Worthwhile Reading

A teacher’s experiences in an American high school…a highly-rated American high school…with thoughts on the power of incentives.

Related: the effects of easing up on school troublemakers.

Research suggests that CEOs born in “frontier counties with a higher level of individualistic culture” are more effective at promoting innovation.

The market value of Tesla…$1.2 trillion…now exceeds the market value of the entire S&P 500 energy sector.  (The components of that sector can be found here.)

“Believe the science”, bureaucracy, speed, and creativity:  America needs a new scientific revolution.

Planning is a bigger job than planners can do.

Offshoring is not just for manufacturing jobs: Teleshock.  See also my 2019 post Telemigration.

Interesting memoir by a woman who started as a clerk for Burlington Northern Railroad, worked her way up to Yardmaster, and then worked closely for many years with the legendary RR executive Hunter Harrison, focusing mostly on improved data and methods for performance measurement and operational support.  (The author has since made a major industry & career change and is now focused on bioinformatics research related to cellular development!)


A Talking Dinosaur, for Adults

…not just any adults, but national leaders.  The Global Climate Conference was visited by Frankie the Talking Dinosaur, who warned the attendees (and viewers around the world) about the danger of extinction.

Reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s interesting little book, In the Beginning was the Command Line, in particular, a passage in which he describes something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.

The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.

In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.

…a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.

The next panel shows a mustachioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.

The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.

Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.

Stephenson argues that the sensorial, image-based type of communication…of which this exhibit provides one example…has very different characteristics from explicit, text-based communication.  For one thing, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface.  It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.

Tunnels of Oppression, which became popular on university campuses some years ago and are apparently now very popular, represent additional examples of persuasion via sensorial communication. So did the Obama administration’s propaganda video game featuring space aliens, global warming, and gender issues.  And so does this dinosaur video.

I’ll grant that the dinosaur is very smart marketing; someone might well hire the person or group who did it to put together a good marketing campaign for a product or service. But it’s not science and not serious policy thinking, and no responsible person would put together a presentation of this kind for a board of directors considering a major corporate decision point.  Or a country, or a world.

I reviewed Stephenson’s book here.

Labor Day Thoughts

My discussion question for today: In a world with global and highly-efficient transportation and communications…and billions of people who are accustomed to low wages…is it possible for a country such as the United States to maintain its accustomed high standards of living for the large majority of its people?…and, if so, what are the key policy elements required to do this?

Henry Ford did not establish the five-dollar day out of the sheer goodness of his heart.  He did it because worker turnover had become unacceptably high: people didn’t like assembly-line work, and they had alternatives.  Suppose Ford had then had the option of building the Model T in a low-wage country, say Mexico.  Maybe he wouldn’t have needed to bother with the American $5/day wage and the productivity improvements needed to support it. (Although Ford being Ford, he still might have implemented the manufacturing innovations and process improvements even without strong economic necessity to do so.)

America’s premium wage structure has, I think, been historically enabled by several factors:

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We Need to Talk About Joe

The fictional mass murderer Kevin is most often described as a psychopath and his mother Eva a sociopath in book and movie reviews, the latter defined the same as the former, but without the insanity defense, i.e., a physical brain disorder rather than a choice. President Biden isn’t suspected of any such brain disorder (although dementia has long been suspected, common for his age). But Bruce Cannon Gibney argues that Baby Boomers, those born between 1940 and 1964, are A Generation of Sociopaths (2017) based primarily on their over-consuming at the expense of future generations, a massive inter-generational injustice. He allows for exceptions, but not among the Baby Boom political leaders, of which Joe Biden was the first on the national scene.

Sociopaths are defined as narcissists with additional characteristics, among which are: superficial charm, glib, manipulative, self serving, grandiose, pathological lairs, without remorse, self-centered, untrustworthy, physically aggressive, impulsive, blaming others, lacking in empathy, break promises, an ability to avoid persecution for illegal acts, and a belief they deserve to rule the world. As a result of the Obama/Biden “Good War” over half the current population of Afghanistan was born under American protection. These and thousands of those who assisted the American occupation and their families have been left behind by Joe to meet repression, and, for many, death at the hands of his captors and other Islamic radicals. His press conferences revealed almost all these sociopathic tendencies, leaving no doubt as to the applicability of Gibney’s diagnosis.

Like Kevin, Joe is competitive among his sociopathic political peers. For sheer narcissism it would be difficult to top former President Trump, and the Clintons are unlikely to ever be surpassed in the team sociopath competition. But Joe Biden, whose first attempt to rule the world over three decades ago was thwarted by a plagiarism scandal, seeks to exceed FDR, the record holder by size of Mall Monument, as a world leader not on his foreign policy experience, but by spending his way to a risky “fundamental transformation” of the US economy and society. Should we trust in Joe, or is he the “Borax Man” (a soap salesman)?

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“Green” Energy: Materials-Intensive–And It Matters

There is now considerable momentum behind wind and solar power generation.  In addition to the governments pushing these technologies, there are many companies intending to profit by manufacturing and implementing these systems–also companies intending to get “sustainability” points for using them–and a nontrivial part of the financing industry licking their chops at the prospect of raising the necessary capital.

While wind and solar systems do not directly consume fuels, they do consume capital, that capital representing the labor and materials (and also the energy, in various forms) necessary to manufacture and install them.  Some of these materials are relatively scarce at present, and are sourced from problematic locations under questionable conditions.

Here is an interesting and quite detailed study on “green” materials and sourcing options, from the International Energy Agency.  Worth careful reading for anyone interested in energy issues, technologies, and politics.  Note that in addition to China’s development of its internal resources of the relevant materials, that country is developing strong trade and financing relationships…which may evolve to neo-colonial or even full-colonial relationships…with other countries possessing such resources.

And here are a pair of articles arguing that the only way for the US to acquire the requisite materials for a “green” energy transition will require close collaboration with China…that if the two greatest greenhouse-gas emitters on this planet can’t work together, we’re all going to be living in a more or less literal hell. The authors of these pieces don’t seem to be very concerned about the risks of US dependence on China for our energy supply; they seem more concerned about the risks of a cold war (anti-China) mentality.  (It is also interesting that the word ‘nuclear’ doesn’t appear in either article.)

Comes now a Reuters article, which asserts that: The Biden administration is considering a plan to import the bulk of the materials needed to build electric vehicles and the batteries that power them instead of mining them domestically — a nod to environmental groups that make up a key part of the Democratic constituency, according to a report.  The article goes on to quote an administration source as saying, referring to mining, that “it’s not that hard to dig a hole”…a comment which interestingly echoes Michael Bloomberg’s assertions about farming–“I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer…You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”  (Bloomberg also made similarly dismissive remarks about manufacturing jobs)

On the other hand, a post at the Seeking Alpha investment blog asserts that Contrary to Rumors, the Biden Administration is Not Abandoning Lithium–that on the contrary, they want to expand both domestic and international supply of this material.  (The author of this piece also notes critically that the Reuters article did not reference a single named source.)

But even if the Biden administration does throw some money at domestic mining and processing, environmental objections and litigation are likely to slow things down considerably…a Trump-style president might be willing and able to blow past such constraints, but Biden/Harris, given their dependence on their party’s extreme Left, will likely find it easier to placate environmentalists by combining a US emphasis on vehicle electrification and “green” energy with a de facto sourcing policy of acquiring most of the relevant materials from outside the United States–including China–which allowing most US mining and bulk processing initiatives to bog down in red tape.

Here’s a follow-up article from Reuters.

As the IEA article notes, “green” energy represents a shift from a fuel-intensive to a materials-intensive energy system.  Few of the prominent/influential advocates of such a shift seem to have given much thought to where those required materials might actually come from.

Wind and solar are more capital-intensive than are fossil-fuel power sources, and mining requires considerable capital as well.  It seems likely to me that the worldwide push for “green” energy and electric vehicles will drive enough capital demands–whether via government or private financing–to have a material upward impact on interest rates.