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  • Archive for August, 2005

    France’s (& Our) Small Businesses

    Posted by Ginny on 9th August 2005 (All posts by )

    An old A&L link reports on French start-ups.

    It’s not exactly haute culture, but these days this is a vital topic here in France, where the unemployment rate has been stuck between 9 and 10 percent for a quarter of a century and where not a single enterprise founded here in the past 40 years has managed to break into the ranks of the 25 biggest French companies. By comparison, 19 of today’s 25 largest U.S. companies didn’t exist four decades ago.

    Small business people tend to want different legislation (and less of it) than do big companies who are more likely to effectively lobby. Small business people tend to be independent; I think I started one because it had not been my experience that I would enjoy being part of an institution or to work at a 9-5 government job. I never really thought I’d get rich but I did think I’d get independent. That probably isn’t that unusual. Some of my staff were not so happy with the lack of firm and separated job descriptions but many liked learning a variety of skills and making decisions on their own.

    Of course many small business owners are more competent and more ambitious. That 19/25 reinforces my earlier post about the churning among quintiles of net worth–obviously, such size is rare but movement upward through small business is common. Little outside the most intensely personal is as exhilerating and requires as much creativity as small business start-ups. That energy comes from the challenge of responsibility; France recognizes the need but will need to work against their inclinations to foster these. The role of such businesses in introducing new workers to the marketplace, in fostering independence and creativity should always lie somewhere in the back of legislators’ minds.

    Posted in Business | 15 Comments »

    Recipe from the Old Country

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 9th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Chicagoboyz are connoisseurs of fine foods. I love smoked salmon in particular. Here’s an easy but really good recipe:

    Buy fresh salmon, the fresher the better, and a bottle of salt. Get a zip-lock bag, or any sealable container. Cut the salmon filet/section in half, leaving the skin on, and de-bone. Rub handfuls of salt all over the salmon. Don’t worry about putting too much salt, it won’t affect the taste. Put the salmon in the bag, seal, and refrigerate for a day. Serve with bread.

    Bon appetite.

    Update: My mother in law corrected me. It’s not handfuls of salt, rather a good amount but not too much. I guess this is where the art of cooking comes into play.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    Good Saudi Arabia Blog

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Crossroads Arabia focuses on Saudi Arabia from the perspective of an American who has lived there and speaks the language. It is very well done and I have added it to our “Muslim Middle East & War” links.

    Posted in Middle East | Comments Off on Good Saudi Arabia Blog

    Singing That Same Old Song

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 7th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Air America was formed specifically to be a counter to what many Liberals view as an overwhelming bias towards the Right in talk radio. So far, AA has not only failed in its core mission to reach listeners and get the Liberal word out, but they’ve also embroiled themselves in a scandal that will probably pound the final nail in their coffin.

    America Coming Together was supposed to be a way for the Left to invigorate itself, soliciting donations and encouraging voter turnout to defeat the Republicans at the last election. The organization performed brilliantly and met all of the stated goals beyond expectations. Voter turnout was the greatest this country has ever seen in raw numbers. The only problem is that the Democrats lost anyway. ACT is currently in the initial stages of shutdown, and it appears that no one will try and save the organization.

    Now the Liberals are trying a new strategy. A group calling itself The Democracy Alliance has recently been formed, and they’ve garnered the support of several rich Liberal donors. According to the news item linked to above, it would appear that DA is going to have at least $80 million donated to it over the next 5 years. The goal of the organization is to increase that to $200 million, which is exactly the same amount that ACT managed to raise during the last Presidential campaign.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics | 7 Comments »

    Sex and the City

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th August 2005 (All posts by )


    Posted in Society | 3 Comments »

    My First Incoherent Rant!

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 6th August 2005 (All posts by )

    The company I worked for seven years ago sold off their mainframes and outsourced the data processing they needed. Suddenly I found myself looking for work.

    This wasn’t too bad in and of itself. Changes in technology mean that jobs sometimes become scarce in the marketplace, or even disappear altogether. I wasn’t too worried because not only did I have over ten years of experience, but I had a good reference from everyone with whom I had ever worked. (Not only the supervisors, but also the people who were doing the same job.)

    It should have been a cakewalk, but I was in for a shock. What really frustrated me was the interview process. You see, none of the score-or-so companies that granted me an interview would allow me to meet with anyone who had anything to do with the job for which I was applying. Instead I found myself talking to people from the Human Resources division.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business | 51 Comments »

    The US-Saudi Oil-Supply Standoff: Which Country is Really Dependent?

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Glenn Reynolds links to a helpful blog post that points out we import less oil from Saudi Arabia than previously, notwithstanding journalistic fretting about our supposed “dependency” on Saudi oil.

    The essential point about oil dependency is that the Saudi regime depends on oil revenues for its survival, so SA can’t stop selling oil for very long. And since oil is fungible, stopping the sale of oil is the only way for SA not to sell to us — otherwise we can always buy oil via intermediaries. So which nation is really in a vulnerable position here? I don’t think it’s us.

    We have allowed the Saudis to use a couple of brief supply interruptions in the distant past, whose effects we exacerbated with our foolish policy of keeping price controls on petroleum products, to bluff us into a state of perpetual deference to them. Since we no longer have price controls, and since we now have several major alternative suppliers, not to mention a military choke hold on the entire Middle East, perhaps it’s time we gave less weight to the Saudis’ wishes.

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 25 Comments »

    PDAs and Swimming Don’t Mix

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Pool Pilot

    Posted in Humor | 6 Comments »

    ‘SHOT TO CURE FLU FOR LIFE’ – Drudge Headline

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Yes, being shot will certainly cure your flu for life. There ought to be better alternatives, if you ask me.

    Posted in Humor | 1 Comment »


    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 4th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Here’s a tech/web recommendation/review. I’m traveling in the boonies, meaning outside of the USA without broadband or cheap telephone service. In fact locally it costs about $1 per minute to call back to the states. Enter Skype. If you’ve used it before, you’ll know it has terrific sound quality. What really blew me away is its performance on dial-up. In the middle of nowhere, as long as you have a 56k internet connection, you can call from your laptop to any phone in the world for pennies. This is nothing new, as ICQ has a similar service with IDT’s Net2phone, which I tried before as well. Skype wins hands down however. The sound quality is better than a regular phone, but more importantly, there is no lag or dropped sounds.

    If you’re traveling with a laptop, and need a cheap way to call home, get Skype.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

    Thoughtless Automobile Design

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Remote-control door locks. Why is it necessary to blow the horn every time you lock/unlock the vehicle? So you can find your car at the mall? For every one time you need this feature there are going to be multiple times when you park at home, probably not far from your neighbors, perhaps right under someone’s bedroom window in a multi-unit dwelling. The effect is similar to that of the carpooling jerk you remember from college, who showed up in front of your building early every weekday and honked the horn while you were still trying to sleep — except that the remote-control honking happens at all hours of the day and night. Remote door locks should be configured so that the horn is off by default. Better yet, leave the horn off by default and add a quieter mini-horn that is used only for locating the car in parking lots. You don’t need a full-blast traffic horn in the relative quiet of a parking lot.

    Always-on headlights. I don’t want the lights to be on all the time when the car is running, even at night. Make that especially at night. There are times when you want to sit in the car and you need to keep the engine running (because it’s hot/cold out). Why should you have to announce your presence to everyone in the area? The light also kills your night vision, which makes stargazing and otherwise keeping an eye on your environment difficult.

    Interior lights that don’t shut off immediately when you close the door. Because it goes without saying that lone women getting into their cars in the middle of dark parking lots should be illuminated.

    If these features are available, they should be easily configurable via a simple electronic control panel on vehicle dashboards, and the defaults should favor quiet and discretion. Different drivers will have different preferences. For a population as big and diverse as automobile buyers, it’s ridiculous that some manufacturers impose one-size-fits-all settings for features that can easily be made configurable.

    Posted in Business | 27 Comments »

    No Time for Complacency About Iran

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Rick Moran gets it right. Not only is Iran a pressing danger, so are the incompetence and partisanship of key CIA personnel:

    Now, we can choose to believe what we read and what we see or we can listen to the very same people were saying in July of 2001 that al Qaeda was not a threat. And let’s not forget most of these same analysts concurred in the estimates regarding Iraqi WMD.

    The point is that regardless of recent steps to reform our intelligence capability, it appears that we’re still working with a dysfunctional system where agency personnel feel perfectly comfortable with leaking classified information in a bid to influence both Administration policy and the political process. No one expects everybody to agree on everything. But the American people have a right to expect that the unelected bureaucrats who work at the CIA allow policy making to reside with those we have entrusted for the task – the elected representatives of the people.

    (via Jim Miller)

    Posted in War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Good Advice for Democrats

    Posted by demimasque on 4th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe has some great advice for the Democrats:

    IT IS TIME for Democrats to stop moaning about John Roberts and John Bolton and start doing something productive — such as figuring out how to win elections.

    Even though Democrats continue to resist the outcome, George W. Bush won the 2004 presidential contest. His reelection triggered a time-honored cliche: To the victor, go the spoils. Bush selected a Supreme Court nominee and an ambassador to the United Nations who reflect his philosophy. Any Democratic president would do the same.

    The Senate has the responsibility to press Roberts on his views and philosophy. But it should come as no shock that Bush would select a conservative thinker as his nominee. So far, activists’ effort to paint Roberts as an extremist looks silly. Here is a candidate whose first written response to questions from lawmakers states that judges should possess “modesty and humility.” Roberts understands how to market himself to the masses in a way the abortion rights lobby never learned.

    This week, Bush bypassed the Senate and installed Bolton as emissary to the UN. In doing so, the president broke no law; he merely used a procedure that allows him to fill vacant positions when the Senate is in recess. If Bolton is as unsuited for the position as opponents insist, that will become clear soon enough. Ultimately, any failure on Bolton’s part will help Democrats in what should be the party’s main goal: winning back the voters who now view them as the powerless party of the petulant.

    Of course, some of us have been saying this for some time. But beyond counseling Democrats to be less hysterical about the natural consequences of their election losses, Joan also provides some suggestions that Democrats would be wise to consider (emphasis mine):

    Democrats should spend more time in places like Ohio, and it should be quality time. They should be listening, for once, to what voters are thinking, not telling voters what is wrong about their thinking and their past choice on election day.

    Democrats should also do with stem cell research what Republicans did with gay marriage: present the issue for a vote on every possible state ballot. Republican Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader from Tennessee, just demonstrated the power of the issue. Frist’s surprise endorsement of a bill that would approve federal funds for new lines of stem cells enraged the right. But Frist knows the political center supports it, and the political center is where a presidential contender wants to be. In stem cell research, Democrats, for once, have an issue that fires up their base and cuts to the center, across diverse demographic groups.

    I’m not sure the stem cell research issue is going to yield quite the dividend that Joan thinks it will, as I don’t see Bush ultimately going head-to-head with Frist on the issue. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try, and if Democrats can turn down the hate-mongering and turn up the optimism and the subtle, nuanced insinuations, it might just work (if Bush hasn’t pulled that rug out from under them by then).

    It would be in the best interests of this country to have a truly viable two-party system. Thus it would be in the best interests of this country to have a healthy, competitive, optimistic Democratic Party that can offer reasonable and attractive alternatives to the GOP agenda.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Politics | 5 Comments »

    One thing you can do for $100

    Posted by Andy B on 4th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Here’s a pretty cool example of an underwater ROV made on the cheap. Granted, it’s not going to 1000 foot depths, and it is a tow-behind, but it still is a good example of garage-workbench ingenuity.

    Posted in Science | Comments Off on One thing you can do for $100

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th August 2005 (All posts by )

    Sometimes I suspect that the people who say rote learning and learning facts stifle thought are people who had lousy ideas and facts got in their way.


    Posted in Education | 2 Comments »

    Europe’s Population Implosion

    Posted by demimasque on 3rd August 2005 (All posts by )

    Much has been said and written about Europe’s fertility rate, the white portion of which is below replacement levels. Here are some clues why this is happening. Compare those stories with an American one, and you can begin to get a sense of the differing values.

    James Taranto addressed this in a way in January:

    Medical statistics can be tricky: An excellent hospital may have a higher death rate than a mediocre one because of differences in the patient population, with the former treating much harder cases than the latter. That is what seems to have happened here: Kristof has alighted on a statistical artifact of American excellence and misconstrued it as a sign of America’s shortcomings.

    Perhaps America’s much-ballyhooed religiosity is also her saving grace in this context, as, despite Roe v. Wade, we are more likely to try to save perinatal infants instead of dumping the baby in the rubbish. Or, as James Taranto points out in “The Roe Effect“, perhaps our religiosity remains because of Roe v. Wade. Who knows?

    It is entirely possible, of course, that the European women who discarded those babies did, in fact, endure much emotional anguish. But in the end, their decision was indubitably made easier by the more cavalier attitudes of their postmodern upbringing. I hope it wasn’t quite so easy, of course. I’d hate to think that some woman decided, after carrying a baby nearly to term, that she’d rather not give up the single life, that she’d rather not give up being able to afford items of haute couture or dinners of haute cuisine. In short, I’d hate to think that women who want to live like the girls of Sex and the City would make a decision to bring a baby to term, then give it up all at the last minute just because it’s “inconvenient”. I’d also hate for Europeans to have to resort to the excuse that these women didn’t know any better; wouldn’t that take away their ability to mock the United States for our (admitted) lack of good sex education?

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Bioethics | 25 Comments »

    Welcome Back

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 3rd August 2005 (All posts by )

    The US Treasury has announced that it will once again issue 30-year bonds. Dropping them in 2001 was probably a mistake, since it was based on the premise that the US would be running budget surpluses indefinitely. This improves Treasury’s ability to tailor its offerings to the shape of the yield curve.

    And once again, this provides me a chance to shill for one of the most under-utilized tools available to the individual investor: buying Treasury bills, notes, and bonds under the Treasury Direct program. Under this program, you buy Treasury debt for $1,000 minimum, in increments of $1,000. Redemptions and interest payments are done through electronic funds transfer to your checking account. You get the same price as the big boys, and there are no commissions or fees.

    Here’s a suggestion: subscribe to Treasury Direct, and buy equal amounts of 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year notes. Next year, when your 1-year note matures, buy 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year notes again. At that point, you own debt securities maturing in 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years and have constructed a bond ladder. This is a great strategy for your fixed income investments, since it minimizes your risk of interest rate changes. All you need to do is keep reinvesting the maturing notes in new 5-year notes. Your total investment could have been as low as $3,000 the first year and $2,000 the second.

    Update: My face is red. Treasury doesn’t offer a 1-yr. note, as Uncle Jack points out in the comments. Substitute two consecutive 26-week T-bills and it works. Thanks, Uncle Jack!

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 5 Comments »

    On Historical Revisionism

    Posted by ken on 3rd August 2005 (All posts by )

    Heinlein’s heroine Maureen Johnson had this to say in To Sail Beyond the Sunset:

    But why are the people of the United States and their government always the villains in the eyes of the revisionists? Why can’t our enemies – such as the king of Spain, and the kaiser, and Hitler, and Geronimo, and Villa, and Sandino, and Mao Tse-tung, and Jefferson Davis – why can’t these each take a turn in the pillory? Why is it always our turn?

    This was written in 1982, so of course Saddam Hussein is not mentioned. But he’d fit right in, and the question still stands more than 20 years later.

    Now of course serious historical research does turn up some less than savory aspects of the character of our nation’s heroes. And it can be depressing to note, for instance, that the man who wrote that it was “self-evident” that all men were created equal failed to apply that self-evident notion to his own slaves.

    But we must keep our perspective. It’s the words, more than the men themselves, that influence us across the generations and make our country what it is today. And Jefferson’s words, long after his death, motivated men who took those words more seriously than he did to take up arms and drive slavery off of our continent.

    But in any case, it doesn’t make sense to compare flesh-and-blood rulers against ideal rulers unless you know of some way to produce those ideal rulers. So far, no such rulers have shown up; until they do, I’ll take most any American President and Congress, past or present, over the available alternatives. Or, as Ashish Hanwadikar notes, after linking to one of the less savory alleged actions of the Lincoln administration:

    It is a fact that our leaders are made up of myths! Beyond their great legacies lies some horrible crimes that we choose to ignore because it doesn’t fit the great leader story! If this is case in a free society, I shudder to think how much horrible “leaders” like Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mugabe, KIM Jong Il and others!

    So true! Our guys aren’t the only ones that hide skeletons in their closets. Which means, given what we already know about some of the non-Americans, past and present, that (mis)ruled various parts of the Earth, their skeletons must be frightening indeed.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    Fewer Children Left Behind – Update

    Posted by demimasque on 3rd August 2005 (All posts by )

    In response to my post, “Fewer Children Left Behind“, I received some interesting comments from a regular reader. Please read Kagehi’s comments in their entirety before reading my response, which follows below:

    Of all the standardized tests I’ve taken (and I’ve taken many), very few depend simply on rote memory. The increasing emphasis on reading comprehension, for example, seems to me to be a welcome development. Sure, it’s only multiple-choice, but it still forces people at least to learn decision-making skills, such as how to weed out obviously wrong answers; but even getting to the point of knowing which answers are obviously wrong requires some knowledge.

    I would guess that there are a lot of folks who would then cry triumphantly, saying, “Aha! See? We shouldn’t do multiple-choice testing at all, as it doesn’t test anything real.” I have two answers to that:

    1. Most, if not all, people I’ve known who’ve scored above a certain percentile on most standardized tests tend also to be more than just book smart. My empirical evidence thus suggests that the rejoinder is at least flawed.

    2. The issue of testing almost always comes up primarily along with issues of funding. This is as it should be. The issue comes up because someone somewhere (usually taxpayers or politicans) want schools to justify government funding. While hard numbers might not be able to capture the entire scope of a school’s quality, it at least gives those asking questions some idea of where the school is at. And, typically, politicians and voters are forgiving enough to acknowledge that just one round of hard numbers doesn’t necessarily capture the entire package. Thus, NCLB doesn’t withhold funding unless there’s a negative trend over the course of two or three years (I forget which). This is a moving average, which gives those who hold purse strings a beter idea of performance.

    Now I’m going to make the argument that liberals typically hate, and compare school results to real-world business results. In the real world, a business may have a fantastic idea for a product or service. However, if, after a reasonable amount of time, a start-up fails to reach its stated revenue goals, might investors not be justified in short-selling their shares?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education | 13 Comments »

    Traditions 1: Lee Harris

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd August 2005 (All posts by )

    In ”Much Depends Upon Dinner”, Cameron Stracher discusses the family dinner. Apparently studies prove its importance. For instance, one from Columbia shows

    teens from families that almost never eat dinner together are 72% more likely to use illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol than the average teen and that those who eat dinner with their parents less than three times a week are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to smoke marijuana and twice as likely to drink as those who eat dinner with their parents at least six times a week.

    This strikes me as soft science; obviously, a lot of related variables lead to such outcomes and dinners on the fly are more symptom than cause. But maybe not. Dinner is significant.

    In the first chapter of his autobiographical Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington tells us:

    I cannot remember a single instance during my childhood or early boyhood when our entire family sat down to the table together, and God’s blessing was asked, and the family ate a meal in a civilized manner. On the plantation in Virginia, and even later, meals were gotten by the children very much as dumb animals get theirs. It was a piece of bread here and a scrap of meat there. It was a cup of milk at one time and some potatoes at another. Sometimes a portion of our family would eat out of the skillet or pot, while some one else would eat from a tin plate held on the knees, and often using nothing but the hands with which to hold the food.

    Slave owners set tasks for even a young child that made family dinners impossible in the slave quarters. To Washington, eating together meant eating “in a civilized manner”; that he saw it as important we see in his contrast of that ritual with food taken by “dumb animals.”

    Dining together, the charm & weight of tradition bears down on us as children; we learn and grow. The family civilizes us, helps us transcend our brute nature, supports us as we fumble toward maturity.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Society | 1 Comment »

    There’s a New Gunslinger in Town

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st August 2005 (All posts by )

    One of the top news stories for today is that President Bush sidestepped the Senate and appointed John Bolton as US Ambassador to the United Nations.

    The reports available at both CNN and the BBC are factual and avoid much by the way of spin. That’s not true of the story found at The Guardian, where the headline screams “Bush bypasses Senate to install neo-con at UN”.

    I personally approve of Bolton’s appointment, mainly because I’m hoping that he will increase awareness amongst US voters of the UN’s incompetence and corruption. If he does then a decision by America to pull out of the organization and reduce it to insignificance will come all the sooner.

    I think that this is also why Liberals like the staff at The Guardian are upset by Bolton’s appointment.

    At any rate, Bolton has a great deal of work to do. I think he should start with the UN renovation scandal that Ginny has been writing about.

    Posted in United Nations | 5 Comments »