Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.

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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

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The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006  

Britainís main university lecturersí union, NAFTHE, has voted to boycott Israeli colleges and academics unless they publicly denounce their government's policies in the Palestinian territories.

And, closer to home, Canada's largest union has voted to boycott Israel. Unsurprisingly, it's a union of public employees.

Related: according to Palestinian Media Watch, there are linkages between the Palestinian Authority and the Nazis. Not metaphorical Nazis, actual Nazis.

Also related: Palestinian gunmen lynched a man they suspected of having spied for Israel. A woman who was believed to be having an affair with him was also murdered--by her own brother.

One other point on the NAFTHE matter: this union is slated to merge with the AUT, another major British teaching union. The AUT passsed the boycott last year and then rescinded it, and has come out the NAFTHE action. However, this link suggests that AUT is moving further to the left and that the Socialist Workers' Party is influential in some of its branches. At its most recent conference, the AUT affiliated with the "Stop the War" campaign, passing a motion which included references to the "Afghani occupation." I guess they would like to hand the country back to the Taliban, so that once again kite-flying can be prohibited and women can be executed in soccer stadiums.

(several links via LGF)

1:29 PM

Tuesday, May 30, 2006  

Anyone who might be thinking of voting for Pete McCloskey in the primary next week needs to read this.

Note also that two very liberal ("progressive") newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the San Fransisco Chronicle, have endorsed this bizarre individual in the primary. OpinionJournal offers the following:

Why would these very liberal papers endorse someone who consorts with Holocaust deniers? Because McCloskey is, in general, a man of the left. He not only opposes the liberation of Iraq (the common, perhaps unanimous, view of IHR sympathizers); as the Chronicle notes, he also "spoke out against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and called for President Richard Nixon's impeachment in June 1973."

It seems that for the Times and the Chronicle, there are no enemies on the left--even those who are also on the most virulent fringes of the right.

7:30 PM


The Wall Street Journal (5/24) has a comparison of two auto assemply plants, one belonging to Toyota and the other to General Motors. The Toyota plant (San Antonio) has 1600 hourly workers, while the GM plant (Arlington, Texas) has 2700. The main point of the article is to discuss efficiency diferences between the plants.

This isn't a post about auto manufacturing, though. The point I want to make is that there are many high schools in the U.S. that have more than 3000 students. (This article talks about one with 4800.)

That is, we have high schools that are larger than many auto assembly plants. And that seems to me to be more than a trifle bizarre.

Auto assembly plants are as big as they are for two basic reasons. First, they have a very highly articulated division of labor--no individual does more than a very small portion of the overall job. Second, the plants need to have enough volume to support their capital equipment--robotics and machine-vision systems, for example.

I don't think these arguments apply to high schools, and I'm not very impressed by the arguments made by those who support the mega-schools. Seems to me that a move toward smaller schools would be an excellent way to improve American education--and I'm not convinced that this change would necessarily add significant costs, if properly carried out.

12:53 PM


Oil companies and other investors have allocated $100 billion for the construction of new refineries. However, most of these refineries are to be built outside the United States: sites mentioned include locations in Saudi Arabia, China, and India. A major reason why there is virtually no refinery construction in the U.S. is, of course, the prospect of a decades-long nightmare of litigation facing anyone bold enough to undertake such a project.

Refinining outside the U.S. and then transporting finished product rather than crude oil by sea is said to add about $1/bbl to the total cost; however, this clearly assumes that the appropriate ships are available, and my impression is that product tankers are in relatively short supply.

7:22 AM

Monday, May 29, 2006  

Scott Ott usually writes satire. Not this post.

Shrinkwrapped has an extensive collection of Memorial Day links, many of which contain excellent further links...a considerable amount of worthwhile reading.

7:31 AM

Sunday, May 28, 2006  

A very interesting post by ChicagoGirl Ginny.

7:26 PM


I've updated this post about opportunities in the web-based advertising field.

11:40 AM

Saturday, May 27, 2006  

A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.

--Thomas Watson, Jr (Chairman & CEO of IBM for many years)
Quoted in IBD, 5/30

Previous Worth Pondering

8:38 PM

Friday, May 26, 2006  

H.R. 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act--which restricts U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority until Hamas rejects terrorism and accepts the right of Israel to exist--passed on Tuesday by a vote of 361 to 37. It is revealing, however, to analyze the vote in more detail. Here's the official roll-call data. Note that quite a few Congressmen chose either to answer "Present" rather than voting, or to not be available for the vote.

Twenty five percent of the Democrats failed to support the bill. The corresponding number for Republicans was less than ten percent. Pamela has more on the vote.

I think there's no question that tolerance for Palestinian terrorism has been a major factor in the growth of the terrorist threat throughout the world.

7:23 AM

Thursday, May 25, 2006  

Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, addressed a joint meeting of both houses of Congress. Pamela was there.

6:12 AM

Tuesday, May 23, 2006  

The Wall Street Journal (5/22) reports on the first newspaper advice column, which began in 1898. It was created and written for many years by Marie Manning (under the name Beatrice Fairfax) for the New York Evening Journal. The WSJ article gives some samples of the questions asked, but, irritatingly, doesn't provide Manning's responses. Here are a couple of the letters:

"Dear Beatrice Fairfax," a young man wrote. "If I propose to a lady, but ask her to postpone our marriage for two years until my salary is raised, would that imply an unflattering lack of eagerness?"

"Tell me, please, how far a girl can go and still be good. My body cries out to be loved, but my parents believe it is a sin for a girl to even kiss a boy unless he is engaged to her at least. I want to do the things that cry out to be done from within me. But I do not want to be cheap, promiscuous or foolish. How far shall I go?"

Manning was still writing her column during during World War II, and it was during that conflict that she received what surely must have been one of the most poignant of her letters, from an American soldier in France:

"We're fighting at sunrise. All the boys are writing home, and I haven't anyone to write to. My girl is married, and I haven't any folks. I'm ashamed to let the boys see I haven't got a friend, so you won't mind if I write to you -- I've often read your column.

6:00 PM


Carnival of the Capitalists is up.

And so is Carnival of the Insanities.

5:10 AM

Sunday, May 21, 2006  

BusinessWeek (5/29) has an item about career opportunities in on-line advertising. It's cleverly titled "Dearth of The Salesmen," and no doubt there are opportunities for sales positions in this field, but the examples given are more on the "creative" side. The creation of a sophisticated web ad requires significant technical knowledge, as well as a good sense for graphic design. "I've kind of gulped at a few salaries, but I'm willing to pay," says President Gay Gaddis of the interactive ad agency T3...who adds that not long ago a freelancer turned down a creative director job at T3 paying $150,000 to $200,000 a year. Boston's Digitas, an online ad shop with a staff of 1,500, advertised to fill nearly 100 positions in April alone. In addition to ad designers, there are opportunties for people focused on the measurement of advertising success, which is of course a highly quantitative field.

Piper Jaffray (PJC ) media analyst Safa Rashtchy says labor issues are the top barrier to the online ad industry's further growth. In addition to paying higher salaries, some firms are being flexible about putting jobs where the talent is and even dropping some smaller clients.

How long will this supply-demand imbalance last? It's hard to say. Seems to me there are a fair number of people who combine technical knowledge and graphics ability--including many bloggers--but of course it's also helpful to have some specific advertising experience and a sense for what really works as an advertisement. We'll probably see some offshoring in this area, but knowledge of local culture and iconography would seem to be important. And, of course, software tools will be simplified over time, resulting in a less labor-intensive design process.

The BW link is here, but requires registration and a subscription.

Update: The Wall Street Journal (5/27) has an article on the sales side of web advertising. Although Google and others allow ads to be placed via a web interface, the majority of web ad revenue is still obtained in the old-fashioned way, by human salespeople. The article points out that sales in the classical mode is needed particularly when selling ads to more-traditional firms such as consumer packaged-goods companies.

The shortage of qualified sales people in this field is significant: one CEO says he's paying about 50% more in compensation than he had planned a year ago. I have to wonder, though, if people are being a little too specific in their candidate specifications: see my post Hunting the Five-Pound Butterfly for perspective. While I don't agree with the old claim that "a good salesman can sell anything," I do think there are many people who have never sold a web-based ad before--and for that matter, have never sold any kind of ad before--but who could still do a good job at it. This is doubly true at the managerial level.

8:27 AM


Brandeis, a Jewish-sponsored university founded in 1948, is giving an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, a playwright who has called the founding of the State of Israel a "mistake," has accused Israel of carrying out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and told reporters "it would have been better if Israel never happened."

Kushner also wrote: "the biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community." He was also the screenwriter of the recent film Munich, which in the opinion of many draws a moral equivalence between the terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games and the Israeli forces that tracked down and assassinated the killers.

A Brandeis spokesman said Kushner was being honored for his professional accomplishment, that the board was unaware of his anti-Israel statements during its decision-making process, and that "politics was never on the table in this discussion."

"Politics was never on the table"...really? The formal criteria for the award include "social justice," which is certainly a highly political construct--indeed, "social justice" is usually a codeword for conformity to the "progressive" political views of the moment. And if the board was really unaware of Kushner's anti-Israel statements, they need to get out more.

Stuart Eizenstat, a former adviser to presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and a 10-year veteran of Brandeis's board, backed the decision.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, has implored Brandeis to reconsider the award. "Would Justice Louis Brandeis be anything but revolted by your honoring Tony Kushner?" Klein asked in a letter to university officials. Louis Brandeis, for whom the heavily Jewish university is named, was a giant of early American Zionism.

See also this.

6:21 AM

Friday, May 19, 2006  

Why Does the Left Hate Israel?

A comprehensive analysis by Richard Baehr. Sample:

What is it about Israel that brings forth this ill will from the left? Why this exceptionalism about Israel? Alan Dershowitz once wrote an article describing a visitor from another galaxy who comes to earth, and spends several weeks visiting major American colleges and universities. At the end of his tour, the visitor would learn that of all the nations of the world other than the one he was visiting, only one is subject to a divestment effort for a universityís endowment, only one is viciously described in literature regularly distributed to students on campus, and in essays and editorials in college papers and magazines, and only one is discussed in classes across the humanities curriculum with relentless rebuke and scorn.

Definitely read the whole thing.
Link via Melanie Phillips.

8:43 PM

Thursday, May 18, 2006  

Sallie Krawcheck, CFO of Citigroup (previously CEO of Sanford C Bernstein and of Salomon Smith Barney) is interviewed in the current Fortune (5/29). As his last question, the interviewer (Geoffrey Colvin) points out that few women have risen to high posts on Wall Street (which he characterizes as "an aggressively male environment") and asks her: "Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to be a woman in that world?" Her response:

I think it's an advantage. I grew up in Charleston, a very genteel, very Southern city, a gorgeous city. I will say there's something about going to an all-girls school in Charleston that's tougher than Wall Street. You don't know what it's like. I had the glasses, the braces, the corrective shoes. I was half-Jewish, half-WASPy. I couldn't have been further outcast. There was nothing they could do to me at Salomon Brothers in the '80s that was worse than the seventh grade.

7:16 PM

Wednesday, May 17, 2006  

Softness in the housing market may have a seemingly-paradoxical effect: higher rents. This post suggests that people who feel unable to buy a house because of higher interest rates will turn instead to the rental market, reducing vacancy rates and allowing owners to increase rents. (The linked blog belongs to a company which does on-line apartment rentals, so they're probably hoping--the logic does make sense to me, though.) And I also think there are people who can easily afford to buy a house but will turn instead to the rental market because they are afraid a purchase might lose value. This will be especially true of people who are only planning to be in a place for a relatively short time: purchase looked good if you could plan on a big rise in property values in a year; doesn't look so good if such increases aren't in the cards.

Any increase in rents may have an upward effect on the consumer price index, because that index is calculated using an "imputed rent" methodology for housing prices--basically, an estimate of what a particular house would cost to rent is used, rather than actual mortage costs or an amortization of purchase price or assessed values. I say "may" have an upward effect, because the most obvious effect of the housing market softness will be on apartment rents, and it's not clear to what extent this will be reflected in rental prices for stand-alone houses. But something worth thinking about for those who are trying to form opinions about future inflation.

As always, nothing on this blog should be considered as investment advice.

Update: Meant to link to this post on imputed rent in the CPI. Note the growing divergence between the lines in the graph.

8:42 AM

Tuesday, May 16, 2006  

Carnival of the Capitalists is up.

And here is Carnival of the Insanities.

7:09 PM

Sunday, May 14, 2006  

Financial Times (5/11) reports that highly-rated companies are issuing increasing amounts of debt...$312B in high-grade bonds so far this year, compared with the previous record of $271B in 2001. (It seems clear that the 2001 number refers to the same point in the year, not the total year.) Some of the big issuers include Abbott Laboratories, Verizon, Oracle, and Cisco.

Now, issuance of corporate debt can be a very sensible thing: debt generally has a lower cost of capital than does equity, so it makes sense to use debt to finance income-generating projects, as long as the total debt is maintained as a small enough component of the capital structure to ensure that the interest and principal payments can be safely met. And, obviously, issuance of new debt makes sense when it is being used to replace older and more expensive debt. But what scares me a bit is that a lot of the debt now being issued is intended for the funding of acquistions. And while mergers and acquisitions can make sense in many cases, there are lots of other cases in which they create negative value. See some of Warren Buffett's thoughts on M&A in my post Mergers, Acquisitions, Princesses, and Toads; see also Synergy or Just Syn? and The Costs of Synergy.

Acquisitions that don't work out very well are, of course, damaging to the stock of the acquiring company, and frequently also result in unplanned job losses (in addition to the job cuts that are often planned as a result of projected efficiencies.) Beyond the impact on individual companies, though, a large number of ill-advised and large-scale acquisitions throughout the economy could have a significant negative effect on overall economic growth and productivity.

6:37 AM


Many students and faculty at Gallaudet University, the nation's preeminent college for deaf and hearing-disabled students, are opposing the selection of Jane Fernandes as the next university President. One of the charges against her is the she is "not deaf enough." The debates have gotten so heated that the chairwoman of the board of trustees resigned, citing "aggressive threats" against her.

Fernandes was born severely hearing-impaired, but is able to speak and didn't learn American Sign Language until she was 23. She also has a husband and children who have no hearing problems. In the eyes of some, evidently, these characteristics are major deficiencies.

This kind of thing is clearly a result of the leftist ("progressive") worldview, as it has evolved since the late 1960s. To all too many of these people, a human being seems to be nothing more than the plumbing, the wiring, and the outer wrapper. Mind and heart are distinctly secondary. Fairness to the individual doesn't seem to matter much at all; nor does respect for the opinions of other people.

6:19 AM

Thursday, May 11, 2006  

Check out MaxedOutMama, who has interesting thoughts about all kinds of stuff.

7:37 PM

Wednesday, May 10, 2006  

May 10 was the anniversary of the German attack on France in 1940, and yesterday I briefly sketched the campaign from a military standpoint. I've now updated the post to include a discussion of the political and social roots of the debacle, some of which are spookily relevant to the climate in America today.

8:38 PM

Tuesday, May 09, 2006  

'When the crocus blossoms,' hiss the women in Berlin,
'He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe...
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.'

(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)

On June 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:

The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.

If it's an exaggeration, it's not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the "real" war started. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today's world.

First, a brief summary of the campaign from a military standpoint. France's border can be thought of in terms of three sectors. In the north, the border with with Belgium. Early French military planning had been based on the idea of a strong cooperative relationship with Belgium: however, in the years immediately prior to 1940, that country had adopted a position of neutrality and had refused to do any joint military planning with France. In the south, the border was protected by the forts of the Maginot Line (the southern flank of which was anchored by mountainous territory bordering on Switzerland and Italy.) In between these regions was the country of the Ardennes. It was heavily wooded and with few roads, and the French high command did not believe it was a feasible attack route for strong forces--hence, the Maginot Line had not been extended to cover it, and the border here was protected only with field fortifications.

The French plans was based on the assumption that the main German attack would come through Belgium. Following the expected request from the Belgian government for assistance, strong French forces were to advance into that country and counterattack the Germans. In the Maginot and Ardennes sectors, holding actions only were envisaged. While the troops manning the Maginot were of high quality, the Ardennes forces included a large proportion of middle-aged reservists, and had been designated as lower-class units.

The opening moves seemed to fit expectations. The Germans launched a powerful attack through Belgium, and the Belgian government made the expected requests for help. Andre Beaufre:

Doumenc sent me at once to Vincennes to report to General Gamelin (the French supreme commander). I arrived at 6.30 AM at the moment when the order had just been given for the huge machine to go into operation: the advance into Belgium. Gamelin was striding up and down the corridor in his fort, humming, with a pleased and martial air which I had never seen before. It has been said since that he expected defeat, but I could see no evidence of it at the time.

There was heavy fighting in Belgium...but the German attack on this country had served to mask their real point of maximum effort. Early in the morning of the 13th, it became clear that massive German forces were moving through the Ardennes, which had turned out to not be so impassable after all. A massive German air attack paved the way for a crossing of the Meuse river and the capture of the town of Sedan. French officers were stunned by the speed of the German advance--they had expected delays while the Germans brought up heavy artillery, not understanding that dive bombers could play a role similar to that traditionally played by artillery. And the bombing was psychologically-shattering, especially for inexperienced troops. The famous historian Marc Bloch had been exposed to many artillery barrages while fighting in the First World War: in reflecting on his service in 1940, he observed that he found aerial bombing much more frightening even though it was, objectively, probably less dangerous. (Bloch later joined the Resistance and was captured by the Germans and shot.)

The French command never really recovered from the unexpected thrust through the Ardennes and the fall of Sedan. Beginning on May 27, the British evacuated their troops at Dunkirk. On June 14, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned. He was succeeded by Philippe Petain, a hero of the First World War, who immediately sought terms with the Germans. The "armistice"--basically a surrender--was signed on June 20. By Hitler's order, it was signed in the same railway car where the armistice of 1918 had been signed. Hitler was present in person for the ceremony: William Shirer was fifty yards away, and was studying his expression through binoculars: It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.

The roots of the 1940 debacle are not to be found only--or perhaps even primarily--in strictly military matters. A major role was played by certain characteristics of French society and politics of the time--and some of these factors are spookily similar to some of the things that are going on in America today.

In her autobiography, Simone de Beauvoir reflects on the attitude of the French Left (of which she was a part) toward the rise of Nazi Germany..."there was no threat to peace; the only danger was the panic that the Right was attempting to spread in France with the aim of dragging us into war." (Horne) A constant thread that runs through France in the 1930s is the extreme factionalism, often resulting in more fear and distrust of other Frenchmen than of the rising external enemy.

This was not only a phenomenon of the Left. Among conservative elites, for example, the phrase Better Hitler than Blum was popular. Leon Blum (Premier 1936-37) was a fairly mild Socialist, best known for his advocacy of the 5-day week. Something about him inspired crazed hatred on the part of French Conservatives and Rightists. "A man to shoot in the back," wrote Charles Maurras, and he was by no means alone in such sentiments. As Julian Jackson puts it in his book The Fall of France: "Politics in France in the 1930s had reached a pitch of violence that had something of the atmosphere of civil war."

Leon Blum and George W Bush are, of course, two very different men, believing in very different kinds of things. But it is hard not to hear an echo of the insane Blum-hatred of the late 1930s in the insane Bush-hatred of today.

Nor did the factionalism stop on May 10, 1940. Georges Mandel, the courageous Minister of the Interior, observed a Deputy (legislator) whose district had been bombed by the enemy...he went about the lobbies (of the Chamber of Deputies), screaming "I will interpellate the government on this outrage as soon as the Chamber meets!" Mandel remarked to his friend, the English General Edward Spears, about the disconnect of this behavior from reality. "Paris is bombed by the Germans? Let's shake our fists at our own Government."

It is virtually impossible to win a war when politics is being conducted in such a manner...when the "enemy" across the aisle is hated more than the enemy in the bombers overhead. And, again, it is hard not to hear the echo of that Deputy of 1940 in the way that every reverse in Iraq or Afghanistan is used as a platform for vicious attacks on President Bush.

The tendency to view everything through the lens of domestic politics certainly had a malign influence on French military preparedness. Consider, for example, the matter of aircraft production. When the aggressive Guy La Chambre took over as Air Minister (in January 1938), he reputedly "found nothing but a disheartened industry of small workshops of which only one factory alone was equipped for mass production. As war approached and the production gap with the Luftwaffe appeared hopelessly wide, he tried to fill it by means of large-scale purchases from the United States; but even this measure of desperation met with intense opposition from the French aircraft manufacturers lobby." (Horne) At roughly the same time, the Left was objecting to the restoration of a longer work week in order to increase armaments production. (In the event, some aircraft orders were placed in the US, but not nearly on the scale needed, and the work week was lengthened, but not without an epidemic of disruptive strikes.)

The 1930s were a time of frequent financial/political scandals. The most famous of these was the Stavisky affair: Serge Alexander Stavisky was able to sell bonds worth 200 million francs based on the assets of Bayonne's municipal pawnshop. His political connections assisted him both in pulling off the scam and in getting his trial postponed 19 times. The result was a considerable weakening of confidence in France's governing institutions.

There was rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism. With onset of the Depression (which came later in France than in the US and Britain), immigrants were viewed as competitors for jobs (even though France was in a demographic crisis, with both a low birth rate and the effects of the horrendous casualties of 1914-1918), and became targets of violence. France was faced with half a million refugees from Spain following Franco's defeat of Republican forces in that country, and there were also refugees from other Nazi and Fascist counries. (Despite the xenophobia, "it must be said that France was more generous in providing asylum than any other European country or than the United States." (Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley))

In the period just before Munich, fears of war were very strong, and many people chose to blame the Czechs...and the Jews. In Paris, Strasburg, Dijon and elsewhere mobs attacked Jews and looted their shops, shouting: "Down with the Jewish war." (Brendon)

By 1939, many Frenchmen had had enough of Hitler's threats, and support for resistance against further aggression was growing...but there were still strong voices for appeasement. And these was a pervasive sense that something was deeply wrong with French society. Jean Renoir's film La Regle du Jeu, opened in July 1939 but banned as "too demoralizing" by September, portaryed, in Brendon's words, "a corrupt and disintigrating society held together only by deception. 'We live at a time when everyone lies,' says one of the characters, 'drug ads, governments, radio, movies, newspaper.'"

The most splendid Parisian ball of the 1939 season took place on a warm July night at the Polish embassy. Brendon describes the scene:

Ministers and diplomats sipped champagne while an orchestra played and beautiful women in frothy gowns waltzed with military officers. "In the gardens white marble sphinxes gleamed beneath the stars...and pots of red fire threw on the scene the glow of a conflagration.' The polish Ambassador, Julius Lukasziewicz, believed that Bonnet was "definitely seeking some legally valid escape" from French obligations, news of which accounted for increased "blustering" in Berlin. The shadows quivered. All thought war imminent and some were reminded of the ball "given by Wellington on the eve of Waterloo." Watching a mazurka, Reynaud (who became Prime Minister just before the attack of 1940-ed) remarked: "it is scarcely enough to say that they are dancing on a volcano. For what is an eruption of Vesuvius compared to the cataclysm which is forming under our feet?"

8:48 PM

Monday, May 08, 2006  

I have an update on the ethanol import tariff at ChicagoBoyz.

7:01 AM

Saturday, May 06, 2006  

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very courageous woman. After arriving in the Netherlands as a refugee from Somalia, she rose to become a member of the Dutch Parliament. She has spoken out strongly against terrorism and totalitarianism, and particularly against the oppression of women in Islamic countries--she wrote the script for the film Submission, directed by Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in retaliation for his work on this project. Because of escalating threats to her life, she has been under police protection since 2003. In January 2006, she was given a "European of the Year" award by the Reader's Digest.

She has now been ordered--by a Dutch court--to move out of her home in The Hague. It seems that some of her neighbors were concerned about the risks of being themselves blown up in a terrorist attack directed at Hirsi Ali, and brought a case against her. Although the neighbors lost their case initially, an appeals court has now ruled that her presence contravenes Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees respect for a personís private and family life. (The appeals court doesn't appear to have similar concerns for Hirsi Ali's human rights, or for the right of the Dutch Government to conduct its operations free from threats and intimidation.) Apparently, EU policies, in this case, really do supersede normal Dutch law.

As Bernard Lewis has written:

It may be that Western culture will indeed go: The lack of conviction of many of those who should be its defenders and the passionate intensity of its accusers may well join to complete its destruction.

(Lewis quote is from his book Cultures in Conflict, cited in the WSJ 5/1.)

UPDATE: Here is a video interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The interview was done in Norway, and the segment starts with a couple of minutes in Norwegian before switching to English. (In my case, the video never appeared, but the audio was fine.)

6:20 AM

Friday, May 05, 2006  

In an experiment, people were offered a choice between a piece of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad. They were divided into two groups: those in the first group were asked to memorize a two-digit number, while those in the second group had to memorize seven digits. Each group had to make the choice after being given their number to memorize but before being asked to recall it.

In the short-number group, 41% chose the chocolate cake...but in the long-number group, 63% went for the chocolate. The researcher (Baba Shiv, then at U Iowa and now at Stanford) believes that memorizing the longer number distracted the cognitive side of the decision-making process, allowing the affective side to take over.

If this result is generalizable (and large quantities of salt should always be used with such things), it suggests that: if you want people to make decisions focusing on the long term rather than on their immediate desires, you shouldn't give them complex and unrelated things to think about...but if you want them to go with the flow and do what they feel like doing anyway...then you should give them something complicated to chew on.

What's really kind of spooky is this: Shiv tried asking subject the hypothetical question: if strong evidence emerges suggesting that cakes have major health benefits, what would happen to your consumpion of these items? Even though they had been told that the question was purely hypothetical, those who had been asked the question increased their propensity to choose the cake.

This study was apparently done for marketing purposes, but I think it may have broader implications.

(From Business 2.0, 5/06 issue)

7:44 PM

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