Yearly Archives: 2008

Israel versus The Hamas Led Gaza

Huffington Post has a number of items about the Gaza/Israel situation. The first commentary item that I read, Israel’s Blitzkrieg on Gaza Proves Politically Expedient, Disproportionate and Unstoppable, may be indicative of the view from the Arab side. My linking to the article should not be taken as either endorsing or condemning the point of view expressed by the author.  Reading it is valuable for learning how someone else may view a situation whether you agree or not.

It is remarkable how each side is able to see how they are provoking the other side, and yet remain powerless to stop pushing each other’s buttons.  This is a common human frailty that I see almost every day (and in which I sometimes sadly participate).

I am bereft of any ideas on how to stop this counter-productive behavior on either side.  Perhaps our new American leadership will be able to see a way out.

There is an imaginitive proposal posted as a comment to this article. Perhaps this idea is too insulting to the Gazan side.

Whenever I see Hamas engage in these seemingly hopeless retaliations against the much stronger forces of Israel, I have a mental exercise that I find thought provoking, yet it has not led me to see a solution.

I imagine the Jews of Europe during World War II when ever they tried to resist what was happening to them.  Their hopeless efforts also provoked a disproportionate response from their oppressor. The mental exercise is to make a list of the differences and similarities between the Gazans of today and the Jews back then.  The other part of the exercise is to also make lists comparing the similarities and differences between Israelis of today with the Nazis of the World War II era.

Initially I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to make up your own lists.  At some future point in time, it might be interesting to compare our lists.

Investment News From the Experts

I found the following three headlines juxtaposed on a Yahoo! Website investing page:

^DJI Indications: U.S. stock futures drift lower ahead of data
at MarketWatch (Wed 8:10am)
^DJI US STOCKS-Futures flat ahead of economic data
at Reuters (Wed 7:55am)
^DJI Indications: U.S. stock futures tick higher ahead of data
at MarketWatch (Wed 6:02am)
Wall Street set to edge up in shortened session
Reuters (Wed 5:07am)

It appears that no matter what the market action, the explanation is the same.

I once heard a speaker at a Portland meeting of the American Association of Individual Investors explain this phenomenon.  He was a psychologist by vocation and an investor by avocation.  He said that among professional psychologists this kind of sequence of statements from a client would be called confabulation.

The gives confabulation this definition:

2. Psychology To fill in gaps in one’s memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts.

The Case For An Explicit Industrial Policy

Robert Kuttner asks Will Barack Obama Commit Industrial Policy?

Finally someone is making the case for alternative views of how to run an economy. I have been saying for years that the complainers about other country’s industrial policies are wrong that these countries are being unfair.

There should be no rule that you can’t have an industrial policy. If their way of playing the game is so much better than ours, don’t force them to play as badly as we do. Why don’t we try to play as well as they do?

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development announced

President Elect Obama announces his new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. What I particularly like about the announcement is Obama’s recognition that a housing mortgage crisis solution team should have the HUD Secretary as a key player. I have been wondering for months why we never hear from Bush’s HUD Secretary, whoever that may be.

I think it says a lot about Bush’s understanding of how to make the executive branch work, that he has not realized that a housing financial crisis is not just a financial crisis, but that it also involves housing.

Iraqi Journalist Throws Shoes at Bush

Follow this link to the Huffington Post article that has the video plus a slow motion video and some slides of the incident.

I am sure every one has seen this by now, but I just had to record this on my Blog for posterity.

We have just gone through an ice storm and I have been without internet, cable TV, and telephone for three days.  This is the first news story I saw since getting my internet connection back.  I am surprised that this was not prominently featured in the newspaper which I have been receiving during the blackout of all my other media.  I didn’t even hear about it on NPR.

A Ruinous Bias Against Helping Detroit

Joe Conason has written an article, A Ruinous Bias Against Helping Detroit, in The New York Observer.

In a scathing rejoinder there was this comment:

Bill08 (not verified) says:

Uh, Joe, I know you wrote your article almost verbatim from a “Media Matters” press release (“Media still wedded to $70+ per hour autoworker falsehood despite GM’s recent statements to the contrary”), which in itself is nothing more than a regurgitation of a bunch of phony UAW claims.

But there is a complete refutation of your entire article, using empirical evidence like SEC filings and how the automakers are required to report costs by the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board). It is extensively referenced with footnotes, unlike your Media Matters screed.

The fact is that the $73.26 hourly cost as reported by GM includes only CURRENT employees, not retired ones. If you have the intellectual integrity, please read the article and attempt to refute any of its positions.

Noticing the link was to the Heritage Foundation, I could not help taking the bait. Here is what I found.

Their chart is as phony as a $3 bill.

Their reference at

Shows the following
GM Assembler Hourly Rate $26.09
COLA 1.77
Total $27.86

FORD Assembler Hourly Rate $26.10

COLA 1.83
Total $27.93

DAIMLERCHRYSLER Hourly Rate $26.86
Assembler COLA 1.89
Total $28.75

The section labeled

2006 Average Labor Costs — UAW represented (per hour worked)

DaimlerChrysler $75.86
Ford $70.51
General Motors $73.26

Does not specify what other factors go to make up this number until you get to page 41.

In 2006

$29.15 (38%) went to Base wage and COLA
$20.14 (27%) Went to Health Care includes incremental FAS beginning with 1993
$26.57 (35%) All other elements
$75.86 total

I didn’t use a fine toothed comb, but I did not see anywhere “The fact is that the $73.26 hourly cost as reported by GM includes only CURRENT employees, not retired ones.”  I wonder what the commenter thinks he knows is in the 35% of the cost labeled as “All other elements”.  One also has to wonder how Chrysler calculated the 27% that went into health care. With these two pieces we are unsure of how 62% of the costs were calculated.

If you go on to read the rest of the Heritage Foundation’s report, they also mention:

The hourly benefits figure includes payments into defined benefit pension plans to provide future pensions to current workers. It also includes the estimated costs of future retirement health benefits that current workers earn today.

Read the rest of the report yourself and judge for yourself.  Of course I have just cherry picked a few paragraphs from the report.

According to corrolaries of Greenberg’s Law Of The Media, you would have to see comparable calculations for the transplant auto companies to make any judgments about these numbers.  These comparable numbers are never presented.  Instead we are to take Heritage Foundation’s word for what they all mean in the greater scheme of things.

Four Financial Horsewomen Who Warned of the Apocalypse

The article Four Financial Horsewomen Who Warned of the Apocalypse is a very interesting read. I recommend reading it even before I do any fact checking or delve into the reference links that the article provides.  Even if it proves not to be completely accurate, and I am not saying this will happen, it does provide a lot of food for thought.  What’s more it provides links to sites that might provide more interesting reading in the future including this site itself.

There are comments on this article at the Huffington Post.

The Relation Between Top-Down Design and Good Management

As a software engineer I adopted the concept of top-down design of software.  I first read about this method in the early 1970s.  Essentially, you start by taking the statement of the problem and start from the top to break it down into smaller and smaller sub-problems.  The description of the design looks like a tree structure where the root of the tree is the module that solves the whole problem.  This module calls on various sub-modules that solve different sub-problems.

This technique can be thought of as an outgrowth of what I was taught in my early days at MIT. When given a tough exam question, first write down everything you know about subject of the question.  By the time you have finished writing down everything you know, you have either solved the problem or have found the direction to go to solve the problem.

When doing a top-down design, you make architectural decisions at the top that constrain what you must do at the lower level.  Many people objected to top-down design because they felt that you could not impose such constraints on the lower level before you knew what was possible to do at the lower level.

This objection comes from a misconception of how I believe a top-down design should be done in real life.

In reality, top-down design is a way of organizing the design process.  At every level, you give enough thought to the next lower level to be reasonably certain that the next lower level can in fact be implemented.  You may have to descend very far down the levels during the design phase to make certain that all your assumptions can be met.  The top-down design method is a way of organizing that descent so that it is focused on solving the top-level problem.

In the same way management decisions can be thought of as a top down design process.  The top manager, in consultation with others in the management team, breaks the problem down into sub-pieces.  No top level decision is made until there is reasonable certainty that the lower levels can do their part to accomplish the task.

So while the top manager (or top designer) guides the process using her or his own vision, nothing is cast in concrete without consultation with sub-managers (domain experts) to insure that the plan is feasible. This consultation process is where other ideas get raised that might lead to an even better solution than the manager originally envisioned.

This does not guarantee that the original plan will never have to undergo major restructuring during implementation, but it does attempt to minimze the chances of that happening. It minimizes the risk without paralyzing the effort to move forward.  If you insist on 100% guarantees, you will be too late to solve the problem (miss the market window).

A plan (or design) developed in this way ends up as also being a road-map to delegating tasks during operation (or implementation). This is what makes a project manageable when you shift from design to implementation.  Every member on the team knows what her or his responsibility is with sufficient detail, that the manager only has to manage by exception.  As long as things are verifiably following the plan, no drastic management action needs to take place.  Each manager can concentrate on the duties specifically needed to carry the plan forward.

Please think of the process described above when you think of President Obama working with the people of his administration and all the people in the country in coming up with solutions to all our problems.  Using this management style, nobody in the organization has to be a workaholic in order for the organization to succeed.

See my demonstration and download of software that I have used to carry out the software design and management method described above.

I should add that top-down implementation, testing, and documentation go hand-in-hand with top-down design.