Archive for the ‘Blog Reviews’ Category

The Fall of American Manufacturing as chronicled by Chickenman

Friday, June 29th, 2007

There is a blog here in the Ethereal Land called Chickenman that I have not advertised much because I wanted to see if his blog would last. Now that the blog has something like a track record, I thought that I would give it little more exposure.

I think I can safely say that if you have any interest in American manufacturing you should be reading Chickenman faithfully. The subtitle for his blog is Life at Acme Tool Co and he faithfully relays what he sees in American manufacturing. And what the Chicken Man sees is quite enlightening.

His peculiar vantage point is just about perfect for reporting on American manufacturing. He is close enough to floor that he actually talks with the lowborn on a regular basis, and yet high enough up that he glimpses the broader issues that concern management. This unique perspective makes for some interesting reading.

It is also sickening.

To my mind, the observations that the Chickenman makes go a long way to substantiating a long-held belief of mine that MBAs are the biggest cause of the decline of America’s manufacturing. China’s currency manipulation, lower labor cost in third world countries, and legacy costs are all problems that are easily dealt with. But MBAs who are trained in accounting, the manipulation of people’s psychology (called marketing), and various methods of “process improvement” are a plague of biblical proportions.

People who have MBAs generally can’t lead real people or make real things. But they can produce slick presentations and they value other people according to their ability to do the same. Were it not for the fact that some people managed to get off the floor and into management and some managers have good leadership training from the military, we would be in even worse shape.

As it is, American manufacturing is a downward slope that is only made worse by the fact that everyone from CEOs to the average worker wants to blame cheap foreign labor for all their problems. The fact is that quality of managers in American manufacturing is terrible. It should be a national scandal that Toyota puts more power and responsibility in the hands of its American floor workers than your average American-managed factory does.

If you treat your floor labor as just another input that is easily replaceable, you will end up with floor labor that is easily replaceable and adds no value to your company. You can then use that fact to justify moving the factory to another location, but you will find that your prospects still suck.

I think this is one of the reasons that the trades that American manufacturing relies on are in such poor shape. If you don’t value your skilled help, you will not have any.

But that is just my personal rant. Chickenman does not get into such broad topics. He mostly just presents the picture as he sees it and lets you decide what to make of it. So if you want to get an idea of what American manufacturing is like beyond the statistics you read in your business publications, go read his blog.

Ape Man's guide to the Internet: The Belmont Club

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

It is somewhat absurd to write a review of Richard Fernandez‘ blog ‘The Belmont Club‘. All of those who might be interested in The Belmont Club have probably come across it already. It has got to be one of the most widely read political blogs out there.

But I read the Belmont Club often enough that I feel I owe it a review. After all, that is why I started the Ape Man. I wanted a place where I could comment on what I was reading on the internet without messing up my essay site. I have gotten a little off track from that goal lately for a variety of reasons, but I hope to get back on track.


When I first came across the Belmont Club, my first thought was that if William F. Buckley blogged, this is what it would look like. That is to say, Fernandez came across as a decent guy who could write. Sadly, there are not many conservative bloggers out there who can pass both of those tests.

Fernandez and Buckley do have some things in common beyond the fact that they both are well-read and well-mannered. After all, they are both male conservatives and they both went to Ivy League schools (Buckley to Yale and Fernandez to Harvard). But I think that a lot of what makes Fernandez an interesting blogger stems from a background that was radically different Buckley’s.

You see, Fernandez does not live in the US. He grew up in the Philippines where he had a job in forestry inspection among other things. He later decided to immigrate to Australia where he had to retool (to use his words) as a software developer. As far as I know, that is what he still does for a living.

I think that coming from a third world country accounts for some of the things that make Fernandez different from your average conservative blogger. For example, he seems to have a profound fear that western institutions and values might prove to be fragile when put to the test. I have to wonder if coming from a third world country lies at the foundation of that fear.

After all, when you have lived in a country where the institutions don’t function all that well, it has to change your perspective somewhat on those countries where the institutions still function. In Fernandez’ case it seems have both made him value western institutions more and cause him to worry that they might not last.

Of course, a lot of conservatives profess to have that fear. But most of the time it does not seem that genuine to me. For one thing, a lot of them seem to look forward to it. There train of reasoning seems to go “I wish our institutions would fail so that we won’t have so many restraints on how many people we can kill.” But for Fernandez it is more like, “I got out of a country where political violence and oppression were common; I don’t want to live in another one.”

To my knowledge Fernandez has never used those exact words. But that is how he comes across to me. He genuinely seems to worry about the effect of the war on terrorism on our values and way of life. He is afraid of the west winning the war on terrorism and losing our soul in the process.

Unfortunately, these fears do not seem to have caused Fernandez to come up with any original ideas. He mostly recycles the standard conservative lines.

This is a shame. If Fernandez had a little more in the way of original thought, he would be one of the greatest bloggers around. As it is, I mostly read him to keep up on what the current issues are in conservative circles in the foreign policy arena.

I suppose this not a bad thing. I want to keep up with what is current in conservative circles and Fernandez helps provide me with what I want. And he does it with well crafted writing, good manners, and a conscience I can identify with. It is far better than going to one of those sites that are always trash talking.

Still, I can’t but help think that Fernandez could be more than he is if he only stretched himself a little.

(as a side note, my two fans might be interested to note that I had Fernandez, Spengler, and a few others in mind when I wrote this essay)

Ape Man's guide to the Internet: In the Pipeline…

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

The best part and main problem with Derek Lowe’s blog “In the Pipeline” are one and the same. After all, the blog is all about chemistry and the life of a chemist. For some people, reading about that subject is like watching paint dry. But if you have just a smidgen of intellectual curiosity, In the Pipeline is a real jewel.

After all, you are getting the inside scoop from a chemist in pharmaceutical industry. Not that he will give any details of the projects that he is currently working on, of course. Still, his opinions on the various issues surrounding the pharmaceutical industry are a fascinating window on what the people actually doing the research think. Better yet are the posts on how they actually do the research and the problems they encounter in the industry.

If that is not enough to keep you entertained, Lowe can be counted on to comment on most major news stories that have a chemistry component. For example, check out this piece on the Floyd Landis’s doping scandal. Or this post on polonium poisoning. And of course he has countless posts on any major news story involving a pharmaceutical company.

The best part of all of this is that Derek Lowe can actually write and he acts like an adult when it comes to interacting with his commenters. This is an unfortunately rare combination in the blog world. In my limited experience, most of Lowe’s contemporaries in the scientific blogging community lack one or both traits.

The closest thing I can come to a complaint about Lowe’s blog is that he is not very original in his thinking. If you have a general idea of what highly educated people in the scientific fields who are conservatives think, you already know the broad outlines of what his views on all of the issues are. I understand that we are all products of our environment to one degree or another. But it would be nice if Lowe would come up with a viewpoint that really surprised me for once.

For blogs on politics or something like that, this lack of originality would be a big problem. But I read In the Pipeline to get the views of someone who knows a lot about chemistry and the pharmaceutical industry, so I can’t really complain if that is all I get. Especially since Lowe does such good job of purveying the information in ways that an ignoramus like me can understand.

Ape man's guide to the Internet: Marginal Revolution

Friday, January 19th, 2007

I know that most people have already heard of the Marginal Revolution. But I figured that if I was going to review all the sites that I keep tabs on for my Apeman’s guide to the Internet page, I might as well start with a site that everyone knows. That way, they can get a feel for how my reviews stack up against their perception of reality before I start in on the more obscure sites.

If you want to see what a comment section on a blog should look like, you need to check out the Marginal Revolution if you have not already done so. It has the best comment section I have ever seen on any blog regardless of subject matter. If all blogs had a comment section half as good as the Marginal Revolution, the World Wide Web would be a much better place.

What makes the comment section of the Marginal Revolution such an exemplary example to the rest of the world?

It would be easier to enumerate what the comment section lacks than what it has. Fact is, the only major deficiency that I can think of off the top of my head would be a lack of intelligent commenters who are strongly religious (Yes, doubters, such people do exist.) Other than that, the Marginal Revolution’s comment section pretty much has it all.

After all, at the Marginal Revolution you will find a lot of big name commenters who represent a broad spectrum of ideological views such as Brad DeLong, Barkley Rosser, Steve Sailer, and Jane Galt, to name just a few. Even the commenters who are not as well known are intelligent and broadly representative of the ideological spectrum (though libertarians are a little over represented).

Better yet, everyone is reasonably respectful of each other and there are no perennial trolls like you will find on most other active blogs. Nor is there an overabundance of fan boys (though you will occasionally find a few of these). Most of the time, whenever some one comments on the Marginal Revolution it is because they have something worthwhile to say. If only commenters on other big name blogs would be so restrained.

The net result of this intelligent, diverse, and respectful group of commenters is a comment section that is worth its weight in gold. I often read what the commenters have to say before I even bother reading the post.

Without the comment section, I probably would not check the Marginal Revolution all that often.

I don’t mean to say that actual blog posts themselves are bad. In fact, I would say that Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok run a good mix of thought-provoking pieces and interesting links. But when you get right down to it, they are not particularly original. A lot of times they are just picking up a ball that another blog has gotten rolling. Nor would you go to Marginal Revolution to find fine writing (which is something I particularly value).

Bottom line: My time is scarce and there are a lot of interesting blogs in the world. Without the comment section, there is nothing to make the Marginal Revolution stand out from a crowd of excellent blogs.