Friday, February 27, 2009

The "upside" of the recession

The Economy made us do it

It seems today's tough economic climate has become the ultimate scapegoat for pretty much everything.


I touched on this point last fall:

Notes on the current crisis
"Leap in order to look" An interesting post by Diane Coutu on dealing with an uncertain business environment:
Leap While You Look: Moving forward in the Recession A cosmology episode is the opposite of a déjà vu experience. When you experience déjà vu, everything suddenly feels inexplicably familiar. By contrast, in a cosmology episode, everything seems completely strange and dangerous, unknown. In cosmology events, people feel that they don't know what to do because they've never been here before. Panic and fear bubble to the surface, and folks become so anxious that they find it almost impossible to take action. Weick's insight about how to move forward during a cosmology episode is as counter-intuitive as it is compelling. The people who really get in trouble, he says, are those who rationalize everything before taking any action. Instead, leaders need to act before they have defined and refined all their hypotheses. "Action, tempered by reflection, is the critical component in recovering from cosmology episodes," he told HBR readers. "Once you start to act, you can flesh out your interpretations and rework them. But it's the action itself that gets you moving again. That's why I advise leaders to leap in order to look, or leap while looking."
Countu's "cosmology episode" echoes some of the findings of Cohen and Gooch's Military Misfortunes. In particular, the French high command in 1940 exhibited exactly the sort of quiet, cerebral paralysis that Weick predicts. Setbacks were not met with frantic reaction. Rather, the generals fell into the grip of a calm acceptance of the "inevitable". UPDATE: Bob Sutton sounds the same theme:
Reward Success and Failure, Punish Inaction

A solution for the banking crisis

David Warsh outlines a surprisingly workable solution:

Late Starter

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Would Oswald have joined the Brady campaign?

Before he shot President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald composed a political manifesto setting forth his "Athenian System". While he was disenchanted with both the US and Soviet Union, he apparently did like the Stalinist gun control laws that prevailed in the USSR when he lived there.

At the end of his political treatise we find this:

Sale of arms-- pistols should not be sold in any case, rifles only with police permission.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Two smart proposals and one bad example of the problem.

Newspapers' supply-and-demand problem (Why you should quit doing what everyone else is)

Consider a scenario: Newspaper A posts a local scoop to its website. The story is picked up by other news organizations. It's rewritten, repackaged, sent out on wires, and within hours that story or some version of it — sans additional reporting — is on a hundred different websites. Much of this duplication is automatic, but some of it is done by human editors. (See Google News any day for an example of this.) Best-case scenario, a few of those sites actually link back to Newspaper A.

Now let's say most of the duplication stops. Because there are fewer versions of the story, more eyeballs now find their way to the original scoop on Newspaper A's site. Good. But aren't many of these additional eyeballs just single-page, out-of-market visits that have little value to advertisers? Maybe, but if Newspaper A is sticking to its core mission of covering local news, it will be able to deliver an audience that's more cohesive on the whole — and therefore more sellable — than if its content is all over the map

Journalism is the business of building communities - so newsrooms must hire from within those communities

That, I think is where so many news organizations have failed over the past generation. In a drive to professionalize the journalism industry (and, then, to cut costs), we've cut our publications off from the communities they are supposed to represent.

This post might have been written as an illustration of that point.

What's your dream? Season tickets.

It drips with condescension and veiled contempt for the people of Pittsburgh. It is something you expect to read in the Boston Globe or an alt-weekly in a latte-town The only reason it caught my eye was that it was written by a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Yeah, that's the way to build your brand and connect with your audience. Hire people who think your subscribers are a bunch of conformist cowards who prefer mediocrity to excellence.
A good cop looks at the Kathryn Johnston case


We should have gotten more time out of them. 5-10 with concurrent sentencing is not enough for what these men --police officers sworn to uphold the law-- did.

That's not what I got into policing to do.

Friends with badges, hear me: we had better damned well police ourselves. If a person in your ranks is breaking the law, then he is not a police officer-- he is a criminal with a badge. And we put criminals in prison

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This won't make some nano-pundits happy

Obama Gets High Marks for 1st Month

Large majorities of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll support his $787 billion economic stimulus package and the recently unveiled $75 billion plan to stem mortgage foreclosures. Nearly seven in 10 poll respondents said Obama is delivering on his pledge to bring needed change to Washington, and about eight in 10 said he is meeting or exceeding their expectations.
I guess those rants on Fox News and talk radio did not mean much after all.
Reminds me of something i once said

The Chandra Levy case may be close to an arrest.

It disappeared from the headlines for years. Any chance this is the reason?

At times, media coverage of criminal matters seems like a reversion to our primitive history. Watching Nancy Grace or Greta van Sustren brings to mind images from the Roman Coliseum. The goal isn't truth or justice, it is closure. Closure demands that someone must pay for the crime. Someone can easily become anyone, guilty or not.

I suspect that this is why the tabloid media continues to bash Aruba, but has lost interest in Chandra Levy. Both crimes are unsolved, but the DC police get a pass. Levy's murder, though, did cost Gary Condit his seat in Congress. Someone paid. That he was innocent of her murder is of little concern

I'm interested in what the DC police have as evidence. I hope they found the guy who did it. But there is always a good chance that they are just trying to close an embarrasing cold case. (Their record as investigators is not good at all.

UPDATE: Here's an article from 2002 by a reporter who pointed to Ingmar Guandique at the height of Condit-mania. Oddly enough, her beltway colleagues were not interested.

Note as well how those journalists just assumed that someone fed her the information. Why was it so hard to believe that a reporter could find a scoop through independent digging?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Playing nice is not a strategy (at least not a winning strategy)

R. S. McCain has a great post up analyzing the GOP's woes and knocks down the latest "solution" offered up by a brain-dead nano-pundit.

Rick Moran takes counsel of his fears

Two quick points about Moran's "please be nice" whining.

One: By decrying the use of "wedge issues", Moran implicitly endorses the disenfranchisement of American citizens. These issues became political issues because activists and the courts sought to overturn established laws on abortion, marriage, education, etc. Moran condemns the majority who refuses to accept this judicial tyranny.

Bottom line-- an anti-democratic ethos is no way to build a successful political party.

Two: Moran's bogus history lessons are part and parcel of the "permanent campaign" mode that now defines our politics. That mode goes beyond starting the next election cycle as soon as the last vote is cast. It also has a retrospective component as partisans try to re-write the history of past campaigns to gain useful talking points or to neuter issues that hurt their party.

Thus, Willie Horton becomes evidence of Republican racism instead of the liberalism of Michael Dukakis. The Swift Boat Veterans become partisan liars even when they present unchallenged facts about John Kerry. John McCain lost because of Sarah Palin.

"Rovian wedge issues" are just another example. As R. S. McCain points out, basing one's arguments on the dishonest talking points of the other side is no way to find the truth or to win political support.

That said, I'm not as confident as McCain whn it comes to beating Obama with a free market platform.

There is no doubt that a sizable minority of the population is opposed to bigger government. This minority is large enough to boost the ratings of talk radio. It drives readership for rightwing blogs and raises money for some candidates. But is it it enough to win election?

40% is an enormous share in radio ratings. It is also the bad end of a landslide election.

The usual mantra of "No socialism, Free Enterprise!" just seems inadequate in the face of the current economic realities.

Key fact number one. As Obama moves toward "socialism", he does so at the behest of the "capitalists". It is not as if he is sending paramilitary gangs to take over successful, profitable businesses. Obama, like Bush before him, is compelled to act because the capitalists screwed the pooch, crapped the bed, and then muttered "maybe my bad" when their recklessness sent the financial system off a cliff.

The broad public knows this, and that makes it hard to win them over with cheap slogans about socialist bogeymen.

Any sustained revivial of free market politics requires three things. First, we need solid, empirical analyses of what went wrong. Second, we have to admit that "our side" made mistakes. (Bush, after all, missed plenty of opportunities to rein in the madness.) Finally we need reform proposals that respect free market principles but also mitigate against a repeat of this crisis.

Unless the right can do these things, the conservative coalition faces a long stretch in the wilderness or even disintegration.
Harvey Milk and the People's Temple

A useful history lesson. Seems Hollywood left out some parts of the story.

"Milk": Another People's Temple Political Strongman Gets The Whitewash -- And Just Maybe Even An Oscar Or Two?

Friday, February 20, 2009

"And hold their manhood cheap..."

A righteous smackdown from the Mudville Gazette, the best i've seen in months:

Who gives a rat's ass about a magazine designed to sell hair gel to "men"? Part of that equation is making sniveling little cubicle dwellers feel like they're hot shot studmuffins who just need the right cologne to finally score a date with that hot chick from accounting, and a big part of that equation - along with advice on white water rafting gear they're never going to use - is making them feel superior to (and more "manly" than) guys like Lt Jones, he of the "lower-tier liberal arts college" who couldn't get a job and is therefore "stuck in Iraq Afghanistan". (Sound familiar?) So readers of "Men's Journal" get to the end of that story convinced of their ongoing superiority to anyone who doesn't get a "Hawaiian Shirt Friday", turn the page, start drooling over the chick in a Bulova watch ad and forget all about it.

R. S. McCain thinks he might be unfair to Bill Moyers with this headline

J. Edgar Hoover, Bill Moyers and LBJ's homophobic witch-hunt

Based on Moyers's history, i think he is being too kind to the old fraud. (See here)

In from the Cold has much more on the background to this story. RTWT.
That little thing called supply and demand

Nicholas Carr looks at the future of journalism and sees things that most new media pundits ignore:

The writing is on the paywall

Now here's what a lot of people seem to forget: Excess production capacity goes away, particularly when that capacity consists not of capital but of people. Supply and demand, eventually and often painfully, come back into some sort of balance. Newspapers have, with good reason, been pulling their hair out over the demand side of the business, where a lot of their product has, for the time being, lost its monetary value. But the solution to their dilemma actually lies on the production side: particularly, the radical consolidation and radical reduction of capacity. The number of U.S. newspapers is going to collapse (although we may have differently branded papers produced by the same production operation) and the number of reporters, editors, and other production side employees is going to continue to plummet. And syndication practices, geared to a world of geographic constraints on distribution, will be rethought and, in many cases, abandoned.

As all that happens, market power begins - gasp, chuckle, and guffaw all you want - to move back to the producer. The user no longer gets to call all the shots. Substitutes dry up, the perception of fungibility dissipates, and quality becomes both visible and valuable. The value of news begins, once again, to have a dollar sign beside it.


It's sort of like the old joke about out running the bear. The New York Times does not have to be profitable right now. It just has to lose money slower than the other newspapers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Armed citizens and al Qaeda swarms

This recent op-ed offers a sobering look at the evolution of terrorist tactics.

The Coming Swarm

WITH three Afghan government ministries in Kabul hit by simultaneous suicide attacks this week, by a total of just eight terrorists, it seems that a new “Mumbai model” of swarming, smaller-scale terrorist violence is emerging.
The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time. This approach certainly worked in Mumbai, India, last November, where five two-man teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives held the city hostage for two days, killing 179 people. The Indian security forces, many of which had to be flown in from New Delhi, simply had little ability to strike back at more than one site at a time

The author believes that current US doctrine is too centralized to deal effectively with this type of multiple, small-scale attacks. He recommends dramatic changes or necessary to prevent Mumbai-scale carnage in this country.

At the federal level, we should stop thinking in terms of moving thousands of troops across the country and instead distribute small response units far more widely. Cities, states and Washington should work out clear rules in advance for using military forces in a counterterrorist role, to avoid any bickering or delay during a crisis. Reserve and National Guard units should train and field many more units able to take on small teams of terrorist gunmen and bombers. Think of them as latter-day Minutemen.

He overlooks a critical dimension that is directly relevant to his scenario. The original Minutemen were civilians ready to take up arms in defense of their community. A non-trivial minority of US citizens still live by that ideal. Armed citizens may be the most effective force in limiting the death toll should terrorists try to carry out swarm attacks here.

I argued that point here in response to Richard Clarke's "scenarios" several years ago. The new terror tactics make civilian response even more promising.

For one thing, small terrorist teams (two men each in the Mumbai example) decrease the odds against civilian responders. Private citizens fight back--successfully-- against armed assailants everyday. It may appear suicidal to take on eight or ten terrorists with a handgun. That is not the case when armed citizens fight back against one or two criminals.

Second, the slow expected response by the professionals actually undercuts one of the most popular arguments against civilian resistance to terror attacks. Skeptics often claim that arriving first responders will shoot anyone with a gun. Thus, fighting back makes you a target of both the terrorists and counter-terrorist units.

But if the counter-terrorist response is expected to be slow and deliberate, then the risks are all on one side. The danger of being mistaken for a bad guy by the SWAT team is low. Against terrorists any resistance is better than passive capitulation.

See also:
Richard Clarke in The Atlantic

"But Richard Clarke was a wimp"

Mall Shooting and future terrorism

Lessons and preparations

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why legal technicalities matter

Here's a terrible story out of Texas.

Seeking justice for convict who died in prison

Rape victim, late inmate's family have DNA tests, other man's confession to back their claim.

The family of Tim Cole cleared his name and had his rape conviction overturned. That is a small victory in a bleak, tragic story. Cole was falsely convicted and died in prison.

At the heart of the nightmare is a faulty, unduly suggestive police line-up that led the victim to identify Cole as the man who raped her.

When defense attorneys challenge investigative procedures, their arguments are frequently dismissed as trivial. Yet this case demonstrates why sound procedures matter. For Tim Cole, they were a matter of life and death.
Jason Whitlock-- Genius

No other sportswriter can pack so much good sense into a few words:

A-Rod comes clean — now baseball needs to do same

[A-Rod] even expressed respect for the most clueless and potentially most dishonest commissioner in the history of professional sports, Bud “Iceberg” Selig, who had a front-row seat for McGwire and Sosa and was repulsed by Bonds. Selig pimped the ’roiders for relevancy when the game was in the toilet and now claims he was a victim of the steroids era.
Please let this end. The discussion of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is clearly the most deceitful, unintelligent, unsophisticated and hypocritical debate ever held in sports journalism.
We’ve done virtually nothing to rid football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, soccer — or any other sport performed for large sums of money — of performance-enhancing drugs. We’ve crucified and jailed a few high-profile athletes. We’ve made a few sportswriters wealthy and famous, or in the case of A-Rod’s hunter, Selena Roberts, we’ve hyped her tell-all book about the third baseman and given new life to her floundering back-page column in Sports Illustrated

As a journalistic outsider, i think Selena Roberts's role in this deserves greater scrutiny. How was it, exactly, that she obtained the results of "confidential" drug tests. Who broke their word to give her the hot info about A-Rod?

Over 100 players failed those tests, yet Roberts published one name. Oddly enough, that one player she outed is the subject of her forthcoming book.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Number Six baby

This pretty much removes all doubt. The Steelers are the greatest NFL franchise of the Super Bowl era.