Friday, December 23, 2011

The European straw man

euro_ripIt’s always interesting to immerse back into the turbulence of US media after months away.  The economy is Topic One on the news and talk shows, television and radio, money or politics.  And, whether looking behind for reasons or ahead for alternatives, the next sentence is always the same.

With the Eurozone teetering on the brink of collapse…

Although I think it’s a comfort for Americans to believe that they are weathering a storm gusting in from across the ocean, it seems like more myth and distraction than cause-and-effect.

The worst outcomes of the Eurozone crisis leads to some form of restructuring or abandonment of the euro as a common currency, not the bankruptcy of Europe as a whole or the fall of its sovereign nations.  There will still be European production, consumers, financial centers, and governments.  euro-zone-debt-27-1Border controls may re-emerge, economic buffers proliferate, and local regulators re-assert, but it’s more likely to be a painful adjustment than a total collapse.

And, despite the scenes of riots against imposed austerity programs and the rotation of prime ministers throughout the southern margins of the Union, no country is descending into anarchy or civil war.  The trains still run (perhaps a bit more grimy and irregular), the banks are all open (although quick to impose a new fee at every turn), and the grocers and shops are filled with goods (and shoppers who are buying them).  There’s  frustration and apprehension, but not widespread privation.

a consequence of socialist economic policies…

At home, politicians have developed a shorthand that links Europe Collapse to Socialism to Obama.  The links are forged from stimulus spending, healthcare reform, and bank bailouts, all policies demonstrated to have failed on the Continent.

Only they haven’t.  Bank breakups in the Netherlands have eliminated “Too Big To Fail” institutions without harming competitiveness.  Universal mandates and cost controls result in my paying$150 per month for Dutch health insurance (In the US I pay $2500 per month, more than my daughter’s college bill).  Interest rates on Dutch bonds is 2.1%, Germany 1.8%; unemployment is 5%, and they retain their AAA bond rating.

Still, Europe remains a favorite target this campaign season.

“We have a choice in America to be remaining a merit-based opportunity society that follows the Constitution, or to follow the path of Europe. And I'm the guy who believes in the former. I believe America got it right. I believe Europe got it wrong. I believe America must remain the leader of the world. . . . I am absolutely committed to an American century. I see this as an American century."  -- Mitt Romney,  WSJ, 24/12/11

I think that if the US were to simply acknowledge and address both our problems and potential honestly, we could accomplish far more. “What cathedrals will our generation build?” asked one commentator: Where has American confidence gone, our willingness to come together as a nation to take on a task larger than ourselves?  In science, art, infrastructure, economics, production, the US has always been outward looking, optimistic, free to take the best and adapt the rest from global cultures, giving back products and ideas that change the world, and ultimately to create a virtuous circle of success.

illuminati_round_table_geopolitical_chartReturning home, I see a surly shifting of blame, loss of confidence in institutions, hoarding of resources, and division of people by class, geography, and party.  There are an astounding number of unchallenged untruths being told. 

And how stupid is that?  Very.

Pundits and politicians erect simple straw men as convenient rationalizations for genuine hardships and inequalities.  But the world isn’t really anything like the one they depict.

As a start, don’t believe any of the straw men illustrated on this page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three cookie recipes

Bourbon Balls

  • 1/4 c Bourbon whisky
  • 1C Vanilla wafer crumbs
  • 1.5T Corn Syrup
  • 2T Cocoa powder
  • 1C finely chopped pecans
  • 1C Powdered sugar

Combine bourbon and syrup, set aside. Combine crumbs, pecans, cocoa.  Add bourbon mixture, shape into balls, roll in powdered sugar.


Cutout Cookies

Bowl 1: Cut 4 – 4.5 cups flour into one cup oleo / butter.

Bowl 2: Beat together 2 eggs and 1 cup granulated sugar.

Bowl 3: Mix together 5 tsp whole milk, 1 tsp vanilla, 1.5 tsp nutmeg, and 1 tsp baking soda.

Add bowl 2 and 3 to bowl 1.  Roll out very thin, cut shapes. Bake at 375F until just barely tan on the bottom.  Frost or sugar when cool.



  • 1 C Butter
  • 2 C Flour
  • 1 Egg yolk
  • 3/4 C Sour cream
  • 3/4 C Granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 C Chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 C butter, melted

Cut butter into flour.  In a separate bowl beat egg yolk and sour cream well, then add to flour mixture. Mix until blended.  Cover with plastic and refrigerate at least 3 hours.  Prepare filling from sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts.  Preset oven to 375F.

Roll 1/3 of dough into a circle 1/8” thick.  Brush with melted butter and spread 1/3 of filling over top.  Cut into circle into 16 wedges and roll each up towards the point.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 15 minutes until lightly browned.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the move at Christmas

Sunset over the Wasatch Range alongside Salt Lake City.  both the lake and the city are buries beneath a layer of low clouds, lapping against the foothills.  Really a beautiful evening.

We’re all on the move this season.  I’m off from Cambridge to Boulder, visiting my parents for a long weekend ahead of heading back to Seattle for two weeks.  Shopping is high on the list, both for Christmas gifts and reprovisioning.  My battle gear is getting badly worn, from my suit to my shoulder bag, from the watch lost at Schiphol security to the MP3 player flooded at Dover.  Reading glasses, med refills, a few books and spices requested by friends: the bag will be going back full.

William KabulMy son is moving this Christmas as well.  He was deployed to Afghanistan where he’ll be flying aerial recon assignments in support of coalition ground troops.  His wife and their puppy stay behind in Alaska; our hope is that 10,000 feet provides sufficient buffer to keep him save for the next 8 months.  He’s excited about the assignment, doing great work and optimistic about where it leads.

I saw ex-National Security Advisor Rice being asked how she felt about the sacrifice in lives and injuries over the past ten years after she jumped us into a war on mistaken pretense.  She smiled broadly and said that nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice.


My daughter is coming back from college for a couple of weeks of work at Nordstrom before returning to finish her last semester.  She’s exploring a European rotation at one of the fashion houses alongside possibilities here in the States.  It’s not an area that I can help with (except for providing an apartment), but she seems to have it all well in hand: knowledgeable, motivated, optimistic.

Couldn’t ask for more, from either of them.

A lot of families cluster close all year around, not just at Christmas.  Mine scatters across the globe year- around, gathering improbably at reunions and Christmas.  Some folks ask whether that is a failure in our parenting, but I’ve always believed that the goal is to raise happy, confident, independent adults.

Not without a few bumps, to be sure, but they’ve both turned out as we hoped.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Research management

research groupsBefore I became an expat, I was a research director with Physio-Control, a Redmond WA company, the world leader in resuscitation techno0logy.  It was a great job, we had 20 talented people, a $3 million annual budget, and a dozen projects and studies ongoing that each had potential to directly save lives.  It was a great job.

At the time, though, I didn’t pay enough attention to the context of the job.  I was good at managing projects and people but missed the context of my department: someone was paying the bills and expected something in return.  I thought that performance alone mad us immune to budget cuts and office politics; I was wrong.

I met the current research director for dinner shortly after I returned to Seattle this week, and we talked about managing scientists and expectations. 

Research Mgt

It seems to me that there are two dimensions involved:  the balance between creating insight and technologies (ideas vs. innovations) and the balance between internal and external focus (on Customers or on the Corporation).  In classic b-school partitioning, this creates four styles of research management. 

For those with an idea orientation, research produces some combination of white papers for the marketing folks, bolstering the company’s offerings through focused studies, or conducting blue-sky investigations alongside (or in place of) university labs.  

If innovation is more the style, then you create some combination of components for project teams or try to start entirely new businesses.

Intrinsically, all are valid: I leaned towards creating startups, the current director is a solid idea guy: both work.

But politically, the department can’t survive if the model doesn’t align with senior management’s conception of what research is for. 

Despite lip service about organic growth and open innovation, the company didn’t really want an intrapreneurial group challenging established projects.  In the end, I was out and the group was disbanded in favor of a more consultative model.  The current director plans the politics better than I ever did, and the group; has greater stability and is able to take on longer-term projects.

It’s not just about positioning and performance.  Awareness and alignment also matter.