Worthwhile Reading, Viewing, and Listening

The Cathedral of May

But here’s May Day in LA, as celebrated by the Los Angeles Teachers Union, along with other organizations

Cost of the student debt ‘cancellation’ is estimated at .9 trillion to 1.4 trillion.

In addition to paying for those student loans, get ready for much higher electric bills if Biden’s executive order is sustained.

Colorized 1890s videos of daily life in countries around the world

‘Woke’ hierarchy and an upper-class underclass

A former ‘woke’ woman.  And another one.

How much will the campus chaos hurt the Democrats?

Biden compared with Disraeli

Laxman Narasimhan, CEO of Starbucks:

The thing we didn’t do enough of is really attack the occasional customer with delivering and communicating value to them in a more aggressive manner,” said Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan. (speaking on the chain’s declining market share in the U.S.)

Pythia Capital says:

This sentence does not mean anything. One reason to read lots of transcripts is you find 95% of CEOs talk like this. They use jargon because they have not thought deeply about anything; they don’t know how to create value. People who cannot explain a complex subject simply usually do not understand that subject. When you stumble upon a management team that DOES know how to create value it is magical. 

I think 95% is too high an estimate, but blather like the above is depressingly common, and not only reflects a lack of thought but contributes to lack of coherent thought.  Even more than in business, the phenomenon especially common among politicians and among the followers of political ideologies.

Related: see The Costs of Formalism and Credentialism.

Book Review: The Business Novels of Cameron Hawley

I saw a reference to an author named Cameron Hawley, who wrote novels centered on business during the 1950s thru 1960s…sounded interesting, so I read one of them and went on to read two more. Here they are, in the order that I read them.

The Lincoln Lords. Mr Lincoln Lord has been a successful executive at several companies, but he seems to make a practice of changing jobs when the going gets tough.  He has amazing social skills and is viewed as a first-class speechmaker…however, he has often relied on his friend (sometimes his employee), Brick, to write those speeches.  Lincoln’s son has a closer relationship with Brick than with his dad…and Linc’s wife, Maggie, has begun to wonder if her husband’s skills are limited to being a good front man.  Brick has long had a thing for Maggie, and she has sometimes found herself very attracted to him.

When Linc loses his job just shy of age 50, the couple has to move out of their suite in Manhattan’s Waldorf Tower and are having difficulty paying their son’s private school tuition.  The executive recruiter that Linc is working with is not very positive about his chances, given his age and his record of job-switching. But Linc does receive a lifeline in the form of an offer to run a small canning business–‘a little Jewish cannery’, as some refer to it. He takes the offer, and the book portrays the problems of a big-company man running a not-so-big company.  The cannery, Coastal, is beset by many problems, the most serious of which is that their largest customer, Gellman Stores–which represented over half of their business–has dropped them as a customer.  Linc reflects that he has always been very effective at analyzing the alternatives presented to him and choosing the best one, but now things are different–he doesn’t just need to analyze the alternatives and select from among them, rather, he needs to develop these possibilities himself.  Can he succeed without the resources, name, and momentum of a large company behind him?

Here’s a recent review in a pwc publication.

Cash McCall.  The title character is a mysterious individual who has rented an entire floor of a prominent Philadelphia hotel (which he may or may not own) and flies himself around in a WWII B-26 which he has converted into an executive transport.  He describes himself as  ‘a dealer in secondhand companies’…he acquires them, fixes them, and then sells them.

Grant Austen has spent three decades building his modestly-successful plastics company. But, like the Coastal cannery in the first book discussed, he has allowed his business to become overly-dependent on a single customer–and that customer is demanding that he invest in a very expensive specialized press, with no guarantees at all about the volume they will purchase.  This problem, combined with his other frustrations (many of which have to do with the tax code and government controls), leads him toward a decision to sell his company.

Grant’s daughter, Lory, is an artist, specifically, an illustrator of children’s books. She had previously met Cash while on vacation, without knowing anything about who he was, and the two were very attracted to one another. The budding romance broke off in some confusion, partly because Cash felt he was too old for her and partly because Lori was afraid of the intensity of her own sexual desire–but the mutual attraction remains.  She is surprised and conflicted when she meets Cash again in the role of potential acquirer of her father’s company–in which she owns a 10% share.

In addition to being a significant shareholder, Lori often serves as her father’s confidant in discussing business issues. Which makes her mother unhappy, because she sees it as one more thing demonstrating the absence of closeness in her relationship with her husband.

Another complexity involves Andscott, the company which is Grant Austen’s company’s main customer (they’re buying cabinets for the television sets they manufacture).  Andscott is being run by a former USAF general; he was an excellent wartime leader but not so impressive as a civilian executive. The success or failure of Andscott is even more important than the success or failure of a typical company, because a very large block of stock is owned by a medical research foundation which is supporting vital research–and is entirely dependent on its Andscott dividends.

The book was made into a 1960 movie with James Garner as Cash McCall, Natalie Wood as Lory Austen, and Dean Jagger as her father Grant. I thought both the book and the movie were very good: the movie has a lighter tone than does the book and is almost–not quite–a comedy.

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Worthwhile Reading and Viewing

Allocation of IQ to thinking about relationships–different in men and women.  So argues this article, which is linked and discussed in a thread by Rob Henderson at Twitter.

The Great Untethering–school choice and remote work.

East of the Mississippi–19th century American landscape photography.

How Allied mass production drove the victory over the Axis powers. A YouTube documentary, which I haven’t seen yet but which looks promising.

What kinds of people are attracted to mass movements?  “(Eric) Hoffer emphasizes that creative people–those who experience creative flow–aren’t usually attracted to mass movements.”  (Twitter)  Makes sense, but is this really true?  Seems to me that there were quite a few creative scientists and artists who were strongly attracted to Communism, and I can think of at least one supposedly-creative philosopher who was strongly attracted to Naziism.

The Real Roaring Twenties Was… the 1720s.  So argues Anton Howes in this article.  His Twitter feed is here.

A 3D Reconstruction of the Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan.

Book Review: Father, Son, & Co, by Thomas Watson jr (rerun)

(Today marks the 59th anniversary of the announcement of the IBM System/360 series)

Buy the book:  Father, Son, & Co

When Tom Watson Jr was 10 years old, his father came home and proudly announced that he had changed the name of his company. The business that had been known as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company would now be known by the grand name International Business Machines.

That little outfit?” thought young Tom to himself, picturing the company’s rather random-seeming collection of products, which included time clocks, coffee grinders, and scales, and the “cigar-chomping guys” who sold them. This was in 1924.

This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr, his difficult relationship with his father, the company they built, and the emergence of the computing industry. It is an emotional, reflective, and self-critical book, without the kind of “here’s how brilliant I was” tone that afflicts too many executive autobiographies. With today being IBM’s 100th anniversary (counting from the incorporation of CTR), I thought it would be a good time to finally get this review finished and posted.

Watson’s relationship with his father was never an easy one. From an early age, he sensed a parental expectation that he would follow his father into IBM, despite both his parents assuring him that this was not the case and he could do whatever he wanted. This feeling that his life course was defined in advance, combined with fear that he would never be able to measure up to his increasingly-famous father, was likely a factor in the episodes of severe depression which afflicted him from 13 to 19. In college Watson was an indifferent student and something of a playboy. His most significant accomplishment during this period was learning to fly airplanes—-”I’d finally discovered something I was good at”–a skill that would have great influence on his future. His first job at IBM, as a trainee salesman, did little to boost his self-confidence or his sense of independence: he was aware that local IBM managers were handing him easy accounts, wanting to ensure success for the chief executive’s son. It was only when Watson joined the Army Air Force during WWII–he flew B-24s and was based in Russia, assisting General Follett Bradley in the organization of supply shipments to the Soviet Union–that he proved to himself that he could succeed without special treatment. As the war wound down, he set his sights on becoming an airline pilot–General Bradley expressed surprise, saying “Really? I always thought you’d go back and run the IBM company.” This expression of confidence, from a man he greatly respected, helped influence Watson to give IBM another try.

The products that Watson had been selling, as a junior salesman, were punched card systems. Although these were not computers in the modern sense of the word, they could be used to implement some pretty comprehensive information systems. Punched card systems were an important enabler of the increasing dominance of larger organizations in both business and government: the Social Security Act of 1935 was hugely beneficial to IBM both because of the systems they sold to the government directly and those sold to businesses needing to keep up with the required record-keeping.

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