Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stills from HP: Order of the Phoenix

Here are a series of 22 excellent stills from the new Harry Potter film coming out in July. Also see an entire Yahoo Movies page devoted to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This page has links to a teaser trailer for the film. As we near the opening date, expect to see (and enjoy) much more promotional hype for "OotP" as fan sites call it.

Rate of Major Crimes, By State

An article in Yahoo Finance reports that the state with the highest crime rate is Nevada. It had the highest combined rate of six major crimes: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and auto theft. New Mexico and Arizona ranked 2 and 3.

At the other end of the scale, North Dakota ranked 50th. The next three low crime states, ranked 47, 48, and 49, are in upper New England: New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. I am proud to say my adoptive home state of Wyoming ranked 46th out of 50. Check out the David Ellis article (linked above) to see where your state places on the list of shame.

The four lowest crime states border Canada. On the other hand, two of the three highest crime states border Mexico. Wondering what accounts for the variation in crime rates, I ordered the rankings for the 11 states that border Canada and found their range is from 7 to 50 with an median ranking of 39. The rankings for the four states that border Mexico range from 2 to 12 with a median of 6.

Can this enormous difference be coincidence? I think not. Incidentally, the article cited does not include immigration offenses as 'major crimes.'

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Harry Potter News and Pix

Yahoo Pictures has a variety of pictures relating to the Harry Potter series, and films. In particular, they have the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the series. Actually, they have cover art for both adult and children's editions. Yahoo also reports the following two news items.

News item one is that Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have signed to continue to play Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the last two films. News item two is that Jim Dale, the Grammy winning voice of the Harry Potter CDs sold in the U.S., will also do the CD of the last book. It will be released on the same day as the book itself. If you've enjoyed the books and/or films, do give the CDs a try as they are excellent for in-car listening. I learned only recently that Stephen Fry voices the U.K. version.

BTW, I saw a bumper sticker two days ago that said "Trust Snape." Does this represent a leak or a guess or a wish or what?

Blankley: Hillary Unstoppable

Tony Blankley is a long-time observer of politics, a regular TV pundit, and a columnist for the Washington Times. He has an interesting article on the Townhall website about Hillary Clinton's excellent chances for the Democratic nomination. He respects the abilities of Hillary Clinton the same way the Centers for Disease Control respect the perils of pandemic bird flu.

Blankley makes a persuasive argument that she will attain that nomination, because Edwards and Obama split the anti-Hillary primary vote. He discounts the recent Harris poll results that show half of adult Americans would not vote for her. His point is that many of those anybody-but-Clinton responders would also have said they wouldn't vote Republican. In November of '08 he feels she'll get many lesser-of-two-evils votes, just like George W. Bush did against Gore and Kerry.

Blankley reminds us that Richard Nixon was as awkward and uncharming as Hillary and yet was elected repeatedly as congressman, senator, vice president and president. If you enjoy doomsday scenarios, give Tony's article a read.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Still More on Global Warming

See Michael Barone's level-headed response to Al Gore's emotional outburst about global warming before Congress. If I can paraphrase Barone, he says something like "Grow up! Global warming is an issue for science, not religious faith." Even the normally lefty New York Times says Gore is over-selling the issue.

I have visited six of the seven continents and more than 40 countries, seeing a lot of the planet in the process. I conclude that in our normal self-centered way we humans greatly over-estimate our impact on this planet. To be sure, humans have some influence but major players like variations in the sun's output, volcanism, and reversals in the earth's magnetic poles are much bigger movers in the climate change game.

With no help from humans, this planet has experienced warming before - there are petrified trees in Antarctica where none now grow - and experienced cooling before - Ice Ages. Earth will do so again, whether we will it or not, regardless of our efforts.

Along the way, dominant species like the dinosaurs have gone extinct. What we can do to protect ourselves is to spread human colonization across several planets so that a catastrophic event on one of them will not wipe out our species.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Calling Margaret Thatcher

Another pipsqueak country is twisting the tail of the British lion. Argentina found out that isn't a particularly good idea. A lot of young Argentines died accomplishing exactly nothing in the Falkland Islands.

In the current crisis, Prime Minister Tony Blair needs to channel Margaret Thatcher. One suspects she would offer to not nuke Tehran if those 15 British sailors were released within 48 hours. I fear Tony doesn't have her backbone, thereby robbing the mad mullahs of mass martyrdom (lovely alliteration, that).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Assuming Others Are Like Us

There is a tendency for human beings to assume other people are like themselves. We see an interesting example of this in two news items regarding Iran.

Recent news reports from Iraq reveal that Iran has kidnapped 15 British sailors who had stopped a ship in international waters to inspect it for smuggled cars. The United Kingdom has demanded the return of the sailors while Iran claims they had strayed into Iranian waters.

Even more recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cancelled his scheduled speech to the United Nations in New York. One has to wonder if he feared he would be held hostage until Iran released the 15 Brits.

Exchanging Ahmadinejad for 15 Jack Tars has a certain charm, but I cannot imagine the U.S. doing it. I can't imagine it, but it appears that Mahmoud could imagine it very well and decided therefore not to put himself in harm's way.

There have been allegations that Ahmadinejad was involved as a young man in the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran during the Carter administration. Most of the embassy staff was held hostage for 444 days. The anniversary of this seizure is celebrated in Iran as a holiday - a country whose current leadership is without shame.

Cover Up-itis

Cover up-itis strikes again! The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer writes that Attorney General Roberto Gonzales should resign because he botched the legal firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Dr. K points out that, unless it can be shown the firings were done to obstruct particular prosecutions, the firings were entirely legal . However, the firings were done badly and later described inaccurately to Congress. Gonzales' subordinates apparently attempted to cover up activity that didn't need covering up.

In Washington, recent and not-so-recent history shows cover ups lead to felony convictions. Scooter Libby was recently convicted for trying to cover up behavior that, in itself, wasn't illegal. Those of us old enough to remember Watergate know most of those who resigned and/or went to jail did so for lying about who knew what when - for attempted cover up.

George Santayana taught us that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It would appear each Washington generation has to learn this lesson the hard way.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Addendum to "Teamwork Debunked"

Earlier today I wrote that, in the United States, teamwork should be utilized to organize work only when it is necessary and cost effective. I should have explained why the caveat "in the United States" was inserted.

Research by Geert Hofstede (1980, 1983) has shown that Americans are the most highly individualistic people among the 40 nations he studied. That means that we feel less constrained by group norms and more free to pursue our own interests and those of our immediate family. By contrast, the Japanese have very group-oriented values.

Teamwork comes more naturally to people from group-oriented cultures, much less naturally to individualists. This probably helps explain why team-oriented Japanese management techniques rarely worked in U.S. organizations, and why few U.S. firms use them today.

Teamwork Debunked

Teamwork is fashionable today. Business firms brag about their high performance teams. Management texts would have you believe that work teams are the natural way to accomplish most tasks at work.

I disagree.

Teams probably make somewhat better decisions than individuals, but at a much higher cost in money and time. There are certain tasks at work that are best done by teams, tasks that require the coordinated and collaborative efforts of several people. When the task demands teamwork, teamwork is what we should do.

However, teamwork is not the natural state for individualistic Americans. It isn't popular with star performers who prefer to be responsible for their own performance. I was involved in research which showed that, in an open marketplace, top performing students chose to avoid teamwork situations while mediocre students chose teamwork over individual responsibility. Teamwork makes teasing out the contributions of individuals difficult. This difficulty looks good to mediocre performers and looks bad to star performers, for the obvious reasons.

My experience suggests that when the work can be done by individuals working independently, then it should be done that way for reasons of speed, cost, and accountability. In the United States, teamwork should be considered only when it clearly can produce superior results at a reasonable cost.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Barone on Fixing the Blame

Michael Barone writes about what he calls the "blame America first crowd." These are the US citizens who think the US is to blame for whatever is going wrong in the world.

Blaming the US for all evil is a crock on the face of it. There is plenty of nastiness in the world and we have no monopoly thereon. To the contrary, Barone recalls Winston Churchill's speech pointing out that most of the good things that have happened in the modern world have happened because one or more English-speaking nation made it so.

Barone puts most of the blame for this geopolitical self-loathing on our universities.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Recent Topics in Management Thought

I have spent the last two days at a regional conference of Management professors. I noted below that I'd let you know if I ran across any new concepts that don't show up in your management texts. The main new topic was "shared mental models." This refers to our conceptions of how things work, and the extent to which we hold the same views as our coworkers. People are arguing that shared mental models help work groups perform better, and enjoy it more. Some of the research however is ambiguous at this point. Expect to hear more about "shared mental models."

Europe in Decline

Many of you reading this post have ancestral roots in Europe a few generations back. I certainly do. We of European stock should be at least somewhat concerned about what happens in the lands of our forefathers.

The most important things happening in Europe today are two demographic changes: first, a birthrate among Europeans that is well below replacement levels, and second, a large and continuing wave of Islamic immigrants from North Africa , the Middle East, and Asia. Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar of Islam, predicts Europe will have an Islamic majority by the year 2100.

Diana West writes, in the Washington Times online, about a Belgian political party that is trying to do something about the Islamization of Europe, and particularly Belgium. Naturally, their political party is under fire in the courts and may be disbanded for opposing the legally mandated multiculturalism. Her article is worth a read. A longer treatment of this topic is Mark Steyn's book America Alone.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Broder on "The Death of the GOP..."

David S. Broder is the dean of Washington political reporters. Writing in the Washington Post, he finds all of the currently fashionable predictions of the GOP's demise to be premature. Broder notes Republicans have held the White House for 26 of the past 38 years. And he observes that there is no shortage of people running for the Republican nomination, all 9 of whom must believe a Republican can win in 2008.

An old horseplayer's maxim is that you bet 'em the way they ran in the past. For the last roughly 40 years Republicans have won seven races while Democrats have won three. To be sure, many things look bleak for Republicans today, but 7 to 3 is hard to bet against.

The "Do I Like This Person?" Hurdle

Myrna Blyth, a former editor of the Ladies' Home Journal, writes about Hillary Clinton in the National Review Online. Blyth compares Hillary to Bill. She sees plenty of ambition in Hillary but little likeability, whereas Bill has both. And she argues that the more we see of Senator Clinton, the less we feel comfortable with her.

If you apply her test of "Do I like this person?" to the last two presidential races, it would appear that both featured seriously unlovable Democrats (Gore, Kerry) losing to a somewhat unlovable Republican (Bush). Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were probably the most recent candidates about whom many people thought "I like his public persona." Of course, people can be elected President without manifesting interpersonal warmth, for example Richard Nixon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Poverty Does Not Create Terrorism

Everybody says poverty creates terrorism. However, studies of terrorists show they are rarely from poor backgrounds. This article, from Fortune magazine, lays out the arguments.

I'm Off to San Diego

Tomorrow I fly to San Diego to attend the annual meeting of the South Western Academy of Management. If I run across any fascinating new management insights, I'll be sure to blog them, either while there or after I return home.

I serve as the Newsletter Editor for SWAM. We do an email newsletter and you can find recent issues of it on the organization's website (

Good News, Guys

The Los Angeles Times reports that a new study has found that obese men have a much lower risk of suicide. Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the study reported that overweight men were 42 per cent less likely to commit suicide than those at the lower end of the normal weight range. So when your significant other suggests you lose weight, reply that you don't want to increase your risk of suicide.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

W Is Not Incompetent, Exactly

Today, Michael Novak writes to defend the President, also appearing in the Wall Street Journal's online Opinion Journal. He argues that W hasn't done badly, given the situations with which he has been faced. He makes much of the President's sort-of successful State of the Union speech in January. His view is also worth a look.

Is W Incompetent?

An angry conservative, Joseph Bottum writes in the Wall Street Journal's online Opinion Journal that in his view President George W. Bush has conservative principles but is essentially incompetent in their execution. In his words, "The problem isn't his lack of conservatism. The problem is his lack of competence." You may or may not agree with him, but the article, entitled "The Conservative Case Against Bush," is a very interesting read.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

DrC on Defections

Former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Ali Reza Asgari has disappeared while in Turkey. He is rumored to have defected to the United States. It is likely he is being asked many detailed questions by the Central Intelligence Agency. If this is true, it is certainly good news from a region which produces little of it.

This defection raises an interesting point. Many more people defect to the United States than from the United States. As long as this is true, the U.S. is probably still on the side of the angels. If we hear that a U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense or a general has defected to Iran or North Korea, it will be time to worry. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Libby Verdict

Charles Krauthammer has an interesting take on the Lewis "Scooter" Libby guilty verdict. As is often the case, Dr. Krauthammer hits the nail on the head (pun intended, of course). He demonstrates that several witnesses in the trial suffered memory lapses with no penalty. Libby, on the other hand, faces up to 25 years in prison for what may have been similar lapses.

The most fascinating thing about the Wilson-Plame affair is that the release of Plame's identity as a CIA employee was not a crime. Richard Armitage of the State Department is the self-admitted leaker of the information and he is charged with nothing.

Libby, on the other hand, has been convicted of covering up the facts of a non-crime that needed no cover up. If there is a lesson in this it is that one should never testify about one's behavior or activities without a guarantee of immunity from prosecution.

Why Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism and the Military

I just read an interesting article mulling over the reasons why many intellectuals oppose capitalism and the military. The essence of the argument is that intellectuals get used to being the best while in school. They then are offended by institutions which reward skills and behaviors other than those school rewarded. Capitalism and the military often reward courage, daring, and single-minded effort; on the other hand school tends to reward inherited intellect (high IQ).

Studies have shown that college grades generally do NOT predict future success in business. I'm not aware of studies focusing on grades as predictors (or not) of success in the military, but perhaps a reader may be able to suggest a source.

Full disclosure: I am an intellectual and I favor both capitalism and the military. However, I realize that, among intellectuals, I hold minority views on capitalism and the military.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Thoughts About Antarctica

Somehow I managed to tell you about going to Antarctica in one post and coming back from Antarctica in another without telling you anything about Antarctica itself. With this post I remedy that shortfall.

When going to Antarctica, getting there is not half the fun. In pre-Panama Canal days, the seas around Cape Horn were called "the roaring forties." Today the 500 mile belt of rough water between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula is called the Drake Passage. "The Drake" is some of the roughest water in the world. Furthermore, expedition ships tend not to be stabilized because stabilizers would not survive encounters with ice. So, the water is rough and the relatively small ships pitch and roll for a day and a half in each direction. Passenger injuries are not uncommon and deaths are not unheard of. A woman on my ship dislocated her elbow in a fall. She and her husband were taken to a Chilean base for medivac home.

Once you get across the Drake the seas calm and the neat part of the adventure begins. I expected to see thousands of penguins and plenty of seals and sea lions and some whales and many flying-type sea birds. We saw all of these and more. The penguins are charming and unafraid even if they do smell pretty fishy. We saw several species of whale, and several of seal. We went ashore 8 times by Zodiac and also took an hour and a half Zodiac ride in "Iceberg Alley."

What I didn't expect is the natural beauty of the region. Somehow the Antarctic documentaries I'd seen on TV didn't convey its stunning scenery. Sharp, jagged mountains soar out of the icy seas with glaciers hanging from them. Icebergs erode into fantastic elaborate shapes. My overwhelming impression of Antarctica is of its scenic beauty. While the weather can be nasty even in summer, we had quite good weather for most of our stay.

On board ship we had a geologist, a marine biologist, an ornithologist, and a historian. They gave talks on their specialties that were well attended and appreciated. Once we got into calm waters along the Antarctic Peninsula meals were well attended as well. On our final day in Antarctica we visited Deception Island which is a six mile wide volcanic caldera into which our ship sailed. Hot springs there make swimming along the shore possible and perhaps a third of our party donned swim suits and went in the water. All too soon our tour of Antarctica was over and we had to face the Drake again.

With this entry travel blogging is over for the next six weeks or so. Now it is back to the management thoughts, domestic politics and world affairs we usually cover.

More on Global Warming

Recent studies show that both Mars and Earth are warming. This article suggests that the same thing may be causing both: increased solar radiation. As noted earlier, warming on a global scale has happened before. There are petrified trees in Antarctica where no trees grow today.

When warming happened before, man-made pollution was not the cause. For sure man-made pollution is not yet the cause on Mars. Are we having some effect on the warming of Earth? Probably. How much impact are we having relative to solar heating? Who knows? Is there any way to determine our impact? Doubtful, since we inhabit the petri dish we need to study.

Performance Appraisal Doesn't Work

Ask most executives the purpose of performance appraisal and they'll tell you: "to give feedback to my employees about their performance with the aim of improving it." I believe these executives are almost entirely wrong.

As B. F. Skinner and his disciples have demonstrated empirically, the more time that elapses between behavior and its consequences, the less those consequences shape future behavior. Thus, the typical annual performance appraisal has almost no utility as feedback directed at improving behavior. This is because too many weeks or months have elapsed between the behavior and the time employees learn their manager's reaction to that behavior.

The only actual utility of formal annual performance appraisal is to document feedback that has already occurred during the year. In other words, virtually every sentence or paragraph should begin with the words "As I told you on (insert date), ..." A formal performance appraisal should only contain things the boss and subordinate formerly discussed at the time they took place. Ideally, employees would see nothing in the appraisal document that they hadn't already heard from the boss some weeks or months ago.

In order for this documentation to occur, bosses must be communicating with their employees on a regular basis about their reactions to the employees' work. For busy bosses, this is difficult to do but absolutely essential. And it doesn't need to take much time, a quick "nice work on that report you gave me yesterday" or a "you need to put more effort into getting me that report on time" should do it. Also, bosses need to log such comments when given so they can include them in annual performance appraisals.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Who Says We All Just Want to Get Along?

Here is an interesting short article from the Washington Post concerning whether Americans are centerists or polarized. They find that we are polarized and tending to go live where others who agree with us also live. The red state, blue state dichotomy lives!

Brasil, Brasil

This blog entry was supposed to come to you from Rio de Janeiro but my Internet connection there was too weak to post it. Now I'm back in the States and here is my concluding travel blog concerning Brasil, Brasil.

We flew from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires and then on to Iguassu Falls, which is located where the borders of Brasil, Argentina, and Paraguay come together. Much cross-border smuggling happens here, as well as even more tourism. Some falls may have more water (Niagara) or be higher (Angel) but none is longer than Iguassu. Imagine if you can beautiful falls that go on for nearly 2 miles, not in a straight line but with curves and arcs. There is nothing even close in the world. The roar, the mist, the sheer sense of movement are awesome. The setting is pure tropical; at this time of year (summer) the conditions approximate the inside of your mouth: 98.6F degrees and 100% humidity. It is as big a tourist attraction in South America as Niagara is in North America or Victoria Falls is in Africa. The area is booming, the population is ten times what it was maybe forty years ago.

While in this area we also visited the Itapu Dam which takes advantage of the immense volume of water and the drop in altitude also responsible for the falls. Itapu is jointly owned by Brasil and Paraguay and is one of the world's largest hydroelectric projects. For some reason hydroelectric power has a bad reputation in the U.S. but the rest of the world sure loves the naturally renewable power resource of rainwater running toward the sea. This is one time they are right and we are exhibiting an excess of environmental puritanism.

After Iguassu we flew to Rio de Janeiro. The second largest city in Brasil, after Sao Paulo, Rio has one of the world's most spectacular natural settings. The city runs for miles along a bay and coastline with islands and peninsulas and causeways and bridges and lagoons and beaches and more beaches and all of this punctuated with steep mountains like Sugarloaf and Corcovado (means "hunchback," not very PC) which is the one with the 100+ foot statue of Christ the Redeemer standing with his arms spread in the shape of a cross. A cog railway runs to the top of Corcovado and a pair of sequential cable cars take you to the top of Sugarloaf - fantastic views from both that approximate flying over the city in a small plane.

In many ways Rio is best viewed from upon high. Up close its status as a third world city becomes evident. The city's slums, locally called favelas, run up hillsides in tightly packed clusters of homemade buildings which house the city's poor, mostly migrants from the countryside. Favelas are ruled by drug lords, the police mostly enter to pick up the bodies. The situation is like the warlord fiefdoms in Afghanistan or Somalia. Fights over turf tend to be brutal and drug enforcers deal out street 'justice' to folks who can't get along. However, 3-4 blocks from favelas you find apartment buildings with units that sell from 1/2 million to 5 million U.S. dollars, depending on the amenities, size and view. The rich and poor live near each other and the working class lives elsewhere. Unfortunately, a middle class of the sort we have in developed countries isn't very strong.

We arrived just in time to see the last night of Carnival, Rio's version of Mardi Gras. Their celebration goes on for about 10 days and can lay a fair claim to being the world's biggest party. Rio dudes can really boogie, I mean samba. The role of krews in New Orleans is fulfilled in Rio by many samba 'schools' with roughly 5000 members each. They dress up in a panoply of fantastic costumes, or wear nearly nothing, or both, then they parade with several giant floats for each 'school' while dancing and singing and shooting off fireworks more or less continuously. Their samba song often has a political or social message but everybody is having 'way too much fun to take the message seriously. The last night, which we saw, featured the five winning 'schools' and lasted from 9 p.m. to maybe 4 a.m. (we didn't stay that late). The stands in the samba stadium hold maybe 100,000 people who are all standing, dancing, drinking, singing, taking pictures, and milling about while grinning. It was a happy crowd, we never felt at all threatened although pickpockets were probably at work. Security was much in evidence but we never saw them hassle anybody, nor did we see anybody who needed it.

Rio has a "beach" culture. Office workers will sometimes take a quick swim on their lunch hour. The "girl from Ipanema" is alive and well; I must have seen a thousand ladies who could have inspired that song. It is quite common to see young women walking down the street in a skimpy bikini top, tight shorts or jeans, high heels, and sun glasses. The heat and humidity are good excuses for this attire. Because people spend a lot of time in beachwear, they tend to be trim and body conscious.

Brasil hasn't caught the Peronist disease that hobbles Argentina, with the result that it is doing well economically. It and Canada are the world's two main exporters of commuter aircraft and it produces most of Latin America's automobiles. Brasil has achieved energy independence, which means they no longer import petroleum products. They have some oil production and have covered most of the shortfall with alcohol distilled from sugarcane which grows nicely in the warm, wet climate. They are also beginning to produce biodiesel from soy beans. One guesses that the energy independence comes at the expense of thousands of square miles of rainforest converted to farmland. Life is full of tradeoffs.