(Semi) Live Blogging The NATO Protests – Part 3

Went down into the loop to patronize a local business for lunch. By most accounts business has been bad because the city is on lock down for these protestors. The streets did seem very empty for a beautiful sunny Sunday in May.

The police had a base on the north side of the new Art Institute Wing. They blocked the entrance with city snowplows and left a car in the front in case someone wanted to enter or exit.

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Alpha Male of the Kitchen

I just picked up a $15 rice cooker at the same store where I once bought a very fine $8 toaster. Do I know value or what. But here is the thing. A rice cooker is passive — you put in the rice and water and turn it on and it does the rest. Do you even have to turn it off? I don’t think so. It just sits there, stewing. Sort of female-like. The cooked rice stimulates one’s appetite. It also takes a long time to get ready in the evening. Tradeoffs.

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(Semi) Live Blogging NATO Protests in Chicago

It has been quiet but tense here in Chicago awaiting the NATO protests now that the G8 is being held at Camp David. There hasn’t been a lot of action but the police presence is heavy.

Here is a view of the Boeing HQ that has been boarded up with fences setup. I think that our Mayor didn’t approve of this because he wants to see “business as usual” rather than everyone hunkering down for a riot but there will be some sort of protest here on Monday due to Boeing’s role as a defense supplier for NATO (or whatever the “rationale” is for the protestors).

I was driving back to Chicago from Champaign (located in the middle of the state) last weekend when I saw boats exactly like this (with the red Coast Guard logo on the side of them) coming north on I-57 on the back of a truck. I did not see the machine gun in front, however. These boats are patrolling the Chicago River and a couple of times I saw the machine gun up front manned. It would be interesting to determine what you’d do with a heavy machine gun in a crowd control situation, but that likely is for a more formal threat to NATO.

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Book Review: Little Man, What Now?, by Hans Fallada

Little Man, What Now?

I’ve often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they’re mostly implicit rather than explicit.

Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.

When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper–he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men’s clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann’s wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz’s ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.

When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny’s part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.

The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen’s landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:

Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money’s all gone. How can it all be gone?…I sit here reckoning it up. I’ve written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks…can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?…I now know that my money’s been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it…he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn’t notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing…how can fifty thousand have all gone?

Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.

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Rethinking Unions VI: embrace unions and extend them to a true worker movement

Previous in the series:

Embrace and extend is a proprietary software company strategy that was made famous by Microsoft’s use of the practice. The idea was to embrace an open standard, create the best implementation of that standard in part by adding proprietary extensions, and get everybody to use your version and become addicted to the proprietary goodness which was not released as an addition to the standard. Everybody buys your commercial software that includes the enhanced standard feature and you gain an extra dollop of lock-in profits for several product cycles.

The challenges of moving beyond current unionization efforts to a true workers movement is a bit like a photo negative of Microsoft’s strategy. What’s desired in this case isn’t to create something proprietary to extend a standard for advantage but to identify the jewels in the proprietary 1st generation unions, standardize and spread their benefits to all workers, and create efficient methods to achieve legitimate worker ends without the violence and without the contribution to crony capitalism that present day unions participate in.

Jewel #1 – Education
US vocational education is generally a mess. Union vocational education is generally considered a viable, quality system.

Jewel #2 – Benefits provider
According to the US tax code ( 501(c) 5 ) Unions have the ability to provide benefits consistent with their purpose. That makes them natural health insurance and pension providers that are financially distinct from the company. Union provided benefits are associational and allow increased worker mobility between firms covered by the same union which is both good for workers and good for capitalism.

Jewel #3 – Worker Protection
This one’s a very flawed jewel, but in a dysfunctional organization that has not yet gone broke, the union might be all that is between you and bearing the cost of changing jobs in a sticky economy when you’ve been done an injustice or have even been asked to do something dangerous or illegal.

Adaptation #1 – The open badging movement in education needs extension into the vocational education sphere. This isn’t really a technical challenge, that part is being handled by the technical crowd admirably. Instead the major unaddressed issues are social and organizational ones. People need to know about the badges both in HR departments and in the job seeking population. Badges need to be something that can give you an edge in finding a job. Badges need to be something that lets you find more good employees and filter out more duds. This is a major work in progress and nobody’s really cracked the code yet though there are a lot of entrepreneurial initiatives trying to work out the issues including big names like MIT and Harvard.

Adaptation #2 – Unions are a ready made association that can stay with workers throughout their working lives and provide benefits no matter what happens to a particular employer. This is a very valuable service, one that could use as many entrants into this market as possible in order to prevent membership gouging If you’re a Catholic, scout master, and bricklayer, picking your benefits among your three major associations gets you better possibilities if all of them are participating as benefits provider associations. This is going to require a sea change in legislation so that cross-state associations can provide benefits packages. President Bush proposed this early in his 2nd term and had his head handed to him. President Obama is obviously not interested. Would our next President do better? On the first day President Romney says he would work to replace Obamacare with a more common sense set of reforms. Would this qualify as part of the solution?

Adaptation #3 – Ultimately, this is the most difficult of adaptations because here is where threat and intimidation get applied in a form of street justice to handle situations that are ill suited to the formal justice system. If management behaves badly, unionized workers impose costs is generally how it works. But the ultimate expression of this tactic in current unions, the strike, is disruptive without being very effective. An entire industry has grown up around making it ineffective. Either formal justice needs to be radically reduced in costs to make these situations solvable by the courts or street justice needs to move into the 21st century so that it has lower dead weight loss, lower overhead, and higher effectiveness.

Mommy track

This photoshopped parody of a Newsweek cover is simply hilarious. Everyone knows that Obama’s sudden “conversion” to support of single sex marriage is pure fund raising pander. It might cost him some votes but black churches are unlikely to turn on him and the others who would be offended won’t be voting for him anyway.

The one beneficial effect is to instantly end the questions raised about evangelical support of the Morman candidate. Obama has consolidated Romney’s base for him in one statement.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Obscure Today – Tarkus

The local River North restaurant Rockit uses former album covers as binders for their menus.  I was surprised one day to see Tarkus by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

While Tarkus would be an obscure album today (the average person who is familiar with classic rock might know “Lucky Man” and a couple other songs) it is hard to think that in 1971, when this album came out, it reached #1 on the billboard charts in the UK (and #9 in the US).  According to wikipedia, this album landed between “Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones and “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel.

To put this in context – “Sticky Fingers” was one of the run of 4 fantastic albums that put the Rolling Stones in the pantheon of rock – they were 1) Beggars Banquet 2) Let it Bleed 3) Sticky Fingers 4) Exile on Main Street.  And everyone knows Bridge over Troubled Water.

And yet Tarkus, and mostly Emerson, Lake & Palmer, is completely and utterly unknown.  Nowadays Tarkus would be viewed as a niche product, un-commercial for radio / MP3 singles but perhaps capturing a tiny but devoted market.  The song Tarkus takes up a whole side, and is over 20 minutes long, a series of sub-songs linked into one big song.  If you even thought about releasing a jazz / semi-metal / progressive rock album (CD) like this today you’d get laughed out of the record executive’s office (if they have offices anymore).

At least I was entertained seeing Tarkus as part of my lunch menu.  To think that one day long ago that this would be more than a minor trivia item, or a piece of kind of ugly artwork, is almost unthinkable.

Cross posted at LITGM

“Do readers of liberal and conservative blogs live in two different countries?” (Part II)

I put up a post a couple of weeks ago about the BlogAds survey of blog readers.

Now there’s an updated graphic from BlogAds, based on data from the same survey, providing information about liberal/conservative blog readers’ positions on some questions that weren’t addressed in the initial survey report:

Survey of Blog Reader Attitudes, Part II

There certainly are some strong patterns here, not that this comes as a shock to anyone. (Of course my caveat about self-selected data samples applies to these results as it did to the initial results.)

(Chicago Boyz is a BlogAds affiliate.)

The Dying of the Light

I am not quite sure when I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels; it was sometime in my teens. The public library had several copies of Rider on a White Horse, which I thought immediately was the most perfectly evocative historical fiction ever, knocking such lesser lights like Gone With the Wind effortlessly into the shade. Besides, I was a Unionist and an abolitionist; and I thought Scarlett was a spoiled, self-centered brat and Melanie a spineless simpleton and I usually wanted to throw GWTW across the room so hard that it banged against the opposite wall when Margaret Mitchell began complaining about Northern abolitionists. Anyway, the only book that came close to Rider was Sutcliff’s adult Arthurian novel – Sword at Sunset. This was the book that had me taking my poor younger brother and sister to every significant site of Rome in Britain, the summer that we spent there. Here and now I apologize here for dragging them to the remains of Galava Roman Fort, near Ambleside in the Lake District. In 1976 it was on the map, a clear and distinct quadrangle … but when we went to see it then, there was nothing but some shaped rocks edging a grassed-over stretch of ditch in a field full of cows. A thing of less interest could hardly be imagined … but I wanted to see it, anyway, being haunted by the sense that Sutcliff conveyed in Sword at Sunset and in books like Lantern Bearers – that of men and women who were living at the end of things, among the half-crumbled ruins of a great and dying empire, wistfully seeing all the evidence around that things had been better, greater, grander once, and now they weren’t – and wishing there was something that could be done to call those days back again.

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Quick Wisconsin Political Update

The contract over at InTrade is up to 86% for Walker as of this writing. As of the last week or so, the people on the Barrett side seem to have finally given up and are bailing furiously. Here is the chart.

The MSM is in a full court press to try to save Barrett but nothing seems to be working. The first three stories on our local “news” last night all bashed Walker in some form or another. It was ridiculous. They don’t even try to act impartial anymore.

Walker’s enormous war chest is crushing the Dems with wave after wave of mailers and TV ads. On top of this he will probably have $$ left over to spend for his candidates this fall. I have read that the national funding has dried up for the Dems. I think the unions are out of money. I don’t have any real proof of these things besides what I am hearing and seeing.

I don’t know how the state senate recall races will end up. I have a feeling the senate will be lost, but no big deal. Walker’s reforms are already through and are working. In addition, there is no legislative business until next year, and the R’s can perhaps peel back some of the D’s gains in the state senate (if there are any) this November.

There is more good news – super liberal congress critter Tammy Baldwin is behind ANY of the three Republicans currently running in polling for our vacant US Senate seat. That would be a pick up for the R’s as Dem Herb Kohl is (finally) retiring.

I don’t want to start celebrating yet, but the fat lady looks to be arriving at the opera hall pretty soon.

Disclosure – this blog is an InTrade affiliate.

What is Facebook Worth?

Here’s the S-1.

Is this company really worth the $100 billion or so implied by the IPO pricing? A few points of comparison: the market capitalization of Duke Energy is $29 billion. Target stores is $36B. Yahoo is $19B while Amazon is $101B and Cisco Systems is $89B. CSX railroad is $22B, Ford is $38B, and General Electric is $194B.

Do you think a $100B valuation for Facebook is realistic? What strategies and future environments could lead to this number being sustainable or even understated?

(I don’t have any direct financial interest in Facebook currently, but may do something with the stock at some point, more likely in the short than in the long direction. This post is for sharing of general information and discussion and does not represent financial advice.)

Why Obamacare is worse than understood by most and must be stopped.

The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Obamacare this year. The arguments and the issue which got the most publicity was the individual mandate. I don’t actually care much about this although it may well violate the Constitution. There are far worse things in the legislation and they should be emphatically rejected by the Supreme Court. The worst of the issues is discussed in detail here. This is a really frightening piece of legislation and I cannot imagine that the Court will let it stand. Of course, given the absence of argument, the Court will have to find this hidden provision itself.

Perhaps nothing in the Obamacare legislation embodies the top-down, command-and-control nature of Progressive healthcare more than the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a 15-member panel of “experts” to be appointed by the President. There are three particular features of the IPAB that illustrate this fact: The IPAB will control all healthcare spending, public and private. The IPAB has been awarded near-dictatorial power. And the IPAB is designed to be a nearly immutable entity.

How is this accomplished ?

Specifically, Section 10320 (in the Managers’ Amendments portion of the legislation) grants the IPAB, beginning in 2015, the authority to limit all healthcare expenditures, that is, all healthcare expenditures, and not just expenditures by Medicare or government-run programs.

To emphasize this expanded authority, Section 10320 changes the name of the “Independent Medicare Advisory Board” to the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.” It directs the IPAB, at least every two years, to “submit to Congress and the President recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures” for private healthcare programs. Furthermore, it designates that these “recommendations” may be implemented by the Secretary of HHS or other Federal agencies “administratively” (that is, without any action by Congress).

Thus the federal government can control, under penalty of criminal prosecution of doctors, private health care spending ! This goes well beyond Medicare and Medicaid. It will prevent, unless stopped, people from spending their own money on health care.

That is not the worst of it. The IPAB cannot be changed or repealed by Congress. This is unprecedented in US law. Even the ill-advised Prohibition Amendment, promoted as another moral obligation by progressives after World War I, could be repealed by another constitutional amendment.

A quick reading of Section 3403 might leave one with the impression that the IPAB is a sort of Mr. Rogers of healthcare – a mild-mannered, friendly, always-helpful, but ultimately undemanding agent for good. This is the impression imparted by the first few paragraphs of the Section, which paint the new entity as an “advisory” board, whose main task is to develop “proposals” and “advisory reports,” which “proposals” and “advisory reports” would solely consist of various “recommendations,” that ought to be “considered” for the purpose of cost reduction.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This language is simply another example of supplying a new law, which is far more radical than the authors would like people to know, with a soothingly misleading introductory paragraph. The IPAB is actually designed to be as all-powerful as it’s possible to be.

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Natural Gas: Past, Present, and Future

The hot energy story of the last few years has been the vast expansion in the available supplies of natural gas, and the very significant economic implications thereof. I though it might be interesting to take a look at the past, present, and future of this commodity.
The first known use of natural gas was by the Chinese, circa 500 BC…they captured gas from places where it was seeping to the surface, transported it in bamboo pipelines, and burned it for a heat source to distill seawater and capture the resulting salt and fresh water. The modern gas era began circa 1800 with the use of gas for lighting–initially of streets and later of homes and other buildings. Since there was no network of gas wells and long-distance pipelines, the gas used for these applications was usually not true natural gas, but rather “town gas,” made by heating coal. (Gas stoves seem to have become popular circa 1880, and apparently had quite an impact….I’ve read that the term “gas-stove wife” was enviously applied to women who were so fortunate as to have one of these appliances and were thereby spared the labor of tending a wood or coal stove, and hence had some leisure time available.)

The transition from coal gas to true natural gas had to wait on the build-out of a long-haul pipeline network, which took place mainly from 1920 to 1960. Although electricity became the glamor “fuel” and displaced gas in many cases for cooking and heating, the generation of electricity itself has in recent years become a major source of gas demand. Natural gas is also important as a feedstock for the production of fertilizer and of various plastics. By the early 2000s, there were serious concerns that the US was running out of natural gas–see for example this 2003 TIME Magazine story. The article cites Alan Greenspan’s concerns that high nat gas prices would make us uncompetitive in many industries, as well as citing direct economic pain inflicted on consumers. The only solution seemed to be large-scale imports of natural gas via LNG (liquified natural gas) ships. (Gas is far more difficult to transport than oil, because it needs to be liquified in order to make the volumes manageable, which in turn requires refrigerating it to very low temperatures.) In late 2005, US natural gas prices hit an inflation-adjusted level of almost $16 per million BTUs.

The price is now about $2.50 per million BTUs. What happened?

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Amazing Digital Technology

There are many blogging tools to use; over at LITGM we use “Blogger” which is owned by Google (and free) and over at Chicago Boyz and at other sites we use Word Press.  Many of the up and coming sites are now on Tumblr, which looks pretty much like another blogging platform to me.

There was a Louis CK sketch where he talks about how amazing it is to fly on an airplane and connect to the Internet and all the things we take for granted while everyone whines about it.  I felt the same way as I started to look at some of the new technologies available under Blogger.

Blogger just rolled out “dynamic views”.  I am not a blogging technical expert but in laymans’ terms, you get a lot of real estate back that is taken up with static page elements like the blogroll on the side and post categories and comments.  When you hover your cursor over these items, they “pop up” (dynamically) and then you can click on them if you wish else they don’t take up space otherwise.

Another advantage is that they load up your blog when you turn it on (you see the Blogger “gears” running) and then you can view it a bunch of different ways, from a “classic” view to a “magazine” view or “flip card” which is cool if you have a lot of photos because you can see them at a glance and click to get at the post underneath.

Like everything else, they are trying to get the bugs out at Blogger.  When they initially rolled it out, you couldn’t see items like your blogroll / links because those “widgets” didn’t work with dynamic views.  Some super-technical web nerds could make it work but the average person wouldn’t unless they wanted to hack html code.  There are sites and message boards out there with many comments bemoaning the new technology and what is lacking but of course Google has added many of these widgets back so that they now work with dynamic views and at least you can see comments and labels (basically their version of tags or categories).

I turned “the most important site on the internet” Drunk Bear Fans into a dynamic views site and it is pretty cool.  Since there is more page real estate (the tabs on the side only pop out when you hover over them) I was able to make the pictures bigger and I also did some other housecleaning.  This is more of a test bed than LITGM so I will keep working over there until it is ready for “prime time” and then maybe we will kick over LITGM, too.  For now we are looking at the header because you still have to work on that in html to get the great pictures up there that Gerry inserts but I am sure one of the tech guys at Google is working on that in a frenzy and that will be in some upcoming version.

It is simply amazing how far the technology has come on blogging and web development FOR FREE.  Dan was chuckling at how much just the hard drive would have cost back when we were in college 20+ years ago to store the pictures, movies and other elements associated with a site like LITGM, which also is free along with all the development time Google has put into this platform (plus the fact that they bought the company that made the original technology in the first place).

I was in the dot.com “boom” era in the early 2000’s in the middle of all the companies that imploded.  I can tell you first-hand that building a site that a 10 year old could do with dynamic views would have cost millions and millions of dollars, and it would have crawled.  The cloud based infrastructure that these sites use and the power of the tools that they give developers and non-developers alike FOR FREE is amazing.    For a couple of minutes it is worth stepping back and reflecting on that.  Then back to complaining about everything, just like Louis CK says.

Cross posted at LITGM

“How a Bicycle is Made”

Via sportsman extraordinaire Dan from Madison, this fascinating video shows the operations of a British bicycle factory in 1945. If the factory shown is not a composite it may be the Raleigh works in Nottingham. (The video shows Rudge branded bike frames being made. Wikipedia says that the electronics — now music — company EMI bought the Rudge name and produced bikes from 1935 until 1943 when they sold the brand to Raleigh.)

The video was a promotional effort on behalf of British industry. In hindsight it shows British industry on the cusp of postwar decline. But that’s hindsight. The bicycles shown are pre-war designs, variations of which are still used in much of the world. (Many of the bikes shown in the video would have been exported, perhaps mainly to what are now the Commonwealth countries.) Updated versions of these bikes were popular in the USA until the 1970s when they began to be superseded by more modern designs. Since then the Raleigh brand has passed through multiple acquisitions, and Raleigh bicycles are no longer made in Britain (I have no idea when the Rudge brand was last used).

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Such a Disagreeable Man

I’m sure I’m no ascetic; I’m as pleasant as can be;
You’ll always find me ready with a crushing repartee,
I’ve an irritating chuckle, I’ve a celebrated sneer, I’ve an entertaining snigger, I’ve a fascinating leer.
To ev’rybody’s prejudice I know a thing or two;
I can tell a woman’s age in half a minute — and I do. But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can,
Yet ev’rybody says I’m such a disagreeable man!
And I can’t think why! –

From Gilbert & Sullivan’s Princess Ida

I suppose that one of the most enjoyable things about romping in the halls of historical research is getting to know people, some of whom are famous and others notorious, all of them interesting and they tickle my interest to the point where I would have very much liked to have met some of them personally. Sam Houston is one of them in Texas history that I’d have loved to meet, Jack Hays another, Angelina Eberly a third. I would have loved to have met Queen Elizabeth I of England – three of the four are complicated people, as nearly as I can judge from reading accounts of them. I just would have liked to have had the chance to form my own, independently-arrived at opinion, you see. About the only way that I can indulge this curiosity is to work them up as characters for various books – walk-on parts, usually. Assemble the various views, take a look at some known writing of theirs, consult the grave and sober historians and come up with something that I hope will be revealing, true to the historical facts, and at least a jolly good read … but now and again, in the pages of history, I encounter those that I don’t like very much at all. Some of them are so immediately disagreeable, dislikeable and all-unpleasant that I marvel they lived long enough to make a mark in history at all.

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