This isn’t content for everybody but watching Cornel West and Peter Thiel in convo is appealing to me.
Had a class with Professor Unger and what I most remember is him describing an infantilization he was perceiving among young people. Perhaps old people always think that the next crop of young people is infantile.
Definite crossover with movie/TV pitching:
One of the most important things to understand is that, like all people, VCs are different people at different times of day. It helps to pitch as early as possible in the day. This is not a throwaway point. Disregard it at your peril. A study of judges in Israel doing parole hearings showed prisoners had a two-thirds chance of getting parole if their hearing was early in the day. Those odds decreased with time. There was a brief uptick after lunch—presumably because the judges were happily rested. By the end of the day people had virtually no chance of being paroled. Like everyone, VCs make poorer decisions as they get tired. Come afternoon, all they want to do is go home. It does indeed suck to have to wake up early to go pitch. But that is what you must do. Insist that you get on the calendar early.
A related point: It’s also important not to provide too much choice. Contrary to the standard microeconomics literature which extols the virtues of choice, empirical studies show people are actually made unhappy by a lot of choice. Too many choices makes for Costco Syndrome and mental encumbrance. By the end of the day, the VCs have had a lot of choices. So in addition to getting to them early in the day (before they’ve had to make a lot of choices), you should keep your proposition simple. When you make your ask, don’t give them tons of different financing options or packages or other attempts at optimization. That will burden them with a cognitive load that will make them unhappy. Keep it simple.
Peter Thiel cites the fact that the Empire State Building was built in 15 months as a sign that maybe our society has stagnated. Can we build things any more? Why not?
I’ve wondered if part of the answer was the political power of Al Smith, who was appointed head of Empire State Inc, and various other elements of the former Tammany/Democratic machine that controlled New York City at the time. An argument for the efficiency of political machines?
But what if the answer was: fairness?
The Empire State Building was constructed in just 13* months, and that included the dismantling of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel that sat on the site. Paul Starrett, the builder, treated his workers rather well by the standards of the time, paying much attention to safety and paying employees on days when it was too windy to work. Daily wages were more than double the usual rate and hot meals were provided on site.
The concept is known as “efficiency wages”. Companies that compensate workers well and treat them fairly can attract better, more motivated staff. Unlike most construction projects, the Empire State Building had low staff turnover, and workers suggested productivity improvements such as building a miniature railway line to bring bricks to the site.
That’s Bartleby in the Dec 12, 2020 Economist, reviewing a book called The Art of Fairness, by David Bodanis. Starrett was not “naively generous,” the article also notes. He checked worker attendance four times a day.
I’d kind of resolved to stop reading these books that are just collections of neat anecdotes under some big umbrella, but maybe I’ll make an exception here. Another example cited: Danny Boyle used thousands of volunteers for the 2012 London Olympic Ceremonies, but he also had to keep details of the show secret:
The conventional approach would have been to make the volunteers sign a non-disclosure agreement. Instead, he asked them to keep the surprise – and trusted them to do so. They did, thanks to the grown up way he treated them.
Also in this week’s Economist, Buttonwood reports on a study in India:
The study’s main finding is that retail investors who were randomly allocated shares in successful IPOS view their good fortune as evidence of skill.
* note the revision to Thiel’s figure
Hayes D. is back with a look at some legendary ballot cranks of California history:
I took a sick pleasure in writing about Measure S and Michael Weinstein the other day. Thanks to Steve for asking me to do that.
While I was at it, I dug into some of the other rich, angry men who took advantage of the California ballot system: guys like Weinstein who spent a ton of money and made pretty extreme changes to the law without ever actually being elected to office.
Here are two!
Jarvis was a millionaire from LA who got rich making airplane parts and garbage disposals and other stuff. Your classic 1950’s generic “businessman.” What separated him from his peers was how much he hated taxes.
So after he retired in 1962, he ran for office a few times on an anti-tax platform. Lost every time. Then he discovered the ballot initiative route, and in 1979 he wrote up Proposition 13: a rule that the property tax could only be about 1% of the appraised value of the property, and it couldn’t go up unless the property was sold.
With the help of the base he built from his other campaigns, he and his wife gathered 1.5 million signatures to get it on the ballot. Then Jarvis went on a barnstorming tour of California and riled everybody up so good that the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote.
“When I have three, four, five thousand people, I really pour it on,” he said in his gravelly voice. “Like a goddamn Baptist preacher. I tell ’em how government is clobbering them. I rev ’em up. I talk about basic human rights.”Jarvis was quick to admit that playing on the public’s fears was one of the trump cards that made Proposition 13 a big winner.
When he got excited, Jarvis would puff harder on his pipe, and this created a lot of excess “tobacco juice.” During one unfriendly interview with a reporter, Jarvis got agitated and started puffing hard. At one point, sitting behind his big, false desk with no drawers, Jarvis leaned forward and spit some of the excess tobacco juice into a waste can. Jerry Carroll, on the other side of the desk without benefit of a full view, wrote in a 1994 San Francisco Chronicle story that at one point in an interview Jarvis, “jerked opened a drawer in his desk, spit into it and slammed it shut.”
FARYON: Well let’s go back to prior 1978, back in the day when schools needed money. More money to hire students, to pay for classrooms, supplies, and so on. They basically looked to the local taxpayer for money in the form of property taxes. And in fact, they set their budgets, went to the county assessor, the property tax rate was set, and then they collected enough money. As much money as they needed. After 1978, what happened was we couldn’t do that anymore. It was a statewide cap. One percent – that’s all the money that you got. So as a result, before 1978, before Prop 13, statewide the schools had a $9 billion budget. After Prop 13 they lost $3 billion – a third of that – overnight.
Here’s a look at California’s per-pupil spending for the past four decades in comparison to other states. The last time California was at the top of the heap was 1965, when it ranked 5th. In 1978 – the year Prop 13 passed –California was 14th out of 50. The next year, the state fell to 22nd place. In 1988, California fell below the national average for the first time and never recovered. The state now ranks 43rd.
When Ron Unz’s mother, a politically active left-wing schoolteacher from Los Angeles, was in her mid-20s, she met an older professor from the Midwest on a flight to Israel. He seemed odd, eccentric even, but clearly brilliant, too, and Esther-Laio Avrutin decided, after he‘d visited her several times when she’d returned to L.A., that she would a have a child with him. When Esther-Laio wrote to her lover to let him know about her pregnancy, the letter was opened by the professor‘s wife — the existence of this wife came as startling news to Esther-Laio — and that ended any possibility that, her sister says, they would be married.
The results show that while students in English immersion programs perform better in the short term, over the long term students in classrooms taught in two languages not only catch up to their English immersion counterparts, but they eventually surpass them, both academically and linguistically.
So: no, not really. Forcing kids who didn’t speak English to be taught exclusively in English was, it turned out, not a great idea.
Here are some takes and items for your Sunday enjoyment!
The coach on Netflix doc series Last Chance U:
The most compelling, complex character on “TV” right now
In an old folder of articles I found this one, about Peter Thiel’s Zero To One
Thiel and his ideas are interesting to me. I’m open to the Vali/OwenE take that he might just be a kinda smart guy who got lucky and thinks he’s a genius. He definitely should not be on the Supreme Court.
I loved Zero To One, but Thiel’s support for Trump makes him seem like a much darker and more troubling figure than I felt he was when I was reading it.
Two interesting points in the article that had new meaning in light of Thiel being a Trump guy:
Is that something like what Trump did (old grouchy white men? white American nationalists? you’d think they’d be served by a lot of political competitors but maybe there was a hole in the market)? What about this?:
Unfortunately, Trump is good at sales and Hillary Clinton is kind of bad at sales.
Sometimes this campaign we get a reminder of how good at sales Bill Clinton is. Here is Bill talking about the Clinton Foundation. This clip is used by GOP and conservative sites as I guess kind of scummy because Clinton compares himself to Robin Hood:
Maybe comparing yourself to Robin Hood is a little much, but when I hear Bill explain the Clinton Foundation as asking for money from people who have a lot of it and giving it to people who don’t have any, it makes it sound a lot better.
Does anyone effectively refute the claim that almost 10 million more people in more than 70 countries have access to life-saving medicines through the Clinton Health Access Initiative?
Silence Of The Lambs
Not topical or relevant at all but for forever I’ve had in my phone a bunch of screenshots of this movie, one of the most gripping movies ever. Saw it on TV some months ago and was struck by how much of it is just a closeup of a person’s face. How unsettling/compelling!
This jumped out at me
In a not otherwise “sexy” article about English literary critic William Empson’s book The Face Of The Buddha:
Enjoyed the caption on this one, from National Geographic’s Instagram:
Thomas Frank, profiled in the Politico 50 list:
Frank went to University of Kansas, University of Virginia, and University of Chicago. Can he be trusted?
Doing some reading about AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified animal
A growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon, with a promoter from an ocean pout, was added to the Atlantic salmon’s 40,000 genes. This gene enables it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.
Asked Anonymous Investor to take a look at the financials of the AquaBounty company.
I haven’t looked into the science, but if their salmon is all that they claim, AquaBounty should have a big pricing advantage. Because their fish grow so much faster than a normal salmon, they should be much cheaper to produce, and sell — undercutting their competitors.
This reminds of the tiny speculative biotech companies I invest in. There’s no money coming in, only money being burned. But you’re hoping someday for a big FDA approval that will open sluices of torrential cash. In this case, the FDA approval has come But the primary problem (they have a few) is that major buyers like Kroger and Target vowed not to carry the product. My guess is the company will eventually make inroads, just as Monsanto, Syngenta, etc, have in the past. But it might take a long time. Big money usually wins in the end. And the hippies, as always, will go whining back to their yurts.
AquaBounty is selling for around 64 million dollars. Not a bad price for a what looks like a pretty decent lottery ticket.
Not sure why AquaBounty only trades in London. The volume is extremely thin. This is a stock not on many people’s radar.
I do know that AquaBounty is controlled by Intrexon (the same company trying to battle Zika via their patented breed of mosquitos). They own over 50% of AquaBounty. Intrexon trades here under the ticker XON. It’s a 3 billion dollar company. (A year ago it was worth more than 6 billion). Intrexon does a lot of interesting Monsanto-type things, and the stock is sort of a darling of Wall Street. But lately doubt has crept into the story. Intrexon has been slow in providing evidence for many of it’s scientific claims. The company says they don’t want to divulge their trade secrets by releasing too much data. Skeptics speculate that they’re not disclosing much, because, they believe, much of the science probably doesn’t work.
Interesting. Here’s what Intrexon (NYSE: XON) has been up to:
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the birth of these adorable kittens,” noted Blake Russell, President of ViaGen Pets. “As the largest global provider of genetic preservation services for companion animals, we look forward to expanding the life-enriching connections that people form with their pets. Our goal is to bring this opportunity to all pet owners and their families.”
Sure. Anonymous Investor adds:
In the salmon world, AquAdvantage salmon are considered “ugly”. In a test 95% of salmon chose to mate with wild salmon over AquaBounty salmon.
American Dad co-showrunner Brian Boyle has a very fine set of glasses with the AD characters on them.
One fan’s opinion? the show should do more with Reginald.
The Flemish Giant
Somebody at work mentioned that the biggest kind of rabbit is called a Flemish giant.
Well worth the image search.
A good, clear discussion of an often misunderstood issue from this classic
On the subject of Boston:
In Australia this kind of coconut frosted cake is known as Boston bun. Everyone was baffled when I told them I’d never heard of it.
A Boston bun is a large spiced bun with a thick layer of coconut icing, prevalent in Australia and New Zealand. Traditionally the bun contained sieved potato, and modern versions sometimes contain raisins. It is often served sliced, to accompany a cup of tea. The origin of the name is unknown.
In New Zealand they’re often called a Sally Lunn, especially in the North Island
from good times in Australia. A bizarro version of the United States, upside down and weirdly (to a USA observer) developed in all kinds of ways. For instance, Australia people talk about “the deep north” as like a joke on the way we talk about the “deep south.”
Important to remember that on the other side of the equator, you have to flip countries upside down to think about them. Their south is our north. If you think about that pointy part of Queensland as Florida, the Northern Territory as Texas, Tasmania as Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, Melbourne as Boston and Sydney as New York, you’re still way off but getting somewhere.
Huge thanks to the many people of New Zealand and Australia who helped me out. Puts me in mind of this week’s scripture, Matthew 25:35.
Bummed to miss
Had to come back to the USA before the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, so I missed Lionel Shriver of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame apparently light it up with a wild speech about cultural appropriation (attacking what seems to me to be a ridiculous straw man?)
I can’t find a photo of her wearing a sombrero, as she is alleged to have done. Did she really refer to herself as a “renowned iconoclast”?
Which Australian state library is the best?
I enjoy Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria so much:
I mean how can you not admire that they have Ned Kelly’s armor on display?:
Some great illustrations on Ned’s wiki page:
Let’s take a virtual look at Australia’s other state libraries:
Would a better state library be a step towards helping Tasmania’s insane illiteracy rate?
New South Wales:
Impressive. Classic if slightly dull exterior, solid interior, I rate it a 9 (out of 11).
A big swing on the exterior, the interior kind of interesting but also kind of a like a weird mall. I’ll give it a 7.
No independent library building, it’s housed in the Parliament House which is kind of cool. DNQ for the rating system.
Trash exterior, interior so weird as to be kind of interesting. 8.
The old version, once housed in Hackett Hall, appears to have been pretty cool:
Aw yeah! 11/11.
Australia/New Zealand publishing is so good at short books. I read a bunch of short books while traveling.
This one began as speech Flanagan gave, focusing on his disgust for the abuses, catastrophes, and inhumanity at Australia’s offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, but also about a general disappointment in political and cultural life:
Conformists par excellence, capable of only agreeing with power however or wherever it manifests itself, they are the ones least capable of dealing with the many new challenges we face precisely because those challenges demand the very qualities the new class lacks: courage, independence of thought and a belief in something larger than its own future.
The new class, understanding only self-interest, believing only in the possibilities of its own cynicism, committed to nothing more than its own perpetuation, seeks to ride the tiger by agreeing with all the tiger’s desires, believing it and not the tiger will endure, until the tiger decides it’s time to feed, as the mining corporations did with Kevin Rudd, as News Limited is now with Julia Gillard.
He goes on about the alternative:
If I may make a crude summary Flanagan’s argument could be he wishes Australia remembered Matthew 25:35 a little more.
Flanagan and I once shared a publisher, and I’m told his books are masterpieces, especially Narrow Road To The Deep North.
Also good, and more lighthearted if at times equally scorching:
Here’s a taste, where Pieper is digressing about a dog he adopted:
Took a page out of Vali’s book and wrote Mr. Pieper a short and simple fan letter complimenting him on his book. He wrote a gracious note back. Gotta do this more often.
I can’t write to the great New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield because she’s dead:
If I could, I would compliment her on “The Garden Party.” This story starts out so boring and stodgy and Victorian I really thought I was in for it. But it pays off. Spoiler alert this is the last page:
What life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood.
‘Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie.
This scene, on Brisbane’s Southbank, really reminded me of this one, in Paris a hundredsome years ago:
Impressed by this massive painting at the Milani Gallery in Brisbane by Australian indigenous artist Richard Bell.
(The price in Australian dollars is 55,000.)
Bell caused controversy in April 2011 after revealing that he selected the winner of the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize through the toss of a coin.
This post is in response to my East Coast buddy Monkeytrial, who says:
We haven’t been to the moon in 42 years, and the richest 1 percent of humans own half the world’s assets.
I’d like to read a discussion of the psychological implications of growing up in a time of dramatic technological progress (my parents’ generation) versus consumer-focused incrementalism (my own). If any of my zero readers know and could link, much appreciated.
Hmm! Let’s think about the idea that technological progress has slowed from a rapid rate 1940-1970 to a stagnation now.
Is this true?
What does it mean?
I don’t have exactly what Monkeytrial is looking for. But through the glory of the Internet, we can converse via blog.
Some uncooked ideas inspired by him. First, a rec:
Check out Peter Thiel.
If not exactly this, he is obsessed with similar problems. He talks about ’em in his book which I recommend, thought-provoking to the max. Dude is thinking interesting thoughts at a rapid rate:
Even more on Monkeytrial’s theme is this essay, from National Review (I know, I know):
When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration: We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds — from ever-faster sailing ships in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the advent of ever-faster railroads in the 19th century, and ever-faster cars and airplanes in the 20th century — reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde in 2003, to say nothing of the nightmarish delays caused by strikingly low-tech post-9/11 airport-security systems. Today’s advocates of space jets, lunar vacations, and the manned exploration of the solar system appear to hail from another planet. A faded 1964 Popular Science cover story — “Who’ll Fly You at 2,000 m.p.h.?” — barely recalls the dreams of a bygone age.
Another roundup of Thiel pessimism. This one seems to really nag at him:
The Empire State Building was built in 15 months in 1932. It’s taken 12 years and counting to rebuild the World Trade Center.
(Well, was that an engineering problem, or a political one? I don’t know a ton about New York City politics in the ’30s, but from what I understand, between former governor Al Smith as president of Empire State Inc., FDR as governor, Jimmy Walker as mayor, and James Farley supplying the building materials there was more or less a semi-benevolent mafia running the city.)
Maybe: we work in levels, like an orbiting electron?
Like, maybe we humans make big jumps, and then plateau for awhile? Nothing happened in Europe between 5oo and 1300 AD (let’s say) and then there was the Renaissance. Maybe what DFW’s characters speculate about tennis applies?:
“‘He’s talking about developing the concept of tennis mastery,’ Chu tells the other three. They’re on the floor indian-style, Wayne standing with his back against the door, rotating his head to stretch the neck. ‘His point is that progress towards genuine Show-caliber mastery is slow, frustrating. Humbling. A question of less talent than temperament.’
‘Is this right Mr. Wayne?’
Chu says ‘…that because you proceed toward mastery through a series of plateaus, so there’s like radical improvement up to a certain plateau and then what looks like a stall, on the plateau, with the only way to get off one of the plateaus and climb up to the next one up ahead is with a whole lot of frustrating mindless repetitive practice and patience and hanging in there.’
‘Plateaux,’ Wayne says, looking at the celing and pushing the back of his head isometrically against the door. ‘With an X. Plateaux.’
Maybe: we got scared by the speed of what we were doing.
This caused us to pull back on investment/energy in areas like nuclear engineering where there may have been big if scary advances to make?
Maybe: we were really just plucking low hanging fruit.
The Tyler Cowen theory, that there was a lot of low-hanging economic fruit, esp. in the resource rich United States, and we ate it all up and now it’s gone.
Maybe: globalization happened in one big boom.
Like, it was a closer to a one-time event than an enduring process, and it already happened, between say 1960 and 1989, as China opened, containerization blasted international shipping forward. The revolution is over, we already got the major results in the form of Wal-Mart and so on, now it’s just a matter of economic water shifting across the world until all the glasses (countries) are level, and that’s gonna look like reverse progress from here in the US.
Maybe: it only looks bad here in the US.
Sure, it seems like technological progress has stalled out since 1970~ here in the US, but it sure as hell doesn’t look like that in China, India, dunno parts of Africa, where changes from 1970-now are as rapid as 1945-1970 in the US?
Maybe: tech “progress” isn’t necessarily good.
Maybe the jarring nature of it, the disorienting and alienating effects, level out the material gains? Maybe we’re feeling some kind of technological hangover and we’re all kinda cooling it?
What about social/cultural progress?
Food. I’m eating better every year. The food a person in Los Angeles or New York can access is insanely better than it was in 1970 in terms of variety and quality. Here’s literally the first pic I found when I googled “Food 1970:”
Sex. Sexual freedom is insane now.
Art. There’s pretty much no limit on what you can do artwise in the Western World – a guy inflated a buttplug in the middle of Paris and the President of France stuck up for him.
Drugs, alternative lifestyles, dressing weird – it’s becoming pretty much a field day. Whether that’s “good” or “bad” is another puzzle but we are “progressing” very rapidly in a direction.
In less ambiguous ways, there’s been massive social progress. We’re getting more inclusive. Here’s a clearly stated example Aisha happened to put on This. today: Shonda Rhimes putting racial/gender/representational progress in sharp terms she receives the Sherry Lansing Award:
Look around this room. It’s filled with women of all colors in Hollywood who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors. There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-changing ability to say yes or no to something.
15 years ago, that would not have been as true. There’d have been maybe a few women in Hollywood who could say yes or no. And a lot of D girls and assistants who were gritting their teeth and working really hard. And for someone like me, if I was very very VERY lucky, there’d have been maybe one small show. One small shot. And that shot would not have involved a leading actress of color, any three dimensional LGBT characters, any women characters with high powered jobs AND families, and no more than two characters of color in any scene at one time — because that only happened in sitcoms.
30 years ago, I’d think maybe there’d be a thousand secretaries fending off their handsy bosses back at the office and about two women in Hollywood in this room. And if I were here, I would serving those two women breakfast.
What if: technological progress – the speed of it, especially – itself aggravated the wealth inequality.
Twitter was created eight years ago. It’s now worth roughly $24 billion. Have people ever, in the history of the world, gotten that rich that fast?
Also: the last period of insane technological progress culminated in a horrifying cataclysm.
World War I, where all those terrific machines were turned to gassing and machine-gunning each other. Then, when they were done with that, they ramped up to the next one: twice as cataclysmic (but on the other hand, very fertile for creating more technological progress).
So, maybe we should just count our stars we’re lucky we dodged that and closed out a tech boom peacefully.
And: Why should we expect things to be linear?
Maybe this Thiel idea that technological progress has “stalled” is like the weird thinking of an Asberger’s robot, human history is chaotic and works in undiagnosable, epileptic fits and starts that can’t be rationally charted.
Did the rapidity of change make us (sanely enough) feel more unsettled about predicting the future?
Maybe that itself acted as some kind of check on technological progress? The optimism of a 1960s Popular Mechanics cover
feels dated today.
Anyway, I guess my point is: check out Monkeytrial.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Got that from Peter Thiel. Wikipedia reports about Adam Smith:
Smith was described by several of his contemporaries and biographers as comically absent-minded, with peculiar habits of speech and gait, and a smile of “inexpressible benignity”. He was known to talk to himself, a habit that began during his childhood when he would smile in rapt conversation with invisible companions… According to one story, Smith took Charles Townshend on a tour of a tanning factory, and while discussing free trade, Smith walked into a huge tanning pit from which he needed help to escape. He is also said to have put bread and butter into a teapot, drunk the concoction, and declared it to be the worst cup of tea he ever had.
Adam Smith got a job tutoring the young Duke of Buccleuch, and with him they traveled all over Europe and met Ben Franklin.
This Duke of Buccleuch spawned a whole line of British aristocrats: one of his descendants was this handsome devil, Prince William of Gloucester:
Apparently it’s after this Prince William that the current Prince William, husband to Kate Middleton, is named.
On page 3 of The Great Gatsby, Nick tells us:
The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we’re descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather’s brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on to-day.