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    Port Congestion on the West Coast

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 19th November 2020 (All posts by )

    For those not aware, I work in the world of industrial distribution. Today I received an interesting note from one of my vendors.

    They are experiencing product shipment delays to their USA customers due to “congestion at the ports”. First one of these I have received.

    This particular product (it is a finished good, not a part) is made in Korea, so I have to assume this is the West Coast.

    So, let me try to understand this.

    Covid isn’t a problem “over there”? They are making so much stuff that our ports are clogged? Or is it a problem and they just don’t care?

    As I mentioned in a previous post, the mighty struggle right now is getting finished goods from factories in the USA due to covid related sick outs and factory slowdowns due to new safety procedures. If the rest of the world is working in a normal fashion and able to make enough stuff to clog our ports, why aren’t we?

    Or are we getting so many sickouts at the ports that they can’t unload the ships? And why is this happening now instead of a few months ago?

    I’ve been in business long enough to know that something smells. Bad.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19 | 22 Comments »

    And Now For Something Different

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th November 2020 (All posts by )

    Another horrific gaffe in retail marketing –  one which falls into the category of “grotesquely bad retail marketing decisions which will become a cautionary lesson in future marketing textbooks.” This spectacular gaffe involves a retailer of fashion-trendy and very colorful women’s athletic clothing, Fabletics – a company which started online in 2013 offering a subscription plan – somewhat controversial since the subscription charges were not always transparent, and branched out into brick and mortar locations. One of the founders is Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn, so there probably has been some advantages to a celebrity connection; easy to get that one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey, I presume. The company appears to this point to have been pretty savvy in a competitive field, marketing-wise, so all props to them. I’m not a customer of theirs in any case; the gym and the jogging track are not places where I go to show off my fashion sense. I’m old-school in that I prefer to work out in grey sweatpants and a baggy tee shirt. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Military Affairs, Style | 29 Comments »

    Industrial Distribution 9 Months Into Covid

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 16th November 2020 (All posts by )

    Around every three months or so I am trying to put up a post on how it is going in the always exciting world of industrial distribution. I own a HVAC distributor, which is a subset of industrial distribution.

    Not too much has really changed as far as my job goes over the past three months, with a few notable exceptions.

    The really big bugaboo is finished goods. Things like furnaces, condensing units, evaporator coils, etc. are still difficult to get and are being rationed. All of the favors are being called in, and it is all hardball, all the time. Very stressful. I have incurred freight costs like never before sourcing equipment from regions of the country that perhaps over ordered, or don’t need particular products. But it is job number one to keep my contractors busy and making money. Their success is our success. I have never worked so hard and so many hours – I am really, really tired. Basically all I do all day is go over my inventory reports and try to fill holes. Then in the evening or on weekends I do my “regular work”.

    Parts and pieces are, remarkably, a much different story. There has never been any sort of real disruption in parts. I expected things in this area to go south rather quickly, as many components and parts are made “over there”, but it really never happened. Sure, there is an issue here and there, but nothing to really talk about.

    I expected AR to be a complete and total mess but that never really happened either – yet. I don’t know if companies are using PPP money to pay their bills, or maybe we just have a more resilient industry than most but AR is really in damned good shape.

    Covid in our company – we got our first positive a month or so ago and have had a few since and several spouses who were positive. All cases were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms. At first it was a huge deal, now we all know the procedure and just do it. We are doing everything we can at our facilities to stop the spread such as installing bipolar ionizers, staggering shifts and reducing hours, disinfecting common areas, along with mask wearing and distancing (and a number of other things). We are pretty proud that all of our cases were able to be tracked to events outside of our workplace thus far. But we aren’t counting any chickens.

    HVAC is about as essential as an industry can get in the Winter months and we are hoping to keep as fully staffed as possible and keep things moving. This year has been exhausting with all of the changing rules between different states, different counties, and all the rest. I haven’t had a day off since February and don’t expect one any time soon, as we need a decision maker on hand at all times until sh1t calms down, just a bit. We will squeak out a single digit increase in volume through it all, and we are very thankful to the man upstairs that we are so fortunate to be in an essential industry, unlike so many others.

    Don’t forget about all of the maintenance people and mechanics – they are heroes too, not just medical people in all of this.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19 | 11 Comments »

    The Multi-Front Attack on Free Speech (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 10th November 2020 (All posts by )

    (I don’t usually rerun posts that are less than a year old, but in this case…)

    Free speech…free expression generally…is under attack in America and throughout the Western world to a degree not seen in a long time. I think there are some specific phenomena and (partially-overlapping) categories of people which are largely driving this attack–I’ve written about this subject previously, here, but the situation has gotten even more serious since that post, and some of the important factors were underemphasized.  Here are the current fronts, as I see it, in the war (not too strong a word, I’m afraid) on free speech.

    The Thugs. As I pointed out in my post The United States of Weimar?, illegal actions against political opponents, ranging from theft of newspapers to direct assault and battery, have in recent decades become increasingly common on university campuses, and now are well on track to being normalized as aspects of American politics. Incidents of political thuggery are reported almost daily: just the other day, pro-Trump women at an upscale DC hotel were verbally attacked and apparently physically assaulted by members of a wedding party that was heavy on Democrat attendees; including, reportedly, some top officials from the DNC. A pro-free-speech film was reportedly interrupted by two men wearing masks. Interruption of movies they didn’t like was a tactic used by the Nazis prior to their obtaining official censorship powers. The film “All Quiet on the Western Front” was plagued by Nazi disruptions when released in Germany in 1930. And attempts to shut down dissident speakers on college campuses, such as this, have become so common as to now be almost the default expectation.

    The Assassins. These individuals go beyond the level of violence practiced by the Thugs, and make credible death threats they attempt to carry out against those whose actions or believe they view as unacceptable. The majority of threats and attacks falling in this category have certainly been the doing of radical Muslims; however, some of the more extreme ‘environmentalist’ and ‘animal rights’ groups have also demonstrated Assassin tendencies. At present, however, it is those Assassins who are radical Muslims who have been most successful in inhibiting free expression. Four years in hiding for an American cartoonist. But see also Ecofascism: The Climate Debate Turns Violent, how long until this justification and practice of violence reaches the level of justifying and carrying out actual murders?

    The Enclosure of the Speech Commons. Whereas the Internet and especially the blogosphere offered the prospect of political expression and discussion unfiltered by the traditional media, the primary social-media providers have taken various levels of controlling attitudes toward free speech; Twitter, in my opinion, is especially bad. Partly this is ideological; partly, it probably reflects their ideas about protecting their brands. Yes, there are plenty of ways to communicate online outside of the social media platforms, but their growth has been so rapid that a large proportion of the potential audience is not easily reached outside their domains. Note also that conversations that one would have been private friends talking at home, or over the telephone are now semi-public and sometimes made fully public. Plus, they become part of an individual’s Permanent Record, to use the phrase with which school officials once threatened students.

    The Online Mobs. The concerns of the social media providers about providing online “safe spaces” does not seem to have in the least inhibited the formation of online mobs which can quickly make life unpleasant for their targeted individuals, and even destroy the careers of those individuals. Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan referred to the technology-enabled Global Village; unfortunately, it turns out that this virtual village, especially as mediated through the social media platforms, has some of the most toxic characteristics of the real, traditional village. See my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet.

    And the mobs do not limit themselves to attacks on the target individual: they frequently attack other individuals who fail to participate in the shunning of that target person. As an example:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    Increasingly, it’s not just a matter of limiting what a person can say, it’s also a matter of edicting what they must say.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Environment, Feminism, Media, Society, Tech, Terrorism, USA | 22 Comments »

    Apropos of nothing, really: The Browder Boys

    Posted by Ginny on 31st October 2020 (All posts by )

    Jay Nordlinger’s National Review article has stuck in my mind – an interesting family history of curious (in both senses) people and how complicated man and his loves and choices are. I know nothing about math and little about American communists, who seemed (and seem) to me quite foreign.

    But the Browders were broad in their abilities: perhaps the effect on of Russia and America, communism and western values, might draw observations, especially if readers are more familiar than I with their lives. Bill Browder “goes around the world campaigning for “Magnitsky acts” — laws in honor of the murdered lawyer” who had represented him, battling Putin who was behind Magnitsky’s persecution and death. His grandfather is probably not a familiar name today, but he represented the Communist Party in America for decades and was famous for what we may (I’m sure my parents who were more his contemporaries would) see as absurd, the concise argument: “Communism is 20th-century Americanism.” The generation between – three sons – were remarkable American mathematicians.

    The complexity of human nature? What we learn from our parents and what we believe and how we rebel? How remarkable talents are handed down and how some families are able to cultivate those talents? How math can deliver real answers and politics become fuzzy as consequences, empirical evidence, is ignored? Oh, well, at least this may entertain as we await Tuesday’s verdict on our culture – perhaps a temporary one but important nonetheless.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Business, Capitalism, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, History, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, National Security, Political Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »

    MERV 13 Filters and Unrealistic Expectations

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 22nd October 2020 (All posts by )

    So here we are around nine months into this covid deal, and things are getting more unrealistic by the day.

    We are hearing, but don’t have proof, that municipalities and other governmental orgs are requiring MERV 13 filters for buildings. Which brings us to a couple of problems.

    I run an HVAC distributor and we are getting lots of calls for MERV 13 filters. We represent four filter companies. Two aren’t taking orders for MERV 13 product and of the other two, our best lead time is 4-6 months. For those who want to wait, we are encouraging them to buy a years supply and just store them.

    We are even having trouble getting our standard pleated MERV 10 product due to factory production slowdowns because of covid. So we are getting some of the shooting of the messenger by our customers, but we can handle that OK.

    Why the long lead times? Besides the crushing demand, the same companies that make media for masks, make media for MERV 13 filters. You can guess where priority is right now. Also, nobody has told me if the filters, presumably loaded with covid, will be someday declared a hazardous waste by OSHA, making their changeout completely ridiculous. Not to mention that MERV 13 filters create enormous amounts of static pressure, which will be terrible for a lot of systems, especially older ones. There are already rumblings of certain equipment manufacturers engineering departments getting ready to go to war with the authorities mandating these filters, and declaring “no warranty” on equipment failure due to lack of return air and MERV 13 filters putting their equipment out of engineering spec. This is super fun.

    We have been recommending for a long time that people use standard pleats in combination with a bipolar ionizer or UV product, both of which in the past few months have received covid killing certification. We are hoping this MERV 13 train isn’t fully out of the station just yet and that everyone will start to get a bit more realistic. But since it is 2020 we aren’t expecting much.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19 | 16 Comments »

    Signs and Portents

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th October 2020 (All posts by )

    In noting a pair of interesting and sort-of-related developments this last week, I am wondering if they are an indication of just how deeply angry ordinary Americans of a deplorably conservative bent are with the panjandrums who provide our entertainment, of the pro-sports and movie varieties. The first is the fact that ratings for the NBA finals are cratering, and other pro sports aren’t very far behind. The Commie Crud probably is discouraging physical attendance at games, for sure, and ostentatious displays of partisanship for Black Lives Matter on the part of players have definitely ruined any pleasure in watching games for viewers who just want to forget about politics and protest for a while. It’s also a very bad look for well-compensated and privileged Black players – a good few of whom are not precisely paragons of gentlemanly and law-abiding behavior themselves – to go on national television openly expressing solidarity with an assortment of Black thugs, addicts and criminals who have had fatal encounters with various police forces in the last couple of years.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Film, Leftism, Media, USA | 38 Comments »

    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 | 41 Comments »

    Plastic Pipe and You

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 10th September 2020 (All posts by )

    Preface – I own an HVAC distributor – HVAC distribution is a subset of industrial distribution.

    I received today an interesting letter from our supplier of PVC fittings. PVC is used in everything from plumbing to venting furnaces and a lot of applications in between. Every single contractor in the USA uses a PVC type product in their daily grind. The letter talked about several price increases from PVC resin suppliers – I have seen this before, and it isn’t too terribly unusual (any excuse to raise the price, right?). But also, there was this:

    Hurricane Laura dealt a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana where a substantial amount of PVC resin and related plastic raw materials is produced. Hurricane Laura damaged many chemical plants, including those in the PVC supply chain, and left many without any electricity. Two of the four PVC resin manufacturers have declared force majeure. Hurricane Laura also severely damaged portions of the railway system used to transport PVC resin from the Gulf Coast to various locations across the country. Depending on the severity of the damage to these manufacturing plants, regional infrastructures and railway system, the time required for us to receive PVC resin could be negatively impacted.

    Which is all to say that many building projects will see further delays, and the price just went up. Add to this the difficulty we are seeing with finished goods such as furnaces due to covid related production issues, and raw material price increases (silver) and it all makes for a miserable time to be an industrial distributor – although a time that has provided opportunity and rewards hustle and thinking outside of the box. I have never worked harder at keeping the barns full, but my contractors are very thankful and understand the challenges.

    Energizer batteries is even having covid related production issues. I have never been out of batteries before, but I guess we have never seen a year like 2020.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19 | 6 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 »

    Industrial Distribution Six Months Into Covid

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 22nd August 2020 (All posts by )

    Back when the pandemic shutdowns started (let’s say late March, early April) I had to seriously think about what I was going to do with and for my small business. For those not familiar, I own an HVAC distributor, and that industry is a subset of industrial distribution. The media circus had driven everyone to the point of exhaustion with all of the dire reports and things were bleak. The local governments in my areas took draconian measures and this wasn’t helping. So, as I usually do when facing a big problem, into a quiet room I went to just sit and think for a bit. Below the fold are some results.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, COVID-19 | 14 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 »

    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 »

    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 »

    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 »

    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 »

    Adventures in Social Media – Mil-Vet Version

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th May 2020 (All posts by )

    As I retired from a relatively uneventful career in the peacetime Air Force in 1997, I’ve been out of the military for longer than I was in it. I don’t hang around so much in military veteran circles online as I did early in the decade afterwards, when my daughter was serving in the Marines after 9/11 and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. But she does venture into veteran social media circles, on a local basis through organizations and outlets like Bourbiz, Grunt Style, Ranger Up, and Black Rifle Coffee … and she called my attention to what amounts to a dumpster fire ongoing in veteran circles. Holy heck, it’s more a raging nuclear inferno than your plain ordinary social media dumpster fire. Read the series of articles, she said, it’s jaw-dropping – and so I did. Oh. My. G*d. I thought the Vietnam-era “stolen valor” incidents so thoroughly documented in this book were the far frozen limit, but this Steele character appears to have ventured into hitherto unexplored dimensions. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Culture, Deep Thoughts, Media, Military Affairs | 32 Comments »

    Respecting Authority

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 9th May 2020 (All posts by )

    As the Deity is my witness, I swear that certain of our elected officials at the state and municipal level are holding a contest to see who can be the most petty, obnoxious, contradictory, and unreasonably dictatorial boot stamping on a human face in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus. (Yes and I will call it the Wuhan coronavirus, or maybe even the Chinese Commie Crud; I owe nothing to the Chinese Communist Party, nor do I expect to sell books in China, so bite me, Premier “Winnie the Poo” Xi, you and your running-dog lackeys in the American media.)

    Lets’ see – Governor Gretchen “Karen” Witmer was making a strong showing for most of the last few weeks; stupid and illogical orders as to what was essential and what was not; yea, even to the point of roping off aisles in general-purpose stores. You could go to the store, look at the merchandise which was sitting right there, in plain sight … but because Governor “Karen” had ruled, in her inexplicable wisdom, that certain items were not essential … you could not purchase them. You could, in fact, order them through the store website … but you could not actually pick up the item and schlep it to the cashier yourself. Governor “Karen” also, in her infinite wisdom, decided that the same quarantine/isolation practices that were marginally appropriate for the Big City in her state were also appropriate for the far-distant rural counties, where one might have to actually arrange for someone with the Wuhan coronavirus to come and cough on you. Governor “Karen” also claimed to see Nazi and Confederate banners at public protests objecting to her idiotic policies. So, not only stupid and illogical … but delusional. If she was auditioning for a spot as the Dem VP-nominee, I suspect that she has bombed the audition. (But one never knows. Like idiocy, there seems to be an infinite and boundless supply of delusions of competence on the part of our current political leadership in blue states.) Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Business, Civil Society, COVID-19 | 20 Comments »

    Reshoring

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

    The consulting firm Kearney updates their numbers on the foreign sourcing and US manufacturing of products.  Lots of interesting data.

    Posted in Business, China, Economics & Finance, Latin America, Management, USA, Vietnam | 32 Comments »

    Lament for a Mall

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 28th April 2020 (All posts by )

    Malls were the latest, trendiest, most oh-there thing in retail development about the time that I was in high school and college. There were a couple of them that I went to, early on, and they were … OK. A nice diversion if one was in the mood or purse for retail therapy. Most of them were enclosed, two or three levels, almost always expensively decorated, adorned with plantings, sometimes with dabs of architectural creativity here and there. All of that made sense in places where the weather was bitterly cold for at least half the year or boiling-hot for three-quarters of it – still does, in the upper mid-west and mountain west, especially in snowy winters. It was, however, a serious and time-burning excursion to go to the mall; finding a place to park nearest an entrance, walking … and walking, and walking, and carrying whatever you had purchased. If there was a nice and varied selection of shops, not wall to wall big chain outlets, exactly the same as every other mall – so much the better.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Current Events, Personal Narrative, Society, Style, Urban Issues | 40 Comments »

    Risk Register

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 18th April 2020 (All posts by )

    There are, of course, many items that could be placed in a risk register for our ongoing management of COVID-19. I find myself drawn to those categorizable as, or perhaps triggered by, human perception and behavior. By way of limiting the scope of this post to reasonable attention spans, here are my current top 3: Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, China, Civil Society, COVID-19, Current Events, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Law Enforcement, Markets and Trading, Predictions, Religion, Society, Statistics, USA | 21 Comments »

    SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 Update, Easter 2020 edition

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 12th April 2020 (All posts by )

    There are lots of hopeful reports — despite the USA COVID-19 infections being over 1/2 million and the total deaths of over 20,000 people — that the pandemic will soon be “Over.”

    This is fantasy thinking at best.  SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 won’t be over, until it is over, for YEARS.

    “Over” being defined as world wide mass vaccinations to the tune of 70% of humanity or human herd immunity.  Assuming such a thing is possible, which it may not be, given this recent report from the UK Daily Mail on post SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 infection immunity —

    Blow to Britain’s hopes for coronavirus antibody testing as study finds a THIRD of recovered patients have barely-detectable evidence they have had the virus already

    .

    – Nearly third of patients have very low levels of antibodies, Chinese study found
    – Antibodies not detected at all in 10 people, raising fears they could be reinfected
    – Explains why UK Government repeatedly delayed rolling them out to the public

    .

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8203725/Antibodies-prove-difficult-detect-Chinese-coronavirus-survivors.html

    .

    Related studies:
    Wu F et al. Neutralizing antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in a COVID-19 recovered patient cohort and their implications. medRxiv 2020.03.30.20047365; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.30.20047365

    .

    and

    .

    Zhao J et al. Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients of novel coronavirus disease 2019, Clinical Infectious Diseases, , ciaa344, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa344
    total by July 1st 51,197

    Or this South Korean story on coronavirus “reactivation” —

    South Korea reports recovered coronavirus patients testing positive again
    APRIL 10, 2020
    Josh Smith, Sangmi Cha

    .

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-southkorea-idUSKCN21S15X?utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A+Trending+Content&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=facebook

    The issue with most COVID-19 tests, like the ones mentioned in South Korea, is they detect SARS-CoV2 RNA. They do not detect whether the viral particles are active or not. The issue here is whether these people are shedding active viral particles that can re-infect people.  We don’t know if that is the case here from the story text.  Given how infectious it is.  This coronavirus will tell us in due course.

    There are some viral diseases like Herpes that hide inside your body and reactivate to make you infectious. We do not know enough about the SARs-CoV2 virus to say whether that is the case here.

    If the SARS-CoV2 virus is like Herpes in that once contracted, it never goes away and flares infectious several times a year.

    And there is no herd immunity for some people no matter how often they are infected.

    Then we will need multiple, cheap,  out-patient style “cure-treatments” as well as multiple vaccines, based on co-morbidities, and possibly to account for racial differences like sickle cell blood mutations, as SARS-CoV2 may well be more a blood disease than a respiratory infection in terms of it’s killing mechanism.

    See:

    COVID-19: Attacks the 1-Beta Chain of Hemoglobin and Captures the Porphyrin to Inhibit Human Heme Metabolism

    https://chemrxiv.org/articles/COVID-19_Disease_ORF8_and_Surface_Glycoprotein_Inhibit_Heme_Metabolism_by_Binding_to_Porphyrin/11938173

    There is not enough reliable data, d*mn it!

    Until we get to “Over,” our old economic world of Just-In-Time, Sole Source anywhere, but especially in China, is dead without replacement.

    The world is in the same position as Germany was from August 1944 – April 1945 or  Japan from August 1944 until August 1945 versus the Allied strategic bombing campaign.  We have entered the world of  End Run Production as world wide supply chains grind to a halt from various fiddly bits of intermediate parts running out without replacement.  The on-and-off hotspots world wide of COVID-19 at different times and places in the world economy is no different than WW2 strategic bombing in terms of causing random damage to the economic life support.

    See also  “End Run Production” here from this one volume WW2 history book The Great Crusade:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=5L-bwPZK7PQC&pg=PA420&lpg=PA420&dq=%22End+Run+Production%22&source=bl&ots=kc30FQflCj&sig=ACfU3U2kmF-kTPo0Tgr2A9_ESPKpEQAEOg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfpurOnOPoAhUKA6wKHemwBMcQ6AEwAHoECC4QKQ#v=onepage&q=%22End%20Run%20Production%22&f=false

    Be it automobiles, self propelled construction equipment, jets, power plants or the latest electronic gadget, anything that has thousands of parts sourced world wide with lots of Chinese cheap/disposable sub-component content anywhere in the supply chain simply won’t be produced for the next 18 months to three years.

    This “random damage to the economic life support” effect is amplified by the unwillingness of Western private industry to invest in building the capitol equipment to produced those intermediate parts.  Because of the threat of China coming back with predatory pricing — using bought politicians to cover for them — means those parts won’t be built without massive cost plus contract government buy out of the investment risk like happened in the USA in the 1942 WW2 mobilization.

    The story of  one American n95 mask manufacturer’s experience with the Obama Administration in 2009 with the Swine flu is a case in point.  The n95 mask is a 50 cent item where China pays 2 cents a mask for labor versus 10 cents a mask for American labor.  When the American manufacturer geared up to replace Chinese mask production.  China came back on-line and the Obama Administration refused to keep buying the American mask producer’s 8 cents more expensive mask when the Chinese masks were available.

    Unlike almost 80 years ago, current Western and particularly American politicians are too corrupt to go too massive cost plus contract government buy out this private investment risk.  Mainly because these political elites  can’t be bothered to figure out their 10% cut.  Instead we are getting more “fiscal stimulus” AKA boondoggles that the elites will saddle the rest of us with high interest payments on huge public debts.

    It will take local small to mid-sized business to get the American economy going during the COVID-19 pandemic via making products and services that don’t use the intermediate products China threatens with when the pandemic ends.

    My read on what comes next economically is local/distributed production with limited capitol investment that is multi-product capable.  The name for that is additive manufacturing, AKA 3D Printing. Here are a couple of examples:

    1. The idea of 3D Printed Sand Casting Molds For Automobile Production

    voxeljet enters alliance to industrialize core tooling production using 3D printing

    2. And the replacement of physical inventory with 3D printers, print media and electronic drawings:
    Such “Make or buy” decisions have always been the key decision of any business.  The issue here is that middle men wholesalers and in-house warehousing holding cheap Chinese-sourced  intermediate parts are both set to go the way of the Doe-Doe Bird in a 3D/AM manufacturing dominated world.
    .
    Distributed production in multiple localities with 3D/AM vendors for limited runs of existing intermediate products to keep production lines going.  Or the re-engineering intermediate products so one 3D/AM print replaces multiple intermediate products for the same reason, will be the stuff of future Masters of Business Administration (MBA) papers describing this imminent change over.

    .

    But, like developing SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 vaccines, this new locally distributed manufacturing economy will take time.  The possible opening of the American economy in May 2020 will not bring the old economy of December 2019 back.

    .

    That economy is dead.  It cannot, will not, come back.

    .

    We will have to dance with both the sickness from SARS-CoV2/COVID-19 and the widening End Run Production product shortages that the death of the globalist  just-in-time, sole source in China economic model causes for years.

    .

    And this is a hard reality, not a fantasy, we must all face.

    Posted in America 3.0, Business, Capitalism, China, Civil Society, COVID-19, Culture, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Entrepreneurship, Germany, Health Care, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Medicine, Miscellaneous, Politics, Public Finance, Science, Systems Analysis, Taxes, Tradeoffs, Uncategorized, USA | 64 Comments »