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    Larry the Liquidator is on the Line

    Posted by David Foster on 17th September 2020 (All posts by )

    The current behavior of the Democratic Party and its allies in media and academia reminds me of the 1991 movie Other People’s Money.  The main character, known as Larry the Liquidator, specializes in acquiring companies for the purpose of selling off their assets.  When the film opens, his new target is a struggling company called New England Wire & Cable Company.  Larry calls on the CEO (Jorgy) and says that by his calculations, the company would be better off from a shareholder standpoint (and hence from the CEO’s standpoint) being broken up and sold off in pieces.  Jorgy,emotionally connected to his family-founded company and  conscious of his position as the town’s leading employer, is appalled at the very idea and refuses to give in.

    Nevertheless, Larry prevails in the resulting proxy fight, and the company falls into his hands.  But there is a deus ex machina…Kate, the beautiful lawyer who has been hired to defend the company, identifies a major new market for the company’s products: the stainless steel wire cloth required for automotive airbags.  (And, of course, Larry (Danny DeVito) has fallen head-over-heels in love with Kate (Penelope Ann Miller)

    The Dems and their allies appear to care about the long-term existence of the US and the welfare of its people as little as Larry the Liquidator cares about the continued existence of New England Wire and Cable and its employees and customers.  They will happily sell it off to miscellaneous parties…various ethnic and gender groups and pressure groups…promising those groups an appreciation in their ‘stock’, in the form of government goodies or at least self-esteem and the pleasures of righteous anger. And regardless of whether those promises are actually fulfilled, the Dems and their allies will, like Larry, collect their substantial fee.

    And, in fairness to Larry, there are indeed cases whether spinoffs, breakup, or outright liquidation is the best thing for a company, sometimes the only thing.  (That would likely have eventually turned out to have been the case with New England Wire & Cable absent Kate’s highly-improbably ‘invention’…it seems clear that Jorgy was not managing the company well in the existing circumstances…if he had been, he would have uncovered the wire-cloth opportunity himself..and was unlikely to change his ways.)  But breaking up a company is a very different thing from fragmenting a company and a society.  And, while Larry has had no prior involvement with NEWC, the Dems and their allies have mostly lived here all their lives and benefitted greatly from doing so.

     

     

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Leftism, USA | 31 Comments »

    For Labor Day: Songs About Work

    Posted by David Foster on 7th September 2020 (All posts by )

    …from Tom Russell

    What Work Is

    US Steel

    Small Engine Repair

    Ambrose Larsen

    California Snow

    Posted in Holidays, Music | 3 Comments »

    New Frontiers in Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 6th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Babysitting…of kids in Japan, via Zoom, by women in Rwanda.

    Relates to my posts telemigration and Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring.

     

    Posted in COVID-19, Economics & Finance, Internet, Japan, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Political Legitimacy

    Posted by David Foster on 30th August 2020 (All posts by )

    Nancy Pelosi, asserting that there should be no presidential debates, said “I wouldn’t legitimize a conversation with (Trump) nor a debate in terms of the presidency of the United States.”  (emphasis added) She also called President Trump and his Congressional supporters “enemies of the state,” a phrase that has a rather sinister history.  See also her November 2019 comments, made in the context of the impeachment hearings, about the integrity and legitimacy of the 2020 elections.

    What this is really all about, as I see it, is an assertion that no elected President is legitimate unless he is approved by the Proper People.

    In the Holy Roman Empire (‘neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,’ said Bismarck), the Emperor was chosen by election, but the election was limited to a small elite group known as the Prince-Electors.  In America today, we have a group of people–national journalists, elite academics, senior government officials–who see themselves as the Prince-Electors and who believe no one should become President without their endorsement.

    There can be popular elections, in this model, but the candidates are required to be pre-vetted by the Prince-Electors. So maybe a better historical analogy would be Guided Democracy, “a formally democratic government that functions as a de facto autocracy,”  practiced most notably in Indonesia under Sukarno.

    Increasingly, Democrats are attacking the foundations of true democracy and maneuvering for establishment of an autocratic oligarchy overlaid with a Potemkin “people’s” government.  The 2020 elections will measure how successful–or not–they’ve been.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 41 Comments »

    Covid-19 Transmission Data

    Posted by David Foster on 26th August 2020 (All posts by )

    …an interesting study from China.  There is a discussion thread at Grim’s Hall.

    The study indicates that the transmission rate to household members where there is an infected member was 10.3%, while the transmission rate to healthcare workers was 1.0%..and the transmission rate on public transportation was only 0.1%.  However, I think there is some ambiguity in how these numbers should be interpreted.

    If you’re so inclined, read the paper, dig into the numbers and their meaning, and comment with your thoughts.

    Posted in China, COVID-19, Statistics | 15 Comments »

    Book Review: Overload, by Arthur Hailey

    Posted by David Foster on 24th August 2020 (All posts by )

    Overload by Arthur Hailey

    —-

    Heat! Heat in stifling blanket layers. Heat that enveloped all of California from the arid Mexican border in the south to majestic Klamath Forest, elbowing northward into Oregon. Heat, oppressive and enervating…Throughout cities and suburbs, in factories, offices, stores and homes, six million electric air-conditioners hummed.  On thousands of farms in the fertile Central Valley–the richest agricultural complex in the world–armies of electric pumps gulped water from deep wells, directing it to thirsty cattle and parched crops…California had known other heat waves and survived their consequences.  But in none had the demands for electrical power been so great.

    “That’s it, then,” the chief electric dispatcher said unnecessarily.  “There goes the last of our spinning reserve.”

    I was reminded of this book by the current electrical crisis in California.  It is quite likely the only novel ever written in which an electrical power utility and its executives and employees are the good guys of the story.

    The protagonist, Nim Goldman, is VP of Planning for Golden State Power & Light, which in the book is the predominant electrical supplier in California.  The company is wrestling with the problems of accommodating growing electrical demand while facing more and more restrictions from regulators.  To which difficulties are added the impact of an unprecedented heat wave and the threat of terrorist attacks.

    GSP&L’s opponents fall into three overlapping circles.  First, there is a mainstream and rather staid environmental organization called the Sequoia club.  Then, there is an activist organization called Power and Light for People. run by an Australian named Davy Birdsong, which wants to replace for-profit utilities with some sort of government entity or collective.  Finally, there is a small but deadly terrorist group which seeks maximum social disruption and sees an attack of GSP&L as the best way to achieve that goal.

    The book, published in 1979, is kind of a period piece…the fuels in use are coal and oil, no mention of solar or wind; while there is concern about pollution–especially from coal–no one is talking about climate change; and while there are complaints about high electricity bills and corporate greed, no one is suggesting that Americans be weaned from most of their electricity use and forced to shut down their air conditioners. The story is well-told, although it is kind of a pot-boiler..for one thing, Nim has so much sex, and some of it under such unusual circumstances, that the actual effect is (unintentionally, I’m sure) comic. The technologies of power generation and distribution are portrayed reasonably accurately within the limitations of a popular novel. The fundamental issue of matching supply and demand continuously, in real time, comes across clearly.  One character, Karen Sloan, is a quadriplegic whose very life depends upon electricity–the battery both for her assisted-breathing device and for her powered wheelchair must be periodically recharged, or else…a neat way of illustrating what a serious matter the continuity of electrical service actually is.

    Overload would make a great movie, but probably could not be made in the current environment without some switching-around of good guys and villains.

     

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Energy & Power Generation, Environment | 14 Comments »

    Another Point About Vote-by-Mail

    Posted by David Foster on 16th August 2020 (All posts by )

    There has been much discussion about the dangers of fraud, lost ballots, extreme delays, etc, which could be associated with a large-scale vote-by-mail policy.  There is another danger in vote-by-mail which I haven’t seen much discussed, and that’s the danger of voter intimidation.

    If someone is voting at home, then it’s not really always a secret ballot. Someone: an aggressive spouse, a ‘helpful’ minister or activist or neighbor…may exercise a subtle or not-so-subtle pressure. Particularly when one candidate (Trump) is considered socially unacceptable in many circles, I don’t think this is a trivial danger.

    In the election held in Germany after Hitler was already in power, closed voting booths were retained, but a large sign in front of them stated: “All patriotic Germans are proud to show how they vote.” There were people there to observe who went into the voting booth and who did not.  So almost everyone voted at a table in the open…and guess how almost all of them voted?

    Posted in Elections, Germany, Trump, USA | 39 Comments »

    Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 13th August 2020 (All posts by )

    The general attitude toward working from home has certainly changed over the last several years.  In 2013, the then-CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, banned work-from-home at her company.  And in 2017, IBM established a similar ban. Both of these actions were based on perceived needs to improve productivity and collaboration at those companies

    But in 2020, a lot of companies that moved to work-from home in the Covid-19 environment…because they had no choice if they wanted to continue operating at all…have apparently found it to be working to their satisfaction, and many though not all employees like it, too.  And there is starting to be significant impact on where people choose to live…see these comments from the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.  The term ‘zoomtowns’ has been applied to locations where people choose to live and work remotely, based on a locality’s attractive characteristics and good Internet connectivity.

    I do think that a comprehensive work-from-home environment can result in losing something in terms of unplanned interactions…I’ve personally observed several significant product and business initiatives that resulted from such interactions, and there are also interesting historical cases. But such things are difficult to measure, and financial benefits and convenience of work-from-home are likely to prevail, perhaps excessively so in some cases.  In any event, the Yahoo! and IBM approach of broad-scale top-down corporate edicts is unlikely to be a good one.

    Another kind of remote work involves the use of people at remote locations…though not necessarily at home…to perform machine-control tasks that would previously have had to be done on-site.  The robots being used by Federal Express at its Memphis facility sometimes encounter problems that they can’t solve…they can be ‘advised’ by humans located in San Antonio. There are projects underway to make municipal water treatment plants remotely operable, either for emergency backup (as in a pandemic) or for normal operations, and there are also initiatives focused on remote operation of other kinds of infrastructure, utility, and industrial facilities.

    If something can be done by people who are remotely located within the United States, then in most cases it will also be doable by people who are remotely located in other parts of the world.  In my 2019 post telemigration, I wrote about the increasing feasibility of offshoring services work, not only manufacturing.  A lot of this has been going on for software development as well as for customer service.

    It may turn out that, in many cases, remote work in the US turns out to be just a waystation on the road to remote work somewhere else.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19, Customer Service, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Tech | 42 Comments »

    Kids These Days

    Posted by David Foster on 11th August 2020 (All posts by )

    ‘these days’ being 1896….here is a film taken by the Lumiere Brothers, enhanced for higher resolution and interpolated for a faster frame rate.

    There is also a colorized version, which is very cool, although the actual colors could of course only be guessed.

    Posted in Film, France, Tech | 4 Comments »

    Goedel’s Theorem Extended

    Posted by David Foster on 8th August 2020 (All posts by )

    In 1931, the mathematician Kurt Goedel showed that for any consistent  formal system of logic of logic (of at least a certain degree of complexity), there will always be some true statements that cannot be proved, and some false statements that cannot be disproved within the system.  No matter how many axioms you add to the system, there will still be statements that cannot be proved or disproved within it.

    I was reminded of Goedel’s Theorem by some of the more far-out accusations of racism, sexism, etc that have been made against individuals lately, and was thinking that there should be an analogous theorem:  No matter how an individual chooses to act and speak in a way that will shield him from accusations of X-ism, there will always be a way that someone can build a case that he is in fact an X-ist.

    But before I could post about that extension to the theorem, along comes this post by a physician, talking about some of the ways his patients have managed to misinterpret the instructions for using birth control pills–leading to a need to specify more and more detail when giving such instructions.

    But adding more detail probably like adding more axioms to one of Goedel’s formal systems…so the additional analogous theorem is: No matter how detailed the instructions for doing something may be, there will always be a way for someone to interpret them incorrectly.

     

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Science | 20 Comments »

    Paging Dr Kennedy

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2020 (All posts by )

    Someone on social media linked this study of Covid-19 after-effects:

    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamacardiology/fullarticle/2768916

    …I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    Posted in COVID-19 | 48 Comments »

    Father Damien

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd August 2020 (All posts by )

    I don’t think many people at this site are in need of an explanation as to what was wrong with Alexandria Occasio-Cortez’s objection to the statue of Father Damien.  So I’ll just link a couple of songs about Damien, from Tom Russell’s album The Rose of Roscrae.

    The Hands of Damien

    A Crust of Bread, a Slice of Fish, a Cup of Water

    The protagonist of the album, which is set in the American West, is an Irish immigrant and outlaw named Johnny:  when he hears Damien’s story, it inspires him to seek his own redemption.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, History, Leftism, Music | 5 Comments »

    Conformity and Intimidation

    Posted by David Foster on 28th July 2020 (All posts by )

    (I mentioned these links before, in comments to this post, but I believe they are important enough to merit inclusion in a top-level post)

    According to a poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Cato Institute, almost 2/3 of Americans are afraid of sharing their political views. And with some reason, it seems: among strong ‘liberals’, 50% would support firing a business executive who had privately donated to the Trump campaign. Among strong conservatives, 36% would support firing an executive who donated to Biden. Even among those who identify as just ‘liberal’ rather than ‘very liberal’, 43% would be in favor of firing a Trump donator…22% of conservatives would be in favor of firing a Biden donor.

    See also this very interesting piece by the entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Graham: The Four Pillars of Conformism. Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, USA | 39 Comments »

    Worth Contemplating

    Posted by David Foster on 24th July 2020 (All posts by )

    The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for them, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they,  this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that man might hope again in wretched darkness.

    –Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

     

    Relevant to our current situation in the US and in other Western countries, perhaps?

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Europe, USA | 5 Comments »

    Intimidation vs Persuasion

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Over recent years, I’ve notice that much political communication…ranging from formal statements by politicians down to off-the-cuff social media posts by individuals..has come to consist mostly of insulting one’s opponents. While there has always been a considerable amount of this, political insult has now become so prevalent as to drive out more rational forms of discourse. And while both/all sides do engage in the kind of behavior I’m discussing, it is much more predominant and extreme on the Left.

    From a marketing point of view, this may seem a little odd: why would one want to insult one’s prospective customers–the people one is trying to persuade? I think the answer may be provided by Willi Munzenberg, who was Stalin’s master propagandist. Here’s what Munzenberg told Arthur Koestler, back when Koestler was still a Communist:

    Don’t argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them. Make them shudder with horror. That, Arturo, is propaganda!

    And that seems to be the objective, recognized or not, of much of today’s ‘progressive’ speech. People are being intimidated from speaking their minds not only out of fear of practical consequences…loss of customers, loss of jobs…but out of fear of being publicly demonized as a Bad Person.

    See Lead and Gold on Mediated Democracy and the Temptations of Leninism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Leftism, Marketing, Russia, USA | 31 Comments »

    What Future for Grocery Shopping?

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2020 (All posts by )

    The Covid-19 situation has caused a lot of people to try online shopping for things they had previously bought in physical stores.  Groceries, in particular, were something that most people preferred to buy in person, usually buying online only for specialty products that were hard or inconvenient to find locally.  But with the lockdowns, a lot of people have started using the various online shopping platforms.  These seem to fall into three primary categories:

    –Systems such as Giant Peapod (recently rebranded as just Giant Food), which are operated by a grocery chain or an individual store.  Some systems will deliver directly from a warehouse, bypassing their brick-and-mortar store locations.  And sometimes an option is offered to preorder electronically, with in-store or curbside pickup at the store.

    –Systems such as Instacart, which are more or less vendor-agnostic: these systems will allow you to place orders for any of several stores in your area, after which one of their shoppers will collect your order from the vendor’s regular store.

    –Systems (Boxed is an example) which are have no store presence; they are only for online ordering and home delivery, but do the delivery from their own facilities…many kinds of products, obviously, are susceptible to this model only if shipped express with dry ice or similar packaging (expensive) or if the vendor has local facilities in the same area as the customer.

    The relative success of these approaches will have great implications not only for the futures of the various merchants and system providers, but also for the commercial real-estate market.  Systems that use the existing stores for fulfillment, such as Instacart, are beneficial to the survival and thriving of strip malls and other commercial space where grocery stores are typically located; systems focused on warehouse delivery are beneficial to the industrial property market but not so for retail properties.

    Your thoughts and experiences?

    Posted in Business, COVID-19, Marketing, Tech | 20 Comments »

    Dressing, Reading, and Listening for Success

    Posted by David Foster on 14th July 2020 (All posts by )

    I see that Brooks Brothers has entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a result of changing tastes in business apparel aggravated by the Covid-19 lockdowns.  I’m reminded of something in Father, Son, & Co by long-time IBM CEO Tom Watson Jr.  (The best business autobiography I’ve ever read)

    One of the many people mentioned by Watson in the book is a slightly older executive named Al Williams..much admired by Watson for the way he had worked his way up from a rough background in a coal-mining town to a high executive position at IBM.  When Watson asked him how he had done it–how he got so smooth, he seemed like a graduate of Yale–Williams said that his self-improvement program had three fundamental elements:

    –buy suits at Brooks Brothers
    –read the classics
    –listen to classical music

    (He also played tennis for an hour a day)

    I wonder what an equivalent program might look like in the year 2020?  The Brooks Brothers element seems pretty much negated by that company’s financial results, although there are surely differences from industry to industry.  But what would be the present-day equivalents of reading the classics and listening to classical music?

    Watching videos of TED talks, perhaps?

    Posted in Business, Culture, Current Events | 11 Comments »

    Attention Mexican & Latin-American Food Lovers

    Posted by David Foster on 11th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Bob Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods, had some positive things to say about President Trump…who he called a ‘builder’, and compared with his grandfather, the founder of the company. The usual suspects reacted predictably, not critiquing his comments but rather calling for a boycott of Goya Foods.  (I see that the Washington Post has an article suggesting alternatives to Goya products)

    This would be a good time to stock up on Goya products. You can find them at your local supermarket, and a selection is also available on Amazon. The company website is here…recipes as well as products.

    I posted about this at Ricochet, and someone there mentioned the Facebook page for America’s Test Kitchen, where Goya is apparently rated highly in several products tests.  Some guy there demanded ATK take down all recipes and product tests that suggested Goya products. There were over 200 responses on the thread, don’t know what the mix was.

    For those who don’t like Mexican food…there is a lot of Latin cuisine worth trying which is quite different from typical Tex-Mex.  And Yucatan-style cuisine is rather unique and IMO very good.

    The movement toward a fully politicized society continues.

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Latin America, Politics, USA | 14 Comments »

    What Do You Make of This Poem?

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Leonard Cohen, ‘The Captain’

    Now the Captain called me to his bed
    He fumbled for my hand
    “Take these silver bars,” he said
    “I’m giving you command.”
    “Command of what, there’s no one here
    There’s only you and me –
    All the rest are dead or in retreat
    Or with the enemy.”

    continues here

    Thoughts on interpretation?

    Posted in Poetry | 5 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2020 (All posts by )

    For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

    Narrator:

    This is Independence Day,
    Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
    Whatever happens and whatever falls
    Out of a sky grown strange;
    This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
    The day of the parade,
    Slambanging down the street.
    Listen to the parade!
    There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
    Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
    The Fire Department and the local Grange,
    There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
    Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
    The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
    Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
    There are the veterans and the Legion Post
    (Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
    The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
    Good-humored, watching, hot,
    Silent a second as the flag goes by,
    Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
    Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
    Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
    The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
    The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
    All of them there and all of them a nation.
    And, afterwards,
    There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
    By somebody the Honorable Who,
    The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
    And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
    Will read the declaration.
    That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
    That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
    That’s our fourth of July.

    And a lean farmer on a stony farm
    Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
    And walked ten miles to town.
    Musket in hand.
    He didn’t know the sky was falling down
    And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
    But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
    By kings or any such.
    A workman in the city dropped his tools.
    An ordinary, small-town kind of man
    Found himself standing in the April sun,
    One of a ragged line
    Against the skilled professionals of war,
    The matchless infantry who could not fail,
    Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
    Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
    But first, and principally, since he was sore.
    They could do things in quite a lot of places.
    They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

    The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

    We made it and we make it and it’s ours
    We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

    But shall it?

    The probability that the American experiment will survive seems lower now than in any prior year in living memory.  We still have a good fighting chance, but the outcome is by no means assured.

    I keep thinking of the words of the British general Edward Spears, describing his feelings in the aftermath of Munich:

    Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

    The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.

    Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest. Perhaps the United States of America will similarly rediscover its spirit.

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Poetry, USA | 7 Comments »

    Creating a Mass Audience

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd July 2020 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 99th anniversary of the first radio broadcast heard by a very large number of people:  the Dempsey vs Carpentier boxing match.  (Although a Carpentier was French, he had quite a following in the United States, owing to his distinguished record as a pilot in the First World War.)

    Boxing promoter Tex Ricard had the idea that radio broadcasting might be a good way to increase the popularity of prizefighting…there had previously been some broadcasts of fights in local areas with limited audiences, but what was envisaged for this broadcast was a much larger audience over a much wider area.  David Sarnoff of RCA, a strong advocate for the development of a broadcasting industry, was evidently a driving force behind this approach.  A dedicated phone line from ringside to a transmitter in Hoboken was established, and radio amateurs throughout the Middle Atlantic states were encouraged to set up their receivers in bars, auditoriums, etc, for the benefit of those people (most of the population) who did not have their own radio receivers.  The radio audience was estimated at 300,000 people.

    The broadcast was not national in scope, owing to the limitations of the AM radio band, but it was a significant milestone in the the delocalization of information.  Very soon, network broadcasting, enabled by long-distance dedicated phone links, would make possible programs with truly national audiences.  The delocalization trend has continued, with television, intercontinental links via satellite and undersea cable, and the Internet, and has been a powerful driver of social, economic, and political changes.

     

    Posted in Advertising, Business, Civil Society, Marketing, Media, Sports, Tech, USA | 6 Comments »

    Excessive Credential-Worship Has Many Costs

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2020 (All posts by )

    A WSJ article suggests that if the corporations which have been proclaiming their support for black communities really want to make a difference, they should change their hiring and management practices to focus on job skills, rather than continuing to privilege college degrees. They say that “degree inflation” is rampant: as an example, 67% of postings for new production supervisors in 2015 included college-degree requirements, though only 16% of existing production supervisors had bachelor’s degrees.  (See interesting NBER paper here.)

    Indeed, I’m not very comfortable with the term ‘middle skill’ which has been adopted for jobs that typically require a technical training program of some sort but do not require a college degree.  Is someone with an undergraduate sociology degree really necessarily more skilled than a CNC machinist?  The suggestion that someone with a college degree is always higher-skilled than someone without a degree has unpleasant implications of a class-bound society. The authors of the NBER paper suggest an alternative term: STARs…Skilled Through Alternative Routes, and they also suggest that many “technology” jobs shouldn’t really require a college degree.  They note that:

    While some of these new occupations (e.g., data scientist) may require skills (e.g., statistical methods) which are typically acquired in advanced formal education, a large number (e.g., application developers and administrators for enterprise Software-as-a-Service platforms such as Salesforce, Workday, or ServiceNow) are learned not in formal education, but mostly on-the-job or in credentialed skill training designed by the SaaS companies themselves. While estimating STARs’ potential to fill skilled roles still emerging is beyond the scope of this paper, it would be reasonable to expect that employers’ rational ignorance or deprecation of experienced-based signals of STARs skills for existing jobs may similarly shape.

    …they also suggest that there are many cases in which skills developed by an employee in a particular not-well-paid job can actually be of value to an employer in a different and better-paid job, but that the mapping of these skills sets is not generally well-understood by employers.

    Back in 1969, Peter Drucker wrote:

    The most serious impact of the long years of schooling is, however, the “diploma curtain” between those with degrees and those without. It threatens to cut society in two for the first time in American history…By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve…I expect, within ten years or so, to see a proposal before one of our state legislatures or up for referendum to ban, on applications for employment, all questions related to educational status…I, for one, shall vote for this proposal if I can.

    I wouldn’t favor a legal ban on such questions, but I do think public policy needs to encourage of focus on skills rather than on degrees per se, and I’m happy to see that President Trump has signed an executive order requiring Federal agencies to increase the use of skill assessments and interviews with subject matter experts to determine an applicant’s qualifications, rather than simply looking at educational achievements.  At least one agency had already made this switch to a certain degree:  the FAA, which once required a college degree for aspiring controllers entering its specialized training program, now allows alternatively a combination of three years of progressively responsible work experience or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.  And some private employers are putting more emphasis on apprenticeship programs and various kinds of alternative skill demonstration.  (See for example the GE Aviation apprenticeship program; lots more North Carolina apprenticeship programs here.)

    Working on the lifting of the “diploma curtain” seems particularly appropriate given the growing evidence that many college graduates today don’t really learn all that much during their college years.  In any case, if the inappropriate use of college credentials can be reduced, it should offer a significant benefit to overall economic growth and productivity, as well as to many individuals.

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Tech, Urban Issues | 40 Comments »

    Another Possible Explanation for the Absence of Space Aliens

    Posted by David Foster on 26th June 2020 (All posts by )

    The physicist Enrico Fermi wondered why we haven’t seen any evidence of visitors from another planet, given that he believed intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy was highly probable.  (Maybe we have seen such evidence, given some recent UFO incidents, but for the sake of argument…)  This question is known as Fermi’s Paradox.

    Standard answers to the Paradox involve emphasizing the vast distances involved, and the fact that “as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center,” as Edward Teller put it.  Another theory is that species which are sufficiently intelligent to achieve interstellar travel have a tendency to blow themselves up long before they reach anywhere in our vicinity.

    Don Sensing cited another possible explanation, suggested by Geoffrey Miller:

    I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.

    See my post here for thoughts related to the above explanation and the psychology of decadence.

    But I have a new theory, suggested by recent events: The aliens invent something like Twitter, their whole planet becomes the equivalent of a particularly nasty middle school on earth, and they melt down under waves of mutual accusations and denunciations.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Science, Space | 14 Comments »

    An Unusual Product Line

    Posted by David Foster on 20th June 2020 (All posts by )

    Here’s a company that builds (in addition to other things) square-rigged sailing ships…not just as a shipyard executing customer-supplied designs, but as a more-or-less standard product line.  There are three models, ranging from 1150 to 3000 tons displacement.

    I wonder how many they have sold.

    Posted in Business, Transportation | 12 Comments »

    Sell Your Soul or Lose Your Livelihood (updated)

    Posted by David Foster on 18th June 2020 (All posts by )

    Every day, people are losing their jobs because of political opinions or assertions about reality which are considered unacceptable. David Shor, a political data analyst, lost his job after tweeting a summary of research indicating that nonviolent protest tactics tend to be more effective than violent tactics. At the Poetry Foundation, both the president and the chairman resigned after being heavily attacked because their statement on the current situation…which said that the members “stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism”…was vague and lacked any commitment to concrete action. An Illinois high school principal finds her job under attack after advising students that, if they protest, they should refrain from violence and looting. The list could be expanded indefinitely and includes people in all industries and at all levels.

    This isn’t new. For the last two decades, the ‘progressive’ left has loudly insisted that dissenting voices (dissenting from the Prog worldview, that is) must be suppressed. But the trend has accelerated sharply.

    I am reminded, as I often am, of the memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. One very affecting section of the book describes what happened to Haffner’s father–a civil servant under both Weimar and the Kaiser–following the Nazi takeover. The elder Haffner, long-since retired, had considerable accomplishments to his credit: There had been great pieces of legislation in his administrative area, on which he had worked closely. They were important, daring, thoughtful, intellectual achievements, the fruits of decades of experience and years of intense, meticulous analysis and dedicated refinement”–and it was extremely painful to him to see this work ruthlessly trashed by the new government. But worse was to come.

    One day Mr. Haffner received an official letter. It required him to list all of the political parties, organizations, and associations to which he had ever belonged in his life and to sign a declaration that he ‘stood behind the government of national uprising without reservations.’ Failure to sign would mean the loss of his pension, which he had earned through 45 years of devoted service.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Elections, Germany, History, Media, USA | 20 Comments »