Repeal the Second Amendment

Gun advocates who bring up the acts of terrorism committed with cars or knives will see me covering my ears and humming. I will use noise to cover up their noise.

Assault weapons must be banned outright. Period. As they are here in Massachusetts.

The only way that meaningful firearm regulation will ever happen in the United States is if the NRA, and the even more extreme Gun Owners of America, see a real possibility of the Second Amendment being repealed. So that’s what I support.

The Queen of the Good Good-Byes

This is a fascinating bit of business management theology, and it’s something that I more or less arrived at myself, somewhere along the way in my 40 years of employment after graduating from college. Hard work by itself isn’t ultimately what matters, results matter. This was supposedly first articulated as a Silicon Valley mantra by Patty McCord, an early employee at Netflix, and it could only have arisen in this mostly post-union era of employment.

Compared to a “team” company, a “family” culture can result in a lot of “dead wood” employees. Something that operating as a team should do in merit-based organizations is to help prevent the “suck up” approach to being promoted, but there is always that, no matter what. I always sought to be useful at work, and I agree that someone whose primary skill is “looking busy” should be worried, but I think the Planet Money story misses some points.

The idea “only results matter,” which can alternatively be called “take no prisoners,” has been great for the Netflix back office, but it simply doesn’t apply to many, if not most, of the jobs in this world. It’s one thing to tell somebody to “move those boxes to the loading dock,” and it’s something else to say, “be brilliant and creative and original.” Hourly workers are paid for their time performing a certain set of duties, and not for their spectacular performance, although stand-out workers are probably more likely to be promoted. Technology companies can provide greater opportunities for work schedule flexibility, as well as being places where a superstar talent can shine. But after the DVD heyday, when the streaming revolution kicked in, the workers laid off from the huge Netflix distribution centers weren’t going to “move on to do great things.”

The Planet Money story points out that despite being results oriented, Netflix employees work crazy hours… even while having unlimited vacation? Which sort of puts the lie to the whole idea. It really could be more a case of success being thanks to the old standby of paying top dollar to get top talent, which Netflix does do, and that feeds into the corollary idea of acting like a professional sports team. I would hope that when a top performer is no longer needed and is let go, they get some stock or a huge bonus.

Somewhere in there, you’d think that by now, with Netflix so rich, there must be some staffers who are treated more like tenured professors. Something I saw myself where I worked were a select few employees who rarely seemed to actually be doing anything other than perhaps thinking. Or maybe not. They may not even have been in the office very much. But when they did come up with something it was of such significance the idle time was worth it. It’s up to management to spot talent and make sure it is placed in the right spots. Constant turnover is a given in entry-level service sector jobs, but it can wreak havoc in a professional business.

McCord speaks so breezily of the termination process at Netflix, and she admits to having personally let go of hundreds of employees. Yet McCord was uncomfortable discussing her own termination from the company by CEO Reed Hastings. There is irony in that. So maybe her own goodbye wasn’t so good?

Hastings is still heading Netflix, of course. Founding CEO’s are rarely forced out, and if they overstay their own usefulness that’s when a company starts to falter and, eventually, fail. For example, Ken Olsen was allowed to stay too long at the once giant, but now-defunct, Digital Equipment Corporation. In contrast, Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple Computer by the inept John Sculley — his only “success” — and Jobs returned to save the company from certain demise. So far, Hastings seems to be in no danger of being forced out.

Equifux

I pay Equifax $18/month to monitor my credit. If anyone tries to check my credit to get a credit card, or a car loan, or whatever, I’m supposed to be notified. That very system of protection has been hacked! That’s ironic enough, but Equifax never notified me or, presumably, any other customers of this security breach. Idiots! Imbeciles! Incompetent nincompoops! To add insult to injury, they’re now offering the same service that I pay for to everybody for free. I’m absolutely furious!

The Greatest War Movie Ever Made

In July I saw “Dunkirk” on the IMAX screen in Surprise, AZ, during a visit to see my ailing father, and to take care of the endless business matters on his behalf that are now my responsibility. Today I saw “Dunkirk” again, in Natick, MA, at what is probably the most impressive of all IMAX installations. It was just me, my son, and only a few other patrons. It was quite an experience.

I am a big fan of Leonard Maltin, who is one of the few “old guard” film critics that is still actively reviewing movies. I enjoy his occasional live videos on Facebook, and I wish that Maltin’s annual movie guide were still being published. Taken from that guide is this capsule review of the 1958 Dunkirk movie:

“Near-epic dramatization of the rescue by the Royal Navy and small civilian craft of 300,000 British soldiers trapped on the French beach of the title in 1940. One of the last films of the famed Ealing studios. Very realistic, with a fine cast and good direction.”

And this is a snippet of Maltin’s less-than-enthusiastic review of the new telling of the Dunkirk tale:

“I didn’t expect a conventional history lesson from Nolan, but given the enormity of the Dunkirk story I did anticipate at least an overview, not just a series of vignettes.”

I understand Leonard’s point, but now that I’ve seen “Dunkirk” for the second time, for me it’s far better than any star-studded epic war movie from any previous era. This film is truly a stunning accomplishment, creating a sense of visceral realism unlike just about anything else I have ever seen, superior to even “Saving Private Ryan”, which got away from Spielberg after the famous opening sequence, and would have been better served by having a less familiar face than Tom Hanks.

When I was a kid, in school they used to show installments of the old “You Are There” TV series, which I genuinely enjoyed watching, but the historical depictions were about as lively and convincing as a Disney animatronic display. Stepping away from the old-style war movie storytelling, that typically alternated between battlefield scenes and generals plotting their next move in strategy meetings, was the right thing to do in “Dunkirk”. Nolan, who made “Memento” way back in 2000, employs another mixed-up timeline, but a second viewing of the film validates this technique as being very effective, forcing viewers to concentrate and line up the sequence of events in the series of vignettes that disappointed Maltin.

By taking full advantage of the movie-making technologies that are available today, I suppose the case can be made that, at least in parts, this a war movie for the video game set, but even if that’s true it conveys a vivid sense of being there and living through the terrifying experience. By avoiding an obvious history lesson, “Dunkirk” should inspire viewers to look for an historical overview of the events. This film is a remarkable achievement, and given recent events I feel it is something that would-be neo-Nazis should see to get their bearings on who the good guys are… and who the bad guys are.

The Keynesian In Me

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, and sometimes I regret having not been able to pursue a Master’s degree, as my faculty advisor wanted me to do. Before graduation from college I had been offered a job as a radio announcer, and not only was that a childhood dream, I was broke and really needed to earn money. So that’s what I did instead of furthering my formal education.

The 1970’s were a particularly good time to learn about Economics, because of the gas crisis and the rise of so-called Stagflation — high inflation leading to high unemployment. My opinion is that OPEC squeezed the supply of petroleum when it saw the huge increase in demand caused by my generation coming of age. As one of my high school teachers put it, “There are so many of you! You’ll be competing with each other for everything all through your lives, from jobs to houses to cemetery plots.”

That was why some of my contemporaries did better by not going to college. They got an earlier start in life, and some of them — including a couple of guys I know — were already homeowners by the time I had finished earning my degree. It would be another ten years before I bought my first house. In Economics, deciding to go to college instead of working is called an Opportunity Cost. Today we have seen that, for many students, excessive debt has wiped out the potential financial benefit of attending college for at least ten years after graduation. For myself, as I headed towards 30 years old — along with millions of other peak period Boomers — starter homes skyrocketed past $100,000, even after Paul Volcker broke the back of Stagflation by raising the prime interest rate to an unprecedented 20.5%.

So, in hindsight, I think I did the right thing by not getting a Master’s degree, especially considering that I ended up settling on, and genuinely enjoying, a career in technology. But I have always liked reading about Economics, and I’m currently wading through a book I haven’t looked at in over 40 years, when it was itself 40 years old — “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” by John Maynard Keynes.

At the start of my studies in Economics I once had the privilege of meeting the prominent Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith. But by my last semester it was already obvious that the so-called Chicago School, under Milton Friedman, was taking over economic theory. One of the confounding papers by Friedman I read essentially argued that a single dollar means just as much to a rich man as a working man. I jokingly called it “The Uncle Scrooge Effect,” but as my faculty advisor correctly predicted, it would become the prevailing theory.

Why did this happen? A significant contributing factor was that Keynesian economics didn’t predict Stagflation, let alone have an answer for it. Which ignores the fact that no economic model predicted a breakdown of the Law of Supply and Demand. Nevertheless, Keynes fell into academic disfavor, and deregulation gained traction as the cure to what were seen as over-regulated markets. Conservative convert Reagan — who was, let’s remember, an actor and not an academic — was elected in 1980, and ever since then wealth has been moving to the top, and staying there.

Keynes’ ideas are clearly explained in this video with Terry Gilliam-style animation. The background on Classical Economics is particularly useful, because as Keynes stated at the outset of the General Theory, he assumed his readers were fellow economists, and his writing style can be tough going.

And for an opposing view, here are the ideas of Friedrich Hayek, which helped take us to the chaos of 2008, when the free-market Neo-Conservatives were forced to adopt a decidedly Keynesian approach of saving the failed credit markets. Bill Clinton — who is an academic — made a huge mistake of going along with Ayn Rand disciple Alan Greenspan, and gutting the Glass-Steagall Act. As with immunization, the fact that a safeguard has worked so well for such a long time doesn’t mean it’s no longer needed.

Pivot and Pose!

Last night the PBS News Hour had Utah senator Mike Lee avoiding the question of whether or not climate change is real. Instead, he argued that Trump was right to leave the Paris Agreement because the way Obama signed on was wrong.

And in other doings from the right, Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has begun the process of marrying off his daughter.

Which reminds me of the time when Scott Brown, our new ambassador to New Zealand and former senator from Massachusetts, posted this picture with the comment, “Just in case anybody is watching throughout the country, yes, they’re both available.”