A Grand Puzzlement

There are certain things that I just don’t “get”. No matter how hard I try and wrap my mind around the topic, it just stubbornly refuses to engage, sitting in a little sullen lump in the corner and obstinately saying “No.” Because of this, the higher mathematic fields have always been closed to me, either through natural disinclination or having been traumatized in getting blind-sided by the New Math in the third grade. Wisely, I stuck to the simpler, practical methods to do with numbers, and left esoteric maths to those who had a bent for them. I have other talents.

That being admitted and perhaps in relation to such an inability, I could never quite grasp the method and appeal of bitcoin.

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Another Texas Road Trip

We took Wee Jamie on another road trip, this last weekend. My daughter and I have decided that we should dedicate one day a week to “Not Doing Work Stuff” – and have an outing of at least half a day, doing something … something diverting. This long weekend demanded a whole day of ‘Not Doing Work Stuff.’ My daughter suggested a road trip to Fredericksburg, and I thought that we should check out the Museum of the Pacific War, as it has been at least five years since I visited it. It was indisputably the last war which we won, after all. The first time I went to the War Museum was maybe in 1995 – when it was all still contained in the old Nimitz Hotel on Main Street, and an annex down the road – IIRC, a side-less pole barn. (And Fredericksburg was still a sleepy little town with an attractive Main Street, with local-oriented business situated in profitable commercial real estate, where they tended to close shop and roll up the sidewalks at about 5 PM. Well, that has come to a screeching halt, I assure you.)

We took the back way, to Fredericksburg, after stopping at a local restaurant for a breakfast which turned out to be more substantial than expected – a local outlet for the Maple Biscuit Company. The fresh-squeeze orange juice was fantastic, and yes, I would know about all that, having grown up with orange trees in the back yard. The biscuits and sausage gravy were so generous and so good that we were resolved to split an order next time. (This was the last place I saw anyone wearing a mask, BTW. The staff were all masked-up.) The back way to Fredericksburg meant driving up 281 to Johnson City, passing memories all the way; Blanco, where we had done market events at the Old Courthouse, and where once we scored some amazing deals at an estate sale at an old house just off the highway. Johnson City, where we had a wonderfully fun three-day long market one year, for the lighting of the Courthouse, the weekend after Thanksgiving. (We had to stay two nights for that in a cabin at the Miller Creek RV resort, which meant that we barely broke even.)

Johnson City, when I first went through in the late 1990s, was sad and depressing in comparison to Fredericksburg. It seemed to be hanging on based on the relation to LBJ, the Johnson ranch and various residences where LBJ’s family had lived. Now it is the beginning of the Texas Wine Road and has a new lease on tourist life. Some years ago, I had suggested that the Hill Country had all the components save castles, villas, and quaint hilltop towns to become the New Provence, since they produce such Frenchified specialty items as lavender, wine, olive oil, goat milk cheeses … and wine. Oh my gosh, have they gone into producing wine. Someone has even built a castle! The usual maps of the Texas Wine Road usually include only the top twelve or fifteen of the biggest and most well-established of the wineries along 290 – or at least, those with the flashiest central building. As we discovered, just about every commercial or retail business along that road was posted as a winery, and even a couple of places, like Wildseed Farms, which initially specialized in some other commodity – like peaches or wildflower seeds – had added on a wine tasting room. If you started at the two wineries just outside Johnson City to the south and stopped at every single winery or tasting room and had a single glass … your liver would be screaming for mercy when you got to Stonewall, and you’d be on the list for a liver transplant once you got beyond Fredericksburg itself.

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Miscellaneous Business/Economics/Energy Items

Apple is going to make Watches and MacBooks in Vietnam.  (More precisely, Apple suppliers will make the products there.  “Make” in this context meaning mostly “assemble”, I think.)  Apple is also planning to produce the iPhone 14 in India, with only about a 2-month lag from its initial production in China.

Intel will be partnering with Brookfield Infrastructure Partners to help pay for factory expansion projects, with Brookfield contributing up to $30 billion.  Most immediately, the money will pay for the expansion of Intel’s Ocotillo manufacturing campus in Chandler, Arizona, with Intel funding 51% and Brookfield funding 49% of the total project cost.  (This is pretty different from BIP’s typical investments, which tend to involve such things as railroads, toll roads, pipelines, and electricity transmission)

A useful overview of planned and in-development fabs, worldwide.

Electricity prices, marginal costs, and the last kilowatt.

Texas has banned BlackRock and several other firms from doing business with the state.

Finland may be facing power outages this winter.  On the other hand, if their Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power plant goes into production at the end of the year, as planned, this should help a lot.  Another plant is planned, taking total nuclear contribution in Finland to 60%.

Also,perhaps a way could be found to harness the power from their PM’s very high-energy dancing.  (If other Western leaders could dance like that, would it somehow influence their minds to adopt more rational energy policies?)

Elsewhere in Europe, skyrocketing energy prices are causing a lot of hardship–and will surely create serious economic pressures as much manufacturing in the affected countries becomes cost-prohibitive)

The Euro is not doing very well versus the dollar.  More here.

Paul Graham:

f you think people have scar tissue, you should see organizations. Each time there’s a disaster, they create a process to prevent future disasters of that type. Eventually they accrete a thick layer of these processes that prevents them from moving. Then they die.

Rapò Sitiyasyon Ayiti

Most problems were not problems long enough to be interesting.

— Larry Niven, PROTECTOR

Haiti has remained a problem long enough to be interesting.

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Humor and Seriousness

Katherine Boyle is a partner at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and she is a thoughtful writer on many topics.  See her post The Case for American Seriousness at Bari Weiss’s substack; also, her posts at her own substack, The Rambler, especially those concerning family, parenting, and technology.

In an interview, she said “The biggest criticism I got from the (American Seriousness) piece, and other times I’ve written about seriousness, is that it doesn’t leave room for frivolity, play or the unseriousness that makes us deeply human. And I empathize with that sentiment, but I don’t think the opposite of seriousness is humor: the opposite of seriousness is irony.”

I agree absolutely that there is no inconsistency between seriousness and humor…quite the contrary, I would say.  Concerning Irony, I’m reminded of something C S Lewis wrote.  The following is from The Screwtape Letters, a book of advice from a senior devil to his protege about how to do the maximum harm to humans:

But Flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers that inherent it the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

Irony, I think, is closely related to the Flippancy about which Lewis’s devil wrote.  Also related to irony is Sarcasm, concerning which Field Marshal Lord Wavell offered some thoughts:

Explosions of temper do not necessarily ruin a general’s reputation or influence with his troops; it is almost expected of them (“the privileged irascibility of senior officers,” someone has written), and it is not always resented, sometimes even admired, except by those immediately concerned. But sarcasm is always resented and seldom forgiven. (emphasis added)  In the Peninsula the bitter sarcastic tongue of Craufurd, the brilliant but erratic leader of the Light Division, was much more wounding and feared than the more violent outbursts of Picton, a rough, hot-tempered man.

Wavell defined Sarcasm as “being clever at someone else’s expense.”  In his view, sarcasm always offends, and a general (or, presumably, any other officer or individual in a position of authority) should never indulge in it.

I think that in many organizations in America today–perhaps, even, most organizations of any size–fear of Cancellation has reached the point at which easy interaction among people–which includes a certain amount of humor–has been replaced with a kind of fragile pseudo-formality.  This is not good for either innovation or productivity, not to mention its toxic impact on individual lives.

What are your thoughts on humor, seriousness, irony, and sarcasm?