iPhone: “A Gleaming World of Innovation and Opportunity, of Capitalism Behaving Well”

SubwayIphoneUse2013-06-21.jpg “The theft of electronic devices like iPhones has fueled a rise in subway crime this year, the police say. In the past, New Yorkers were mugged, sometimes killed, for bomber jackets, Cazal glasses and Air Jordan sneakers.” Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p.24) The current spate of iPhone thefts feels, if anything, more poignant than disruptive. Apple products have always read as cooler than their rivals’ because their design suggests a gleaming world of innovation and opportunity, of capitalism behaving well — a world that seems ever diminishing, ever less accessible to the struggling and young.

Unlike the sneakers and glasses that caused such a fury in the ’80s and ’90s, iPhones didn’t originate in the celebrity system. They come with a democratic ethos (if not the analogous price tag); BlackBerrys are for suits, but even a child can work an iPhone. Wasn’t everyone supposed to have a shot?

For the full story, see:
GINIA BELLAFANTE. “BIG CITY; Easy to Use and Easy to Steal, a Status Object Inches Out of Reach.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 30, 2011): 24.
(Note: the first paragraph quoted above is from the print version, rather than from the somewhat different online version. The second quoted paragraph is the same in both versions.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 28, 2011, and has the slightly different title “BIG CITY; Easy to Use, or Steal, but Inching Out of Reach.”)

“Self-Reliant” Amish Depend on the Technologies of the Outside World

(p. 230) The Amish are a little sensitive about this, but their self-reliant lifestyle as it is currently practiced is heavily dependent on the greater technium that surrounds their enclaves. They do not mine the metal they build their mowers from. They do not drill or process the kerosene they use. They don’t manufacture the solar panels on their roofs. They don’t grow or weave the cotton in their clothes. They don’t educate or train their own doctors. They also famously do not enroll in armed forces of any kind. (But in compensation for that, the Amish are world-class volunteers in the outside world. Few people volunteer more often, or with (p. 231) more expertise and passion, than the Amish/Mennonites. They travel by bus or boat to distant lands to build homes and schools for the needy.) If the Amish had to generate all their own energy, grow all their clothing fibers, mine all metal, harvest and mill all lumber, they would not be Amish at all because they would be running large machines, dangerous factories, and other types of industry that would not sit well in their backyards (one of the criteria they use to decide whether a craft is appropriate for them). But without someone manufacturing this stuff, they could not maintain their lifestyle or prosperity. In short, the Amish depend on the outside world for the way they currently live. Their choice of minimal technology adoption is a choice–but a choice enabled by the technium. Their lifestyle is within the technium, not outside it.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

Discrete Caution Is Not Always Prudent in Corrupt China


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) When economic reform and the seductive breeze of political liberalization come to China in the 1980s, the author’s cautious father tells his children that if they want to succeed they should be discreet. He urges his son, who is at Shanghai’s Fudan University, not to waste his time on useless foreign books. When the son first reads Shakespeare, he thinks that the expression “to be or not to be” is taken from Confucius. His father tells him that asking for too much freedom can land you in jail. “If you are not careful the government could crush you like a bug.” Not long after this warning, the student democracy movement was smashed apart at Tiananmen Square, though Mr. Huang’s father did not live to see it.

In the end, it is the father who suffers as his world collapses. Toward the end of his life he was told by the Party that he was to be rewarded for devising a money-saving program at his state factory with promotion and a better wage. Instead the promotion went to the girlfriend of the local Party secretary, and the firm’s bosses split his wage rise among themselves. Embittered and exhausted, he died of a heart attack in 1988, ahead of his mother.

For the full review, see:
MICHAEL FATHERS. “BOOKSHELF; Coming of Age In Mao’s China; Death cannot be controlled by the party, but disposing of a body can. So the author’s father built a coffin in secret at his mother’s request..” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 30, 2012): C4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 29, 2012.)

The book under review, is:
Huang, Wenguang. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012..

$30 Million First National Bank Regulatory Costs Due to Dodd-Frank Replacing Clear Rules with Regulator “Wild Card” Leeway

(p. 1D) The president of First National of Nebraska, the nation’s largest privately held banking firm, said new federal regulatory and compliance efforts stand to cost the company as much as $30 million this year.
“It is a big uncertainty in the banking world,” said Dan O’Neill, speaking Wednesday at the company’s annual meeting in Omaha. “They are not operating off of concrete rules. A lot of it is their interpretation.”
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed as a result of the federal Dodd-Frank laws passed in 2010 after widespread bank failures and bailouts using taxpayer money. . . .
. . .
The bureau, he said, worries banks because there is not a “clear body of rules” from which the regulator is operating in evaluating the fairness of a bank’s business practices. He said the agency’s regulators have a lot of leeway in deciding what to do af-(p. 2D)ter examining a bank; penalties for running afoul include fines.
“So it is a bit of a wild card,” he said.

For the full story, see:
Russell Hubbard. “First National Chief Says Regulatory Costs Mounting.” Omaha World-Herald (THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 2013): 1D-2D.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Larry Page Makes an O.K. Decision Now, Rather than a Perfect Decision Later

PageLarryGoogleCEO2013-06-21.jpg “Larry Page has pushed for quicker decision-making and jettisoned more than 25 projects that were not up to snuff.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, so hates wasting time at meetings that he once dumped his secretary to avoid being scheduled for them. He does not much like e-mail either — even his own Gmail — saying the tedious back-and-forth takes too long to solve problems.
. . .
(p. A3) Borrowing from the playbooks of executives like Steven P. Jobs and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, he has put his personal imprint on the corporate culture, from discouraging excessive use of e-mail to embracing quick, unilateral decision-making — by him, if need be.
“Ever since taking over as C.E.O., I have focused much of my energy on increasing Google’s velocity and execution, and we’re beginning to see results,” Mr. Page, 38, told analysts recently.
. . .
Despite the many external pressures on Google, it is dominant in its business and highly profitable. But, when asked at a recent conference about the biggest threat to his company, Mr. Page answered in one word, “Google.”
The problem was that the company had ballooned so quickly — it now has more than 31,000 employees and $27.3 billion in revenue so far this year — that it had become sclerotic. A triumvirate of Mr. Page, his co-founder, Sergey Brin, and Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s former chief and current chairman, had to agree before anything could be done. The unwieldy management and glacial pace of decision-making were particularly noticeable in the Valley, where start-ups overtake behemoths in months.
It is different now.
“It’s much more of a style like Steve Jobs than the three-headed monster that Google was,” said a former Google executive who has spoken with current executives about the changes and spoke anonymously to preserve business relationships. “When Eric was there, you’d walk into a product meeting or a senior staff meeting, and everyone got to weigh in on every decision. Larry is much more willing to make an O.K. decision and make it now, rather than a perfect decision later.”

For the full story, see:
CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. “Google’s Chief Works to Trim a Bloated Ship.” The New York Times (Thurs., November 10, 2011): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 9, 2011.)

Limited Choice Is Cost of Amish Community Closeness

(p. 230) . . . the cost of . . . closeness and dependency is limited choice. No education beyond eighth grade. Few career options for guys, none besides homemaker for girls. For the Amish and minimites, one’s fulfillment must blossom inside the traditional confines of a farmer, tradesman, or housewife. But not everyone is born to be a farmer. Not every human is ideally matched to the rhythms of horse and corn and seasons and the eternal close inspection of village conformity. Where in the Amish scheme of things is the support for a mathematical genius or a person who might spend all day composing new music?

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: ellipses added.)

We Should Disenthrall Ourselves of False Scientific Certainties

An Optimists Tour of the Future CoverBK2013-06-21.jpg

Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ELpfH2bTO7c/Tb53WpKuDxI/AAAAAAAADrE/Zq8BQiiasJc/s640/An+Optimists+Tour+of+the+Future+Cover.jpg

(p. C4) Among the scientific certainties I have had to unlearn: that upbringing strongly shapes your personality; that nurture is the opposite of nature; that dietary fat causes obesity more than dietary carbohydrate; that carbon dioxide has been the main driver of climate change in the past.

I came across a rather good word for this kind of unlearning–“disenthrall”–in Mark Stevenson’s book “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future,” published just this week. Mr. Stevenson borrows it from Abraham Lincoln, whose 1862 message to Congress speaks of disenthralling ourselves of “the dogmas of the quiet past” in order to “think anew.”
Mr. Stevenson’s disenthrallment comes in the course of a series of sharp and fascinating interviews with technological innovators and scientific visionaries. This disenthralls him of the pessimism about the future and nostalgia about the past that he barely realized he had and whose “fingers reach deep into [his] soul.” It eventually turns him into an optimist almost as ludicrously sanguine about the 21st century as I am: “I steadfastly refuse to believe that human society can’t grow, improve and learn; that it can’t embrace change and remake the world better.”
Along the way, Mr. Stevenson is struck by other examples of how the way he thinks and reasons is “in thrall to a world that is passing.” The first of these bad habits is linear thinking about the future. . . .
We expect to see changes coming gradually, but because things like computing power or the cheapness of genome sequencing change exponentially, technologies can go from impossible to cheap quite suddenly and with little warning.

For the full commentary, see:
MATT RIDLEY. “MIND & MATTER; A Key Lesson of Adulthood: The Need to Unlearn.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 5, 2011): C4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book praised by Ridley, in the passages quoted above, is:
Stevenson, Mark. An Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets out to Answer “What’s Next?”. New York: Avery, 2011.