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  • Archive for the 'Business' Category

    In Defense of Wall Street A**holes

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 11th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Long time Democrat turned Republican Donald Trump, who as a business titan relied more than any of his opponents on “Wall Street” funding, decisively won the Republican primary. In sharp contrast, socialist Bernie Sanders decisively won the New Hampshire Democrat primary by attacking his opponent’s Wall Street ties. Trump supporters apparently believe that the way to deal with Wall Street a**holes is a bigger a**hole who will negotiate much better deals, whereas Sanders supporters believe that “Wall Street (a synonym for the entire US financial system) is a fraud” requiring major extractive surgery.

    Most people within the NY financial community including the numerous mid-town asset management firms agree that many Wall Street players were a**holes during the sub-prime lending debacle leading to the 2008 financial crisis, but surely the Sanders pitchfork brigade wouldn’t travel uptown. This may explain why among the thousands of books and articles written in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement, Wall Street hasn’t defended itself and has found few defenders willing to go public.

    Truth be told, Wall Street has always attracted more than its share of greedy a**holes. But historically they discriminated against the less profitable investments in favor of those that had the highest return potential relative to risk. This represented the brains of a heartless US capitalist system. Defenders of capitalism correctly argue that it is the only economic system at the base of all human economic progress, however unequally distributed. Progressive critics argue for greater equality, the poor made poorer so long as the better off are equally so (although this is not the way it is typically represented).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Crony Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading, Politics, Predictions, Public Finance, Trump | 6 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 9th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Content abundance and curation in the media industry

    18th-century Scotland had an interesting system for paying for college

    Has getting things done in business…hiring new employees, finalizing business-to-business sales deals…become slower?

    Rejecting one’s country for aesthetic reasons

    Overconfident students major in political science

    This should be obvious, but to many people it’s unfortunately not: why the best hire might not have the perfect resume

    Interesting thoughts:  how debt/equity mix affects the trajectory of oil prices

    This writer is pessimistic about pessimism

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Education, History, Human Behavior, Media, Organizational Analysis | 11 Comments »

    To Borrow a Phrase from Glenn Reynolds

    Posted by David Foster on 25th January 2016 (All posts by )

    …well, this is the 21st century, you know

    used-robots.com

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, USA | 2 Comments »

    Re-reading Drucker: Concept of the Corporation

    Posted by David Foster on 17th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Concept of the Corporation, by Peter Drucker

    It’s been a long time since I read this 1946 book by Peter Drucker.  I recently pulled it down from the shelf and thought it worth a reread.  I’ll be excerpting some passages I think are particularly interesting, not necessarily in sequential order.  For starters, under the heading the corporation as a social institution:

    Americans rarely realize how completely their view of society differs from that accepted in Europe, where social philosophy for the last three hundred years has fluctuated between regarding society as God and regarding it as merely an expression of brute force.  The difference between the American view of the nature and meaning of social organization and the views of modern Europe goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  During that period which culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) the Continent (and to a lesser degree England) broke with the traditional concept of society as a means to an ethical end–the concept that underlay the great medieval synthesis—and substituted for it either the deification or the degradation of politics.  Ever since, the only choice in Europe has been between Hegel and Machiavelli.  This country (and that part of English tradition which began with Hooker and led through Locke to Burke) refused to break with the basically Christian view of society as it was developed from the fifth to the nineteenth century and built its society on the reapplication of the old principle to new social facts and new social needs.  

    To this social philosophy the United States owes that character of being at the same time both the most materialistic and the most idealistic society, which has baffled so many observers…The American who regards social institutions and material goods as ethically valuable because they are the means to an ethical goal is neither an idealist nor a naturalist, he is a dualist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Europe, Management, Political Philosophy, USA | 10 Comments »

    New Era Drugs and Death

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th January 2016 (All posts by )

    One of the most fascinating shows that I watch is called “Drugs, Inc.” on National Geographic, which describes the “business” of drugs from its creation (chemicals) or growth (agriculture), through transportation (to America or Europe) and then to distribution (street level), along with interviews with drug abusers and their families.  I did a blog post about this show here if you are interested.

    Unlike television shows with a “narrative arc” of redemption, the business of Drugs, Inc. shows users as ever-insatiable and ever-addicted to the various drugs that are investigated by the show.  Drug dealers are meeting demand that exists and is never questioned; the only risks to the dealer are competition from other cartels / distributors or the police.  The fact that demand will always be there assuming the quality of the product is solid is taken as a given.

    When they interview addicts their lives are not glamorous and often are morose and filled with regrets.  The addicts may take an hour to find a place on their body to inject the drug, they steal from their own families, and they live brutal and dangerous lives in order to acquire the cash to make the next fix.  The traditional high school movies that tried to scare you off drugs have nothing on this systematic and pragmatic approach to just watching the destroyed lives of drug users as they live to support their next fix.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Current Events, Health Care | 17 Comments »

    After the Gold Rush

    Posted by Grurray on 4th January 2016 (All posts by )

    3D printing industry leader 3D Systems announced last week that it plans to stop making consumer 3D printers. They’re going to concentrate on supplying the industrial markets. It’s the culmination of a significant reversal from just a few years ago when the media hype was fueling a bubble among these additive manufacturing makers like 3D Systems and Stratasys. The trend now is moving away from supplying the much publicized hobbyists and enthusiasts and towards the more reliable demand of professional customers

    The company has indicated that the discontinued product line will account for < 2% of revenue, roughly $13M in sales, which is much less that the ~$45M in “Consumer” sales we had projected in our model. The primary difference is likely to be materials (which the company has indicated will still be supported), desktop printers, scanners and Gentle Giant studios.

    The revenue numbers are a big disappointment because the printers were supposed to follow the time tested and much beloved razor blade model with most of the sales coming from resin filament. The markup on the filament in most cases is a holy grail level 1000% – 2000%. The fact that 3D systems, the pioneer of additive manufacturing, couldn’t make this work is bad news for the industry as a whole.

    Stratasys, the other big competitor in the sector, isn’t doing much better. Last year after acquiring Makerbot, perhaps the current top brand in consumer 3D printers, they let go about 1/3 of the workforce (just after making the founders wealthy, of course). Now after seven years and several different updates and revisions, they’re still trying to make a product that works. The class action wolves are now circling, so it may be only a matter of time for their consumer business also.

    Meanwhile, dead tree printing stalwarts such as HP and Toshiba are poised to enter the 3D fray, but they will be making industrial 3D printers. The plan is to leverage their already considerable strengths in sales and distribution to medium and small businesses. Mostly they’re drawing on their experience in the consumer sector where they long ago learned that consumer hardware is a commodity business with little prospects for the big growth expected of startups.

    One business model for 3D printing that seems to be working isn’t selling the devices but making and selling the final product. Such is the case with Proto Labs.

    Proto Labs, on the other hand, enjoys far less competition because the manufacturing services industry is highly fragmented and often slow to turn around orders. This dynamic has allowed Proto Labs to establish itself as lowest cost and fastest provider that can take a product developer through the entire design and manufacturing process — from conceptual model or prototype using 3D printing, to a mid-volume manufacturing run exceeding 10,000 units using injection molding — all in a matter of weeks.

    Years ago, I used to do a lot of business with their rapid prototyping division, Fineline, before they bought them out. They were a nice little group of industry experts in the Research Triangle, and it was always super easy and inexpensive to get anything made and in your hands within a few days. There’s a wide moat, as they say, with this business because of capital requirements and technical skills, so I’m sure acquiring Fineline was a great value. This is a good example of the discipline of Proto Labs, unlike 3D Systems which gorged on any over-hyped acquisition it could find until it suffered its current debilitating indigestion.

    Another business model that seems to be flourishing along with supplying industrial customers is metal 3D printing. In fact, despite today’s overall market drop, 3D Systems stock was up double digits on an announcement it would aggressively pursue this market. Aside from appealing to deep pocketed industrial customers, metal printing may have certain other advantages over plastic which could win it over in the consumer market.

    Metal printing may have the fabled killer app that every innovation must possess to be successful and that has heretofore been so elusive for current 3D printers. Unfortunately, that killer app is firearms, and they are now fighting for their lives. 3D printed guns may save the desktop 3D printer, but first their advocates must save themselves against a State Department ban claiming the guns violate export controls on weapons.

    This case is an exceptionally complicated one that hinges on several legal rulings that honestly I don’t see being resolved until it is kicked up to the Supreme Court. Namely, are digital files considered free speech or are they considered objects, and are 3D printable guns covered under the Second Amendment? Several court cases have been working their way through the courts asking similar questions for different reasons, but as of yet there has been no precedent set–though on the other side of the world New South Wales, Australia has been working to ban 3D printable gun files.

    While everyone is waiting to hear how Obama plans to slap more regulations on gun sales, the additive manufacturing industry is waiting for the Supreme Court to finally potentially unleash their long awaited and much hyped consumer devices. So stay tuned. Defense Distributed is being represented by Josh Blackman, who as far as I can tell is one of the best experts out there on constitutional law. If he can get the case before SCOTUS he’s got a good chance in my estimation to win it, and with that salvage the consumer 3D printing business.

    Posted in Business, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Christmas Reflections

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd December 2015 (All posts by )

    The long pre-Christmas market marathon is finally complete – this last weekend was our last event, and possibly the most strenuous, involving as it did two days in Boerne (three, if you count set-up on Friday afternoon), with the pink pavilion and all the gear – the tables, display racks, two strings of Christmas lights and an extension cord – not to mention my books and my daughter’s origami earrings and bead bracelets. We have had a market event every weekend since early November, save for the weekend after Thanksgiving, so our state of exhaustion is nearly total. This was compounded (1) by both of us having caught (in sequence) a filthy cold/cough/flu and (2) a mid-week overnight trip to Brownsville to tend to the project of one of the Tiny Publishing Bidness’ clients. The client covered the costs of the hotel stay and gas, and treated us to a perfectly magnificent lunch at an Argentine steakhouse, so there is that. But my daughter felt perfectly awful for one week, and then the cold hit me on the return from Brownsville and I have been barely able to function ever since. Monday was the first day that I could really succumb to how awful I felt, and crawl into bed for much of the morning. Until some robocaller (curses be on their head this Christmas season, and all their stockings be filled with lumps of coal) on the cellie woke me up and set the doggles to barking about mid-afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Business, Holidays | 14 Comments »

    Some Random Thoughts

    Posted by David Foster on 29th November 2015 (All posts by )

    Hillary Clinton, if elected president, would likely do for gender relations what Barack Obama has done for race relations.

    Speaking of Hillary, anyone remember her response when the harmful impact of her proposed healthcare plan on small businesses was questioned?  Her response was: “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”

    No one was asking her to “be responsible” for them, of course, only to refrain from wantonly devastating them.  Should Hillary become the Democratic nominee, Republicans need to ensure that this quote, and other similar ones, are brought to the attention of every small business owner in America.

    There are a lot of small business that are run by women, and an effective attack on the Democratic hostility toward small business should help to reduce Hillary’s advantage among the female demographic.  Part of such attack should consist of hammering on the cultural factor–the truth is, Hillary feels contempt for you, Ms small businessperson–and part of it should consist of a very specific and tangible critique of particularly obnoxious regulatory and tax policies.  (I recently ran across a message board on which Etsy sellers, really micro-manufacturers, almost all female, were discussing the pain suffered while trying to comply with IRS inventory accounting rules.)

    Marco Rubio’s comment statement that “we need more welders and less philosophers” was unfortunate.  His overall point is entirely correct–we need to stop stigmatizing vocational education and assuming that College is and should be the only path to a really good job–but he could have said it better.  (See discussion at Ricochet, led by an actual philosopher.)  Republicans need to be careful not to project contempt toward anyone who thinks of himself as an intellectual, in the way that Obama projected contempt for a wide swath of working people with his snide comment about “clinging to guns or religion”…which comment certainly cost him votes and would have cost him a lot more had Republicans been able to use it more effectively.

    In that same debate, when the subject of whether large banks should be bailed out in crisis situations came up, neither Cruz nor Kasich mentioned the existence of the FDIC.  I don’t care about Kasich, but Cruz should have responded that ‘we have the FDIC to protect the vast majority of depositors–although we need to ensure that it is adequately funded by fees to the banks–so the real question about a bailout has to do with protecting the bank shareholders and bondholders–and no, we shouldn’t do that.’

     

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Politics, USA | 14 Comments »

    Book Review: On the Rails–A Woman’s Journey, by Linda Niemann (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd November 2015 (All posts by )

    (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 »

    Manufacturing Day

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Who Is Buying That Crap?

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 9th August 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Our Disastrous Energy Policy, Continued

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd August 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th July 2015 (All posts by )

    Amazon stunned investors by posting a profit.

    Posted in Business, Markets and Trading, Quotations | 1 Comment »

    The “Amazon-ification” of Retail

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd July 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2015 (All posts by )

    Propaganda:  turning human beings into automatically responding machines

    Victor Davis Hanson:  Progressive mass hysteria, enabled by the Internet

    Sarah Hoyt thinks we are suffering from  the political equivalent of an autoimmune disease

    Tolerance for ambiguity can be an important career asset

    It seems that color movie film was often used in early cinema, going back to the 1890s

    If  railroads are a gauge of a society’s health, then it sounds like Sweden is in serious trouble.  See also  railway socialism and safety

    The story of  Pyrex

    A visit to the Le Creuset factory

    Virtual reality for football training

    Once there was a “know-nothing” movement in America;   today, we have the “know-betters”

    Why we should study the ancient Greeks

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Film, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Management, Society, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    Service Sector Productivity

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    “Seven Liberal Pieties Only the Right Still Believes”

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd June 2015 (All posts by )

    …an interesting piece by Robert Tracinski

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Civil Liberties, Education, History, Human Behavior, Israel, Leftism, Society, USA | 7 Comments »

    Making Blight at Tor

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st June 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    A Car for $89 / month

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 12th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Private Enterprise, Public Space

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    What’s With the Trade Bill ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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.[2] 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 »

    Still Not Finished With Sad Puppies

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Remembering

    Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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.

    Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.

    Two earlier Photon Courier posts: before D-day, there was Dieppe and transmission ends.

    See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

    A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

    Neptunus Lex:  The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

    The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.

    See also  Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from last year.

    General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible.   Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.

    Update: a very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Posted in Britain, Business, France, Germany, History, Photos, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Political Beliefs vs Occupation

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »

    Trains are Indefensible

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th May 2015 (All posts by )

    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 »