Sunday, October 28, 2012

Longitude, Latitude: Terminology

Humans—or as Quark, the Ferengi, in Deep Space 9 used to say, hu‑mahns—are challenged in a three-dimensional world. It might just be that we come from a four- or four-plus-dimensional region of the cosmos where wishing is as good as going there, so who needs bothering with maps. It’s a different story here. Two posts on this site are very popular. One, called “Longitude,” is the all-time favorite; another, “The Astrolabe,” which deals with Latitude, is tenth. One wonders why. Perhaps people are confused—and count me in. I wrote those posts but occasionally a kind of baffled fog surrounds me. I am temporarily unsure again. What is it, again, that longitude measures? I think the lines run up and down. Does it measure north-south alignment. Wrong, WRONG. But let us get there.

The “long” in longitude has obvious meaning. Something that is long. The “lat” in latitude is less obvious. It comes from Latin and means width. But we don’t measure the lat of a table or of a football field. Now the maddening—and confusing—aspect of these terms is that in effect we use longitude to measure width, latitude to measure height, both from fixed points on the face of the globe.

Longitude measures distance from some fixed point to the east and west. Call it Eastwestitude. Those lines are numbered from 0 to 180. The zeroeth line runs through Greenwich, England north to south or the other way about—which tells us who ran the last undisputed world empire. To the left and right of that line, the Meridian, thus to west and east of it if your head is north, your feet are south, the numbers increase at equal increments on both sides until they meet again and merge in 180 exactly at the opposite point of the globe from Greenwich.

Latitude measures distances from the Equator to the north and south. Call it Northsouthitude. The Equator represents 0 Latitude. Numbers above and below it both increase until they reach 90 at the two poles. Is there some equivalent to Greenwich on the Equator the name of which everybody knows? Yes and no. There is such a place, but virtually nobody knows it. It is Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Mid-World City) in Ecuador. I bring an aerial image of it here from Wikipedia (link). Notice the yellow line faintly visible in the middle of the picture. That’s the equator. In this town you can walk with your loved-one hand-in-hand, one of you walking in the northern, the other in the southern hemisphere, and your hands clasped in the mitad.




Now when it comes to mnemonics, the problems continue. Eastwestitude is a pretty decent, straightforward description. But notice that it lacks an O, the marker in lOngitude, to which it belongs. Similarly, Northsouthitude is handy, but it lacks the A that might link it to lAtitude. Gul darn it. Based on this I am sure that in some future time I’ll be struck again by the lightning of confusion. Longitude will be there like some hovering monster—and I won’t remember whether to go up or down or left to right. That’s when blogs come in handy. Or should I speak of blags?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Windows 8. Is it New Coke?

Remember 1985 when The Coca-Cola Company rolled out what became known as New Coke? You might if you are, say, 40 and older. It caused a furor, a revolt. To be sure the sheepish masses started to buy and drink it, but a very vocal minority eventually prevailed. Coca-Cola withdrew the new brand and “reintroduced” the old—but now dubbed Coke Classic.

I drank a lot of Coke those days and hated the simpery taste of New Coke. I was also a hard-ass. I wouldn’t touch Pepsi because I was at war with Pepsi-Cola’s policies in the environmental arena. Therefore I began to purchase RC Cola in massive quantities—and found it a quite suitable product. I was not alone. Now in America we do not believe that we can influence Commercial Giants like Coca-Cola. Therefore, as the revolt became public, I didn’t dream that I would actually see New Coke fail. But it did—that year yet. To be sure, New Coke remained on the market until 1992 as Coke II, a subsidiary brand. The Giant actually caved.

Now for what it’s worth (read absolutely nothing), I have the same visceral reaction to Windows 8—and I haven’t even tasted it. It goes on the market tomorrow, but Staples was trying to seduce me into buying a computer this morning using Windows 8 as the come-on. That came by e-mail. Well, one doesn’t answer ads—but this ad I did answer, informing Staples that some of us are not in love.

We bristle at nothing with quite the same fury as attempts to change our ingrained habits—and I will not have my screen invaded by touchable panels. Long live Windows Classic.

If I am part of a potent minority, we may see Microsoft retreat yet. But what they’ll probably do is introduce a more expensive Windows 8 Professional version—in which the front face of the operating system will be the traditional face and the touchable panels will be an option—rather than the other way around.

Die Windows 8, die!
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I have my image from Evandye.Angelfire.com (link).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hire a Multiplier

The New York Times editorial this morning, “The Myth of Job Creation,” attempts to correct the misconception, voiced by Mitt Romney and quoted there, that “Government does not create jobs.” My, Mitt. And you are supposed to be a numbers-crunching analyst? Government does too create jobs—and the NYT makes the case for the obvious.

I thought I’d look back to 1939 and see what roles government jobs play in total employment. Government as here defined includes the federal, state, and local. In the case of the federal, it includes postal employees as well as bureaucrats. At the state level it includes state-run educational schools. At the local it includes public schools. All education, except the private, is included.



In this 74-year period, government has accounted for, on average 16 percent of all employment. The lowest point came in 1947 (12.5%), the highest in 1975 (19.2%); government employment last month was close to the average (16.5%).

Now as all good wonks and analysts should know, job creation, whether by government or private industry, has a multiplier effect. This means that adding employees has secondary costs. New people need furniture, computers, sometimes vehicles, tools, occasionally uniforms. They consume supplies that would not otherwise be consumed. The hiring of new employees, consequently, increases demand. And in meeting it, new jobs are created (or preserved). The reverse, of course, is also true. Layoffs are bigger, in total effect, than the number of jobs erased.

How big is this multiplier? The NYT points at the Economics Research Institute to justify what I viewed as an exaggerated multiplier effect. Looking at the source, however, I saw a lower number for the actual new-job-related multiplier. It excludes some of the tertiary effects the NYT includes. (Journalists are not visceral analysts, alas.) EPI projects a 1.67 multiplier for state-and-local employment. This means that 100 jobs created at the state-and-local level translate to 67 jobs created elsewhere. It seems safe enough to assume that a similar multiplier applies to federal workers as well. That would mean that the 22 million government jobs in place last September accounted for an additional 14.7 million jobs in the economy.

Now I’ve never heard of any private company generating public sector jobs—unless it does so by crimes and misdemeanors the prosecution of which (we pray and hope it really happens) will generate jobs for public prosecutors and the clerks who help them, police and other investigators, judges and wig-makers, and even (but this is to hope too much), wardens and prison guards.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

May Degrowth Grow

With hat tip to my ultimate muse (that would be Brigitte), I learned yesterday of a movement called Degrowth. It is related to the Voluntary Simplicity movement, which some trace back to Mahatma Gandhi. Degrowth, however, arose from the Club of Rome Report (1968) and subsequent elaboration of programs to implement change; several prominent thinkers supported it, but the only name I recognize is that of Ivan Ilich (1926-2002), the Austrian philosopher, from whom we also have Deschooling Society, a book about educational reform. Degrowth is a political movement now anchored in ecological economics, thus an economics in harmony with the environment, anti-consumerism, and, therefore, anti-capitalism.

To be sure. When I look up at the towering power of global finance or examine any even tiny part of ordinary life today, when I see huge rivers of cars rushing down I-94 on my way to Costco, when I pick up any ordinary piece of paper covered by print or look at the flicker on my television screen, the notion of eventually achieving a sane society seems absolutely doomed. But the Club of Rome was ultimately right. No curve ever just goes up. Degrowth, in other words, will happen, whether we like it or not. And in that context, such movements have genuine value even if they are not ever likely to succeed, say, in capturing a major capitalist power like the United States. What they accomplish, however, in setting in motion the preparations for action that will follow—say the drying up of fossil fuels. They introduce ideas. They stimulate a small elite to change its behavior. They cause us to think about the subject. And we must think, and accept the idea, before anyone even thinks of acting. We recycle; we turn off lights when leaving a room. That is a start, of course.

The Third International Conference on Degrowth ended September 23, 2012. The web site supporting it is still online (link). Right on. And, come to think of it, Gandhi did ultimately succeed in his mission to liberate India, thereby lifting Britain’s White Man’s Burden just a little. And Degrowth may also succeed, despite my doubts. Right on, I say. May Degrowth Grow.

The movement  has various symbols, but the snail is a favorite among them. I am showing the Hungarian Logo of the movement, and the word there is Degrowth. Why Hungarian? Well, I was born there. And the movement’s presence in such a small country is in itself significant!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Newsweek, Google, Microsoft

I remember a day when you had a choice of three major car brands (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) and three newsmagazines (Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report). Families had loyalties then. We liked Chevrolet and Pontiac; I was partial to Time Magazine because it was the  first such thing I’d bought when in the Army. U.S. News and World Report left the print arena in December of 2010. Today I read that Newsweek will go into virtual mode as well after December 2012, leaving only Time in the ink-and-paper format.

People’s loyalties weaken as those legal persons, corporations, change. We became a Honda family; and today we read a virtually unknown magazine called The American Conservative. I abandoned Time, oh, around about the mid-1960s. I thought that it had thinned out. Its publishers probably through they were adapting—to a friskier, hipper audience. More pics, less print, shorter, brighter. Naw, I said. To hell with news. Harper’s. Atlantic. Substance, please.

Google posted unattractive numbers prematurely yesterday—and because the release was premature, Goggle’s stock plunged. Microsoft reported financial dismalities as well because, in trading eyes (but not really) the PC is, like, an endangered species. And the French are perfecting a law that would protect their ink-and-paper newspapers from being cited in Google searches. Why? To protect the papers from loss of advertising revenues.

Now it is striking that advertising, measured against the economy as a whole, is virtually invisible. In an earlier post (link) I noted than in 2008 it was 0.99 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. And it is also obvious that the leading business news most days is also about advertising, directly or indirectly. Bad news at Google—directly. Advertising clicks are Google’s only real food. Bad news at Microsoft—indirectly. Mobile devices are cannibalizing the market for larger computers—and the aura of “excitement” that surrounds mobility is caused by the presumed rise of a new advertising market. But the advertising market is not infinitely expansive. There is only so much to go around, and advertisers are like ducks at the edge of the pond when people arrive with bags of dried bread. They flock to the most recent arrival. Newsweek now, U.S. News and World Report two years ago, Time Magazine at some future date are abandoning or will abandon their defining businesses to garner ad-crumbs on the Internet.

So what’s ahead? We’ll probably have, sooner or later, an advertising melt-down on the Internet as well. Easy to predict, actually. Everything changes. Towering growth—exhaustion. I feel a little exhausted this morning. This site permitted, until this morning, Anonymous comments. I’d put that in place to help family and friends avoid having to key in almost illegible test-words before sending a comment. Little did I know. At first a trickle and now an avalanche of comment-spam began arriving. Today a hundred pointless comments, each with a commercial link embedded, caused me to spend three precious minutes erasing all the garbage. Sooner or later even the Russians (who generate most of these comments in sometimes comical English) will grow weary. Which reminds me. I ought to give Putin a heads-up. He is quite reliable when it comes to crushing infamy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Look at Waste

Herewith three charts from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on municipal solid waste (MSW) generation, its recycling, and the recycling rate of some major waste components. The trigger for this post? Why, it’s Tuesday. The trashman comes tomorrow. Today, therefore, we collect the newspapers, cardboard, glass, metals, and plastics and put them in the red container that the second trash truck picks up for recycling. We actually have three trucks passing by here in winter, four in the summer. Trash, recycling, bulky wastes, yard waste. Lots of trucks. Anyway, the recycling bin reminded me of my days at EPA. I was the nation’s first director of EPA’s first Recycling Division, part of the Office of Solid Waste Management (OSWM). Ah, those were the days. Looking at these charts, I can indulge in a little pride. I had some role in the raising of Recycling Mountain. What would you call that? Practicing socio-geology?







The source of these charts is EPA (link). Added later: To see how the Waste Management Industry has performed in recent years, I suggest a look at Market Size Blog (link).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Aggressive Alienation

A rainy shopping trip, yesterday, the whole nine yards: Costco, Walmart, Kroger. It was Saturday afternoon when NPR has one of those programs I cannot stand, hence I drove between locations just observing. Ahead of me, on the way home, a very natty white pickup truck with a bumper sticker that caught my eye: GOD, GUNS & GUTS. There might have been more there—but, as I say, it was raining. Today I started to investigate—and learned that I had chanced across a rather extensive subculture. The words I didn’t see were MADE AMERICA GREAT—which phrase, added to the first, makes the title of a book, the phrase you can wear on a T-shirt, and on and on. I discovered car dealers who gave away a hand gun with each new car purchased and saw their sales soaring—hence planning to give away AK-47s next. And this reported on CNN yet. Amazing. Utterly amazing. A kind of post modern or latter-day fusion here. A deep-seated but baffled rage fusing religion, violence, testosterone, and commerce. And we worry about getting meningitis when we have a chronic back-ache?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thursday Night SmackDown

Soon to be followed by Tuesday Night RAW. These will not be brought to us by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a much nobler institution than our two political parties. “Nobler?” you ask? Am I not just a bit irreverent? No, sir! WWE knows that it is doing and does not attempt to cover itself in anything except tongue-in-cheek glory and well-earned profits. It knows the business it is in. It’s called Entertainment. Nor are the fans of wrestling much deceived, when they root for Sheamus against The Miz, into thinking that in some way they’re taking part in saving the world from approaching Armageddon. It’s just bread for them and circuses for us. But as for those vice- and presidential debates, where the referee almost trembles in his or her honor to preside over the fray, they need to get with the program. The next time, say for next Tuesday Night’s RAW, wouldn’t it be a lot more genuinely entertaining to watch CM Punk take on Antonio Cesaro? I think so. Ahead of it, to be sure, two emissaries, one from each campaign, could exchange white papers in which each candidate would present a detailed, written description of his policies—to be printed in newspapers of record. Then on to the breathless fun of it all. I’d also stay around for the following Shields and Brooks as these two gentlemen try their best to explain just why the Punk won or perhaps lost—register their views on the miserable or horrid refereeing—and what that odd sack filled with something might have contained that that cute cheerleader, wearing a crown, threw at the wrestlers just before Cesaro smacked the Punk down at the end, or did Punk slip on something?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Self-Devourer

The image of the snake eating its own tail arose this morning as I read a story in The Wall Street Journal telling me that world-wide PC sales are slumping, down 8.3 percent from 3Q 2011 to 3Q 2012. This comes despite the fact that Microsoft is just about to launch Windows 8, an operating system that attempts to fawn on the modern customer who is supposed to love “touch technology,” thus the ability to paw the screen instead of using a mouse. WSJ recites among the reasons for what it calls a “tailspin” competition from tablets and also bad economic times, including sluggish demand in emerging economies. Both reasons are logical, but the bottom line is that the personal computer is now a mature industry; its real market is not personal but business use; and its likely future will have less to do with the growth of dollar output and more with growth in employment. The real motive for buying a computer is hiring a new employee. The image, however, of the leading edge of the computer industry, viewed generically, thus tablets and smart phones included, “cannibalizing,” as the Journal puts it, the PC market, does suggest that mythic Uroboros.

In the sense that industries mature, great success always morphs into failure. Success is measured by ever advancing annual growth rates, and in that sense the PC market has been suffering for quite a while. The very effort to keep growth growing by introducing ever more popular devices with the same functionalities, causes dismay to the older parts of the industry even as everyone celebrates Apple’s most recent triumphs. Trying to boost PC sales by giving them features almost necessary in products barely bigger than a small calculator—thus screen-pawing powers—is a form of desperation. It’s one thing to hold a phone in your left hand while your right index finger messes with the screen; quite another to reach out to a screen. From the keyboard to the screen? Sixteen inches, in my case. To the mouse, half that distance. The “touch” solution goes against established habit. But when you haven’t got any good ideas, and there is a deadline by which you must become creative, grabbing popular features from a distinctly different device is a great temptation. The same sort of desperation is present at Microsoft too, to be sure. Windows 8? Already? Windows 7 is only 28 months old, issued in July 2009. And we’re supposed to get excited?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Atom Smasher in the Garage

Technology is really about knowledge. I found it instructive and also amusing to discover that the theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, built himself an atom smasher in the garage of his home—while still in high school! The more formal name for such things is “particle accelerator.” Here is the story as told in Kaku’s book, Hyperspace, p. 6-7:

First, I purchased a small quantity of sodium-22, which is radioactive and naturally emits positrons (the antimatter counterpart of electrons). Then I built what is called a cloud chamber, which makes visible the tracks left by subatomic particles. I was able to take hundreds of beautiful photographs of the tracks left behind by antimatter. Next I scavenged around large electronic warehouses in the area, assembled the necessary hardware, including hundreds of pounds of scrap transformer steel, and built a 2.3-million-electron-volt betatron [accelerator] in my garage that would be powerful enough to produce a beam of antielectrons. To construct the monstrous magnets necessary for the betatron, I convinced my parents to help me wind 22 miles of copper wire on the high-school football field. We spent Christmas vacation on the 50-yard line, winding and assembling the massive coils that would bend the paths of the high-energy electrons.

And Kaku succeeded.  He produced “a magnetic field 20,000 times more powerful than the earth’s magnetic field, which is necessary to accelerate a beam of electrons.” To be sure, most of the time he turned it on, he blew every fuse in the house.

Where there is knowledge, and a will, the most peculiar feats are possible. Fermilab certainly had the knowledge to keep on operating Tevatron, the world’s second largest hadron collider. But Fermilab’s “parents,” read Congress, didn’t want to spend Christmas coiling miles of cable…

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Pfister Pfirst

After yesterday’s post, it seems I really ought to follow with a picture of the actual faucet that got installed this morning. It is a—take a long breath—a Pfister Pfirst Series Polished Chrome 2-Handle High-Arc Kitchen Faucet G136-100. The daring left Pfister when it came to that last word—else they would have called it a Pfaucet. Installed by a professional plumber, the job cost us $140, of which the actual faucet was $50. The top item, in this line, costs more than $280 for the faucet alone, so we were modest—but patriotic.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Amazon: Amusingly Alert

So our 20-plus-year-old kitchen sink began to leak in ways that careful research informed me could not be easily fixed in the usual way. I learned this two days ago by looking at like twenty, thirty websites, gradually refining my search to the phrase “2-Handle Kitchen Faucet” in order to get the right kind of diagrams. Along the way, probably (if not consciously) I must have visited Amazon.com. But, I emphasize, I visited lots and lots of sites, including corporate sites by Moen, Peerless, and others.

Then, in succession, Brigitte and I bought a kitchen faucet at Home Depot. We brought it home and, after some examination, decided to buy another at Loews. I took back the Home Depot product, got my credit, and went to Loews to purchase Brigitte’s first choice there. That was yesterday. This morning I called our trusty plumber (Positive Plumbing), and arranged for its installation tomorrow. All this done, I had time to think about important things.

One of those, this morning, was to look up the word manifold. I’d used the word in something I was writing, in a philosophical context, and got to wondering what it really means. There are some philosophers absolutely in love with that word, over-using it, it seems to me. So I began my search. The word has its derivation in mathematics, particularly as applied to topology. That did not satisfy me. Finally I put in the search phrase “manifold in philosophy” and let her rip.

The first page I chose from Google’s offering finally told me how this word managed to wiggle into philosophy. Kant used it to mean (in German it’s Mannigfaltigkeit) “the unorganized flux presented to the senses.” And the philosophers who tend to use it cut their teeth on Kant. Scrolling down the page to the very point where this bit of information was presented, I looked to my right and saw the inserted ad.

I had to laugh! Amazon is amazingly alert. It was serving up, in a philosophical context, a pretty good deal in a Delta 2-Handle Kitchen faucet! Amazon is getting closer and closer to omniscience. Too bad they don’t patrol my credit card—the same one I use both to buy faucets and books. If they had, they might have known that they are just a day or so late. An additional element of amusement arose because the original use of the word also derives from plumbing. It was used in 1884 to mean a “pipe or chamber with several outlets.” In the Great Unconscious of which Carl Jung was a worshipper, my interest in kitchen faucets was perhaps reflected in my sudden interest in the philosopher’s use of the manifold. Which, come to think of it, a faucet with hot, cold, spout, and sprayer really is. Somebody up there already is omniscient—and has a sense of humor too.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Employment Gains in Perspective

Why do we say that the current recovery is sluggish or anemic? Let me present some data that show the reason why. In the following graphic, I present average monthly job gains for two periods. The first, for 1992 through 2000 followed the 1990-1991 recession. In 1991, the economy lost 61,333 jobs per month on average. That period was followed by the 2001 recession, which lasted from March through November of that year. In 2001, the economy lost 145,500 jobs per months on average. The second period of recovery, 2010 through the present, followed the Great Recession (December 2007 through June 2009). In 2009, the economy lost 353,500 jobs per month on average. In other words, I am showing job gains in two growing periods. Here is the chart:



Note here that average monthly job growth began weakly in 1992, coming out of the 1990-1991 recession; the economy then took off but turned weak again ahead of the 2001 recession. In 2010, coming out of the Great Recession, the economy showed a recovery similar to that of 1992, but has since performed much less energetically than the earlier recovery. Indeed, the economy recovered all of the jobs lost in the 1990-1991 period (763,000 jobs) in 1992 already (an annual gain of 1.104 million).  Not so our current recovery. In the Great Recession the economy lost 8.663 million jobs in 2008-2009, of which the 1.067 million annual gain in 2010 was just 12 percent. Our friends in red suspenders, the Lords of the Financial Universe, made a gigantic mess. They broke the furniture, shattered all the china, and cut the mattresses apart in their drunken exuberance.

We’re still just sweeping up the shards and hauling garbage. That’ll take a while—especially in view of the fact that the culprits haven’t really been brought to justice yet and probably never will be. The much hyped drop in unemployment rate is largely illusion. That number can go down if appropriate numbers of disappointed workers just stop looking for work.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Employment Update: September 2012

September results for the employment situation were, at best, mixed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (link) revised the August numbers upward, almost doubling the result, from 96,000 jobs gained to 182,000. The gain in September, however, was 114,000 jobs, which is at best so-so. Will they double that number too in October? We shall see. Herewith the graphic:



It looks like 2012 might under-perform 2011 if things continue at this pace. As of September of 2011, the economy that year had gained 1.434 million jobs. As of September this year, the gains have been 1.334 million, a 100,000 shortfall over the year before. If I annualize 2012 results, the data project a total gain of 1.779 million for 2012—over against 1.906 million for last year.

Alas! The economy has a mind of its own—and, IMHO, as they say these days, what happens at the political level—or what might be done there in the way of action, so called—has nothing to do with the behavior of the great beast. To think that an administration, whether painted red or blue, will change things by specific policies is equivalent to praying to the Great Pumpkin for rain in a drought. Nonetheless, as in any decent Theater of the Absurd, the anemic number surfacing today will be used in a full-throated way to celebrate what is regarded as a change in Mitt Romney’s momentum.

Tracking this series, as I’ve now done for years, is most interesting. Is there a fundamental change visible here, or is this just a severely long drought in public confidence? Consumer confidence is up, after all. A fundamental change, if present, would have to have an objective cause. The best candidate is that our economy is able to produce the necessities with fewer and fewer people. And as employment seeps away—and public employment shrinks with relentless tax cutting at all levels—fewer and fewer people are able to get jobs. And in such a situation, they will still continue to buy necessities, but the flim-flam that makes for economic growth is left on the shelves. Are tanning salons emptying? One wonders.
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IMHO for you illiterati means “in my humble opinion.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Small Business Job Creation?

In the political debates we continue to hear small business praised as the real job creator—as shown in last night’s encounter. The problem here is how to define “small business.” I will propose a three-fold division—which can then be further collapsed. Small business then means those employing 1 to 99 people, mid-size business as those employing 100 to 999, and big business as employing 1,000 people or more. If we then say that “mid-sized isn’t small, and neither is big business,” then we can derive small and big, big being a combination of mid-sized and the bigger.

I will show here a variant of a graphic I published on LaMarotte back in September of 2010. It shows job creation data for the period 1992 through 2005 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (link). The series I used has not been updated in the same way since. The graphic here shows net quarterly gains for the period 3Q 1992 through 1Q 2005:



Note here that these are net gains, thus gains when job losses have been reflected. Note also that the two lightly colored bars, for the mid-sized and the big business category, together form the second bar.

In this expansionary period, bigger businesses created more jobs than small business. The following tabulation brings the relevant details:

Average Quarterly Change in Jobs, 3Q 1992 to 1Q 2005

Firms by Employment Size

1 to 99
100 or more
100 to 999
1,000 plus
Percent of Total Firms
97.6
2.4
2.2
0.2





Gains (in 000)
4,067
2,599
1,374
1,225
  Percent of gains
61.0
39.0
20.6
18.4
Losses (in 000)
3,879
2,381
1,273
1,108
  Percent of losses
62.0
38.0
20.3
17.7
Net gains (in 000)
188
218
101
117
  Percent of net
46.3
53.7
24.9
28.8

Worth noting here is that small business did create more jobs than the larger categories—but the category also lost more jobs than the others. The large losses wiped out 95 percent of the small business gains—and this was a period of growth. The vast majority of firms is small, to be sure, not quite 99 percent, but close; 2.4 percent of firms produced more jobs than the 97.6 percent. But when it comes to trying to influence the masses, the politicians know whom to praise. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In the Mooood? SMS Me.

When the New York Times uses an acronym like SMS without bothering to explain what the letters stand for (even parenthetically), I am sure that I’ve been put out to pasture.

The story, today, was titled “Swiss Cows Send Texts to Announce They’re in Heat.” Brigitte was amused and read me the story, but wondered what SMS stood for. “Occasionally he gets an SMS from one of his cows.” The poor cows have a device inserted into their privates, and the widget can generate a message in one of several languages. Baffled—and humbled. Here I am, the man who can answer any question, trying to link sado-masochism to the barnyard—but the context doesn’t seem right.

Well, I’m still smart enough to use Google. Here’s the explanation for all the rest of you left-behinds. SMS stands for Short Message Service. It’s something that iPhones do.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ecologies and Monocultures

I came across a fascinating quote in the September 2012 issue of Independent Dealer (the official publication of the National Office Products Alliance). Hat tip here goes to Monique. The story, titled “Wall Street Analysts Slap Office Products Big Boxes,” says, among other things:

The big boxes’ overall total return over the past five years has been dismal at best, accordingly to Planes, with Staples posting a -46% return, OfficeMax posting -84% and Office Depot generating a -93% return for its investors.

That scatter of negative returns turned me nostalgic. It did. I remember our arrival here in Michigan in 1989. After every move, one of the things I always did was to scout out the nearest and most pleasing office supply stores. Here on the eastern edge of Detroit I found three such, each with merits in one or another direction. And I began to visit them as needs arose. They were all owned by small proprietors and, depending on location, also featured additional products entirely unrelated to office supplies: household items, knick-knacks, furniture, carpets, pet supplies, children’s toys, gardening goods, and so on. In all of them about a third of the space was office supplies. I got to know the owners, lingered to chat sometimes. They got to know me. One store began to purchase a product I wanted regularly. You get the picture.

A decade later office supplies disappeared from two of the three. The third one changed owners and, two years later, closed its doors. The appearance of a single Staples is the most reliable explanation. It got put down roughly in the center of the triangle my earlier suppliers formed on a map. Looking for a caring owner at that Staples is like trying to make conversation with a statue.

We’ve come to worship something called the Market; we call that worship Capitalism. But the real market is an ecosystem while capitalism is a kind of agriculture based on vast exploitations of a single crop. Healthy ecosystems feature great diversity, many, many small participants; here and there one will fail, but the ecosystem still keeps thriving. Huge networks supply them, not least wholesalers. The dealers are small, independent, and adaptive. Huge bargains? Never. The right products? Always. If not here then five blocks away. Interaction. Knowing the customer—and not by faceless computer displays of inventory change. Capitalism is, by contrast, destructive—and ultimately vulnerable. As is monoculture. It is therefore perfectly logical to be pro-market and violently opposed to capitalism. The market is just an aspect of community life. Capitalism? Edgar Allan Poe formed the image of it that I use: “While from a proud tower in the town, Death looks gigantically down.” With that you have another name for it.

In that same issue of Independent Dealer is some worry, more mutedly put than probably felt, that Amazon.com is massively moving into the office products category. Independent dealer? For how long yet? Unless those negatives pile up and form the proud ruin. But in that case, where will I buy my toner?