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Don’t use UPS to deliver dog food April 28, 2014

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UPS, a US based company, is not as reliable as its advertisements say it is. What a surprise, I hear you say. The problem is that the delivery person may be so lazy or so pressured by the company to deliver or else that they can, and have, delivered parcels to addresses the addressee has never heard of or knows. Therefore, they are unable to go there to retrieve their parcel. Should you ask UPS customer service, they will tell you what you already know, that your parcel was delivered to an address you never heard of and have no idea where it is. Royal Mail can and will do better than this.

Complaint about WordPress, problem with embedded youtube vids April 24, 2013

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I have a number of complaints about Word press the most important of which is that they don’t care about complaints where certain features that once worked no longer work as they don’t transparently show you how to access their complaints procedure or how to get around the problem. I work in Firefox and so my complaints refer to that browser only. I don’t know what happens with other browsers.

First, a prpblem for which WordPress is not responsible for but which they have said nothing to their users about is that Firefox has problems displaying embedded youtube videos in the newer versions of Firefox outside of the youtube context. This problem is not universal but it is quite consistent.

Second, possibly related to this but WordPress does not seem to be able to easily embed youtube videos at all in one’s post in Firefox even after going through some arcane procedure that does not work. WordPress used to be able to do this easily. WordPress, their comments about how they care to the contrary, do not seem to do so.

The complaint section is worse than useless, unless your problem is of a legal nature. This is transparent and easily accessible. nothing else about the complaint process is.

Ken Loach interview August 29, 2011

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Intelligent and beautiful interview with Ken Loach: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/aug/28/ken-loach-class-riots-interview

Humans & machines: a daydream August 29, 2011

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I was watching a not very good film the other evening about a machine, a fighter jet, that becomes cognitively independent of its designers, and it brought back a childhood nostalgia about having a machine as one’s best friend and companion, not as a replacement for people but as an addition, better than an intelligent dog to talk to and do things with.  When the main character and the machine act in concert in order to save the mission and the machine, the image began to acquire a sepia tinged aspect.  I also felt this way about the scene in the Mexican desert in Terminator 2 while Sarah Connor’s voiceover is describing her feelings about the relationship between the terminator and her young son. Somehow I wished such a relationship were actually possible in the real world in which I then lived.

This might be felt to reflect a friendless childhood, but that would be false.  I didn’t fit into my community, but I wasn’t a misfit either.  I tended to live in the future rather than the present or the past, believing neither of them to be the “best they could be”.  This reflects a deeply underlying optimism on my part although I did not recognize this when young. Two major influences on my early cognitive development were Bertrand Russell and Arthur C. Clarke. Russell’s initial influence wasn’t his technical philosophy, that came later, but his commentaries on life and common beliefs and social practices, such as Marriage and Morals and Unpopular Essays. As for Clarke, it was Childhood’s End and The City and the Stars. And a short story, “Before Eden”.

I have never felt the same sort of nostalgia for Asimov’s robot or foundation series, however intellectually interesting I felt them to be. Since I view robots as another way of being intelligent like humans, I was depressed by Asimov’s story of the robot who wanted to be human and acquire human frailties. One of Asimov’s great innovations in his robot series was the accidental/serendipitous discovery of the positronic brain. This relieved him of the necessity of having to try and describe how the thing worked. It could be programmed with the three laws but any deep understanding of how the brain actually functioned wasn’t there.  While I thought this to be rather clever, there was something rather mundane about Asimov’s robots. THey failed to stimulate my imagination in the same way as Clarke’s 2001 or the film, Terminator 2.  In 2001, it wasn’t HAL that captured my imagination, but the aliens, those “frozen lattices of light” as Clarke was later to characterize them.

For a person who effectively lives in the future, believing deeply that it will be better (at least in principle), while the present has wonderful delights, even the best of all presents can never fully suffice – one is too attentive to its imperfections. Such a person is perhaps better able to see the past unidealisitically and thus to be free of yearning for it. Yearning for the past, which is a mistake in general, is replaced by yearning for the future. Should either of these mental states be too dominant, it may not be possible to live as “happily” in one’s present, which is all that you have, as might otherwise be the case.

Two necessary conditions for individual & system welfare: technostructure + obliquity August 28, 2011

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The two necessary, but not sufficient, conditions I have in mind are technostructure decision-making apparati and obliquitous problem solving strategies.  These two concepts were introduced by John Kenneth Galbraith in The New Industrial State and by John Kay in his article, ‘Obliquity’ (mentioned in a previous post), respectively.  I would argue that both are necessary for an institution to be successful in its welfare promotion in a changing environment.  Both were introduced in the context of organizations, although individuals play a role.  For the sake of simplicity, I will restrict my comments to organizations.

For Galbraith, a corporation’s technostructure is its decision-making component, comprised ideally of individuals from throughout the company.  In his view, when a corporation gets so large that the entrepreneur can no longer keep track of all its activities, then for  the corporation to continue to be viable, power must pass from the entrepreneur to the technostructure.  One prominent example he gives is that of TWA.  When TWA was a relatively small airline, Hughes could effectively control its operations.  However, once the organization had reached a certain size, one individual brain could no longer effectively track all the organization’s activities and the quality of his decision-making declined.  By the time, power had passed from Hughes to TWA’s technostructure, Hughes had almost bankrupted the company.

Power passing from the entrepreneur to the technostructure in large corporations is not the only factor to take into consideration of a company’s viability.  The nature of the decision-making procedures of the organization need to be taken into account as well.  Kay argues that for the most effective and long-term results to obtain, decision-making is best carried out in indirect ways with attention being paid to high-level considerations, such as making the best airline, the best bread, &c.  In particular, if the bulk of a company’s efforts go into the bottom line and not into providing the best for the company and its customers, then the company isn’t acting either in its best interests or that of its customers or investors.  In fact, when a company does this, its profits decline and bankruptcy threatens.  This can happen even when power has passed from the entrepreneur to the technostructure.  Kay provides myriad examples to support his thesis that goals are best pursued indirectly.

When a company’s decision-procedures are directed to the well-being or welfare* of the company, its employees, and its customers, the company will also be doing the best for its investors in the long run as well.  In order for this to be achieved, the decision-making procedures must be indirect and thus not constrained by some sort of procedural straight-jacket.

As can be seen, neither condition by itself can account for the successful well-being of a company. If a company is sufficiently large and power hasn’t passed from the entrepreneur to the technostructure, company decisions will begin to deteriorate.  Similarly, if a company’s decision-making is not geared to its highest goals and implemented in an indirect manner (Kay shows how these fit together), company decision-making begins to deteriorate.  IN other words, if either one of these factors is absent, the company’s decision-making procedures are seriously faulty.  They are individually necessary to the success of the organization.

But are both of them together sufficient for individual and corporate well-being?  It would appear so.  When an organization is small and the technostructure is not needed and the entrepreneur’s decision-making is sufficiently obliquitous, ceteris paribus all should be well.  If the organization is large and power has passed to the technostructure and the technostructure’s decision-making procedures are sufficiently obliquitous, then again all should be well.

Upshot: if a company and its employees exhibit a high degree of well-being, then the decision-making apparatus is appropriately structured and is operating obliquitously.

* The notion of welfare Kay has in mind is that of Aristotle’s conception of Eudaimonia, designating a high degree of fulfillment.

Bachman & Newsweek cover August 10, 2011

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The National Organisation for Women accused Newsweek of casting a ‘serious presidential candidate’, Michele Bachman, as ‘a nut job’

 

 

As you can see, this is from the August 18th issue of Newsweek, and editor Tina Brown has defended it.  The right wing have condemned it because it contends that she is depicted as a nut job.  But she is a nut job.  Her economic policies are so wrong-headed that it is difficult to understand how anyone could believe them.  Some of her other statements make Palin’s pale in comparison.  How Bachman could be a serious presidential contender is a bit of a mystery.

Sickness in the body politic April 19, 2011

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This is a must read.  It is beautifully said.  It is a sad commentary on our current democracy that what Hedges contends will never be carried out by those in our society who could do something toward some of these ends.

Throw Out the Money Changers by Chris Hedges in Truthdig.

The most positive view one can take of the situation we find ourselves in, exemplified in Hedges’ piece, is that, since representative democracy has not been around very long, we are in the early stages of its socio-cultural evolution.  But even with this view, since the evolutionary process has no goal states or ends towards which it is moving, there is no reason to think that the situation will improve any time soon.

David Harvey on capitalism (animation) August 9, 2010

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This is a superb animation accompanying a brilliant, and enlightening, talk by the Marx scholar, David Harvey, on the current financial crisis.  His book, A Companion to Marx’s Capital (2010), is a quite accessible read.  Enjoy this delightful animation.



Bill Nighy & a Robin Hood (Tobin) Tax August 8, 2010

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I am a little late putting this up, but it is still relevant, unfortunately.  The token tax that the coalition government has concocted is only a drop in the bucket and can’t assist much in reducing the deficit, although a substantial Tobin tax might have been able to do so.

Bill Nighy is quite brilliant in this, as in many of his other performances.

Morality & the economic crisis June 30, 2010

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If you think Krugman’s Third Depression was scary, have a look at these comments on the recent BIS (Bank for International Settlements, the bankers’ bank) report – Britain ‘might not cope with another bank emergency’ and BIS annual report is frightening reading. [actual article titles]  The report itself is 216 pages long.  The report indicates that the financial sector is too big.  And since there are no environmental checks on size, government will have to engage with this issue.  But, of course, they won’t until it is too late (if recent experience is any guide).

The US still has something of a manufacturing sector but it is nevertheless unknown whether it could cope with another serious banking crisis.  The UK industrial sector was virtually wiped out under Thatcher.  Companies didn’t move overseas, as many did in the US; they disappeared.  So, where is the socio-economic backup that could be an engine of an economic recovery?  It doesn’t look like there is one – the financial sector was encouraged to move into the vacated manufacturing niches with the result that the UK economy is inherently unstable because seriously unbalanced.

Along with a relatively weak industrial sector, there is another worrying factor to take into consideration concerning how well the US and UK are likely to respond to this crisis as it goes on.  It is this: When each of these crises struck, BP’s situation and government attitudes to and responses to the crisis in the financial sector mirrored one another.  BP wanted to make money hence didn’t want to invest in safety measures; government regulators went along with this.  The banks wanted to make money and thus didn’t want to invest in safer risk assessment measures, and government regulators went along with this.  Attempts to fix what went wrong went side by side with trying to make sure that the system and those at the top did not lose – BP didn’t want to lose any equipment while the banks didn’t want to lose any bonuses.  So, no real fix was actually implemented, only tinkering.  In both cases, it may be too late to rectify the situation.

While there are dissimilarities, the socio-political similarities are so striking that one thing becomes incredibly clear – the response is to fix only up to the point where going any further would result in financially dislocating the fixers and those to whom the fixers are economically related from their economically privileged positions – such as, the nouveau, nouveau riche (cf. James K. Galbraith, The Predator State Ch. 9).

In the two scenarios in question, this sort of a fix does not constitute a fix at all but only a stopgap, which could well result in further potential catastrophe down the line.  If history is evidentially relevant, government policy is making such a catastrophe more likely rather than less likely.  And this is particularly so if some coalition members entertain a view even slightly similar to that held by the infamous Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of the Treasury under Herbert Hoover.  Mellon’s response to the 1929 crash was to “[l]iquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. … It [a panic] will purge the rottenness out of the system.  High costs of living and high living will come down.  People will work harder, live a more moral life.  Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.” (Reported by Hoover at the time.)

There is another side to such a view of the current crisis.  And this is the possibility that some genius has figured out that if the economic distributive status quo is not to be tinkered with, and there is no industrial/manufacturing base to pick up any slack in the event of another financial crisis, it might help to allow the banks to make a lot of money before the next crisis comes so that there will be at least some kind of financial cushion in place.  But the essential part of this strategy, a Tobin tax large enough to create such a cushion within a reasonably short period of time, has not been implemented.  All that has been implemented is a token tax instead of a Tobin tax.  Pathetic.  Someone isn’t thinking this through.  Perhaps no one is.

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