Archive for the 'Business' Category
Posted by David Foster on 22nd November 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Norfolk Southern has renamed its Memphis railyard in honor of Deborah Harris Butler, who is retiring as their EVP of planning. I notice that Ms Butler started out with a degree in English literature…which reminds me of another woman who went from an English degree to a railroading career, and wrote a truly great memoir about her experiences.)
On the Rails: A Woman’s Memoir, by Linda Niemann
What happens when a PhD in English, a woman, takes a job with the railroad? Linda Niemann tells the story based on her own experiences. It’s a remarkable document–a book that “is about railroading the way ‘Moby Dick’ is about whaling”, according to a Chicago Sun-Times reviewer. (Although I think a better Melville comparison would be with “White Jacket”, Melville’s book about his experiences as a crewman on an American sailing warship. Which is still very high praise.)
Niemann had gotten a PhD and a divorce simultaneously, and her life was on a downhill slide. “The fancy academic job never materialized,” and she was living in a shack in the mountains and hanging around with strippers, poets, musicians, and drug dealers. Then she saw the employment ad for the Southern Pacific railroad.
When I saw the ad in the Sunday paper–BRAKEMEN WANTED–I saw it as a chance to clean up my act and get away. In a strategy of extreme imitation, I felt that by doing work this dangerous, I would have to make a decision to live, to protect myself. I would have to choose to stay alive every day, to hang on to the side of those freightcars for dear life. Nine thousand tons moving at sixty miles an hour into the fearful night.
Niemann is hired by the Southern Pacific to work at Watsonville, a small freightyard whose main function is to switch out all the perishable freight from the Salinas Valley. Other pioneering women are also joining the railroad at this time, and Niemann soon finds herself a member of an “all-girl team,” assigned to work the midnight shift during the rainy season. Their responsibility will be to reorganize all the cars that have come in during the day, positioning them on the correct tracks and in the correct sequence. They will have at their disposal a switch engine and an engineer, but it will be their responsibility to plan the moves as well as to execute them–coupling and uncoupling cars and air hoses, setting and releasing handbrakes, throwing switches. Before work, they meet at a local espresso house.
It was an odd feeling to be getting ready to go to work when everybody else was ending their evenings, relaxed, dressed up, and, I began to see, privileged. They were going to put up their umbrellas, go home, and sleep. We were going to put rubber clothes on and play soccer with boxcars…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Book Notes, Business, History, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Today, October 2, is Manufacturing Day…”a celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.” There are opportunities for plant visits all over the country, many open to the public and some limited to school tours, etc.
There’s a lot more manufacturing going on in the US than most people seem to realize, but not as much as there should be.
See my related post faux manufacturing nostalgia, also myths of the knowledge society and “protocols” and wealth creation.
Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Management, Tech, USA | 2 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 9th August 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Dan and I follow municipal bonds, which is a bit more exciting than it sounds. The State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, Cook County, and many other entities in which I am a semi-unwitting participant will likely soon be on the front pages of newspapers as it sinks in that we can never repay these debts.
Back in late 2008, during the height of that financial crisis, the State of Illinois issued debt. In this post I basically asked the question “Who is buying this crap?” and the answer was JP Morgan, showing its solidarity (in a way) with the state of Illinois by buying the ENTIRE issue.
Puerto Rico is the new problem child of debt failure, and as Dan calls it, a “gapers block” over the entire municipal debt market. There were a lot of good reasons to buy Puerto Rico municipal bonds for many years – it was tax exempt, it had high yields, some of it was insured and / or tied to revenue streams like power or water, and historically there had been few or no failures of large-scale municipal bond issuers. It was great to own this debt and collect the high interest rates, as long as you watched it and got out before it collapsed. In a way this is “momentum investing” of sorts – get in and enjoy the ride up, but make sure you clear the exit before everyone else runs out of the movie theater screaming “fire”.
But the question in the back of my mind was always “Who is buying that crap”. Not sophisticated investors who knew how to ride the wave up and get out before it collapsed, but people who honestly believed that a set of statements by politicians and / or laws as they were currently constructed would magically allow a tiny and impoverished island to pay inordinate debts while their economy imploded around them.
A recent NY Times article titled “Pain of Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Is Weighing on the Little Guy, Too” provided a timely answer to my question.
To Lev Steinberg, it seemed like a good place to park his nest egg. Puerto Rico bonds offered high returns and tax-free income. And there was little chance, his broker assured him, that the government would default on its debt. So Mr. Steinberg went all in, investing more than 85 percent of his retirement savings in funds with large concentrations of Puerto Rico bonds.“They told me this was safe,” said Mr. Steinberg, a 64-year-old mathematics professor at the University of Puerto Rico, “that the legal protections to repay the bonds were strong.”
The NY Times article describes how local brokers and banks created products that leveraged up these bonds with borrowed money and then they were sold to Puerto Rico citizens (they were illegal on the mainland). The article said that 20% of Puerto Rican debt is owed to local citizens, and they bought many of the most “toxic” issuances (those with the least protections, like pension obligation bonds).
Thank you, NY Times, for helping to answer the timeless question “who is buying that crap”. The answer is gullible citizens, who believed in their government’s promises, and also thought that years and years of high returns could be manufactured endlessly out of thin air without corresponding risk.
Cross posted at LITGM
Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance | 15 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd August 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
New Clean Air Act regulations have recently been proposed by the EPA.
President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry. The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.
What is interesting is that the EPA recently had their ever-expanding mandate struck down by the Supreme court just a few short weeks ago, when their attempt to kill off coal through regulation of mercury and other pollutants was invalidated for not sufficiently weighing the cost of the proposed initiative.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Big Government, Business, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment | 28 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd July 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
A while back I was talking to a friend of mine and he said
A package from Amazon shows up at my doorstep every day of the week
At the time I thought my friend was exaggerating, or perhaps a little bit crazy. But now it has moved to the point where I usually receive 1-2 packages each week from Amazon and now the yellow “minion” boxes abound in my condo.
What happened? I started to realize that with free shipping and the fact that my iPhone is usually nearby, whenever I am “out” of something around the house or need something that is unavailable, I just pick up my phone, type in a description in the App, and buy it immediately. Then I typically forget about whatever it is that I bought until I open up one of the regularly arriving Amazon boxes and go
Oh, that’s what I needed
You can buy pretty much everything that isn’t immediately perishable on Amazon, except for a few things like liquor. Thankfully I live near an enormous liquor store (but unfortunately not a high end grocery store, River North lacks a Whole Foods or Mariano’s) so that’s covered.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 17 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Film, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Management, Society, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th June 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
Recently I went on a diet and began ordering specific drinks ordered a specific way – generally gin with a “splash” of tonic (because tonic has carbs and I want to minimize carbs, but need something to cut against the alcohol). This order, however, has become a running joke among my friends because no matter what I order I usually get the same drink every time – which is a “standard” gin and tonic (see below, the wrong order per usual).
Unlike most people who would shrug it off or get angry, to me this is really an economics issue and not just a “bad order”. When you work with bars and restaurants and other similar industries, if you do anything “outside the norm” your odds of getting it “right” are often less than 50/50. Which leads us to the title of this post…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Management | 20 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st June 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
So everyone thought that the last of the fallout from the Sad/Rabid Puppies and the expanded field of nominees for the Hugo award and finished falling and now it was safe to come out and gambol happily in the fields of science fiction and fantasy? The much revered semi-retired founder of Tor, Tom Doherty made a handsome and diplomatic statement, stressing the fact that in no way were the opinion of MS Irene Gallo, the creative director at Tor, as posted on her personal Facebook page early in May of this year, to be mistaken for being the opinion of the publishing firm itself. But the stuff is still falling, and it’s not rain.
MS Gallo had opined on said personal Facebook page (but a page which appeared mainly to be for publicizing Tor projects) , when someone asked about what the Sad Puppies were all about: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.” When massive attention to this unequivocal statement was paid by outraged science fiction and fantasy writers and readers who were in sympathy with the Sad Puppies, many such felt themselves to be slandered and insulted. MS Gallo did post one of those mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologetic apologies farther down in the original comment thread which together with Tom Doherty’s statement appeared at first to tamp down some of the fury.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Americas, Arts & Letters, Business, Conservatism, Current Events, Diversions | 9 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 12th June 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
For years I was proud to be the owner of a 1998 Altima which ran forever, never broke, and required no upkeep. I passed on the Altima (it is still going strong in our family) and eventually ended up with a 2011 Jetta that I purchased new.
I knew I had made the right purchase decision when I saw this article in Bloomberg titled
Jetta Leases as Cheap as Mobile Phones shows VW’s US Travails
From the article:
The $89 a month it takes to lease a Jetta at some U.S. dealerships is about as low as the price of using an iPhone on some mobile-phone plans. It’s also a sign of how Volkswagen AG is grasping to turn around its fortunes in the U.S.
The bargain deal — available after a down payment of about $2,500 on the $17,325 Jetta — runs over a three-year term.
I paid about $17,000 for my Jetta and it has been a great purchase. It is a roomy 4 door car with solid handling – one time I had to lock up the breaks at 65 mph when a lunatic decided to get off the highway from the left lane and exit – the car saved my bacon and stopped on a dime, straight and clear.
When I drive people around in the car they are astonished at how nice it is for the money; in most instances a car is a terrible investment and minimizing your initial purchase not only saves you direct costs it also saves you on taxes, service costs, and insurance. Recently I had a tire issue (Chicago has terrible potholes) and I just went and bought all four tires and had them installed for $550 including taxes. I have friends where it costs almost $1000 for EACH tire… much less all four.
There are many good reasons why you may have to invest a lot in a car; if you have to cart around a lot of kids, or need to transport a lot of equipment or materials in the bed of your truck. Most of the time, however, a car is a status symbol, and people pour money into their car because it seems cool or attracts attention. That logic is fiscally irresponsible and it is interesting to see how much cheaper this Jetta is against the competition when for almost all normal, functional commuting purposes, it functions identically to cars that cost 2-4x.
Cross posted at LITGM
Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior | 6 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th June 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Some time since (Oh, heck was it in 2005, ten years ago? So it was.) I mused on the concept of public space, both in the general sense – of a large city – and the smaller sense, of a neighborhood … that is, the place that we live in, have our gardens and our households, where we have neighbors who know us, where we jog, walk our dogs, take an interest – from the mild to the pain-in-the-neck over-interested and judgmental. If our homes are our castles, then the neighborhood is our demesne.
And unless we are complete hermits, home-owners will take an interest in the demesne. I state that without fear of contradiction, and it does not matter if that demesne is in a strictly-gated upper-middle or upper-class community with real-live 24-hour security, a private and luxurious clubhouse with attached pool and attractively-landscaped park or a simple ungated, strictly crisscrossed-streets and cul-de-sacs development of modestly-priced starter houses without any HOA-managed extras like golf courses, swimming pools, fitness centers, jogging paths – indeed, anything beyond a little landscaping around the sign denoting the entrance to the development. This is where our homes are, and at the lower end of the economic scale of things, likely to have consumed a major portion of disposable income on the part of the householder. A good portion of our material treasure, in other words, is committed to those foundation, walls, roof and yard.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Big Government, Business, Civil Liberties, Current Events, Law Enforcement, North America, Real Estate | 7 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th June 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
UPDATE: The reaction is is now coming in.
That the Republican Establishment has lined up in lockstep with President Obama really tells you all you need to know about the minority wing of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Government — ever bigger, ever more secretive, ever more disdainful of American sovereignty and of the voters who put them in office. The measure has already passed in McConnell’s Senate, so its fate is now up to Boehner’s House:
Here we go !
For years we have had trade authority granted to presidents as “fast track” authority so the treaties don’t become bidding wars in Congress. The treaty has to be voted up or down as a single entity. This has been done under Democrat and Republican presidents with Republicans usually more in favor of free trade. Under Bill Clinton, we had The North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA which was controversial on issues like Mexican truck drivers qualifications.
Obama has delayed a trade treaty with Columbia for political reasons for years until the GOP dominated Congress ratified the treaty in 2012, eight years after it was negotiated under Bush.
Colombia’s Congress approved the agreement and a protocol of amendment in 2007. Colombia’s Constitutional Court completed its review in July 2008, and concluded that the Agreement conforms to Colombia’s Constitution. President Obama tasked the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative with seeking a path to address outstanding issues surrounding the Colombia FTA. The United States Congress then took on the agreement and passed it on October 12, 2011. The agreement went into effect on May 15, 2012.
At present President Obama is asking for “fast Track Authority” and may finally get it but the opposition is different this time.
The House will vote Friday on a bill that would give fast-track trade authority to President Barack Obama, a measure likely headed for passage in a close vote after months of lobbying by the White House and business groups.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is majority leader, set out in a memo to lawmakers a two-day vote schedule designed to solidify support of Democrats who will back the bill. The House begins Thursday with a measure to promote trade with poorer countries.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Big Government, Business, Current Events, International Affairs, Obama, Politics | 19 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th June 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)
A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Diversions, Internet, Media | 18 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Today, June 6, is the 71st anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.
Posted in Britain, Business, France, Germany, History, Photos, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
I’ve previously linked an analysis of political beliefs as a function of the industry in which an individual works. Comes now a much more fine-grained analysis of political affiliation versus occupation/profession. Below the summary chart–pairs of somewhat-related occupations that have very different political profiles–is a much more detailed chart that allows expansion of an occupational category into multiple subcategories: for example, “engineering” further subdivides into civil, chemical , mechanical, electrical, etc. (That detailed chart doesn’t work on my Mac for some reason, although it works fine on iPhone and Android: not sure whether or not this is a general problem)
Please read & discuss.
Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th May 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
I remember as a kid watching “Lawrence of Arabia” where he led Arab raiding parties against the Turkish train lines in WW1. Per this PBS article about Lawrence:
With the Ottoman army spread thinly across the empty vastness of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hejaz Arabs found it relatively easy to strike and sabotage Turkish lines of communication and supply. With the Red Sea firmly in British hands, the Turks had no option but to use the Hejaz railway to move their men, supplies and munitions.
Lawrence and the Arabs spent much of their two years on the road to Damascus destroying sections of the railway. Small units of men laid charges on the track. Then as the Turks defended the track, Lawrence’s men formed large moving columns capable of rapid hit-and-run operations.
In the recent train crash in the East Coast there are discussions of a “projectile” hitting the train and distracting the conductor. While this hasn’t been confirmed, it is relevant to consider how difficult it would be to secure train lines from attack or sabotage.
This discussion is much more relevant in the context of “high speed trains”. There is a broad theme among many that the US is behind because we have not invested large sums of public money in high speed trains, that we are “falling behind”. Per wikipedia the Japanese high speed trains (similar to the Chinese high speed trains) typically have more than 1000 passengers on each of their trains.
The USA has far larger distances than the Japanese trains. If you built a train from Chicago to New York, for example, it would be almost 800 miles long. This is for a single rail line. Obviously to connect the major cities of the USA you’d have thousands of miles of train lines.
How would these train lines be defended? It would be easy for a terrorist to just cut through the fence somewhere and park a cement truck on the tracks, for instance. The ensuing carnage would easily accomplish what 5-10 hijackings could accomplish.
If you think that the Homeland Security plans are over-reaching, just wait to see what it would take to defend hundreds or thousands of miles of track. Instead of having a bottleneck at the airport, the entire line would be a potential point of attack. Even if defenses were erected, they would only have to overwhelm them at a single weak link in order to assault the train.
No one is incorporating this into their cost estimates for high speed trains; they likely have fences and barriers but are not contemplating stopping a determined, armed attack by terrorists. They should, because after one such attack a giant post-haste effort would emerge kind of like our early days of the TSA. They should contemplate and include a giant, armed, unionized Federal bureaucracy in their midst and add this into their cost estimates and see how it compares against highways and aircraft. The numbers, already dubious, would then be far, far in the red.
Cross posted at LITGM
Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance, Terrorism, Transportation | 25 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th May 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I have been interested in health care reform for some time and have proposed a plan for reform. It is now too late for such a reform as Obamacare has engaged the political apparatus and sides have been taken. The Obamacare rollout was worse than anticipated and it was hoped that the Supreme Court would have mercy on the country, but that didn’t happen and it has been the law for two years.
What has it accomplished ? Well, the forecast drop in ER visits hasn’t happened. It also didn’t happen in Massachusetts when that plan took effect.
Wasn’t Obamacare supposed to solve the problem of people going to the ER for routine medical problems? We were told that if everyone had “healthcare” — either through the ACA exchanges or through Medicaid expansion — people would be able to go to their family doctors for routine care and emergency rooms would no longer be overrun by individuals who aren’t actually experiencing emergencies.
As it turns out, Medicaid patients can’t get appointments with physicians.
“America has severe primary care physician shortages, and many physicians will not accept Medicaid patients because Medicaid pays so inadequately,” said Michael Gerardi, MD, FAAP, FACEP, president of the ACEP.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Business, Health Care, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Medicine, Obama, Politics | 7 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 7th May 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
This is a nice story that illustrates some important features of free markets:
-Buyers of last resort, in this case buyers of labor, perform an important role that is not always appreciated by moralists who themselves have better options. To put it differently, McDonald’s is a vulture capitalist that lowballs labor markets and exploits vulnerable low-wage workers who lack better alternatives, and that’s a good thing. Those workers are better off employed at modest wages than unemployed at higher wages, as many of them will soon find out if McDonald’s is forced to raise its entry-level wages to accommodate proposed increases in legal minimums. The author of this piece deserves credit for his insight.
-There is always a big market for inexpensive products of adequate quality that are made to high standards of consistency. If you are on the road or in a hurry or in an airport, a standardized McDonald’s burger for a buck or two can look pretty good as compared to no food or to an overpriced bagel or sandwich of unknown quality and freshness.
-Tastes differ. The people who criticize McDonald’s for the quality of its food may not consider that many people actually like McDonald’s food.
Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 5th May 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
Lachlan Markay in the Washington Free Beacon:
Oil and gas production on federal land continues to decline even as the United States experiences unprecedented growth in overall fossil fuel extraction, according to a federal report released on Monday.
The Congressional Research Service found that oil production on federal land declined by 10 percent from 2010 to 2014 while production on private land increased by nearly 90 percent.
Gas production on federal land decreased by 31 percent during the same period, while production on private land increased by 21 percent.
(Via the API SmartBrief)
Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, Obama, Politics | 9 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
Over the last year or so, my daughter and I have moved deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market. Of course, I’ve been dabbling around the edges for a while, as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a local craft fair, especially those which occur around the end of the year, deliberately planned to enable the amicable separation of their money from someone shopping for suitable seasonal gifts. The first of these that I participated in – strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. It was incumbent on the authors, though, to bring some signage, informational flyers, postcards and business cards, and perhaps eye-catching to adorn the table. But a couple of years ago, my daughter started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and last year we decided to partner together at the community market events within driving distance, and within our ability to play three-dimensional Tetris in fitting everything into the back of the Montero. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down is much, much easier.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Business, Conservatism, Markets and Trading, Personal Finance, Personal Narrative, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.
Evaporative cooling of group beliefs. Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.
More academic insanity: the language police at the University of Michigan.
Why Sam Sinai became a computer scientist instead of a doctor
A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”
Why a pact with Iran throws Arab liberals under the bus (“liberals” used here in the archaic and largely obsolete sense of “people who believe in liberty”)
Garry Trudeau (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”
The secret Republicans of Silicon Valley
Baseball, the stock market, and the dangers of following the herd
Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors for The Little Prince
Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Islam, Markets and Trading, Society, Sports, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »
Posted by Carl from Chicago on 4th April 2015 (All posts by Carl from Chicago)
I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…
The USA, early 1990s to early 2000s
During the course of my career I have been involved in many cases of companies dying, bankruptcy, and other negative corporate events. At times I was there until the bitter end; often I left before the final events occurred but could see evidence of encroaching doom. When you are first starting off as an employee with little experience these signs are harder to understand; as a veteran I can now unfortunately pick them up right away.
One of my first memories as a public accountant was the day that they fired all the administrative assistants. Not the ones for the executives – the ones that helped the new staff get orientated. These women (they were all women it was the early 1990s) ran each of the floors and it was the first time I’d seen anyone get fired en masse. This was before email I think they left us all some sort of strange voice mail or something (voice mail was big back then). It seemed very sad at the time.
In the early 1990s there was a lot of tension in the public accounting firms between audit / tax vs. the consulting side. I was a staff person and was invited to one of the partner meetings (because I played bass guitar but that is a different story) and I could see the vitriol between the two groups. When the audit partners’ asked “how could they help” the consultants the answer was to “get out of our way”. This was not the happy story that I was being fed as a staff person, for certain.
Later that accounting firm went belly up but I was long gone by then. We started up a small consulting firm and it was fantastic for a while. However, it all started to fall apart as key founding members left after a dispute with the main owners over compensation and eventually I was one of those that departed. The departure was even more difficult since many of my friends and family members were also involved with that firm. Unlike most of the other companies in this piece, however, that firm thrives until this day. So we can conclude that I was not indispensable…
At various points during my career I had a “choice” between two firms. Often I chose the wrong one. At the time I didn’t realize that right before you go public, you shave out all of your costs for a quarter or two and you accelerate all the revenue into the current period (to the extent that this is possible and legal, of course) in order to make your company look great for the IPO process. Living in a company that is doing this is very painful and I left but that was before the company became one of the first successful IPOs of the era (a completely unexpected and unprecedented outcome) and I missed out on an opportunity for those founder stock options.
As the dot.com era came to a close there was a giant shake-out in the Internet and Consulting sector. I worked with three companies in succession that eventually went bankrupt. The first of them had an IPO (in the era of voice mail plus a bit of email) and I noted that it was odd that most of the IPO funds raised went to pay out one of the primary investors (they took the cash, we retained the stock). In hindsight of course this was another ominous sign.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Chicagoania | 2 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 3rd April 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
Via Lex, an interesting post about financial disintermediation:
In a post on the state of consumer fintech, I took a look at how retail banks are beginning to “unbundle” as tech tries to reinvent finance. I now look at how the same is beginning to happen for commercial banks.
Like it did for retail banking, I think technology is impacting commercial banking in three main ways:
1. Increasing access to information thereby allowing businesses (businesses here refers broadly to small, medium and large businesses which would be the clients of commercial banks) to make better decisions
2. Reducing the friction/offering better experiences for businesses in conducting common activities
3. Lowering the fees on transactions for businesses by serving as a cheaper middle man
None of this is a surprise. Banks tend to be inefficient and generally mediocre. The incentive structure for bank employees encourages the most productive people to look elsewhere (for example, the best traders and programmers tend not to work for banks). Incessant Obama-era financial regulation makes the situation worse by killing off smaller banks that would have increased competition. There is thus a lot of low-hanging fruit for creative non-bank providers of services that banks have typically provided.
Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 3 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The new war on religious people (of whom I not one) takes on a new urgency as Huffington Post detects a new threat to the republic.
Pence and his state have faced significant national backlash since he signed RFRA last week. The governors of Connecticut and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana, and several events scheduled to be held in the state have been canceled. Organizers of Gen Con, which has been called the largest gaming convention in the country, are considering moving the gathering from Indiana as well.
Nearby cities like Chicago are capitalizing on the controversy, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) trying to lure Indiana-based businesses into his city.
UPDATE: 1:52 p.m. — White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to Pence’s comments Tuesday, saying the Indiana law has backfired because it goes against most people’s values.
No, it is against the left’s values. The institutional left. The hysteria extends beyond the usual left and may involve a few weak willed Republicans like those who pressured Arizona governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill a year or so ago. Fortunately, Arizona has a new and presumably more firm governor.
Narrowly speaking, that is, the left’s hatred of RFRA is about preserving the authority of the cake police—government agencies determined to coerce bakeries, photo studios, florists and other small businesses to participate in same-sex weddings even if the owners have eccentric conscientious objections.
Whether Indiana’s RFRA would protect such objectors is an open question: The law only sets forth the standard by which state judges would adjudicate their claims. Further, as the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, notes, the Hoosier State has no state laws prohibiting private entities from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. (It does have same-sex marriage, pursuant to a federal court ruling.) There are also no such antidiscrimination laws at the federal level. Thus under current law, only certain cities and counties in Indiana even have a cake police.
The “cake police” are, of course a term of art from James Taranto to describe the opportunistic left who enforce the gay rights agenda on unsuspecting Christians.
“As Michael Paulson noted in a recent story in The Times, judges have been hearing complaints about a florist or baker or photographer refusing to serve customers having same-sex weddings. They’ve been siding so far with the gay couples.” That is, the judges have been rejecting small-business men’s conscientious objections and compelling them to do business with gay-wedding planners. Bruni approves.
Without harboring animus toward gays or sharing the eccentric baker’s social and religious views, one may reasonably ask: If a baker is uncomfortable baking a cake for you, why call the cake police? Why not just find another baker who’s happy to have your business?
This, of course, is far too simple.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Big Government, Blegs, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Elections, Internet, Leftism, Media, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy, Religion | 23 Comments »