Wednesday, May 31, 2006

They zigged when everyone else zagged

In his article on the writing of In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters reveals that the defining idea of the book came from the 1970s-era Oakland Raiders.

Here's a confession that will only mean something to the Oakland Raiders football fans of the late 1970s: I owe it all to Mark van Eeghen. (And if you weren't an Oakland Raiders fan and you never saw Mark van Eeghen play football, all I can say is, that's your tough luck.)

Mark van Eeghen was a big, strong, in-your-face, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running back for the Raiders. We were about to run around 10,000 copies of our report, and we needed a picture for the cover. We had originally taken a picture right out of Sports Illustrated, but at the last minute, we decided that we couldn't steal from SI at that level. So we went across the bay to the Raiders' office and looked through their archive, and we found the perfect image: a photo featuring Mark van Eeghen.

It was perfect in a lot of ways. The photo said three yards and a cloud of dust, and our book said the same thing: Love thy people. Love thy customers. Keep it simple. Lean staff, simple organization. Get the bureaucrats out of the bloody way. Pay attention to the "real" people with dirty fingernails. That was the Oakland Raiders. They were the guys flying the Jolly Roger
What is interesting is that while the rest of the world got on the ISOE bandwagon in the 1980s and 1990s, the NFL went the other way. Instead of sticking to their knitting, teams became more and more focussed on elaborate, complex game plans and playbooks. They devoted more and more effort to detailed analysis. Coaches and coordinators became remote, cerebral strategists when CEOs were trying to become better leaders who managed by walking around.

I have no idea what this means. But it is interesting.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

GWB and his MBA

Thomas Lifson is one of the few journalists who have examined GWB's training at the Harvard Business School and the influence of that training on his conduct as president.


The White House Shifts Gears

While I applaud Lifson for taking this question seriously, I think he has provided only a partial picture. He tends to see only favorable outcomes arising from Bush's time at B-school. There are a couple of unsettling facets to it as well. Moreover, these may explain part of Bush's problems as president.

To take care of a couple of quick hits I've discussed previously.

1. Lifson writes:
The very first lesson drummed-into new students, as they file into the classrooms of Aldrich Hall, is that management consists of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. There is never perfect information, and decisions often have to be made even when you'd really prefer to know a lot more.

I discussed the conventional case study method here. I'm not sold on the idea that it is great training for strategic leaders. Decision-making under uncertainty is the sine qua non of strategic leadership. Paralysis by analysis is a constant danger. But it is possible to veer too far in the other direction. A bias for deciding can stifle curiosity. In a case study no one has extra information. The meta-lesson is that "no one knows more than I do." In real life, a little extra digging, some pointed questions, some humility, can prevent a lot of mistakes.

Further, the conventional case study may not be very good training for a war president as discussed here.

He is a trained strategist, an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, where he learned that the point of having a strategy is to win when it counts, not just to feel good about yourself at every moment of the process.
I discussed the weaknesses of the business strategy literature in two posts on Clausewitz. (See here and here.) In particular, I contrasted Clausewitz's approach with Michael Porter's who was Bush's professor at Harvard:
Porter, however, differs radically in his approach. Clausewitz presents descriptive theories, his aim is to help the future commander prepare himself for the challenges he will face. In contrast, Porter's work is intensely prescriptive. His Five-factor framework and generic strategies are templates waiting for the executive's implementation.

Porter's, then, implies that the key to business strategy is "knowing". The doing will almost take care of itself. Clausewitz never presumed that the science of war (which gets studied in peacetime) could ever supplant the art of war (which wins actual battles and campaigns).
Bush, I worry, sometimes falls into the knowing trap. He shows admirable determination to stick with a decision, but he is not so interested in the hard work required to translate the decision into action. Similarly he fails to see that as a politician, he must rally and re-rally public support for that decision. Finally, he and Rumsfeld also seem to be oblivious to Clausewitz's subtle argument about the importance and limits of will. To quote myself:

Determination, however, is not a panacea. Note that Clausewitz warned that "it wears down the machine as well." Just as there are no good one factor economic models, so there is no magic trait that defines military greatness for Clausewitz.
My main issue with Lifson is that he never acknowledges GWB's MBA training took place in a bygone era of management studies. I won't call them the "dark ages" or the "bad old days". Let's simply call it the pre-HAPW era.

In 1980 Robert H. Hayes and William J. Abernathy published a shocking article in the Harvard Business Review-"Managing Our Way to Economic Decline". It was a harsh critique of American management methods that laid a large share of the blame for America's dismal economic performance on the methods taught at Harvard and other B-schools. Shortly thereafter Peters and Waterman published In Search of Excellence which brought a lot of issues to the forefront that were ignored in the traditional MBA curriculum.

This article by Tom Peters provides a good picture of the context in which his book and the HA article were produced.

Bush's view of the executive seems to reflects some of the weaknesses of the pre-HAPW era. In particular, his "I'm a decider" is all well and good but what about the executive's role as preacher/teacher (Jack Welch), Management by Walking Around, leadership as an improvisational art? Those are important for a corporate CEO; they are critical for a political leader. Bush did not learn about them as an MBA and it shows in his performance as president.

Lifson does note a weakness in Bush's leadership style:

George W. Bush is a natural delegator, an executive who seeks the best possible people to work for him, instills loyalty (by practicing it himself), and then gives them plenty of room to operate. His "sins" as an executive have been, and are likely to remain those of a loose leash, allowing ineffective subordinates too much time and too much room. This is why it has taken him so long to remove certain cabinet officials.

This is true as far as it goes. However, there are other issues at work as well. One of the real problems of the pre-HAWP organization was the power of central staffs and the crippling of line managers and those closest to the customer. A small group at headquarters rode herd on those in the field. (Examples: Harold Geneen at ITT and McNamara's Whiz Kids at the Pentagon.) One of Jack Welch's first steps at GE was to dismantle most of the central staff groups that populated headquarters. One of Dave Packards last acts at HP was to return to the company and do the same.

If you look at Lifson's examples, that same tendency is apparent; Bush's loyalty has been to "his people"-White House staffers, cabinet officers, etc. He shows very little loyalty, sympathy, or understanding for the broader coalition he leads-Republicans, conservatives, the military. He too often treats them as pawns whose only role is to obey the decisions he has made. He was willing to embarrass Senate Republicans by nominating Miers to the Supreme Court, he is willing undercut the Republican House on immigration, he panders on gas prices and was wobbly on the rights of gun owners. He is a wartime president who passes out Medals of Freedom to Muhammad Ali and neocon polemicists.

In sum, I see more reasons for pessimism than Lifson. The last couple of years of any administration are difficult. The habits of mind that GWB formed at HBS might make his especially difficult.
Eating our seed corn

James Homes has a good post at the American Thinker on the decline of military education under the twin pressures of Rumselfd and Iraq. This should be a major concern for all Americans.

See also:

Army to cut back on education?

Military Education IV

Military Education III

Military Education II

Military Education I

Monday, May 29, 2006

9-11 memorials: what might have been

The Weekly Standard has a long article on the Pentagon 9-11 Memorial.

The main idea behind this design seems to be that the memorial units, with the names of their loved ones inscribed on the benches' front ends, will help the bereaved reach closure. The precedent is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall, with its multitude of names listed in the chronological order of death. But leaving aside the fact that the chevron-shaped Vietnam memorial is spatially compact, clearly focused on its vertex, and handsomely inserted in its landscape setting, it is becoming increasingly clear that the therapeutic culture's dominion over memorial design since Maya Lin's triumph has swiftly degenerated into a tyranny. This tyranny suppresses any expression of civic idealism, let alone spiritual destiny.

Sad and all too true. The Vietnam Memorial really is the mother of all our flat, sterile, contemporary memorials. I've always liked this from Tom Wolfe on the Wall and the design that was passed over:

Nine of the top 10 choices were abstract designs that could be executed without resorting to that devious and accursed bit of trickery: skill. Only the No. 3 choice was representational. Up on one end of a semicircular wall bearing the 57,000 names was an infantryman on his knees beside a fallen comrade, looking about for help. At the other end, a third infantryman had begun to run along the top of the wall toward them. The sculptor was Frederick Hart.

The winning entry was by a young Yale undergraduate architectural student named Maya Lin. Her proposal was a V-shaped wall, period, a wall of polished black granite inscribed only with the names; no mention of honor, courage or gratitude; not even a flag. Absolutely skillproof, it was

Saturday, May 27, 2006

When inmates take over the tabloid asylum

Some days the news is not kind to those who work in cable "journalism".

First there is this from the Scott Peterson beat.

A former juror who sent Scott Peterson to death row says she's been corresponding for nearly a year with the former fertilizer salesman convicted of murdering his pregnant wife.

That's nice, but the lede is really buried farther down in the story.

In December, Nice suffered a major breakdown and was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, she said, explaining she's had a difficult life, including four children by two men. She now lives with her mother.

So we had a loon on the jury that sent a man to Death Row. I tell you, it gets harder and harder to be a death penalty supporter.

Of course, the juror is working on a book. That's why she is willing to go public to People magazine. Yet, again, People is sparing with the information it doles out to its readers in its EXCLUSIVE story.

People's article does not mention Nice's involvement in a book deal, nor does it mention that one of the magazine's own staffers is authoring the jurors' tome. "There were only so many elements we could include" in the story, the magazine said.

(HT: Crime, Guns and Video Tape )

Then there is this out of Durham in the Duke lacrosse case.

DURHAM -- A lawyer with the state NAACP said the civil rights organization intends to seek a gag order in the Duke lacrosse case, and a journalist who participated in a forum with him on Wednesday said media coverage of the alleged rape may deprive the alleged victim of her legal rights to a fair trial.

All those activist groups piled on to the publicity train when the allegations first surfaced. They thought they could further their own agendas with a flashy case that pitted black against white, poor against rich, helpless women against swaggering college athletes. The victim was their Joan of Arc.

Then it blew up in their faces. We saw the evidence and the train went off the rails. So now they want a gag order. Now they worry about rights, due process, and fair trials.

Another story out of Durham shows how concerned the community was about due process in the beginning.

Constitutional lawyer Alex Charns says a police poster unfairly sullied the names of 46 Duke University lacrosse players, implying all were guilty of raping an exotic dancer before the district attorney announced he had sufficient evidence to indict only three.

Charns, representing one of the unindicted players, has requested a police internal investigation in connection with the poster that declared the alleged victim "was sodomized, raped, assaulted and robbed. This horrific crime sent shock waves throughout our community

Watch the Durham PD back pedal in this story.

This transcript from 10 April shows tabloid television at its worst. Nancy Grace and Wendy Murphy make flat out assetions of fact that have no basis in reality. Today they warn us against "defense spin" when the evidence comes out. Yet here you can see them mindlessly repeating the DA's spin that has been shown to be false: torn fingernails, physical injury, cooperating witnesses.

Read this letter by a famous Duke professor to see how the Duke community stood up for innocent until proven guilty.

As this article makes clear, the activistas really don't want quiet. They just want the lawyers to be quiet so they can continue to pontificate without contradiction.

UPDATE: Robert KC Johnson has another good post.

UPDATE 2: In Cleopatra's Nose, Daniel Boorstein quotes Josh Billings to underline the importance of "negative discovery" to modern science: "It ain't what a man don't know as makes him a fool, but what he does know as ain't so." By that measure Wendy Murphy and Nancy Grace are enormous fools who parade their ignorance on TV. Sadly, TV journalism will happily put fools on and call them experts as long as it fills airtime.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Happy Blogiversary!

To the Blog from the Core. He's been blogging for four years.
"Belgrade Burndown"

Most of this Newsweek article is just anti-Goss spin by pampered sources with CIA. But two quotes say something about the Tenet-era CIA.

After President Clinton ordered the bombing of Belgrade to begin in the spring of 1999, the American Embassy in the Serbian capital was evacuated of all personnel, including the entire CIA station. Before leaving the building, allegedly in haste, CIA officers were supposed to destroy all secret documents. Current and former intelligence officials called this procedure a "burndown" or "burnout." When they believed they had burned everything, CIA officials left the Belgrade embassy, but not before locking the heavy vault door at the entrance to the office suite that housed the CIA station.

American diplomats and CIA officials didn't return to the embassy until around nine months later, after the U.S. bombing of Belgrade stopped. When they opened the vault door into their suite, however, CIA officials were alarmed to discover that some secret documents had not been destroyed. Instead, they were found left lying either behind desks and file cabinets or in open sight, depending upon which version of the story is being told. According to some accounts, the unburned material included papers or microfiche identifying undercover informants—the kind of information that is among the most sensitive of all secrets the CIA is supposed to protect


The CIA continued to insist there was no security breach; officials pointed out that it was virtually impossible to "prove a negative," namely to prove 100 percent that no sinister forces got into the Belgrade CIA station. Goss's aides pressed for the CIA to fire or discipline the CIA's station chief in Belgrade, but Kappes, heading the CIA's internal investigation, refused. Goss's team grew more and more irate at the agency's attitude. Eventually, Goss's aides persuaded him to sign a secret letter cutting the CIA's counterintelligence budget by $3 million; this was intended as a deliberate rebuke to the agency's handling of the Belgrade incident and its aftermath, according to former and current intelligence officials familiar with the matter. But CIA management, under Tenet, ignored the budget-cut order, and the agency eventually returned to business as usual, with no officials being fired over the Belgrade incident (or nonincident, depending on whom you believe).
This is not a case of "no harm, no foul." CIA operations may or may not have been compromised. But it is clear that the Belgrade station failed to follow procedures and ran great risks. Yet, Agency leadership took no forceful action.

I wonder if Newsweek would feel the same way about a drunk driver? "Although Sally Jones had a BAC of 0.12%, there is no evidence that she caused any accidents while on the road. Therefore, it is right and proper that the police filed no charges."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

More on Changing Minds

The Adventure of Strategy blog has a post that continues the discussion of Gardner's Changing Minds (discussed here.)

The Brain Sees What It Wants To See

I think this point can't be over-emphasized:
Given that people with absolutist personalities often rise to positions of leaders in professional service firms precisely because they are often absolutist, decisive, goal orientated and driven, this means that such leaders need to be particularly careful in assessing whether their decisions are being driven by the facts of the situation, or their own possibly flawed interpretation of those facts.

This Malcolm Gladwell article supports his view:

Narcissists typically make judgments with greater confidence than other people . . . and, because their judgments are rendered with such conviction, other people tend to believe them and the narcissists become disproportionately more influential in group situations. Finally, because of their self-confidence and strong need for recognition, narcissists tend to "self-nominate"; consequently, when a leadership gap appears in a group or organization, the narcissists rush to fill it.

I discussed this problem in relation to the blogosphere here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Duke Lacrosse

Three good reads:

In Duke Case, A Rogues' Gallery

Stuart Taylor takes no prisoners.

Duke's Party Line

Robert KC Johnson expands on Taylor's bill of particulars

'Innocent' sweatbands will be worn

By Duke's WOMEN'S lacrosse team.


In need of moral clarity

Monday, May 22, 2006

Almost forgot

Today is the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Cliopatria has a nice collection of links for any Holmes fans out there.
Good intentions set the stage for fraud

A fun story in normal circumstances. What makes this significant is the the faked painting "has been featured in textbooks and television programs and displayed at museums. "
Yes, they're back

Slublog has it right about the return of the Dixie Chicks:
If the Dixie Chicks truly want a smaller fanbase, I don't want to hear them whining later about how they aren't played on country stations anymore, or how their record sales have dropped. You can't have it both ways, ladies.
David Maister

I'm a big fan of his work and did a series of posts on corporate change that relied heavily on his research and insights. He also has a blog. It is worth bookmarking.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Great American Novelists

Sam Tannenhaus of the New York Times did a survey to find the best American novel of the last 25 years. The results are here.

A. O. Scott discusses the results in this article. One quote stands out:
In some ways, the mode of fiction McCarthy and Morrison practice is less historical than pre-historical. It does not involve the reconstruction of earlier times - the collisions between real and invented characters, the finicky attention to manners, customs and habits of speech - that usually defines the genre. But to look again at the top five titles in the survey is to discover just how heavily the past lies on the minds of contemporary writers and literary opinion makers. To the extent that the novel can say something about where we are and where we are going, the American novel at present chooses to do so above all by examining where we started and how we got here.

I wonder if he meant to echo Orwell from 1984?

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
Serious question. Because Scott admits that these novels do not really care about the history. They just use a fictional hitorical setting to play out their modern obsessions.

Missing from the list is Tom Wolfe. That is no surprise. Wolfe does not win literary prizes and is despised by many of the biggest names in the literary pantheon. (Check out "My Three Stooges" in Hooking Up). But Wolfe has this going for him: if the mark of greatness is having something to say about "where we are and where we are going", he trumps everybody on the list. Does anyone in Denver look up from her Sunday paper and say "this sounds just like a John Updike novel"? How many people turn on the cable news programs and think "Is Philip Roth scripting this"? Yet from Tawana Brawley to the Duke Lacrosse case, Tom Wolfe scouted the territory before anyone else.

By the way, Wolfe gave the 2006 Jefferson Lecture. RTWT here. It is too good to summarize or excerpt.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


So now the Malkin hatred is being mainstreamed.

Worth noting that Evian is a big advertiser on Wonkette. Part of the Danone goup. This is from their "Values statement"

Respect of the other: DANONE is sensitive to cultural differences, treats social and commercial partners with respect, and facilititates the developement of its partners.

So you sort of know how honest the rest of the advertising is.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The invisible blinders of advertising types

This Business Week article takes a look at VW and their new advertising campaign. It touches on a couple of points near and dear to my heart.

First there is this from their ad agency:

Says a habitually cool Bogusky, wearing a Kiss T-shirt and stabbing his fork in the air as he scarfed banana pancakes at Greenstreet's, a café near his Miami office: "I like that they are talking about the work. If they aren't talking, then your brand is dead."
He does not mean the cars when he says "the work". He means the commercials his agency creates for VW. Talk about that work is good for him and his agency. But buzz does not sell cars and that is the key thing to VW.

Then there is this:
In launching the GTI and reviving the Volkswagen brand in general, Crispin faced two challenges. First, since the debut of the New Beetle, the VW brand has become feminized, says Keller. Loyal young males who were hanging on to VW by a thread needed to be reassured. Too many men had come to view VW as a "chick's brand."
Can Crispin's edgy playfulness go over the line? With the suggestive content, charges of sexism have followed. TV ads for the Winter Olympics depicted young men so into their GTIs that one refused to roll up the window to shield his girlfriend's wind-blown hair and told her to stop "yackin"' so he could enjoy the engine's growl. Another refused to take his girlfriend on an errand in his GTI because her weight would slow him down. Ouch. Nissan's Wilhite says he's all for shaking up VW's message, "but I can't go along with ads that marginalize women like beer commercials often do." Suzanne Farley, a Boston education consultant and owner of a 1999 VW Passat, agrees, saying the ads "made me feel weird, like they were talking right past me."
Turn on network television any night and you will see commercials that depict men, especially married men and fathers, as clueless, stupid, helpless dorks. No one is worried that fathers and husbands are marginalized. When a company creates ads aimed at men, however, the PC scolds and women of the furrowed brow show up in five seconds flat.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Exit stage left with a whimper

How the mighty have fallen.

The swan song of "The West Wing," the inauguration of President Santos and the retirement of two-term President Bartlet, brought in 9.9 million viewers and a 2.8/7 to come in third place in the hour in viewership and fourth place in the demo. After "Survivor," ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" averaged 11 million viewers and a 4.2/11 while "The Simpsons" (8.3 million, 3.9/11) and the finale of "Malcolm in the Middle" (7.4 million, 3.4/9) boosted Fox to third place in the demo.
Fourth place in the race for viewers 18-49. They used to own that audience.

One of my first posts on this blog was about West Wing. It is especially relevant now.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Generally, I think the West Wing is pretty funny.

Aaron Sorkin pours so much energy into undoing the heartbreak of the Clinton-years- creating Republican strawmen to knock down and rewriting history so Democrats win every argument. The West Wing is a lot like the play-by-play boys provide as they shoot hoops alone in their driveway: "Robbie Boy takes the ball, he goes to the baseline, shoots over Shaq, it's GOOD! Robbie steals the inbounds pass from Kobe and drives to the hole...."

But on 2-26 Sorkin crossed a line. He did one of his ripped-from-the-headlines-but-not-quite-true numbers and settles some scores from a shameful Clinton episode. Except this time his target wasn't Republican operatives, it was military families.

The scene was set in the White House where Leo, the WH chief of staff, was waiting with the families of three servicemen who had been captured in Africa while on a humanitarian mission. The working class mother of one of the soldiers was dismissive of the Bartlett crowd as unmilitary and asked if Leo had been in the service. Of course he had-- combat duty as a pilot in Vietnam. And later, after a successful rescue mission which saves the hapless soldiers, terrorists blow-up the base where the Delta team trained. Over a dozen men are killed so the cry-baby mother has to deal with the fact that other parents lost their children because her son was rescued

First, note the complete ignorance of military realities that Sorkin demonstrates with the bam-bam timing of the rescue and retaliation. We are supposed to believe that the rag-tag army of a country like Rwanda or Liberia can find the training camp of a Delta team in a foreign country and mount a suicide bombing against it in a matter of hours. That's absurd. The command, control, and intelligence capabilities required are staggering. I doubt that six NATO countries could pull it off. But West Wing makes it sound like no big deal.

But here is the heart of the problem ......

In 1994, Herbert Shughart told Bill Clinton that he "was not fit to be president" and refused to shake his hand. But this outburst did not come as he was waiting for Clinton to rescue his hapless son from terrorists. He said it as he received the Medal of Honor his son Randy earned trying to rescue a Black Hawk crew in Somalia in 1993. Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon were the two Delta snipers who requested permission to drop into the cauldron that was Mogadishu on 3 October 1993. [Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote a column recently on the Shugharts .]

Unlike the steely Bartlett and his battle-tested team, Bill Clinton tried to evade responsibility for the decisions that led to 18 American deaths. At times, he even suggested that the Rangers were too aggressive and were thus responsible for the debacle.

This is the event Sorkin echoed. Apparently he intends to get even with everyone who ever said a mean thing about or to Bill, Hill, or Al. And he will twist he story as much as required to make it all come out right in the end.

Sidenote: When NPR-listening residents of the Keystone state joke that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Mississippi in the middle, they don't mean it as a complement to us in the middle or to Mississippi. They have in mind places like Newville where Randy Shughart grew up and Perry county where his family now lives.
On Memorial Day, the Newville Post Office will be renamed in Randy Shughart's honor.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Two good posts on immigration

Jerry Pournelle (one of my heroes)

We want democracy in Iraq, and in Iran, and in Mexico; but we do not want democracy in the United States of America. Our masters want a continued and plentiful supply of cheap labor, whose basic needs will be met through general taxation and public services.

It is always the case that if a capitalist can get the benefits of a policy, and put the costs off on someone else, the capitalist will attempt to use government to bring that policy about. As Adam Smith noted, when capitalists get together they conspire to use government against the public interest

Eurnomia (who has a nice slapdown of JPod)

Remember that these complaints are coming from someone at an institution renowned for its narrow, parochial understanding of conservatism and its all too frequent denunciations of those who have crossed this or that red line. Little Pod, accompanied by Jonah Goldberg, played the role of ideological enforcer most recently at the Crunchy Cons blog, where he satisfied himself with flinging irrelevant and insulting comments at his adversaries with every intent of belittling the participants and spiking every productive line of inquiry.
Good point

Cartoon Warfare

In recent years "the personal is political," a phrase whose origins are lost deep in the history of the women's movement, has among other things come to mean that just about anyone is allowed to transform her personal experience into a political program. Writing about oneself has a long history: The memoir, the autobiography, the roman à clef, the essay that draws on personal experience to make witty social observations -- all are legitimate literary forms. But writing about oneself and then turning these observations about one's narrow social circle into a party platform or a tax policy -- that is a more modern invention, and one of more questionable legitimacy and usefulness.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I hope they know this means war

i've always been a live and let live kind of guy when it came to aquatic predators. I stay out of the water, so we got no beef between us. But now this makes it clear that some of them are breaking the truce.

An alligator mauled a woman on dry land in a quick, violent and extremely unusual attack, an autopsy confirmed Thursday, devastating her family and sending trackers scrambling to find and kill the animal.

Yovy Suarez Jimenez, 28, of Davie, Fla., almost certainly died on the banks of a canal near Markham Park in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday and was then pulled into the water, Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper said. An autopsy found signs of extreme trauma and massive blood loss, but turned up no indications the woman drowned.

It's time for a Kurt Russell Tombstone moment.

From now on, i see a gator hanging around me or mine on dry land, i kill it.

Of course, we don't actually have wild gators in PA. So the point might be moot.

On the other hand, how do we know that there isn't the reptile equivalent of a James-Younger gang getting ready to ride into Yankee territory? Northfield was a long way from Missouri, too.

Friday, May 12, 2006


But this is too good to pass up:

Monetizing the wasteland

It's worth stopping for a second and thinking back to the old-school web - Web 1.0, as we call it now - and who made money off that big boom. Most of the money back then wasn't earned by the cool dot-coms. It was earned by the boring old farts who sold the cool dot-coms the computer and networking gear they needed to rapidly scale up their businesses to the point where they'd be certain to collapse in the most spectacular fashion possible. It was the vendors like Cisco and Sun and EMC that made the big bucks. Most dot-coms, it turned out, were just middlemen who were really good at taking investor capital and funneling it to IT vendors.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The most ridiculous items of the week

Two posts with a unifying theme.

Do football coaches maximize returns?

Rumsfeld and the Generals

The theme is "the professionals are stupid and craven and we know their business better than they do."

What makes them ridiculous are the the laughable errors the clever guys commit in their arrogant attempts to show how smart they are.

Steve Sailer deals with the football paper here.

The second post "argues" that the military is angry because Rummy's "small, light and fast" ideas interfere with their promotion opportunities. This selection give a taste of his expertise:
Not so creditably, the generals devised a way to cover their butts, mainly by keeping the politicians off them. It found its most famous expression in the "Powell Doctrine," with its insistence on overwhelming force and an "exit strategy." (How to get the Army out with its getting hurt or embarrassed, never mind that quaint concept, "winning.") And the generals eagerly took refuge in the doctrine of "two major wars and a brushfire" capability for the armed forces as a whole. It assured lots of spending, made the military largely inert, and got the generals (and admirals) lots of big, expensive weapons systems around which to scuffle for stars.

So what about that quaint concept of "winning". The Rummy way was tried in Iraq, we did take Baghdad in a lightning campaign. Did we win? Did we defeat the enemy? The bodybags tell the answer.

What is the Bush plan to "win"? More of the same? How do those wonderful high-tech bombs work against an insurgency?

Somehow the two and one-half wars idea does not seem so stupid now that we are confronting North Korea, Iran, and the insurgents in Iraq. Is it possible that the military brass actually knew something?

Naw, that can't be possible. A couple of generals criticized Bush so the whole bunch of them are worthless.

This is what the rightwing has come to? Will we really swallow any argument if it attacks those who attack Bush or Rumsfeld?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sanctimonious puffery

Times editor Bill Keller has a letter to the editor in Opinion Journal defending deep leak stories like Dana Priest's "secret prisons" prize winner. Hugh Hewitt addresses his main argument here. I'm more interested in the flashy accessories that he uses to dress up his rhetoric.

Keller wants us to know that there is a big difference between "the curiosity-driven world of reporters and editors from the ideology-driven world of editorial writers and columnists."

That sounds nice, but it provides a false picture of what most reporters do and how they think.

The first function of a reporter is to generate content to fill the spaces between advertisements. That's not all they do, but it is the first thing they do. News reporters are no different than editorial writers. Moreover, reporters at the Times fill the same role for that paper as the writers at the National Enquirer do for the rag that pays them. They all write against the deadline.

Most reporters cover a specific beat. They get paid to be bored. Boredom, not curiosity is the hallmark of their workday. They sit through interminable hearings, listen to the same stump speeches over and over, spar with the same spokespeople at the same regular briefings. Their insouciant cynicism is not the result of seeing too much of the world. It is the predictable consequence of seeing the same tiny slice of life everyday for too long with the same people.

Boredom, deadline pressure, the need to be on the job all the time, working alongside other bored, pressured people-all of these work against curiosity and learning.

Tired bored people will find ways to amuse themselves and bring a little zest to their life. No one can blame them for that, but journalists take the games they invent seriously.
I often wonder if modern journalism has lost its ability to keep the game separate from the reality reporters cover. The profession plays by a set of rules which add excitement and permit score-keeping. The former is superficial and the latter is spurious, BUT THE PRACTITIONERS NO LONGER RECOGNIZE THIS. They think such things matter in the larger scheme of things.
Keller then offers us this:

The role of journalism on our side of the news/opinion divide, at least as we aspire to perform it, is not to be advocates for or against any president or any party or any cause. It is not to tell our readers what we think or what they should think, but to provide information and analysis that enables them to make up their own minds.

I just can't square this with Jack Shafer's article in Slate on Rathergate and investigative journalism.

I don't know that I've met more than four or five investigative journalists in my life who didn't wear their political biases on their flapping tongues. Almost to a one, they're suspicious (paranoid?) about corporate power, dubious about the intentions of governments, and convinced that at this very moment a secret meeting is being held somewhere in which a hateful conspiracy against the masses is being hatched. I won't provoke the investigative-journalist union by alleging that most of its members are Democrats or lefties, but aside from a few right-wing reporters sucking conservative teats inside the government, how many Republican investigative aces can you name?
Liberal favorite Cass Sunstein also explained why mono-ideological environments (like newsooms) lead to distorted thinking

Finally, Keller's adoption of the Fox News slogan-"We report, readers decide"-is hard to square with David Warsh's insight that newspapers compete in "explanation space". Warsh defines that as "the lofty region where short-term causal explanations of events are forged."

Warsh also writes that " by their very nature, newspapers also exist to communicate a sense of proportion. A good deal of their impact derives from the way they choose to play a story."

Keller kind of overlooked that point.
The Brain only knew half of it

Pro wrestling manager Bobby Heenan once said that there were only two things that scared him about wrestling fans: "they can vote and they can breed." Heenan's quip also fits all the Court TV/Nancy Grace/ Rita Cosby fans out there. But I would add two points:

There are so many of them

They can sit on juries

Apparently there are millions of Americans who obsessively follow whatever crime story is hot at the moment. They watch it on TV, they read about it on blogs, they play detective in comments and discussion boards. They speculate and pick sides.

You know they are dying to get on a jury to do it for real.

This presents a serious challenge to our jury system. It is one thing to talk about the presumption of innocence when jurors have little information about the case and have not taken a position before coming to court. The popularity of crime stories on TV and the internet means that more and more potential jurors are making up their minds before the trial and doing their own "fact finding."

That's worrisome because one of the main points of Changing Minds by Howard Gardner is that it is hard for any of us to change our own minds. We do not, on the whole, accept new facts and revise our theories. Rather, we interpret or disregard the new information to make it fit our theories. This is not a matter of IQ or lack of education. He points out that intellectuals are "particularly susceptible" to removing cognitive dissonance by "reinterpreting" the facts. Among the forces that exacerbate this tendency to lock-in a theory are emotional commitment, public commitment (pride makes it hard to climb down when everyone is watching), and an absolutist personality. You can find plenty of all three any where crime fans congregate.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Stuart Taylor on the Duke lacrosse case

An Outrageous Rush To Judgment
Louis Rukeyser, RIP

The man who brought financial journalism into the television age is dead at 73. I loved his show and watched it for years.

One thing deserves mention about the integrity he brought to his show. For a long time, they used a forward-looking index of technical indicators ("the eleves") as part of the show. Throughout it's run this index was periodically revised. If the current version stopped predicting, they stopped using it and tried to make a better one.

LR also dropped a couple of regular panelists over the years because they 1) had a conflict of interest, or 2) stopped saying useful things. It was not so much a bias for bulls or bears. But if an analyst was bearish for three years while the market kept breaking records, they stopped showing up.

All in all, Rukeyser was the antithesis of most of the cable programming today. That is our loss.

Arson Experts Challenge Conviction of Executed Man

John J. Lentini, the former chairman of the forensic science committee of the National Institute of Arson Investigators who led the review panel, said in an interview that he was convinced that Texas had executed an innocent man.

"Arson is the only crime for which you can be executed based on the opinion of a man with a high school education," said Lentini, referring to the fact that many arson investigators are qualified by judges as experts even though they lack scientific training.

Lentini is manager of fire investigations at Applied Technical Services, a testing and consulting firm based in Marietta, Ga. that works primarily for manufacturers and insurance companies. He presented the group's findings at a press conference in Austin, Texas with attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project

(HT: Patterico)

UPDATE: From the comments at TalkLeft:

Weldon Wayne Carr, convicted by then-prosecutor Nancy Grace in 1993 for killing his wife. The state argued that he had incapacitated his wife, then laid a trail of accelerant-soaked newspaper along the stairs and set the house on fire to cover his crime, and in the process of fleeing the scene broken his spine by jumping from the second story window. The paper they found was actually burned wallpaper, and hadn't been treated with any flammable substance (a trained dog detected an accelerant, but no forensic analysis found any to be present).

Animal testimony. Are we really that far from the Salem witch trials? 300 years of scientific progress and Cotton Mather ends up sounding like the voice of reason next to CNN's rating star.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

United 93

Fault lines and tremblers

Galley Slaves is much taken with this analysis of "United 93's" box office performance.

'United 93' Bow Doesn't Match Press Frenzy
by Brandon Gray
May 1, 2006

Media hype did not convince droves to board United 93—Robin Williams' return to his strongest genre did not get RV rolling—Starbucks and positive buzz did not keep Akeelah and the Bee from flunking. It was the least heralded picture, Stick It, that beamed the most over the weekend.

The first major motion picture about the Sept. 11, 2001, Islamic terrorist attack on America, Universal Pictures' United 93, opened to a solid $11.5 million at 1,795 sites, comparable to Syriana's first wide weekend. Writer-director Paul Greengrass' $15 million drama was not rejected by moviegoers as had been feared, but its number was low in relation to the raft of press coverage
While it is true that "United 93" drew plenty of press attention, it really is not fair to call it "hype". Much of the discussion was devoted to the question "is it too soon?" In addition, there was plenty of ink devoted to the intense emotions that came while watching the film. A lot of the buzz seemed to discourage rather than promote ticket sales.
Party economically

at the latest Carnival of the Capitalists.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The high utility of myth and ignorance

This USA Today editorial tries to defend good leaks (Mary McCarthy, Joe Wilson) without jumping off the get Rove bandwagon. When faced with a tough task like that, it never hurts to trot out an old chestnut or two. Being willfully ignorant never hurts either.

Coincidentally, a memoir arrived this week from Watergate's "Deep Throat." It reminds us that some leaks are leaks of conscience, from public-spirited individuals trying to blow the whistle on government practices at odds with American ideals.

W. Mark Felt, then second-in-command at the FBI, writes: "From the start, it was clear that senior administration officials were up to their necks in this mess, and that they would stop at nothing to sabotage our investigation." Events proved how right he was.

Felt is one of many. Defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon papers in 1971, after he couldn't get anyone in the administration or Congress to take seriously the implications of the detailed history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam that he had compiled

I've done over a dozen posts on the myths, errors and outright lies that the press pedals about Felt, Deep Throat, and Watergate. Start here and scroll up through the June and July archives.

Then there is this:

More recently, a still-unidentified person leaked the photos of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib, sensing that the only way to stop such practices was to appeal to the sensibilities of the public.

Harmful to U.S. interests? Definitely. Essential to protect U.S. values? No doubt. The same dichotomy applies in the secret-prison and wiretapping stories
Note how they are certain that the "unknown" leaker was just trying to do good. I guess the editors have selective ESP. "We don't know who Sy Hersh's source was, but we can sense his pure motives."

Edward Jay Epstein and the Mudville Gazette (also here and here) provide a corrective to this sanctimonious pap.