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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Saturday, April 30, 2005  

Via Chapomatic, a Harvard Business Review article that references a study by Prof Tom Gilovich of Cornell. Students in an "international conflict" program at Stanford were presented with a particular scenario and asked to play the role of a State Department official and give their recommendations for action. The scenario involved a small, democratic nation being threatened by a totalitarian and aggressive neighbor.

The students were divided into two groups. One group was given cues that were intended to be reminiscent of World War II--the President was from New York ("the same state as FDR"), the briefing was held in Winston Churchill Hall, and the refugees were fleeing via railroad. In the other group, the President was from Texas ("the same state as Lyndon Johnson"), the briefing was held in Dean Rusk Hall, and the refugees were escaping by boat.

There was no substantive difference between the scenarios given to the two groups (unless you believe that the mode of refugee transportation is somehow substantive)...yet those who heard the WWII-reminiscent version were more likely to conclude that aggression must be met with force, while those who heard the Vietnam-reminiscent version were more likely to recommend a hands-off policy. Again, there was nothing in the scenarios to make anyone conclude as a matter of logic that the first version was more similar to WWII and the second version was more similar to Vietnam.

From the HBR article: Not only were the students swayed by superficial likenesses, they were not even aware that they had been swayed.

This is really, really interesting...I want to see some numbers and find out just how strong this effect was. I'll pick up a copy of HBR when I can, and also try to track down the original paper. The overall thrust of the HBR article was on the use of reasoning by analogy in business--how to take advantage of the strengths of this mode of thinking while avoiding the pitfalls.

2:20 PM

Tuesday, April 26, 2005  

My post at ChicagoBoyz on the question "What would you do if you were running GM?" generated lots of discussion, and the discussion recently came alive again as a result of a link from Glenn. See the GM discussion at Glenn's MSNBC site also.

Via Miss O'Hara comes this report: GM is planning to put a "GM" badge on its cars, in addition to the brand-specific logos. "It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of in my life," says GM dealer George Fowler. "These cars have enough badging on them now. People want clean-looking vehicles. They don't want cars that are badged up." Eric Noble, head of a consulting firm, says that the badging represents "the sort of strategy that makes sense when viewed from the inside. Consumers operate in a world where time is their scarcest resource. You're lucky if they can remember one of your brands. To hope or plan for them to remember two is unrealistic and, therefore, a bad use of resources."

I think this GM action, at this particular point in their corporate life, is really, really dumb. I wish GM well and hope they will be able to save themselves, thereby sparing a lot of people a lot of pain--but this kind of thing raises real questions in my mind about whether GM management has the orientation necessary to pull it off.

9:09 PM

Sunday, April 24, 2005  

On April 19, 1943, German troops and police entered the Warsaw ghetto in force, with the intent of liquidating Jewish resistance and deporting the suriviving inhabitants. They met much stronger resistance than they expected: the uprising continued until mid-May. More information here and here.

(Thanks to Doctor Horsefeathers for linking the latter document.)

9:27 AM

Thursday, April 21, 2005  

Lead and Gold responds to my post with the quotes from Lord Wavell (below) and offers some thoughts on differences between strategy in the military and strategy in business.

More on this later.

7:08 AM

Tuesday, April 19, 2005  

The Economist reports that China is experiencing labor shortages...particularly among skilled workers and among managers and executives. (via BusinessPundit)

8:25 PM

Sunday, April 17, 2005  

In the post below, I passed along Field Marshal Lord Wavell's thoughts on the relative importance of strategy vs execution--thoughts which seem to me to be highly relevant to business and particularly to business education. In the same book, Wavell offers thoughts on "The General and His Troops"...which also seem to me to be relevant to business.

Explosions of temper do not necessarily ruin a general's reputation or influence with his troops; it is almost expected of them ("the privileged irascibility of senior officers," someone has written), and it is not always resented, sometimes even admired, except by those immediately concerned. But sarcasm is always resented and seldom forgiven. (emphasis added--ed) In the Peninsula the bitter sarcastic tongue of Craufurd, the brilliant but erratic leader of the Light Division, was much more wounding and feared than the more violent outbursts of Picton, a rough, hot-tempered man.

A few pages later, Wavell again addresses the topic of sarcasm:

He (the general) should never indulge in sarcasm, which is being clever at someone else's expense, and always offends.

I wouldn't endorse "explosions of temper" by any leader...although controlled anger often has its uses. But I think Wavell is absolutely right about the corrosive effects of sarcasm, and I like his definition:

Being clever at someone else's expense.

7:32 PM


Rob, at BusinessPundit, has written several times about the relative importance of strategy and execution in business (here, for example). Obviously, both are important. But I do think it's true that American business schools tend to overemphasize strategy at the expense of execution, and this has to some extent carried over into practice. Too often, the relationship between strategy and execution is thought of as a "handoff"...one individual or group of individuals come up with the strategy, which others then execute. In reality, strategy and execution are much more tightly intertwined, and many times strategic options will only become visible from within the details of the execution work.

In a used book store, I once picked up a little book on "The Art of Generalship" by General Sir Archibald Wavell. General Wavell later became Field Marshall Lord Wavell, one of the principal British commanders of WWII, but this book was based on a series of lectures that he delivered just before the beginning of the war. I believe that many of his thoughts are also relevant to business, and specifically to the strategy vs execution issue.

Unfortunately, in most military books strategy and tactics are emphasized at the expense of the administrative factors. For instance, there are 10 military students who can tell you how Blenheim was won for one who has any knowledge at all of the administrative preparations that made the march to Blenheim possible. (Wavell uses "administration" largely in the sense of "logistics"--ed)...Again, Marlborough's most admired strategem, the forcing of the Ne Plus Ultra lines in 1711, was one that a child could have thought of but that probably no other general could have executed.


When you study military history don't read outlines on strategy or the priciples of war. Read biographies, memoirs, historical novels...Get at the flesh and blood of it, not the skeleton. To learn that Napoleon won the campaign of 1796 by manoeuvre on interior lines or some such phrase is of little value. If you can discover how a young unknown man inspired a ragged, mutinous, half-starved army and made it fight, how he he gave it energy and momentum to march and fight as it did, how he dominated and controlled generals older and more experienced than himself, then you will have learnt something.

I think Wavell's work should be mandatory reading for B-school professors.

UPDATE: More from Lord Wavell at the top of today's posts.

5:34 AM

Friday, April 15, 2005  

Over at ChicagoBoyz, there is a link to a really great collection of photographs from China and Pakistan.

It may seem a bit strange that the site on which these pictures reside is called "Mexican Pictures," but the name refers to the photographer, not to the area where the photos were taken.

To go from one photo to the next, just click on the pictures.

5:39 PM


Academy Girl is hanging up her blogging pajamas. I'm very sorry to see her go, and hope the she will resurface some day in a new incarnation.

On the positive side, Rose of No Credentials is back.

8:43 AM

Thursday, April 14, 2005  

The Jerusalem Post reports that a 22-year-old Palestinian woman was brutally murdered by a Hamas "virtue and vice" patrol. Yusra al-Azzami committed the "crime" of being seen in public with her fiance.

Hamas's "morality" patrolmen first spotted the young couple strolling along the beach in Gaza City, together with Azzami's younger sister. After enjoying the spectacular sunset over the sea, they got into the future husband's car and started driving towards Azzami's home. According to eyewitness accounts, five masked gunmen who were in another car gave chase, opening fire at Azzami, who was sitting in the front seat next to her fiance. She died instantly. The fiance and sister were later brutally beaten and moderately injured by the attackers...The assailants dragged the young woman's body out of the car, pouncing upon it mercilessly with clubs and iron bars. Two suspects have been arrested by Palestinian Authority police, and several more are being sought.

I have been unable to find any coverage of this brutal crime in the U.S. mainstream media, either via Google News or via the individual search engines of major publications. I did find a brief mention of it in a Times UK article, at the end of an article on Hamas...here's what they say:

But Hamas has itself been tainted by allegations of brutality and vigilantism in recent days, after a group of its gunmen shot dead an unmarried 20-year-old woman in Gaza. The murder outraged the victim’s family, who accuse the killers of punishing the Beit Lahiya woman for “immoral behaviour” because she enjoyed an afternoon on the beach with her fiancé. Hamas admitted that her killing was a mistake.

A mistake.

And Hamas has been "tainted" by "allegations" of brutality only in recent days?

Why is the major U.S. media not covering this story? Type "gaza" (which is where this crime is committed) into Google News, and you will get plenty of stories on Israel's alleged misdeeds, but...as of about 15 minutes ago...you will get nothing from the U.S. media about the killing of Yusra al-Azzami.

7:24 AM

Monday, April 11, 2005  

If you've been following the events at Columbia University...specifically, the allegations that students who support Israel have in many cases been treated unfairly, and the conclusions of the panel that the university administration set up to investigate these allegations...you'll want to read this article by Ryan Sager: Columbia's Whitewash.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's Columbia Journalism Review on the inappropriate manner in which The New York Times covered this matter. Sounds like the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper, did a better job.

8:52 PM

Sunday, April 10, 2005  

Haaretz has an article about the failure of The New York Times, during the years 1939-1945, to effectively cover what was happening to the Jews of Europe. The report is based on extensive research by a former journalist who is now a lecturer at the Northeastern University school of Journalism. She argues the the NYT made a conscious decision to downplay the murders of the Jews and particularly the Jewish identity of the victims, and that this policy was driven from the top down. Please read the article.

Of course, The New York Times also systematically downplayed the atrocities committed by the other major dictatorship of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin, via the reporting of its Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter, Walter Duranty.

(Haaretz item via Common Sense & Wonder)

8:20 PM

Friday, April 08, 2005  

General Motors is pulling all its corporate advertising from the LA Times. The stated reason is "dealer concerns over 'factual errors and misrepresentations' in the newspaper's articles and editorials".

A column published in the paper on Wednesday called GM "a morass of a business case" and called for the "impeachment" of two executives. The columnist also criticized GM for not emphasizing hybrid technology, which overemphasizing SUVs.

I've seen no information as to what the 'factual errors and misrepresentations' are alleged to be. If there actually were significant errors and/or misrepresentations, then GM's action makes sense. But if they're just mad about being beaten up in print, then I think they're making a real mistake.

No word on this yet on Bob Lutz's blog, although he has taken a few shots at the media for what he considers unfair coverage of various topics.

9:20 AM

Thursday, April 07, 2005  

There's a good discussion going on at ChicagoBoyz about the extreme levels of anger which characterize many of todays "progressives," and the causes thereof. See my comment about the rise of the "Intellectual Lumpenproletariat."

4:50 PM

Wednesday, April 06, 2005  

Some significant management changes at General Motors. Bob Lutz is giving up his job as head of GM North America to focus on his role as head of global product development. You can read more about the change at his blog.

10:44 AM

Tuesday, April 05, 2005  

Various British academics are again attempting to delegitimize Israel by establishing a "boycott" of Israeli academics. See article in the Jerusalem Post.

"I completely agree with the comparisons to Apartheid in South Africa," said Sue Blackwell, an "activist" with the AUT (one of Britain's two academic trade unions.) If you read the JP article, you will find more words along the same lines from British academics pushing a boycott of Israel.

According to the Guardian, "British academics are turning down offers to work with big research organizations in Israel, citing their objection to the government’s policies."

This kind of stuff seems increasingly pervasive in universities on both sides of the Atlantic (see, for example, my Columbia University post below.) It provides more evidence, if more were needed, that there is something very unwholesome about today's dominant academic culture. It does seem to be--in general--even worse in Europe than in the U.S.

See also the LGF post, from which the Guardian quote is drawn. Also, there are reader comments on the last page of the JP article.

UPDATE: Read what British columnists and blogger Melanie Phillips has to say about this.

5:08 PM


Carnival of the Capitalists is up.

Also, I have a new discussion question up at ChicagoBoyz.

10:37 AM

Sunday, April 03, 2005  

Quite a few students at Columbia say that they have encountered pervasive anti-Israel attitudes from some of their professors...indeed, that some of these professors act in an intimidating manner toward students who dare to support Israel. There is even a video, Columbia Unbecoming, on the subject...it is described as follows:

Columbia Unbecoming gives voice to students who have experienced incidents of academic abuse and intimidation at Columbia University. Although the subject matter relates to Israel, the issues identified affect all students. The video raises fundamental questions about liberal arts education and the use of the classrom for the purpose of political propaganda...

The Columbia Unbecoming website is here; it includes a transcript of the video.

When the allegations became too loud and widely-publicized to ignore, Columbia appointed a panel to look into the matter. Many people, like Nat Hentoff, questioned the composition of this panel. According to Hentoff, the panel includes two professors who had signed the petition calling for Columbia to divest from Israel...but includes none of the 360 professors who signed the petition opposing such divestment. It also includes a professor who, according to the organization Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, has compared Israel's 'occupation' of the 'West Bank' to the Nazis' occupation of Eastern Europe.

Indeed, the committee reported to Nicholas Dirks, Columbia's VP for Arts & Sciences--and, according to Judith Jacobson, a professor of epidemiology and Columbia Coordinator for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East--Dirks was one of the intitiators of the divestment petition.

Here's what Prof Jacobson told The New York Sun:

I don't understand (Columbia President) Bollinger's handling of the situation. If I were naming a committee to investigate a problem in a particular department, then I would select people who didn't have a conflict of interest with respect to the subject matter or the people involved." She added that the student complaints that led to the formation of the committee are "just the tip of the iceberg."

Here is the committee's report. Given the above background, it's not surprising that many consider to be basically a whitewash. Here is a very strong statement from Charles Jabobs of The David Project, which produced the "Columbia Unbecoming" video; see also Columbians for Academic Freedom.

Kesher Talk has a lot of information of this matter. So does Roger L Simon. See also coverage from The New York Sun.

And, with the single exception of The New York Sun, the mainstream media has not been doing a very good job in covering this matter. Anybody surprised?

I hope that bloggers will be proactive in keeping this story alive and insisting on a more serious assessment of what is going on at Columbia.

UPDATE: See also this editorial.

7:43 AM


I almost didn't bother reading the Tom Friedman article in today's NYT Magazine section, because I often find Friedman to be an irritating and rather arrogant writer. But today's piece is really worthwhile...if you're a registered NYT subscriber, you can read it here.

6:53 AM

Friday, April 01, 2005  

The Wall Steet Journal (4/1) has an article about how the manufacturers of airliners--both Boeing and Airbus--are now borrowing production techniques from auto manufacturers...more product standardization, more supplier involvement in design, even assembly lines.

They should have mentioned, though, that this isn't the first time the aviation industry has made a systematic effort to make use of automotive manufacturing techniques.

Haven't they ever heard about the Willow Run Plant?

5:35 PM


A couple of weeks ago, I started a discussion on ChicagoBoyz, on the topic "What would you do if your were running General Motors?" It's still showing surprising liveliness.

6:48 AM

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