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  • Archive for July, 2018

    Summer Rerun: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane Austen or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-base, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 1 Comment »

    Summer Rerun Season

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    It now being officially summer, I’m going to be putting up some posts from prior years that I think are worthy of a rerun.

    Posted in Blogging, Reruns | Comments Off on Summer Rerun Season

    Wayfinding

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th July 2018 (All posts by )

    I wrote the series, years ago, mostly in 2011, and refer to it from time-to-time.  I still think about it a lot and find the subject fascinating. One of the early entries is a good introduction:

    The Tourist asked: Old-timer, can you tell me how to get to St. Johnsbury from here?

    Eben Jenkins thought a bit, raised one hand and started to gesture up the Mountain Road. Thinking better of it, he stroked his chin and then pointed back down the River Road and almost spoke. He caught himself, looked the other way – up the River Road, and his eyes took on a faraway look. “Young fellah, you can’t get theah from heah.”

    Some overview, before putting you on to some of the research.

    Wayfinding is a subtopic under spatial memory. Though wayfinding can involve different scales of routes to follow, these are not vastly different scales. They are human sized, and involve moving a human-sized body, or objects only slightly smaller or larger. This is what human beings have navigated in for millennia. We now scale up to spatial relationships a million X larger or million X smaller, but these are recently learned. Like the Fahrenheit Scale that works best in the nice, human-living numbers 0-100, wayfinding is the understanding of movement from room-to-room, of walks in The Shire. Longer journeys of even ten miles begin to require a greater level of abstraction. This is landmark navigation, we have a hundred brain mechanisms we are unaware of helping us out, it is what we are built for, and it is far superior on the human scale. Even switching between scales at this level is not that hard. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior | 17 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Poland’s Judicial Crisis: My Post on CONLAWPROF

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Arrayed against the policy of the elected government of Poland (which ran for election twice on this policy) is: the EU Commission (not elected), the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (not elected), the Council of Europe / Venice Commission (not elected), and any number of Polish judges — all appointed by a process wholly insulated from democratic control. But I repeat myself.
    &nbsp:
    I cannot prove this, but I expect if during our domestic squabbles involving the elected arms of the government manipulating the federal courts (circa 1802, and again circa 1863, or even today in relation to court packing) a bunch of international organisations told us what to do, such interventions would not have been (and will not be in the future) very welcomed, and might very well have made (and will make in the future) normal political compromise less likely.
     
    “Purge”. If you want more Trump … but I repeat myself.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Elections, Europe, Law, Politics, Trump | 2 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2018 (All posts by )

    For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had an excellent post:  Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

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

    Narrator:

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

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

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

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

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

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

    But shall it?

    Posted in History, Holidays, Poetry, USA | 6 Comments »

    True Civility

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 3rd July 2018 (All posts by )

    This is either efficient or lazy.  I will plead to either. I have posted before at length on the subject of The True Patriot, and have referred several times to the section in Mere Christianity where C S Lewis talks about the True Christian. Rereading both this afternoon, I don’t think I can do better, other than to note that the current True Civility claims, which I encountered looking for other things at The Ringer and 538, fall into the same category. Straw men.  False dichotomies. Most importantly, redefinitions of everyday words in order to show that all real virtues are, ultimately, just liberalism. Who woulda thaought, eh?

    Also, critiquing the Knibbs editorial, there is the point that language doesn’t work that way.  It is not valid to say “this is the root of the word centuries ago, this is its real meaning, its better meaning, its more educated meaning now.” Even if there’s an interesting book out there by another liberal who claims that civility is supposed to equal the larger category of civic virtue (because just look at the root word!), which means protesting against evil authorities for the good of The People, it still doesn’t work. Word derivations are interesting more than illuminating. See how the word silly, related to German salig, has changed over the centuries, for example. BTW, I wish Protestant preachers would learn that as well.  What the word meant in the KJV is not what it is really, really supposed to mean now. Nor what Noah Webster thought, either. Words change, and are an agreement in a speech community, not cast in stone.

    You can figure out what my current essay about True Civility would be from reading the first two links. You can even write it yourself, just for the fun of it.

    They can see the faults of conservatives clearly.  They cannot see even the simplest things about themselves.

    Update: Someone interesting weighed in on civility, in just this way. Even now, listen for the questions she is not being asked.

    Ann Althouse seems to agree with me.

    Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Politics | 4 Comments »

    Millennials

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 2nd July 2018 (All posts by )

    There is a 2015 article by Jeff Selingo just linked by David Foster below. Selingo is worried because college graduates don’t know how to shoe a horse tolerate an ambiguous situation anymore.  Maybe so, but Selingo is drawing largely from personal anecdotes plus a Stanford psychologist who hasn’t figured out the difference between correlation and causation (which means neither can Selingo), so I’m suspicious.  Also, Steven Johnson’s 2005 book Everything Bad Is Good For You says the opposite, that the computer teaches kids to try all sorts of things to get where they want to go, epitomised by the videogames that just drop you off in an environment with no clue what your objective is or what the rules are.

    Most likely, many Millennials are able to tolerate ambiguous situations, many are not, and many are in between. Is the trait more common now than it was? I don’t know of evidence either way, but everyone has an opinion about Millennials.

    I have a bias that generations are not that different from each other.  They each have their cabbages and kings. When we say “I have been teaching/coaching/hiring/supervising young people for forty years, and I think that Kids Today aren’t as ______ as they used to be,” there is a lot left out of that estimation.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Culture, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

    Introduction

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 2nd July 2018 (All posts by )

    I have been invited to post at Chicago Boyz, and have accepted. I have had my own blog, Assistant Village Idiot, for over a decade, with over 5,000 posts there. I will crosspost here a selection of my current posts there. Come over and hit the search box if you want to know what I think about something. I have been interested in too many topics in my life, forever finding new enthusiasms. I changed majors at William and Mary from math to medieval literature to theater, and had a minor in anthropology after the one in psychology blew up. I have started and bailed quickly at grad school in three fields. Lack of focus and discipline, clearly. My adult life has shown the same pattern. I posted heavily over the decade on Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton; colonial history; words and historical linguistics; statistics, bias, and reasoning; Judaism; Bible and theology from a POV that holds the conventional wisdom of the last two centuries as suspect. (Which you had already guessed after seeing Lewis and Chesterton listed.) I am an evangelical who dislikes a lot of evangelical culture.

    My overriding topic has been cultural commentary from as objective and non-immediate perspective as I can manage. Current events are a swamp of emotions, and nearly everyone gets them wrong at first. I see Americans as belonging to various tribes: Arts & Humanities, Science and Technology, Military, Government and Union, plus regional, ethnic, and religious groups. 90% of us used to belong to the God & Country tribe, but this is no longer so. Most of us are allied with more than one. I was very much raised in the Arts & Humanities tribe, which used to be politically mixed, but is now almost entirely liberal. I harshly dissected that tribe for years. I still read in the arts and humanities, but have largely rejected the tribe’s attitude, which means most of my extended family considers me a bit dangerous.

    I follow sports – commentary, history, and statistics – yet seldom watch a game or post on these. I am similarly fascinated by maps and geography, psychology and neurology, parenting and development, and HBD, and don’t post on those either. Why? Dunno, but I think it is because I don’t have anything new to add about, say, the Negro Leagues or new psychotropics that you can’t find elsewhere. I have a few older series I will link to here.

    Personal Information: Semi-retired psychiatric social worker at the state hospital of NH, mostly in acute care. 40 years there. I am husband of one, a retired children’s librarian, and father of five sons, age 22-39. The first two came in the usual way, were excellent students, and went to Asbury College. We were fanatic parents – no TV, hours of reading aloud, constant discussion with friends about best practices. One is married with two daughters and lives nearby, the second is the creative director at First Methodist in Houston. The second two came from Romania as teenagers, one now living in Nome with two daughters, currently visiting wife’s family in the Philippines; the other moved to Tromso, Norway after getting out of the USMC. The youngest is a nephew we took in at 13 when his parents…well, never mind. They eventually repaired relationships with him. He lives nearby, works for USPS, and is in the Army Reserve. From my overall experience, I now counsel young couples to have more children and pay less attention to them. They are going to be what they are going to be without you moving the dial much, and they are enormous fun when they are adults.

    I will put up a few too many posts over the next week, then back off.

    Posted in Blogging, Culture, Current Events, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

    Disruption – Scaling an Application

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 1st July 2018 (All posts by )

    Today in the NYT they had an article about an online dating app called “Raya”. This tool is designed to let exclusive rich / celebrity folks match rather than being mixed in with everyone else on Tinder.

    From my perspective, the interesting fact isn’t what the application is “about”, but how easy it is to build a scale a worldwide tool with all necessary functionality. From what I can gather in the article:

    • The entire company is run with only 13 people, including technical staff
    • The platform is exclusive to Apple iOS, and costs $7.99 / month (if you are accepted, which is rare), with additional up-charges
    • This world-wide, fully functional app was built with limited investment and seed funding
    • The app was built and launched quickly, in likely a year or so (based on the dates provided in the article)
    Let’s look at how modern platforms and capabilities have enabled this sort of rapid delivery, scaling and enabling of a business model.  In the past, building a business such as this would have been a large-scale project.  By building it on the Apple iOS platform, however, the developer is able to tap into a huge amount of existing infrastructure, including:
    • Apple basically provides distribution through the iPhone, operating system, and entire infrastructure of the App store which includes billing 
    • Increasing power of the phone itself (likely all these rich and famous folks are on the latest models) enables advanced features and fast responses, as well as a consistent experience for users
    • The platform and embedded capabilities allow for rapid builds and prototyping, upgrades and security
    It is astonishing that such a ubiquitous and enabling platform exists, with the ability to scale to an essentially infinite degree, with little (to no) up front investment.  This platform and environment facilitates rapid prototyping, the ability to grow quickly (if there is demand for your app), and provides an entire environment for notifications, customization, etc… that you can leverage.
    If someone would have told you ten years ago that you could
    • Build a piece of software that can reach customers around the world
    • Scale up at a rapid rate with little or no upfront investment
    • Have billing, notifications, user experience, etc…. mostly done for you “out of the box”
    You’d think that they were dreaming.  And yet it is here, today.
    What are the implications of this?  I think that a lot of the assumptions that we make about how strong incumbent positions are, how fast challengers can emerge, and how low the barriers to entry are for many markets are incorrect.  Since the key demographics are already all mobile (and the majority of the highest income US consumers are on iOS), you can jump quickly into Apple and evolve rapidly.
    Since many companies today make little or no profits and “value” is the stream of future cash flows (when presumably the company will be profitable and able to capture and hold market share and customer revenues), the fact that competitors can rapidly come into your space with little incremental investment should make long-term investors shudder.  
    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Tech | 9 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2018 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful post about walls and freedom:

    A city without walls was not a city. Anyone could march in and take over, give commands, and force the residents to obey. Without being able to defend yourself, you could not be counted among the free peoples. You were dependent on the good graces of someone else, be it a noble, a bishop, or hired soldiers. Walls meant the ability to defend your rights and liberties, to keep out unwanted people and protect what was good and valuable.

    Sultan Knish writes about Cybersecurity and Russia:

    “Why the hell are we standing down?”  That was the question that the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator was asked after Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, issued a stand down order on Russia.

    Tolerance for ambiguity as a key factor in career success:

    Too many recent graduates, however, approach their job descriptions the way they did a syllabus in college—as a recipe for winning in a career. They want concrete, well-defined tasks, as if they were preparing for an exam in college. “Excelling at any job is about doing the things you weren’t asked to do,” said Mary Egan, founder of Gathered Table, a Seattle-based start-up and former senior vice president for strategy and corporate development at Starbucks. “This generation is not as comfortable with figuring out what to do.”

    Information and Gossip:

    Now, it so happens that at no point in history, except during the postwar period, did people receive news without being conveyors of news. That nuclear family, where people — pop, mom, 2.2 kids, one dog — are watching TV, receiving information and not transmitting.

    Is loneliness fueling the rise of political polarization?

    Many individuals no longer have the communal and social connections they once had, such as religion, ethnic culture, and family. The only connection many have left is their political party, and that forms their identity. And because of the closeness this has to their identity, they become more tribal and defensive when that party is attacked.

    The lifecycles of large corporations

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, History, Human Behavior, Management, Politics | 15 Comments »