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 28, 2007  

This article suggests that the Indian apparel industry may go upscale.

5:48 AM

Friday, April 27, 2007  

In an old Heinlein SF novel, applicants to the Space Academy are required to take a variety of aptitude tests. One of these tests involves dropping beans into a bottle...with the eyes closed. Applicants are told that the test measures "spatial perception" or something along those lines--but it's actually a test of honesty.

I was reminded of this scenario by an article titled For Love of the Game, which appeared in the 3/12 issue of Forbes. There's an old test that was originally used by the military to find people with an aptitude for clerical positions. All you have to do look in a table for a four-digit number and circle it where it appears. It seems like it would be difficult for any literate person to fail at this. Yet this simplistic test turns out to have predictive power for career success across a wide range of fields, including those that have little or nothing to do with clerical ability.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed 12,700 people (ages 14-22) and then follwed them to see how well they were doing. The subjects were paid $50 to take several tests, including a traditional Army intelligence test and the coding-speed test described above. They had no particular incentive to do well on any of the tests.

Recent research by Carmit Segal of Harvard indicates that performance on the coding-speed test has significant predictive power for the individual's income 20 years later. This is true even when holding IQ score constant. And for participants who never earned a college degree, the coding-speed measurement has more predictive power than does IQ score.

The explanation suggested by Carmit is that what is really being measured by the coding speed test is intrinsic motivation: how much effort will someone put into the performance of a task when the only reward is the task itself? Just like Heinlein's bean-in-the-bottle test measures what someone will do when no one is watching, the coding-speed test as performed by BLS measures what someone will do when no one is paying or otherwise rewarding good performance.

The authors of the Forbes article assert that the test, however useful for measuring intrinsic motivation, cannot be used legally or ethically in an employment situation, since such use woul inherently involve deception: In order to measure intrinsic motivation, you need to tell or at least imply to applicants that the test results don't matter--but if you're using the results for hiring purposes, then of course they do matter. (They suggest alternative ways to measure intrinsic motivation which they believe do pass the ethics and legality tests.)

But I wonder about something else. Some schools have been experimenting with paying students to get good grades, and quite a few parents are also doing this.

If intrinsic motivation matters in career success--and I think it clearly does--then what is the impact of not-so-subtly teaching kids that they need not do anything for which they are not explicitly rewarded?

8:46 AM


Interesting remark by Paula Spencer a couple of weeks ago:

We protect kids from everything but fear.

Comes now Peggy Noonan with We're Scaring Our Children to Death, focusing on the role of the media in the propagation of fear. Definitely worthwhile reading.

I keep thinking about the musings of a character in Walter Miller's great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law - a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

7:42 AM

Tuesday, April 24, 2007  

A Yale official responded to the killings at Virginia Tech by banning the use of realistic-looking weapons as stage props. The first production affected is a play set in the Middle Ages.

A significant segment of American academia has put itself in a state which is truly beyond parody.

The same kind of thing goes on, of course, in the K-12 schools. Neptunus Lex has a discussion of the Yale ridiculousness, and one of the participants writes:

My local school system has banned the image of weapons on clothing, equipment, etc. Our Middle School’s mascot is a Destroyer (because we build them here) and the school went and removed the guns and missiles from the official logo. Now we have a haze-grey yacht on the team uniforms, etc.

UPDATE: The decision at Yale has been reversed by higher authority. The official who made the original decision sounds pretty unhappy about the reversal:

"I think people should start thinking about other people rather than trying to feel sorry for themselves and thinking that the administration is trying to thwart their creativity," Trachtenberg said. "They're not using their own intelligence. … We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons.

As Powerline remarks:

Funny that Dean Trachtenberg doesn't seem to think about students who are affected by the sight of administrators issuing ludicrous diktats.

UPDATE 2: The official Yale statement on the revised policy says:

Effective immediately, when a weapon or facsimile is being used, the audience will be appropriately notified in advance.

Does the Yale student body really contain large numbers of individuals who are so emotionally fragile that they would swoon at the unexpected sight of a sword or gun as a stage prop?

7:08 PM

Sunday, April 22, 2007  

See my post at ChicagoBoyz.

7:19 AM

Saturday, April 21, 2007  

Often behind a false moderation there lurks genuine cowardice.

--Gonzague de Reynold

(quoted in the introduction to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn)

Previous Worth Pondering

11:57 AM

Thursday, April 19, 2007  

Bill Whittle writes about conspiracy theories and the people who believe in them. See also these thoughts by psychiatrist Dr Sanity.

Sarah writes touchingly about her first three boyfriends. She also links a dream by Victor Davis Hanson.

Evan Coyne Maloney writes about double standards at Yale.

Sissy Willis remembers some favorite teachers.

Via manufacturing blogger Kevin Meyer comes this article on the application of lean-production techniques to U.S. health care.

7:40 PM

Tuesday, April 17, 2007  

Professor Liviu Librescu blocked the door of his classroom at Virginia Tech, saving the lives of all of his students. He himself was killed by the gunman.

Prof Librescu was a teenager in Romania during WWII, when that country was controlled by a fascist regime with strong Nazi ties. He later endured the vicious Rumanian dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, and was eventually able to move to Israel.

Fascists, Communists, Middle Eastern terrorists, and finally a crazed gunman--all in one lifetime. And through it all, Prof Librescu kept his courage.

7:54 PM

Monday, April 16, 2007  

A large and growing collection of photographs dating from the early 1900s through the mid-1940s.

7:33 AM

Sunday, April 15, 2007  

In previous posts in the Leadership Vignettes series, I've written about two generals and a famous inventor/industrialist. Generalship and corporate management are clearly jobs that--by their very nature--involve a large component of leadership. But leadership can also be demonstrated by people whose jobs are not primarily about directing the work of others.

Nancy Ortberg, now a Presbyterian minister, was once a nurse:

It was about 10:30 pm. The room was a mess. I was finishing up some work on the chart before going home. The doctor with whom I loved working was debriefing a new doctor, who had done a very respectable, competent job, telling him what he'd done well and what he could have done differently.

Then he put his hand on the young doctor's shoulder and said, "When you finished, did you notice the young man from Housekeeping who came in to clean the room?" There was a completely blank look on the young doctor's face.

The older doctor said, "His name is Carlos. He's been here for three years. He does a fabulous job. When he comes in here he gets the room turned around so fast that you and I can get our next patients in quickly so that you and I can get our next patients in quickly. His wife's name is Maria. They have four children." Then he named each of the four children and gave each child's age.

The older doctor went on to say. "He lives in a rented house about three blocks from here, in Santa Ana. They've been up from Mexico for about five years. His name is Carlos," he repeated. Then he said "Next week I would like you to tell me something about Carlos that I don't already know. Okay? Now, let's go check on the rest of the patients."

I remember standing there writing my nursing notes--stunned--and thinking, I have just witnessed breathtaking leadership.

This story is from a sermon given by Ortberg a couple of weeks ago--the whole thing is worth reading. (via Rich Karlgaard of Forbes, who attends Ortberg's church)

Previous Leadership Vignette.

6:59 AM

Friday, April 13, 2007  

The Dow since 1925--inflation-adjusted.

This chart doesn't take dividends into account, of course, so it can't be used directly as an estimator of returns. It's interesting to note, though, just how bad the period 1966--1982 really was.

6:59 PM

Wednesday, April 11, 2007  

Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of of vices; but it is the most unpardonable of virtues...when Nietzsche has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.

Read the whole thing at Lead & Gold.

I've commented previously on the clique-versus-clan part of this extract.

7:57 AM

Tuesday, April 10, 2007  

The BBC has cancelled its plans to air a drama about Britain's youngest surviving Victoria Cross hero because it feared it would alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq. Apparently, the BBC executives responsible for this decision think that opponents of the war are so small in spirit that they would resent the opportunity to learn about the heroism of Johnson Beharry:

He was cited for "valour of the highest order" after he drove a Warrior tracked armoured vehicle through heavy enemy fire in May 2004 to come to the rescue of a foot patrol that had been caught in a series of ambushes. The 30-ton Warrior was hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. Pte Beharry drove through the ambush, taking his own injured crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded colleagues from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire.

The following month, Pte Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior vehicle of his platoon through al-Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket-propelled grenade hit the vehicle and Pte Beharry received serious head injuries. Other rockets hit the vehicle incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew.Despite his very serious injuries, Pte Beharry then took control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries and he was still recovering when he received the VC from the Queen in June last year.

It seems quite possible to me that these BBC executives are generalizing from their own inability to understand or appreciate the actions of someone like Pvt Beharry and projecting that inability onto their audience.

And back in America, some people are objecting to the proposed erection of a statue of Danny Dietz, a SEAL who was killed in Afghanistan:

The statue is based on a photo of Danny Dietz that shows him in full field gear, rifle in hand. The protesting parents say that a sculpture depicting firearms should not be publicly displayed in areas where kids play...Some have said a "peace memorial" should be erected instead.

As this guy says:

You know what? When a dove can protect our children from religious fanatics who'd like to behead them, I'll visit the National Peace Dove Memorial.

For now, I look forward to taking my kids to Littleton and explaining why guys like Danny Dietz deserve to be honored.

1:54 PM


2 inches per minute.

6:38 AM

Friday, April 06, 2007  

The parliament of Poland has honored Irena Sendler for her work in saving 2500 Jewish children during WWII.

(via Sigmund, Carl & Alfred)

8:58 PM

Wednesday, April 04, 2007  

What is disturbing about the Iranian piracy is that it establishes a warning of what we can come to expect when Iran is nuclear, and how organizations like the UN, the EU, and NATO will react. If a few Iranian terrorists in boats can paralyze an entire nation and the above agencies, think what a half-dozen Iranian nukes will do.

--from Victor Davis Hanson--read the whole thing.

See also this from Thomas Sowell: Political clowning in the shadow of a mushroom cloud.

(Sowell link via Tinkerty Tonk)

8:13 PM

Sunday, April 01, 2007  

For the Model T Ford, Henry Ford's policy on options was simple: there weren't any--as emphasized by his remark "You can have any color as long as it's black." A similar policy is being followed by Tata Motors of India in its projec to build the cheapest car ever made. In this case, though, the standard (and only) color will be white rather than black. See this article in Forbes (4/16, free registration required.)

"Cheapest car ever made" must, of course, be interpreted in the light of inflation. Forbes puts the inflation-adjusted price of the Model T (as introduced in 1908) at $19700, and the inflation-adjusted price of the VW Beetle (1956) at $11300. Tata's new car is targeted at the Indian equivalent of $2500. The car is aimed at the millions of people in India--and other developing countries--who can now afford motorscooters and motorcycles, but not cars.

In building the Model T, Ford's insistence on cost control was legendary. For example, wooden crates used by outside suppliers to ship parts had to meet Ford standards such that the dissassembled pieces could be used in the bodies of the cars. Wood scraps were used to make charcoal, which was sold under the brand "Kingsford" (still around). Tata has a similar focus on cost control: the car will have a single windshield wiper instead of the normal two (Tata also believes that this improves the styling of the vehicle.) Reverse Internet auctions are used to bring down supplier prices for components.

One area in which the Tata approach differs from the Ford approach is worker involvement. On the assembly line for Safari SUVs, a worker noticed that front grilles were occasionally being ruined when a worker leaned over to do something with the engine and scratched the grille with his belt buckle. This was happening once per day, on the average. The solution involved a protective cover for the grilles plus a slip-on fabric cover for belts and watches. It is unlikely that Mr Ford would have sought out this kind of involvement from his line workers.

The Forbes article suggests that Tata may eventually introduce a low-cost car to the US market, using the knowlege it has developed for its current project but probably creating a new vehicle specifically for the purpose. (The company says it has no immediate plans in that direction.) "They are on a steep learning curve; I am very impressed with the company," says Jeffrey Liker, a lean-manufacturing expert and professor at the University of Michigan. Roland Berger, a strategy consulting firm, says that Indian quality is, on the average, better than Chinese quality. "Somewhere the next Hyundai is out there, working from a low-cost base," Liker says.

Related: Industrial India

UPDATE: Triticale writes to suggest that the reason for Ford's all-black policy was not just the production scheduling and inventory simplification resulting from a no-options policy: he says that with the paints of the time, black dried more quickly, obviously benefiting the production rate. He also believes that the Kingsford charcoal idea resulted from an employee suggestion.

6:36 AM

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