the images again on a screen.

The Library of Congress has a wonderful on-line exhibit of these photos. Some of my other favorites are:

A group of peasant girls (1909)

Jewish children with teacher (1911)

Children on a hillside (1909)

Ekaterinin Spring (ca 1907-1915)

(caution: these are big images, around 100KB each)

To me, these pictures are magical. One doesn't expect to see color photos from this period: the impact is kind of like entering a time machine. My reaction is probably a faint echo of the way people felt when photography was first invented.

(hat tip: Class Maledictorian and Brian Micklethwait)

8:47 PM

Sunday, March 21, 2004  

Kurt Swogger is an executive at Dow Chemical's plastics business. When he arrived in 1991, he found that new product cycles typically took 6 to 15 years. He's driven key improvements in this process, to the point where the typical time now is more like 2-4 years.

The key, according to his comments in an article in Fast Company, is getting the right people doing the right jobs. "Consultants all talk about business processes, but the simple fact is that some guys do development better than others, he says. 'Job assignment is everything--and that was my biggest job, to shift people around to the right place."

Initially, he did the shifting on an intuitive basis--evidently pretty well, based on the results. More recently, he's engaged a consulting firm (WinOvations, Inc) to help "codify" things. The methodology is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. Four categories of work and related personality type have been identified:

STARTERS combine Thinking and Intuition as measured by M-B; they are good at initiating new things.

DEVELOPERS combine Feeling and Intuition, and are helpful when you need to "turn inventions into real products."

GROWERS emphasize Sensing and Judging, and are good at "pushing (products) beyond commodity status toward higher margins."

ENHANCERS combine Sensing and Perceiving, and are "terrific marketers."

An interesting approach. One thing that's not totally clear to me is the extent to which job assignment under this system is based on function vs based on mission. For example: if you want a salesperson who will be working for a startup business unit, do you want someone who fits the "enhancer" profile (following the function, sales), or someone who fits the "starter" profile (following the mission, innovation)? My guess would be that the right answer is a combination: perhaps someone with a combination of "perceiving" and "intuition" strengths. (There are many salepeople who would do very well in a mature business, but would find it frustrating to deal with the constant changes and ambiguities involved in a startup operation.)

I have some qualms about the use of personality testing in hiring and assignment decisons. As valuable as the M-B seems to be, it is still just a model, reducing the complexity of human personality to a few dimensions. Shouldn't a good executive be able to do better at assignment decisions using his own experience, judgment, and intuition? (Of course, you can say that he should use both--the test and his own judgment--but numbers often have a way of having magical powers attributed to them, and driving out judgment.) I'm also not sure that personality attributes relevant to job match don't change significantly over time, as a result of a person's experiences.

Nowithstanding these concerns, this is a vauable and thought-provoking piece of work.

(more from Swogger here)

1:57 PM


Blogger Daniel Drezner has a long article on outsourcing & offshoring in the upcoming (May/June) issue of Foreign Affairs. It's already up on the web--you can read it here. And a lively discussion is going on at Dan's blog.

8:21 AM

Saturday, March 20, 2004  

Do not miss this report on teacher training programs in Iraq, carried out by USAID, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the Iraq Ministry of Education. (It's a PDF and fairly slow to load.) Some quotes from participants:

"I never knew what freedom is until I participated in the training this week because I was free to express my opinion without being intimidated."

"It's the first time in the history of Iraq that a trained teacher has trained his supervisors."

About 32,000 people have been through this program.

(hat tip: a school yard blog)

6:07 PM

Tuesday, March 16, 2004  

Things look much clearer when they are summarized in the history books than they often did to people living through the actual events.

In the novel The Caine Mutiny, Willie Keith is a young officer in WWII, serving in the Pacific:

It seemed to Willie that the war against Japan would be the largest and deadliest in human history, and that it would probably end only in 1955 or 1960, upon the intervention of Russia, a decade after the collapse of Germany. How could the Japanese ever be dislodged from their famed "unsinkable carriers," the chain of islands, swarming with planes which could massacre any approaching fleet? There would be, perhaps, one costly Tarawa a year. He was sure he was headed for the forthcoming one. And the war would drag on at that rate until he was bald and middle-aged.

Willie didn't have a historian's respect for the victories at Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, and Midway. The stream of news as it burbled by his mind left only a confused impression that our side was a bit aead in the game, but making painful slow work of it. he had often wondered in his boyhood what it might have been like to live in the stirring days of Gettysburg and Waterloo; now he knew, but he didn't know that he knew. This war seemed to him different from all the others: diffuse, slogging, and empty of drama.

Not a bad perspective to keep in mind as we deal with the ambiguities and inevitable setbacks of the War on Terror.

UPDATE: See this interesting related post from Kaedrin.

9:10 AM

Monday, March 15, 2004  

The Washington Post reports that many school system are eliminating naps from pre-kindergarten schools.

"...in the increasingly urgent world of public education, is it (the daily nap) a luxury that 4-year-olds can no longer afford?"

7:48 PM

Sunday, March 14, 2004  

It appears that the Socialist Party has dominated in today's elections in Spain. It's difficult not to view this as a significant setback to the War on Terrorism. Roger Simon has some appropriate words, and so does Iberian Notes.

Roger concludes:

"Meanwhile, it is a beautiful day in Los Angeles and I walk out on my deck, looking across the Hollywood Hills at Runyon Canyon, but my mind is in Madrid, at its splendid Puerta del Sol where I have spent so many wonderful days and where sadly fascists have walked before and for too long. But this time they are not under the flag of Generalissimo Franco. This time, ironically, they rally behind the words of a man, Osama bin Laden, whom El Caudillo would have reviled. But of course the cry of both men is the same: Viva la muerte!"

4:17 PM


During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid was heavily bombarded by Fascist artillery. The French writer and pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, was there. Here is an excerpt from his writing:

Waiting for an explosion is the longest passage of time I know. What things go on in that interminable moment! An enormous pressure rises, rises. Will that boiler ever make up its mind to burst? At last! For some that meant death, but there are others for whom it meant escape from death. Eight hundred thousand souls, less half a score of dead, have won a last-minute reprieve.' Between the gurgling and the explosion eight hundred thousand lives were in danger of death.

Each shell in the air threatened them all. I could feel the city out there, tense, compact, a solid. I saw them all in the mind's eye-men, women, children, all that humble population crouching in the sheltering cloak of stone of a motionless virgin. Again I heard the ignoble crash and was gripped and sickened by the downward course of the torpedo. . . . Torpedo? I scarcely knew what I was saying. "They . . . they are torpedoing Madrid." And the lieutenant, standing there counting the shells, said:

"Meant for Madrid. Sixteen."

I crept out of the trench, lay flat on my stomach on the parapet, and stared. A new image has wiped out the old. Madrid with its chimney-pots, its towers, its portholes, now looks like a ship on the high seas. Madrid all white on the black waters of the night. A city outlives its inhabitants. Madrid, loaded with emigrants, is ferrying them from one shore to the other of life. It has a generation on board. Slowly it navigates through the centuries. Men, women, children fill it from garret to hold. Resigned or quaking with fear, they live only for the moment to come. A vessel loaded with humanity is being torpedoed. The purpose of the enemy is to sink Madrid as if she were a ship.

Stretched out on the parapet I do not care a curse for the rules of war. For justifications or for motives. I listen. I have learned to read the course of these gurglings among the stars. They pass quite close to Sagittarius. I have learned to I count slowly up to five. And I listen. But what tree has been sundered by this lightning, what cathedral has been gutted, what poor child has just been stricken, I have no means of knowing.

That same afternoon I had witnessed a bombardment in the town itself. All the force of this thunder-clap had to burst on the Gran Via in order to uproot a human life. One single life. Passers-by had brushed rubbish off their clothes ; others had scattered on the run; and when the light smoke had risen and cleared away, the betrothed, escaped by miracle without a scratch, found at his feet his novia, whose golden arm a moment before had been in his, changed into a blood-filled sponge, changed into a limp packet of flesh and rags.

He had knelt down, still uncomprehending, had nodded his head slowly, as if saying to himself, "Something very strange has happened."

This marvel spattered on the pavement bore no resemblance to what had been his beloved. Misery was excruciatingly slow to engulf him in its tidal wave. For still another second, stunned by the feat of the invisible prestidigitator, he cast a bewildered glance round him in search of the slender form, as if it at least should have survived. Nothing was there but a packet of muck.

Gone was the feeble spark of humanity. And while in the man's throat there was brewing that shriek which I know not what deferred, he had the leisure to reflect that it was not those lips he had loved but their pout, not them but their smile. Not those eyes, but their glance. Not that breast, but its gentle swell. He was free to discover at last the source of the anguish love had been storing up for him, to learn that it was the unattainable he had been pursuing. What he had yearned to embrace was not the flesh but a downy spirit, a spark, the impalpable angel that inhabits the flesh.

I do not care a curse for the rules of war and the law of reprisal. As for the military advantage of such a bombardment, I simply cannot grasp it. I have seen housewives disemboweled, children mutilated; I have seen the old itinerant market crone sponge from her treasures the brains with which they were spattered. I have seen a janitor's wife come out of her cellar and douse the sullied pavement with a bucket of water, and I am still unable to understand what part these humble slaughterhouse accidents play in warfare.

A moral role? But a bombardment turns against the bombarder! Each shell that fell upon Madrid fortified something in the town. It persuaded the hesitant neutral to plump for the defenders. A dead child weighs heavily in the balance when it is one's own. It was clear to me that a bombardment did not disperse - it unified. Horror causes men to clench their fists, and in horror men join together.

The lieutenant and I crawled along the parapet. Face or ship, Madrid stood erect, receiving blows without a moan. But men are like this: slowly but surely, ordeal fortifies their virtues.

Because of the ordeal my companion's heart was high. He was thinking of the hardening of Madrid's will. He stood up with his fists on his hips, breathing heavily. Pity for the women and the children had gone out of him.

"That makes sixty," he counted grimly.

The blow resounded on the anvil. A giant smith was forging Madrid.

(from St-Exupery's essay Barcelona and Madrid, in his book Wind, Sand, and Stars.)

12:45 PM


A couple of days ago, I read a very interesting post in which a distinction was drawn between people who are primarily concerned with knowing and people who are primarily concerned with thinking. Unfortunately, I've lost the link. If anyone runs across this...or if you are the writer...could you drop me a line? Thanks.

8:09 AM

Friday, March 12, 2004  

Iberian Notes looks to be a good source of on-the-ground information from Spain.

UPDATE: More from Spain here.

9:32 AM

Thursday, March 11, 2004  

Seattle seems to be sending a pretty clear message to industrial companies--a message that they are not welcome there.

Ric Shrewsbury of the Western Towboat Co. says it took him four years to get a building permit for a three-story building. The city objected to Shrewsbury's building because it would block a view. A view from what? From the street. Of what? Of the Ship Canal...ie, a waterway which was built explicitly for the purposes of commerce.

The city is finally willing to issue the permit...but "only if Western Towboat would promise to plant and maintain a 20-by-68-foot "habitat-restoration project" along the Ship Canal. This postage stamp of green, surrounded by buildings and boats and heaps of rusted chain, was to be designed by a consultant. The consultant has now specified one evergreen huckleberry, one salal, one kinnikinick, one Oregon grape, one flowering alum, one dogwood and one creeping mahonia. The public will not have access to it. It is not for them. The city says it is to create shade for the fish." And this project must evidently be done entirely at the expense of Western Towboat--even though it's hard to see how the erection of a three-story building increases the need of the fish for shade..

Jim Ferguson, owner of Ferguson Terminal, has also experienced Seattle's unwelcome mat. At his terminal in British Columbia, he recently was able to build a dock without even getting a permit. But in Seattle, he has applied for a permit to build "dolphins," which are three piles tied together at the top, for boats to bump up against. For this he has waited five years.

"It's all cultural," says Eugene Wasserman, executive director of the Neighborhood Business Council. If it were biotech, it would get the green light.

"Biotech is cool. Propellers and pilings are uncool," is how the government's attitude is summed up by columnist Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times.

And when industrial companies close down or leave the U.S., the authors of policies like these will be the first to cast blame. They will blame "Benedict Arnold CEO'S," George Bush, and other convenient targets. Never will it cross their minds that their own policies might be a factor.

(hat tip: Shark Blog)

3:07 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 2004  

As you probably already know, terrorist leader Abu Abbas has died while in U.S. custody. Prior to the liberation of Iraq, Abbas had been provided with sanctuary by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Abbas was best known as the mastermind behind the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, during which an American in a wheelchair was shot and thrown overboard.

Today's AP article refers to the perpetrators of this atrocity as "commandos." That's right, "commandos."

I'd like to give the floor to Michele to help us remember exactly what these "commandos" did. She wrote this last year, after the American capture of Abbas:

I still have nightmares about this. I don't recall many news stories that stayed with me as long as this one did.

I imagined again and again the horror of Leon Klinghoffer plunging into the water, still in his wheelchair. I imagined his wife watching this happen. I never forgot about it.

Klinghoffer was dead when they pushed him overboard. The terrorists shot to death a helpless man who could not defend himself. I could not let go of the thought that he went into that ocean in his wheelchair. There was something so barbaric, so raw and sinister about it. Leon was killed because he was a Jew. An American Jew. An American Jew sitting in a wheelchair doing his best to fend off the terrorists using only his voice. (To the terrorists, this was "provocation.")

I spent a lot of time at the library discovering all kinds of sordid things about the Palestinian Liberation Front after that incident.

I never forgot those things. I never forgot Leon Klinghoffer.

May Abu Abbas meet a worse fate than Leon Klinghoffer did.

The people who did this don't deserve to be called "commandos." These are commandos.

There is a precedent for this abominable coverage from AP. When Abbas was captured in the first place, The New York Times referred to him as a "guerilla leader."

The people who murdered Leon Klinghoffer don't deserve to be called "guerillas." These are guerillas.

Words matter. Journalists, of all people, should know this.

"Commando'' is not a synonym for "terrorist."

"Guerilla" is not a synonym for "terrorist."

Why this strange reluctance to call things what they are? Why this strange willingness to defame many courageous warriors, American and other, by associating them with vicious killers of civilians?

6:43 PM

Tuesday, March 09, 2004  

On a daily basis, there are stories about kids being suspended or expelled on ridiculous "zero-tolerance" grounds. Here's an example, and here's a whole collection of them.

When this happens, it is common for school administrators to say that they had "no choice" due to the requirements of state law. I'm dubious about whether these laws really are usually so rigid as to give administrators no discretion whatsoever in these matters--but for the moment, assume that they really are.

Here's my question.

Why don't school administrators lobby to get the laws changed?

If businesses were being required to fire large numbers of valued employees due to badly-written legislation, you can bet that they would lobby to get the laws changed.

If air traffic controllers were being required to use unsafe procedures because of some regulation, you can bet that they would make their opinions known where it counted.

A major test of professionalism is the willingness to take responsibility--and to challenge things that keep you from fulfilling that responsibility properly. America's public school administrators are failing that test.

1:42 PM

Monday, March 08, 2004  

After Alan Dershowitz delivered a talk at Faneuil Hall in Boston, this is what happened to him:

I was accosted by a group of screaming, angry young men and women carrying virulently anti-Israel signs. The protest was denominated a peace event and was sponsored by a group calling themselves by the vague name ACT-MA. Their website describes them as promoting peace and justice and associated with larger solidarity organizations, but there was nothing peaceful or just about this protest.

Although the signs they were carrying were not anti-Semitic, the sign carriers were shouting epithets at me that crossed the line from civility to bigotry. "Dershowitz and Hitler, just the same, the only difference is the name." The sin that, in the opinion of the screamers, warranted this comparison between me and the man who murdered dozens of my family members was my support for Israel. It was irrelevant to these chanters that I also support a Palestinian state, the end of the Israeli occupation and the dismantling of most of the settlements. They also shouted "Dershowitz and Gibbels [sic], just the same, the only difference is the name" - not even knowing how to pronounce the name of the anti-Semitic Nazi propagandist.

One sign carrier shouted that Jews who support Israel are worse than Nazis. Another demanded that I be tortured and killed. It wasn't only their words; it was the hatred in their eyes. If a dozen Boston police were not protecting me, I have little doubt I would have been physically attacked. Their eyes were ablaze with fanatical zeal.

The feminist writer Phyllis Chesler aptly described the hatred often directed against Israel and supporters of the Jewish state by some young people as eroticized. That is what I saw: passionate hatred, ecstatic hatred, orgasmic hatred. It was beyond mere differences of opinion. When I looked into their faces, I could imagine young Nazis in the 1930s in Hitler's Germany. They had no doubt that they were right and that I was pure evil for my support of the Jewish state, despite my public disagreement with some of Israel's policies and despite my support for Palestinian statehood. There was no place for nuance here. It was black and white, good versus evil, and any Jew who supported Israel was pure evil, deserving of torture, violence, and whatever fate Hitler and Goebbels deserved.

Read the whole thing.

A "peace event," indeed.

(hat tip: lgf)

7:22 AM

Sunday, March 07, 2004  

The Prime Minister delivered an excellent speech about the war in Iraq. Excerpt:

We secured UN Resolution 1441. Saddam had one final chance to comply fully. Compliance had to start with a full and honest declaration of WMD programmes and activities.

The truth is disarming a country, other than with its consent, is a perilous exercise. On 8 December 2002, Saddam sent his declaration. It was obviously false.

The UN inspectors were in Iraq but progress was slow and the vital cooperation of Iraqi scientists withheld. In March we went back to the UN to make a final ultimatum. We strove hard for agreement. We very nearly achieved it.

So we came to the point of decision. Prime ministers don't have the luxury of maintaining both sides of the argument.

They can see both sides. But, ultimately, leadership is about deciding.

My view was and is that if the UN had come together and delivered a tough ultimatum to Saddam, listing clearly what he had to do, benchmarking it, he may have folded and events set in train that might just and eventually have led to his departure from power.

But the Security Council didn't agree.

Suppose at that point we had backed away. Inspectors would have stayed but only the utterly naïve would believe that following such a public climbdown by the US and its partners, Saddam would have cooperated more.

He would have strung the inspectors out and returned emboldened to his plans.

The will to act on the issue of rogue states and WMD would have been shown to be hollow. The terrorists, watching and analysing every move in our psychology as they do, would have taken heart.

All this without counting the fact that the appalling brutalisation of the Iraqi people would have continued unabated and reinforced.

Here is the crux. It is possible that even with all of this, nothing would have happened. Possible that Saddam would change his ambitions; possible he would develop the WMD but never use it; possible that the terrorists would never get their hands on WMD, whether from Iraq or elsewhere.

We cannot be certain. Perhaps we would have found different ways of reducing it. Perhaps this Islamic terrorism would ebb of its own accord.

But do we want to take the risk? That is the judgement. And my judgement then and now is that the risk of this new global terrorism and its interaction with states or organisations or individuals proliferating WMD, is one I simply am not prepared to run.

This is not a time to err on the side of caution; not a time to weigh the risks to an infinite balance; not a time for the cynicism of the worldly wise who favour playing it long.

Their worldly wise cynicism is actually at best naivete and at worst dereliction.

You should definitely read the whole thing.

8:22 PM

Saturday, March 06, 2004  

Two of my favorite authors are George Orwell (the essays, not so much the novels) and Arthur Koestler. Thus, it was interesting to run into Orwell's comments about Koestler's writing.

8:16 AM

Thursday, March 04, 2004  

There's always a steady steam of books and articles offering advice to people who are beginning, or about to begin, their business careers. In the current crop of such publications, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on "taking care of yourself'--negotiating hard about starting salary, being insistent about raises and promotions, making sure you get full credit for the things you accomplish, etc etc. This general theme seems particularly pronounced right now in advice directed at women.

Within limits, it's common sense. If you don't stand up for yourself, you're going to get run over. And, in an era of (at least perceived) insecurity, it's natural that people would be increasingly focused on career self-protection.

But. Note the qualifier, "within limits."

Readers of the afforementioned publications need to also read a little article that appeared in Investor's Business Daily (2/23), under the title "Opportunists are Trouble." Opportunists:

..avoid assignments that carry high risk of failure--even when such situations also present a great opportunity for success. They shirk responsibility for the actions of their subordinates...And while opportunists might seem highly intelligent, it's often not the case...They master the art of appearance, but have very little depth.

The article quotes the author of "Staying There," Thomas Schweich:

If you are going to be an executive with staying power, you must value ambition, destroy opportunism and be adept at telling the diference between the two...(Wise) executives search for small, tangible signs in those they are evaluating.

Earl Graves, founder & publisher of the magazine Black Enterprise, offers some advice as to how to detect an opportunist. One clue is an excessive preoccupation with perks--company credit cards, tickets to sports events, etc--and particularly, a focus on perks during the first few days on the job. And Mike Sears, previously CFO at Boeing, advises executives to look out for the "spotlight" mentality. People with this personality trait will "be charming when the spotlight is on, but turn irritable and condescending when they think "no one of importance" is watching."

Another clue to an opportunist--and this one should be obvious--is excessive use of the words "I" and "me" when discussing positive outcomes. And then there's the "should be" flag. Let's say you ask your subordinate about the status of an assignment, and his response is that "it should be done."

"(It) says that you think I am too stupid to figure out that you do not know the answer," (said a senior Justice Department official). (And it) "says you are ready to blame someone else if the job hasn't been done. You are pre-distancing yourself from the failure."

It seems to me that many of the current practices in our educational system--grade inflation, excessive focus on unearned self-esteem--contribute to the development of the personality pattern referenced here under the name "opportunism." And the problem with the kind of business advice that I mentioned at the beginning is that it tends to reinforce these tendencies, rather than causing the individual to reflect on them and balance them out. I worry that some of this advice could cause people who could have been successful to adopt behavior patterns that will destroy or limit their careers. Some, of course, will succeed despite their behavior (or even because of it, in unhealthy organizations), and they can then do damage that is sometimes on a very large scale.

A worthwhile article, and Schweich's book sounds very interesting.

9:20 PM


There's a discussion going on at Business Pundit about customer service problems in the retail industry. I'm particularly interested in the question: what are the factors leading to the plague of disengaged employees? How much of this is due to poor management vs how much of it is due to broader social (and specifically educational) factors? Go and make your thoughts known.

8:55 AM


A while back, I wrote about Maytag's manufacturing strategy for dishwashers. Motors come from China, wiring harnesses are put together in Mexico, and final assembly is done in the U.S.

A recent WSJ article (3/1) talks about another manufacturing strategy for the global environment. Griffin Manufacturing Company has its main manufacturing operation in Costa Rica and its "flexible plant" in Fall River, MA. If the company expects to sell 10,000 shirts, they might assign 8,000 to the Costa Rica plant and 2,000 to Fall River. Thus, fluctuations in final demand--how many shirts will really sell, and what will be the precise size and color mix?--can be evened out by a plant that is physically close to the demand, rather than by a plant at the end of a long transportation pipeline. (I expect that this approach allows a much higher degree of reliance upon sea transportation, as opposed to the more-expensive air freight that would need to be more heavily used if all demand were being sourced from the Costa Rica plant.)

We can think of the Maytag example and the Griffin example as series and parallel strategies, respectively, for mixed offshore and domestic manufacturing--in one, different stages of the production process are done in different places; in the other, the same stage is being done in multiple places, but with differing roles in the overall production mix.

The actualities of global manufacturing are often more complex than the oversimplified image of a product being made in country "x" and sold in the U.S.

The main emphasis of the WSJ article is the growth in job opportunities in the logistics field. Logistics professionals work to optimize the flow of goods and materials at both a tactical (dealing with today's crisis) level and at a strategic level (Do we need a new warehouse? What should be the mix of truck vs rail in our distribution system?). Sophisticated mathematical tools are often used (and MIT has expanded its logistics program and started an new master's degree dedicated to logistics within the school of engineering), but there are also many opportunities in logistics for those without advanced degrees.

In discussing the increased demand for logistics professionals, the WSJ says: "These are precisely the types of value-added jobs the U.S. economy is supposed to create to replace some of the manuacturing jobs that are leaving. they won't offset the number of factory jobs that are moving abroad. Still, they represent a promising area of growth."

8:07 AM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004  

Tatiana Menaker takes poetry seriously. She grew up in the Soviet Union, where "the second national prize for poetry in the USSR was five years in prison. The first prize was a death sentence..Night after night we typed for Samizdat (underground press) on primitive typewriters the smuggled poems of my friend Igor Guberman, who had been sentenced to five years in a prison camp. Kneeling on all fours (I was so pregnant at the time that I couldn’t sit), I read a book by Nadezhda Mandelshtam—the widow of the executed poet—that was brought into the country as contraband by some brave foreign visitors. The possession of this book was an offense punishable by law. The hostess begged me to leave, scared that I would go into labor right there in her apartment, but I finished that book understanding that this was my only chance to touch this dangerous copy."

Now 53 years old and a mother of three, she has been attending San Francisco State University. Recently, she wrote about a poetry event on the campus:

...an anti-American poetry hit parade, entitled “My America,” was held shortly after Saddam’s capture. It was the grand finale of San Francisco State University’s fall semester.

Even as TV screens showed the captured Hitler of the Middle East in all his pathetic, unkempt glory, the anti-war show on campus continued. As a part of the Creative Writing Department curriculum, more than a hundred and fifty SFSU students were forced to attend this collective primary delusion presented as a poetry reading. Unfortunately, the weakness of the poets’ political intellect was matched by the weakness of their writing. From the lighted stage of the huge auditorium they groaned about American ‘war atrocities’...

And there were also more generalized attacks on America, such as the poem which included this line;

Do you see a Statue of Liberty or do you see a toxic waste dump?

Tatiana has written several posts (here, here) describing the repression of independent thought--and rabid anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attitudes--at SFSU, and comparing the atmosphere with the environment that she thought she had left behind when she left the Soviet Union. She even has nightmares about the place:

At least once a year every immigrant from the Soviet Union has the same nightmare: he or she is trapped back in the old country and can’t escape. Ironically enough, mine takes place at San Francisco State. I am walking down the empty hall of the Humanities building. The doors of the stuffy rooms are open, and from all the classes, the same words can be heard:

“Colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, exploitation of the working class.”

And again:

“Colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, exploitation of the working class.”

I see the trusting faces of the young students.

“What class is this?” I ask.

“Philosophy,” they answer.

Please, tell me I am not back in the Soviet Union again and this is just a nightmare!

But for Tatiana Menaker, the nightmare of totalitarianism is still real. She has now been expelled from SFSU.

Maybe there's another side to the story. Maybe. But given Tatiana's proclivity to speak her mind, and given the track record of SFSU, it is difficult to believe that retaliation for her political beliefs is not a major factor in this action.

9:35 AM

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