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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Monday, May 31, 2004  

A Washington Post writer interviewed a significant number of public school students--representing schools throughout the Washington (DC) metropolitan area--to assess their knowledge of WWII history. The results were not very encouraging. Out of 76 students interviewed, only one-third could name even one World War II general, and about half could name any World War II battle.

Bear in mind that many of these students are from very-well-funded schools in some of the most affluent areas of the country. Read the whole article, which illuminates the reasons for the failure to teach this history properly--not just in the Washington area, but elsewhere in the country, as well. (See also earlier reporting from the Post on this matter, here.)

Right after reading this article, I encountered the following, over at Sheila O'Malley's blog:

And so many of the blessings and advantages we have, so many of the reasons why our civilization, our culture, has flourished aren't understood; they're not appreciated. And if you don't have any appreciation of what people went through to get, to achieve, to build what you are benefiting from, then these things don't mean very much to you. You just think, well, that's the way it is. That's our birthright. That just happened. [But] it didn't just happen. And at what price? What grief? What disappointment? What suffering went on? I mean this. I think that to be ignorant or indifferent to history isn't just to be uneducated or stupid. It's to be rude, ungrateful. And ingratitude is an ugly failing in human beings.

--David McCullough


6:00 PM


The World War II memorial at night. The photo is by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell. It appears on the Department of Defense web site, which also has many reminiscences from veterans.

6:44 AM

Sunday, May 30, 2004  

The date, sometime during the late 1800s. The scene, a Westinghouse Electric factory complex in Pittsburgh, with an unpaved yard between buildings. A young laborer--a recent immigrant--is trundling a wheelbarrow, filled with heavy copper ingots, over an iron slab which serves as a track across the yard. The wheelbarrow goes off the track and into the mud. As the laborer struggles to get it back on the track, other workers begin mocking him.

At that moment, a man in formal clothing is crossing the yard. It is George Westinghouse, founder and chief executive of the company. He wades into the mud and helps the man get the wheelbarrow back on the slab.

Not a word was said, but powerful messages were transmitted: when someone is having problems, you don't laugh at him--you help him. When things go wrong, no one is too important to dive in and get his hands dirty.

This is a splendid example of how good organizational cultures are created: through the power of example. Think how much more effective Westinghouse's action was than the mere posting of a "corporate values statement" containing phrases such as "we must respect our fellow employees at all times." Not that such things lack value, but they are meaningless unless backed up by action.

It would have been very easy for Westinghouse to simply ignore the incident and continue on his way. After all, he was heading to a meeting about something--a multi-million-dollar bond issue, say--compared with which a wheelbarrow stuck in the mud would seem to pale in importance. But his instincts were the right ones.

(The story is from Empires of Light, by Jill Jonnes)

9:58 AM


I didn't hear President Bush's dedication speech, but I did read the transcript. You should, too. I was particularly impressed and moved by several passages:

In the history books, the Second World War can appear as a series of crises and conflicts, following an inevitable course from Pearl Harbor to the coast of Normandy to the deck of the Missouri.

Yet, on the day the war began, and on many hard days that followed, the outcome was far from certain. There was a time in the years before the war, when many earnest and educated people believed that democracy was finished. Men who considered themselves learned and civilized came to believe that free institutions must give way to the severe doctrines and stern discipline of a regimented society.

Very true. In the 1930s and early 1940s, many people felt that democracy was finished..and that the only question was whether the future would be Fascist or Communist. I'm not sure how many people today (other than those who were there and those who are serious students of history) recognize just how strong this feeling was.

And all these vast movements of men and armor were directed by one man who could not walk on his own strength. President Roosevelt brought his own advantages to the job. His resolve was stronger than the will of any dictator. His belief in democracy was absolute. He possessed a daring that kept the enemy guessing. He spoke to Americans with an optimism that lightened their task...Dictators and their generals had dismissed Americans as no match for a master race. FDR answered them. In one of his radio addresses, he said, "We have been described as a nation of weaklings, playboys. Let them tell that to Gen. MacArthur and his men. Let them tell that to the boys in the Flying Fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines."


Americans in uniform served bravely, fought fiercely and kept their honor, even under the worst of conditions. Yet they were not warriors by nature. All they wanted was to finish the job and make it home...These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of us are very proud to call them "Dad." They gave the best years of their lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted...At this place, at this memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long standing to an entire generation of Americans -- those who died, those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind.

Read the whole thing.

7:36 AM

Thursday, May 27, 2004  

Here is an interesting window into the mental world inhabited by many Hollywood "progressives."

Lionel Chetwynd is a screenwriter and film executive. When he was 17, he was a member of Canada's Royal Highland Regiment. He never forgot the stories told by older members of the regiment, particularly those who had participated in the Dieppe operation of 1942. Dieppe was "a bloody but necessary dress rehearsal to D-Day that established the futility of invading a fortified European port." And bloody is the operative word. Out of 4,900 Canadians sent to Dieppe, only 2,110 returned. The rest were killed or captured.

Many years later, Chetwynd--by then a successful Hollywood writer--told the Dieppe story during a Malibu dinner party. One of the guests was a network head who asked Chetwynd to come in and pitch the story (evidently with an eye toward a possible film).

"So I went in," Chetwynd said, "and someone there said, 'So these bloodthirsty generals sent these men to a certain death?'

"And I said, 'Well, they weren't bloodthirsty; they wept. But how else were we to know how Hitler could be toppled from Europe?' And she said, 'Well, who's the enemy?' I said, 'Hitler. The Nazis.' And she said, 'Oh, no, no, no. I mean, who's the real enemy?'"

"It was the first time I realized," Chetwynd continued, "that for many people evil such as Nazism can only be understood as a cipher for evil within ourselves. They've become so persuaded of the essential ugliness of our society and its military, that to tell a war story is to tell the story of evil people."

There's no need to sugarcoat the Dieppe operation. Its objective was to more or less "dry run" the D-day invasion, and to gather information on what worked and what didn't work. It did provide such information, but at terrible cost. Paraphrasing the words of military historian John Keegan, Dieppe taught important lesson about amphibious operations in the same way that the Titanic disaster taught important lessons about passenger liner design. In retrospect, surely, Dieppe would have been differently.

A fine film could have been made about Dieppe, with one of its major themes being the difficulty and anguish of decision-making under uncertainty. But the Hollywood people Chetwynd talked with evidently weren't interested in making such a film--it sounds like they wanted a black-and-white, good-guys-vs-bad-guys approach...with the bad guys being mainly not the Nazis, but the "bloodthirsty" Allied generals.

"Progressives" like to sneer at "black and white thinking." But often, as in this case, they don't really want to add nuance; they just want to change the identity of the villain.

The Dieppe film was never made. But Chetwynd did do the screenwriting for the forthcoming A&E docudrama Ike: Countdown to D-Day, of which he was also the co-executive producer (premiers May 31). Should be well worth seeing.

3:35 PM

Wednesday, May 26, 2004  

OpinionJournal links "a weepy profile of three Iraqi teenyboppers" in the Chicago Tribune. "The Sami sisters, ages 17, 15 and 11, listen to Madonna and Britney Spears. They read Agatha Christie novels and watch movies starring Russell Crowe. They also rarely venture outside their upscale home in central Baghdad out of fear of explosions and violence...Their teenage world was simpler when Saddam Hussein was in power. Back then, they said, they hung out with friends at the Pharmacists Club, a swanky place with a swimming pool to which their father, the vice president of Iraq's Pharmacists Union, belonged." (emphasis added)

Other Iraqis remember the old days less nostalgically. Ibrahim Idrissi recalls a day in 1982, at the General Security prison in Baghdad:

They called all the prisoners out to the courtyard for what they called a 'celebration.' We all knew what they meant by 'celebration.' All the prisoners were chained to a pipe that ran the length of the courtyard wall. One prisoner, Amer al-Tikriti, was called out. They said if he didn't tell them everything they wanted to know, they would show him torture like he had never seen. He merely told them he would show them patience like they had never seen.

This is when they brought out his wife, who was five months pregnant. One of the guards said that if he refused to talk he would get 12 guards to rape his wife until she lost the baby. Amer said nothing. So they did. We were forced to watch. Whenever one of us cast down his eyes, they would beat us.

Amer's wife didn't lose the baby. So the guard took a knife, cut her belly open and took the baby out with his hands. The woman and child died minutes later. Then the guard used the same knife to cut Amer's throat.

(The Daily Star via Silent Running)

The Iraqi blog Iraq The Model passes along some comments from Iraqis found on bbc.arabic.com. Here's one of them:

I won't forget the day when I saw one of Saddam's tanks crushing the heads of 40 She'at Iraqis who were among others arrested for no obvious reason in 1991. Their hands were tied and put on the street for the tank to pass over their heads. The words" No She'at after today" where written on that tank.

I was one of those people. My hands were tied to the back and a grenade was put between them and the safety pin removed. It was positioned in a way that it should explode if I was to make any move, and I was left a lone in a deserted area that was at least 5 Km. from any life. If it wasn't for the kindness of one of the soldiers who came back and rescued me, I would've certainly died soon

Ah, the good old days.

6:40 AM

Tuesday, May 25, 2004  

Yesterday, I posted a commemorative item about the battle between British forces and the German ship Bismarck, and specifically about the sinking of the major British warship Hood.

I wonder...what if British newspapers in 1941 had been inhabited by people with the kind of mindset that dominates so much of today's major media? How might these events have been covered? Here's a guess (also assuming an absence of wartime censorship, of course).

Editorial...Major London Newspaper
May 31, 1941

The sinking of HMS Hood, and the loss of 1,400 British sailors, is only the latest in the series of disasters that have impacted Britain since Mr Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Our army was forced to retreat at Dunkirk, resulting in a loss of many million pounds' worth of heavy equipment. Our cities have been bombed, and something like 40,000 of our citizens have been killed. Even now, merchant shipping is being attacked by U-boats, and it is by no means certain that adequate supplies of military equipment--or even of food--can continue to reach our island nation.

All of these disasters and failures were a foreseeable consequence of the policy of military adventurism pursued by Mr Churchill..a policy very different from the diplomatically-based policy that had been recommended by Lord Halifax. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a unilateral policy--other nations do not seem to share Mr Churchill's obsessions. The United States, although happy to sell us military supplies, has been most unwilling to commit forces. Even the Communists in Russia have had the sober judgment to come to a diplomatic modus vivendi with Germany, rather than pursuing a military solution.

Mr Churchill seems to have a personal vendetta against the German nation and a strong personal desire to wage war, possibly as a result of his need to recover the prestige he lost in the failed Gallipoli campaign, which he instigated during the affair of 1914-1918. Or possibly (if we may be a bit psychological), the roots of Mr Churchill's combativeness may go back even further, to his frustration with the inattentiveness of his parents. Whatever the cause, British seamen...and British men and women in all walks of life..are paying the price for Mr Churchill's obsessions.

An attempt is being made by the Churchill government to portray the recent clash of naval forces as a British victory. It is true, of course, that the German warship Bismarck was sunk. But few serious analysts view German naval forces as the major threat..the real danger from that country is of course represented by its U-boats, by the Luftwaffe, and by the Wehrmacht. All of these forces are still intact, and Herr Hitler is still very much in charge. So what possible justification is there for the loss of life and treasure represented by the Hood?

And furthermore, the claim to moral superiority--of which the Churchill government has made so much--has been gravely compromised by this affair. Following the sinking of the Bismarck, many German sailors--possibly several hundred--were left in the water. Dorsetshire and Maori did stop to assist these now-helpless former enemies, but the rescue effort was cut short. As is now well known, the British commander on the scene decided to terminate the rescue attempt, based on his belief that there were "U-boats in the area." The pictures of helpless men in the water, abandoned by Dorsetshire and Maori, are now seared into the British conscience. And it is that image--rather than the earlier image of British chivalry--by which our nation is now known around the world.

And those claimed U-boats? The Churchill government has failed to provide any evidence that such "U-boats" actually were present.

It is time for Mr Churchill to resign, so that a new government may begin to undo the damage that he has done.

3:26 PM

Monday, May 24, 2004  

On this day in 1941, a British task force was pursuing the German battleship Bismarck and its accompanying cruiser Prinz Eugen. One of the principal ships of the British force was the battlecruiser Hood--860 feet in length, displacing 48,000 tons, carrying 15-inch guns and capable of a speed of 31 knots.

The forces met at around 6 AM. At a range of 11 miles, Bismarck fired a salvo at Hood. One or more of the shells, arcing down at a steep angle, penetrated the deck, which was armored far more lightly than the sides of the ship--and by terrible bad luck reached an ammunition magazine. Hood blew up. Out of a crew of more than 1,400 men, only three survived.

A few days later, Bismarck itself was finally cornered and sunk.

(HMS Hood Association here)

3:01 PM


When Micki Weinberg entered Berkeley a few years ago, his hopes were high. He expected an environment of free expression and debate, and certainly expected that the university would be welcoming (or at least accepting) toward Jews. As the son of left-wing, Jewish intellectuals, he "had savored heady stories of how Mario Savio and his comrades in the Free Speech Movement danced the hora and sang 'Hava Nagila' at sit-ins and peace rallies forty years ago." Now, as he prepares to graduate, he remembers his time at Berkeley as marked by what he calls "pinnacles of horror."

"Berkeley is now the epicenter of real hatred," he says.

East Bay Express (from which the above quotes were taken) has a long article on the experience of Weinberg and other Jews at Berkeley. Among the things mentioned are these:

--Right after 9/11, a scrawled message: "It's the Jews, stupid.
--The glass front door of the Hillel center, smashed by a cinderblock
--A girl working on a Jewish student's campaign for a student government office, followed around by someone who kept asking her "Are you a Jewgirl? Frankenstein's a Jew, so isn't everyone who's working for him a Jew?"
--A flyer imprinted with these words: "The neoconservatives and the Jewish Lobby ... planned the Iraq wars. ... Most of the US media ... are Jewish owned."
--A student--the former student body president--who says this, concerning his introductor Middle East history course: "My professor did several lectures on the Israel-Palestine conflict and did not mention terrorism once. There was no discussion of Israel's security situation. It was very one-sided."

This is a small sample. The article is long and is unpleasant to read, but please go read it anyway.

6:04 AM

Sunday, May 23, 2004  

The King County (Seattle area) Democratic Party has voted into its platform a demand to "withhold U.S. tax dollars from Israel while it is in violation of international law." (Seattle Times)

Strangely, I've been unable to locate the statement in which the actions of this group are repudiated by the Kerry Campaign or the Democratic National Committee. Think it might be a Google problem?

On May 14, the Republican Jewish Coalition explicitly called upon John Kerry to repudiate this platform resolution. RJC Executive Director Matthew Brooks expressed the outrage of his organization that the King County Democrats have "taken it upon themselves to falsely accuse Israel of being in violation of international law and to demand that U.S. aid to Israel should be withheld." The RJC has also called upon the Washington State Democratic Party to repudiate the resolution.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the Kerry campaign repudiates the resolution...if it receives wide circulation and becomes a significant political issue for them.

(Thanks to Shark Blog for the heads-up on this.)

2:27 PM

BOOK REVIEW: The Innovator's Solution
Clayton Christensen & Michael Raynor
RATING: 4 Stars

Every year, there are dozens of books published on business strategy. Most of them are eminently forgettable. This one is an exception. It should be read by everyone who has responsibility for establishing a business strategy (or aspires to such a position), and should also be useful for those involved in running non-profit organizations, specifically including universities. It will also be of value to investors, who (except for those who are pure short-term traders) should be making conscious judgments about the strategies of the companies in which they invest.

In this book, the authors develop four major themes, which are amplified using examples ranging from semiconductors to automobiles to milkshakes:

1) Disruptive innovations--those destined to change the structure of an industry--tend to attack from below. They usually first appear in a form that is in some ways inferior to the existing dominant technologies, and hence are unlikely to get the attention or respect of industry incumbents.

2)In a venture dedicated to the introduction of a disruptive technology--whether a start-up business or a division of a larger company--early profitability is more important than early rapid growth. (This is a very contrarian opinion in some quarters.)

3)When attractive profits disappear in a market as a result of commoditization, the opportunity to earn attractive profits will usually emerge at an adjacent stage of the value chain.

4)In segmenting a market, the purpose for which the product is being bought ("circumstance," in the terminology of the authors) is a more useful dimension than the attributes typically used, such as customer demographics or product features.

A bit more on each of these themes (more)..

10:20 AM

Saturday, May 22, 2004  

Rachel is back. Eloquent rants, and dog pictures, too!

Betsy's Page is a blog well worth visiting; she's recently added comments.

BlogAds recently conducted a survey on blog-reader demographics; results are here. Should be taken with multiple grains of salt due to (probably unavoidable) sampling bias, but still a great contribution to understanding what's going on with this phenomenon.

7:46 PM

Friday, May 21, 2004  

Edward Kennedy:

On December 24, 2003--the day Saddam was captured--President Bush said, ``For the vast majority of Iraqi citizens who wish to live as free men and women, this event brings further assurance that the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever.''

On March 19, 2004, President Bush asked: ``Who would prefer that Saddam's torture chambers still be open?''

Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management--U.S. management.

Nancy Pelosi:

"Bush is an incompetent leader. In fact, he's not a leader," Pelosi told the San Francisco Chronicle in a 45-minute interview Wednesday in her Capitol office. "He's a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon."


"Not to get personal about it, but the president's capacity to lead has never been there," Pelosi said. "In order to lead, you have to have judgment. In order to have judgment, you have to have knowledge and experience. He has none."

Ernest "Fritz" Hollings:

With Iraq no threat, why invade a sovereign country? The answer: President Bush's policy to secure Israel....Led by Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer, for years there has been a domino school of thought that the way to guarantee Israel's security is to spread democracy in the area...(Bush) came to office imbued with one thought -- re-election. Bush felt tax cuts would hold his crowd together and spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats.

Are these the voices of people who are demonstrating mature and balanced judgment? Are these the voices of people who will help to bring Americans together more closely in a time of great national danger? Are these the voices of people who possess perspective, intellectual insight, and "nuance"?

In my view, these are people who need to be kept as far as possible from the levers of Presidential power. Were Kerry to be elected, then the influence of Kennedy and Pelosi..and of people who share the ethnically-divisive approach exhibited by Hollings...would sharply increase. This, alone, is in my view sufficient reason to vote against him.

7:33 AM

Thursday, May 20, 2004  

An interesting comment from David L Kirp, a professor at Berkeley, writing in The New York Times (4/30):

The paper credentials of students--A averages and high SAT scores-don't necessarily translate into intellectual fireworks. Many top-performing high school students are burnt out by the time they're freshmen, while working-class teenagers and community college transfers with less sterling records arrive with a hunger for learning and often fare at least as well.

3:04 PM


In most businesses, people try to differentiate themselves. The objective is to make your product or service different in some way from those offered by your competitors.

Why is it, then, that journalists--both print and video--tend to do the exact opposite? They tend to all cover the same stories, to the point of endless repetition, rather than attempting to break new ground by covering something that the competitors are not covering.

Why, for example, is there not more coverage of the atrocities in the Sudan?

Some of the coverage patterns are no doubt due to political slant and bias. But I would bet that a big part of it is also a lack of imagination and creativity on the part of many journalists, coupled with a strong desire to be part of the in-group..to be talking about what all the other cool kids are talking about.

These unfortunate tendencies exist in all industries and professions, of course, but they seem to exist among journalists in more than the average proportions.

8:02 AM

Wednesday, May 19, 2004  

From Jane Galt:

...the parents I know are scrambling to get their kids into a few preschools that are roughly as competitive as the Ivy League, which in turn are feeders for good prep schools, which are good feeders for the Ivy League . . . a friend of a friend was asked at the interview for one such school, in re her two year old, "What are her aspirations?"

1:13 PM

Tuesday, May 18, 2004  

For what kind of job would you guess that candidates are interviewing when they are asked the questions below?

"Please design a house."

"Please design a spice rack for blind people."

"Please design a trash can for a city street corner."

Architecture? Interior design? Urban planning?

Nope. Software design.

Michael, writing at Canadian Headhunter, finds these questions useful in understanding the thought process of a candidate. For example: does he immediately walk up to the whiteboard and start sketching the house without asking anything about the people who are to live in it and their needs? (If so, they are likely to be interrupted with this comment: "Actually, you forgot to ask this, but this is a house for a family of 48-foot tall blind giraffes."

"Not-so-smart candidates think that design is like painting: you get a blank slate, and you can do whatever you want," Michael continues. "Smart candidates understand that design is a difficult series of trade-offs."

A very worthwhile blog, BTW, especially if you are in the business of hiring people.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, the interviewing methodology, and comments thereon, are from an ongoing selection from an article by Joel Spolsky of Foggy Creek Software.

8:11 AM

Sunday, May 16, 2004  

If you question what Mohammed said (below) about the attitudes and motivations of many Western journalists in Iraq, consider this:

Toby Harnden in the Middle East correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. While taking a break by the pool at the Al-Hamra hotel, he was accosted by an American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials. After some discussion about WMDs, etc, she came to the point. Not only had she ‘known’ the Iraq war would fail but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the ‘evil’ George W. Bush would no longer be running her country. Her editors back on the East Coast were giggling, she said, over what a disaster Iraq had turned out to be. ‘Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.’ Startled by her candour, I asked whether thousands more dead Iraqis would be a good thing.

She nodded and mumbled something about Bush needing to go. By this logic, I ventured, another September 11 on, say, September 11 would be perfect for pushing up John Kerry’s poll numbers. ‘Well, that’s different — that would be Americans,’ she said, haltingly. ‘I guess I’m a bit of an isolationist.’ That’s one way of putting it.

The moral degeneracy of these sentiments didn’t really hit me until later when I dined at the home of Abu Salah, a father of six who took over as the Daily Telegraph’s chief driver in Baghdad when his predecessor was killed a year ago.

Harnden goes on to talk about the realities of reporting from Iraq:

Iraq is so dangerous now that hardly any television journalists venture out of the Al-Hamra or the Palestine Hotel, where lager and post-barbecue spliffs help relieve the tension of being in a war zone. There are insurance problems and the brooding, ex-SAS bodyguards forbid any excursions. The dirty little secret is that the endless ‘stand-ups’ you see on your screens are based on no reporting at all. Those of us who work for newspapers grow our Shia beards or, in the case of the women and the occasional John Simpson wannabe, wear hijabs and trust in fate, our relative anonymity and the skill and bravery of Abu Salah and his kind to get us to Najaf and Fallujah without being summarily executed. But what we can accomplish is limited.

Into this journalistic vacuum it is all too easy for the prejudices of the press corps — tourists looking through telescopes — to flow more freely than ever and the resulting reports to be distorted and incomplete. After the horrifying videotape slaughter of Nick Berg, there will be even greater reluctance among Westerners to leave their fortified hotels and compounds.

Whatever we thought about the war before it was launched, it is imperative that the forces of Arab nationalism and Islamism that now threaten to destroy Iraq are defeated. If America fails in Iraq it will be all of us in the West, not just Bush, who will suffer. But those who would be most in peril, of course, would be the Iraqis, who deserve better than to have their country treated as an electoral playground by the American Left or Right. To wish otherwise is as sick as the grins on the faces of the Abu Ghraib torturers.

Read the whole thing here.

8:12 AM


Mohammed, Ali, and Omar are Iraqis with a blog. Mohammed and Omar are dentists, Ali is a doctor. Mohammed reported yesterday on his trip to Samawa, a village in the far south.

My arrival day was the day when a rally of support and gratitude to the coalition passed the streets of Samawa. The scene was very delightful for me, I, who believe in the necessity of establishing a strategic partnership with the free world represented by the coalition, because this the only way for Iraq to rise again, prosper and join the modern, free world. Such partnership, the way I see it, is vital for the free world in its war with terrorism, the corner stone of which is to establish peace and stability in the ME. Yes, we should put our hands in each other’s because we have a common destiny. It was a very encouraging thing to see that the simple people there understood the case and this is probably the first time where people go out to the streets to thank and support our allies in the coalition, but strangely it came from ordinary, simple people not from those who claim to be civilized intellectuals.

He also writes about a new water treatment plant and about increasing support, on the part of many people in the village, for a secular leadership. And he writes a very intelligent policy adopted by the local Coalition commanders, in connection with the wall around the Coalition base:

These walls initiate a sensation of fear in the hearts and a feeling that there’s a huge block between the people and the coalition. I understand the security necessity of these walls but they still form an unpleasant sight for everyone, except this particular one. The coalition forces here invited all the kids-and their parents-in the neighborhood for a special festival, the kids were given paints and brushes and a definite area of the wall was assigned for each kid to paint on whatever he likes and to sign his painting with his/her name. I leave it for you to imagine how this hateful wall looked like after this festival. It became a fascinating huge painting that gives a feeling of brotherhood and friendship. These paintings eliminated all the psychological walls between the folks and the coalition here.
At the end of the festival, gifts were given to each kid; toys, clothes, candies…
You can’t imagine how happy the kids were when they stood proudly pointing at their paintings; flowers, birds, hands shaking and the flags of Iraq and the coalition countries, and then pointing to their names; Zahra, Mohammed, Sajjad, Fatima… together with phrases like; yes for peace, Saddam has fallen and many others. No one can watch this without having tears filling his eyes and I feel sorry that I couldn’t take pictures for this carnival, as I wasn’t there when it happened, but the people there told me the whole story.

Roger L Simon says "I dare the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times...to publish this post...It doesn't even remotely compute with the version of the Iraq War they're telling."

But they won't publish it, of course.

As Mohammed said: "The negative media want our eyes to pause on the bad events to win time in this worldwide battle and to make us forget the good pictures that encourage us to keep the momentum. This includes most of the major western media. They are ‘unconsciously’ supporting the terrorists and the totalitarian regimes in the region to stop this great progress. The media have managed to create some distrust and hate between some Iraqis and some of the coalition and the west in general. Well, not in my city, it seems to be immune to their poison.
The road is long and hard but together, we can do it."

7:55 AM

Saturday, May 15, 2004  

Given the constant barrage of dismal news from the academic front, it's a pleasure to be able to write about something positive for a change.

Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at MIT, says: About three years ago, I asked a group of students: "What do you daydream about?" And one kid said to me: "We don't daydream. There's no reward for it, so we don't do it." Boy, that hit me right between the eyes.

Her analysis? We have a whole generation of kids who are being trained to be workaholics. And what started as a reaction to not wanting to have your kid home while you are working has been reinforced by the college admission process that expects kids to have lots of activities.

So, she changed the process. The application form entry for "activities" has been reduced from 10 spaces to 6, and this is year is going to 5. And MIT now asks: "Tell us something you do for the pleasure of it." There is less emphasis on "prizes" of various sorts.

I give Jones, and MIT, lots and lots of points for addressing this issue. No doubt, there will be countermeasures...someone will probably write a book advising applicants as to what sorts of things they are supposed to enjoy, and in what terms they are supposed to describe their enjoyment. But recognizing the problem is a big step toward solving it.

(Marilee Jones quotes from BusinessWeek, 10/24)

10:11 AM

Thursday, May 13, 2004  

There's always somebody writing about the stressful "multitasking" of modern life--the need to constantly juggle multiple priorities. This is explicitly or implicitly contrasted with the simpler life of earlier times.

Maybe multitasking isn't so new, though. There's a medieval miniature that shows a woman spinning yarn with the distaff while having sex.

The source is Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel, a book about medieval contributions to the development of technology (of which there were a lot more than generally recognized.) The entire passage: "The process (yarn-making) never ceased, and the skill was universal especially for women of the lower classes, who always had a spindle in hand, even when cooking, feeding livestock, or minding the children (or, to believe one medieval miniature, having sex)..It took many hand spinners to supply a single weaver.."

However busy you are, are you that busy?

(Or maybe medieval men were just really poor and boring lovers...)

7:36 AM

Wednesday, May 12, 2004  

In May/June 1940, Nazi Germany defeated the French army. Britain was forced to withdraw its troops at Durkirk--along with virtually all their heavy equipment. Few would have been willing to bet on Britain's survival...after quickly devastating the (then highly-regarded) French army and demonstrating highly-effective use of airpower, Nazi Germany seemed unstoppable.

In December of that year, the French author Georges Bernanos, then living in Brazil, wrote as follows (in Letter to the English):

No one knows better than I do that, in the course of centuries, all the great stories of the world end by becoming children's tales. But this particular one (the story of England's resistance--ed) has started its life as such, has become a children's tale on the very threshold of its existence. It mean that we can at once recognize in it the threefold visible sign of its nature. it has deceived the anticipations of the wise, it has humiliated the weak-hearted, it has staggered the fools. Last June all these folk from one end of the world to the other, no matter what the color of their skins, were shaking their heads. Never had they been so old, never had they been so proud of being old. All the figures that they had swallowed in the course of their miserable lives as a safeguard against the highly improbable activity of their emotions had choked the channels of circulation..They were ready to prove that with the Armistice of Rethondes the continuance of the war had become a mathematical impossibility...Some chuckled with satisfaction at the thought, but they were not the most dangerous...Others threatened us with the infection of pity..."Alone against the world," they said. "Why, what is that but a tale for children?" And that is precisely what it was--a tale for children. Hurrah for the children of England!

Men of England, at this very moment you are writing what public speakers like to describe in their jargon as one of the "greatest pages of history"....At this moment you English are writing one of the greatest pages of history, but I am quite sure that when you started, you meant it as a fairy tale for children. "Once upon a time there was a little island, and in that island there was a people in arms against the world..." Faced with such an opening as that, what old cunning fox of politics or business would not have shrugged his shoulders and closed the book?

When things look dark in Iraq, and in the War on Terror in general...it is worthwhile to remember just how much darker they must have looked in 1940 in England, standing alone against barbarism.."Once upon a time there was a little island, and in that island there was a people in arms against the world..."

(The Bernanos passage is from Letter to the English, included in his book Plea for Liberty.)

7:02 PM


In many oil fields--especially those in remote locations--natural gas is burned off ("flared"), because there is no economical way to transport it. I was aware of this, but didn't realize the quantities involved until reading an article in the current Forbes (5/24). Ten billion cubic feet of gas are flared daily, representing the energy equivalent of 1.7 million barrels of oil. That's about $24 billion worth (annually) at a price of $40/BBL.

The problem is that there have only been two ways to ship gas: either build a pipeline to the location at which it is produced, or liquify it--an equipment-intensive process involving chilling it down to the liquid state (in which it must be maintained by keeping it cold throughout the transportation process).

Forbes reports on a process, under development for decades, that may address this issue. The process starts with natural gas and ends with diesel fuel, and can be performed on-site at the point of gas production. (Interestingly, the diesel fuel produced is of higher quality than the diesel coming out of oil refineries). A very small company called Syntroleum Corp has been a leader in the development, and ExxonMobil and other major oil companies are planning a major gas-to-liquids project in Qatar. (Syntroleum's vision involves smaller plants, often mounted on barges.)

Earlier versions of the GTL (gas-to-liquid) technology were not economical unless oil prices were at $35/BBL or more; Syntroleum claims that the improved process has a breakeven of $20/BBL. (Oil is currently around $40/BBL, of course, but companies like to have a margin of safety when making investments, particularly in new technologies.)

There have been many synthetic-fuel ventures in the past, of course, which have not lived up to their promise. Will GTL succeed this time around? Will be interesting to watch..and the consequences for the global economy will be very significant.

Syntroleum's Jack Holmes clearly feels that the industry is moving too conservatively. "Everybody wants to be the first to build the second plant," he says.

9:31 AM

Tuesday, May 11, 2004  

Warren Buffett has signed on as an economic advisor for Kerry. One of Buffett's arguments is that the dividend tax reduction is "class welfare--for my class." If Berkshire Hathaway were to pay $1 billion in dividends, he argues, he would personally receive a large amount of money at a low effective tax rate.

Leave aside for the moment the questionable equivalency of tax reduction with welfare. Even without the dividend tax reduction, Buffett could already take money out of Berkshire Hathaway at a relatively low tax rate, simply by selling shares at the capital gains rate. Berkshire does not pay any dividends, and, almost certainly, a major reason for this policy has been the historically-favored treatment of capital gains vs dividends.

The primary effect of high dividend tax rates (bear in mind that dividends have already been taxed at the corporate income tax rate, in addition to any taxation at the individual level) was to discourage companies from paying dividends and encourage them to keep the money as retained earnings, thus hoping to compensate shareholders through growth in stock price. This has in many cases led companies to make bad investment decisions. If you have large amounts of cash accumulating, and shareholders don't want it back in the form of dividends because of tax reasons--but do want growth--then you have to find something to invest the cash in. And this has led to many companies doing questionable acquisitions, entering product areas in which they had no experience and no realistic grounds to expect success, and in general pursuing growth at the expense of prudence. (While Berkshire has been able to reinvest its retained earnings effectively with sustained success over a long period of time, such abilities are arguably more the exception than the rule.)

The long-term effect of the dividend tax reduction will be to provide more balance. Instead of a company feeling an imperative to grow at, say, 10% annually, it may feel it's OK to grow at only 5% annually, while paying out a much more substantial dividend. And those dividends, of course, may be invested by shareholders in totally different companies, at their discretion. More of the investment decision making is moved from corporate managements to shareholders.

While the dividend tax cut may not be particularly "stimulative" in the near term, I believe it will bring about structural changes which will be beneficial to the overall economy. Fewer resources will be wasted on questionable projects, and the overall return on capital investment--which drives productivity and economic growth--will be improved. And, since dividends tend to act as a support for share prices, some stabilization of stock market behavior is likely as well.

See comments by Alan Reynolds and on the Kerry web site.

12:23 PM

Monday, May 10, 2004  

Jean-Francois Revel, an iconoclastic French intellectual, has written a book called Anti-Americanism, which has recently been translated into English. I haven't read it yet, but John Parker, writing in Asia Times, provides a spirited review. Excerpts:

Jean-Francois Revel is a distinguished French writer who has, for nearly all his working life, chosen the rockiest path any intellectual can choose: the path of true non-conformity (as distinct from the ersatz, self-described non-conformists one finds on any university campus in the Western world). Specifically, Revel has chosen to confront directly - not only in this volume, but in several earlier books that touched on the issue - the entrenched anti-Americanism of an entire generation of European intellectuals, particularly French ones. Like his countryman Emile Zola (whose explosive article "J'accuse" attacked French society's handling of the Alfred Dreyfus affair), he has dared to defend an unpopular scapegoat and, in so doing, has probably done more to earn the gratitude of Americans than any Frenchman since General Lafayette, who came to the aid of the American revolutionary cause.

and (re Revel's much-earlier book, Without Marx or Jesus):

Most of the book consisted of a point-by-point rebuttal of the reflexive anti-Americanism of the day, and correctly identified its main psychological wellspring: envious resentment due to Europe's loss of leadership status in Western civilization during the postwar era.

In this first book, Revel also described the definitive proof of the irrational origins of anti-American arguments: "reproaching the United States for some shortcoming, and then for its opposite ... a convincing sign that we are in the presence not of rational analysis, but of obsession". In the 1960s, the best example of this behavior was European attitudes toward US involvement in Vietnam. A startling number of French commentators developed a sudden amnesia about their country's own involvement in Indochina, and the fact that France, while embroiled in its ugly war with the Viet Minh, "frequently pleaded for and sometimes obtained American help". Thus the same French political class that begged president Dwight Eisenhower to send B-29s to save the Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu was only too quick to label the United States a "neo-imperialist", or worse, for subsequently intervening in the unholy mess that the preceding decades of French colonial misrule had largely created.

In "Anti-Americanism", which is basically a sequel to "Without Marx or Jesus", a more contemporary example of the same phenomenon is given: the nearly simultaneous criticism of the US for "arrogant unilateralism" and "isolationism". As Revel dryly observes, "the same spiteful bad temper inspired both indictments, though of course they were diametrically opposed".

Examples of this psychopathology are almost endless, but the Iraq crisis has certainly provided a profusion of new cases. For example, during the 12 years after 1991, the anti-American press was filled with self-righteous hand-wringing over what was billed as the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people under UN sanctions. But when the administration of President George W Bush abandoned the sanctions policy (a policy that, incidentally, had been considered the cautious, moderate course of action when it was originally adopted) in favor of a policy of regime change by military force - which was obviously the only realistic way to end the sanctions - did these dyspeptic howler monkeys praise the United States for trying to alleviate Iraqis' suffering? No, of course not - instead, without batting an eyelash, they simply began criticizing the United States for the "terrible civilian casualties" caused by bombing.


The most notable characteristic of Anti-Americanism, as a text, is the blistering, take-no-prisoners quality of its prose. Even those diametrically opposed to Revel's views would be forced to acknowledge his skills as a pugnacious rhetorician who does not eschew sarcasm as a weapon.

A few examples will suffice: referring to anti-war banners that proclaimed "No to terrorism. No to war", Revel scoffs that this "is about as intelligent as 'No to illness. No to medicine'." Responding to the indictment of the United States as a "materialistic civilization", he says: "Everyone knows that the purest unselfishness reigns in Africa and Asia, especially in the Muslim nations, and that the universal corruption that is ravaging them is the expression of a high spirituality."

Addressing the claim of the Japanese philosopher Yujiro Nakamura that "American culture ignores [the] dark dimension" of human beings, the author observes: "Evidently, Nakamura has never read Melville, Poe, Hawthorne, Henry James, Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, [etc], to mention only a few explorers of the depths."

and especially

Indeed, it is not the slightest exaggeration to say that in 2004, anti-American sentiment has become the biggest single obstacle to human progress. It sustains repressive dictatorships everywhere; excuses corruption, torture, the oppression of women, and mass murder; provides ideological oxygen for vile, stupid "revolutionary movements" like the Maoist insurgents in Nepal; and has even promoted the spread of disease (as when, for example, Europeans haughtily dismissed Bush's AIDS initiative as insincere - God forbid that they should concur with any policy of the wicked Bush, even at the cost of a few million more African lives). By focusing monomaniacally on "why America is wrong", instead of asking "what is right", the global anti-American elite has massively failed to fulfill the most fundamental responsibility of the intellectual class: to provide dispassionate, truthful analysis that can guide society to make proper decisions. And it has contemptuously cast aside the irreplaceable, post-Cold War opportunity to irreversibly consolidate the "liberal revolution" praised by Revel - in which inheres the only true hope of lasting, global peace and development - all in the name of redressing the gaping psychological insecurities of its members.

(via The Machinery of Night)

9:07 AM

Tuesday, May 04, 2004  

A Washinton Post writer went down to the new World War II memorial on opening day, and talked to 20 teenagers who were there. He says that of the twenty, only two "could tell me what the war was about."

He thinks the memorial should do a better job of explanation. Perhaps so--I haven't seen it yet. But, the memorial aside, this level of ignorance would seem to be one more indicator of massive failure on the part of America's schools.

8:26 PM

Monday, May 03, 2004  

From Damian Penny:

Six weeks ago, Israel launched a fatal missile strike against the "spiritual leader" of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin, and the world recoiled in horror. "War crime!" people cried. "Murder! The cowardly killing of an old blind man in a wheelchair!"

Today, gunmen from Hamas and Islamic Jihad walked up to a car containing a mother and her four daughters, aged 2 to 11, and shot them all dead at close range.

And you know the same people who were so shocked and outraged by the assasination of Yassin are already working on excuses.

Read the whole thing.

7:47 AM

Sunday, May 02, 2004  

The New York Times recently editorialized as follows: "More than American troop reinforcements and heavier armer will be needed to resolved the underlying political problems in Iraq. That will take, at a minimum, a credible transfer of sovereignty to a representative Iraqi governing body backed by the legiminacy of full United Mations involvement." (NYT 4/30)

The legitimacy of full United Nations involvement?

Can any serious person believe that the various enemy forces in Iraq--Baathists, al Quaeda sympathizers, assorted goons and "militias"--really care about "the legitimacy of full United Nations involvement?"

"Better put the RPGs and AK-47s away now, brothers, the U.N. is here!" In your dreams, New York Times.

What a strange failure of imagination and understanding, to believe that the U.N. will receive the same deference among opposition Iraqis that it receives from New Yorkers who are in the same social set as the editors of The New York Times.

And let's look at the real U.N., as opposed to the fantasy one that seems to exist in the heads of so many liberals. A week or so ago, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, referred to Israel's policies as "the great poison in the region." (the Middle East). Yup...in his view, out of all the violent, oppressive, and shortsighted things that go on in the Middle East, it's specifically Israel's policies that are worthy of being held out as "the great poison."

And it gets worse...much worse. It's been reported that Brahimi (according the the New York Sun, via the Jerusalem Post) has boasted that he has never knowingly shaken hands with an Israeli or a Jew.

Will the involvement of such a man in Iraq help achieve the goal of creating a stable and democratic Iraq which is relatively free from some of the venemous attitudes that affect so many countries in the region...or will it have precisely the opposite effect? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

In their reverential attitudes toward the U.N., liberals of the New York Times variety seem to utterly lack the capabilities of inductive and deductive reasoning. They are operating at the level of imprinting...the letters "U.N." mean "goodness" to them, and it seems that no actual events can change this imprinted linkage.

UPDATE: Writing in National Review Online, Barbara Lerner has this to say:

"Putting a U.N. stamp on an Iraqi government will delegitimize it in the eyes of most Iraqis and do great damage to those who are actively striving to create a freer, more progressive Middle East. Iraqis may distrust us, but they have good reason to despise the U.N., and they do. For 30 years, the U.N. ignored their torments and embraced their tormentor, focusing obsessively on a handful of Palestinians instead. Then, when Saddam's misrule reduced them to begging for food and medicine, they saw U.N. fat cats rip off the Oil-for-Food Program money that was supposed to save them.

The U.N. as a whole is bad; Lakhdar Brahimi is worse. A long-time Algerian and Arab League diplomat, he is the very embodiment of all the destructive old policies foisted on the U.N. by unreformed Arab tyrants, and he lost no time in making that plain. In his first press conferences, he emphasized three points: Chalabi, Talabani, and Barzani will have no place in a government he appoints; he will condemn American military action to restore order in Iraq; and he will be an energetic promoter of the old Arab excuses — Israel's "poison in the region," he announced, is the reason it's so hard to create a viable Iraqi interim government."

Read the whole thing.

7:58 AM

Saturday, May 01, 2004  

The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers is indeed nauseating. (CBS report here.) Sheila and Michele have written eloquently on this matter, as have Ralph Peters and Sgt Stryker, and I have little to add to what they have said..

The people who did this (assuming, of course, that the reports are accurate) have done their part toward erasing the line between civilization and barbarism. And they have done as much harm to their own country as anyone since Benedict Arnold. Ralph Peters, himself an experienced soldier, has this to say: "It's just possible that no soldiers in U.S. history have done more damage to our country's cause than the Gang of Six from the 800th Military Police Brigade."

Relativists and apologists for terrorism are seizing upon this fiasco to argue that the U.S. is just as bad as Saddam Hussein. But bear this in mind: In the U.S. army, people who do things like this are investigated, relieved from command, and court-martialled. In Saddam's army, people who did things like this were promoted.

12:13 PM

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