Monday, January 30, 2006

Secular or Religious State

A couple of commenters have disagreed with my position that Israel is a secular state.

"It's a Jewish state, stupid," is the jist of their comments.

Yes, it is a nation founded by Jews for Jews (and still 75% or so Jewish).

It is not a nation that says you must be Jewish and abide by all things Kosher. It allows freedom of expression and religion. It is a nation of secular laws, not biblical laws. It does not have an overriding council of rabbis and a head-honco rabbi to make sure that everyone stays in line with Jewish tradition and belief.

But, if you insist that Israel is a Jewish state instead of secular democracy, then I can only conclude that the U.S. is a Christian state (founded by Christians for Christians and still 75% or so Christian) instead of a secular democracy. And of course, Pat Robertson is the overriding head preacher.


Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24%, Mormon 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, other 10%, none 10% (2002 est.)
So, back to my point... Iran represents a peculiar threat because it is a nation ruled by a theocracy... and if you don't believe what the theocracy believes, then no secular rationale can save your sorry ass. And if the rest of the world doesn't believe what their theocracy believes, then they will do everything they can to make the world a miserable place.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

If Iran Was Like Israel

Interesting comment the other day questioning my contention that Israel was a secular state.

I stated that Israel was a secular state... even though 80% of its population is at least nominally Jewish... just as the U.S. is a secular state even though a large portion of its population is Christian (according to the CIA factbook).

Ethnic groups:

Jewish 80.1% (Europe/America-born 32.1%, Israel-born 20.8%, Africa-born 14.6%, Asia-born 12.6%), non-Jewish 19.9% (mostly Arab) (1996 est.)

Jewish 76.5%, Muslim 15.9%, Arab Christians 1.7%, other Christian 0.4%, Druze 1.6%, unspecified 3.9% (2003)

It is also a significant democracy... or parliamentary democracy. Israel is not a nation where the minority has no voice. The current government has a makeup that looks like this:
Legislative branch:

unicameral Knesset (120 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 28 January 2003 (next scheduled to be held March 2006)
election results: percent of vote by party - Likud Party 29.4%, Labor 14.5%, Shinui 12.3%, Shas 8.2%, National Union 5.5%, Meretz 5.2%, United Torah Judaism 4.3%, National Religious Party 4.2%, Democratic Front for Peace and Equality 3.0%, One Nation 2.8%, National Democratic Assembly 2.3%, Yisra'el Ba'Aliya (YBA) 2.2%, United Arab List 2.1%, Green Leaf Party 1.2%, Herut 1.2%, other 1.6%; seats by party - Likud 38, Labor 19, Shinui 15, Shas 11, National Union 7, Meretz 6, National Religious Party 6, United Torah Judaism 5, Democratic Front for Peace and Equality 3, One Nation 3, National Democratic Assembly 3, YBA 2, United Arab List 2
Iran has a parliament, too. And then it has the religious leaders who have the last say. That makes for a significantly different dynamic than a secular, democratic state:
Executive branch:

chief of state: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-KHAMENEI (since 4 June 1989)
head of government: President Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD (since 3 August 2005) First Vice President Parviz DAVUDI (since 11 September 2005)
cabinet: Council of Ministers selected by the president with legislative approval; the Supreme Leader has some control over appointments to the more sensitive ministries
elections: leader of the Islamic Revolution appointed for life by the Assembly of Experts; president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 17 June 2005 with a two-candidate runoff on 24 June 2005 (next to be held NA 2009)
election results: Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD elected president; percent of vote - Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD 62%, Ali Akbar Hashemi RAFSANJANI 36%; note - 2% of ballots spoiled
Legislative branch:

unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majles-e-Shura-ye-Eslami (290 seats, note - changed from 270 seats with the 18 February 2000 election; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 20 February 2004 with a runoff held 7 May 2004 (next to be held February 2008)
election results: percent of vote - NA%; seats by party - conservatives/Islamists 190, reformers 50, independents 43, religious minorities 5, and 2 seats unaccounted for
Judicial branch:

Supreme Court - above a special clerical court, a revolutionary court, and a special administrative court
If Iran was like Israel, perhaps the world would not be anguishing over it's development of nuclear power... at least not for the reasons it is.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

4:30 a.m. Unwelcome Guest

Once again, a sound night's sleep interrupted by the malodorous presence of the neighborhood skunk.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Ethnic Divisiveness - Hamas Wins... Maybe

Fatah went Fffttt.

Hamas hammered Abbas.

Apparently "moderate" and "corrupt" was not a satisfactory combination for the Palestine people. Now they get to see what the more "disciplined" Hamas can do.

There is all kind of speculation about what will happen:

  • Israel will cut off discussions with Palestine
  • U.S. will cut off discussions with Palestine
  • Palestine will become the new Iraq and Syria
  • Peace is dead
I rather think that most realities will pretty much stay the same.
  • Peace will mean that hostilities continue, but armies will not roll through neighboring lands
  • Discussions will continue, but pronouncements will be less optimistic
  • Palestine will continue to be a dangerous and fragmented sandlot
  • Israel will continue to be the target of Islamic hatred for showing the world that a Middle Eastern nation can still be truly democratic and secular and successful

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ethnic Divisiveness - What's In a Name? - Reprise

An addendum to yesterday's posting:

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Brazen Fatah gangs may seal Abbas' fate

Inability of Palestinian leader to control gunmen and anarchy is driving voters into Hamas camp.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip
-- They have turned into one of Mahmoud Abbas' biggest headaches -- thousands of disgruntled gunmen linked to the Palestinian leader's own Fatah Party.

The brazen gangs, born during the Palestinian uprising, are blamed for a surge of kidnappings and violence in the Gaza Strip that is driving many voters into the arms of the more disciplined Islamic militants of Hamas heading into the Palestinian election Wednesday.

Coupled with disgruntlement over Fatah's long problems with corruption, voter anger over the anarchy has party leaders bracing for a drubbing that could end its four decades of dominating Palestinian politics.

All sorts of homilies or platitudes come to mind, including:
  • Live by the sword; die by the sword
  • As you reap; so shall you sow
Perhaps this is a predictor of what will happen to those anti-freedom fighters elsewhere.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ethnic Divisiveness - What's In a Name?

"Freedom Fighter"


"Suicide Bomber"

"Homicide Bomber"


All of the above have been used to describe those who have carried out bombing attacks on civilians and military personnel throughout the world.

For the most part, they are people who have a strong belief that their way is the only just way and it is their duty to force others to accept their way. We have heard some stories that a few of these individuals have been virtually forced into their actions by threats to their families or the promise of both money for their families and paradise for themselves.

Regardless of their personal motives, they and those who support or coerce them can be called a different name: anti-freedom fighters.

Why "anti-freedom"? Because, by their actions, they demonstrate that it is not the presence of "occupiers" that drives them... many come from nations where there are no foreign troops... but rather it is that those who are in power do not accept their "just" way. They do not believe that there should be a choice in how a nation is run. There is one "just" way and they are the ones who have determined how that "just" way is defined. Therefore, they must deny all others the opportunity to decide how things should be run. They do not believe in such freedom of thought. They fight against such freedom.

So, we see the spectacle of these people blowing up themselves and their fellow countrymen in the name of their just cause. "My way or no way." They are the anti-freedom fighters.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Education Failure - What Boys Need

Yesterday, I wrote about the speculation regarding why fewer males are enrolling in universities than females. There seems to be a performance malfunction for young males these days. The solution is not taking a pill.

Males just seem to be more hands-on learners. They generally do not do well sitting for hours in class, followed by sitting for hours doing homework. There is a tactile, spatial element of male learning that is missing. I would guess that the ratio of avid video game players is roughly 9:1 male versus female. Oh sure, call it a macho thing. Sure the games are macho themes for the most part... war, racing alien-invasion... but guys love the interactive, hands-on aspect of the games. It's just a whole lot different from Jeopardy.

Perhaps that's why so many guys gravitate to computer and high-tech stuff. It's a hands-on challenge. They guy who daydreams during English literature is a prodigy when it comes to wireless interconnectivity. Jane Eyre doesn't have that mixture of visual-tactile that really intrigues and interests so many young males. Years ago, the high school day was a combination of math, science, language and literature, punctuated with wood-working or automotive or metal shop. A sedate environment all day just puts boys to sleep. At least that's my opinion.

The local high school website had an interesting section on scheduling classes which include the following:

What Have We Learned from the Farmington High Experience?

  • The majority of students and staff believe that block scheduling is beneficial.
  • A calmer teaching and learning atmosphere has been achieved.
  • Teachers report increasing use of varied instructional strategies based on best practice research.
  • Increased community involvement has been achieved through the use of SMART and extended classroom time.
  • More students are successfully taking AP courses.
  • Students have access to broader curriculum offerings.
  • ACT scores remain stable.
  • Percentage of students with A's and B's has remained stable.
  • Teachers are growing more confident in adjusting curriculum, instructional and assessment strategies.
  • Students report higher satisfaction with school atmosphere and delivery of services.

What are the Concerns?

  • Slight decrease in grade point averages has occurred.
  • There is some concern over a one-year drop in SAT math scores.
  • Freshman transition to the high school appears to be challenging.
  • Lower achieving students appear to need stronger guidance in their use of SMART time.
  • In general, lower achieving students have not done better in a block schedule.
  • The community needs continuous education on the appropriate use of data and the reasons for block scheduling.
I know their intention was not to connect their latest education approach to failure... well, maybe it was... but it does reinforce my own perception that maybe schools are now focusing on female learning approaches to the detriment of the males. The way classes are scheduled is a red herring to me. It might reside more in those "varied instructional strategies based on best practice research."

Or maybe mothers really are dumber this generation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Education Failure - Boys Doing Badly

Richard Whitmire's article about the declining presence of young men in college and the overall decline of the male gender performance in the academic world, appeared in The New Republic today.

There is a lot of controversy about the statistic that shows males represent only 43% of college students today. And there seems to be a lot of anguish. Is it because boys are suddenly less capable than girls? Is it because girls really are intellectually superior to boys and recent opportunities for girls to get college educations reflect that superiority? Is it because boys have different thought processes than girls which make girls better students than boys? Or is it something else combined with some of those mentioned speculations?

My own experience tells me that there are dynamics at play that may favor girls. First let me state that my own three sons have done extremely well in college. The older two have Masters degrees and the younger one a Bachelors degree. The older two were tested back when I.Q. tests were still considered okay to do, and had results in the 150 range. The youngest wasn't offered that opportunity, but he seems quite capable of holding his own. They all read and write very well, thank you.

Okay, that's too small of a sample. Agreed.

My wife says boys get their intelligence from their mothers and girls from their mothers and their fathers. Given the performance of boys these days, I can only conclude that this generation of boys had dumber mothers than last generation since the female offspring of last generation's men seem so much more intelligent and more capable of attending college. Read that again, slowly.

Okay, maybe intelligence is not related to college participation or test results. After all, how could there be that many dumb mothers out there?

So, maybe something else is causing boys to stay away from college in droves.

Could it be:

  • Colleges actively seeking girls
  • Curriculae altered to include courses not interesting to boys
  • Teaching altered to facilitate female learning versus male learning (oh, believe me, there is a difference)
Or could it be a generation of parents who don't set the expectations or get involved in their boys' educations?

As a high school student and an undergraduate many years ago, I noticed a peculiar difference between the young men and women: women learned what was taught better than boys. Boys applied what was taught better than girls. For example, girls who took geometry did well and memorized theorum and axioms more quickly than boys. Boys seemed to be able to translate the knowledge into hands on applications a little better... for example, building a structure using geometry without actually having to measure the materials with a tape.

It seems the emphasis is now on learning what is taught more than applying what is taught. You know, be patient and learn now. You can get "hands-on" later. Boys may simply be getting bored.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Excessive Spending - X Factor

Life has its ups and downs. Some of it we control; some of it controls us. Some control is a matter of choice; some is a matter of chance. Sometimes we choose to have control; sometimes we choose to not have control.

As a nation, we have "chosen", increasingly, to not have control in two strategic areas:

  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
In the area of energy, we have chosen to stay wed to oil and natural gas as our mainstays for energy rather than nuclear power, coal or alternative fuels. As a result of that choice, we "outsource" a significant amount of our energy resources.

In the area of manufacturing, we have chosen to seek lowest cost labor as a panacea for remaining "competitive". Consequently, we have "outsourced" a significant portion of our manufacturing capacity to countries such as China.

There is a downside, an X Factor, to these decisions.

The next time you go to the gas station and wonder why the price of gas has risen in the "off-season", consider our dependency on foreign oil. On December 19, the price of oil was less than $58 per barrel. Today, that price has risen to over $65 per barrel:

Iran's recent actions to tell the world to shove it regarding their development of nuclear power/fissionable materials has a lot to do with it. After all, Iran is a supplier of oil and if that spigot is turned off, the cost of our energy goes up to make up the shortfall. ↑ Outsourced ↓ Control.

When it comes to our manufacturing decisions, we should note that China now controls several hundred billion dollars in loans to our government. Our economy is increasingly dependent on China to provide us the goods we need to keep the economy and government functioning. ↑ Outsourced ↓ Control.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Keeping Busy While The Days Are Short

January is really an unfriendly time in Michigan. Oh, there is the allure of winter sports for some, and Pistons basketball keeps us excited (I still contend that hockey is a minor sport despite the Red Wings following). Fortunately there have been a number of things to keep me occupied this winter.

My oldest son is moving from Chicago to San Francisco and will live just off the financial district near the bay. He will spend just a little less than I have in income for an apartment there, but,hey, life's good out there. We will try to get to Chicago before he and his wife ship off their worldly goods because we have some of his worldly goods to ship... less than a pickup truck full, but more than a large shipping carton.

The mother of one of my oldest friends who lives in Wisconsin is expected to die very soon. She is about 100 and just slipped into a coma. She had a really great life, though. We hope to be there for the funeral or at least get to the funeral home. So maybe we will be combining Chicago and Wisconsin.

Then I have been asked to meet with one the managers from Ford where I used to work. I have an idea that might be useful for the company and have a proposal package for him. No, I don't plan to get rehired or act a well-paid consultant. I invested 30 years of my life with the company and feel a sense of loyalty to the many people I know there. So, if they think it's a good idea, they are welcome to it. It comes with a how-to.

I was also supposed to meet with a couple of former Ford people about a consulting process, but that has been postponed. It's still a bit sketchy to me, so I don't know if it will go anyplace.

Besides that, I still run my business and enjoy baking pastries.

Maybe life isn't so bad in Michigan in January... at least my life.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Winter Cohabitation

Winter has a way of intensifying emotions... festivity, lethargy, family fun, personal tiffs...

Little things mean more than they should. Today, as I emptied the dish washer, I noticed that all of the silverware was wet. I asked my wife why it was wet and she said that she accidently spilled some water that had collected on a cup above the silverware when she removed the cup earlier. Then, as I emptied the rest of the dishes on the lower level, I noticed that they were wet, too. So, I commented that the cup must have had a lot of water in it or perhaps she took special effort to shake the cup over everything... BIG MISTAKE.

For the next ten minutes... I didn't appreciate this, I made too big a deal of that, I had nothing to complain about....

Hey, it's winter. The storm blew over.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Officer Jay Morningstar Acquitted

The Detroit Free Press reported that State Police officer Jay Morningstar was acquitted of second-degree murder in last August's shooting death of Eric Williams, a 40-year old homeless man.

Williams had just been tossed from the bar for harassing customers and had punched out two bar windows before Morningstar and his partner saw him on the street.

Convertino maintained that Williams did not obey the trooper's repeated commands to stop, and that he briskly approached Morningstar while wearing a big coat with his hands not visible to the trooper.

Toxicology reports indicated that when Williams was shot he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24%, three times the 0.08% level at which a person can be convicted of drunken driving in Michigan.

And, by the way, this was in a relatively rough part of Detroit in the very early morning hours.

This was a case that should never have gone to trial.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Education Failure - Politically Correct Results

Can't read? Can't write? Congratulations! You're a college graduate.

Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.

"It's appalling -- it's really astounding," said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. "Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That's not saying much for the remainder."

While more Americans are graduating from college, and more than ever are applying for admission, far fewer are leaving higher education with the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity, according to the federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

At the top of this webpage, you will find a small, white box next to the Blogger trademark and logo. Enter the words "education failure" into the box and click on the "Search This Blog" box next to it. (Unfortunately, this only seems to work for older posts, but it will give you an idea).

Happy reading... if you can....

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Environmental Extremism - Coal Deaths

Mining always has been dangerous.

As my youngest son and I watched TV reports about the miners trapped in a West Virginia mine, he mused about who was still using coal.

I answered that much of our electricity in the U.S. and here in Michigan was generated from coal-fired plants. I also pointed out that a recent newspaper article in the Detroit Free Press pointed out that Michigan was in need of new electricity-generating plants and that coal was seen as the probable power source.

He asked the obvious question: why not build nuclear power plants?

Why not, indeed.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Winners and Losers

I like football; I watch a lot of football. I played it in high school and was only fair at it. But I like it.

Last night, as I watched Penn State and Florida State pummel each other, it didn't really occur to me that behind those helmets and pads and uniforms were a bunch of 20-year olds who played because they loved the game, too. They were much more skilled and athletic than the teams of my era. Bigger, faster, stronger... but still 20-year olds.

So, when it came time for Penn State to win the game at the end of the 4th quarter with a field goal... and the kicker missed... I mentally shook my head and shouted "what's the matter with you?"

Then in the 1st overtime, the Florida State and Penn State kickers both missed field goals.

After the teams both scored touchdowns in the 2nd overtime, Florida State's kicker missed another field goal... it hit the upright bar... which meant that the kickers were a combined 0 for 4 since the last minute of the 4th quarter. Hey, what's the matter with you guys?!

Finally... Penn State got close to the end zone... midway between the sidelines... straight in front of the goal posts... almost an extra point... and the kicker made the field goal.

It was almost like the air went out of a balloon. It was more like relief than victory. After all of those missed opportunities to win, the final made kick was more like "game over" than "victory".

The players seemed too tired to celebrate or cry. The coaches came out and hugged each other and talked patiently with the press. Joe Paterno, the winning coach, smiled and praised everyone; Bobby Bowden, the losing coach, smiled and praised everyone. And then it was over.

20-year olds, thousands of spectators, millions of viewers. Hard to pick the winners from the losers.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Excessive Spending - Forums

Note to Tracy:

For a different perspective from mine try:

I don't completely accept the "free trade" philosophy of some because there are too many governments that create conditions (such as currency manipulation) favorable to their corporations (even if it is at the expense of their citizens in the short term) and make it more difficult for U.S. companies to compete.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Moving On

Okay, I'll say it. "Happy New Year."

The holidays are over and the family has dispersed. It's grey outside. It's damp. It's cold.


The upside: things will get better.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)