Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kunkel's "Utopia or Bust": Made Me Want to Read and Write More

When I first heard that Jacobin and Verso were teaming up, I was super-jazzed.
They offered six books for fifty bucks around the Christmas of 2013.
I was like that meme of Fry where he’s saying “Take My Money!”

Basically, I have achieved a level of material success where I still have revolutionary desires and our household income is a bit more than the US household median income. So I have a need and a desire to give the money to the revolutionary presses that I can fulfill. My favorite thing is to sit on my couch and read and drink beer. I often read of revolution, and I can help create a future where the workers of the world, who once united, can lose their chains and drink beer and do their own reading. Verso and Jacobin will help facilitate that.

So I bought the books through the publishers, and ended up with the first batch. I read the other two books right quick, but for some reason I let this one sit. I think I had tried to read it once, but I was sad at the the structure of <add introduction + previous essays = book>. I put it down and on my shelf, even though I had not read any of the essays previously.

But last weekend, I picked it back up. The essays in the book are about writers, for the most part, that I admire or have read. There are a couple of ones about unfamiliar writers to me, so I can’t make a judgement on them, since I only know them through Kunkel’s lense. But the ones that we cross over the things I’ve read and he’s read, show the writers I like in a new light and made me think more and broader and deeper about them. His essay on David Harvey illustrates this - it just helps put my own reading of Harvey in context of other thinkers.

Here’s the best thing about the book. It broadens my horizon, in that I want to read more about the people who he talks about but am only tangentially familiar with. I guess it’s time for me to put Fredric Jameson on my reading list. But the real best thing is that it makes me want to write more just by engaging in the ideas that the author engages with. Kunkel is a clear and exact writer that holds the attention even when writing about  unfamiliar subjects.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Making of a Manager

I sometimes think of essays I want to write, and bounce them around in my head a bit, but I never actually get down to writing them, because who has the time to write an essay for fun with no possibility of compensation.

One of the prompts I wrote to myself was “manager”.

I’m not sure of the basis for it. I think it was part of my MBA program. We have been taking in various classes about leadership and people that you want to follow and how you become that person. It might boil down to who you want to work for, so this is all subjective. For me, it is hard to look at the good qualities that you want. Like a movie or a book you like, it is hard to say why some people are easier to work with and for, but it is easy to think of bad examples. I had a boss that was petty and capricious and incapable of doing any of the jobs that he nominally supervised without getting in the way. When I think of bad bosses, he fits the bill.

It is harder to think of the opposite. I want to work for someone who is not those things I listed. I have been fortunate to work for some good supervisors in my career, so to really say there is one best is hard. Luckily, my first boss was someone who I was glad I worked for, even though the job itself was something that is often denigrated. My first real job was at Burger King, Well, I’m sure it was technically for some franchise, but I forget the name on my checks and told people the name on my uniform.

My first boss was Mike Devericks. He was young and enthusiastic. There were open interviews for the new Burger King that was opening up at what was then a blank space on the map but turned into a busy shopping area once the new Walmart went in. As I remember, the interviews started at 8:30 on a Saturday, and I had nothing to do and family that was strongly encouraging me to get a job. I made it a point to be there as early as possible, and I think I was the first one interviewed.  What I am certain of is that Mike was the first person to offer me a job where he stood up and shook my hand.

In the scheme of things, it was a summer job, but I tried to have pride in what I did, making those Chicken Sandwiches and BK Big Fishes, and making sure the fries were always on supply, and that the chicken tenders were not to old to be served to the customers. I liked the people I worked with, and I learned to smoke at least three cigarettes in the thirty minute lunch break while eating food. They key was remembering which hand was for drinks and which for the smokes.

But the thing is that though I could work by myself or with the other fry cooks, there were times when there was no way we could keep up. The orders would go up on the screen with a timer on it to tell you how long they had been on the screen and they would start blinking if they were too old. I have a memory where Mike stepped in right as panic began, and looked at the screen and knew how many buns to drop and how many fries and just took over. I had thought I was good at the position, but he rocked it.

And that is what I want in a manager. I want the person above me to allow me to have the autonomy to learn my job and work it to the best of my abilities, but be able to jump in and help me (and my team) when I need help. Additionally a key trait is to know when that is, because sometimes people don’t realize how far they are in over their head. It may have been a summer job, but on reflection, it was an important lesson on leadership.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Goldbugs: Occam's Razor and Value

So, it looks like gold is trending down. Even the Journal published an article calling gold a pet rock.

This makes me think about my father, who over Christmas made me feel his ingots of silver, and who listens to a lot of Fox News in his free time. I have to tell you, holding that silver gave me some very strange feelings. It was shiny, yes, but the thing is that it was very heavy – much more than I would have guessed just by looking at it. There’s a very atavistic feeling satiated by holding that density that is hard to replicate.

But that doesn’t really speak to value. It is shiny and heavy, but what is it worth? There’s no future cash flows to discount. There’s the well-known issue that there are no dividends and a carrying cost. Basically it is a hedge for when the world crashes. Right now, what is it worth? Whatever the next guy will pay you, since it at least has some use value. Looking at the CME, what the next guy will pay is around twelve hundred bucks an ounce. That’s off from what it was at the height of the last time everyone was buying in gold by like a third. That’s a lot.

Hold on. That’s a lot if you’re buying and selling it, hoping holding it as part of your portfolio.

What’s gold worth now is assuming that its continued use value and the speculative part will hold forever, with no major changes in demand or supply. But what if demand changes? That means the gold held will increase in value if it goes up. What can make demand change? A change in the financial climate. It can be held as a hedge against what the preppers et al call “When the shit hits the fan”. Now, I am skeptical of all the collapse scenarios that I have seen on “Doomsday Preppers,” but here’s the thing – what do we know of the chances of total societal collapse and ultimate valuelessness of the dollar? There’s not much to go on. I would say it’s a one in whatever chance, where the goldbugs and the preppers and etc would say that I was off by a factor of ten or a hundred. The problem is that neither of us have much to go on. The sample size of societal collapse is small, and not very good for making predictions.

So here’s the thing. No matter who’s right, they still have something that they can trade for things as itself or if converted to the coin of the realm first. But there’s a huge payoff if they are right. (This ignores the whole weird fantasy thing where it seems some people want society to collapse just for their vindication.) I’m not willing to make the bet, but I shouldn’t judge others who are. Heck, I still play the lottery when the jackpots get big – someone’s gotta win it. It just goes to show that consistent rationality is hard to enact, especially when it comes to long odds and big numbers.