Thursday, September 30, 2004


Here is a snapshot of this week's entry into the contest to fly privately into space.

The whole thing felt a little like Burning Man with more money and fewer naked hippies. Squint through the dust (which at times almost blew as hard as it does on the playa), and those big sponsor signs could almost pass for theme camp tents. Instead of bad trance music blaring in all directions, we heard bombastic symphonic overtures on the PA system every time SS-1 was about to do something important, like lift off or move from climb mode to glide mode.
The craft is fueled by nitrous oxide and rubber. I suppose this proves what many Hollywood
clubbers have known for years -- that with a little latex and laughing gas, you can get to heaven.

The real reason I am posting this story is the picture. I have to find out how to get a photograph into this weblog.
Bear with me while I learn.

(It's also an interesting story, in case you're interested.)


They did it!
I'm not going to post links. The news is all over the place. As of today, October 4, 2004, commercial space flight is an official reality. Two successful flights in five days won the ten million dollar Ansari X Prize.

Upside to the internet bubble

Here is an essay that is so full of content that I cannot summarize it in a few lines. The title refers to the internet bubble, but the ten numbered points that follow are all worth a twice-over reading.

The aspect of the Internet Bubble that the press seemed most taken with was the youth of some of the startup founders. This too is a trend that will last. There is a huge standard deviation among 26 year olds. Some are fit only for entry level jobs, but others are ready to rule the world if they can find someone to handle the paperwork for them.

A 26 year old may not be very good at managing people or dealing with the SEC. Those require experience. But those are also commodities, which can be handed off to some lieutenant. The most important quality in a CEO is his vision for the company's future. What will
they build next? And in that department, there are 26 year olds who can compete with anyone.

My preoccupation with "real" vs "reported" profits makes me look harder at the big picture of business than most people I know. Only ten days ago I was complaining about outsourcing as a smoke screen for lost value. In some way this essay is connected to what I was thinking then. My thinking is slow but generally accurate. I still haven't puzzled out the connections between outsourcing and this essay, but I am still working on it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Webcam for Mt. St. Helens

In case you missed it, here is the link to the Mt. St. Helens webcam, updated every five minutes. It doesn't seem to be working this morning, and at night it's pretty boring also (unless there is a volcanic eruption, of course -- Duh...), but I have the link bookmarked. Thanks to Instapundit.

Debating the war -- Orin Kerr with The Volokh Conspiracy

Reading about this discussion, I had to put in my two cents worth. This is what happened...

Three Questions for the Pro-War Blogosphere: A year and a half have now passed since the invasion of Iraq. If you read the papers these days, the news coming from Iraq seems awfully depressing. The country is suffering about 70 hostile attacks a day, and 900 U.S. soldiers have died since the declared end of the hostilities ? a rate of about 2 U.S. soldiers every day. Over 90% of Iraqis see the U.S. as an occupying force. Meanwhile, classified U.S. intelligence reports are pretty gloomy about what will happen in Iraq in the coming years. While U.S. public opinion on the war in Iraq seems evenly divided, right now the picture looks grim. I'm no expert in foreign policy, and wasn't sure whether the invasion was a good idea in the first place, but my sense is that attitudes towards the war in Iraq are becoming increasingly sour.

So here's a little experiment in blogospheric dialogue. I would like members of the hawkish side of the blogosphere to post responses on their blogs to three questions I have about the situation in Iraq. In exchange, I'll post links to the answers on the Volokh Conspiracy. Here are my questions:
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

If you are a blogger who is generally hawkish on Iraq and you choose to participate, please answer these three questions in a single post and e-mail the URL of your post to orinkerr at (Please don't use my account for this one-- instead, use orinkerr at My plan is to gather the links to the responses and post the links here on the Volokh Conspiracy so others can read, debate, and analyze the posts. I plan to be pretty indiscriminate with the links, too: so long as a blogger is (or was) pro-war and answers all three questions in English without excessive profanity, I'll provide the link to it. I realize that this is a bit exclusionary � I want blogged responses, not e-mailed responses � but it's easy to start a blog and I want to provide lots of links rather than a few excerpts. Also, I'll put a time cap on this experiment: to get a link, the URL must be recieved at orinkerr at by 5pm EDT on Friday, October 1. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your blogs.

Shannon Love picked up the link and posted an inciteful response. I added my own ideas in the Comments section.

Excellent, thoughtful responses. The old saw about hindsight's being twenty-twenty comes to mind, though. And few commentators seems troubled by the endless shoulda-woulda-coulda debate that simmers as people are dying and money is hemorrhaging.

I haven't run across any comparisons with Iraq and India, both of which are historically geo-political constructs that exist as the result of colonial domination. References to "Iraq" strikes me as inaccurate in a historical sense . The Babylonian Empire may have been an identifiable entity in biblical times, but not in modern history. Saddam was able to maintain power partly by playing off one segment of the population against another. We have seen the same dynamic in the Balkans and parts of Africa as tyrants prey on the fears and past hatreds of groups under their control, feeding both sides of an internal conflict in order to divert attention from overall tyranny.

I read somewhere that the Kurds were successful in building infrastructure during the so called "oil for food" program because they were able to extract a toll from Baghdad for the use of the pipelines that flowed through their territory into Turkey. They succeeded, thanks to outside protection following a savage attempt at genocide, because it was more feasible for Saddam to pay them off than face the alternative.

Similarly, he seems to have succeeded in playing off Sunnis against Shiites, keeping both factions distracted, feeding the historic enmity (which still seems to prevail), blinding both segments to any kind of enlightened self-interest in getting along.

The whole scenario reads like a replay of what happened to the Raj, Britain's colonial holding in South Asia, later to become India and the Pakistans. In both cases political, religious and linguistic divisions worked against what we have come to call "nation states". What the US is attempting in Iraq is no less daunting than the creation of a single state where at least two or three should exist. I have a hard time thinking that we are not witnessing a civil war in which we are entangled.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Shannon Love's Blog: Three Questions on Iraq

Shannon Love predicts continuing terrorism in Iraq, even after what passes for democratic elections, because terrorism is, by this reasoning, an inverse index to totalitarian control. These must be comfortable words for supporters of Mr. Bush. Even though the argument is solid, I am reminded of the circular logic of Catch 22. The wonderful, convoluted worlds of George Orwell and Newspeak also come to mind.

Ironically, if Iraq does not suffer from some terrorism in the future we will have failed. Terrorism is only useful as a tactic against democratic or proto-democratic states. Police states do not suffer from terrorism. There was no terrorism during Saddam?s rule for example. Terrorist can only function against a state that has limited police powers and a free press. The occasional terrorist attack in the coming years in Iraq will mean that the power of the state is limited and that the press is free enough to report the attacks.

The key to winning this conflict is persistence. If we strongly communicate that we intend to stay until we succeed the insurgency will lose heart and those sitting on the fence will be encouraged to cooperate.

I believe the next 6 weeks will be telling. The immediate goal of the insurgency is to cause Bush to lose re-election. They will try to increase the tempo of their operations to that end. They will interpret a Bush loss as victory on the chance that Kerry will be more likely to withdraw and as a sign that Americans do not back the war long term. Fearing we will abandon them each, little group of Iraqi will begin to scramble to salvage what they can for themselves and their extended families.

If Bush wins re-election, especially by a wide margin, the insurgency will rapidly wind down. The insurgents will see only at least four more years of fighting Bush. If Kerry wins, it will explode regardless of how effective and determined Kerry is in prosecuting the war. The insurgents and fence sitters will not believe he will fight to the finish.

My personal view is that the "insurgents" are less concerned with American electoral politics than they are with foreigners manipulating the internal affairs of Iraq. Inciteful people at the leadership level of the insurgents are aware of the broader implications, just as Lenin and the Bolshevics, self-appointed "vanguard of the proletariat", had a larger view of the Revolution than the prole in the street. I see a parallel between the slogan "Land, Bread, Peace" and Osama Bin Laden's appeals to his own lumpenproletariat adherants.

I'm sure at the nosebleed levels of government greater minds than mine are at work on the intellectual constructs fueling policy. Military experts are working on game theory. Political strategists are weighing the electoral consequences of every word spoken by every administration official. Economists are wrestling with the dismal science in order to figure out what arcane descripteve language to use that will protect their status as experts.

In the meantime, as pundits write of presidential politics and foreign policy using clever phrases and abstract logic, ordinary people are going about their business. Mothers of young men, when they allow themselves to think of it, are worried that their sons may be drafted. Families with both military and civilian members in Iraq try to forget the dangers to which their loved ones are being exposed. Those loved ones, in turn, get up each morning counting the days until their return, praying for one more day of safety.

The Methuselah Mouse Prize

I can only say that Glenn Reynolds is awesome. This man's mind has to be one of the most fertile repositories of information at work today. This morning I learned of the Methuselah Mouse Prize. Maybe the rest of the literate world already knows about this project, but it's news to me. Time to add to your own store of valuable information. I say "valuable" because some day you may be reading about scientific developments derived from projects such as this.

The goal of capturing the public imagination is best achieved by a very simple prize structure, in which money is awarded simply to the producer of the world's oldest ever mouse. This should be restricted to the species used in virtually all laboratory work, Mus musculus, but no other restrictions should be placed on the way in which the mouse's lifespan is extended, except for ones that fail to maintain its cognitive and/or physical well-being. This is analogous to the situation with boxing, for example: the heavyweight championship is the one that gets by far the most publicity and money.

A major shortcoming of this simple structure exists, however. Our main purpose is to find interventions which are effective when initiated at a late age; it is very likely that interventions that are applied throughout life will always be ahead of those initiated late. Hence, there are two prizes:

- a 'Postponement Prize' (PP) for the oldest-ever Mus musculus;
- a 'Reversal Prize' (RP) for the best-ever late-onset intervention.

The Reversal Prize will not be formally instigated until November 2004, though donations to its fund are being accepted already. By this time, the Postponement Prize will have been in existence for over a year and we hope to have attracted a substantial prize fund for the Reversal Prize.

This effort is not an off the wall spike from the lunatic fringe, but a serious challenge getting serious results. Just last week I heard of a researcher, apparently well-known in her field, successfully extending the lifespan of earthworms by a factor of four or five. Historically, efforts to locate a "fountain of youth" have enjoyed serious attention, as well as alchemy, the attempt to transform some common element into gold. It is worth remembering that Charles Lindburg was alive to witness men walking on the moon.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Peeing in the ocean

The situation in Iraq has been compared to repairing an airplane -- in flight -- under enemy fire. This article by Steve Negus in London's Financial Times paints a dreary picture of troublemakers streaming into Iraq from Syria. With a two-thousand mile long, very porous border, Iraq is apparently as accessible to its neighbors as the US is to Mexicans. (Yeah, I know. There are a lot of illegal aliens. That's my point.) I don't know how long the border is between Syria and Iraq. I do know that lots of water can escape through a very small leak.

Only a two-foot embankment or a $2 bribe stand in the way of a Syrian Islamist wishing to wage jihad in Iraq.

The US military and the Iraqi interior ministry have pushed in recent months to seal Iraq's long western border against the infiltration of "foreign fighters" as part of an overall plan to beef up security before January elections.

But for now, US and Iraqi officials say, the border is virtually no obstacle at all.
Until earlier this month, travellers at this remote desert border crossing could enter Iraq without a visa. Now a visa is required - but Iraqi officials freely admit the requirement can easily be circumvented with a bribe.

Travellers mingle in an immigration hall before being called one by one to have their papers stamped. It is a chaotic environment in which money can easily change hands without anyone noticing.

Asked if his men are genuinely interested in stopping infiltration, one Iraqi customs official shrugs and says: "To be honest, no."

An infiltrator who wants to avoid even the minor inconvenience and expense of the official posts would have little trouble doing so, US officers say.

Further north, where the border straddles the towns and farmland of the Euphrates valley, local tribes with members in both Iraq and Syria engage in smuggling and will happily take fighters as well as contraband. In much of the open desert, meanwhile, the only obstacle from the Iraqi side is an earthen embankment, in places low enough to be driven across.

One US officer describes the border as a "thin crust" that can easily be penetrated. He says the border zone needs "depth" - which according to another observer means highway checkpoints and other surveillance on the Iraqi side, and forewarning from Syrian intelligence on the other.

It begs the question: Why don't the Iraqis turn them in?
I really don't want to suggest an answer.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Grey Lady looks at weblogs

The New York Times online is one of those registration sites, so I expect most people won't take the trouble to follow the link. I will just report that the Magazine today (September 26) has a lengthy piece about weblogs. Good writing, in depth, as befits the Times, it is worth reading. Here is a description of the "Tank", aparently some backwater area at the Republican National Convention where bloggers were holed up.

The Tank was just one small room, with theater lights on the ceiling and picture windows that looked out on the parking garage across 42nd Street. Free raw carrots and radishes sat in a cardboard box on a table by the door, alongside a pile of glazed doughnuts and all the coffee you could drink. The place was crowded. Everyone was sitting, staring at their laptops, at bridge tables or completely sacked out on couches. Markos Moulitsas, who runs the blog Daily Kos, at, was slouched in the corner of one squashed-down couch in shorts and a T-shirt, his computer on his lap, one of the keys snapped off his keyboard. He's a small guy with short brown hair who could pass for 15. Duncan Black of the blog Eschaton, who goes by the name Atrios, sat at the other end of the couch, staring out the window. On the table set up behind them, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD worked sweatily. Jesse and Ezra, whose blog is called Pandagon, were lying with two cute women in tank tops -- Ezra's girlfriend Kate and Zoe of Gadflyer -- on futon beds that had been placed on the tiny stage of the performance space. Their computers and wireless mice and some carrots and radishes and paper plates with Chinese dumplings were scattered between them. A month ago, at the Democratic convention, Zoe had accidentally spilled a big cup of 7-Up on Jesse's computer, killing it. She and Jesse now looked as if they might be dating.

Meantime, I have been working on a second weblog myself, an attempt to archive my participation in the Piccadilly Message Board at Yahoo. This project has no meaning to anyone but me, but it gives me practice learning the nuts and bolts of blogging.
On of my complaints about blogs is that they scroll the wrong way. Journals and diaries are not directional, except that today's entry presupposes that the reader knows what went on before. To that end, when a reader picks up a journal it is helpful if he already has read the preceding material. Blogs, of course, only show the latest ideas. It is up to the reader to dig backward and try to understand what might have been published earlier to fully know what that writer is trying to say.
This morning I figured out that blogs are oranized to default entry order according to dates. The default has the most recent date appearing first, with others appearing in reverse order. Think of the logic. If I want to read background I have to scroll to the end, then up to the start of the first post, then repeat the same forward and backward maneuver for every post, until I get to where I want to be. Too much jumping around.
By tinkering with the date assignments, I can cause my other blog (or any being edited) to start at the beginning, then read like a letter or book, scrolling down to the end. I will have to invent backward dates to make "new" entries appear at the "end", but the result will be more easily read. I'm looking forward to an experiment that my change the way we do blogging.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Is Osama a Republican card up the sleeve?

I need to get a couple of things off my chest. I need to react to the implication that the Bush administration is capable of producing Osama bin Laden at the eleventh hour as a political ploy to win votes. And I want to talk about the draft.

About the war...
Mrs. Teresa Heinz Kerry (She can't be called simply "Mrs. Kerry", you know. The Heinz part is much too important to be left out.) is reported to "not be surprised" if Bush produces Osama at the last minute. This is not the first time this idea has been floated, and it probably won't be the last. Who knows? At the last moment he might actually be killed or captured. But in the meantime such remarks are way out of line.

What is happening in Iraq is a tragedy of almost biblical proportions, although it is not much worse than the tragedies in Sudan (tens of thousands dying), North Korea (cannibalism reports because of food shortages) and other parts of the world that never make the evening news. The US is tangled up in Iraq like Brer Rabbit with the tarbaby. From here it looks like a civil war, but no one can know for sure. In any case, to the extent that we can find a "right side" I really believe that the people who are involved -- military, civilian, business, government, whatever -- are not being willfully stupid. All of them are trying to do what each of them understands to be the right thing.

I don't happen to think we need to have as much heavy-handed killing, but I am not in charge. I do think, however that the administration is not guilty of duplicity as much as ignorance, carelessness and naivete. Stupid? Perhaps. But not deceitful. If Mrs. Kerry knows something for sure, she needs to reveal it. If not, she should keep her specualtion to herself. Be saying what she did she is wrong either way.

About the draft...
I was a draftee during the Vietnam Era. It was not my choice to join the military, but I received a notice to report anyway. Because I was a conscientious objector I was sent to San Antonio for modified basic training with no weapons. Hand-to-hand combat training was optional for self defense (as was weapons training, I believe). All CO's are assigned to the Medical Service Corps according to policy, and all draftees are in the Army only. There are no draftees in the Air Force, Navy, Marines, etc.

Assignments are made according to the needs of the Army, not the individuals being assigned. Half of my training class was sent to Vietnam, the other half to Korea. There seemed to be no identifiable pattern that would indicate which person was sent to which assignment.

Before I was drafted my thinking was very idealistic. I imagined that the world might be a better place if everyone could just get along. After I joined the ranks of the regular army I learned that my thinking was really very unrealistic. I lived and worked side by side with good American men who were just as willing to kill other people as they were to be killed. For most people the issues are not subtle. They see the world in sharp and easy to understand terms of right and wrong. They are able to demonize those who are officially designated to be "enemy" and do whatever they are told to eliminate them. The loss of innocent people killed in the process is excused as unavoidable "collateral damage", much the same as "friendly fire".

My conclusion was that armies everywhere need each other in order to maintain balance. The country without military strength will soon be subsumed by one which will very quickly dominate it. At the same time, the concept of a citizen army got my attention, as opposed to a professional army. I came to the odd conclusion (at least I don't know of anyone else who agrees with me) that armies should be made up, at least partly, of people who do not really want to be there but feel it is their duty to do so. I cannot feel good in the company of people who rejoice at victory and see honor and glory in killing other people, no matter who they might be. I prefer to be among those who regard going to war as a very hateful and disagreeable activity used only as a last resort to conflict resolution.

If I were young and facing the possibility of being drafted again, I would still apply to be classified 1-AO (in uniform, as opposed to 1-O, not in uniform, serving in some civilian capacity instead). The time might come when I would have to shoot someone, either to protect myself or my patients. But when that time came, the decision would be mine, not that of someone else who could order me to aim and shoot at anyone they designated to be an "enemy".

There was a time that I imagined a world at peace, like John Lennon. Not any more. Thanks to a tour of duty in the US Army I have had a reality check to last me the rest of my life. There is no danger that people who think like me will ever reach any great numbers. We are, and are subject to remain, a tiny minority. You may sleep well, America, knowing that military might will always be an extension of your national soul.

I will sleep well also, secure in the knowledge that some small part of that soul there is a conscience. My job in this life is to keep sparks alive in that part of our national soul.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

This one is hard to read...

As we sit here comfortably, pecking away at our keyboards, discussing the ins and outs of business and investing, parts of the world are sinking into an unspeakable state of madness. There are now dozens of weblogs in English being written in Iraq and Iran. The Mesopotamian is one of the most widely read. In this account he describes how the hostage-taking business has reached grotesque proportions in Iraq, impossible for the average American to grasp. Notice he says that for every foreign hostage in Iraq there are a thousand Iraqi citizens. It is hard to imagine anarchy on such a scale.

The Comments section is a stream of encouragements and condolences.

THE MESOPOTAMIAN: "I would like to thank all of you who have expressed such warm sympathy. It helps and consoles when you know that there are so many decent human beings on your side. It is sad to compare the callousness of those who unfortunately are supposed to be of the same race and nationality as oneself with the kindness and decency of others so far away.

Well today, my relative was released and came home. It was a question of money; and unfortunately money had to be paid. But that hardly solves the problem. It is not easy to avoid this. When a gun is pointed at your head by some armed robber in a dark alley how many of you can avoid emptying your pockets?

This is becoming a very common situation and it is particularly the Baghdadi middle class and the better people who are most cruelly hit. For every foreigner kidnapped you must count perhaps a thousand Iraqis, and this is no exaggeration. The good people have become easy pray to merciless gangs with very little protection from the IP or any other form of Law Enforcement agencies, who can hardly protect themselves, let alone providing security for others. These gangs are part and parcel of the so-called 'resistance' and 'insurgency'; in many cases they are one and the same.

As I have said long time ago; without an effective security grip over the cities and particularly Baghdad, the situation will just continue to deteriorate. The kinds of measures that I have proposed then are yet to be implemented and could have been effective in preventing much of what is happening at the present time. Of course, the government and the MNF are working very hard and suffering many sacrifices, and that is something that must not go unappreciated. However, we must admit that there is still much to be done.

Very hard thinking of the required strategy is required; and with all the powerful, technically advanced people on the side of the majority of the Iraqi people who just long for a peaceful decent outcome of this situation; surely the right solutions can be found. This can�t be harder than reaching the moon or splitting the atom! When I recover a little bit from this latest ordeal perhaps I can contribute a little thinking of my own, too."

Yesterday, yielding to a terrible impulse, I found and viewed an online video of a beheading. It was not hard to find with a Google search. I tried to imagine as I watched what kind of person could even hold the camera, zooming in to show the gruesome details of what was being recorded. The man with the knife moved swiftly, cutting the throat from left to right, then pulling back for a few moments to allow the victim to bleed out. He got some blood on his hands, of course, but the volume of blood that pumped out in just a couple of seconds was unbelievable. The victim's chest heaved a few times as I imagine drowning blood got sucked into the lungs through the trachea. If I remember correctly, the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the head and brain, is on the right. There is no way to know if a cut from right to left, rather than left to right, would hasten unconsciousness.

The rest of the video showed the killing of more people by gunshot. All were lying helplessly tied on the ground. There was no sound track but you could know exactly when a bullet was being fired because the person being shot would twitch. There were several instances where bloody spots instantly erupted either on backs or heads.

If the killing were not enough, the perpetrators seem to want others to witness their actions on video. There are really sick and deranged people alive in the world. And their numbers seem to be multiplying.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Wisdom from a message board, of all places...

Among old line Southern cafeterias, Luby's has been an undisputed example of excellence. That segment of the food business has been savaged by the advent of food courts, buffets and steak houses that offer all-you-can-eat food bars. Those of us who worked for profits the old fashioned way, seeking to squeeze a nickle or eight cents out of a dollar have a good idea how hard it is to report a real profit. I'm sure that citing a Yahoo message board post is considered low-brow among bloggers, but I don't care. This writer from the Yahoo message board is a clear thinker, whoever he or she is, and the argument is excellent. The opening reference is to the current trend to worshiping profits above all other Gods (see previous post).

'the stock price is the ONLY indicator (that matters) of how the actions of management are judged.'

That is all too true. As Hootsbuddie alluded, this relatively recent shift in priorities has left some damage in its wake. Companies once gave similar priority to shareholders, customers, and employees, and there was a balance where all worked together to build this great economy. Now that we have shifted to working only for the stockholder, employees become a commodity to be used and tossed out as best benefits shareholders.

One problem is that shareholder benefits from this are short-term. As good employees leave, the company loses more ability and knowledge to run the business profitably. Not only that, but we are now discovering the seemingly obvious premise that people who are not employed do not have the purchasing power to sustain businesses.

In the long run, as more industries have adopted this 'shareholders above all' mentality, we have seen workers displaced to illegal or foreign competition. This is great as long as the economy is vibrant enough to absorb the displaced workers into other areas. The problem seems to be that the economy just isn't that big anymore. We are no longer immune to the wage pressures of people in China, India, or anywhere else.

You have to wonder where shareholders are going to get any kind of return when all their paying customers can no longer afford to buy anything because they were displaced from somewhere else.

As with all extremes, it will eventually work itself out, but the economic pain will have social impacts for years to come. Will we have to suffer an economic collapse to third-world status to be competitive? I'd like for someone to be able to offer some reasoned hope that it's not a foregone conclusion. I doubt cafeterias do very well in the third world."

The thread is too obscure for the general reader, but there are some gems of wisdom there.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Outsourcing -- Today's profit maker

We speak in respectful tones about that primordial soup from which profits flow, the marketplace. Great numbers of people worship at that altar...probably more than worship in old-fashioned religious venues. When the numbers are good, the news announcer reading the results often has happy background music playing, something like "We're In the Money". If the numbers are down, the music might be "Stormy Weather". It's as much a part of our culture as sports and popular foods to rejoice when the "Market" is good, and gloomy if the report is "down". At some level everyone, even those who will never see a stock certificate, some of whom will never guess that there is a cap on social security taxes every year for people earning over a certain amount...everyone feels connected.

It's not fashionable to ask where profits come from, however. It's like asking if someone has had cosmetic surgery or was fortunate enough to come into a lot of money following the recent death of a loved one. We want the dealership from which we get our car to be profitable enough to keep up with the warranty service, but we don't want any profit to that dealer from our purchase, and we sure as hell don't want to pay dealer prices for service. Profit is what happens when a company makes a good deal with someone else. When I have to make the same deal, however, they are taking advantage of me.

Not everyone thinks like this, of course. There are lots of people who cheerfully pay a dear price to be the first or latest in their peer group to see a movie or own a certain fashion or travel to some wonderful destination. Big tips, ostentatiously bigger than the norm, are sometimes found by delighted service people who don't care that they say more about the ego needs of patrons than the quality of their service. And I think there are a few people who take a balanced view of profits and don't get disturbed about their contributions to someone else's pofit.

In the face of all this resistance on the part of customers, clients and patrons to cut them out of reasonable profits businesses are forced to be imaginative about being able to report ever higher profits. The word "bubble" comes to mind first, because that is the easiest track to profits in the short term. We have seen it many times, from the famous tulip bulbs to the California Gold Rush to the explosion of dotcoms. In the end the bubble bursts (hence the term) but there are what I would call "serial bubbles" (see "serial monogamy") in real estate, fashions, entertainment and advertising. I heard a couple of weeks ago that insurance stock prices go up when a hurricane hits because historically that is when premiums go up, not only to cover "losses" due to weather, but improved profits as well. Why do insurance companies jack up the prices at just the time that their policy holders can least afford to pay more? Because they can.

A few years ago, and to some extent continuing today, the phenomenon of "mergers and acquisitions" yielded breathtaking "profits". When two companies in the same line of work merge it is a win-win situation (except for the people whose jobs are sacrificed for the deal) because the new, stronger company has one less competitor in the marketplace (whew!) as well as a more efficient operation, because the payroll departments, accountants, ad agencies and other support operations can be performed by one department instead of two. All this improved efficiency translates into profits.

Speaking of accounting, now there is the toolbox from which a lot of profits can be made to flow. When they get the cooperation they need from operations there is practically no end to the profits that can result. Just ask the people at Enron how easy it can be.

Have you noticed that so far that nothing has been mentioned about productivity? That is my point. The only real source of profits haas to be that something has been produced. Moving the furniture around does not produce anything, unless you are paid to be an interior decorator. Mergers might squeeze a few cents from the economy of scale, but they real improvements, if you can call them that, is that there is more to report for profits because fewer people are being paid.

This brings us to the notion of outsourcing, the ultimate job eraser. Outsourcing has had it's bony finger in nearly every business enterprise in the marketplace. I would like to advance the notion that corporate reliance on outsourcing is tantamount to an admission of failure. It is easiest to see in something like janitorial work, the bottom of the economic ladder by most standards. Very few organizations today directly employ the people who literally clean up behind them. The reasons are easy to grasp. Nobody wants to take out the trash, clean the restrooms and refill the soap dispensers, so it is eaasier to pay an outside company to do that job than go to the trouble to hire and train someone and hold them accountable. And don't even mention the benefits that the would expect. After a few years they could get to wanting a vacation like everyone else. Next thing you know, they might even want to be getting ahead in life and someone would have to be trained to replace them. Imagine that.

I'm trying not to sound cynical, but I'm not trying very hard. I have watched for years as the idea of people skills and management accountability have become less and less a part of business life. Few supervisors are trained to spell out their expectations in language that is clear but not judgemental. Even fewer are trained to be the patient coaches they have to be if they are to develop their subordinates into more than robots. For the past few days I have been thinking that outsourcing is the contemporary successor to mergers as a generator of false profits, because in most cases the end result neither improves the service nor generates any new value to the owner/stockholder.

And the social consequences of jobs being lost....don't get me started.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Shannon Love's Blog

This is from a fairly new weblog now getting a lot of traffic thanks to a mention or two by Glenn Reynolds. I haven't read this idea elsewhere stated so clearly and simply. It's too bad my politics are not on the upswing this year, but I have to agree that what is said here is part of the reason...

Shannon Love's Blog: "I think Kerry got blindsided by the Swiftvets because he doesn?t really know what happened. He was there, but he remembers with such advantages that it never occurred to him that others that were there as well would have anything but glowing memories of his service. Nobody ever seems to have questioned his 'Christmas in Cambodia' story and he retold it so many times I think he honestly believes it himself. The same holds true for his anti-war activities. He remembers the adoration he received from the Leftist intelligentsia but not the fury and hatred he engendered in the majority of veterans.

Bush and Kerry are like two opposing generals. Bush has a realistic understanding of the disposition of his own troops but Kerry does not. Kerry cannot predict the consequences of an enemy movement because he doesn't know where his own forces are. Kerry ignored the Swiftvets because he never understood that he was in anyway vulnerable to attacks on his wartime service. The attack fell upon a weak point he did not even imagine existed. Worse, it was a weak point he believed was a strong point.

Bush's business and personal failures in the mid-80's forced upon him a self-reexamination rare in people involved in politics. I think it knocked the arrogance out him and let him look at himself in a ruthlessly honest fashion. He understands himself and this in turn gives him a good idea of how others see him as well. That's a tremendous advantage for a politician.

To defeat Bush, Kerry must first truly understand himself. I don?t think he has the inclination, nor the time left, to do so."

Not that it matters, but I'm not sure of Shannon Love's gender.

And changing subjects yet another time, I would like to add a blogroll to the sidebar, but I haven't figured out how to do that. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Big media...little media...whatever...

Jeff Jarvis points out that the internet is now inextricably linked with the rest of media. There was a time when the alphabet networks were considered brewed coffee and anyone else was just "instant". No longer. Weblogs have become an important part of the flavor profile and anyone who isn't sipping the new brew probably can't figure out why cappacino drinkers no longer want to settle for generic coffee.

"I say we're citizens' media. They're big media. "

Staying informed ain't what it used to be. That's for sure.

The Libruls are coming! The Libruls are coming!

Kos has an item generating a bunch of righteous indignation.

Observation: in an effort to refute bigotry, a good many commentators (see the comments) become Bible&believer-bashers. Think about the contradiction.

Campaign mail with a return address of the Republican National Committee warns West Virginia voters that the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November.
The literature shows a Bible with the word 'BANNED' across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word 'ALLOWED.' The mailing tells West Virginians to 'vote Republican to protect our families' and defeat the 'liberal agenda.'
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Friday that he wasn't aware of the mailing, but said it could be the work of the RNC. 'It wouldn't surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage,' Gillespie said.
The flier says Republicans have passed laws 'protecting life,' support defining marriage as between a man and a woman and nominate conservative judges who will 'interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.' It does not mention the names of the presidential candidates...
'There is a line drawn in America today,' one ad says. 'On one side are the radicals trying to uproot our traditional values and our culture. They're fighting to hijack the institution of marriage, plotting to legalize partial birth abortion, and working to take God out of the pledge of allegiance and force the worst of Hollywood on the rest of America.'
'Are you on their side of the line?' the ad asks before making the plea to 'support conservative Republican candidates.'
I'm feeling a little woozy today, so maybe someone can answer some questions:
Why is it only the marriage of two men that's a problem, but not the marriage of two women? (I know, I know, the Republicans don't want to alienate the porn-watching angry white male vote who don't have a problem with women making love to each other as long as men are allowed to watch.)
What are the deadly afflictions associated with same-sex marriage that make banning it a form of "protecting life?"
Is it just a coincidence that the Republicans think liberals, like al-Qaeda, are "radicals" opposed to our "culture" who are "plotting" a "hijack" against "God" and the "rest of America?

When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. Could this be the reason that Christians are reluctant to identify themselves with the left? At least Republicans have a dog house with a roof instead of an open backyard with no protection from the weather.

Friday, September 17, 2004

South Knox Bubba treats us to a wonderful rant...

Before I go to bed I have to put this one on the chart. Warning before you read the whole thing, language is rated "R", but the thinking is hard as a rock. The comments are also worth a glance, especially the one referring to pre-war Germany.

Remember all those weapons of mass destruction we had to go in and get before mushroom clouds appeared over American cities courtesy of Saddam and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization? Remember how Iraq was going to welcome us with open arms and shower us with flowers? Remember how all the traitors of the anti-war left were just barking at the moon with all this crazy 'quagmire' talk? Remember how that lying liberal media was obsessed with 'body counts' and wasn't telling the whole story about all the great things happening in Iraq -- about all the schools we were building and all the toys and crayons we were giving the children?

Bullshit. All of it.

Now we're bombing those kids and their schools and their crayons, we are officially in a quagmire, and we are not greeted as liberators or showered with flowers. Instead we are hated as occupiers and showered with AK-47 fire and shrapnel from 'improvised explosive devices' (which used to be 'bombs' until Bush administration newspeak goons took over).

There's lots more, but you can read it for yourself. [August 2005: You can't read it any more. SKB folded a few weeks back. Too bad.]

When passions are as strong as this, and when there seem to be so many people in agreement, it is hard for me to understand why such thinking is thought to be unpatriotic in so many quarters. The polarization of the electorate is going from sharp to extreme. A last minute backlash is the only hope for the Democrats, but unfortunately they don't have a candidate strong enough to grab it and run with it. If the polls turned around, I expect Kerry would try to find a way to catch the wind without alienating anyone. The result would look, taste and sound pure vanilla. Or gobbledegook.

Whatever happened to the loyal opposition?

Kesher Talk about a Bush sweep

The electricity has been out for hours, making the house a ticking alarm clock with television and computer up and running at one in the morning, so I am shocked into a state of alertness after only a couple hours of fitful sleep. What to do? What to do...

So a-blogging we will go. It's Rosh Hashanna so I visit some Jewish and Israeli weblogs. Here I find the same idea I had earlier about a Bush sweep, thinking I was so smart, except somebody was ahead of me by about three months. Check it out.

I thought this election might be a blowout, but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine Bush taking NY.

This does confirm all my suspicions of a Flora McDonald Syndrome, with many many people quietly making their choice but not telling their rabid friends for fear of being ostracized or verbally abused. It also confirms my experience of volunteering at Ray's campaign table, and the many many people who came up to thank us for being there. I would always ask them if they were tourists or lived in NYC (my personal informal demographic poll), and at least half of them are NYC residents. Often they would complain about being surrounded by liberals and 'being in the closet.'

She underscores the point with several excellent links, including the explanation of the Flora McDonald Syndrome which I vaguely remember but needed to be reminded about.

There are lots of smart people out there in the blogosphere. I linked to this one via Not a Fish, which I think is an Israeli blog.

On a personal note, thanks to Cat for your kind remarks on the old Piccadilly Message Board and your fledgling blog.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Yeah, what he says...

I figured if I looked hard enough I could find someone saying what I was thinking. I did, thanks to Daniel Drezner.

"But let me see if I understand things correctly. A presidential election is less than two months away, and there is a war going on right now in Iraq. The war in Iraq raises profound questions about United States policy with regard to the Muslim world for decades to come. But instead of debating the war that is going on right now, we're debating the war records of the two candidates from more than three decades ago. Wait, no, that's too direct: we're debating one network's story about one candidate's
war record from three decades ago. Wait, maybe that's too direct, too: we're debating the fonts on different typewriters that may or may not have been used to write a memo that led to a story about one candidate's war record from three decades ago. Yeah, that's pretty much it.

C'mon, folks: don't we have more important things to blog about?"

In the big picture we all can get caught up in minutiae and forget about what really matters. I remain cynical about both of the main candidates, and my cynicism about news reporting isn't getting any better. My awareness of the Beslan tragedy preceded that of the public by about three days, thanks to NPR and the internet. Now that hurricanes and typewriters have taken the attention of the seething masses, I find myself once again in a minority, still contemplating the importance of what happened in Russia and wondering if that event, being tagged as Russia's 9/11, will have the same effect on their politics as the WTC tragedy had on ours. If so, the drift toward further polarization of the electorate and the attendant threats to civil liberties does not make me have a happy outlook.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Josh Marshall comments on the election and the war

This is one of the smartest comments I read today...

"Iraq has quite simply become a disaster for the United States. And while people disagree over why this has happened, no thinking person can now fail to see that it has happened.
In the last two months, all of this has been pushed to the side of the election debate -- either by rhetorical tangles over 9/11 and terrorism, or attack politics centered on the two men's war records or lack thereof. That is the reason for the president's resurgence in the polls. It's really that simple.
There's another point that worth noting here too. And it's at least played a role in pushing Iraq out of the political debate. That is, that President Bush has been able to mobilize his manifest failure as a political asset, and the Kerry campaign has allowed him to do so.
Here's what I mean.
Recently, President Bush has sought -- with real success -- to edge Iraq out of the campaign dialogue by putting the issue back on to Kerry, asking what he would do differently and how it would produce a better result.
This puts Kerry in a bit of a bind because the politically-unspeakable answer here is that there are no good solutions anymore. A year ago, even six months ago, there were. Now, there really aren't.

President Bush at least has a straightforward approach: denial. Pressed to come up with a soundbite-able and practical policy, Kerry is, well ... hard-pressed. "

I have nothinng to add, except thanks to Matthew Iglesias, and (as usual) follow the link and read the whole thing.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

CBS may be about to pop

I want to tell the story about the origin of the name Hootsbuddy, but more important issues are taking my attention. It seems that last week's 60 Minutes story by Dan Rather looking for dirt under the president's rug has resulted in an avalanche of attention from the blogosphere. Bloggers are all over the story and CBS has circled the wagons. According to this writer to Instapundit the case is a ticking bomb. Look at this:

Reader John Steele emails from Palo Alto:
CBS is full of smart people. It makes no sense to say they're not stalling because they believe these things are genuine. They know what we all know. They are stalling to get their ducks in a row:
They are speaking to lawyers to see if a crime has been committed.
They are speaking to lawyers to see if they can/must/may disclose the source.
They are speaking to lawyers to see if they must make disclosure in their SEC filings.
They are speaking internally to see who will resign.
They are speaking internally to see how they will word their retraction.
All that takes time. That is why CBS hasn't updated anything on this for too long. That is why their intitial counter-attacks (e.g., the first version of Times New Roman was invented in 1931), which are obviously inadequate, aren't being buttressed by anything new.
As a news organization and as a publicly traded company, they can't issue half-truths once they suspect what really happened. They are getting ready to make all their announcements at once.
Within 48 hours, CBS will come clean with a noise rivaling the disappearance of Krakatoa.

Trent Lott is out of national politics because when the mainstream media was about to overlook his remarks endorsing Strom Thurmond's racism, the weblog community wouldn't let him get away with it. This time the response to what CBS has done is a lot more dramatic. And this time there is a lot more at stake for a lot more people.

China News is Hot, Hot, Hot...

The official Chinese new agency, Xinhua, ain't what it was last time I noticed.
Ronaldo's Girlfriend, Cicarelli, is featured in a photo-essay.
"Who is Ronaldo?" sez I.
Duh...That's like asking "Who's Pele?" or "Who's Michael Jordan?"
He's just one of the world's most famous sports stars. And apparently everyone in the world knows that but me.
But that's not the point. The point is, I wish I could put pictures on my blog. Check out those green eyes.

Friday, September 10, 2004


This time the snarky remarks are aimed at CBS of *that* liberal media, trying to embarrass the president.

CBS'S BIG BLUNDER? September 10, 2004 -- THE populist revolution against the so- called mainstream media continues. Yesterday, the citizen journalists who produce blogs on the Internet ? and their engaged readers ? engaged in the wholesale exposure of what appears to be a presidential-year dirty trick against George W. Bush.
What the bloggers and their audiences did was call into profound question the authenticity of four documents proudly trumpeted by CBS News in a much-heralded investigative report on Wednesday night's edition of '60 Minutes' about the president's National Guard service in the early 1970s.
These were 'previously unseen documents . . . obtained by '60 Minutes,' ' the network bragged Wednesday night on its Web site. Their author, supposedly, was Bush's squadron commander, Jerry Killian, who died 20 years ago.
They 'include a memorandum from May 1972,' CBS reports, 'where Killian writes that Lt. Bush called him to talk about 'how he can get out of coming to drill from now through November.' ' A document dated '18 August 1973' complains that Killian is being asked to 'sugar coat' Bush's record. 'I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job,' the document says.
Liberals went wild with glee about the story, especially after the onslaught on John Kerry's Vietnam record by his fellow Swift-boat veterans.

Trouble is the "documents" were produced with curly quotation marks, modern spacing and superscripts that were not available on typewriters at the time they were supposed to have been written. As Glenn Reynolds would say, "Heh!"


Pejman is one of the smartest people writing today. This morning he directs us to another site focusing on (yet another) slip of the tongue by Mr. Kerry. I have noticed over the years that politicians tend to say pretty near anything they think people want to hear if another vote might result. Every twitch of a table dance is dedicated to revenue, not eros. People tend to forget.

Robert Tagorda has an instructive post. Instructive because it tells us two things:
We learn that despite President Bush's occasional predilection for expanding government, Kerry can't move to Bush's right on this issue. A 'Department of Wellness'? How very . . . peculiar.
We also learn that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror. Except . . . it isn't. Or maybe it is. Who knows anymore where John Kerry stands on security issues?
Posted by Pejman Yousefzadeh at 12:09 PM "

I think I am going to be able to vote for Nader after all. I'm not crazy about either of the major candidates, and as the campaign progresses it looks more and more like a Republican sweep. Votes for principled positions will get more attention as a large third place rather than a distant third.

Somebody...anybody...who will ask?

Here is an interesting little meme that seems to be taking off. Sure, I'll help spread the word.
The World's Shortest Blog: "Just One Question...

'How many times have you been arrested, Mr. President?' *

*$1149.21 Bounty to the first person to ask George W. Bush this question in a public forum."

Sunday, September 05, 2004

American Digest: Pieta for the 41st Photograph

The internet is overflowing today with images and reflections of the tragedy in Beslan, near Chechnya. I don't have words to describe how I feel except to say it is overwhelming. Others are much more eloquent than I.
I also don't know yet how to put pictures in my blog and the pictures are too important to ignore. Go to the link and read the whole thing...

"This is the picture I could not look at. This is the picture I must look at. I will try to explain -- not really to you, but to myself -- why it terrifies me more than all the other pictures.
She kneels among the dead children. She has long black hair pulled back and dresses in a loose black dress as she kneels at the head of her dead boy. She reaches out to touch, or perhaps arrange the hair, of her dead child. Her dark hair is parted in the middle and her arm seems to also be downed with dark hair. Her eyebrows too are dark and her skin olive. If I were to see this woman in another context, in a different and less death dominated photograph, at this focus and at this distance, I would think, for at least a long moment, that I was looking at my first wife.
She had this build, this coloring, the predilection for black clothing, and even an echo of the features of this woman since her ancestors came to America from the Balkans. She too would pull her hair back so. And she had, as I recall, the same ability to make a gesture that was at once strong and yet gentle when reaching out to touch our daughter when she was as young as the small dead boy that this woman caresses. "

Friday, September 03, 2004

Into the Final Stretch

September and October will be over before you know it and it will be time to vote. All the smart people are still calling it a close call, but after last night I am sticking to my prediction that Bush will be returned to office with a comfortable margin. There are several reasons that I feel that he will win.

First, the WTC attack galvanized the country into a vision-impaired entity with George Bush as it's leader. In times of crisis the majority of people look for leadership and readily accept whatever passes for leadership at the time. Very soon after that, barring some further catastrophy, they will breathe a collective sigh of relief that they have (or had) the right leader in place at the time, and any cognitive dissonance about having made a poor choice will fade. With the passing of time, leadership takes on an aura of success that is almost spiritual at the core. George W. Bush is the beneficiary of that phenomenon.

Second, in times of crisis people close ranks against what they regard as threats to their interests. Differences of opinion take a lower priority than the need to project a sense of unity. We call this perceived unity "patriotism" and question the motives of anyone who questions the wisdom of such unity. The notion of a "loyal opposition", so essential to democratic principles, is temporarily (it is hoped) abridged. That is where we stand today, with BOTH political parties competing to see which can be seen as more patriotic than the other. Righteous indignation radiates from both sides.

Finally, the only protesters raising any kind of stink are the usual suspects who have been around for decades. I had forgotten about the War Resisters League until they were mentioned a few days ago in some news report. Several reporters talked about communists, anarchists and others from the lunatic fringe of the left...all of whom pop up like flowers after a rain anytime an opportunity is presented. As usual, they are not making converts, nor are they interested in making any. In some way they are the complements to the majority in their own stripe of righteous indignation.

So I come to the conclusion that the pundits are wrong. At the last moment, in the secrecy of the voting booth, enough Americans, with every head bowed and every eye closed, will vote for the president, because they cannot bear the responsibility of changing leadership at what looks like a critical time in our nations's history.

Having said all that, I should make it clear that I am not among those who plan to vote in that manner. Seeing the dynamic does not in any way imply that I approve of or like what is happening. But I am not fool enough to be in denial about what strikes me as reality.