Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Red/Blue Redux

I see that everyone who is anyone is blogging about Sasha Issenberg's "refutation" of David Brooks's "One Nation, Slightly Divisible".

It seems a lot like breaking two butterflies on the wheel. It's hard to believe that anyone takes Brooks's heavily embellished stereotypes as serious reporting. Issenberg finds it easy to demolish some of his factual assertions, yet at other times s/he handles the data clumsily. (E.g. statewide data does not necessarily tell us anything about a specific county.) Neither reporter did a very good job of reporting when it came to the big question-- how different are red and blue America?

As an aside-- it would be interesting if a magazine like The Atlantic did a reverse Brooks. Send a "Red America writer" to do a red/blue comparison.
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition of econ and business blogging is here.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Military Schools and Business Education

Michael Howard has suggested that the military profession is not only physically demanding, but is also the most intellectually demanding:

There are two great difficulties with which the professional soldier, sailor or airman has to contend in equipping himself as a commander. First, his profession is almost unique in that he may have to exercise it only once in a lifetime, if indeed that often. It is as if a surgeon had to practise throughout his life on dummies for one real operation; or a barrister appeared only once or twice in court towards the close of his career; or a professional swimmer had to spend his life practising on dry land for an Olympic championship on which the fortunes of his entire nation depended. Second, the complex problem of running an army at all is liable to occupy hi mind and skill so completely that it is very easy to forget what it is being run for. The difficulties encountered in the administration, discipline, maintenance and supply of an organization the size of a fair-sized town are enough to occupy the senior officer to the exclusion of any thinking about his real business: the conduct of war. It is not surprising that there has often been a high proportion of failures among senior commanders at the beginning of any war. These unfortunate men may take too long to adjust themselves to reality, through lack of hard preliminary thinking about what war would really be like, or they may have had their minds so far shaped by a lifetime of pure administration that they have ceased to for all practical purposes to be soldiers.

We must remember as well, that war does not just test the knowledge of generals. On the individual level it tests character as well. Equally important is the premium war places on how well officers work together. Modern military studies have emphasized the importance of tempo during combat operations. The German victories in 1940 owed everything to their ability to read, rethink, and readjust faster than the French. This same factor helps to account for the overwhelming nature of the US victories in Iraq.

The military education system is designed with these challenges in mind. That makes it an interesting subject in its own right. But, here i want to compare it to corporate education. Some of the salient points:

1. There is a lot of it. The generals we see on TV have been to civilian graduate schools, specialized branch schools, and the Army War College. These are full-time positions where officers attend classes for months or even a full year.

This is in stark contrast to corporate life where executive education is heavily front-loaded. Usually the average manager has completed 75% or more of their formal business education before they join the corporation.

2. Key parts of the military's system are in-house; they shape the curriculum, especially at the highest levels.

Corporate education is usually outsourced and generic. The MBA and other executive education programs are usually offered by colleges. In-house, customized programs are most often seen at lower-level training programs for the rank-and-file.

3. Performance at military schools is a factor in promotion decisions. Both Eisenhower and Marshall finished first in their class at Leavenworth which helped marked them for eventual high command. Patton, Bradley, and Mark Clark all had outstanding records at mid-career schools.

Academic performance counts at the entry-level in corporations. But usually only there. Few mid-career executives find themselves in classes where they are graded and where the grades count toward promotion.

4. Military school faculties include officers who are marked for high command. Adm. Raymond Spruance, the victory at Midway, served two tours at the Naval War College in the 1930s. In the two years prior to Pearl Harbor, two of the nine men who would command US field armies were teaching at the Army War College. This is after the war in Europe had started and during an immense expansion of the US military.

Again, this is a key difference from the typical business model. High flyers do not spend a year or two in the training department as a step toward the CEO post.

5. The military school system is not just a means of pushing information and procedures down into the ranks. They also serve as centers for the creation of intellectual capital. In the 1930s the Naval War College helped create and refine the carrier doctrine the USN used in the Pacific War. In the 1980s, John Lehman created Strategic Studies Groups at the NWC. As he described them, "This elite group of midgrade officers, navy and marine, is selected from the fleet to spend a year working on strategy. Each year a new SSG is formed, and changing perspectives help to keep the strategy from solidifying into dogma."

****

There is no corporation that invests as heavily in education as do the armed services. For all the talk about the importance of intellectual capital, the private sector, as a whole, approaches education it in a haphazard fashion and spends comparatively little. At the same time, it is telling that the large corporation which is famous for its education system--GE-- is also one of the most successful big companies in history.

It is also telling that one of the last strategic reassessments of the Welch era-- the rejection of the "#1 or #2 in every market" requirement-- had its genesis in a remark made by a colonel at the Army War College.

UPDATE: James Joyner comments here.

See Part II here.
Corporate Blogging

This article from Fast Company takes a look at how some companies are using blogs internally.

At Verizon, Paul Perry, a director in the company's eServices division, started a blog to keep up with news about competitors. Using a news aggregator, a popular blog-world tool that grabs and assembles syndicated "feeds" of content from Web sites and other blogs, people in his group can quickly post news they find on those feeds to the internal blog. DaimlerChrysler employs Web log software at a few of its U.S. plants; managers discuss problems and keep a record of their solutions. And American Airlines, where only 20% of the company's highly mobile workforce has corporate email, is considering blogs as a way to give employees more channels to management.

The Hartford Financial Services Group is already finding success using blogs in one of its mobile groups. A team of 40 field technology managers, who serve as links between The Hartford's network of insurance agents and the home office, set up a blog in August. They use it to share information about e-commerce features and solutions to technology problems. Before, email and voice mail sufficed, but email threads would die, and there was no way to search past shared information. "We don't get a chance to talk with each other as often as we'd like," says Steve Grebner, one of The Hartford's field managers, who thinks of the blog a little like a town square. "To me, it's like there's 14--or 40--brains out there, and you might as well tap into that knowledge base."


See also, this from last year.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Maybe the Frontier Did Matter

If you think about it, the 2004 election shows that the United States is an oligarchy with a closed political system that offers only a narrow range of choices. Consider-- John Kerry and George Bush are both sons of prominent and wealthy New England families. Both attended Yale. Both are members of the same elite secret society (Skull and Bones).

Yet, for all of that, they seem to be two very different sorts of men. In part, this is a tribute to the infinite variety of the human beast. But if i had to get more specific i'd summarize the difference in one word-- Texas.

Those things that make Bush the anti-Kerry-- from his religiosity to his democratic manner-- come from west Texas, not Boston or New Haven.

For a over a century the Northeast has been caught between powerful gravitational fields. Across the Atlantic was Europe-- refined, intellectual, exquisite Europe. To the west lay, well, the West-- crude, boisterous, and democratic.

During the primary campaign this was thrown into stark relief. Kerry, Dean, et. al. condemned Bush as an out of control cowboy who alienated Europe. Cowboy bad, France good. They thought this was a powerful critique.

Rich, Harvard-educated Theodore Roosevelt went west to the Dakotas as a young, dandified widower. After a stint as a cowboy, lawman, and hunter, he returned to New York as the embryonic TR. It was TR who became a war hero, a beloved president, and finally, a mythic, towering figure. His biographers agree that his later political career would have been impossible but for his time out West.

Henry James took the opposite path. He left America behind to live in England.

Edmund Morris notes that James's "preference for English society and English literature drove Roosevelt to near frenzy." TR considered James a "miserable little snob." He wrote with disdain of "the undersized man of letters, who flees his country because he, with his delicate, effeminate sensitiveness, finds the conditions of life on this side of the water crude and raw."

James, for his part, judged Roosevelt "the mere monstrous embodiment of unprecedented and resounding Noise" and "a dangerous and ominous jingo."

John Kerry had no need to become an expatriate. Over the last century Massachusetts has become very congenial for the sensitive and exquisite. But there is still that patrician disdain for how we do things out here in fly-over country (still so crude and raw). Most of all, there is that craving for European modes and European approval.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The BBQ Test

During the 1952 election, political reporters Stewart and Joseph Alsop hit upon a key test for predicting presidential elections: Which candidate would voters prefer to have over to their house for a cook-out?

By this measure, how can Bush lose? It's easy to picture GWB eating a burger and playing catch with the kids. But Kerry? You almost expect him to ask for a knife and fork to eat his drumstick.

And let's not even discuss how the wives would fare.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The A-List

This is one of the best books i've ever read on business strategy and corporate planning. Maybe the best.




I'd say more but i wrote a review of it for Strategy and Leadership. I'll wait until that appears and then link to it.

They're Just Thugs

Jeff Soyer watches The Sopranos on DVD. He is not amused.

Yes, it's a great show to follow. Great acting, plots, etc. But... But, but, but, but, folks, these Mafia dudes, organized crime types, whatever you want to call them, are terrible people. Yeah, you can feel for Tony but in the end, they are nothing but thugs.

I have to agree. It may be good television, but it really goes to a lot of work in order to make the ugly more admirable.

UPDATE: Scott Chaffin weighs in here.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Historical Footnote

I ran across a table that summarized US naval losses in WWII. What struck me was that the US lost only two battleships in the course of the war, compared to four fleet carriers and one light carrier. Both of the battleships lost were sunk in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. All of the carriers were sunk during combat operations when they were at full alert and prepared.

The image of the battlewagon as a pathetically vulnerable dinosaur really is based on the losses of four ships in the first month of the Allied-Japanese War. In addition to the American losses at Pearl, Britain lost the Prince of Wales and the Repulse when Japanese plains attacked them during the Malay/Singapore operation. After that, Allied battlewagons held up very well.

Part of that is due to the fact that carriers became the prime target during air attacks and the BBs were not subject to the same risks. However, the battleships did fight surface actions in the Solomons and Philippines and were remarkably resilience. We also have to recognize that it proved astonishingly difficult for US planes to sink Japanese battleships: it took 10 torpedoes and 6 bombs to sink the Yamato.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Zero Defects and Branding Services

Frozen North (permlink not working, look for 18 March) discusses the role of quality in the marketing of services. He is quite right to emphasize that the customer service experience is a critical component of the brand image and that service firms err if they ignore it in favor of advertising and PR.

The long-term problem is that CS quality isn't a sustainable point of differentiation. Your competitors can copy your zero-defect call center. At that point, bad service hurts your brand, but good service doesn't help: customers perceive it as par for the course.

Good service, then, is a necessary, but not sufficient factor in branding success. The firm needs something else to claim a premium position. Strategic management requires that leadership keep its eye on two goals at once: the short-term objective of zero defects and the long-term goal of being distinctive in a way that is meaningful to customers. It is a mistake to believe that the latter will flow automatically from the former.
Missouri: It Really is the Heart of It All

The current Atlantic sets out to find the state that comes closest to being a microcosm of the whole US. It turns out that Missouri is a surprisingly good fit based on a host of economic, demographic, political and cultural measures.

It is worth noting that John Ashcroft was a very successful politician in Missouri.
Carnival of the Capitalists: March 22, 2004

The latest edition of the best biz/econ blogging is here.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Still Neo, I Guess: The Case for War One Year Later

I started blogging a year ago, just before the invasion of Iraq. One of my first posts laid out what i saw as the case for the war. Looking at it today, i believe that the case remains surprisingly solid.

(I claim no special insight or brilliance on this matter: my post was just one non-warblogger's assessment of the arguments being made in 2002-3003.)

Several points stand out. The case for war did not argue that Saddam's WMDs were an "imminent threat" or that he was involved in the 9-11 attacks. Instead, it argued that he was trying to get WMDs, that containment/sanctions/deterrence were beset with problems of their own, and that waiting was worse than acting. Nothing i've read in the past year refutes that assessment.

Nor has the Iraq war brought the war against al Qaeda to a halt as some claimed it would. We are still rolling up cells and neutralizing their leadership.

The evidence that has come to light since the fall of Saddam bolsters the claim that the UN and France had corrupt motives for opposing the war.

I have to admit that i am surprised that we have not found evidence of WMDs. The intelligence failure is a legitimate cause for concern.

Although i did not include it, i had hoped that a decisive military victory would provide geopolitical leverage against other outlaw regimes. I don't believe that this has been borne out. Certainly Libya's conciliatory moves have been a positive. But that has to be balanced against the difficulties of the occupation and the failure to kill or capture Saddam in the early days of the war.

Friday, March 19, 2004

"Iraq: Intelligence, Facts, and Fantasies"

Here is a recent speech by one of the best US Senators. Kyl isn't one of those guys who show up on cable shows four times a week. And he is not much of a screamer and shouter. He's just a thoughtful, serious senator.

Senator Kennedy began his presentation by calling on CIA Director George Tenet to use his upcoming testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee to state whether "he feels that the White House altered the facts, or misused the intelligence." If Director Tenet believed that, Senator Kennedy said, then Tenet "should say so, and say it plainly." As we all know now, Senator Kennedy on Tuesday asked Director Tenet whether he believed the administration had misrepresented the facts to justify the war. Tenet answered: "No, sir, I don't."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Words Almost Fail Me

Here is a writer on a German website worrying that the Passion will increase anti-Semitism

Opinion: The Crux of Gibson's Crucifixion

Not in Germany, you know, but among those lesser peoples to the East

Christian anti-Semitism is far from being surmounted in Eastern Europe in particular. In parts of Poland and Hungary, for example, the hate of Jews as "murderers of God" is still quite alive.
Many ways to play this game

Jane Galt asks:

Did the Spanish elections incentivize terror?

Is it also fair to ask if loudly asserting that al Qaeda won in Spain encourages them to bomb other allies?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

More Spain

Justin Katz takes me to task for my post on Spain, democracy, and warbloggers. He is always worth reading so check out his post.

My disgust with the reactions i cited is rooted in the quick condemnation aimed at the Spanish electorate by people who know almost nothing about what happened. Maybe Spain wants to capitulate to bin Laden, maybe they don't. All we do know, today, is that the new Spanish government wants out of Iraq. That alone is not conclusive evidence of appeasement. (Maybe they believe that Iraq is now the wrong war at the wrong time to quote a famous American general who was also derided as an appeaser).

If Spain refuses to share intelligence on al Qaeda with the US or if they allow terrorist groups to set-up camp in Madrid, then they deserve to be condemned as cowards and opportunists. But where is the evidence they intend to do anything of the sort?

Great Britain and the US are allies. That relationship survives no matter what party is in power. The Atlantic alliance was not broken when Tony Blair defeated John Major. It survived the election of a Republican in 2000. Allies have a shared interest which transcends domestic politics.

Empires, in contrast, take sides in the domestic elections of their satellites. They care about internal matters. Too many warbloggers betray a deep-seated imperial impulse. (I don't mean Justin, but those like Simon, Jarvis, Sullivan, and their commentators). They demand a rigid ideological conformity from our partners in the war against terror.

Today they praise Poland as a brave and steadfast ally. A week from now they could just as easily condemn it as a nation of anti-Semitic religious fanatics and collaborators in the Holocaust. All it will take is a headline in the New York Times to set them off. The idea of not spouting off never occurs to them.

See also this post at Dean' blog.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

An Example of the "Youth Premium"

In syndication, "Friends" has an audience of 7.32 million. "Wheel of Fortune" pulls in 13.38 million viewers. Yet a 30 second national spot on Friends costs $221,567 and only $82,950 on "Wheel". Advertisers believe that the average "Friends" watcher is worth almost five times as much as a "Wheel" fan.

Given this large gap, one might suppose that this differential is backed up by reams of data and analysis. But, instead, it rests on little more than the belief that young people are easier to persuade than older people. (Not that anyone has a lot of evidence for that, either.)
Spain, or The Ugly American Blogger

I don't know if Spain just capitulated to bin Laden. Interpreting election results is a pretty complex business and instant analysis is just so much hot air.

But that doesn't stop big name bloggers and their commentators. Check out Roger Simon, Jeff Jarvis, the Corner, and the Inkwell.

This reaction is funny in so many ways. I thought warbloggers were in favor of democracy. But it turns out that they only like elections when their side wins. They seem to confuse allies with satellites.

The Spanish voters are cowards because they have deserted the Bush coalition in Iraq. Yet, Jeff Jarvis has been looking for an excuse to jump off the Bush bandwagon here at home because the FCC is being mean to Howard Stern. That, apparently, is a matter of principle not a failure of courage.

In October 2000 Al Qaeda attacked the US Cole. A few weeks, the Democrats lost the White House. Did we "capitulate" to terrorism by electing Bush?

FWIW, i'm puzzled by the former Spanish PM's insistence on blaming ETA for the Madrid atrocity when the evidence pointed Islamic terrorists. Maybe he was playing a little politics with the attack and got burned at the ballot box for it.

This post over at Volokh makes a lot more sense than those noted above.

As does this one at the evangelical outpost.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Forgotten American Terrorism

After WWI, "anarchists"* carried out a number of bombings against American targets. They tried to assassinate the Attorney General in Washington and killed 40-44 people with a lunch time explosion on Wall Street. While not on the scale of the WTC atrocity, they were still large scale in the context of America at that time. (Our population was then only 100 million which makes the Wall Street bombing over half as deadly as Oklahoma City in comparative terms.)

This NY Press story is a good summary of the attack and the unsuccessful investigation which followed.

*The term is something of a misnomer. Many of the revolutionaries were left-wing radicals inspired by Lenin and Trotsky.
Carnival of the Capitalists

This week's edition can be found here.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

"Other People's Navels"

Really liked this from the evangelical outpost:

There is only one form of blogger that is more tedious that the navel-gazer who posts about the eflluvia of their daily lives and that is the blogger who gazes at other people’s navels, especially those who do so looking for lint. Gawker and Wonkette are the twin archetypes of the OPNG, each representing two of the most self-important cities in America - New York (Gawker) and Washington D.C. (Wonkette). (Will LA be next? If so I recommend the name Gazer.)

Dead on

Scott Chaffin gets it right on the blogosphere's biggest Howard Stern fan:

Need to vomit? Check out Jeff Jarvis' Paean to Thee Commyn Man Who Be Howard Stern.

RTWT
The Limits of South Park Conservatism

Jonah Goldberg generally doesn't care what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their home. But he is willing to make an exception when it comes to Mel Gibson and his accountant.

The Journal also reports today that Mel Gibson stands to make between $350 and $400 million in profit from The Passion. I am not someone who thinks profits are ever "obscene" -- at least not in the way liberals use the word. However, is no one remotely troubled by this? Whether the movie is wonderful or offensive, it is still about the Crucifixion and Mel Gibson has said time and again that he made the movie out of religious and artistic passion. I take him at his word, and considering the trouble he had in making it, there's a lot of evidence on his side.

But doesn't that raise the question of what he's going to do with all the cash? If he's going to use the money to make more biblical pictures, as he's said he wants, I think that's one thing. But simply pocketing all of the cash (it's certainly fair for him to recoup his investment and then some) without doing good works with it seems, to me at least, problematic. I mean this isn't "Ernest Goes to Rehab," it's a movie about, well, we all know now what it's about -- and he's making a third of a billion dollars from it. Shouldn't he at least tithe it?


This drew a lot of emails and additional comments that enlivened the Corner all Friday afternoon.

The comments at Open Book and Justin Katz's blog were even more interesting.

One problem with the original post is that Goldberg invites us to layer speculation upon speculation. How much money will Gibson make? How should he spend it? Will he do the right thing? And note, Goldberg seems to doubt that Gibson will do the right thing. ("Shouldn't he at least tithe?") without offering a reason for his misgivings.

Friday, March 12, 2004

"The geek shall inherit the Earth"

The emergence of the internet has done much to legitimise this kind of withdrawal from the world. Once, the majority of people - even those with their nose permanently stuck in a book - were obliged, by practical necessity if nothing else, to risk venturing into the outside world every now and then. Now, this socialising experience is no longer necessarily the norm. Thanks to the internet, marginal obsessions can be indulged in at unlimited length, with like-minded people around the world.

Rather than being integrated into society by being forced to take people as they come, the internet allows you to preselect whom you choose to fraternise with, based upon whether or not they share your specific interests. And if you dislike or disagree with someone you encounter in this faceless environment, then rather than go through the process of being forced to account for your worldview, you can simply retreat from confrontation. Such an environment breeds individuation and solipsism.


More here.
Reality Check

Americans who watched the Superbowl: 89.8 million
Americans who watched the Oscars: 43.5 million

You might think from watching TV that the two events have equal pop cultural resonance. They don't. Far more people watch the Super Bowl.

Total female audience for the 10 syndicated TV shows most popular with women: 50.44 million

Total male audience for the 10 syndicated TV shows most popular with men: 43.74 million.

The popular image of men is that they are couch potatoes planted in front of the tube while women do other things. Facts do not bear this out. Women watch more television and the gap is growing. (That's what is at the core of the "missing men" debate over television ratings.

Thus far roughly 25 million Americans have seen the Passion. That is less than 11% of the population over 15 years of age.

Of those who have seen the movie, 92% had a "very favorable" or "favorable" opinion of it.

All of this sheds some interesting light on the blogosphere. It seems that a fairly high proportion of bloggers have seen the Passion and posted about it. At the same time, a significant percentage of bloggers gave it an unfavorable review (prejudiced, too violent, poorly made, etc.)

A lot more bloggers posted about the Oscars than the Superbowl. Maybe it was the LotR effect, but in any case, it makes the blogosphere different.

When Jonah Goldberg plays Everyman in the Corner with his couch jokes and Simpson references, he is reflecting a media-created stereotype.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Winston Churchill on Political Leadership

Here is how Churchill described his differences with the pragmatic leadership of Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s.

"My idea was that the Conservative opposition should strongly confront the Labour government on all great imperial and national issues, should identify itself with the majesty of Britain as under Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury, and should not hesitate to face controversy, even though that might not immediately evoke a response from the nation. So far as I could see, Mr. Baldwin felt that the times were too far gone for any robust assertion of British Imperial greatness, and that the hope of the Conservative Party lay in accommodation with Liberal and Labour forces, and in adroit, well-timed manoeuvres to detach powerful moods of public opinion and large blocks of voters from them."

Gathering Storm pp 32-33

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

More Passion

I just listened to a two hour discussion on the Passion on WGN. Because it was on Milt Rosenberg's show it generated much more light than heat. Two solid hours of thoughtful conversation with no name calling, no histrionics and no hysteria. They will archive the show soon so you can listen to it at your convenience. Watch this space.

Two other items of interest:

This is a review by a Muslim. One point bears repeating-

However, let us address the Islamic factor first. This is a movie centered entirely on a major Prophet, portrayed, of course, by an actor. For that reason alone (forget the huge amounts of gore) Muslims may want to avoid The Passion of the Christ. The Qur'an refutes the Crucifixion story. The Qur’an says that Jesus was not killed nor crucified; only the likeness of that was shown to the people and Jesus was saved and raised up unto Allah.

This review is by Michael Moriarty of Law and Order fame

Mel Gibson's reply to 9/11

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A Double Dose of Good Sense

Scott Chaffin continues to put the Howard Stern matter into perspective. There are those who want to make him some sort of martyr, but that dog won't hunt. See more here and here.

Richard Bennett finds a dog that does not bark: Blogger silence on the role Sid Blumenthal played in igniting the Trent Lott firestorm.

Those who've crowed the loudest about the Lott Affair's showing the power of blogs to influence politics have ignored Blumenthal's role.
History, Movies, and Politics

I expect that everyone who wrote about the danger that the Passion would stir up Islamic violence will want to weigh in on this:

Historians say film 'distorts' Crusades

Mr. Riley-Smith [Britain's leading authority on the Crusades] said Mr. Scott's efforts were misguided and pandered to Islamic fundamentalism. "It's Osama bin Laden's version of history. It will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists," he said.

Let the hand-wringing begin. HT: Justin Katz.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Market Share Myth

Business Pundit posts on "The Market Share Myth." As he he says, a large number of business plans fall into this trap.

It's not just unsophisticated would-be entrepreneurs who get caught. Many of the dot-bombs fell for a more "sophisticated" version of the fallacy. They would take a p-SWAG projection (that is a pseudo-Scientific Wild Ass Guess dressed up with lots of spreadsheets) and then count their money. As in, "the on-line market for cyber widgets and digital wadgets will be at least $75 billion by 2005. By gaining only 2% of the market our revenues will be $1.5 billion."

OTOH, market share projections can be useful, especially as reality checks on planning assumptions. For instance, say you are about to enter a new market where the largest competitor has a 15% share. Your analysis shows that your break-even point is a share of 10%. That should set off alarms. You have to ask how you are going to displace so many established firms to become a major player. It is going to take a compelling price and value proposition in a market where you have little experience. Moreover, your attempt to displace existing firms is likely to provoke a competitive response: price cuts, increased marketing effort, etc. These will undercut your existing assumptions about profitability.

Back in 1999, when the Internet frenzy was at full cry, Steven Rosner of LEK Consulting looked market valuations in light of implicit market share assumptions. He found, for example, that Ebay need to attract auction volume equal to 3% of total GDP by 2013. Yahoo made sense only if its advertising revenue hit $113 billion, yet projections for total on-line advertising were only $44 billion by 2013. Amazon need to reach revenue of $100 billion in a period when the total book/music marketplace was expected to grow to only $85 billion. It was a useful analysis which kept my 401(k) away from tech stocks. And, i would argue, events have shown he was right.
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest round-up of business and economics blogging is here.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Journalism

Mark Bowden has an article in the Atlantic (not online) that provides a lot of insight into modern journalism.

On Stephen Glass and his fictional non-fiction:

"Glass's run of faked features happened not just because he was clever and determined but because he was giving The New Republic and other magazines exactly what they wanted. His story is about the pitfalls of advocacy journalism and its close relative, journalistic celebrity, two of the profession's most dangerous modern trends."

****

"Glass diagnosed an appetite at The New Republic for stories that illustrated, preferably outrageously, the naivete of traditional liberals and the moral corruption of conservatives. His stories fit perfectly the pugnacious neoconservatism The New Republic of that era was attempting to define."


On the impact of cable news on journalism:

"We are approaching the time, if we haven't already reached it, when a reporter with a hot story can spend more time on TV talking about it than was spent reporting and writing it."

Bowden praises the portrayal of journalists in the movie Absence of Malice. For example it:

"it showed that what passes for a great investigative story is often nothing more than information leaked by public officials who have motives of their own. It was a rare instance in which the silver screen actually had something useful to say to the Fourth Estate."

This gets at a very dangerous confluence of trends in the media. One stream is cable's obsession with certain criminal cases. Another is journalists's near-total dependence on prosecutors/police for information on such cases. A third is the black box nature of news programming: it almost never tells us how or where the reporters get the information presented.

The result is that certain defendants get hosed down with fact, innuendo, speculation, and fiction before they enter a courtroom. A fair trial becomes next to impossible.

Interestingly enough, neither left nor right seem particularly interested in the subject. It is much easier to rail about right-wing talk radio or the left-wing bias of NPR.

Related: I posted about the problem of "investigative journalism" here:

Leaks, Journalism, and the Right to Know
Then and Now

The Weekly Standard keys in on Nader's toughest obstacle

Still, there's one obstacle that Nader may find insurmountable: The media are almost uniformly critical of his campaign, and of him personally.

It is worth remembering that this is not how Perot was covered in 1992.

Barone quotes a Democratic operative in the Almanac of American Politics, 1996 as saying that Perot "departisanized the critique of Bush" . That is key. If a Democrat called Bush a failure that can be dismissed as politics; when an independent Republican did so, it had a powerful effect. Moreover, when Perot entered the race the first time, he was able to drive down Bush's poll numbers-- something Clinton had failed to do. By making the race competitive, Perot drew interest to it. Finally, Perot's flirtation and entrance into the race helped draw attention away from Clinton when he was reeling from Genifer Flowers, etc.

All of this depended on the media treating Perot as a sincere citizen forced by necessity to take up politics. Had the dominant story been "Texas billionaire trying to hurt Bush," the whole dynamic of the race would have changed.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

The House that Phil Built

Michael Barone's Almanac of American Politics is a marvel. I don't think anyone knows more about the topography of the electoral landscape.

Recently i was reading the 1996 edition. He had some astute observations about the methods the Democrats used to maintain power after 1974 despite the normal ebb and flow cycle of US politics.

A key figure in this was Phil Burton-- an important Democratic congressman from California in the 70s.

To maintain the overall Democratic majority in the House, Burton relied not on the popularity of his issues, about which he entertained no illusions, but on institutional advantages such as redistricting and teaching talented young candidates with superior skills to hold otherwise Republican-leaning seats; he encouraged Democrats to rely on the perquisites of office and pork barrel projects.

***

Democrats continued to win majorities in every election. They ignored Republicans, routinely used the rules to prevent direct votes on issues on which their stands were unpopular, maintained caucus solidarity and, under the leadership of Tony Coelho in the 1980s, bludgeoned business PACs into contributing to marginal Democrats and not contributing to Republican challengers.
***

And this is his verdict on the 1994 election which upset the Burton regime:

Most of all the Burton regime ultimately failed because it could not stand the light of day. Talk radio shows showed voters how overbearing and unfair the Democratic majorities were.


Speaking of Barone, this forthcoming book of his could be very interesting.



Just a couple of Thoughts

I know the template says it's the right-wing that is imposing censorship on broadcast media--Stern, Janet, yadda, yadda, yadda...

But do you think the PC left would be silent if Archie Bunker debuted today? In 1971 the language was praised as "frank" and "honest". Now it would be hate speech.

A few short years ago the federal government sent in SWAT teams to resolve a child custody case in Miami. Most liberals applauded-- rule of law, you know.

Now, they just shrug and say that there is nothing to be done as local officials defy state marriage laws.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Ad Age Concurs

WHO CARES IF 'SEX AND THE CITY' IS GONE?

About 5 million to 6 million viewers have tuned in (if that's still a verb) to the exploits of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte each week during the past year, according to Nielsen. But that's less than one-fifth the viewers drawn by the top broadcast show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

***

But you wouldn't know that from the column inches spilled on Sex and the City. During the last year, Sex star Sarah Jessica Parker pulled in 2,001 clips, according to a cheap search on the Factiva database. Comedian Ray Romano, creator and star of Everybody Loves Raymond, whose average audience is about four times the size of Sex's, garnered only 805.

During the week ending Feb. 18, NBC's Law & Order outran Sex and the City by 1 million viewers. But poor Jerry Orbach, its star, drew only 193 newspaper articles during the past year.


***

True, newspapers, like all media, have their demographics, and those demos have moved increasingly upscale and older as younger audiences obtain their news from TV and the Web. Newspaper executives have been scrambling to find ways to reach out to the missing millions. Hitching their caboose to the engine of pop culture is their preferred strategy. But that's a risky gambit, if they allow editors and reporters to populate their pages with unthinking self-references to their own psychodemographic obsessions.

See also

Big Media Echo Chamber
Customer Loyalty

Synergy Fest points to this discussion of customer loyalty.

Several years ago i published an article titled "Is Customer Loyalty a Pernicious Myth." So you might think that i am in the anti-loyalty camp. Which isn't true. I just think it is a matter that lacks analytical rigor, conceptual clarity, and a real appreciation of long-term strategy.
More Clausewitz

Christopher Bassford has a response to Fleming here. Here's how it starts out:

Periodically, some pundit decides to blow the whistle on Clausewitz and the Clausewitzians. Bruce Fleming, Professor of English at the US Naval Academy, offers the latest effort to demonstrate that the Emperor has no clothes. Ultimately, Fleming's critique is not of Clausewitz but of the misuse of Clausewitz's descriptive, explanatory theory in a prescriptive manner by charlatans and ideologues. Unfortunately, the net effect is a sophomoric rejection of ugly, concrete reality and the friction it imposes on those who would think, write, advocate, and act.

Read the whole thing. Bassford is one of the leading American scholars on Clausewitz.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

John Kerry in Forest Gump?

That's what Mark Riebling says and it's not April 1.

an unsympathetic supporting character in Forest Gump is based directly on John Kerry

I dunno, since i don't have a copy of the movie to check. But funny if true.
Big Media Echo Chamber

Controversial.

That seems to be the required adjective for any story about "The Passion of the Christ". Further, stories about the movie always include opponents.

In contrast, stories about the end of "Sex and the City" were generally celebratory. Producers did not feel compelled to interview people who found the series pernicious, unrealistic or biased.

"Sex and the City" flattered the demographic that includes journalists and TV people. It gave them a modern day fairy tale, and, for all their vaunted cynicism and critical thinking, they lapped it up like a thirsty poodle.

The contrasting tone of the coverage is only one part of the story. Another is the outsized attention devoted to "SatC." The last episode was watched by 10 million people. The next to the last installment was only the fourth highest rated show on cable the week-end it aired. Despite the media hoopla, less than four million people watched. It was beat out by a preliminary NASCAR race at Daytona and by Monk-- a conventional whodunit with neither nudity nor obscene language.

"SatC" just was not that popular with country at large. The media coverage shows just how insulated and self-referencing journalists have become.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Howard Stern

Richard Bennett has a good post that pretty much sums it up IMHO:

Never in history has a man been more full of crap than the talentless Howard Stern. His whole schtick is dependent on standards of decency setting the boundaries of good taste so he can position himself outside them. He's like the little kid who's learned that he can get attention saying bad words who then works the gimmick to death. He didn't even invent this gimmick himself, he stole it from Alex Bennett (http://www.radiofreejack.com/).
In a setting where adolescent content isn't circumscribed, his show would have no audience. He was created by the FCC, and he knows it, so all this whining about the government cracking down on his free speech rights is just crocodile tears. He benefits from being pushed out of the 6 markets that Clear Channel has banned him from by generating buzz for his tired formula.

Confusion? Or Willful Misreading?

The current Parameters has an article that asks

Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?

The author has a definite answer-- No. As he sees it, On War is one of those books that

are so broad in scope, so inclusive, even of contradictions internal to themselves, that they can be used to justify almost anything.

Fleming is not a military officer (although he teaches at the Naval Academy) but rather is an English professor. He approaches On War as a text and makes a great show of pointing out the internal contradictions in Clausewitz's work and in several commentators who are self-conscious Clausewitzians.

While he scores several good points, the overall effect is superficial and cavalier. This itself is a serious contradiction in a work which has very big aims. Fleming argues that On War which is currently "the foundation document in war theory at the nation’s war colleges and command and staff schools" should only be taught as "poetry."

One "contradiction" is that Clausewitz is a theorist who denies the utility of theory. Further, he is a thinker who discusses war as a perfect absolute and yet highlights the ways in which friction and chance keep real war from mimicking perfect war.

The first contradiction is pure canard. Clausewitz recognized the limits of theory: it can't explain everything or make war predictable. To see this as a fatal contradiction is rather like calling meteorology as a pseudoscience because the weatherman can't make every Memorial Day sunny and 75 degrees.

There are two key things to keep in mind when approaching Clausewitz and the role of theory and friction in his work. First, he was a practitioner, a theoretician, and an educator. Second, officers have to prepare for war in long periods of peace. What they are preparing for is nothing like the activities they engage in while preparing. (Clausewitz wrote before modern training methods like war games and field exercises were developed). Few professions face as wide a gap between the experience of preparation and the activity itself.

His emphasis on friction, then, is in part, a reminder to the future commander that the complex and elegant- no matter how intellectually satisfying- can be dangerous. His emphasis on will brings to the forefront a quality that is absent in academic discussions but vital in war.

(This excellent article argues that On War has a pedagogical intent as its primary purpose: The Relationship of History and Theory in On War)

Fleming is also cavalier in his handling of neo-Clausewitzian commentators. This is how he dismisses Col. Harry Summers's On Strategy:

There is no point in appealing to Clausewitz’s famous assertion as if, were we to put it over the mirrors of all the officers in the US armed forces, it could prevent future failures. What for one man is a policy, even a good one, is for another a complete and utter lack of one. Summers writes as if the Vietnam War simply lacked a policy, a direction. Certainly it did not seem so to the people running it from Washington, who (as Summers admits) had many justifications (he counts 22) for US intervention. Those who engineered the war were not bereft of a policy.

Twenty-two justifications (many contradictory) do not equate to a clear policy. Summers's point is that the shifting moves in Washington made it impossible for the military to come up with a strategy and carry it out: the objectives kept changing. Further, some of the objectives were not the sort of thing that could be accomplished by military means.

Summers's broader point is that the US did not take policy seriously, entered the war without thinking through ends and means, and trusted to technology and GNP to solve the problem in Vietnam. As a good Clausewitzian he argues that this was a grave mistake and crippled the war effort. In his refutation Fleming basically quotes Tin Pan Alley- you say tomayto, I say tomahto. It's glib, it's clever, but is is hardly a serious critique.

That, in the end, is the problem with the whole essay. It is one thing to mock the Clausewitzians or to find contradictory passages in On War. But if we reduce it only to "poetry", what is to replace it as a foundation document for the war and staff colleges? There are not a lot of contenders for the role and all of them have weaknesses even greater than Clausewitz. On this question Fleming is silent.

See also

Waiting for our Clausewitz

Clausewitz (II)

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

weird Post

Over at Hit and Run they take note of the Naomi Wolf matter and comment:

Nothing illustrates feminism's moribund state like the response to Naomi Wolf's charges of sexual harassment against Yale literary lion Harold Bloom.

They then cite the large number of women writers who have criticized Wolf for her article.

How exactly does that show feminism is "moribund" unless you expect that vital movements should exhibit rigid ideological conformity?

Monday, March 01, 2004

"Shame on Fox"

Ranting Profs has some good advice for our cable news outlets.

Report what you know -- there has been an arrest, there is reason to believe this man would have had a motive to wish this family ill (and here are the motives), the cops have promised a "profound development" but refuse for now to say what it is. This kind of wild speculation does no one any good whatsoever and is frankly irresponsible. If in fact bodies have been found bring the forensic specialists on then. Until then there is more than enough news to talk about without this kind of macabre speculation. Speculation does not equal scooping.

I couldn't agree more.

Also check out this one.

SCORE A BIG ONE FOR THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

I wonder if any enterprising reporter is digging into this example of political considerations riding roughshod over the objective analysis?
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition is here.