Thursday, December 24, 2009

God Rest Ye Merry

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.

Luke 2:8-14

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MSM deciders make the call

We all know that the Tiger Woods marriage is much more important than this:

The Anthrax Case Falls Apart

Even though the public believed that the Anthrax case had been closed more than a year earlier, the FBI investigation was back to square one. If Dr. Ivins had neither the equipment or skills to weaponize anthrax with silicon, then some other party, with access to the anthrax, must have done it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stuart Taylor

The Rot At Duke -- And Beyond

Much of academia appears to have a disregard of due process and a bias against white males

Remembering Myles Brand

From the American Spectator:

There are many underappreciated motivations in history. As mentioned in this column some months ago, one is boredom. Certainly another is quarrelsomeness. Brand and many like him claim to high-mindedness, but au fond they simply are quarrelsome and enjoy stirring things up. Brand from time to time explained his actions as motivated by a love of learning, but I have reviewed his record and though he lived much of his life in academe there is no evidence he loved learning or was in any way learned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A tale of two seasons

Last year the Steelers were SuperBowl champs. Now we are 6-7 with a five game losing streak.

This post makes the interesting point that the two seasons are not all that different.

Steelers been playing with fire for quite some time

The 2009 Steelers have played 13 games this year; 9 of those games have been decided by one possession (they’ve only won 2 of these “close games”).

Last year the team only lost 2 of their close games and won 7 of them

Milblogs go quiet

Details here:

Radio Silence

Paul Samuelson

William Anderson on the economist and his influence:

Paul Samuelson, RIP

I never was a fan of Samuelson, and while I will try not to speak too much ill of the recently departed, nonetheless I think the guy was bad for economics and he leaves a legacy of economic wreckage and bad theory. However, I will concentrate today on one of his legacies: the transformation of economics from something that an educated layperson could understand to a branch of inferior mathematics.

I started out as an econ major and got a hefty dose of Samuelson. Then, of course, there was business school. If Samuelson turned economics in "a branch of inferior mathematics" then B-schools take it a step farther. The curriculum is chock full of inferior (micro)economics.

From day one, i had the same nagging questions when i looked at the elegant equations and models: "where do we get the data to use these"? As taught they were paragons of precision and mathematical rigour. Unfortunately, they depended on convenient assumptions (e.g. we know the exact price elasticity of oats). Out in the real world, you cannot make those convenient assumptions-- you have to work with incomplete, decaying information. The complex modeling.... just a form of ego-stroking.

In a real sense, much of the mortgage bubble was driven by this naive belief in the power of mathematics and models and their refusal to deal with the limits of that power. (I don't recall my professors spending a lot of time discussing the limits of the methods they taught us.)

See here:

Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street

Is This an Analytics-Driven Financial Crisis?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From narcissistic blogger* to Potemkin blog

Excitable Andi lets slip a secret and Ace delivers the smackdown.

Panic at the Disco: Andrew Sullivan's Ghost-Bloggers Out Him


UPDATE: Confederate Yankee finds cause to worry.

The first strategic task: define the problem

Ron Ashkenas:

A senior manager at Cisco once suggested to me that there are two types of challenges in organizations — capacity problems and complexity problems. Capacity problems are those that require more, fewer or different resources. Complexity problems require new thinking and a creative approach.

For example, increasing market share for your product can often be addressed through additional sales people, or more promotion. It's a question of how many resources to throw at the problem. On the other hand, if the market is changing and different competitors are entering with new value propositions, then throwing more resources at the problem probably won't work

Ashkenas contrasts capacity and complexity. It seems to me that this distinction is similar to the difference Peter Senge sees between detail and dynamic compexity.

The answer lies in the same reason that sophisticated tools of forecasting and business analysis, as well as elegant strategic plans, usually fail to produce dramatic breakthroughs in managing a business. They are all designed to handle the sort of complexity in which there are many variables: detail complexity. But there are two types of complexity. The second type is dynamic complexity, situations where cause and effect are subtle, and where the effects over time of interventions are not obvious. Conventional forecasting, planning, and analysis methods are not equipped to deal with dynamic complexity. Mixing many ingredients in a stew involves detail complexity, as does following a complex set of instructions to assemble a machine, or taking inventory in a discount retail store. But none of these situations is especially complex dynamically.

One could argue that the modern corporation is designed to handle capacity problems/detail complexity and that they do it very well. Dynamic complexity (Ashkenas's "complexity problems") present a completely new set of challenges. I discussed aspects of the challenge here:

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable (II)

Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable (III)

UPDATE: Peter Osborne has some thoughts here.

Peter Drucker

Elizabeth Haas Edersheim on the original management Jedi Master:

1. Drucker's work is widely accepted as foundational in creating a theory of management as the foundation of a functioning society, despite not being widely taught in business schools. Leading scholars consistently see him as a source of insight and inspiration, many of whom credit Peter Drucker not only as the creator of the discipline of management but as the basis for their own work. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, "I can find everything I've written in Peter's work, 25 years before I thought of it." Professor Hideyuki Inoue of Keio University said, "Everything we know about knowledge worker productivity is built on the foundation Peter Drucker wrote about 50 years ago." Phillip Kotler, Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School said, "If I am the father of marketing, Peter Drucker is the grandfather."

It strikes me as significant that Drucker is viewed as "foundational" by leading scholars but is not taught in B-school.

I posted on the paradox of Drucker's career here.

What do they have to hide?

Kevin Carey on higher education:

That Old College Lie

Are our colleges teaching students well? No. But here's how to make them.

The key is bringing transparency to higher education:

There’s a solution to these problems, but it won’t come from more tinkering with student aid programs. The key to giving students a better, more affordable education turns out to be focusing less on college financial aid and more on college itself. We must fundamentally change the relationship between the federal government and higher education, forcing institutions that receive vast amounts of public funding to provide a modicum of useful information in return. The time has come to rip open the veil of secrecy that has shrouded higher education for as long as students have walked next to ivy-covered walls, and to use that information to build far more effective, more egalitarian, and more student-focused colleges than we have today.

Not too surprisingly, the colleges themselves fight the solution tooth and nail:

There’s only one thing standing in the way: One of the most powerful special interests lobbies that nobody’s ever heard of. The most reactionary education lobby in Washington, D.C., isn’t located at the 16th Street headquarters of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. It’s less than a mile away, at 1 Dupont Circle. That’s where the American Council on Education (ACE), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), and a host of other alphabet-soup organizations conspire to maintain higher education secrecy at all costs. Long-established colleges that enjoy the benefits of the existing, information-starved reputation market dominate 1 Dupont.

Three recent examples illustrate the lengths to which they’ll go. To get colleges to participate in their surveys and tests, NSSE and the CLA had to strike a bargain. Colleges would control the results–the data would remain secret unless colleges chose otherwise. Then, in 2006, Mark Schneider, the commissioner of the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, proposed adding some new questions to the annual survey all colleges are required to fill out in exchange for federal funds. Colleges would be asked if they participated in surveys and tests like NSSE and the CLA. If the college answered "yes," and had already chosen to make the data public, it would be asked to provide a link to the appropriate Web address. It would not be required to participate in any test or survey not of its choosing, or disclose any new information. It would just have to tell people where to find the information it had already, voluntarily, disclosed. One Dupont Circle rose up in anger and the proposal was summarily squashed. For his temerity, Schneider was nearly fired

Monday, December 14, 2009

Executive compensation and the financial crash

Cashing in Before the Music Stopped

According to the standard narrative, the meltdown of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers largely wiped out the wealth of their top executives. Many – in the media, academia and the financial sector – have used this account to dismiss the view that pay structures caused excessive risk-taking and that reforming such structures is important. That standard narrative, however, turns out to be incorrect.

It is true that the top executives at both banks suffered significant losses on shares they held when their companies collapsed. But our analysis, using data from Securities and Exchange Commission filings, shows the banks’ top five executives had cashed out such large amounts since the beginning of this decade that, even after the losses, their net pay-offs during this period were substantially positive.

In 2000-07, the top five executives at Bear and Lehman pocketed cash bonuses exceeding $300m and $150m respectively (adjusted to 2009 dollars). Although the financial results on which bonus payments were based were sharply reversed in 2008, pay arrangements allowed executives to keep past bonuses

Fairly important in light of this:

Is the Global Financial System in a “Doom Loop”?

Interesting things you find in surveys

New study: More Democrats than Republicans believe in ghosts, talking with the dead, fortunetellers

A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals some startling differences between Republicans and Democrats on issues of spirituality and supernatural phenomenon.

The study, "Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths," reports that a significant number of Americans practice a mixture of religious beliefs, and "many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects." The report is not specifically about partisan differences, but the results of the study are broken down by party affiliation, among many other categories. And the news on that front is that Democrats are far more likely to believe in supernatural phenomenon than Republicans

(HT: Ace of Spades)

Anatomy of a lost season

On the Steelers: The End came on a snowy night in Cleveland

Why Arians must go

Should Tomlin Blow Offense Up?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A video interlude

by The Last Hollywood Star

Here's Part One of two of a presentation I made to the Forbes Field Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. It covers (Early Pirates and Hollywood Stars [Pirates AAA club], Clemente in Puerto Rico, Forbes Field---and Jayne Mansfield, Miss Hollywood Stars, 1955!)

Part I