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

arts & letters daily
natalie solent
critical mass
john bruce
joanne jacobs
number 2 pencil
roger l simon
common sense and wonder
sheila o'malley
invisible adjunct
red bird rising
academic game
rachel lucas
betsy's page
one hand clapping
a schoolyard blog
joy of knitting
lead and gold
damian penny
annika's journal
little miss attila
no credentials
university diaries
trying to grok
a constrained vision
victory soap
business pundit
right reason
quid nomen illius?
sister toldjah
the anchoress
reflecting light
dr sanity
all things beautiful
dean esmay
brand mantra
economics unbound
dr melissa
dr helen
right on the left coast
digital Rules
college affordability
the energy blog
tinkerty tonk
meryl yourish
kesher talk
assistant village idiot
evolving excellence
neptunus lex
the daily brief
roger scruton
bookworm room
villainous company
lean blog

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Thursday, March 31, 2005  

Noemie Emery has a devastating article about people "at the shallower end of the pool of arts and intellect" and their involvement in politics. These are the people who make up what Emery calls "the glitz-based community"--people connected to Hollywood, fashion, or celebrity media, who produce diversions and lifestyle advice. It is from these people, Emery asserts, that the "really fierce strains" of anti-Bush feeling largely come.

Must reading.

Hat tip to Andrea.

5:27 PM

Wednesday, March 30, 2005  

Here's an inspirational story: a group of high-school kids, all Mexican immigrants, who built a robot submarine.

(via Joanne Jacobs)

7:47 AM

Tuesday, March 29, 2005  

Financial Times (3/29) reports that oil companies are having trouble finding enough engineers to hire. "The average age of oilfield engineers has risen to 48--and above 50 in the US--and there are not enough recruits to sustain the $200bn planned investment in expansion over the next 15 years." According to Jim Hackett, CEO of Andarko, "Those companies who solve this internal problem over the next five years are the ones who are going to win." Companies are recruiting hard on campus, and even making acquisition decisions based in part on the availability of engineers at the target company.

The so-called "digital oilfield" may have some impact on reducing the number of engineers needed, but it doesn't sound like many executives believe it will come close to solving the whole staffing problem.

8:36 AM


Carnival of the Liberated is up. It's a collection of posts by Iraqi bloggers.

Carnival of the Capitalists is being posted in two batches this week; the first batch is already up and the second is coming on Wednesday.

Attention lefties: Carnival of the Un-Capitalists is coming.

6:37 AM

Monday, March 28, 2005  

University Diaries has a thought-provoking post on The University as Wellness Clinic.

2:09 PM

Saturday, March 26, 2005  

I have a post on this topic up at ChicagoBoyz. While you're there, also be sure to read Ginny's post on Norman Borlaug, who just celebrated his 91st birthday.

3:54 PM

Friday, March 25, 2005  

The wonderfully-named Moebius Stripper is a college math instructor. A discussion at Joanne Jacobs references some of the problems Mobius has been having with her "precalculus" students. For one thing, half of them think that the equation (x+y)^2 (which means "x and y added together and the sum then squared") should be expanded as x^2+y^2...which it obviously cannot be.

People in the discussion offered various suggestions as to how to get this point across...one suggestion was to show the similarity between this algebraic process and ordinary arithmetic, as follows: Write it out as:
x + y
x + y

...just like you would write out a simple multiplication problem:

...showing the students that the task can be done in a way that "isn't different from what they already know how to do, ie: long multiplication of integers." Seems to make good sense.

But, according to Mobius: "They might have known how to do long multiplication of integers by grade eight, but many don't know how to do it now. These students were all using calculators by grade four. Many NEVER learned the basics."

So, the decision to deemphasize teaching of ordinary multiplication (derided by educationists as "rote learning") turns out to have a malign influence many years later, when it is time for the students to learn algebra and calculus.

4:54 PM

Thursday, March 24, 2005  

Medgadget tracks emerging medical technologies.

Forbes/Wolfe reports on nanotechnology.

Paul Strassmann writes about information technology from a management perspective.

5:56 PM

Wednesday, March 23, 2005  

An attention-getting headline in Investor's Business Daily:

Online Advertising Growing Fast, Might Soon Pass Magazine Ads

(That's in the 3/22 issue.) Depends what you mean by "might" and "soon," I guess...according to the article, U.S. spending on online ads make up 5-7% of all spending in the $150B U.S. ad market, whereas magazine ads account for about 15%. However, the online expenditures are growing faster. Fourth-quarter online spending is said to have grown 24% on a year-to-year basis. Greg Stuart, president of the Interactive Advertising bureau, thinks 2005 may be the "breakaway" year for net ads; other industry watchers are more cautious.

8:04 PM


The Carnival of Education is up.

6:23 AM

Tuesday, March 22, 2005  

You know you want to look at a cute bunny rabbit picture.

6:56 PM


...from an officer serving in Iraq.

6:52 PM


The best advice I ever got was from an elephant trainer in the jungle outside Bangalore. I was doing a hike through the jungle as a tourist. I saw these large elephants tethered to a small stake. I asked him, "How can you keep such a large elephant tied to such a small stake?" He said, "When the elephants are small, they try to pull out the stake, and they fail. When they grow large, they never try to pull out the stake again."....

Vivek Paul, President & CEO of Wipro Technologies, quoted in the Fortune article The Best Advice I Ever Got (3/21 issue)

Previous Worth Pondering

6:29 AM

Sunday, March 20, 2005  

Read about what is happening to a DePaul University professor who vocally supports Israel. Start with the story in the Chicago Jewish News, then read Marathon Pundit and Roger Simon.

If you are a college professor who makes speeches saying that it is OK to kill American office workers and/or Israeli children..then the academic and civil-liberties establishments will rush to your defense. But if you challenge the Israel-is-evil meme, or any other aspect of today's academic orthodoxy, your free speech rights are of very little interest to these same people.

6:06 AM

Saturday, March 19, 2005  

In view of the events of last week, I posted the following question over at ChicagoBoyz:

If you were appointed CEO of General Motors...what would you do?

Hop on over and contribute your thoughts.

4:24 PM

Thursday, March 17, 2005  

The New York Times, in its article about the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank, refers to Wolfowitz as having "the almost radioactive reputation of a committed ideologue." I'm not sure what the NYT means by "ideologue"...perhaps someone who actually has beliefs, as opposed to a pure policy mechanic? But there are two other "i" words that come to mind when I think of Dr Wolfowitz..."idealist" and "innovator." I feel confident that, as head of the World Bank, Wolfowitz will actually care a great deal about enhancing the development of poverty-stricken nations...and will be hard-driving and creative in the way that he goes about it. As opposed to many denizens of the "international community" who seem mainly interested in protecting their membership in the "club."

UPDATE: Here's a great quote from the International Herald Tribune: "We all know he has strong convictions, and that is a bit frightening," said one French official who asked not to be identified.

And read what Roger Simon has to say.

8:01 AM

Wednesday, March 16, 2005  

Beagle puppy picture at ChicagoBoyz.

7:42 PM


Michael Wolff, a Vanity Fair contributor, has some not-very-positive things to say about bloggers...excerpted, with commentary, at BusinessPundit.

As Laurence says: When Wolff complains about blogs undermining the "authority of information," it is reminiscent of Cartman on South Park bellowing "Respect my authority!"

If you wanted to parody the attitudes of many MSM figures toward weblogs, you couldn't do much better than Wolff's remarks. Only I don't think he meant them as a parody.

6:53 PM


Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Reuters news service decided to ban the use of the word "terrorist" in describing the perpetrators of such attacks...with a Reuters executive saying the notorious words, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Mary Madigan, blogging at Dean's World, takes apart the thinking of people like this Reuters executive. Be sure to follow the link to the incisive article by French philosopher Andre Glucksman.

6:27 AM

Monday, March 14, 2005  

BusinessPundit is a business weblog with broad interests, which frequently has thought-provoking posts. I read it frequently and have been remiss in not having linked to it before this.

Right Reason is a new weblog that defines itself as "the weblog for philosophical conservatism." It's a group blog, with writers including Roger Kimball (Managing Editor of The New Criterion and an art critic for the London Spectator and National Review) and the philosopher Roger Scruton, along with more than a dozen others.

8:32 PM


What well-known media figure did Roger Simon say this about?...

...a cynical, preening, self-deceiving narcissist who clings to the airwaves with the desperation of a dying leech that will never get off our backs. Nothing he ever says is more than a cliché or less than self-promotion. Whatever small modicum of humor he may once have had has disappeared up his own navel while he was gazing at it, sort of like liposuction in reverse.

Just click the link above to find out the answer. There are some people you really don't want to have ticked off at you, and Roger is one of them. And such a nice guy, too.

BTW, Roger will be on Larry Kudlow's program (CNBC, 5-6) along with Jeff Jarvis.

12:27 PM


Lots of posts from Italy over at Joy of Knitting (which, despite its title is not about knitting--at least so far.) Y'all get on over there and give her some traffic, and maybe she'll start posting more often...

8:32 AM


Carnival of the Capitalists is up at RFID Weblog.

7:07 AM

Sunday, March 13, 2005  

The New York Times (3/13, registration required) quotes Sir Howard Stringer, the new chief executive of Sony, arguing for mutual benefit between his company's electronics and entertainment divisions. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Sir Howard said, "A device without content is nothing but scrap metal."

Following the chain of logic he seems to be developing, we could also argue that a car without fuel is scrap metal...and therefore, auto companies need to own oil companies. Or that computers are useless without software...so all computer manufacturers need to possess large software operations.

Randall Stoss, author of the NYT article, observes that Sir Howard's remark is "a platitude beneath mention--unless, perhaps, one were a mite defensive about owning both a widget factory and an entertainment factory." Stoss goes on to credit the success of the iPod (far greater than Sony's competitive product) to the fact that Apple has not pursued synergies between device and content...

A company thrives when it has all that it needs to make a compelling product and is undistracted by fractiousness among divisions that resent being told to make decisions based upon family obligations, not market considerations. Mr Jobs appreciates the advantages of keeping content separate from distribution. At Pixar, he's in the digital movie business, which uses many skill sets that are used over at Apple, too. yet he has elected to let the two live happy separate existences, without falling for the synergy myth.

See my prior posts on synergy in business:

Diseconomies of Scale
Synergy, or just Syn?
Mergers, Acquisitions, Princesses, and Toads

5:24 PM

Friday, March 11, 2005  

Back in November, I linked to a report by Melanie Phillips on some very disturbing developments in the U.K. school system...and promised to write some commentary on the matter later. "Later" has finally arrived, and my thoughts are here at ChicagoBoyz.

9:19 AM

Wednesday, March 09, 2005  

Why are so many academics focused on the alleged wrongs done by Israel to the Palestinians...while seeming to care very little about, say, slavery in the Sudan or the hanging of teenage girls in Iraq?

Mary reports on the conference on The Middle East and Academic Integrity on the American Campus, which was called to discuss this and related matters. Speakers included Natan Sharansky and Alan Dershowitz.

UPDATE: Here is the speech given by Phyllis Chesler at the conference.

11:47 AM


The Wall Street Journal (3/9) reports that plants for the conversion of corn to ethanol are proliferating throught the midwest. Many of them are being funded through investments by local people. A town is considered a candidate for a plant if it has (a)a railroad connection, (b) a natural gas pipeline, and (c) lots of corn grown in the surrounding area.

Ethanol now makes up about 3% of U.S. motor fuel. It can be mixed with gasoline to obtain a cleaner-burning fuel; it can also be used as a petroleum substitute. The first application is driven largely by clean-air laws and tax incentives; the second is driven primarily by ethanol cost vs the price of conventional gasoline. The cost of producing ethanol is, in turn, driven to a substantial extent by the "energy balance" of the process--ie, how much energy must be consumed (producing the fertilizer for the corn, running the tractors, gathering the corn, running the corn-to-fuel production process) in order to make fuel that will produce a given amount of energy? Several years ago, I read some comments that suggested that the overall energy balance of corn-to-fuel was negative; ie, more energy went in than came out. This was evidently pessimistic: here's a report suggesting an energy balance ratio of about 1.2...ie, a 20% gain over the energy consumed. The report also suggests that even if the energy balance were not favorable, corn-to-fuel might still be desirable, since it is converting forms of energy that that are available domestically (coal, hydro, nuclear) into liquid fuel that must largely be imported.

Other crops can also be converted into ethanol; specifically sawgrass and sugar cane seem to have very favorable energy balance characteristics. (Also see analysis here.)

The WSJ article points out the danger that the ethanol-plant boom may result in production levels exceeding today's demand levels, which could be bad news for investors in the plants. Some ethanol-industry people are floating the idea of a federal mandate that would require the oil industry to use 8 billion gallons of ethanol a year, in place of the existing requirement for the industry to use 5 billion gallons annually by 2012.

10:43 AM

Tuesday, March 08, 2005  

I ran across the following quote, which was attributed to Goethe:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

According to the Goethe Society of North America, the quote is actually from the book The Scottish Himalaya Expedition by W H Murray. The writer concludes that as a result of his experiences, he learned a "deep respect" for these words from Faust:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

...so the longer quote was partly inspired by Goethe, even though he was not the actual author of it.

I think men and women of action implicitly understand the idea that "A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way"...whereas those who are not people of action can imagine only the unforeseen problems (as well as the foreseen ones) that would issue from the decision.

The relevance to current events in Lebanon and elsewhere should be clear.

Previous Worth Pondering

8:57 AM


Cute fox pictures.

Improbable friends.

6:10 AM

Sunday, March 06, 2005  

I've written previously (also here) about railroad bottlenecks that are impacting freight traffic throughout the United States, and in particular have caused delays to imports coming from the west coast ports. Financial Times (3/3) reports that the ports themselves are now also becoming highly congested, with ships sometimes having to wait for several days before a berth is available. Some traffic has ben rerouted from ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach to east coast ports like Savannah and New York, via the Panama Canal--but the canal also has finite capacity, and is operating pretty close to it.

Port capacity problems aren't limited to the U.S. Here is an item about problems in Australia...these affect mainly exports (coal and other minerals) rather than imports as in the U.S. case. And this article says that port congestion is a global problem which is causing "havoc" at Antwerp and Rotterdam as well as at LA and Long Beach. And here are some interesting perspectives from corporate logistics executives trying to deal with the problems on a day-to-day basis.

Some near-term improvement in port capacity can no doubt be achieved by improved computerization, better materials-handling equipment, rationalization of work rules, etc. But the addition of capacity in the form of new berths, with their accompanying cranes and rail spurs, sounds like pretty long-lead-time stuff.

The implications of these capacity problems for the world economy could be significant. At the margin, I would expect them to have some favorable impact on the competitiveness of domestic manufacturing vs imports.

5:33 PM


Zeppelins are back! Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH is now offering the Zeppelin NT for sale. This is a rigid airship: its shape is maintained by an aluminum and carbon-fiber framework (With blimps, the shape is maintained by the pressure of the helium gas within.) Some particulars of the Zeppelin NT include:

*Length 75 meters--246 feet
*Width 19.5 meters--64 feet
*Height 17.4 meters--57 feet
*Max Weight 10690 kg--23500 lbs
*Capacity 12 passengers + pilot & copilot

Applications envisaged for the airship include sightseeing flights, advertising, TV camera platforms, and surveillance operations.

Zeppelin rides over Lake Constance are now available, operated by ZLT's subsidiary Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei GmbH. (This link was working yesterday but is password-protected today, probably due to web site maintenance or some such.)

8:21 AM

Thursday, March 03, 2005  

A hundred "literary luminaries" were asked to choose their favorite fictional characters; results here.

Sheila posts her own list and invites you to continue the game in her comments section.

9:36 AM

Wednesday, March 02, 2005  

Over the next decade, General Electric plans to get as much as 60% of its revenue growth from developing countries. This from The Wall Street Journal (registration required) citing Jeff Immelt (Chairman & CEO) in the annual report.

Both India and China are viewed as major growth opportunities. Products which GE believes to have high potential in these markets include power generation, industrial systems, medical equipment, and consumer finance.

Immelt also mentioned GE's activities in Qatar, where the company is involved both in water desalination projects and in liquified natural gas plants.

8:59 AM


I've been honored with an invitation to blog at Chicago Boyz, a very fine group blog. Lots of thought-provoking posts over there, along with many good discussions. Check it out if you're not already familiar with it.

Photon Courier will, of course, also continue.

8:43 AM

Tuesday, March 01, 2005  

Why do significant numbers of people in the U.S. and in Europe seek to excuse Palestinian terrorism...even to romanticize and encourage it? Lee Harris has written an important essay on this topic.

Phyllis Chesler's book The New Anti-Semitism is now available in paperback. I read the hardback edition of this book about a year ago, and have been meaning to write a review of it...but the contents are so disturbing that I have actually found it difficult to pick it up again. A very important book, which needs to be widely read.

Chesler's web site is here.

6:23 AM

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