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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Monday, November 30, 2009  

In a week of depressing news items and blog posts, one of the most depressing was this.

A British writer surveyed members of Britain’s WWII generation and asked: Given the way the country has turned out, do you think the sacrifices made in the war were worth it? The most common answer was "NO."

Some of the reactions are probably the typical "things-were-much-better-when-I-was-younger-and-now–everything-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket" common among older people in all times and places. A couple of them sound like narrow-mindedness and xenophobia. But most of the reactions sound very understandable given what I’ve read about the current social and political climate in the U.K.

A couple of questions:

1)Especially for Brits: Are things really this bad?

2)For everyone: To what extent are the factors that have been so destructive in the U.K. also operating in the United States?

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where a discussion will hopefully emerge.

9:13 AM

Saturday, November 28, 2009  

It now seems clear that many climate scientists have shown a most unscientific lack of interest in following the data wherever that data may lead, coupled with an unwholesome eagerness to disregard and to disrespect the opinions of anyone outside of a closed circle of "experts."

In comments on a NYT blog (excerpted at Instapundit), someone comments:

"It is possible that some areas of climate science has become sclerotic. It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science."

This kind of tribalism is by no means limited to "primitive cultures," rather, it is dismayingly common in societies of all types. The phenomenon was astutely analyzed by C S Lewis in his writing on what he called the Inner Ring.

continued at Chicago Boyz

5:48 AM

Wednesday, November 25, 2009  

Remember Clippy, the irritating Windows feature involving a paperclip icon which would periodically show up and give you (usually useless) advice about whatever it thought you were trying to do?

Clippy has returned, and it wants to help make the case for global warming.

(Space down about half a page to see Clippy)

12:49 PM


Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said "Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?" ("She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source", Stuart comments.)

She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

continued at Chicago Boyz

12:37 PM

Tuesday, November 24, 2009  

Why did entrepreneur Steve Blank really, really hate one particular Cray supercomputer?

And why did he buy it?

Story here.

5:55 AM

Monday, November 23, 2009  

One of the issues raised in my post Myths of the Knowledge Society, and in the discussion thereof, is the question of formal, theory-based knowledge versus tacit, experience-based knowledge. What is the appropriate scope of use of each of these modalities?

Several years ago, I excerpted some thoughts from Peter Drucker which are relevant to this subject. I think they're worth re-posting here...
Read more »

7:26 PM

Sunday, November 22, 2009  

Continuing my retro-reading of old Forbes ASAP issues. In the October 1993 issue, Rich Karlgaard, arguing that book value is of declining importance in evaluating companies, says:

Human intelligence and intellectual resources are now any company's most valuable assets.

(Note that word "now"...we'll be coming back to it)

Rich quotes Walter Wriston:

Indeed, the new source of wealth is not material, it is information,knowledge applied to work to create value...A person with the skills to write a complex software program that can produce a billion dollars of revenue can walk past any customs officer in the world with nothing of 'value' to declare.

I think Rich Karlgaard (now publisher of Forbes) is a very smart and insightful guy. (His blog is here.) And Walter Wriston was one of the giants of banking, back when it was possible to use such a phrase without snickering. But in this case, I think they are seriously overestimating the newness of the importance of knowledge in the economy. And such overestimation has continued and increased in the years since 1993.

continued at Chicago Boyz

4:03 PM

Saturday, November 21, 2009  

Ever see the 1958 movie The Blob? Commenter George V, at this Neptunus Lex post, watched it during Halloween, and wrote a pretty funny comment.

In the movie, quick-thinking citizens use CO2 fire extinguishers to freeze the outer-space blob which is threatening humanity, after which the USAF flies it to the arctic and drops it on an ice floe, where it will stay forever..."As long as the Artic doesn’t melt" says Steve McQueen’s character.

Today, of course, citizens would never be allowed to react to the threat in such a direct and immediate fashion. Either OSHA or CPSIA..probably both..would object to the use of fire extinguishers in a way not specifically authorized…amateur blob-suppressors would also get in trouble with several unions which would assert blog-freezing as their exclusive territory. Not to mention EPA issues with all that CO2 release.

People would be told to leave the matter in the hands of the authorities, namely Homeland Security...which would tell Congress they needed more money if they were to be expected to add blob-fighting to their mission. Congress would still be debating the matter (especially which extinguishing/freezing agent should be used instead of CO2 and which companies get the enormous fire-extinguisher contracts) when the blob reached Washington DC.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

8:56 AM

Friday, November 20, 2009  

Talking up geothermal energy, Al Gore said:

the interior of the earth is extremely hot, several million degrees

Actually, the temperature at the earth's core is probably somewhere around 5000-9000 degrees Celsius. (Even if we convert the higher number to Farenheit, we still get only about 16000 degrees. So if "several" means "at least two," then Gore is off by--at a minimum--a factor of over 100 to 1.)

As John Derbysire says:

If the temperature anywhere inside the earth was "several million degrees," we'd be a star.

Gore also referred to geothermal energy as "relatively new." According to Wikipedia and a couple of other sources, commercial geothermal production of electricity in Italy began in 1911...which make this "relatively new" energy source significantly older than nuclear power. Going back futher, geothermal was used for district heating in 14th century France.

11:22 AM

Thursday, November 19, 2009  

In George MacDonald Fraser's picaresque novel Flashman (which is set in 1839-1842), the hero (actually more of an antihero) marries the daughter of a very wealthy Scottish mill owner. This creates problems with Lord Cardigan, the commander of the fashionable regiment in which Flashman is serving--indeed, Cardigan has insisted that Flashman leave the regiment. Here's Flashman, trying to get the decision reversed:

Just the sight of him, in his morning coat, looking as though he had been inspecting God on parade, took the wind out of me. When he demanded to know, in his coldest way, why I intruded on him, I stuttered out my question: why was he sending me out of the regiment?

"Because of your marriage, Fwashman," says he. "You must have known very well what the consequences would be. The lady, I have no doubt, is an excellent young woman, but she is--nobody. In these circumstances your resignation is imperative."

"But she is respectable, my lord," I said. "I assure you she is from an excellent family; her father--"

"Owns a factory," he cut in. "Haw-haw. It will not do. My dear sir, did you not think of your position? Of the wegiment? Could I answer, sir, if I were asked: 'And who is Mr Fwashman's wife' 'Oh, her father is a Gwasgow weaver, don't you know?'"

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:28 AM

Tuesday, November 17, 2009  

This post:

On the same day that Obama expressed "dismay" at the building of more apartment buildings in a suburb of Jerusalem (which Obama called for being the "undivided" capital of Israel back when he was trying to get the Jewish vote), Iran has sentenced 5 protesters to be executed. Of course, so far Obama has said nothing about this.

...from Common Sense & Wonder

5:10 PM


(...and so far, the blob seems to be winning)

Here's a New York Daily News article on mathematical ignorance among City University of New York students:

During their first math class at one of CUNY's four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem, the report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs found. Only a third could convert a fraction into a decimal.

And here's Sandra Stotsky, discussing some of the reasons for poor math performance in America's schools:

But the president’s worthy aims (to improve math and science education--ed) won’t be reached so long as assessment experts, technology salesmen, and math educators—the professors, usually with education degrees, who teach prospective teachers of math from K–12—dominate the development of the content of school curricula and determine the pedagogy used, into which they’ve brought theories lacking any evidence of success and that emphasize political and social ends, not mastery of mathematics.

continued at Chicago Boyz

2:01 PM

Sunday, November 15, 2009  

Who is America's top college professor? Three finalists have been identified in a contest which is focused on teaching rather than on research.

Entrepreneur Steve Blank writes about the difference between motion and action.

Silicon Valley writer Michael Malone isn't very impressed with Tom Friedman's views on globalization--but has some issues with Friedman's debunkers as well.

6:08 PM

Friday, November 13, 2009  

Management Advice from George Eliot

Fancy what a game of chess would be if all the chessman had passions and intellects, more or less small and cunning; if you were not only uncertain about your adversary's men, but a little uncertain also about your own . . . You would be especially likely to be beaten if you depneded arrogantly on your mathematical imagination, and regarded your passionate pieces with contempt. Yet this imaginary chess is easy compared with a game man has to play against his fellow-men with other fellow-men for instruments.

--George Eliot, in Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)

Lots of political leaders and their academic advisors, and also more than a few business executives, fail to understand this point about the kind of "chess" that they are playing.

See also investing advice from George Eliot.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

Previous Worth Pondering

12:47 PM

Thursday, November 12, 2009  

An interesting post by Robert Avrech about F Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood.

Bill Waddell offers a poetic critique of the theory of core competence and the impact of that theory on American business practice.

Here's someone who wasn't very fond of George Bush when he was in office...but has recently been doing some serious rethinking.

6:02 PM

Wednesday, November 11, 2009  

James Boswell is of course best known as the great biographer of Samuel Johnson. But Boswell didn't spend all his time in Dr Johnson's company. In 1776, he visited the Boulton & Watt steam engine factory. Showing Boswell around, Matthew Boulton summed up his business one simple phrase:

I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have--POWER.

Fast forward to 2009. In the United States as in Western Europe, politicians are conducting a vendetta against the energy industry. See for example this, which describes the closure of an aluminum smelter in Montana--because it can no longer obtain affordable electricity--and the probable exit of much of the nonferrous metals industry from Western Europe, for the same reason. (Link via MaxedOutMama)

So, was Matthew Boulton wrong? Have we finally found a group of humans--our present-day political leaders--who are NOT interested in power?

continued at Chicago Boyz

12:45 PM


Neptunus Lex


Video: The war was in color.

8:52 AM

Tuesday, November 10, 2009  

There is evidence that not only is Iran working on a nuclear weapon--it is making progress with two-point implosion technology, which allows the diameter of a bomb to be reduced so that it can easily fit into the nosecone of a missile.

Nuclear weapons expect James Acton:

It's remarkable that, before perfecting step one, they are going straight to step four or five ... To start with more sophisticated designs speaks of level of technical ambition that is surprising.

continued at Chicago Boyz

8:08 AM

Saturday, November 07, 2009  

There are the Vice Lords, and the Gangster Disciples, and the Black Disciples, and the Four Corner Hustlers. But the gang that does the most harm to the Chicago public schools is--in the view of State Senator James Meeks--the Chicago Teachers Union.

via Joanne Jacobs

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

8:14 AM


Asked at what point an attack becomes a terrorist attack (with reference to the murders at Fort Hood) White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replied: "I don't know that I have the theoretical background to answer that. I would pose that to somebody at the FBI."

Theoretical background?

These people are very, very strange.

5:40 AM

Friday, November 06, 2009  

Here's Obama's "media diversity czar," Mark Lloyd:

It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press. This freedom is all too often an exaggeration. At the very least, blind references to freedom of speech or the press serve as a distraction from the critical examination of other communications policies.

[T]he purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block rules that would promote democratic governance.

(from his 2006 book)

Mr Lloyd has had some very positive things to say about Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez and his approach to the media:

In Venezuela, with Chavez, is really an incredible revolution - a democratic revolution. To begin to put in place things that are going to have an impact on the people of Venezuela.

The property owners and the folks who then controlled the media in Venezuela rebelled - worked, frankly, with folks here in the U.S. government - worked to oust him. But he came back with another revolution, and then Chavez began to take very seriously the media in his country.

More here about what this "taking very seriously" is doing to destroy media independence in Venezuela.

(link via Ms Ellison)

continued at Chicago Boyz

6:39 AM

Wednesday, November 04, 2009  

Berkshire Hathaway is buying the Burlington Northern Santa Fe for $46 billion. (The number includes assumpntion of $10B in debt.) Berkshire already owned about 20% of the railroad's stock and is now purchasing the rest--BNI shareholders, of which I am one, can opt for either cash or Berkshire stock.

Here's Buffett's associate, Charlie Munger, commenting several years ago on the railroad industry:

Railroads -- now that's an example of changing our minds. Warren and I have hated railroads our entire life. They're capital-intensive, heavily unionized, with some make-work rules, heavily regulated, and long competed with a comparative disadvantage vs. the trucking industry, which has a very efficient method of propulsion (diesel engines) and uses free public roads. Railroads have long been a terrible business and have been lousy for investors.

We did finally change our minds and invested. We threw out our paradigms, but did it too late. We should have done it two years ago, but we were too stupid to do it at the most ideal time. There's a German saying: Man is too soon old and too late smart. We were too late smart. We finally realized that railroads now have a huge competitive advantage, with double stacked railcars, guided by computers, moving more and more production from China, etc. They have a big advantage over truckers in huge classes of business.

Burlington Northern's CEO, Matthew Rose (he will continue leading the railroad under its new ownership) has an interesting background. While attending college, he worked in the summers as a brakeman and switchman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. After getting his BS degree (marketing with a minor in logistics) he joined that same railroad as a management trainee, rising to the position of assistant trainmaster. He then went over to the dark side (as many in the rail industry probably saw it), taking a job with a trucking company. He joined Burlington Northern in 1993 and was named CEO in 2000.

More on BNI and the railroad industry here.

5:58 AM

Monday, November 02, 2009  

Here's Hillary Clinton, speaking in Pakistan:

I think that, look, we all know that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is one that is a very serious and difficult problem that we are working hard also to try to resolve. We inherited a lot of problems. If you remember, when my husband left office, we were very close to an agreement because he worked on it all the time. The next administration did not make it a priority and did not really do much until toward the end. And unfortunately, we are trying to make up for some lost time, in my opinion.

The endless attempts by the Obama administration to blame everything on their predecessor are getting worn around the edges, and betray a serious lack of class and of executive strength. But even worse: Hillary's formulation puts the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian problem in the wrong place--on the U.S. (and, by extension, on Israel) rather than on the death-cult leadership that has long controlled the Palestinian territories.

continued at Chicago Boyz

4:05 PM


I was vaguely aware of the Martin Mars, a very large seaplane built in the 1940s for the U.S. Navy...but had no idea that any of these airplanes were still flying in commercial service.

Turns out that two of these planes--the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars--are in regular use as water bombers for forest-fire fighting. Tailspin Tom has a great set of photographs.

Via Neptunus Lex, who notes that the Mars is less a flying boat than a flying ship.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

8:24 AM


The Democratic health care bill (House version) includes something called "Medical Liability Alternatives," which provides for incentive payments to states which adopt and implement alternatives to medical liability litigation. BUT a state is not eligible for the incentive payments if that state puts a law on the books that limits attorneys' fees or imposes caps on damages.

So..not only is the Democratic leadership unwilling to seriously address the issues of out-of-control medical liability costs at a national level, they want to use the financial power of the Federal government to prevent this issue from being addressed at a state level.

via Lead & Gold. Full text of the bill is here

6:05 AM

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