Thursday, December 29, 2005
My PC crashed big time so blogging will be light for the next several days.
It's pretty surprising: in sixteen months i've had more trouble with this Dell equipment (two junk printers, a DVD drive, and now a compound problem) than i had with the previous four computers and three printers i've owned (combined).
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Saturday, December 24, 2005
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Four years later and the case is still open. I've just finished an interesting book on the subject: Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks by Edward G. Lake. (Lake also has a website: Anthraxinvestigation.com ). Both are a useful compendium of the known facts an do a good job of debunking the false leads that crept into the media narrative.
There were a lot of false leads that the media trumpeted. In some cases the reporting on the anthrax letters looks like an overture for the MSM meltdowns over Niger, WMDs, Abu Ghraib, and the false TANG documents. For instance, before Nick Kristoff signed up as Joe Wilson's PR flack, he was doing the same for Barbara Hatch Rosenberg in her vendetta against Dr. Stephen J. Hatfill. In both cases, Kristoff combined a preening moral passion with gullibility, obtuseness, and laziness. He went into a a dudgeon, but could not get his facts straight.
Before it botched the Koran/toilet story, Newsweek printed a harebrained story about bloodhounds identifying Hatfill from scents found on the envelopes. (Lake argues persuasively that the FBI used the bloodhounds after they lost Hatfill while he was under surveillance and had nothing to do with the envelopes.)
Lake believes Hatfill is innocent based on some pretty powerful evidence. The case against him, in contrast, relies heavily on innuendo, speculation, and misinformation.
It is telling, but wholly unsurprising that the voices raised over the NSA/al Qaeda wiretaps were silent during the highly publicized pursuit of Hatfill.
(Hatfill, like Richard Jewell, is an example of the how the free press can sell out the presumption of innocence for a few scraps of leaks from law enforcement.)
The Anthrax case is also a rebuke to Greta and Nancy Grace and all the other Holloway obsessives. For six months they've croaked about sending the FBI to Aruba. They act as if the Bureau has magical powers that let them solve every case they are assigned. The anthrax letters, like the Unabomber and Chandra Levy cases, are a standing rebuke to that conceit.
Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Incompetence, the study demonstrated, represents a dismaying troika of of cluelessness: Incompetant people don't perform up to speed, don't recognize their lack of competence, and don't recognize the competence of others.
Marc Abrahams, Harvard Business Review, December 2005
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Photon Courier discussed an interesting new book in this post:
PC makes an astute point:
This critique of an excessive reliance on contextless technique in business is, I believe, also applicable to the current excessive dominance of "theory"--ie, specific techniques for things like textual criticism--in the teaching of the humanities.
Military education and business
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Knight Ridder is the second-largest newspaper chain in the country, behind Gannett, although perhaps not for long. The company's single largest investor, Private Capital Management, sent an ultimatum to the board last month demanding an imminent sale or breakup so it could realize some sort of premium on its 20 percent holding considering the stagnant stock price. The announcement that CEO Tony Ridder had dutifully hired Goldman Sachs to begin looking around prompted those newly romantic journos to suggest nominating a slate of their retired colleagues to the board or inspiring communities to buy their local papers, as if they were Green Bay and Knight Ridder were the Packers. They have nothing but disdain for PCM, the institutional shareholders who care about nothing other than the share price, and the Wall Street analysts who approve of radical cost cutting to justify the deal. (Morgan Stanley's Douglas Arthur, whose "scorched earth" recommendation would pare $350 million in costs, was denounced in the pages of Knight Ridder's Philadelphia Daily News, which under Arthur's plan would be the first thing to go.)Is the Romance Gone From Newspapers?
Of course, if these same journalists were writing about any industry besides newspapers, they might be less soft-hearted and more hard-headed. They'd point out that newspapers are losing their main reason for being in business -- their readers. They'd point out how websites are draining away lucrative classified advertising. They might even applaud PCM for shaking up management.
They don't, of course, because they're hopeless romantics about the business they're in. Investors like PCM are realists and figure that newspapers are no longer growth properties. They're not even value properties. They're cash cows to be milked -- a trick that private equity funds do best. What's fascinating in Knight Ridder's case is how its leaders -- who have been less willing to cut costs than their peers at Gannett or Tribune Co. -- have been upstaged by presumably savvier investors who want out of the stock right now.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Patterico points to these two articles on LAPD corruption, the murder of Biggie Smalls, and the L. A. Times.
The Front Page Magazine piece seems to pull no punches in going after the LAT:
the once venerable paper faces a scandal of Jayson Blair proportions, one that may topple key players-including a Pulitzer Prize winner-and permanently sully its reputation.
But I have to disagree. When compared to the actions of the LAT, the Jayson Blair scandal pales in comparison. Blair lied, but he lied about matters of slight consequence. It was a grubby little inside baseball affair that served, mainly, to let Andrew Sullivan even some scores. The LAT stands accused of covering up for a murderous mélange of gangster cops, gansta rappers, and just plain gangsters.
The Rolling Stone piece lets Randall Sullivan update his reporting in LAbyrinth (a highly, highly recommended book). The civil case brought by Voletta Wallace is turning over rocks and Sullivan is taking careful inventory of what scuttles out from underneath.
It is more than a little puzzling that our crime-obsessed cable channels have ignored this case and the on-going litigation. They have hours to devote to Aruba, Natalie Holloway, Michael Jackson, and Robert Blake. Yet they have no interest in this juicy story.
One reason for the silence is the role played by Johnny Cochran in the scandals and in the media. He was deeply involved in parts of the cover-up (the Kevin Gaines shooting) and played the race card to buffalo the city into dropping its investigation into Gaines, Death Row Records, and Suge Knoght. Cochran was also a friend and colleague of Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace at Court TV.
Another reason for the media's failure is that the story does not fit their template. The Smalls murder and the real Ramparts scandals upset their simplistic formula of old LAPD=bad and Reno-sanctioned reforms=good. I discussed that aspect here last year.
A final factor is the MSM's pathological reluctance to admit mistakes. Taking a hard look at the LAPD scandals in light of the new information would reveal that the media got it very wrong the first time.
Off to OTB's Beltway Traffic Jam
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
A lot of pro-war bloggers are pouring their trademark invective on Rep. Murtha. Sorry, I'm not buying it. The man may be wrong, but he is no "moonbat".
I grew up in Murtha's district. I volunteered in the campaigns of a couple of his opponents and I also voted for him a few times. He was liberal on domestic policy, but always was solid on national defense. He gave crucial support to Reagan in some tough fights during the end-game of the Cold War.
Murtha's plan may be (probably is) flawed. Certainly that is a legitimate matter of debate. But the pointless name-calling says more about the war-bloggers than it does about Murtha.
I believe Murtha reflects the views of his district. It is not Cambridge, Mass., But there is a growing unease and war-weariness in solidly-red areas like Somerset. The root cause is the course of the war and the public conduct of it by the Bush administration.
The strategy for victory seems to be "endure". To my ears that sounds too much like the generals in 1916-17. They have no solution-just the promise to keep doing what they have been doing in the hope that it will eventually work.
Even worse, the administration operates as though the war is over. Too much business as usual on domestic issues-too little focus on the war. FDR understood that "Dr. Win the War" had to take center stage after Pearl Harbor while "Dr. New Deal" exited for the duration. This administration passes out Medals of Freedom to Aretha Franklin and Muhammad Ali while the fighting rages in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Peter Drucker's point about real business functions (see below) and cost centers is of crucial significance for local officials concerned about business development. New call centers, logistics terminals, or assembly plants provide a one-time boost to employment. However, they suffer from two signal weaknesses in Drucknerian terms. First, because they are expenses, not functions, they are under constant threat of outsourcing and retrenchment. Smart companies always try to manage expenses lower.
Second, they lack the vital "DNA" to create spin-offs and start-ups. That resides in the marketing and innovation functions. Where this DNA is present and concentrated, a self-sustaining industry cluster can take shape (e.g. Silicon Valley). If it is absent, new business creation will be limited.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
There is something paradoxical about Drucker's career and influence. He was an acute thinker and often prescient. He was a prophet showered with honors. Yet there was a Cassandra element in his pronouncements as well.
For instance, in 1954 he wrote in The Practice of Management:
It is the customer who determines what a business is. For it is the customer, and he alone, who through being willing to pay for a good or service, converts economic resources into wealth, things into goods. What the business thinks it produces is not of first importance- especially not to the future of the business and to its success. What the customer thinks he is buying, what he considers "value," is decisive- it determines what a business is, what it produces and whether it prospers.
Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two- and only two- basic functions: marketing and innovation.
A half century later, few corporations have internalized this crucial point. We still spend an inordinate amount of time on the expense side, and never come to grips with the central questions of creating customer value.
In fact, marketing is still treated as something less than a core function. A recent article in the Sloan Management Review concluded:
In many companies, there has been a marked fall-off in the influence, stature and significance of the corporate marketing department. Today, marketing is often less of a corporate function and more a diaspora of skills and capabilities spread across the organization.
The Decline and Dispersion of Marketing Competence
Frederick E. Webster Jr., Alan J. Malter and Shankar Ganesan
Similarly, Drucker was a voice in the wilderness during the Internet bubble. He understood that most dot-coms were not businesses in a real sense and said so forcefully. Yet the business press continued to laud these dot bombs even as they praised Drucker and published his articles.
Steve Sailer pointed to another inconvenient observation the guru made:
But the immigrants have a mismatch of skills: They are qualified for yesterday's jobs, which are the kinds of jobs that are going away.
This is manifestly true and yet it rarely is discussed in the great immigration non-debate.
Photon Courier has several good posts on Drucker.