Archive for October, 2011

 

Discrimination and Harassment

Monday, October 31st, 2011

So I thought I’d throw in my two cents regarding this Cain kerfuffle. No, I’m not going to link to it and generate hits for the idiots running this hit piece. But here’s the gist: Cain was accused by two women while he was head of the National Restaurant Association of sexual harassment. They agreed to leave and not file charges, after a 5-figure settlement was made to each of them. Buried at the end of the story is the fact that none of the executives who worked with Cain there, including female employees, believed that he was anything other than a gentleman.

There are two salient facts regarding this. The first is that the women were paid 5-figure sums, in other words somewhere between $10,000 and $99,999. Even at the high end of this range, it is a paltry sum for a legitimate complaint. The fact that the NAR paid these sums out indicates that they saw the complaints as a nuisance. Moreover, the board to whom Cain reports to was obviously aware of the accusations because they authorized the payments. And they also thought they were silly, as evidenced by the fact that they did not fire Cain.

Organizations exist to fulfill some stated objective. Businesses exist to turn a profit. Organizations like the NAR exist to advocate on behalf of its members. But in either case, both harassment and the suits that accompany it serve as a distraction from that goal. That is why an organization will typically try to settle any such suits, and if they believe the suit has merit, fire the perpetrator. Because they just want to get on with the business of fulfilling their purpose.

I witnessed something akin to what Cain experienced at a former employer of mine. All parties will remain nameless here, but the parallels are instructive. Company I worked at had three underperforming sales executives – they were not meeting their quota. The President travelled to their office to have a talk with them. The discussion got heated, and at one point the president said in response to something the sales executives said, “I ought to throw you out the window”. The sales executives were terminated. Some time later, they filed suit for age discrimination, saying they were fired for being old.

The case first went to mediation. In mediation the president was asked if he’d threatened bodily injury to the fired executives, whether or not he’d threatened to throw people through a plate glass window. The company decided to settle with the underperforming sales executives, rather than continue down this path, a path that would be a distraction from getting the business of the company done.

Had the president of the company I worked for actually been making physical threats against employees, had he actually been firing people due to their age, he would have been removed by the board. But it was so obviously a spurious attempt at revenge by three sales executives who were underperforming, that the board decided to pay them a figure and move on. It sounds to me like that is exactly what happened here.

It’s hard for me to imagine that anybody would take these accusations, as presented, seriously. At least, not unless they’re just attempting to smear Cain. Which is exactly what i think is going on here.

 
 

Little Miss Pouty Face

Friday, October 28th, 2011

from Instagram: http://instagr.am/p/RzDP5/
 
 

Ahead of All The Big Name Fish

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about the detrimental effects of fishing regulations on the fishing industry in Massachusetts. Now, Ira Stoll is on the case, as is Scott Brown, apparently. Good to see this issue getting more of the attention it deserves.

 
 

Hidden

Monday, October 24th, 2011

I took the last post offline. I’ll put it back up later, when it no longer shows up on the home page.

 
 

Loosey Lew Loo

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

So my oftentime muse pointed me to the following article today:

An actress has sued Amazon.com for more than $1m (£639,000) after her age was posted on its Internet Movie Database.

The unnamed actress says the website misused her legal date of birth after she signed up to the IMDbPro service in 2008.

She says revealing her age on the site will lose her acting opportunities.[...]

The actress – referred to in court documents by the placeholder name Jane Doe – lives in Texas, is of Asian descent and has an Americanised stage name.

My muse speculated that the actress in question was Lucy Liu. I suppose that’s a reasonable supposition. I asked him if I had ever told him my thoughts on Lucy Liu. He said I had not. So I shared them with him, and now I share them with you.

So, I always imagined that Lucy Liu had a porn double, a frumpy, dumpy British woman who would go by the stage name “Loosey Loo”. In British parlance, the “Loo” is a synonym for a toilet. Loosey Loo would engage in scatological porn, specializing in excreting loose poos onto her beta male British partners. She would have a horrendous cockney accent as well.

So I endeavored to find the right picture of Loosey Loo on the Internet. This was the best I could come up with (pic #2), but my muse found this news article, the subject of which makes for a much better fit.

I hope you all think differently of Lucy Liu from now on. Hopefully, I’ve opened your eyes to some alternate possibilities.

Postscript: Incidentally, when Googling around for “fat drunk British chicks”, I kept bumping into variants of this article, which read, “Are British women fat and unkempt? This American man says so …” I found that to be a strange characterization. It has always been my perception that British women veer towards the extremes of weight, both towards elephantine obesity and towards Biafran skeletal thinness. From Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright on the one hand, to Princess Diana and Kate Whatshername on the other. To illustrate my understanding of weight distribution amongst British women, I have made the following handy graph:

I hope that clears things up a bit.

UPDATE: I have since been informed that the spelling is “Loo” and not “Lew”. The body of teh entry has been corrected to reflect this understanding.

 
 

2

Monday, October 17th, 2011

 
 

Occupation

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

It all seems pretty simple and straightforward to me:

Both the left and right in this country are fed up with crony capitalism. This much the Occupiers and Tea Partiers have in common.

When the Tea Partiers see crony capitalism, they see a problem with the cronyism, not the capitalism. They see a government that reaches so far into everyone’s lives that everyone has an interest in getting the rules bent in their favor, the end result being privatized gains and socialized losses for the largest and most influential of them. The solution for the Tea Partiers is to cut back on the cronyism by restricting the role of government in our lives, thus removing the incentive to bend rules in favor of certain parties over others, thus ending the socialization of losses.

When the Occupiers see crony capitalism, they see a problem with the capitalism, not the cronyism. They see a profit motive that corrupts the edicts of philosopher kings. They believe that were it not for the influence of profiteers, said philosopher kings would be free to reign equitably for all on behalf of the people. For them, then, it is not the socialized losses that represent the problem, but rather the privatized profits. Eliminate those profits, or at least those for everyone but food trucks and medical marijuana dispensaries, and the government can function properly, ensuring to each according to his need.

Our hybrid government is heading for a crash. The question remains, will we choose right, left, or a bifurcation?

 
 

A Tale Of Two Steves

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Bear with me if this rambles a bit. I have a lot of thoughts I want to get out there.

So there’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth out there regarding Steve Jobs. Who was he, and what was it that made him remarkable? There are a lot of people opining on Steve’s time at Apple, both his first stint and his later stint. And there are a lot of people saying things like, “He was not a just a leader in the computing world, he was a leader twice” or “He was not only a leader in the computing world, but also in the music world.” And yeah, all of these things are true. But they don’t, I think, get at the nature of what is remarkable about Steve Jobs.

It’s not that Steve Jobs had a comeback. he wasn’t the first comeback kid nor will he be the last. And it’s not that he lead a company to build both computers and music devices. It’s that he succeeded in making the absolute best products in two completely different and unrelated industries, computers and movies. Yes, I’m talking about Pixar. He managed to do, in effect in his spare time, what most people who live and breathe the movie business never manage to come close to. And if you don’t think that the movie industry seethes with envy over what Jobs created with Pixar, think again1.

Jobs bought from George Lucas a small graphics computing company that Lucas had to sell to pay for a divorce settlement, and turned it into the greatest movie making studio in the world. Every film made by Pixar exudes not only quality animation, but great life lessons and morality presented in a way as to never be overbearing or obnoxious. It’s so rare to find movies even worth watching, let alone with positive life lessons in them. Most movies that make any attempt at having a moral wind up getting the morality wrong, in addition to screwing up the movie making. Pixar’s movies move the culture forward, and will be watched by generations to come. Years from now, when long after the last products to have Steve Jobs input on them have left the gate at Apple, those movies from Pixar will still be watched, and will have a positive impact on young impressionable minds, keeping the culture moving in the right direction. It is, I believe, Jobs’ true long term legacy, and one that will have a much greater effect on history than all of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s giving combined.

But what makes it remarkable is that electronics and movies are truly different industries. Yes, he made computer animated movies, but there was no guarantee he would be successful at it. The safer choice would have been to sell computer animation tools into the film industry. But he didn’t do that. It is that fact that he succeeded to spectacularly in such different industries that makes the mind wonder “what if.” What if Steve Jobs had been given the helm of General Motors? What if Steve Jobs had decided to revolutionize fast food instead of film? What if Steve Jobs turned his attention to casinos?

Actually, that last question has been answered. A similar type of man, with a similar eye for beauty and amazing business acumen, a man also named Steve, Steve Wynn, did just that. Steve Wynn understood that people wanted escapism on their vacation experience, and that dingy dirty casinos weren’t going to fit the bill. So he started building beautiful casinos, they over time grew more and more themed. His competitors copied him, building themed casinos of their own. And when his stock price took a dip, his company was bought and he was sent packing. Only to eventually roar back with a new casino of his, this one unthemed. Again, his actions spawned his competition to imitate him, building new unthemed casinos, and even de-theming the existing themed casinos (a dreadful mistake). Steve Wynn is also a man beset by tragedy; a man who devoted his life to producing magnificent pieces of architecture is going blind. It is reminiscent of Beethoven going deaf. It is difficult to admire Wynn’s work without also feeling a stab of pain knowing that this is his fate.

And yet, I dare say, not even Steve Wynn’s most ardent fans will be mourning his loss when he passes the way that we mourn Steve Jobs’ loss today. And why is that? I think it’s because the tasks which Jobs set himself to, computing and movie making, serve an important and positive role in all of our lives in a way that gambling, to put it mildly, does not. But even compared to things other than gambling, computers were the biggest invention and societal revolution in my lifetime, and certainly make us all more productive. And movies move the culture in ways that few other media do. Jobs work stands out as a beacon of hope in an ocean of shit.

And yes, we all mourn because his life was cut short. But we also marvel by how remarkable that it happened at all. For those who don’t know, Steve Jobs was born to an American mother by way of an Arabic immigrant father. He was given up for adoption because Steve’s mother didn’t approve of her marrying an Arab. The couple first in line to receive a baby put up for adoption were apparently lawyers, and turned him down, because they wanted a girl. Paul and Clara Jobs were next in line, and only got to adopt him by promising to Steve’s birth mother that they would make sure he entered college, even though neither of them had gone, and Paul jobs had been a high school dropout.

Paul and Clara Jobs by all accounts let Steve be who he was, and didn’t put undue expectations on him as to who he should be. Growing up, Paul Jobs sat young steve down at his workbench, and showed him how machines worked, taking them apart and putting them back together again. Steve Jobs’ parents tried to send him to college, but Steve quit, believing it was a waste of their money. And by all accounts, his parents were ok with that, and let him be who he was and pursue what he needed to pursue. I hate to ask what would have happened had he been adopted by parents who weren’t interested in adopting a child but insisted on adopting a girl. Would he have wound up being pushed by such parents into going to law school, into meeting expectations that made him deeply unhappy? It’s easy to say “Oh, he would have been a partner at some law firm” but would he have really? It’s more likely he would have shuffled around, being miserable attempting to meet his parents expectations, not being really good at what his parents set out for him to do. Or he would have had to rebel and abandon his family in order to pursue his own happiness, a path that involves rejecting or at a minimum fighting with family, a path in which one can never truly be happy.

I was listening to this EconTalk podcast in which they were discussing microloans in the third world. The central question of the podcast was, “Why is it that people in third world countries, tribal village life, are perfectly capable of paying back loans to the bank, but utterly incapable of saving on their own?” It’s a good question, since both acts are so similar. Why would it be preferable to pay interest on a loan when you could save? The answer turns out to be: familial and societal obligations. When you save money, family and friends mooch off you, and threaten to cut you off from society when you won’t help out those around you who don’t save for themselves. But when you owe money to the bank, everyone understands that that is an obligation that has to come first, so they leave you alone to pay back the loan.

I think something similar happens in the modern first world, not with regard to money so much but with regard to career and lifestyle choices. People pursue career choices because they have to make their parents proud, or because their parents sacrificed to give them a college education. I’ve heard it said by middle class or upper middle class people, that they may have been interested in pursuing a career in the culinary arts, but that their families would freak out should they do such a thing; that being a chef is not the kind of career choice one makes after attending college. There are, I believe, a host of familial obligations that parents hoist on the shoulders of their children, and not for the good of the child. it is for this reason, I believe, that we see a disproportionate number of billionaire entrepreneurs who are immigrants; they left all those obligations, time sucks, and expectations behind in their former homelands, and were thus free to pursue what they needed to here to be successful. Through a series of weird and unlikely circumstances, Steve Jobs got that opportunity handed to him by his parents Steve and Clara Jobs. We should all count ourselves lucky that he was, and we should all strive to be such good parents ourselves.

So I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to have lived in the era of Steve Jobs.

Rest in peace, Steve. You’ll be long missed, but never forgotten.

POSTSCRIPT: I had to say something about Eric Raymond’s asinine commentary about the death of Steve Jobs. I take no issue with taking issue with Jobs’ design choices or his decisions regarding what parts of Apple’s product architecture should be open or not. Frankly, I too take issue with some of his choices. But to say, “The velvet glove over Jobs’s iron fist was thinner that second time around; like most people who attract a cult following, he became increasingly convinced of his own infallibility. It was an error that eventually killed him; the kind of pancreatic cancer he had was essentially curable with early surgical intervention, but Jobs insisted on treating it with “alternative medicine” that didn’t work.” is to effect piss on Jobs’ grave, to say “he deserved to die”. Raymond doesn’t know that that is what eventually killed Jobs. The link he presents as evidence even says, “We can’t say for sure that Steve would still be alive and making lives better were it not for the alternative therapy”. No sir, you cannot. I too think Jobs was nuts (to put it mildly) not getting the surgery right away. But we don’t know what would have happened had he gotten his surgery earlier, and we certainly don’t know enough to say that his delay did him in. In the context of his blog post, Raymond’s comments make it look like he thinks Jobs deserved to die when he did. If there was any previous doubt that Eric Raymond was an ass, let those doubts now be dispelled.

1. The Lucasfilm website used to devote a section to Pixar that made it look as if George Lucas was responsible for the success that Pixar had, if one didn’t already know better. The website has since been redone and the section removed, and alas, I could not find it in the wayback machine.

 
 

RIP Steve Jobs

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Steve Jobs is dead. He was 56 years old when he died. I think about this because he got married at the same age I did, 35. He had 3 kids by way of his marriage, and he undoubtedly has teenaged kids at home. That, by my sense, is the saddest part of all.

He was one of the greats. He will be sorely missed.

:’(