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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Sunday, October 31, 2004  

To regular readers, it will come as no surprise that I'll be voting to re-elect President Bush. Herewith, a summary of my reasons, beginning with some of the issues that, while important, have received relatively little recent attention in the campaign.

1) EDUCATION. America's public schools have long been dominated by a coalition of people who are much more concerned with the maintenance of certain bureaucratic forms than they are with education. The Democratic Party is completely in bed with these forces, and there is no possibility whatsoever of substantial improvement in education under a Democratic administration. A budget allocation is not, by itself, a strategy, but the Democrats are devoid of any ideas--except directing more money to people and institutions who have already proven that they can't or won't use it effectively. President Bush's plan may not be perfect, but he has at least demonstrated a willingness to consider new approaches.

If you are an academic, ask yourself: do you really enjoy having to teach high school graduates who known less than a 10th-grader should know, and are in some cases still semi-literate? Do you want to spend the rest of your career doing this? If you are a parent, or plan to become one, are you willing to sacrifice the future of your children to bureaucratic rigidity and false "expertise?" If you are a teacher, don't you think you could do a better job if relieved of some of the weirdness that originates with the educational Establishment? If you are anyone at all, do you really think America can survive as a society and a democracy when our schools are producing people with levels of historical knowledge like this and this?

Of course, education in the U.S. is primarily a state and local responsibility. However, the Federal Government does have a certain amount of leverage, and President Bush has demonstrated a clear willingness to use this leverage for genuine structural change.

(2) LITIGATION. The system of civil litigation in this country is out of control. Lawsuit fever is seriously damaging the economy and raising healthcare costs. More importantly, it is destroying the idea that the legal system is connected in any important way to justice, as that concept is generally understood. Out-of-control litigation also has a lot to do with the problems of the public schools: the inability to maintain minimal standards of order, combined with unfair and draconian "zero tolerance" policies.

A new Bush administration will rein in lawsuit abuse, while preserving the reasonable use of litigation. A Kerry administration would be a government of lawyers, for the benefit of lawyers.

(3) ANTI-SEMITISM. It would be incorrect to assume that this is an issue that concerns only Jews. Every society in which anti-Semitism has been widespread has also been a society in which other groups were sooner or later treated abusively--and usually it has been "sooner."

The Democratic Party has tolerated anti-Semitism in its midst to a very disturbing extent. This toleration has gone a long way toward making anti-Semitism once again "respectable" in polite society. Although I don't think that John Kerry is himself anti-Semitic, a Kerry administration would clearly increase the power of the extreme Left in American society--and it is from the extreme Left that most present-day anti-Semitism comes.

The Democratic Party, thru its tolerance of anti-Semitism in its midst, has disqualified itself as a governing party for the United States.

(4) THE ECONOMY AND SOCIAL MOBILITY. I see no evidence that John Kerry understands how a market economy works or that he understands the positive and creative role that business can play. His trade proposals, as I argue here, could have a serious negative effect on the economy. His ideas on tax policy seem to be based almost entirely on playing group against group, rather than on any serious thought about what would be good for the economy as a whole (as in the case of dividend policy.) He has been unsupportive of employee stock options, which are important both for the promotion of innovation and as a key component of social mobility.

Kerry's economic ideas could easily lead to a static economy, with perpetually high unemployment rates and with increasing class stratification.

(5) TERRORISM AND NATIONAL SECURITY. Most fundamentally, Kerry does not seem to understand the nature of our enemies. For example, he believes that we should foreswear the development of bunker-busting nuclear weapons--in order to provide the right role model to nations like Iran and North Korea. The primary issue here is not whether this particular weapons system is a good or a bad idea: it is the stunning naivite of a man who believes that the Iranian mullahs--people who are capable of gleefully hanging a 16-year-old girl for the "crime" of having sex--will be influenced by a U.S. example of disarmament. It is about as likely as the idea that Nazi Germany would have given up its expansionist plans had the U.S. and Britain agreed to give up the B-17 bomber and the Spitfire fighter.

Kerry has placed great emphasis on the creation of alliances. Alliances can be very useful; however, there are times a nation must take a stand, whether others will follow or not. Consider Britain's lonely fight against Naziism in 1940. The U.S. was then not available as a fully-fledged ally: should Britain therefore have declined to make a stand? Or consider the German armed movement into the Rhineland in 1936. France failed to take military action, due in part to Britain's probable unavailability as an ally. Had France acted alone, the Hitler regime would have almost certainly fallen--and WWII and the Holocaust would have been averted.

Experienced negotiators know: if you pre-announce that you are desperate for a deal, then that deal is going to be very expensive. Kerry has made such a major issue out of European alliances that any help he could get in Iraq from nations like France and Germany would be very expensive indeed. The abandonment of Israel would likely to be part of the down payment--but only part.

Throughout has career, Kerry has demonstrated sustained bad judgment on matters of national security. For example: in the wake of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, Kerry voted against a U.S. military response. Had Kerry's view prevailed, Saddam's economic power would have been tremendously expanded by the addition of Kuwait's oil resources. His diplomatic influence would have expanded accordingly. By now, we would almost certainly be facing a Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems.

(6) LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT SKILLS. Kerry has had very little experience in actually running anything. Executive management is not a trivial skill, and I have seen no evidence that Kerry possesses it.

Whenever anything goes wrong, Kerry has shown a disturbing tendency to instantly blame someone else. If he takes a tumble while snowboarding, it's "I don't fall down. That son of a bitch ran into me." And, in the wake of the Swift boats issue, there was this: Sen John Kerry is angry at the way his campaign has botched the attacks from the Swift boat veterans and has ordered a staff shakeup that will put former Clinton aides in top positions.

"The candidate is furious," a longtime senior Kerry adviser told the Daily News. "He knows the campaign was wrong. He wanted to go after the Swift boat attacks, but his top aides said no."
Kerry could, of course, have overridden their advice--but chose to accept it, and then, with advantage of hindsight, was "furious."

This is not the behavior of a leader.

(7) VIEW OF AMERICAN SOCIETY. In recent years, the Democratic Party has come to view American society as nothing more than a collection of competing interest groups--with the task of politics being to take from some groups and give to others, in a zero-sum fashion. I believe that John Kerry fully shares in this view.

It is as if the captain of a ship were to view a voyage soley in terms of taking sides in conflicts between the deck force and the engine room staff, or the bridge personnel and the galley stewards, without showing any concern over where the ship is, where it's supposed to be going, or into what dangers it may be running, and without any effort to build the sense of identity of the ship's crew as a whole. A bad thing at any time, but particularly under current circumstances.

(8) FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Over the last decade, it has become clear that wherever self-defined "progressives" take power, they act to shut down dissent--as demonstrated with great clarity in the case of many universities. During this campaign, Kerry supporters have again and again demonstrated their willingness to silence the speech of others. Yes, some Bush supporters have done the same, but the anti-free-speech pattern is much, much stronger among Kerry supporters. (See the Goon Squad series.) I don't want these people anywhere near the levers of national power.

(9) THOUGHT PROCESS. Finally, I believe that John Kerry has mental processes that are not up to the Presidency. His verbal style is convoluted; he uses words to obfuscate rather than to enlighten. His ideas are rigid: they are in part based on received New Deal wisdom and in part based on his own experiences in the late 1960s. I have seen no evidence that he has learned anything over the last 20 years or so, or that he has the creativity to develop new ways of looking at things or seriously innovative approaches to problems.

Although President Bush is not a great orator, I believe he uses words to clarify and communicate. He may not be an intellectual, but I believe he has the mental ability to cut through to the heart of a problem, rather than following hundreds of dead-end branches on an infinite decision tree. And that's what a leader needs to do.

Bush vs Kerry. In my view, it's not even close.

Re-elect President George W Bush.

5:40 PM


Dream tonight of peacock tails
Diamond fields and spouter whales
Ills are many, blessings few
But dreams tonight will shelter you.

Let the vampire's creaking wing
Hide the stars while banshees sing
Let the ghouls gorge all night long
Dreams will keep you safe and strong

Skeletons with poison teeth
Risen from the world beneath
Ogre, troll, and loup-garou
Bloody wraith who looks like you

Shadow on the window shade
Harpies in a midnight raid
Goblins seeking tender prey
Dreams will chase them all away

Dreams are like a magic cloak
Woven by the fairy folk
Covering from top to toe
Keeping you from winds and woe

And should the Angel come this night
To fetch your soul away from light
Cross yourself, and face the wall
Dreams will help you not at all

(Thomas Pynchon, in his novel "V")

4:39 PM


From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye
And the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye!

That of your five sound sense
You never be forsaken
Nor wander from
Yourself with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon

The moon's my constant mistress
And the lonely owl my marrow
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow

I know more than Apollo
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars
At mortal wars
And the rounded welkin weeping

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a burning spear
And a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander

By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end
Methinks it is no journey

(Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn't it? This is Tom O'Bedlam's Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)

8:37 AM

Saturday, October 30, 2004  

Humalia Akrawy is a 22-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman. Her father was tortured by Saddam's regime, and lost the full use of his hands. Her brother was killed: one of his legs and part of an arm were sent back to the family. She tells of what happened in Iraq following the 9/11 attacks on the United States: "When 9/11 happened, Saddam ordered a 3 day celebration with feasts and parades. Some people did not want to celebrate those attacks. He had those who did not participate brutally executed in public."

Following the invasion by Coalition forces, she volunteered to become a translator for the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. In revenge, the enemy ambushed what they thought was her car, killing her sister instead. She then received a letter: "We know we missed killing you, but we will be back," and her home was blown up.

Humalia Akrawy helped her remaining family members move to a relatively safe area, in the far north of the country and then returned to her job. In fact, she accepted a new position as the translator for Lieutenant General Petraeus himself--a position carrying even more risk because of its high profile.

People like Michael Moore compare the enemy in Iraq to the American Minutemen and to the members of the French Resistance. Actually, it is courageous individuals such as Humalia Akrawy who should be compared to the Minutemen and the Resistance.

These are individuals who would face a gruesome death in the event of a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq.

(Definitely read the whole thing at Winds of Change. You may have to try again later as they are currently having bandwidth-limit problems.)

4:56 PM


Many people are concerned about potentially losing their jobs to "outsourcing" (more properly called "offshoring.") Senator Kerry has proposed a plan that he claims would reduce such job losses. But how would Kerry's plan actually work in practice?

The plan isn't very detailed (and, when InfoWorld magazine called Kerry HQ to ask for more specifics, the call wasn't returned.) But here's the essence, as I understand it:

Under the Kerry plan, companies with operations abroad would no longer be able to defer U.S. income taxes on the activities of their foreign subsidiaries. Every if a company is already paying foreign taxes on their operations in country "X," they will also have to pay U.S. income taxes, and pay them without deferral. Exception: "Kerry's plan will still allow companies to defer the income they earn when they locate production in a foreign country that serves that foreign country's markets."

Now, consider this scenario. An American company assembles products in the U.S., using components that it produces offshore. (This is a pretty common way of doing things; see example here.) Let's say they assemble air conditioners in Ohio, while producing the electric motors for the product in Snarkistan. Under the Kerry plan, they will suddenly find themselves paying a (potentially very high) combined tax rate on their Snarkistan operations. What to do? The obvious reaction will be to close the Snarkistan plant, and buy the motors from some other company--Siemens, let's say. The direct production work for the motors will stay in Snarkistan, while product designers and project managers in Ohio (who were assigned to the motor products) will lose their jobs. Indeed, the company might will decide to simply stop producing air conditioners itself and subcontract all production--assembly as well as components--to a contract manufacturer in Snarkistan. Why would this be a good thing for workers in Ohio?

Understanding the likelihood of the above scenario requires only a very basic knowledge of business. Why wasn't this obvious to the Kerry crew?

In his remarks quoted a few posts down, Jack Welch said that a leader should have the ability to "see around corners." When it comes to business and economics, I don't think John Kerry can see around corners even if the walls are made of glass.

9:44 AM


I've read a great deal about the French collapse of 1940. It's not an aspect of history with which most Americans are very familiar, but in my view it's a very important one. In his book 1940: The Fall of France, Andre Beaufre writes: The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century. This may sound strange to American ears, but in my view Beaufre is pretty close to correct. Had the French Army held, the Hitler regime would have almost certainly fallen. And, as I said in an earlier post: "There would have been no Nazi conquest of Western Europe, no Nazi assault on the Soviet Union, no Holocaust, most likely no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe."

So, why did the defeat occur? To understand the roots of this catastrophe, one must study social history, political history, and military history. While the proximate causes are to be found in military factors (dispersion rather than concentration of armored forces, in particular), the root causes lie in social and political factors. Anyone reading about France in the 1930s will be struck by the deep divisions in its society, and the extraordinarily vitriolic nature of its politics. Consider, for example, the matter of Leon Blum. In the late 1930s, the following phrase was popular among French elites:

Better Hitler than Blum.

So, who was Blum? A murderous monster, with his fangs dripping blood? A Stalinist outdoing his master in cruelty and madness? No...Leon Blum (Premier 1936-37) was a fairly mild Socialist, best known for his advocacy of the 8-hour day. Something about him inspired crazed hatred on the part of French Conservatives and Rightists. "A man to shoot in the back," wrote Charles Maurras, and he was by no means alone in such sentiments. As Julian Jackson puts it in his book The Fall of France: "Politics in France in the 1930s had reached a pitch of violence that had something of the atmosphere of civil war."

And when the Germans invaded in 1940, this atmosphere continued. Far too often, events were judged in terms of their political impact, rather than their impact on the survival of France. Again from my earlier post: After the German attack began, Georges Mandel, the courageous Minister of the Interior, observed a Deputy (legislator) whose district had been bombed by the enemy...he went about the lobbies (of the Chamber of Deputies), screaming "I will interpellate the government on this outrage as soon as the Chamber meets!" Mandel remarked to his friend, the English General Edward Spears, about the disconnect of this behavior from reality. "Paris is bombed by the Germans? Let's shake our fists at our own Government."

It is virtually impossible to win a war when politics is being conducted in such a manner...when the "enemy" across the aisle is hated more than the enemy in the bombers overhead.

Leon Blum and George W Bush are, of course, two very different men, believing in very different kinds of things. But it is hard not to hear an echo of the insane Blum-hatred of the late 1930s in the insane Bush-hatred of today. And it is hard not to hear the echo of that Deputy of 1940 in John Kerry's intemperate attacks on President Bush.

Let us hope that the outcome is not so disastrous this time.

UPDATE: An article by David Brooks provides an excellent example of the irresponsible Kerry behavior referenced above. Following the release of the Osama bin Laden video: Kerry did say that we are all united in the fight against bin Laden, but he just couldn't help himself. His first instinct was to get political.

On Milwaukee television, he used the video as an occasion to attack the president: "He didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down Osama bin Laden. He outsourced the job." Kerry continued with a little riff from his stump speech, "I am absolutely confident I have the ability to make America safer."

Even in this shocking moment, this echo of Sept. 11, Kerry saw his political opportunities and he took 'em. There's such a thing as being so nakedly ambitious that you offend the people you hope to impress.

But politics has shaped Kerry's approach to this whole issue. Back in December 2001, when bin Laden was apparently hiding in Tora Bora, Kerry supported the strategy of using Afghans to hunt him down. He told Larry King that our strategy "is having its impact, and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way."

But then the political wind shifted, and Kerry recalculated. Now Kerry calls the strategy he supported "outsourcing." When we rely on allies everywhere else around the world, that's multilateral cooperation, but when Bush does it in Afghanistan, it's "outsourcing." In Iraq, Kerry supports using local troops to chase insurgents, but in Afghanistan he is in post hoc opposition.

There is nothing irrational about using local allies--who know the language, know the terrain, may even know some of the local people--to perform a sensitive mission. And, as Brooks noted, Kerry supported this approach at the time, which is when the decision had to be made. But now he attacks it, because it gives him the opportunity to make a cute play on the word "outsourcing." This is not the behavior of a man who is a serious player in matters of national security.

(link via Betsy)

8:21 AM

Friday, October 29, 2004  

Back in January, Jack Welch offered some thoughts on the various Democratic candidates, in the light of his model for leadership skills. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal (10/28, registration required), he suggestes five questions that people might want to ask themselves about President Bush and Senator Kerry. Except for the last question, they all deal with leadership skills rather than with positions on particular issues.

Is He Real? What a crazy question, right? But authenticity really matters when it comes to crisis leadership. A person cannot make hard decisions, hold unpopular positions, or stand tall for what he believes unless he knows who he is and feels comfortable in his own skin...When I was at GE, we would occasionally encounter a very successful executive who just could not be promoted to the next level. In the early days, we would struggle with our reasoning. The person demonstrated the right values and made the numbers, but usually his people did not connect with him. What was wrong? Finally, we figured out that these people always had a certain phoniness about them. They pretended to be something they were not -- more in control, more upbeat, more savvy than they really were. They didn't sweat. They didn't cry. They squirmed in their own skin, playing a role of their own inventing.

A leader in times of crisis can't have an iota of fakeness in him. He has to know himself -- and like himself -- so that he can be straight with the world, energize his followers, and lead with the authority born of authenticity.

Does He See Around Corners? Every leader has to have a vision and predict the future, of course, but great leaders in tough times must have a special ability to anticipate the radically unexpected. In business, the best leaders in brutally competitive environments have a "sixth sense" for market changes, as well as moves by existing competitors and new entrants. For the next president in our new world, a "sixth sense" is not enough. He needs a seventh sense -- paranoia about what lurks in dark corners we cannot even see.

Who's Around Him? In tough times in particular, a leader needs to surround himself with people who are smarter than he is, and they must have the grit to disagree with him and each other...A great leader has the courage to put together a team of people who sometimes make him look like the dumbest person in the room! I know that sounds counterintuitive. You want your leader to be the smartest person in the room -- but if he acts like that, he won't get half the pushback he must get to make the best decisions.

Does He Get Back on the Horse? Every leader makes mistakes, every leader stumbles and falls. The question is, does he learn from his mistakes, regroup, and then get going again with renewed speed, conviction, and confidence?...when I placed people in new leadership situations, I always looked for candidates who had one or two very tough experiences. I particularly liked the people who had had the wind knocked clear out of them, but proved they could run even harder in the next race.

The world around us is going to knock any leader off his horse more than once. He must know how to get back up in the saddle again.

Is He Pro-Business? ...A great leader in this day and age must appreciate the value of business to the world. He cannot beat it down, denigrate its participants, or create an environment where business people must struggle to build opportunity. When business is weak, America is weak.

8:52 AM


An extremely disturbing article about the recent "conference" at Duke University; Inside Duke's Hate Fest. I won't try to summarize it; please read the whole thing.

8:17 AM

Thursday, October 28, 2004  

David Gelernter points out an interesting difference between the candidates: President Bush has something resembling a sense of humor, while Senator Kerry appears to have none at all.

It's often seemed to me that sense of humor is correlated with intelligence, or at least with a particular kind of intelligence...fluid, quick, and adaptable being the earmarks.

6:16 PM

Monday, October 25, 2004  

From the Washington Post: Talk to young lefty activists now and they sound like (Laura) Ingraham did then, like the fresh-out-of-Stanford, newly minted millionaire Silicon Valley executives did in the '90s: Whatever they're wearing is the thing to be wearing; whatever they're doing on Friday night is the thing to be doing. They're happy, doubt-free, and the world can come to them.

"We have one thing they don't have," says Asad Raza, an NYU grad student and a member of Downtown for Democracy, a political action committee of artists and the tastemakers for the protest crowd. "We have a monopoly on downtown cool and hipsterism, and that's one thing that's not co-optable."


Raza says that when he went to his first D4D gathering, he expected khakis and button-down shirts, but that's not what he found. "These people are stylish. Wait, I can hang out with these people, this is fun," he remembers thinking. Within 45 minutes, he was handing out fliers and proselytizing.

For this latest Ohio trip, Raza wears a Gilbert and George shirt, limited-edition political art of the early '80s. "Are you angry or are you boring?" it says. He looks like he hasn't shaved in two days.

George W. Bush has a "brand" and by now D4D has built up a competing one, Raza says. "A lot of people hear the name and they associate it with cool parties and music and art, so we have this in.

"When people come to the party, it means they're interested in what's new and cool and hip and we just go around personifying that."

But as Leon Wieselier (literary editor of the New Republic) says: "What they practice is not exactly politics. It's a frenzy of emotion, of self-love, of self-congratulation in which you pay tribute to yourself and all the things you believe and all the people like yourself who believe in all the things that you believe."


And the present era, in particular, is a time when politics needs to be taken as something much more serious than just another fashion form.

Little Miss Attila has some good advice for those who are tempted to make their electoral choice based on "coolness" considerations:

...political thought is not an aesthetic issue, but one that requires reason and common sense. In other words, when you are thinking about your vote, do not use the part of your mind that puts your wardrobe together, or arranges your art on the wall, or engages in any creative endeavor: this project needs your problem-solving mind, the part of you that figures out how you're going to make more money this month when you're short on rent, or how to open new markets for your small business, or how to position yourself so you can get that promotion next year, or how to sell your art. This realm is a function of your left brain; fashion and aesthetics have nothing to do with it.

(Her entire post, Letter to an Undecided Voter, is well worth reading in full.)

7:27 PM


Cognitive style is shaping up as a major issue for many people in this election. David, who posts at OxBlog, explains his opposition to Bush this way:

As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.

Judith , of the blog Kesher Talk, slams him, thusly: Spoken like a true ivory tower "there is only one kind of intelligence and it's the kind I have" nerd. That's right, Bush does not have the type of intelligence of a professional researcher, and Kerry does. Kerry will do lots of research. After we're attacked again. And he'll make sure he builds a case that will stand up in the court of world opinion. And it will be a professionally researched case that any Oxford PhD can respect.

But there are other kinds of intelligence, which young ivory tower nerds might learn about if they knock about the world for a bit.

I know that's condescending, David. But you give me a line like that, it's very hard not to be.

Judith also makes the point that "there are many different kinds of intelligence, and one of the things I appreciate about Bush is that they are all represented in his cabinet."

I would add that, even among professional researchers, there are many types of intelligence. David is a scholar in international relations; I suspect that the way international relations people think tends to be different from people who do their research in, say, computer science, metallurgy, literature, or philosophy--and further, that thought processes in these fields have significant differences from one another. Each field tends to attract people with certain ways of thinking, and then to further develop those patterns of thought. It's important not to view one's own cognitive style as a kind of "universal solvent," capable of dealing with problems of any nature.

Anyone seriously interested in the questions of cognitive style and decision-making effectiveness owes it to themselves to read The Logic of Failure, by Prof Dietrich Doerner, which I have reviewed here.

6:49 AM

Sunday, October 24, 2004  

October 24, 1929, was a Thursday, ever since to be known as "Black Thursday." On that day began the stock market slide that heralded the coming of the Great Depression.

At its peak, the overall unemployment rate was to reach 25%...but the rate was more like one out of three among non-farming workers (the farmers, of course, were also in terrible trouble even though they weren't technically "unemployed") The Gross National Product fell by almost half. Malnutrition and even outright starvation were common.

7:28 PM


Thomas Sowell quotes President Franklin D Roosevelt: If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is risk in any course we take. (Dec 29, 1940)

Sowell suggests that these words should be borne in mind by those who, like John Kerry, demand precise answers to questions like: Precisely what will the war in Iraq cost? Exactly when will our troops be out of Iraq? Sowell: ..today there are those who think you can "plan" everything and that anything bad that happens is the fault of leaders who did not "plan" for it right. "Plan" seems to be a magic word politically.

Sowell goes on: No one asked FDR why he did not "plan' for the devastating surprise German counterattack that led to the Battle of the Bulge. We were adults and knew that wars do not run on a timetable or a road map, much less on an itemized budget.

Indeed, Kerry and his supporters seem to believe that a war can be conducted in a manner that resembles a railroad timetable--not the timetable of a real railroad, but of a wholly-imaginary one in which things like derailments and equipment failures never happen. What really scares me is that I don't think it's just politics: I think many of them actually believe these things, and that these views reveal serious deficiencies in thought processes.

As the strategist Helmuth von Moltke said: No plan survives contact with the enemy. This does not mean, of course, that one should not plan: certainly, von Moltke would have agreed that planning and analysis are very important activities. But one should not expect reality to be overly-respectful of the results of one's planning.

Kerry has not spent much time actually running anything. And, when you don't have the experience of actually running things, or doing things that are expected to produce tangible results--when you haven't had the experience of having your plan make contact with intractable reality, whether the reality of customers and competition if you are a businessperson, or the reality of natural forces if you are a farmer or an engineer--it is very easy to develop an exalted opinion of the role of planning.

8:57 AM


Here's an analysis (registration required), based on a comparison of military test results in the candidates' military records, that suggests President Bush actually has a higher IQ than Senator Kerry. The analysis puts Bush's IQ in the mid-120s, and Kerry's at 120. Doesn't sound like much of a difference, but these numbers would put Bush in about the 95th percentile of the population, implying that only 5% of Americans are smarter (as measured by IQ) than he is, while putting Kerry in the 91st percentile of the population, implying that 9% of Americans have higher IQs than he does.

From the linked article: Linda Gottfredson, an I.Q. expert at the University of Delaware, called it a creditable analysis said she was not surprised at the results or that so many people had assumed that Mr. Kerry was smarter. "People will often be misled into thinking someone is brighter if he says something complicated they can't understand," Professor Gottfredson said.

It's indeed true that lack of clarity is often taken for profundity; I suspect that all of us can think of examples of this from among the people we know.

But I think there's another (though related) factor contributing to the Kerry-is-smarter, and it has a lot to do with matters of social class. See my earlier post, Is John Kerry Smart?

8:14 AM

Saturday, October 23, 2004  

The generation of electricity from sunlight is usually viewed in terms of large arrays of solar cells, to be mounted on rooftops, in deserts, or wherever, and directly exposed to the rays of the sun. Energy Innovations is developing a different approach, incarnated in a product known as Sunflower. (Energy Innovations is funded by Idealab, best known as an "incubator" of Internet-related businesses.) Sunflower will use an array of small mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on a relatively small solar-cell surface. The mirrors are computer-controlled to move in precise patterns, so that as the sun travels across the sky, its rays will still be concentrated at the right point.

What's the advantage of this approach? As I read it, the idea is to optimize the utilization of the most expensive resource--the solar cell itself--by using a relatively inexpensive resource (the mirrors) to capture light from a wider area. Why lots of little mirrors instead of one big one? Apparently, it permits the whole system to be flatter, resulting in fewer issues with wind and possibly in aesthetic advantages as well. Overall, the idea is to create a product which can be mass-produced at a cost per watt which is significantly lower than current approaches.

A single Sunflower is said to produce 750 watts at peak output. Of course, the problems of energy storage--a bane of both solar and wind energy--are unchanged by this approach. It's interesting that Energy Innovations started out with an approach that would focus on the use of a heat engine, rather than on solar cells, and is continuing with research on this approach while pursuing the solar-cell-based approach for an initial product--seems to me that a heat-engine approach could have some inherent storage capabilities.

It's also interesting that Sunflower's design has used "genetic algorithms" (simulated evolution)--see my earlier post here for a description of what this is all about.

More detail on Sunflower here.

9:15 PM

Friday, October 22, 2004  

In her book The Burden of Bad Ideas, Heather MacDonald tells about an education class at a well-known university. The title of the course was "Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education." The name of the professor is a pseudonym.

As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson's course doesn't give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn't, either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by "building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing." On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be "getting the students to develop the subtext of what they're doing." I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.

"Developing the subtext" turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. After taking attendance and--most admirably--quickly checking the students' weekly handwriting practice, Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light "texts," both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions: "What excites me about teaching?" "What concerns me about teaching?" and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: "What was it like to do this writing?"

This last question triggers a quickening volley of self-reflective turns. After the students read aloud their predictable reflections on teaching, Professor Nelso asks: "What are you hearing?" A young man states the obvious: "Everyone seems to be reflecting on what their anxieties are." This is too straightforward an answer. Professor Nelson translates into ed-speak: "So writing gave you permission to think on paper about what's there."

And so on, in an infinity of mirrors.

Remember, this is an elementary education class. These students are going to be elementary school teachers, not professors of hip pseudo-philosophy. How could anyone think a class like this could equip someone to face a classroom? And, I'm afraid, this isn't just some kind of isolated exception. (See Ed School Follies, by Rita Kramer, for a comprehensive look at what goes on in America's colleges of education. See also my earlier Ed School Confidential post.)

Can anyone seriously believe that major improvement can take place in America's primary and secondary schools when the system is so dominated by people who think like this? Add more dollars to the already-vast river of dollars being spent, and, without structural change, you'll merely get more gabbling about things like "permission" and "rich of talk."

I think the Democratic Party is completely in bed with the educational powers-that-be that have created this kind of thing, that enjoy it, that profit from it, and that care not at all about the human wreckage that it leaves in its wake. A Democratic win in this campaign would be a major setback for any serious reform of American's educational system.

8:24 PM


Megan, AKA Jane Galt, hasn't quite made up her mind who she's going to vote for. She's asking for people to present well-thought-out arguments for their favored candidate. You can participate here.

3:35 PM


Republican web sites--specifically, those run President Bush's re-election committee and the National Republican Committee--were knocked down for several hours on Wednesday due to denial of service attacks. This from Investors Business Daily (10/22), which also says that no similar attacks have been reported against Kerry campaign websites.

So many of today's "progressives" seem to prefer their Voltaire with a slight twist: Death to what you say, and I disagree with your right to say it.

Previous goon squad report here.

1:00 PM


It has become an article of faith on the part of Democrats that Saddam had no substantive links to terrorism. Deroy Murdock has created a website that shows very clearly that this assertion is false. See also his article on the same subject, here.

9:41 AM


Picked up a copy of The Mind at Work, by Mike Rose. Rose analyzes the cognitive aspects of jobs including: waitress, hairstylist, carpenter, plumber, and welder. He offers thoughts on vocational education, along with a retrospective on Frederick Taylor's work in developing the concepts of "scientific management." This book may be a useful corrective to much current simplistic thinking about "knowledge workers." After I've finished it and had time to reflect, I'll try to get around to writing a review.

9:02 AM

Wednesday, October 20, 2004  

Today, Senator Kerry attacked President Bush for displaying "contempt" for other countries.

Contempt for other countries? You mean like this?

According to Corriere della Sera, Kerry said that the conditions of the Iraqi army were so bad that "even the Italian Army could kick their asses."

Kerry evidently believes that the only way to be respectful of another county is to do what the leaders of that country tell you to do...at least if that country is one of a certain privileged set. But what if the decisions of that country's leaders are motivated by the narrowest type of short-term thinking about their own interests? Should the U.S. always be bound by their conclusions? It's always been clear that the opposition of many nations to the invasion of Iraq was based on their calculations of how much money they could make by trading with Saddam's government; now, in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal, it appears likely that personal corruption has played a large role as well. Kerry shows no sign of having come to terms with these factors.

7:21 PM


It has been reported that Zhila Izadi, a 13-year-old Iranian girl, has been condemned to death by stoning.

And, today, Iran conducted a successful test of an improved Shahab-3 missile. Its range has been extended to 2000km, up from the previous 1300km, and the accuracy of the guidance system is said to have been improved.

See also Noose, Bomb, and Rocket.

7:27 AM

Tuesday, October 19, 2004  

Marty Peretz, editor in chief of the New Republic, writes:

Like many American Jews, I was brought up to believe that if I pulled the Republican lever on the election machine my right hand would wither and, as the Psalmist says, my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth.

However, Peretz believes that John Kerry has given him reasons to reconsider this position. More excerpts:

(Kerry) flip-flopped on the miles of trenches and fences Israel is building to defend itself from the plague of terrorism, first attacking the structure as "another barrier to peace," then accepting it as "a legitimate act of self-defense."

He has also floundered concerning what can be expected of Yasser Arafat. Just as Arafat was launching the second intifada in 2000, Kerry asserted optimistically that we must "look to Chairman Arafat to exert much greater leadership." Three days later, he portentously declared the obvious on CBS' "Face the Nation," calling the Israel-Palestinian conflict "an extraordinarily complicated, incredibly deep-rooted problem." What made this problem so extraordinary and incredible? "Arafat has forces around him, underneath him, close by him that don't want peace, that are working against what he is doing," Kerry said by way of exoneration. (And, to sustain the moral equivalence of the parties in his head, he added, "The same is true of Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak" — which was nonsense, as there wasn't a single such person in Barak's circle.)

Peretz is particularly concerned about:

..(Kerry's) foreign policy in general, especially his fixation on the United Nations as the arbiter of international legitimacy, proctor of that "global test."

Save for the U.S. veto in the Security Council, Israel loses every struggle at the U.N. against lopsided majorities....I've searched to find one time when Kerry — even candidate Kerry — criticized a U.N. action or statement against Israel. I've come up empty. Nor has he defended Israel against the European Union's continuous hectoring. Another thing that bothers me about Kerry is the deus ex machina he has up his sleeve: the appointment of a presidential envoy. It's hard to count how many special emissaries have been dispatched from Washington to the Middle East to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. What's easy to see is that none of them has gotten to "yes."

In recent years, both former CIA Director George Tenet and former Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, once the chief of the U.S. Central Command, have served in this meaningless position. And who would Kerry designate? He first suggested the sanctimonious Jimmy Carter and James Baker, Bush 41's secretary of state.


To project his Middle East bona fides, Kerry has bashed President Bush dozens of times for supposedly showing no interest in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, for breaking a continuum going back at least 30 years.

"Some cliches," wrote the dovish Israeli journalist Aluf Benn in the even more dovish Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "become permanent features in public until someone takes the trouble to check out their validity."

Which is what Benn did. And what did he find? The Bush administration "has been far more involved than any previous administrations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has courageously presented the two sides with practical objectives and demands."

and finally

Bush's empathy for the government in Israel is particularly remarkable, because empathy was altogether foreign to both Bush pere and his secretary of State. One can only imagine the horror of George H.W. and Baker (to whom the current president may actually owe his office) in seeing the inheritor become a true ally of Israel. Yet there it is. And with his understanding of — and sympathy for — the Israeli predicament, Bush has coaxed from Sharon an agreement to withdraw unilaterally from all the Gaza settlements and from four in the West Bank — something even left-wing governments, as Benn puts it, "were afraid to do."

Kerry, meanwhile, appears ready to formulaically follow the failed precepts of the past, complete with photo ops and multiple interlocutors. This is a road map to nowhere.

The title of the article is "Kerry the Clueless."

4:17 PM


Here is an extraordinarily repellant statement, made Feb 5, 2004, by Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church & Society:

The only possible way war [the war in Iraq-ed] could be sold to the American people was to allege that Saddam’s regime represented an imminent threat to a frightened United States. We now know that plans to invade Iraq were afoot more than a decade ago by a far right band of Washington insiders known as neoconservatives. Their plans were not to remake the Middle East into a bunch of democracies—they really have no objection to several of the royal autocracies and dictatorships in the region—but to ensure Israel could continue to act with impunity against the Palestinian people.

See an analysis of this and similar "progressive" thinking here

3:49 PM

Monday, October 18, 2004  

Carnival of the Capitalists is up. It's a collection of posts on business and economics.

8:25 AM

Sunday, October 17, 2004  

Rose, at No Credentials, has additional thoughts on this topic, which I wrote about a few days ago.

6:14 PM


Bose Corporation is known, of course, for its high-end audio systems. For Bose to become a supplier of automotive suspension systems might seem like a bit of a stretch. But, that's what they're planning to do. And the audio field and the suspension field turn out not to be as far apart as they might seem at first glance. For one thing, the mathematics involved in the analysis of the respective systems is apparently pretty similar.

Dr Amar Bose, founder of the company, has long had an interest in automobile suspensions, and was particularly intrigued by the air suspension in a 1958 Pontiac he once owned, and also the hydropneumatic system of a Citroen. After 20 years of work, the company is now ready to talk about its concepts.

The basic idea is to use linear electric motors in place of the traditional shock absorbers. These use magnetic fields to produce a force whose value can be precisely controlled, as commanded by the car's computer system. So, if the left front wheel is going over a sudden dip in the road, the linear motor adds force, driving that wheel downwards to meet the profile of the road and keeping the car level. The same process works, in reverse, when the wheel encounters a bump.

Neal Lackritz, an engineer on the program, remembers when he first saw a test vehicle with the new suspension driving over bumps in a parking lot. "I remember thinking: 'A car cannot do that. It's impossible.' "

Several engineering challenges lie ahead before the system is ready for commercial deployment, and Bose has not yet identified (or at least, has not yet announced) an automotive partner to deliver cars with its suspensions installed. Also, manufacturers of traditional suspension systems may have ways to further improve the performance of their own products, without going to the radically-different approach of the Bose system.

But the Bose idea does fit in with the general automotive trend toward more use of computer control and of electrically-powered devices, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Bose suspension systems available in the marketplace--on high-end vehicles--in a few years.

A very interesting marketing challenge for Bose--expanding its brand image from audio systems to encompass automotive suspensions.

See: Contra Costa Times

New York Times

4:12 PM

Saturday, October 16, 2004  

Here's an interesting little note in the book Why Smart Executives Fail, by Sydney Finkelstein.

In a fascinating study on CEO hubris, professors Mathew Hayward and Donald Hambrick investigated whether hubris was related to the price paid by the CEO's company in an acquisition. Tapping such indicators of hubris as media praise for the CEO and CEO compensation relative to the number-two executive, they found that the higher the CEO hubris, the more money it spent. For example, on average each additional highly favorable press acount of the CEO translated to an almost 5 percent increase in premium paid. That's right, glowing reports puffed up CEOs to believe that they could pay more because they were good enough to make it back and then some...

Now, a few cautionary points should be noted here. Sometimes, an acquisition premium is justified. There are cases in the world where a company becomes more valuable as part of Amalgamated Entities than as a stand-alone operation (although these cases are less common than hopeful acquirers lead themselves to believe.) And there also are companies out there that the market has just plain undervalued (often because they aren't trendy at the moment.) But, on the average, it probably is indeed useful to consider a large acquistion premium as an indicator of "paying too much."

Similarly, getting lots of positive press notices by no means an unambiguous sign of "executive hubris." Sometimes, "patient merit" is indeed recognized by the business media, and there are also cases where it makes business sense for a CEO to seek publicity, independent of personal ego factors.. But again, used in conjunction with other indicators (like the relative compensation indicator mentioned in the quote) the publicity indicator may be meaningful in the context used here.

I haven't read the original paper, just the summary exerpted. Based on this, I'd say it's an interesting idea, and one that fits common sense, but needs to be used with caution in individual cases.

4:34 PM


A wise and very successful CEO once said this to me: Startup companies succeed by having very smart people working on very small things.

By "very small things," he did not mean "small" in the sense of unimportant. He meant "small" in the sense of the existing market size and the (highly-related) visibility on the collective radar screen.

Consider an innovative product idea, but one which is somewhat out of the industry mainstream. In a new company, the person with primary responsibility for this idea may be a CEO who is a highly experienced executive with a strong track record in other companies. In a long-established company, the person spearheading the idea might well be a junior product manager, 7 layers deep in the organizational hierarchy and just a few years out of business school. (In the established company, the very senior people are more likely to be focused on the products which have already demonstrated their ability to serve billion-dollar markets.)

And, even if the startup company is being run by a founder with relatively little business experience, he has likely been able to attract a staff of highly experienced people...CFO, VP Marketing, product engineers. These people, in the startup, are entirely focused on the product/market to which the startup is dedicated...whereas, in the established company, the product may receive only slices of allocated attention from pooled engineering and marketing groups, which have no particular committment to it.

Thus, although from the outside it may look as if we have an unequal battle between a small startup and a huge established company...when you look at it in more detail, it really may be a battle between Ms Experienced CEO and her dedicated (in two senses of the word) team, and Mr wet-behind-the-ears kid with whatever not-nailed-down corporate resources he has been able to round up.

So, why do very smart and experienced people choose to work for relatively new companies? It's usually not the salary. The upper limit of salaries in an organization tends to be closely tied to the amount of money flowing through that organization. (This is true in the nonprofit world as well as in the corporate world...a $1 billion nonprofit is likely to pay its executives far better than a $10 million nonprofit, irrespective of the value of the work that they are doing.) A company which has little in the way of an established revenue base will rarely be able to match the behemoths in terms of pure salary. But what new companies have been able to offer is the potential of significant equity participation...often not only to senior executives, but to a broad base of employees who choose to take the risk of joining the enterprise.

Anything that makes it more difficult for new companies to offer equity participation would make it more difficult for them to attract the talent they need in order to be successful. It would tend to keep the most talented engineers, executives, and marketeers working for established institutions, rather than pursuing innovation as part of a new business. And that would seriously undercut America's most significant comparative advantage--business innovation--in the global marketplace.

7:30 AM

Friday, October 15, 2004  

I've written before about the question of whether employee stock options should be expensed, as per the ruling of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). According to Investor's Business Daily (10/13), President Bush opposes the expensing of options. "Stock options have been critical to the amazing entrepreneurial success story of our technology industry," said Bailey. "President Bush has urged the SEC to carefully examing the FASB recommendations."

Kerry's position, on the other hand, has been reported by the Washington Post as follow: "Kerry applauded steps by Microsoft Corp. to eliminate stock options for employees and said all publicly traded companies should be required to expense such options."

Honorable and intelligent people can disagree on the question of whether employee stock options should be expensed and, if so, precisely how. I doubt that either Bush or Kerry understands the accounting issues involved in any serious depth. But what worries me is that Kerry doesn't seem to display much appreciation for the role that broadly-based employee equity stakes can play in developing new enterprises and in promoting social mobility. One would hope that a self-defined liberal, with his constant talk about "working people," would be more concerned about the "promoting social mobility" point. (Does the phrase "working people," in Kerry's mind, include computer programmers, engineers, marketing specialists, documentation writers, etc? If not, the base of "working people" gets a lot smaller.) Equity ownership in corporations, in the form of employee stock options, has to date been an important means for "working people" to gain serious wealth. I would think that a leader truly concerned about social mobility would be concerned about the likely reduction in such social mobility that could follow as a result of options expensing. I would think that such a leader would think long and hard about whether the purported benefits of expensing, in terms of accounting accuracy, are really worth the harm that could be caused. And I would think that such a leader--even if, after careful consideration, he truly believed that options truly do need to be expensed for accounting accuracy--would have said something like "Even with the P&L impact of expensing, I hope that companies--especially relatively new ones--will make every effort to maintain and extend broad-based equity incentive programs through employee stock options or other vehicles."

But I don't think that John Kerry is really very interested in giving large numbers of Americans the opportunity to acquire significant financial assets, for reasons discussed in the post below.

(Note: In the specific case of Microsoft, they have stated that they intend to issue restricted-stock grants instead of options. These will inherently be less leveraged on both the upside and the downside than options...less gain if the stock price goes up, less to lose if it goes down. My concern is more with companies that are smaller and at an earlier stage, and need to be able to offer compensation that reflects an appropriate risk/reward profile.)

9:04 AM

Wednesday, October 13, 2004  

A few days ago, I passed along Annika's ideas about the similarities between George W Bush and Harry S Truman. Now, Roger Simon suggests that John Kerry is the ultimate conservative:

..the Ultimate Conservative - not in politics, mind you, but in temperament. He is the man of the status quo par excellence. Nothing changes or should change in the World According to Kerry. All this talk of nuance is simply a mask for stasis. These "subtleties" of thought are almost never original, merely idea rotation for its own sake, going nowhere and deliberately so. The real(motivating) idea is not to move. No wonder he is so appealing to the solons of the Mainstream Media who benefit so greatly by this status quo..

I think that tempermentally, Kerry isn't just an extreme conservative...he's a Tory. And he speaks for many other individuals who are tempermentally Tories. These are people who want everything in its place and, more importantly, everyone in their place. They are uncomfortable with the idea of people gaining wealth they didn't inherit, marry, or obtain through political connections. They are uncomfortable with the idea of uncredentialled people challenging the expertise of tenured professors or of major media figures. They are flat-out appalled with the idea of people starting schools outside of the established bureaucracies.

To people who think like this, the aura of aristocratic arrogance that clings to Kerry is probably a positive rather than a negative.

5:03 PM


Kerry has previously offended the President of Poland by failing to credit that country's efforts in Iraq. Now, Kerry moves to higher level of proactivity in the insulting of allies.

According to Corriere della Sera, Kerry said that the conditions of the Iraqi army were so bad that "even the Italian Army could kick their asses."

The Italian Defense Minister remarked that Kerry, "instead of saying what he thinks, should think about what he says."

What an accomplishment. Kerry has managed to insult two allies at once.

I thought everyone had retired the snide jokes about a purported Italian lack of the martial virtues after hearing about this.

3:55 PM


While we're talking about New York liberals....here are some words from former NYC Mayor Ed Koch:

If Senator John Kerry is elected, I have no doubt our determination to hunt down terrorists who threaten the security, not only of the U.S., but of our allies, will diminish. Terrorists have had major successes in imposing their demands on nations like Spain, the Philippines and Turkey, all of which have given in to terrorist threats by removing military or civilian personnel from Iraq.

We are in a war with Islamic fanatics willing to sacrifice their lives in a way not seen since Japan sent Kamikaze pilots against the allies in World War II, except that the Kamikazes attacked only military targets. Their stated goal is the revival of the Islamic Caliphate that once ruled a major part of the world. They seek to destroy not only Western civilization, which they despise, but also moderate Muslim governments like those of Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia, because those countries want to maintain good relations with the U.S.

Senator Kerry continues to suggest that the U.S. could get greater support from European nations if they were given a role in our decision-making. We can be certain the first demand the European Union would make of him would be for the U.S. to abandon Israel and allow the European Union led by France to dictate the terms of a Middle East settlement, including the borders of Israel. Without the U.S. support provided by President Bush, Israel would quickly be devoured by these Europeans whose only interest is to expand their business relations with the Muslim world.

Koch says that he disagrees with President Bush on all major domestic issues...but that these concerns are trumped by the need to defeat international terrorism.

(More here)

2:13 PM


You have probably heard this saying of Rabbi Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? A self-described "lifelong Jewish liberal" who lives in New York City references Hillel's words in explaining why she will be voting for George W Bush. Extracts:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” How do we make sense of the violence engulfing our world since September 11th? We reel from one barbaric slaughter to the next, unable to understand the horrors unfolding in front of our eyes: office workers jumping from burning buildings in New York, school children shot in the back in Russia, families exploding in pizza parlors and busses and seder tables in Israel."


"We therefore face an existential challenge: Do we have the right to exist? Does our civilization merit continuing? Do we claim our freedom? On the most basic, inescapable level, as Rabbi Hillel asked us 2,000 years ago, are we for ourselves?"


But if I am only for myself, what am I? On October 9th, Afghanistan conducted the first one-person, one-vote democratic election in its history. Out of 10 million eligible Afghanis, an astonishing 9.9 million registered to vote for president, including the former king. 42% of the registered voters are women. Under the Taliban, Afghani women were prisoners in their homes, many literally starving to death. Today Afghani women compete in the Olympics, attend Kabul University, and open craft-based businesses, while their daughters constitute one-third of the 4 million Afghani children enrolled in school. 2,200 child soldiers have been demobilized; platoons of ex-combatants are being trained to build and maintain roads; electrification is spreading throughout the country, and the famous Buddhist statues destroyed by the Taliban are being reconstructed. And in an overwhelming sign of optimism, 3 million Afghani refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran, eager to rebuild their lives in their newly-freed homeland."


"In Iraq, too, our painfully hard work of implanting democracy is proceeding. (You won’t find full portraits of either country’s progress in The New York Times or on CBS. Read for the bigger picture.) Sovereignty has been passed from the American-led Coalition Authority to the Iraqis, who are now preparing for nation-wide free and democratic elections in January. Meanwhile, on a local level, democracy is springing up through newly-elected town councils. Ahood Aabass, the first woman elected to the new governing council in Basra, reports that under Saddam, children went to schools without windows, doors and toilets, and the local water had worms. Now she praises the “great strides” that have been made in education, human rights, health care and the infrastructure. 20 million Iraqis now enjoy clean water and improved sanitation. Schools have been renovated and reopened. 159,000 new school desks have been distributed, millions of new textbooks have been printed, thousands of children have been vaccinated, and teachers now make between $300 and $500 a month, instead of the $3 they were paid by Saddam...A country once brutalized by a sadistic dictator who filled its earth with mass graves, tortured its dissidents, raped its women, and starved its children, is striving mightily to transform into a prosperous democracy. American resolve has let freedom reign."

The author prefers to remain anonymous. You can read the whole thing here.

1:48 PM

Tuesday, October 12, 2004  

A modern-day television reporter covers the battle of Iwo Jima, as imagined by Zell Miller.

See also my post on a similar theme: Bismarck Sunk, Britain Doomed.

8:00 AM

Sunday, October 10, 2004  

If you're not reading No Credentials, you should be. Erudite posts, good discussions.

7:14 PM


John Kerry's biggest single argument as to why he should be elected President seems to be this: that he would be far more effective at getting allies to do things that we want them to do (particularly with regard to Iraq) than is President Bush. In effect, he is claiming that he has better selling skills than Mr Bush. Is there a justification for such a claim?

Imagine that you run a business that has launched a new product line. You've had some success in selling the product (which is sold to other businesses), but two or three large, old-line companies have refused to buy it or even seriously consider it.

Comes now a guy who wants to apply for the job as a sales manager. Speaking with great vehemence, he tells you that he will be able to sell into the previously-unpenetrated accounts.

Were I conducting an interview with such a candidate, I would have a few questions for him:

1)What previous experience do you have in closing major sales?

2)Specifically, what plans do you have for making these sales? Are there product features that you plan to particularly emphasize? Are there benefits that you plan to point out to the customer that we have not previously pointed out clearly enough? Do you have ideas for getting around bottlenecks by working the internal politics in the target companies?

And, given that this scenario is modelled on the present international situation, I would have to ask one additional question:

3)We have evidence that...one major reason why these particular old-line companies have refused to buy our product is that they have investments in our competitors. In fact, as much as it grieves me to say it, we believe that some of their executives may have personal investments in our competitors, which are biasing their judgment and causing them to act in ways not in the best interests of their own companies--let alone in our best interests. How do you plan to deal with this problem?

If the candidate is like John Kerry, he doesn't have much to say on question #1--major sales experience. (In Kerry's case: not much to point to in the way of building coalitions in the Senate; no international diplomatic experience at all, not to mention an absence of specific diplomatic successes.) On item #2--sales strategy--he has provided no specifics at all as to how he would achieve the objectives he claims the can meet. On item #3--conflicts of interest--he seems very reluctant to even admit that the issue exists at all.

Not looking too good for the candidate, so far.

But, someone points out, there are a couple of other things in the candidate's favor. First, he is very, very self-confident about his sales ability. Doesn't this mean something?

Well, it's true that a salesman should be self-confident. But that doesn't mean that he should be a self-glorifying bull artist. The art of interviewing salesmen requires the ability to distinguish between the two. And, in my experience, people who repeatedly talk about how great they are--but shy away from discussion of either historical specifics or hypothetical specifics--tend to fall into the second category.

The guy who is defending the candidate makes one more point. Isn't it true that the candidate moves in the same social circles as the executives in the companies that he says he can sell to? Same schools, same clubs, same accents, etc? Shouldn't this count in his favor?

In sales, personal contacts and affinities are indeed important, and should never be under-rated: people buy from people, as the saying goes. But it is unlikely that personal affinities will cause anyone to make a major decision in favor of a product that they don't believe is right for them--especially, in this scenario, given the direct personal stake that these executives seem to have in not buying our product.

And, here's something else to consider. While the candidate may have a social affinity with these major prospect companies, he seems to have a social disaffinity with the executives of our existing customers--which tend to be smaller but rapidly-growing companies. These execs are mostly not part of the candidate's social circle, and would be unlikely to feel warmly toward him. This would be true even if the candidate had not made public comments which are contemptuously dismissive of the importance of our current customers--and, given that he has made such comments, selecting him for the job might well create a major problem with the current customer base.

Now you find out something else about the candidate. Even though he is presently working for another division of the same company that your division is part of, he has made many negative, public comments about the product you hope to sell...indeed, he has very recently said that this product should never have been launched at all. Would he, as a salesman, be able to act as an effective advocate for that product?

Finally, toward the close of the interview, the candidate does a bit of a U-turn. He states that given the current situation, he will probably not be able to sell the product to those big, old-line companies after all, despite the fact that he spent the first 2/3 of the interview arguing exactly that. But you should still hire him, he says, because he would have been able to sell the product had he been in the job when it was first launched...and he claims that going forward-- putting the question of this specific customer/product combination aside--he would be able to sell both the current product and future products more successfully than anyone else.

Would you hire this individual for sales manager? Would you even seriously consider doing so?

8:22 AM

Saturday, October 09, 2004  

In December, Honda will launch a hybrid Accord which gets better performance than the standard Accord. It's got a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds, which, according to Business Week (10/18), is a full second better than the standard time (although MSNBC quotes the difference at a half second rather than a full second.) Fuel economy, according to the MSNBC article, is up 43% in the city, 23% on the highway. Part of the efficiency improvement comes from what Honda calls Variable Cylinder Management, which means that 3 of the 6 cylinders are shut off when the power is not needed (when you're going downhill, for example.)

The improved acceleration performance seems logical. In hybrid technology, of course, an electric motor provides part of the power--and electric motors generate more torque at slower speeds. So, during the first part of the acceleration from a standing start, they're really pulling.

This product (which is priced at around $29,000) seens like it has the potential to significantly change the image of the hybrid and expand the set of people to which it appeals.

(Business Week link here; registration required.)

6:57 PM


Annika sees a certain resemblence between George W Bush and Harry S Truman:

Bush is really a Truman Democrat. That's not a bad thing, even though I'm a Republican. I happen to think that Truman was one of our greatest presidents. Like Truman, George Bush's intellect has been unfairly questioned. Like Bush, Truman had to make difficult foreign policy decisions. Like Truman, a central tenet of Bush's foreign policy is the support and defense of fragile democracies around the world. Truman believed, like Bush does now, that free nations halfway around the world can make America safer.

I do believe that FDR and HST would be appalled to see John Kerry as their party's candidate. Certainly, there is a vast gulf between the spirit of the Lend-Lease and the Marshall Plan on the one hand, and Kerry's small-minded whining about paying for firehouses in Baghdad on the other.

5:19 PM

Friday, October 08, 2004  

Drove by a car today with a bumper sticker: "Mission Accomplished," with the word "Mission" crossed out and the word "Nothing" inserted: ie, "Nothing Accomplished."

A person might believe that the Iraq war was a bad idea...that what has been gained does not make up for what it has cost. But how on earth could any fair-minded person say nothing accomplished?

Twenty-million-plus Iraqis now have a chance to live their lives without being under the rule of a tyranical regime--a regime of exceptional viciousness. Is that nothing? Anyone who would say that seems to be agreeing with the character in the Dr Seuss cartoon, the one who said: "And the wolf came and ate up all the little children, but they were little foreign children, so it didn't matter."

Iraq is no longer making cash payments to incentivize suicide bombings in Israel. Is that nothing? Anyone who would say that (a)devalues the lives of Israelis, and (b)fails to understand how the encouragement of terrorism in one part of the globe leads to terrorism's further spread.

Saddam Hussein is no longer in a position to influence international diplomacy as he was clearly doing through the misuse of Iraq's vast oil wealth. Is that nothing?

Regardless of the specific status of Iraq's WMD (nuclear, biological, and chemical) programs, there is not the slightest question that Saddam Hussein fervently desired such weapons, and had the economic resources to pay for them. His likely successors would have had similar orientations. So, the "international community" was faced with the issue of letting Saddam acquire the weapons, or maintaining tight sanctions and inspections programs essentially forever. Would that have been a good thing, or even feasible? Given what we now know about the vast bribery programs, isn't it probably that the sanctions/inspections would have been lifted or at least eased at some point, giving Saddam access to the materials he needed to
build nuclear or chemical/biological weapons? Or that Saddam would have used his vast oil wealth to acquire such weapons in read-made form? Is the resolution of this dilemma nothing?

Opinions may differ about the (retrospective) wisdom of the Iraq war, but anyone who would say that nothing was accomplished seems to me to not be a very serious person.

7:33 AM

Thursday, October 07, 2004  

People are posting favorite poems at Sheila O'Malley's....go join the fun!

4:44 PM

Tuesday, October 05, 2004  

Somebody fired multiple gunshots into the Bush/Cheney offices in the Nashville area. The shots, which police believe were fired between 6:30 and 7:15 AM, shattered the glass in one front door, and cracked the grass in another door. No one was injured, but they could have been. "If I had gotten here a couple hours earlier, I'd have been inside," said volunteer campaign coordinator Susan Dewar explains. "And we don't turn the lights on until we open, so they wouldn't have know someone was inside." If they had known, it's not obvious that they would have cared.

In Orlando, Florida, a large group of "protestors" stormed and then ransacked a Bush/Cheney office.

In Madison, Wisconsin, someone burned an 8-foot swastika onto the lawn of a home where Bush/Cheney signs had been posted.

In the vicinity of Vail, Colorado, Republican signs on private land were ripped down with a chainsaw.

Not far from my own neighborhood, I observed a stretch of road a couple of miles long, along which almost every Bush/Cheney sign (in people's front yards) had been vandalized. None of the Kerry/Edwards signs (the people along this stretch seemed to be about evenly divided) had been harmed.

See my earlier Goon Squad posts, and also Be Afraid--The Rise of Political Violence and Intimidation in America.

UPDATE: I'm reminded of a kid in my high school, who was fond of misquoting Voltaire, as follows: Death to what you say, and I disagree with your right to say it.

That seems to be a common viewpoint among today's "progressives."

8:42 PM

Monday, October 04, 2004  

47 years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite. Here is a good roundup on what happened and the changes that it brought about.

And here is a report on today's successful launch and recovery of a private-venture spacecraft.

8:47 AM

Sunday, October 03, 2004  

Business Week (10/11, registration required) has a special issue out on "The Innovation Economy." Particularly worth of attention is the article "Getting The Best to the Masses." The subtitle: A wave of innovation is yielding high-quality goods that India's poor can afford.

Innovation is usually thought of something that happens in the most-developed economies, and then trickles down to the less-developed nations. The article (which is based partly on the work of U Michigan Professor C K Prahalad and McKinsey executive Diana Farrell) suggests that this may be changing. Several examples are given of innovative efforts to create products and services which are high in quality while being low enough in price to be affordable for large numbers of Indians. These include:

*The Tata Car...this is intended to be the world's cheapest car, targetted for sale at $2200 (compared with an Indian price of $5000 for the Suzuki Maurti.) The car will be manufactured in the form of kits, and shipped to local franchisees for final assembly. Many avenues for cost-saving are being pursued, such as the possible use of bolted or glued panels in place of the usual welded bodies.

Could this be India's Model T?

*The Jaipur Foot...a prosthetic for people who have lost a limb. Ram Chandra, a temple sculptor, observed that imported artificial limbs didn't work well for some Indian postures (such as sitting cross-legged), and were not well adapted to work in the fields (often standing in water). They were also far too expensive for most people. Chandra's solution involves a prosthetic made of rubberized material; it can be made for $30. The design is now being upgraded to use a lightweight material (normally used for making rocket propellants) which will cut the production cost by 10% while cutting the weight by half.

*The Aravind Eye-Care System...offers cataract surgeries for $50 to $300 (compared with $2000 or more in the U.S.) The process of doing cataract surgery has been carefully studied, and a highly-articulated division of labor is employed, with expanded roles for nurses and paramedics. This allows each surgeon to perform 50 surgeries per day. "The quality is stellar," says a well-known opthamologist in Bombay. Professor Prahalad notes that "process innovation" of this type is a critical step in making producs and services affordable for the poor. (Aravind also manufactures the intraocular lenses used in the operation for $5 each--compared with $50 it used to pay an American company for lenses.)

Professor Prahalad and his graduate students have just put out a book, The Fortune At the Bottom of the Pyramid," which systematically explores issues involved in doing business among the poor and very poor (on a worldwide basis, not only in India). He argues that businesses are generally doing a pretty poor job in this field, and should be able to do much better in terms of creating products (and services) that fit local conditions and are priced right...that, with the application of some creativity, order of magnitude reductions in cost and price are often possible. (I bought the book yesterday and have just started on it, but will be writing a review when I get done.)

It seems very likely to me that: product and process innovation in less-developed countries will result in ideas which will eventually make their way to the U.S. and Europe...the opposite direction from the flow of innovation which is typically assumed. For example: the Tata car in its original form will certainly never be sold in the U.S....but, a strong focus on cost-reduction is likely to result in design and manufacturing innovations which can be incorporated in a car which is suitable for U.S. conditions--not a $2200 car, but, perhaps a $5500 one. And solar power technologies may well develop more rapidly in areas without strong grid systems--resulting in designs and manufacturing scale economies that will later find markets in the U.S. and Europe. This proposition--that products and services developed for the poor will eventually transition to a form suitable for the highly-developed countries--seems completely consistent with the "innovations attack from below" idea, developed in the work of Clayton Christensen and his associates and reviewed here.

9:44 AM

Saturday, October 02, 2004  

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

It strikes me that there is a lot of dancing for the boa constrictors going on it the world today.

In the debate Thursday night, John Kerry attacked President Bush for underwriting research into bunker-busting nuclear weapons. "I'm going to shut that program down," says Kerry, arguing that we are not "sending the right message to places like North Korea" when we are pursuing such programs. Evidently, Kerry believes that if we provide the proper role model by abandoning such efforts, then North Korea and Iran will be more inclined to abandon their own nuclear programs.

Which makes about as much sense as arguing, in the late 1930s, that Britain and the U.S. should have provided a better role model for Nazi Germany by abandoning key weapons programs--say, the Spitfire fighter and B-17 bomber. Could any sane person believe that such actions would have led Germany to moderate its behavior? And today, could any informed person not believe that the leaders of Iran and North Korea are cut from cloth very similar to those from which the Nazi leaders were cut?

In this post, Bill Hobbs explains the importance of the bunker-busting weapons. But to me, the key issue here is not whether building the bunker-buster is a good or a bad idea. The key thing is the absolutely stunning level of naivite that Kerry has demonstrated in thinking that the kind of people who run Iran and North Korea will respond in any substantive way to demonstrations of "good behavior" on our part.

Dancing for the boa constrictor. Maybe he'll like me, says the monkey, maybe he won't eat me--at least not yet.

(complete debate transcript here. Thanks to Little Miss Attila for the link.)

UPDATE: Shannon Love has written a very astute post on this subject. Sample:

In Kerry's world model controlling nuclear proliferation is about moral suasion. He would contain the threat of rouge nuclear entities by making nuclear weapons a moral taboo. To create this taboo, we must lead by example and refuse develop new nuclear weapons. Our shining moral example will create a world in which it will be difficult for any national or sub-national political entity to justify creating, stealing and using nuclear weapons of their own.

At his heart Kerry is a talker. His core skill is political persuasion. He wants fiercely to believe in a world where any problem can be solved with enough articulation. He honestly believes that he can convince anybody to do anything. In his model, the US does not need nuclear weapons, especially new types of them, because they are superfluous when moral example and negotiation can easily contain the nuclear threat.

Sadly, Kerry doesn't understand that violence isn't about moral standing, it is about physics.

Also read the comments.

6:19 PM


John Kerry, self-professed diplomat extraordinaire, is already offending allies. Here's what the President of Poland has to say:

Reacting to John Kerry's omission of Polands efforts in Iraq, President of Poland Alexander Kwasniewski said, "I find it kind of sad that a senator with 20 year parliamentary experience is unable to notice the Polish presence in the anti-terror coalition."

When asked about Kerry's derogation of non-U.S. coalition countries fighting in Iraq, Kwasniewski said: "I don't think it's an ignorance. Anti-terror coalition is larger than the USA, the UK and Australia. There are also Poland, Ukraine, and Bulgaria etc. which lost their soldiers there. It's highly immoral not to see our strong commitment we have taken with a strong believe that we must fight against terror together, that we must show our strong international solidarity because Saddam Hussein was dangerous to the world."

"That's why we are disappointed that our stance and ultimate sacrifice of our soldiers are so diminished", President Kwasniewski commented Kerry's speech during the debate.

8:52 AM

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