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.

Worthwhile Reading

Academia Versus Civilization, at Quillette

A talk by Jensen Huang, founder & CEO of NVDIA, at Stanford.  Very, very good.  Related post and discussion.

Ruxandra Teslo notes that student protestors in the 1960s wanted less bureaucracy and more freedom…today, most of them seem to want less freedom and more bureaucracy.

It’s not the phones, says Marc Andreessen, referring to the psychological dysfunction that seems to afflict so many of today’s young people.  He’s responding to a post by Jash Dholani, who says “the young aren’t driving, f******, and drinking because high energy activity is fundamentally incompatible with modern ethics. If you’re always told to be harmless (but also guilty!) then your innate will to power withers. You vegetate. Man, the greatest animal, turned to plant.”

Elon Musk says:

Many movies exist about a lone inventor in a garage having a eureka moment, but almost none about manufacturing, so it’s underappreciated by the public. Compared to the insane pain of reaching high-volume, positive-margin production, prototypes are a piece of cake.

(Not many such movies,  but one that comes to mind is Valley of Decision, a 1945 film centered around family-owned steel mill in Pittsburgh.  I reviewed the movie, and the book on which it is based, here.  Also, there’s Executive Suite, a film from 1954 which involves executive succession at a furniture manufacturer…mentioned in a batch of reviews that I posted here)

In a comment at an earlier version of this post at Ricochet, Gary McVey noted that

“the eastern Europeans (in other words, the Communists, if not always the Soviets) were pretty good about trying to publicize the drama of start-up, the challenges of production. When we mock those days for films “about a couple falling in love at the tractor factory”, we are mocking something that, if you actually see the films, is in fact objectively a good thing. Some of them, by the Poles, Hungarians, and Czechs, were good. The best of them had little or nothing to do with Marxist theories, just the everyday achievements of construction, engineering, and metalwork that sated Western audiences found dull as dishwater.

A tractor factory’s a good thing to have, if you care to eat. There was nothing contemptible about making movies about it.”

Ashwin Varma argues that the usual narrative about WWII industrial production is defective, in that it does not give sufficient credit to the role of government.

The Department of Education embarked on a project to modernize and simplify the process for applying for student aid.  It is not going well.

The Biden administration is supporting the reopening of a nuclear plant in Michigan.  As Stephen Green says, it’s the right thing to do, but the Democrats doing it reeks of desperation.

gCaptain is a good source on the Baltimore bridge disaster and on all matters nautical.

In my post Visit to a Noteworthy Robot, I described a trip to a store equipped with Amazon’s no-check-out system.  Now, Amazon has decided to drop this system in most of the stores in which it is being used…problem is that too much human intervention (1000 people in India reviewing images that the AI can’t reliably interpret) to be cost-effective.

Cultural Theory of Mind and the consequences of not having it, especially the foreign-policy consequences.

Interesting chart: the ratio of commodity prices to the S&P 500.

An argument that the theft of national sovereignty at the Euro level was orchestrated entirely by legal elites – not political, much less economic, ones.

What kind of people tend to block (what they think are) sources of misinformation?

GE’s energy business has now been spun off as a separate corporation, GE Vernova.  They seem to be pretty well-positioned in nuclear; it will be interesting to see how much emphasis they put on this sector vis-a-vis their gas and wind businesses.

Speaking of nuclear, here’s a chart on the temperature ranges required for various industrial processes versus the temperature ranges available from various types of reactors.

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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Paging Dr Kennedy

According to The Times (London), Guy’s & St Thomas Hospital has cut patient wait times via some workflow process improvements…analogized to a Formula One pit stop.

Sounds pretty impressive.  I do wonder, though: are these results sustainable?  Or do they require a level of intensity that people can keep up for a certain period of time but not for the long run?

Link via Dr Anton Howes, who writes interestingly about the history of technology.

The Razors

Inspired, I’m sure, by Occam’s Razor, George Mack (at X) suggests a set of rules of thumb, which he collectively calls Razors.  A sampling:

Bragging Razor – If someone brags about their success or happiness, assume it’s half what they claim. If someone downplays their success or happiness, assume it’s double what they claim.

High Agency Razor – If unsure who to work with, pick the person that has the best chances of breaking you out of a 3rd world prison.

Luck Razor – If stuck with 2 equal options, pick the one that feels like it will produce the most luck later down the line. I used this razor to go for drinks with a stranger rather than watch Netflix. In hindsight, it was the highest ROI decision I’ve ever made.

Gell-Mann Razor – Assume every media article contains a % of false information. Sandbox the article from your worldview until you’ve: • Seen primary sources • Spoken to 3 domain experts.

Taleb’s Surgeon – If presented with two equal candidates for a role, pick the one with the least amount of charisma. The uncharismatic one has got there despite their lack of charisma. The charismatic one has got there with the aid of their charisma.

RTWT.  Re the High Agency Razor, I remember that Jeff Bezos said that one of his wife-selection criteria (the first time around) was her likely ability to get him out of a third-world prison.  (“a visualization for resourcefulness,” he explained).  Compare with the decision rule that Erich Maria Remarque said (I hope jokingly) that he applied in choosing between Paulette Goddard and Marlene Dietrich.

Re Taleb’s Surgeon, I think it’s a good general criterion, but its applicability really does depend on the specific job you’re hiring for.