Thursday, October 27, 2011

A New Occupation

RE: You can tell the difference between a liberal and conservative by the following test. A liberal believes that changes in taxes have very little effect on production, but huge effects favorable on distribution.
Folks like myself believe it's exactly the opposite. Very high tax rates or even small changes in taxes have very adverse effects on production...

PS: You think that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates wouldn't have done what they had done with higher marginal tax rates?

RE: Well, yes, because they just don't do it. They have to be able to get investors to sign up for their things. Those investors have to have disposable income.
- "Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side?" - The News Hour, 10/26/11, Paul Solman interviewing libertarian law professor Richard Epstein. 

In the last day or two, the local-ish "Occupy" demonstration Occupy Oakland has accreted some negative headlines, partly engendered by one participant with an AK-47 slung across his back, presumably to cover two amendments' worth of expression instead of one, who increased the threat of police response earlier in the day. Several of the protesters had the "we are the 99%" signs that are as close to a position statement as can be had of a somewhat diffusely disaffected group, and many protesters had already endured at least one rainy day in the name of advancing their message.

Part of the central issue uniting these groups is the trend toward greater disparity between rich and poor, and the degree to which government policy can either increase or reduce it. As I heard the Solman/Epstein exchange, my initial thought was, yeah, right, Gates would have said, why even go into business if they're going to tax me to death, assuming the rate had been, say, five percent higher at the point where he was pitching his operating system to Apple in the eighties. It's just not remotely plausible; entrepreneurs love complaining about regulations and taxes - well, sooner or later, everybody does - but their motivations are reliable; they crave excitement, power, big profits, interesting projects, but the government stuff is just a speed bump. And with the wind at their back even to the extent of Gates in 1986, what VC is going to say, sorry, I don't have the money...

But then inevitably I thought about the other side of the ideological spectrum. Courtesy the Left Business Observer, a small chart that illustrates pretty well a trend since 1968:

Here's a quote from the reliably left Noam Chomsky from back then:

"Roughly speaking, I think it's accurate to say that a corporate elite of managers and owners governs the economy and the political system as well, at least in very large measure. The people, so-called, do exercise an occasional choice among those who Marx once called 'the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling class.' "

This seems fairly overblown as well, and is pretty standard stuff for current plutocracy-phobes. Could Jobs have amassed that much wealth from his company if relatively "little people" had not become enamored of the gadgets? And furthermore, who knows categorically that he did not favor wealth redistribution as a policy, and go about throwing money at advancing those ends? And, for all that our president might be somewhat in the thrall of monied special interests, what does it mean, in the context of the Chomsky quote, that his campaign was primarily financed at a grassroots level?

It really is a shame we can't occupy ourselves with some talk about moderation, at least in rhetoric, but it appears that the Cain and Perry  campaigns alone will make that improbable.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Next Chapter

“Parenting is hard. As anyone who has gone through the process and had enough leisure (and still functioning brain cells) to reflect on it knows, a lot of it is a crapshoot. Things go wrong that you have no control over, and, on occasion, things also go right, and you have no control over those, either. The experience is scary and exhilarating and often humiliating, not because you’re disappointed in your kids, necessarily, but because you’re disappointed in yourself." Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

“I don’t think anybody feels like they’re a good parent. Or if people think they’re good parents, they ought to think again.” Joan Didion

In general, the first dozen or so years of child-rearing are a bracing, mind-altering, life-affirming time that forever changes our lives. It seems most people see their kids as little extensions of themselves, molding and folding them to present to the world, almost as new improved versions of Mom and Dad. It can be very exciting and thrilling as new worlds are discovered and new accomplishments are achieved. Of course, there can be tragic detours, brought about by one or more of the adults in the child’s life, or by mother nature herself, but barring this kind of interference (and sometimes in spite of it), the first half of the journey to adulthood is managed and controlled by the parents with ever growing skill and self-satisfaction.

Then something happens. It’s perfectly natural, but is often greeted with the most aghast kind of amazement. It can happen very early on (puberty will usually kickstart the process), or it can take awhile, sometimes years: children begin to mutate into adults, and seek to abandon their parental shackles. The process can last many years, but it involves the child’s exit from their parents’ “story” so they can begin one of their own, where they are the “protagonist”, and their parents are supporting characters. The arc of the first dozen years continues for the parents, but is diminished; the child begins a new arc and hopefully flourishes. It is traumatic and unnerving for the parents, even in the best of circumstances (and most families don’t experience “the best”).

I remember growing up in my first dozen years and always being somewhat puzzled and bemused when my mother would relay a compliment I had received from another adult. It seemed to make her very happy; I was okay with it, but often felt that she was “overreacting”. I didn’t really care so much about that adult’s “approval” one way or the other. In my next five or six years, I continued being the “good son”; my sister, on the other hand, was a true rebel, jumping out of the gate at around 13 with youthful bravado and strong will (how and why two siblings can be so different is fodder for another post). Though I made a few half-hearted attempts at defying authority, I didn’t really start my own story till I was in college, and then with a vengeance, but my parents were spared most of that because I was no longer living at home.

But despite being the kind of teenager parents might wish for (respectful, good grades, stayed out of “trouble”), I never followed the career path my mother would have preferred. She would periodically ask me, throughout my teen years and well beyond, “Don’t you think you’d like to be a doctor or lawyer?” Well, the idea was preposterous to me, not because I didn’t think I could accomplish either goal (I was always full of self-confidence), but because neither of those careers seemed to have much of a draw for me, and also because at a very early age I was infected by a “performance/artist” bug. My father didn’t seem to “care” what path I took, and at least outwardly supported my goals. Actually, my mother did, too, but I could have really made her day by adding a “Dr.” to my name.

To Be Continued

Thursday, October 13, 2011

By iDesign

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. Steve Jobs 

I remember my first impression of the new era of Apple. My family was in San Francisco for one of the last performances of the popular "found instrument" show "Stomp!", and ate before the show at a restaurant on the second floor across the street. As I looked out the window, above the theater building was a billboard, all white except for an IPod centered, with the San Serif letters "IPod" below - very much in the spirit of many VW campaigns.

Could it actually be that it was only ten years ago? I remember being aware of, and having seen, various players before then, and myself had an MP3 CD player at the time, a device whose shelf life turned out to be fleeting. And as I looked at the IPod, I recall thinking that the main difference between it and the other players was that it was more stylish and more expensive. The engineering triumph was first and foremost the ring-navigation patent, that doughnut that instantly identifies the Apple player.

Not long after the IPad's introduction, someone in my office made a comment, "Only Mac-haters buy Androids." It appears now that claim is not accurate, though it may have been more so at the time. My office is a group of people who develop on and for Windows primarily, and the Mac adopters have fallen into a couple of categories: those who think the IPad is cool but can't relate to it in the work context; those who have done IPod or IPad apps, some of whom have ended up at Apple; and those who sort of cross over between the two. After it was released, our VP made a point of getting one and making it available for people to play with, since he saw it as an opportunity as well as a cool device. In general, in our microcosm, any given person is as likely to get an Android phone as an IPhone, and the same would apply to tablets or players or other mobile gadgets. And we've expended as much effort on supporting Android as Apple's Ios environment.

For those who proclaim the death of the PC - and our VP posted an article to that effect a little while ago - there are some impediments, or perhaps some provisos. For white collar types, who might like me be moving between sometimes lengthy emails and writing programs, or building and tweaking spreadsheets, or even doing CAD, you immediately see the same pattern as the docked laptop - you're not going to want to lose a "real" keyboard, nor are you going to want less screen real estate. And so far the analogs of shift-click and ctrl-click in various applications are not there. So you can assume that, if and when you use an IPad or something like it at work, you will hang various things off it, so in that context the difference between it and a "PC" is fairly token.

On the other hand, I talked with my brother-in-law about his IPad, which he loves to death and uses "in the field" as a realtor. He loves being able to browse a listing or just Google something wherever he is, and with whomever - the business and pleasure is blurred, and that feels fine. So I said, well, what about emailing? And he said, no problem, and went to the email app - and began one-finger hunting and pecking. I realized that he's more in the motif of the text message - a de facto tweet limit more or less - so he doesn't really care about the efficiency of the operation. 

But I figure that, in the scenario of replying to an email, after I'm done with [shift-down][ctrl-c][ctrl-home][ctrl-v] to paste in a quote of the message I received to the reply, he's probably still looking for whatever the thing is in that context that copies to the clipboard. 

When all is said and done, it's probably abundant tribute to Steve J. that there is a device as sleek and simple as any of the iPods - and it's instantly recognizable as an Apple design even without the logo - and that it was his company that debuted the technology associated with the rich pinch and swipe behavior, regardless of where it ends up being a favored motif.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part VIII

(For Part I go here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here, Part VI here, Part VII here)

(photo by Donna Copeland-Fuller)

Within a few minutes, Mark and Jay came up over the levee, Mark with a club, Jay with a concealed knife. When Randy saw them, he immediately asked Bandana and Bugeye if either had a knife. Bandana pulled one out; Randy took it and started walking toward Mark and Jay.

Across the dirt area where the combatants were coming together, Paul was standing in what was commonly called the Shitter, a sunken area where people went to relieve themselves. From where he was pissing, he was a little below ground level, but facing the action. When he saw what was happening, he called out to his friend, "Gremlin, there's two guys going after Randy!" Gremlin, who was a little behind him, looked up and saw what was happening. Without a second thought, he ran out of the ditch and charged with a full head of steam at Jay, who didn't see him coming, concentrating as he was on Randy, who was coming at him with a knife.

Mark called out too late to warn his companion about the oncoming attack. Gremlin hit Jay with full force and they both fell too the ground. Jay got up, pulled out his knife, and the skirmish was on. A couple of minutes later, Gremlin was lying on the ground, holding his upper chest, and crying out. Randy ran to the nearby callbox and called the police, which is also what Paul was doing from his cell phone.

Mark and Jay cautiously retreated back away and down the levee back to Danny's house. Several police cars arrived within 10 minutes. As they began to sort things out, they went to Danny's front door; Mark and Jay came out. Both of them were immediately handcuffed.

As the cops shoved Mark into the back of a patrol car, the last thing he heard was his friend Danny asking him, "Marky Mark, what happened? What happened? How could this have happened?" Danny began sobbing.

"What about the protocol?"

(Postscript: Fifteen months later, Mark Hernandez and Jay Halford were found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. There were no charges or other actions against Tommy Duke or Randy Terrell.)