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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Saturday, December 31, 2011  

Lots of people will be singing Auld Lang Syne tonight. A history of the song is here...note that the Burns version was apparently based in part on a much earlier ballad by James Watson. The lyrics of the Watson version (published in 1701) are here.

Thanks for reading Photon Courier...best wishes to all for 2012.

3:46 PM

Friday, December 30, 2011  

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, writes:

This week, a bill that would create America's first Internet censorship system is going to a full committee for a vote, and is likely to pass.

He is referring to the "Stop Online Piracy" act and the related "Protect IP" act. Links to information and analysis concerning these bills, for which heavy lobbying activities are underway, here.

This is dangerous stuff, and, as Tim notes, people need to be contacting their CongressCreatures now.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:58 AM


Admit Britain to NAFTA?

The acronym even still works..."NA" could stand for "North Atlantic" as well as "North American."

via Neptunus Lex

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:56 AM

Thursday, December 29, 2011  

Minutes to Memories, John Mellencamp

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:52 AM

Friday, December 23, 2011  

A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link--then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.

Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie's Farm

Christmas photos from the 1920s

Lappland in pictures, from Neptunus Lex

Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos

A Romanian Christmas carol, from The Assistant Village Idiot

In the bleak midwinter, from The Anchoress

French Christmas carols

Rick Darby has some thoughts on the season. More here.

A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon.

The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. Or maybe not.

An air traffic control version of The Night Before Christmas.

Ice sculptures from the St Paul winter carnival

Silent Night in Gaelic

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya

Gerard Manley Hopkins

7:13 PM

Thursday, December 22, 2011  

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the first flight of the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane. Which reminds me of this well-written article by an SR-71 pilot, especially the following passage.

One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet if the cockpit lighting were dark. While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky. Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know and somehow punish me. But my desire to see the sky overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again. To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky. Where dark spaces in the sky had usually existed, there were now dense clusters of sparkling stars Shooting stars flashed across the canvas every few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no sound. I knew I had to get my eyes back on the instruments, and reluctantly I brought my attention back inside. To my surprise, with the cockpit lighting still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight. In the plane's mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of my gold spacesuit incandescently illuminated in a celestial glow. I stole one last glance out the window. Despite our speed, we seemed still before the heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater power. For those few moments, I felt a part of something far more significant than anything we were doing in the plane. The sharp sound of Walt's voice on the radio brought me back to the tasks at hand as I prepared for our descent.

Read the whole thing.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:34 PM


Chicago Boy Lexington Green:

One huge problem we have in America is that the millions of people who are struggling to start or grow businesses, or go solo through self-employment, have no voice. The people who talk and write — the chattering classes — do that for a living. The people who live off the public teat are often talkers and writers, and thus dominate the conversation. The major business guys are in bed with the government or have a lot to lose, so they lie low. The big middle band of actual and potential self-starters and wealth-creators is inarticulate and it needs someone to speak for it, and to learn to speak for itself.

The regulatory state is structured to punish and thwart solo workers, self employment, small businesses, and start ups. The regulatory state has several missions. Expanding its power is one. Moving resources to its clients is another. Insulating its clients from possible threats — incumbent protection — is another. The very thing which will allow us to dig out of this recession is what our government is structured to prevent.

This has to change.

Good discussion thread at the link.

8:19 AM

Monday, December 19, 2011  

In medicine, an iatrogenic disease is one that is brought on by a medical treatment itself. An example would be when a physician treating a minor condition fails to properly wash his hands and as a result gives the patient an infection more serious than the original problem.

It strikes me that iatrogeny also occurs in the management reporting and control systems of businesses and other types of organizations. A particularly awful example was reported in Britain a couple of years ago: hospitals were being measured on time from a patient's entry into the emergency room until the time that patient was seen by a physician. It appears that in quite a few cases, the optimization of that measurement for the hospital was achieved by leaving the patient in the ambulance, in some cases for as much as five hours, so that the clock on the measurement would not start until the criterion was certain to be achieved.

So a measurement intended to improve patient service had the opposite effect. It directly caused unnecessary pain and danger to the individual ER patient who was kept in the ambulance while harming the effective utilization of expensive vehicles and skilled personnel, while at the same time providing upper management with a distorted picture of what was really going on.

Smirk not, fellow capitalists. While this particular example of iatrogeny was perpetrated by a government entity, plenty of examples can also be found in the private sector. Indeed, I saw an interesting example in a Target store just the other day.

continued at Chicago Boyz

5:26 AM

Sunday, December 18, 2011  

A commenter at this Neptunus Lex post reminds us that Friday was the 67th anniversary of the desperate German assault in the Ardennes that began the Battle of the Bulge.

Here is a remarkable set of photographs of the battle, including some in color, recently released by Life Magazine.

There is also a Battle of the Bulge thread at Ricochet.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:48 AM

Saturday, December 17, 2011  

Photographs of Sikkim, a former independent monarchy which is now part of India

The history of maple syrup

How NYC sold public housing in the 1930s

Why people micromanage

The assembly line, the $8 million scale, and the $20 electric fan

The decline of elephants and the rise of human intelligence

The baby seal on the sofa

60 years of network television

5:11 AM

Friday, December 16, 2011  

In this post from last month, I cited a study which suggests that reading/viewing fiction can help to develop social intelligence and empathy.

Here's someone who makes a similar argument about fiction-reading and investing.

(via Barry Ritholtz)

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:10 AM

Wednesday, December 14, 2011  

Anyone who values American freedom of speech, and anyone who values American economic vitality, should be worried about the so-called "Stop Internet Piracy Act" which is now being considered by Congress. While Internet-based intellectual property theft is indeed a problem, the proposed remedies seem to me, and to many others, to be quite dangerous. If you're not familiar with this issue, please familiarize yourself with it--and if the bill bothers you, contact your Congressman. Apparently, this bill is going into markup tomorrow (Thursday).

Some resources:

--Wikipedia summary of SOPA

--A statement by the Electronic Frontier Foundation

--A statement by Google chairman Eric Schmidt

--A summary of lobbying efforts for and against this bill

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:25 PM

Sunday, December 11, 2011  

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ruled against the Bonneville Power Administration, which is itself a creature of the Federal Government. The case provides an interesting microcosm of the difficulties encountered in doing any kind of large-scale productive work in the increasingly rule-driven environment of contemporary America.

BPA's mission is to provide electrical generation and transmission services in the Pacific Northwest. In May-July of this year, the agency suffered from an embarrassment of riches: owing to weather conditions, vast amounts of both water power and wind power were available. Storing large amounts of electricity, though, is not a very practical proposition: in most cases, supply and demand needs to be balanced on an instant-by-instant basis. Hence BPA needed to cut either its hydroelectric generation or its wind generation, the latter of which comes in substantial part from independent businesses which sell their output to the BPA. The only alternative was to engage in "negative pricing"--ie, paying various entities--either customers or other power providers--to take its excess electricity.

The agency did not believe it could legally cut the hydropower generation below a certain level: routing excess water over spillways causes it to pick up nitrogen, which is believed to be harmful to salmon, and hence in BPA's interpretation would be in violation of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. What BPA did instead was to tell the the wind operators that during this time period it didn't need or want all of their output--100,000 megawatt-hours of potential generation was turned away. The wind operators, unsurprisingly, filed a complain, and FERC sided with the operators. So next time there is an oversupply situation in the Pacific Northwest, BPA will be paying to give its power away--ultimately resulting, of course, in higher electricity bills for its customers.

Various technical fixes for problems of this kind are being discussed, such as the remote control of water-heater thermostats in homes and businesses (which would allow excess electricity to be stored in the form of heat) and the interconnection of power grids across wider geographies. But basically, operating a power grid reliably and economically is already a difficult problem. Adding substantial amounts of relatively-unpredictable capacity such as wind makes it harder still, and each additional regulatory constraint makes it even more so.

The continuing proliferation of rules, many of them adopted without any deep consideration of their implications, makes increasingly difficult the running of productive activities of any kind.

Related: Frankly, my dear, I do need a dam

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:55 PM

Thursday, December 08, 2011  

...from Claire Berlinski, who lives in Turkey and is now visiting NYC.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:44 AM

Wednesday, December 07, 2011  

A date which will live in infamy

See Bookworm's post and video from last year and her new post today; also, some alternate history from Shannon Love.

Neptunus Lex has a video of FDR's speech, accompanied by relevant newsreel footage. See also his eloquent post from 2006.

Jonathan worries that the cultural memory of the event is being lost, and notes that once again Google fails to note the anniversary on their search home page, whereas Microsoft Bing has a picture of the USS Arizona memorial.

Shannon Love analyzes how Admiral Yamamoto was able to pull the attack off and concludes that "Pearl Harbor wasn't a surprise of intent, it was a surprise of capability."

UPDATE: Via another excellent Neptunus Lex post, here is a video featuring interviews with both American and Japanese surivors of Pearl Harbor.

7:00 AM

Sunday, December 04, 2011  

The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

--George Eliot in Silas Marner

I was reminded of the above passage by a couple of recent posts:

Claire Berlinski excerpts some thoughts by Hernando De Soto, asking "Is the knowledge system broken?" Some good discussion in the thread at Claire's post; see especially the concept of a "knowledge bubble" in the comment by Late Boomer. Although I'd say that it's more a matter of an assumed-knowledge bubble.

Richard Fernandez suggests that "too big to fail" really means "wait for it," where "it" means a failure on a very large scale. He cites Nassim Taleb:

Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policymakers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite.

Both of the above are very worthwhile reading. See also my related post penny in the fusebox.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

10:57 AM

Friday, December 02, 2011  

Barack Obama, a couple of days ago:

I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.

Barack Obama, quoted in a 2008 article:

I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that I'm gonna think I'm a better political director than my political director.

Tries not to pat himself on the back too much? The man is in serious danger of breaking his arm from patting himself on the back so much.

The second comment is absolutely bizarre, even taken by itself--anyone who thinks that way is seriously dangerous in any management or leadership position, and should probably not even be allowed to operate power machinery. Put the two comments together and you have an individual whose mind functions in very strange ways indeed.

The assertion about Obama's support of the security of Israel is of course so at variance to reality that it's hard to imagine anyone taking it seriously except members of the hard core of Obamian true believers. Of whom there are unfortunately still quite a few.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:17 AM

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