“Better to Be Socrates Dissatisfied than a Fool Satisfied”

(p. 10) Happiness is, . . . , a complex concept and difficult to measure, and John Stuart Mill had a point when he suggested: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

For the full commentary, see:
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF. “Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex and Giving.” The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun.., January 16, 2010): 10.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 16, 2010.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Corrupt African Official Enjoys Malibu Estate, While “People Starve” and Obama State Department Sleeps

ObiangTeodoroMalibuEstate2010-01-16.jpg “The $35 million estate belonging to Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its ruler, in Malibu, Calif., in the lower center of the frame.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) Several times a year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.

The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, even though federal law enforcement officials believe that “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption related to the extensive oil and gas reserves discovered more than a decade and a half ago off the coast of his tiny West African country, according to internal Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents.
And they are open despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it.
Susan Pittman, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in the State Department, said she was prohibited from discussing specific visa decisions. But other former and current State Department officials said Equatorial Guinea’s close ties to the American oil industry were the reason for the lax enforcement of the law. Production of the country’s nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day is dominated by American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon.
“Of course it’s because of oil,” said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994, adding that Washington has turned a blind eye to the Obiangs’ corruption and repression because of its dependence on the country for natural resources. He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.
“Both countries are severely repressive,” said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad. “But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea’s oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn’t still be blocked from the U.S.”
Shown the Justice Department (p. A19) documents that detail the accusations of corruption against Mr. Obiang, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who wrote the law restricting visas, expressed frustration and anger with the State Department, which is responsible for issuing visas.
“The fact that someone like Mr. Obiang continues to travel freely here suggests strongly that the State Department is not yet applying the law as vigorously as Congress intended,” Mr. Leahy said. The law was partly inspired by the accusations of corruption surrounding Mr. Obiang’s family and the Equatorial Guinean government, Mr. Leahy’s staff said.
“There are many instances of corrupt foreign officials plundering the natural resources of their countries for their own use while their people starve,” Mr. Leahy said. “The law states clearly that if you do that, you are no longer welcome in the United States.”

For the full story, see:

IAN URBINA. “A U.S. Visa, Shouts of Corruption, Barrels of Oil.” The New York Times (Tues., November 17, 2009): A1 & A19.

(Note: The title of the online version of the article is “Taint of Corruption Is No Barrier to U.S. Visa”; the online version of the article is dated November 16, 2009.)

Bert Sutherland Was the “Hero of Xerox PARC”

The failure of Xerox to take advantage of the innovations developed at Xerox PARC, is a legendary example of management failure. A couple of books have been written on the subject that I hope to read sometime.

(p. 194) Beyond his efforts in VLSI design, Bert Sutherland had supported the work at Xerox PARC that led to the “windows” and the “mouse” on nearly every workstation and many personal computers, from Apple and Atari to Apollo and Sun. He formed the research department that made Ethernet the dominant small computer network and that conceived the “notebook” lap computer. Xerox’s lead in IC design gave the company the tools–if the firm had only understood them–to lend new special features to every copier and printer and even to create the kind of electronic “personal copiers” later pioneered by Canon.

Bert Sutherland was the hero of Xerox PARC: that is history. But that was not life. In real life, Xerox fired him in 1979. While he worked day and night on the novel projects in Palo Alto that were to give Xerox an indelible role in the history of computer technology, jealous rivals conspired against him at headquarters. They said that his research, which would fuel the industry for a decade, was irrelevant to the needs of the company. In corning years, the research leadership that replaced him would make the company nearly irrelevant to the needs of the world.


Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.

Green Danes Embrace Hot Air Escaping Through Open Doors

PedalPoweredSmoothies2010-01-16.jpg“Environmental displays in Copenhagen’s City Hall Square include pedal-powered smoothies.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I mainly liked the article cited below for the photo displayed above.
But there also was this bit, showing that beyond some silly green pretensions, not all is rotten in Denmark:

(p. A11) . . . , cracks in Copenhagen’s green facade were easy to spot on Friday at the nearby Stroget, a popular car-free shopping area in the city center. In the late afternoon every shop door was propped open, sending clouds of heated air into the chilly street.

Some cities impose fines on shopkeepers who allow excess energy to escape through open doors.
But Jan Michael Hansen, the executive director of Copenhagen City Center, an organization representing shops along the three-quarter-mile-long corridor, was nonplused. A closed door keeps customers away, which is bad for business, he explained.
He seemed puzzled that the visitor brought it up. “I have never had an inquiry like this before,” he said.

For the full story, see:
TOM ZELLER Jr. and ANDREW C. REVKIN. “Reporter’s Notebook; Global and Local Concerns Meet in ‘Hopenhagen’.” The New York Times (Fri., December 10, 2009): A11.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 10, 2009.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Global Warming “Consensus” Achieved by Suppressing Skeptical Research

(p. A25) When scientists make putative compendia of that literature, such as is done by the U.N. climate change panel every six years, the writers assume that the peer-reviewed literature is a true and unbiased sample of the state of climate science.

That can no longer be the case. The alliance of scientists at East Anglia, Penn State and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (in Boulder, Colo.) has done its best to bias it.
A refereed journal, Climate Research, published two particular papers that offended Michael Mann of Penn State and Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. One of the papers, published in 2003 by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas (of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), was a meta-analysis of dozens of “paleoclimate” studies that extended back 1,000 years. They concluded that 20th-century temperatures could not confidently be considered to be warmer than those indicated at the beginning of the last millennium.
In fact, that period, known as the “Medieval Warm Period” (MWP), was generally considered warmer than the 20th century in climate textbooks and climate compendia, including those in the 1990s from the IPCC.
Then, in 1999, Mr. Mann published his famous “hockey stick” article in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), which, through the magic of multivariate statistics and questionable data weighting, wiped out both the Medieval Warm Period and the subsequent “Little Ice Age” (a cold period from the late 16th century to the mid-19th century), leaving only the 20th-century warming as an anomaly of note.
Messrs. Mann and Wigley also didn’t like a paper I published in Climate Research in 2002. It said human activity was warming surface temperatures, and that this was consistent with the mathematical form (but not the size) of projections from computer models. Why? The magnitude of the warming in CRU’s own data was not as great as in the models, so therefore the models merely were a bit enthusiastic about the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Mr. Mann called upon his colleagues to try and put Climate Research out of business. “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal,” he wrote in one of the emails. “We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.”
After Messrs. Jones and Mann threatened a boycott of publications and reviews, half the editorial board of Climate Research resigned. People who didn’t toe Messrs. Wigley, Mann and Jones’s line began to experience increasing difficulty in publishing their results.

For the full commentary, see:
PATRICK J. MICHAELS. “OPINION; How to Manufacture a Climate Consensus; The East Anglia emails are just the tip of the iceberg.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., DECEMBER 18, 2009): A25.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 17, 2009.)

Microsoft Hired Good People and Gave Them the Space and Privacy to Think

OfficeSpaceShrinks2010-01-16.jpg Not Microsoft. “Mark Clemente, a Steinreich Communications vice president, in the firm’s smaller Hackensack, N.J., office.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

The article quoted below documents the trend in business toward small, and more open offices. I believe that this trend is largely a mistake.
Another trend in business (see Levy and Murnane 2004) is for more jobs to involve thinking and creativity. Thinking and creativity are harder in an environment of noise and frequent and unpredictable interruptions.
David Thielen’s book on the secrets of Microsoft’s success that said that Microsoft emphasized hiring really good people, and then respected them enough to give them an office with a door, so they could have the space and privacy to think and create (e.g., pp. 17-35 & 147-150).
Microsoft had the right idea.

(p. B7) The office cubicle is shrinking, along with workers’ sense of privacy.

Many employers are trimming the space allotted for each worker. The trend has accelerated during the recession as employers seek to cut costs and boost productivity.
. . .

Tighter quarters and open floor plans also can present challenges. David Lewis, president of OperationsInc LLC, a Stamford, Conn., provider of human-resources services to more than 300 U.S. companies, says open floor plans and low cubicle walls can create discord and lead to increased turnover.
“Now everybody knows everybody else’s business,” he says. “It actually starts to create a level of tension in an office that never existed before. People can’t focus on work because they’re on top of each other.”

For the full story, see:
SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. “THEORY & PRACTICE; Office Personal Space Is Crowded Out; Workstations Become Smaller to Save Costs, Taking a Toll on Employee Privacy.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 7, 2009): B7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Levy and Murnane book mentioned above, is:
Levy, Frank, and Richard J. Murnane. The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.
The Thielen book is:
Thielen, David. The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management: How to Think and Act Like a Microsoft Manager and Take Your Company to the Top. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.

Establishments Assume New Methods Are Unsound Methods

(p. 188) For the next two years, Conway coordinated her efforts under Sutherland at PARC with Mead’s ongoing work at Caltech. But she was frustrated with the pace of progress. There was no shortage of innovative design ideas; computerized design tools had advanced dramatically since Mead’s first efforts several years before. Yet the industry as a whole continued in the old rut. As Conway put it later, the problem was “How can you take methods that are new, methods that are not in common use and therefore perhaps considered unsound methods, and turn them into sound methods?” [Conway’s italics].

She saw the challenge in the terms described in Thomas Kuhn’s popular book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. it was the problem that took Boltzmann to his grave. It was the problem of innovation depicted by economist Joseph Schumpeter in his essays on entrepreneurship: new systems lay waste to the systems of the past. Creativity is a solution for the creator and the new ventures he launches. But it wreaks dissolution–“creative destruction,” in Schumpeter’s words– for the defenders of old methods. In fact, no matter how persuasive the advocates of change, it is very rare that an entrenched establishment will reform its ways. Establishments die or retire or fall in revolution; they only rarely transform themselves.


Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.
(Note: italics in original.)