Thursday, July 09, 2020

Now what?

[The newspaper] fulfills in America the cultural function of the drama of Aeschylus. I mean that it is the expression through which a people – a people numbering many millions – becomes aware of its spiritual unity. The millions, as they do their careless reading every day at breakfast, in the subway, on the train and the elevated, are performing a … ritual. The mirror of their culture is held up to them in their newspapers.

Johan Huizinga, America: A Dutch Historian's Vision from Afar and Near,
He wrote this about the America of the 1920s and 1930s. I doubt many readers now gain a sense of “spiritual unity” as they read their morning paper. For a large segment of the readership it is quite the opposite.

“This newspaper views me with contempt and hates everything I love” is a perfectly reasonable assessment for patriotic readers and those who are not “woke”.

Perhaps a badge of honor, but maybe not the best business model


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Does anyone still understand irony at the New Yorker?

A puff piece on Unicorn Riot – an activist organization that covers/streams protests across the country.

The Tiny Media Collective That Is Delivering Some of the Most Vital Reporting from Minneapolis

You could refer to what Unicorn Riot does as “activist reporting,” just as you might call a bystander capturing footage of N.Y.P.D. officers tossing people to the asphalt or plowing cruisers through crowds “citizen journalism.” But you also could decide that these distinctions reflect a certain snobbery and have lost a certain salience. There is no use in quibbling about objective journalism amid this emergency, when the power of people’s voices is our only defense. To be a good citizen is to be an activist. To report is to speak up. To have your eyes open is to witness democracy in action, and its failures in abundance.
The writer, Troy Patterson, is probably blind to the totalitarian cast of mind that declares “to be a good citizen is to be an activist”.

The surprising part, to me, is his casual dismissal of conventional journalistic standards as obsolete and snobbish.

The New Yorker's entire business model depends on snobbery. That is the appeal to the subscribers and the luxury brands who advertise in its pages. Snobbery is the force that puts money in Troy Patterson's pocket.

Usually we don't talk about that when we talk about the New Yorker and Journalism. (Tom Wolfe did which is what made him Tom Wolfe).

No, we are required to blather on about the New Yorker's rigorous fact-checking process and the layers of editors who make certain that only the very best stories with the most verified facts and the most thoughtful reporting appear in its pages.

After decades of this ritualistic praise we now have a New Yorker writer dismissing it as obsolete and unimportant,


Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

Steak, ketchup, and Trump Derangement Disorder

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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Streaming TV's real business model

This is a brilliant piece of analysis:

A Golden Lie

the big streaming platforms aren’t asking the questions you’d like them to ask about your browsing. Ideally, you’d expect them to ask how they’re going to help you find great art, or at least great entertainment. You’d expect them to hire experts whose whole job would be making content easier to navigate. Because, after all, they have the stuff you’re looking for, so the product really sells itself, right? They just have to put you in touch with the right series, or the right New Wave French movie.

For a long time, that’s how I actually thought digital television worked. Then I started to notice that the big companies, like Netflix or Amazon, were acting a bit strange. They seemed to be hiding the stuff I wanted to find, on purpose, like a shopping mall or casino. The conversations I was having about television started to disturb me as well; nobody was watching the same show, anymore, but everyone seemed desperate to know what they ought to be bingeing that week. Then it hit me: streaming television isn’t a business model based on rushing out to you, for your viewing pleasure, whatever show happens to be your catnip. That’s an afterthought. The real money’s in constructing a mirage of endless possibility. Netflix’s profits are based on your perception of what you could, potentially, find the time to see. That’s what keeps you consistently subscribed to their service, month after month.
The “mirage of endless possibility” goes beyond the manipulative user interface. Netflix, Amazon, HBO, et. al. have shrewdly co-opted journalists and critics to serve their marketing and retention strategies. A couple of buzzy shows of the sort that appeal to Twitter-obsessed scribblers is all that is required to ensure plenty of free media attention. Customers will keep paying that monthly fee convinced that it unlocks a treasure trove of unique programming. After all, everyone is talking about all the great programming.

In the end, those customers spend most evenings watching re-runs of series from broadcast networks and boring basic cable.

This part of the strategy is not too different from the “salting the mine” swindle.

More than customer inertia drives the business model.

FOMO obviously plays a role:
the fear of missing out — fills us with so much anxiety that it feels like fire ants swarming every neuron in our brain.
So does “intermitten reinforcement” – the phenomenon that makes gambling and video games addicting:

The high is in expecting an outcome, desiring it, imagining it, not in its fulfillment.

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Somewhat relevant to today

"Much to Lincoln's delight, Grant understood the role of a general officer in wartime and the delicate relationship between commander in chief and soldier. Military men must subordinate themselves to political authorities. 'So long as I hold a commission in the Army I have no views of my own to carry out," Grant explained to Representative Elihu B. Washburn, his sponsor in Congress. 'Whatever may be the orders of my superiors, and law, I will execute. No man can be efficient as a commander who sets his own notions above law and those whom he is sworn to obey.'"


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What do abortion and the pandemic have in common?

They generate the same kind of politics according Taylor Dotson in this insightful article:

Radiation Politics in a Pandemic
Why is Covid-19 science making us more partisan?

In his 2007 book The Honest Broker, political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. characterized two different idealized styles of decision-making: Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics. In the case of an impending tornado, citizens are bound together by a common purpose: survival. And simply acquiring information — whether through science or direct observation — drives the negotiation about how to respond. In contrast, Abortion Politics is characterized by a plurality of values, and new scientific information only contributes additional complexity to the divergent goals and motivations.

As Pielke admits, this is a somewhat rough characterization. Many contentious issues have elements of both Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics. The conflict over how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic has been little different. Yet what has been striking is how many people seem to insist that the pandemic be treated as a case of Tornado Politics, as if it were a cyclone bearing down on us. But it hasn’t been this kind of case. Every day, its politics has come more and more to resemble that of abortion, as scientific information about the virus has become weaponized for partisan ends.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Real estate after the virus

From McKinsey:

Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19

Rent, capital costs, facilities operations, maintenance, and management make real estate the largest cost category outside of compensation for many organizations. In our experience, it often amounts to 10 to 20 percent of total personnel-driven expenditures.
Companies have tried to control these costs by fitting more people into less space. This cannot continue in n era where social distancing prevails.

Even the Pandemic Can t Kill the Open-Plan Office

Even before coronavirus, many workers hated the open-plan office. Now that shared work spaces are a public health risk, employers are rethinking office design.
So what now?

Will firms pay higher rents to add space to their urban offices?

Or do they look to move their offices to suburbs where space is cheaper?

Perhaps the lockdown will turn out to be a inflection point and companies will move away from the whole idea of an office as a mere warehouse for employees.

The answer to these questions has profound consequences for cities. Much of their tax base is commercial real estate.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Giving Trump the credit he is due

The Massive Trump Coronavirus Supply Effort that the Media Loves to Hate

The administration has used deft improvisation to secure huge supplies of PPE. There is a new cardinal rule in journalism — never write anything favorable about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, even about its successes.

It’s why the story of how the administration handled the potential ventilator crisis has gone almost entirely untold, and why its effort to secure supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been gotten largely skeptical or hostile coverage.
The legacy media is so invested in anti-Trump narratives that they allow blatant lies to pass unchallenged.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has repeatedly said that the president needed a military leader to take charge of the supply chain — when Admiral Polowczyk, the vice director of logistics for the joint chiefs, was already in charge.
Orange Man Bad. That's the lead story – often the only story – on CNN every night. As a result, they have become enablers of scam artists.

Stories in the press have tended to relay complaints that FEMA has “commandeered” supplies headed for states or other entities. According to FEMA, this is erroneous. After looking into supposed instances of commandeering, Gaynor says, FEMA believes that shady brokers have been using this line an excuse for their own failures. “FEMA has become a convenient scapegoat for malicious actors who are unable to deliver on the promises they had made or are engaging in illegal activity,” he says.
Even worse, the prevailing narratives obscure the shocking death toll in nursing homes. No one in the MSM seems interested in holding anyone accountable for the tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Kaus-Reynolds with a vengence*

The Cuomo brothers made for good theater. They bashed Trump, issued dire warnings of impending doom, posed as defenders of the vulnerable, bantered like frat boys. Fredo even suffered in his basement – quarantined after he caught the Corona virus.

It was all lies, a series of performances, a ploy for TV ratings, for poll numbers, maybe a spot on the 2020 ticket.

CNN missed one of the biggest stories of our time. It played out under their noses in NYC. Instead they created “The COVID Chronicles with the Cuomo Bros". Everyone had a great time except for the senior citizens who suffered and died alone and their grieving families.

The press has utterly failed to live up to the ideals it espouses. Few members of the Guild seem concerned about this. It is pretty clear that the MSM is best seen as the propaganda organ for the Leninoid wing of the DNC.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Department of bad predictions

Today marks the anniversary of the of the Battle of Tsushima (1905). In the Empire of Japan it was celebrated as Navy Day from 1906-1945.

In 1942 the official proclamation was justifiably triumphant. Japan had just completed six months of conquest that were unrivaled in history.

Today Britain's control over the seas has vanished, thanks to the work of the German and Italian submarines and more the work of the Japanese Navy. Britain's auxiliary, the United States, has likewise had her navy practically destroyed by the Japanese navy. As a result, Japan stands today as the premier naval power of the world. It may well presage the rise of Japan in the future history of the world to a position comparable to that which Britain has occupied in the past
Left unmentioned were the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Coral Sea. The "practically destroyed" US Navy was not yet ready to concede global supremacy to the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Also on this date in 1942, the USS Yorktown, badly damaged at Coral Sea, entered Pearl Harbor. Three days later, patched up and resupplied, she would leave Hawaii to rendezvous with Enterprise and Hornet near Midway.

Japan's global naval supremacy was about to come to an early, shattering end.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Kaus-Reynolds with a vengence*

"Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies" -- Honore de Balzac

The operators demand ever bigger machinery even as their actions turn deadly.

Grandma Killer: Andrew Cuomo Murdered 5300 Elderly New Yorkers But He's a Hero Because He's a Liberal Psychopath

As you probably know, Andrew Cuomo ordered elderly persons infected with coronavirus back into their nursing homes, where they could -- and did -- infect all the other nursing home residents and kill thousands of them. He did this deliberately. Why?

It's hard to think of a reason why -- these people could have been isolated in the thousands of unused temporary hospital berths built to... well, to keep coronavirus patients isolated.

Instead he ordered them back into nursing homes, to infect other people of a very high risk of dying from the disease.

And die they did.

By the thousands.

All the while, as thousands were dying, the press just could not pour enough praise on Andrew Cuomo.

He killed them.

If people have "blood on their hands" for permitting businesses to reopen -- how can it be that Andrew Cuomo is not the murderer of 5300 extremely at-risk people by ordering the infected to be crowded together with them?

Andrew Cuomo and New York State realize they have a huge scandal brewing -- if the media ever feels like reporting easily-discovered facts.

It looks like New York State is taking pains to correct its error.

And by correct its error, I mean -- fudge the numbers to hide the numbers killed.

Governor Nipsy Cuomo Explains Why He Sentenced Over 5000 Elderly Citizens to Certain Death: "Older people, vulnerable people, are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen."

He just won't take responsibility for having sent covid-infected people back to nursing homes to infect everyone else. He begins sputtering out an Eric "Otter" Stratton series of rhetorical questions about who's really to blame.

Andrew Cuomo Reveals The Danger Of Praising ‘Tone’ And ‘Norms’

This reveals something interesting about the roles of tone and norms in politics and governance. Critics of Trump’s hyperbolic rhetorical style and willingness to say things that offend them seem to think that good tone and maintenance of norms by a politician indicates he is pursuing positive policies and in control of the situation, but this is often not the case. In fact, a polished tone more often elides failures than it symbolizes success.

Here’s an example. Would Barack Obama have ever called the press “the enemy of the American people”? Certainly not. But would his administration spy on journalists? Absolutely, and it did. Would Obama cackle about political opponents going to jail? Not a chance. Would his administration try to send political opponents to jail? Yup.

To put it bluntly, Cuomo has not been an effective governor during this crisis, but he has played one on TV. At least in terms of early public opinion, that was enough.
Ben Rhodes was absolutely right about the shallowness of the journalists assigned to important beats by prestigious news organizations:

The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns… They literally know nothing
They cover policy like they do politics and they cover politics as theater.


The leftwing members of the Professional Managerial Class (including, obviously, hyperpartisan "NeverTrump" Democrats) ... never look at policy outcomes, only "tone" and "norms:" that's how you get a ton of dead bodies while babbling about how well he presents himself at press conferences.
The Cuomo brothers made for good theater. They bashed Trump, issued dire warnings of impending doom, posed as defenders of the vulnerable, bantered like frat boys. Fredo even suffered in his basement – quarantined after he caught the Corona virus.

It was all lies, a series of performances, a ploy for TV ratings, for poll numbers, maybe a spot on the 2020 ticket.

CNN missed one of the biggest stories of our time. It played out under their noses in NYC. Instead they created “The COVID Chronicles with the Cuomo Bros". Everyone had a great time except for the senior citizens who suffered and died alone and their grieving families.

CNN's handling of this story should be an an extinction-level event. They did not just fail to cover the real story: they helped cover it up. Walter Duranty wold be proud.

And, like Duranty and Stalin, CNN and the Cuomo brothers will get away with it. Their “competitors” will probably give them prestigious awards.

*The Kaus-Reynolds paradox

1. A government agency fails.
2. When it finally ‘fesses up, the failure is immediately consigned to the memory hole.
3. The consequences of its failure are then used as a justification for giving that agency more power over ordinary citizens who had nothing to do with the failed policies and botched operations.

This looks like it could be relevant and timely.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Understanding Trump: War on Mount Olympus

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Tucker Carlson on Dave Rubin (26 October 2018):

Trump “asks the question at the core of whatever the issue is that is the one question that everyone has been avoiding because they don't have the answer to it”

This reminded me of a story that organizational scholar Charles Handy used to illustrate the differences between two organizational cultures.  Handy moved from a large, bureaucratic organization to an ill-defined role with an entrepreneurial investment bank.  He was appalled at the slap dash way things were run.

Clearly, some  serious professional project appraisal was urgently needed. Luckily, I just happened to have brought along with me from my previous organization a set of procedures and tables for project appraisal.  I could readily adapt these, and then I could propose introducing a little more system nd procedure into the current craziness.

In a week I was ready. The chairman arranged for me to present my ideas to a meeting of the board. They all listened very attentively and politely.
At the end, the chairman thanked me for all the work I had put into I, and then observed, “I suppose a project would have to be very marginal to justy all this analysis and procedure?”

“Well, I said, “it's obviously vital to marginal propositions, but you can't even know if it's marginal until you've done this kind of formal analysis.”

“Hmm. You see, we're probably wrong,” (in the tone of voice that Englishmen use when they know they're not), “but in this group we've always thought that we got success not by making better decisions on marginal propositions than our competitors did, but by making quicker decisions on obvious propositions.”

In the end, I realized that I had a different cast of mind and left before they threw me out.

For three decades Republicans and Democrats, neoliberals and neoconservatives, debated the proper mix of tax incentives, transfer payments, and trade concessions required to bring China into the New World Order. Trump had no time for that: he wanted to know why it was good for America to send good jobs, even vital jobs, to a potential adversary.  His rude questions proved to be more popular than the conventional answers Republicans usually offered to the conventional questions.

Only Trump, a man who had spent decades leading companies with a Zeus culture would base a campaign and a presidency on asking rude questions the Acela Blob wants to bury.

It is not surprising that a Zeus president was going to clash with an Apollo bureaucracy and their media clones.

Zeus vs Apollo

Handy defines four basic organizational cultures  which he names after Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus.

Zeus cultures are entrepreneurial.  They operate in the out-sized shadow of the leader.  They excel at speed of decision and in turning decisions into action. They have little time for procedures and policy manuals.  Their strength comes from a shared mindset and commitment to the leader's goals and vision.

Zeus does not write; he speaks eyeball to eyeball if possible, if not, then by phone.
As a politician Zeus tweets directly to the voters over the heads of his bureaucratic gatekeepers, media minders, and media deciders.

Apollo cultures are classic bureaucracies. They focus on rules, procedures, flow charts, and org charts.  They value stability and predictability.

The Apollo style is excellent when one can assume that tomorrow will be like yesterday.

What he have seen in Washington for the past three years is more than a clash of cultures.  The Apollo bureaucracy, with breath-taking arrogance, decided that Trump's style was not merely unconventional but wrong and dangerous.  They want an end to the rude questions that they cannot answer.

They demand not merely independence from the president, but supremacy over the executive branch.

The irony, and maybe the tragedy is this: Trump's style, the Zeus style, is the style and culture best suited for turbulent and chaotic times.

Tomorrow is not like yesterday.   Pretending that the procedures, norms and protocols based on the presumption of stability will work in the midst of an unprecedented crisis is foolish, self-serving, and futile.

The bureaucratic/media Apollos will not save us; they very well may destroy our economy and what is left of our tattered social fabric.


Conservative anger and the Reagan legacy

How Reagan became Reagan: The Texas Earthquake of 1976

Who’s afraid of a Republican landslide?


Monday, May 11, 2020

Bedrock truth about grand strategy

From James Lacey:

Battles are won on the battlefield. Wars are won in the conference room.


Coalition strategy and strategic fantasies