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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Sunday, September 30, 2012  

Ibn Khaldun, the great Muslim historian, in his Introduction to History:
Taxation and the reason for low and high tax revenues
It should be known that at the beginning of a dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.

The same reason for this is that when the dynasty follows the way of Islam, it imposes only such taxes as are stipulated by the religious law, such as charity taxes, the land tax, and the poll tax. Theses have fixed limits that cannot be exceeded.
When the dynasty follows the ways of group feeling and (political) superiority, it necessary has at first a desert attitude, as has been mentioned before. The desert attitude requires kindness, reverence, humility, respect for the property of other people, and disinclination to appropriate it, except in rare instances. Therefore, the individual, the individual imposts and assessments, which together constitute the tax revenue, are low. When tax assessment and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is in sum total of (the individual assessment), increase.
When the dynasty continues in power and their rulers follow each other in succession, they become sophisticated. The Bedouin attitude and simplicity lose their significance, and the Bedouin qualities of moderation and restraint disappear. Royal authority with its tyranny and sedentary culture that stimulates sophistication, make their appearance. The people of the dynasty then acquire qualities of character related to cleverness. Their customs and needs become more varied because of the prosperity and luxury in which they are immersed. As a result, the individual imposts and assessments upon the subjects, agricultural labourers, farmers and all the other tax payers, increase. Every individual impost and assessment is greatly increased, in order to obtain a higher tax revenue. Customs duties are placed upon articles of commerce and (levied) at the city gates. Then, gradual increases in the amount of the assessments succeed each other regularly, in correspondence with the gradual increase in the luxury customs and many needs of the dynasty and the spending required in connection with them. Eventually, the taxes will weigh heavily upon the subjects and overburden them. Heavy taxes become an obligation and tradition, because the increase took place gradually, and no one knows specifically who increase them or levied them. They lie upon the subjects like an obligation and tradition.
The assessments increase beyond the limits of equity. The result is that the interest of the subjects in cultural enterprise disappears, since they compare expenditure and taxes with their income and gain and see little profit they make, they loose all hope. Therefore, many of them refrain from all cultural activity. The result is that the total tax revenue goes down, as individual assessment go down. Often when decrease is noticed, the amounts of individual imposts are increased. This is considered a means of compensating for the decrease. Finally, individual imposts and assessments reach their limit. It would be of no avail to increase them further. The costs of all cultural enterprise are now too high, the taxes are too heavy, and the profits anticipated fail to materialize. Finally, civilization is destroyed, because the incentive for cultural activity is gone. It is the dynasty that suffers from the situation, because its profits from cultural activity.

If one understands this, he will realize that the strongest incentive for cultural activity is to lower as much as possible the amounts of individual imposts levied upon persons capable of undertaking cultural enterprises. In this manner, such persons will be psychologically disposed to undertake them, because they can be confident of making a profit from them.
continued at Chicago Boyz

6:09 AM

Friday, September 28, 2012  

The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour this year includes B-17 and B-24 bombers and also a P-51 Mustang fighter. You can visit the airplanes for a small donation and, for a substantially larger donation, you can actually take a ride!. Indeed, flight instruction is available in the P-51, which is a two-seat trainer version. If the tour is coming to an airport near you, these planes are well worth seeing. Schedule here. Collings is also looking for volunteers to help organize tour stops in their locations.
The P-51 has an interesting history. Its design was led by James “Dutch” Kindelberger, a high-school dropout who had worked as a draftsman and taken correspondence courses before gaining admission to college. Kindleberger became president of North American Aviation in 1935. When his company was approached by the British govenment to manufacture a batch of P-40 Tomahawk fighters, Kindelberger proposed instead that a new design be built. Fortunately for the world, his proposal was accepted, and the first P-51 was flown only 6 months after the order was placed.
The P-51 had considerably greater range than previous escort fighters. Hermann Goering told his interrogators that it was when he saw P-51s over Berlin that he knew the war was lost for Germany.
Aerial warfare is of course not only about machines; it is also about men. Randall Jarrell, a major American poet, served in the U.S. Army Air Force during the war, and wrote many poems centering around WWII air combat.

The best known of these is Death of the Ball Turret Gunner:
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose
One of Jarrell’s most haunting poems is A Front (as in “cold front,” but probably also a reference to the term “front” in a military sense), which begins:
Fog over the base: the beams ranging
From the five towers pull home from the night
The crews cold in fur, the bombers banging
Like lost trucks down the levels of the ice
(One of the bombers has lost half of its radio equipment: it can transmit, but cannot receive…and thereby, has lost its navigation as well as its communications, since it cannot receive the signals from the electronic navigation stations (”the beams ranging from the five towers”) which were to guide it home. Those on the ground can hear the bomber crew, but their attempts to help are lost in the void.)
Here’s an excerpt from Losses:
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school–
Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
The people we had killed and never seen.
When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
When we died they said, “Our casualties were low.”

They said, “Here are the maps”; we burned the cities
In Siegfried, a former gunner on a bomber reflects on the mission that cost him his leg:
In the turret’s great glass dome, the apparition, death,
Framed in the glass of the gunsight, a fighter’s blinking wing,
Flares softly, a vacant fire. If the flak’s inked blurs-
Distributed, statistical-the bombs’ lost patterning
Are death, they are death under glass, a chance
For someone yesterday, someone tomorrow; and the fire
That streams from the fighter which is there, not there,
Does not warm you, has not burned them, though they die.
Under the leather and fur and wire, in the gunner’s skull,
It is a dream: and he, the watcher, guiltily
Watches the him, the actor, who is innocent.
It happens as it does because it does.
It is unnecessary to understand; if you are still
In this year of our warfare, indispensable
In general, and in particular dispensable
As a cartridge, a life-it is only to enter
So many knots in a window, so many feet;
To switch on for an instant the steel that understands.
Do as they said; as they said, there is always a reason-
Though neither for you nor for the fatal
Knower of wind, speed, pressure: the unvalued facts.
(In Nature there is neither right nor left nor wrong.)
(The phrase “the steel that understands” is a reference to a computing bombsight)
Here’s a link from the comment thread from the 2010 post about the Collings Tour: a memoir of a WWII bombing mission
See also my related post: Dresden
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:29 AM

Monday, September 24, 2012  

Color movies from 1902

These aren't hand-tinted, but actual natural color, captured by a process invented by Edward Turner and subsequently lost. Lots of information at the link.

Related: Czarist Russia, in color

11:50 AM


Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, in his NYT interview, made an interesting point:
There are two strategies for your life and career. One is paint-by-numbers and the other is connect-the-dots. I think most people remember their aunt who brought them a gift for their birthday or whatever and it was a paint-by-number set or a connect-the-dots book.

So with the paint-by-number set, you know ahead of time what it’s going to look like. Then, by contrast, with a connect-the-dots puzzle, you can only guess at what it might look like by the time you finish. And what you notice about that process is the further along you get, the more clear it becomes. It might be a beach ball, or a seal in a Sea World park or something. The speed at which you connect dots gets faster as the picture starts coming into view.
You probably get the parallel. This isn’t about what’s right and what’s wrong. This is about getting it right for you. Parents often want you to paint by numbers. They want it so badly because they have a perception that it’s lower risk, and that’s the encouragement they’re going to give you. They’re going to push you down this road, and faculty members will, too, because they want you to deliver on what they taught you. It doesn’t make it wrong; it’s just that there’s a bias in the system. You have to decide for yourself. The earlier you actually get it right for yourself, the faster and the better that picture is going to look.

And the more time you spend on paint by numbers when you’re a connect-the-dots person, and vice versa, the harder it’s going to be.
I think he’s correct that parents, in an attempt to guarantee success for their children in an uncertain world, often steer them toward a paint-by-numbers approach to life–and that this is likely to be counterproductive. Today’s credentials obsession, coupled with the nature of most of the educational system, also points toward the paint-by-numbers approach.
I’ve noticed that people who are overly impressed with their own educational credentials–especially those with advanced degrees of one sort or another–often tend strongly toward wanting to paint by numbers, and want to avoid the (perceived) risk of connecting the dots.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

11:30 AM

Thursday, September 20, 2012  

(originally posted 2/26/10)
Why has the western world shown such loss of will in defending itself from radical Islamic terrorism? Why, indeed, do substantial numbers of people–particularly those who view themselves as intellectuals–endlessly make excuses for dictatorships and terrorist movements whose values are completely at odds with their own stated values–and even romanticize these goons? I think some clues can be found in a forgotten novel by Arthur Koestler.
The Age of Longing (published in 1950) is set in Paris, “sometime in the 1950s,” in a world in which France–indeed all of western Europe–is facing the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion. Hydie Anderson, the protagonist, is a young American woman living in Paris with her father, a military attache. Hydie was a devout Catholic during her teens, but has lost her faith. She was briefly married, and has had several relationships with men, but in none of them has she found either physical or emotional satisfaction…she describes her life with a phrase from T S Eliot: “frigid purgatorial fires,” and she longs for a sense of connection:
Hydie sipped at her glass. Here was another man living in his own portable glass cage. Most people she knew did. Each one inside a kind of invisible telephone box. They did not talk to you directly but through a wire. Their voices came through distorted and mostly they talked to the wrong number, even when they lay in bed with you. And yet her craving to smash the glass between the cages had come back again. If cafes were the home of those who had lost their country, bed was the sanctuary of those who had lost their faith.
Through her friend Julien DeLattre, Hydie is introduced to a number of Paris intellectuals and and East European emigres. Members of the former group are mostly in denial about the danger of a Soviet attack…many of them have indeed convinced themselves that Communist rule wouldn’t be all that bad. For example, there’s Professor Pontieux (modeled on Sartre)…”He did not believe that the Commonwealth of Freedomloving People had solved all its problems and become an earthly paradise. But it was equally undeniable that it was an expression of History’s groping progress towards a new form of society, when it followed that those who opposed this progres were siding with the forces of reaction and preparing the way for conflict and war–the worst crime against Humanity.” Vardi, another intellectual, says that if he had to choose between the (American) juke box on one hand, and Pravda on another, he isn’t sure which he would pick.
Madame Pontieux, modeled on Simone de Bouvoir (with whom Koestler had a brief affair) is less ambiguous about her choice among the alternatives. “You cannot enter a cafe or a restaurant without finding it full of Americans who behave as if the place belonged to them,” she complains to an American official. When the Russian emigre Leontiev suggests that France would not survive without American military support, pointing out that “nature abhors a vacuum,” she turns on him:
“I am surprised at your moderation, Citizen Leontiev,” Madame Pontieux said sarcastically. “I thought you would tell us that without this young man’s protection the Commonwealth army would at once march to the Atlantic shore.”

“It would,” said Leontiev. “I believed that everyone knew that.”
“I refuse to believe it,” responds Madame Pontieux. “But if choose one must I would a hundred times rather dance to the music of a Balalaika than a juke box.”
(The French intellectuals Koestler knew must have really hated juke boxes!)
Julien is romantically interested in Hydie, but she is not attracted to him, despite the fact that he seems to have much to recommend him–a hero of the French Resistance, wounded in action, and a successful poet. On one occasion, she tells him that she could never sleep with him because they are too similar–”it would be like incest”..on another occasion, though, she tells him that “what I most dislike about you is your attitude of arrogant broken-heartedness.” Parallel to Hydie’s loss of religious faith is Julien’s loss of his secular faith in the creation of a new society. He does not now believe in utopia, or any approximation to same, but he does believe in the need to face reality, however unpleasant it may be. Hydie argues that the Leftists of their acquaintance may be silly, but at least they believe in something:
“Perhaps they believe in a mirage–but isn’t it better to believe in a mirage than to believe in nothing?”

Julien looked at her coldly, almost with contempt:
“Definitely not. Mirages lead people astray. That’s why there are so many skeletons in the desert. Read more history. Its caravan-routes are strewn with the skeletons of people who were thirsting for faith–and their faith made them drink salt water and eat the sand, believing it was the Lord’s Supper.”
At a diplomatic affair, Hydie meets Fedya, a committed Communist who works for the Soviet Embassy. She is powerfully attracted to him: things get physical very quickly and, from Hydie’s point of view, very satisfactorily. (Fedya is one of Koestler’s best-developed characters. His boyhood in Baku is vividly sketched, and Koestler–himself a former Communist–does a good job in showing how a political faith can become core to an individual’s whole personality.)
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:48 AM

Tuesday, September 18, 2012  

In 2006, I visited an old industrial facility which had been restored to operating condition. One of the machines there was anattrition mill. It consists of two steel discs, rotating at high speed in opposite direction and crushing the substance to be milled between them.
I immediately saw this machine as a political metaphor. Western civilization is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one disc being the Islamofascist enemy and the other being certain tendencies within our own societies. The combination of these factors is much more dangerous than either by itself would be. Events of the last 2 weeks have sadly confirmed this view.
Significant numbers of people in influential positions have demonstrated their willingness, even eagerness, to throw the American values of free speech overboard in the name of appeasement. They serve as the lower disc of the attrition mill, providing a surface for the upper disc–the Islamofascists–to act against.
We have discussed the Federal Government’s acts of intimidation against a filmmaker–I was about to say “an idiot filmmaker,” but really, this individual’s intelligence, taste, and artistic capabilities are utterly irrelevant to the issues here. The actions of the government, in conjunction with the media, may very well result in this man being killed for “blasphemy”–in the United States, in 2012 AD.
Actress Bette Midler tweeted that the filmmaker should be charged with murder. Other entertainers (see link) have expressed similar views. I haven’t seen any outpouring of free-speech defense from academia, although some individuals–like Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse–have stepped up to the plate. The media in general seems far more outraged about a filmmaker who offended Muslims–and about the danger of “Islamophobia” (see this CNN headline) than they are about the treatment of Jews and Christians and Hindus and others in many Muslim countries.
continued at Chicago Boyz

12:15 PM

Monday, September 17, 2012  

I was going to post this later, under a “Cool Project” heading, but a comment by Michael Kennedy (in this thread) encouraged me to go ahead and put it up now. It’s indeed a good idea to occasionally take a little time to talk about something other than contemporary political issues.
The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was a premier U.S. night fighter of WWII. 742 of these airplanes were built; only 4 are left in existence. TheMid-Atlantic Air Museum owns one of these, and has a project underway to return it to flyable condition.
Airborne radar was a new technology in the early 1940s, and the P-61 was specifically designed to be a radar-carrying airplane. Early radars were heavy–over 400 pounds for the set that this plane carried–and a radar operator was required as well as a pilot. So the P-61 was a large airplane–23,000 pounds empty weight, a very big number for a WWII fighter. Maximum speed was 366mps, which is 318 knots. There were 4 fixed 20mm cannon plus 4 50 caliber machine guns in a remote-controlled turret.
The Black Widow was all about its radar system, which was known as the SCR-720. The radar operator had two screens, one displaying range and azimuth and the other showing azimuth and elevation. The operator used a range gate to select a particular target that would be displayed on the pilot’s single screen. Close coordination between pilot and radar operator was essential in order to make an attack a success.
The plane served in both the European and Pacific theaters.
MAAM has been working on the restoration of their P-61 since 1980. You can view the progress of the restoration at The Widow’s Web…it is clearly an immense project. Contributions are of course welcome; and I bet that volunteers with appropriate skills would be very welcome as well.

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:36 PM


…clearly not a priority for this administration
Half of all U.S. military bases around the world lack legally required facilities where troops can register to vote and get absentee ballots, according to a report from the Pentagon’s inspector general.
Advocacy groups said the report shows the military has let down its service members by failing to implement the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act.
The Obama administration claims to be very concerned about ensuring that no one is denied their right to vote–so concerned, in fact, that they want to eliminate basic protections against fraud, by deleting ID requirements.
But when it comes to voting by U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, they don’t seem so interested.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:21 AM


Social Security Administration recently purchased a significant quantity of ammunition for its 295 special agents, who are “responsible for investigating violations of the laws that govern SSA’s programs.” Other civilian government departments, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, have also been purchasing ammunition recently.
Obama friend & advisor Valerie Jarrett has a full Secret Service detail while on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.
But Ambassador Chris Stevens was not provided with a Marine detail in Benghazi, Libya. Nor was he provided with guards operating under”the standard security contract offered to many American diplomatic missions in the Middle East,” according to the BBC, but rather with a much lower level of protection. This, despite the fact that there had been 4 previous terrorist attacks against international targets in Benghazi since June of this year.
Maybe–maybe–it’s reasonable and prudent to have armed Social Security agents in normal American cities, and to provide Secret Service protection, in an upper-income resort area, for an individual who is merely a Presidential advisor and friend–not an elected official, not a Cabinet officer. But wouldn’t it be 10 times more important to provide armed security for the U.S. Ambassador in one of the most dangerous areas of the world, on a date when there was every reason to believe the terrorist threat would be greater than usual?
Related: Robert Avrech on the Obama administration’s failure to act on security warnings from Israel.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

4:53 AM

Saturday, September 15, 2012  

Relationships don’t always work out. That’s why there are breakup songs.
Sometimes, the feelings leading to a breakup are mutual…neither partner wants to keep the other one around anymore. And yes, I think Obama is as dissatisfied with us, the American people, as we are with him. He clearly finds us to be very inadequate and unappreciative.
So, time to move on. And in honor of the impending breakup between American and Barak Obama, here’s a selection of fine breakup songs.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:20 AM

Thursday, September 13, 2012  

Mitt Romney has spoken out strongy about the embassy attacks in the Middle East, beginning with this statement:
I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
Romney’s remarks were met with attacks, some of them quite vitriolic, from Democratic operatives, from Obama himself, from old-media members, and even from some old-line Republicans. These people are basically asserting that no candidate has the right to engage in real-time criticism of a sitting President which a diplomatic or military crisis is underway. Indeed, it seems that many of Romney’s critics are far more furious at him for speaking out than they are at the people who attacked the embassies and murdered an American ambassador.
I’m reminded of an episode I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Chamberlain administration waffled. Many members of Parliament were furious, and were not shy about letting their views be known. General Edward Spears, himself an MP at the time, described the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.

Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!”

(Greenwood) hoped the Prime Minister would be able to make, he must make, a further statement when the House met at 12 next day, Sunday…Here many shouted “definite statement.” Every minute’s delay imperilled the foundations of our national honour. There must be no more devices for dragging out what had been dragged out too long. The moment we looked like weakening the Dictators would know we were beaten.
After the declaration of war, and following the British debacle in Norway, Chamberlain again came under attack in the House.
(Leo Amery) reviewed what had occurred since the fall of Finland, and in devastating sentences proved how clear and inevitable German action in Scandinavia had been, and how blind was the Government for not having foreseen the sequence of events…The house remained still and strained as it watched the redoubtable small squat figure of Amery smash the Government. It was as if he were hurling stones as large as himself, and hurling them with a vigour that increased as he proceeded, at the Governmental glass-house. The crash of glass could not be heard, but the effect was that of a series of deafening explosions. He concluded with the terrible words of Cromwell when he dismissed the Long Parliament: “You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say–let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
Had Romney’s critics been around in those days–and to the extent their arguments are meant seriously–then I guess they would have wanted all these MPs to simply shut up and allow the Chamberlain government to proceed with its feckless policies unhindered.
The Spears quotes are from his memoir Assignment to Catastrophe.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:35 AM

Tuesday, September 11, 2012  

Originally posted 9/11/2011
Simply evil: Christopher Hitchens suggests that sometimes the simple and obvious explanation for an event is more accurate than an explanation which relies on an elaborate structure of “nuance”
A time bomb from the Middle Ages. Roger Simon explains how 9/11 altered his worldview and many of his relationships
An attack, not a disaster or a tragedy. George Savage explains why the persistent use of terms like “tragedy” by the media acts to obfuscate the true nature of the 9/11 attacks. Much more on this from Mark Steyn
Claire Berlinski was in Paris on 9/11. Shortly thereafter she wrote this piece for City Journal
Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney were F-16 pilots with an Air National Guard squadron. Their order was to bring down Flight 93 before the terrorists in control of it could create another disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center…but their aircraft were configured for training, with no live ammunition and no missiles. A video interview with Major Penney here
continued at Chicago Boyz

4:27 AM

Monday, September 10, 2012  

See also my related post A Plague of Sticky Governors

cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:36 AM

Saturday, September 08, 2012  

Via Maggie’s Farm and Dinocrat, here’s a Bob Newhart skit from 1970. Bob plays the role of an 1890s-style venture capitalist, talking on the phone with inventor Herman Hollerith, who is trying to explain the merits of punched card technology.
Related: Father, Son, & Co., the biography of long-time IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr, is the best business autobiography I’ve read. I reviewed it here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

1:55 PM


In his Financial Times article Why Sony did not invent the iPod, John Kay notes that there have been many cases in which large corporations saw correctly that massive structural changes were about to hit their industries–attempted to position themselves for these changes by executing acquisitions or joint ventures–and failed utterly. As examples he cites Sony’s purchase of CBC Records and Columbia Pictures, the AT&T acquisition of NCR, and the dreadful AOL/Time Warner affair. He summarizes the reason why these things don’t tend to work:
A collection of all the businesses which might be transformed by disruptive innovation might at first sight appear to be a means of assembling the capabilities needed to manage change. In practice, it is a means of gathering together everyone who has an incentive to resist change.
I’d also note that the kinds of vertical integration represented by the above mergers don’t exactly encourage other companies–which were not competitors prior to the merger but have become so afterwards–to participate in an ecosystem.
Kay references the work of Clayton Christensen, whose book The Innovator’s Solution I reviewed here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

5:37 AM

Thursday, September 06, 2012  

Originally posted 5/30/2004
The date, sometime during the late 1800s. The scene, a Westinghouse Electric factory complex in Pittsburgh, with an unpaved yard between buildings. A young laborer–a recent immigrant–is trundling a wheelbarrow, filled with heavy copper ingots, over an iron slab which serves as a track across the yard. The wheelbarrow goes off the track and into the mud. As the laborer struggles to get it back on the track, other workers begin mocking him.

At that moment, a man in formal clothing is crossing the yard. It is George Westinghouse, founder and chief executive of the company. He wades into the mud and helps the man get the wheelbarrow back on the slab.
Not a word was said, but powerful messages were transmitted: when someone is having problems, you don’t laugh at him–you help him. When things go wrong, no one is too important to dive in and get his hands dirty.
This is a splendid example of how good organizational cultures are created: through the power of example. Think how much more effective Westinghouse’s action was than the mere posting of a “corporate values statement” containing phrases such as “we must respect our fellow employees at all times.” Not that such things lack value, but they are meaningless unless backed up by action.
It would have been very easy for Westinghouse to simply ignore the incident and continue on his way. After all, he was heading to a meeting about something–a multi-million-dollar bond issue, say–compared with which a wheelbarrow stuck in the mud would seem to pale in importance. But his instincts were the right ones.
(The story is from Empires of Light, by Jill Jonnes)
9/6/2012: The above post is part of my Leadership Vignettes series, which starts here

A related post by Bill Waddell: The cultural side of lean manufacturing
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

8:12 AM


A thoughtful post by Bill Waddell.

7:39 AM

Wednesday, September 05, 2012  
Brian Deese was one of Obama’s auto-industry “Czars”….for a time he was the Czar for General Motors. He is now Deputy Director of the National Economic Council where he’s “charged with coordinating policy development on several Administration economic priorities including tax policy, financial regulation, housing, clean energy, manufacturing, and the automotive industry.”
I wrote this little song in his honor and posted it originally on 6/11/2009. To be sung to the tune of “Ruler of the Queen’s Navee.”
When I was a lad, I was smart you see
So I went to Yale to get a law degree
I studied hard and I impressed some profs
But I thought I could do better so I blew it off

(he thought he could do better so he blew it off)
I quit and went to work for Hillary’s campaign
And they were really quite impressed with my most excellent brain
When Clinton dropped out Obama wanted me
And now I rule the U.S. auto industree
(when Clinton dropped out Obama wanted he
That’s why he rules the U.S. auto industree)
I never sold cars at a dealership
And I never worked the plant on the midnight shift
Or stayed up all night a-workin’ on a car design
Or fixin’ up the flow on the assembly line
(he never even saw that old assembly line)
I became a political man you see
So now I rule the US auto industry
(a political man most grand is he
so now he rules the U.S. auto industree)
I never had to wrestle with a P&L
To prove that I could run a business really well
I never executed any sales campaigns
Or handled the logistics with the trucks and the trains
(he never had to worry with the trucks and the trains)
Instead I was chosen by the “O” you see
So now I rule the US auto industry
(Obama reached down and annointed he
so now he rules the U.S. auto industree)
Now kids everywhere if you want to succeed
I’ve got some advice that you’ll do well to heed
Don’t go into business as an entrepreneur
Cause your odds of success they’ll be increasingly poor
Just become a political man like me
And some day you too may rule the auto industree

(just become a political man like he
and you too may rule the auto industree)
Original CB comment thread here
Music, and original words to the Gilbert & Sullivan song, here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:08 AM

Monday, September 03, 2012  

Errol’s Song, by Adam Carroll

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:09 PM

Saturday, September 01, 2012  

Does a curvy glass make you drink faster? Apparently, it depends on what you're drinking.

A better cooking fuel, developed by a young Ugandan

Dolphins, forming cliques

Is there a relationship between gossip and progesterone?

Dogs are made of love. (video--via Cassandra)

Making bicycles in England in 1945 (video--via Bill Waddell, who offers some thoughts on the importance of the bicycle industry to the overall development of manufacturing)

8:54 AM


On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, thereby igniting the Second World War.
Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland’s assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain’s government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.
continued at Chicago Boyz

5:00 AM

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