Why just the other day, a month ago, I noted my own problems with 3-D display technologies and thought that they are doomed (link). That case involved a smartphone to be launched with 3-D images on its screen. Today I read (NYT, “ESPN Drops 3D Channel”) that a 3-D TV venture, ESPN’s, will be headed for techno Walhalla because the public doesn’t want to bother. Confirms what I’ve been seeing and experiencing literally from my late teens, thus for nearly sixty years: people are perfectly satisfied in watching entertainment in a two-dimensional projection. Ordinary images provide the human eye sufficient information so that the three-dimensional reality behind them can be easily discerned. Will that stop our innovators from trying again and again and again? Probably not.
I have no dog in this fight nor do I own any slingshot stock, but what with the Administration having perceived crossing a red line drawn somewhere, I expect that the most politically inoffensive way to rush to the Syrian rebels’ aid would be to order massive shipments of slingshots for delivery there. By some careful diplomatic phrasing, the slingshot could be presented as a weapons system, and the cost might be quite moderate while yet boosting employment.
As for where I stand, my views of international relations were formed by reading George Kennan. I don’t see even a sliver of national interest in supporting either party in Syria—and that because I don’t consider the State of Israel as the 51st state, much less primus inter pares.
As for slingshots, I see major retooling and expansion. And, one hopes, the cross-bow and bo-n-ar industry lobbies are already planning to storm Congress to get a piece of the coming action.
The U.S. Bureau of the Census published its annual population estimates for the United States yesterday. Almost obscured in the original table released (here), is the fact that in the fiscal year under examination (July 1, 2011 to July 1, 2012), the demographic category labeled White Alone, Not Hispanic, experienced more deaths in the period than it had births. The difference, in favor of deaths, was 12,419. Nevertheless, “White Alone” gained 175,965 people—all due to immigration; total immigration was 188,384. That number was also “White Alone” immigration. That number, less the 12,419 above, yielded a positive gain in “White Alone” numbers, a minimal up-tic of 0.1 percent over 2011. All other groupings increased by higher percentiles: Asians by 2.9 percent, mostly from immigration, Hispanics (of any race) by 2.2, and Blacks by 1.1 percent.
What the Census Bureau emphasized in its headline was the gain in Asian population. What the media picked up was that “White deaths outnumber White births.” Now, it so happens, that 88.2 percent of the 53 million Hispanics are racially White. Indeed, when White Hispanics are included with other Whites, Whites gained 0.5 percent in population. That’s still the lowest performance, but a little better.
The upshot is that both the Bureau’s special segregation of “White Alone, Not Hispanic” as a category—and the media’s focus on that category—indicates a cultural factor running rampant in the handling of our demographic statistics.
Tribal concerns are never far from human interests no matter how secular and enlightened we think ourselves to be…
Briefly, to be sure, I was a part of it. My first computer was an Apple II, I was a member of an Apple User Group, and wrote a column, titled “Daisywheeling,” in its publication. Then, later, I also bought an Apple IIe, and at least two Macintoshes. But that came after my realization that the Apple Culture was not for me. Those few Apple purchases following the II were in support of commercial ventures—and in the course of those, which went way beyond the Apple, we’ve purchased like scores of Intel machines.
I shied from Apple because, it seemed to me, it was cultivating loyalty as such and, in the course of it, exploited its followers by continuously and radically altering its product so that one couldn’t just get on with working, using Apple-provided tools, but had to engage in what amounted to sacrificial purchasing of ever-changing technology. By contrast, my first IBM PC continued to work for many years until, eventually, it sort of turned to grey dust.
The latest update of Apple’s iPhone software, reported this morning, shows that the old ways are still with us. The Apple Cult is still a reality. In the WSJ’s article I find this sentence:
Apple executives came out swinging against those who question whether the company which hasn’t released a major new product since last year, has lost its cool.
The phrase that caught my eye was “major new product since last year.” Every time Apple introduces a “major new product” it obsoletes a whole category—and its cultish followers are then required to sacrifice more megabucks to stay true to the thin god who introduces it in appropriate uniform (no tie in sight) looking like an escapee from the concentration camp and uttering oracular statements, in a darkened room, using an electronic pointer.
What the world needs now is a cylindrical Mac. For the vast armies of non-believers, that may sound like a joke. But the cylindrical Mac is on its way—obsolescing anything rectangular.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (see BLS release), the economy added 175,000 jobs. March results were modified by adding 4,000 jobs in that month; the total for April was reduced by 12,000 jobs. Revisions, therefore, accounted for a loss of 8,000 jobs. The net gain in May, therefore was 167,000 jobs—a decent increase but not a signal of any kind of growth-resumption. The graphic follows; pink bars indicate revised bars; red is the result for May—but subject to revision in the future.
This year I have also calculated, each month, what 2013 will look like as a whole if current trends hold. The projection, this month, based on five months of data, show that the economy will gain 2.27 million jobs. That result continues to be better than actual job growth in the 2010-2012 period, but it down from last month. Last month’s projection was 2.35 million.
Much as last month so in May, the real economy, that which produces goods, lost employment (1,000 jobs). So did government (a loss of 3,000 jobs). All the gains were in the services producing sectors, the two biggest gainers being Professional Business Services and Retail. Note here that within Professional Business Services, where 57,000 jobs were created, Temporary Employment accounted for 25,600 of those jobs or 45 percent. Even in the services, there is real hesitation in creating new, permanent jobs.
In the Wall Street Journal this morning, in a story titled “One of Wall Street’s Riskiest Bets Returns,” we read the following: “Investors are once again clamoring for a risky investment blamed for helping unleash the financial crisis: the synthetic CDO.”
To recap the meaning of this term. Collateralized Debt Obligations are produced by pooling bonds of all kinds, arranging them into slices from safest to most risky, and then selling each slice. The riskiest slices have the highest returns. “Synthetic” CDOs pool insurance policies written on the bonds, also arranged into slices. Again, the least safe have the highest payouts. The larger the total amount of such pools, the greater the risk of a general melt-down.
It is entirely reasonable to think that our public life—that our governance—is altogether out of control. The financial melt-down began in 2006. These kinds of speculative derivatives were the principal cause of it. Now they are back? Let us not forget that creating ever greater “attractive” pools led to criminally negligent lending—guaranteeing a melt-down, sooner or later. Are the dynamics any different today?
Our national public sector, however, appears to be paralyzed. We should have had simple laws, already in 2008 or earlier, absolutely prohibiting the creation and trading of any kind of derivatives. That didn’t happen. You want to buy stock? Fine. You want to buy a bond? Fine. All other so-called creative “investment products” should be outlawed. Didn’t happen. Therefore, of course, even stocks and bonds are riskier to own. Gambling is carefully controlled all over these many states. Why is gambling on the markets getting a free ride?
Every jewelry store we pass has signs out saying: “We buy gold.” Well, the right answer to that is to hold on to gold. What with the “parents” now insane, it is almost predictable that in due time paper currency will go the way of all other intangible “instruments.” And people biting on coins will also return. It’s reasonable, in other words, to act as if the world has gone plain crazy.
A week ago roughly I commented on the resurgent housing market (link), interpreting it as the return of homebuyers, who really need housing, after a seven-year period of slumping. Today comes a rather startling news story; I saw it in the New York Times. It turns out that most of the home purchases have been made by investment houses acting, evidently, to “create” confidence. If that’s what they were doing, this news should dampen whatever confidence was there. “Nationwide,” NYT writes, “68 percent of the damaged homes sold in April went to investors, and only 19 percent to first time home buyers, according to Campbell Housing-Pulse.” That word, “damaged,” refers to impacted in price by the housing slump. Most of the houses bought by investment houses are being rented—awaiting higher prices yet when, presumably, they will be unloaded. Can news be trusted any longer? Every story about the economy’s turn-around (“At last!”) by media commentators cited the surge in home purchases—and that surge was interpreted as a shift in “consumer” confidence—rather than as Wall Street manipulation.
At the bottom of a very, very old pile I came across a pad of paper which produced nostalgic memories. It was an all-purpose AmPad miniature spreadsheet, of the old-fashioned kind, thus neatly pre-ruled pages. Herewith an image of it. I call it a miniature because, on full-sized jobs of calculation, we used pads of much greater size. But they were essentially the same format you see here but made both wider and deeper.
The old spreadsheet—which also gave its name to the electronic kind—served exactly the same purposes. Ever notice that when you open a new page of Excel, for instance, one of the first tasks is to make the left-most column wider—because that’s where the descriptive labels usually go? Well, in the old days the paper versions came that way. And, of course, both rows and columns were numbered. The electronic versions introduced column-marking using letters, which made it less confusing to reference a cell.
To be sure, working with the vast, physical, ancient spreadsheets was a bother. You had to have a calculator handy. And in the really early days those were not small and handy but big and bulky and almost too heavy to move.
Yes. Nostalgia. Most of it is of this flavor. Somehow the past appears in a rosy sort of light whereas the present is always in black and white. Until you recall what a major labor it was to revise a column already filled with numbers. All that erasing, all that cursing. Ah, the good-old-days.
The housing market started to plummet as soon as the 2005 was over—and then, measured in the value of business done, it plummeted like one of those cars falling off the collapsing bridge. Here is a chart from an earlier posting. In effect we’ve had a period of seven years and five months in which the housing market was dead in the water, and ship taking water on top of that. Obviously time enough had passed so that natural demand for housing would begin to build up sooner or later. And now we have reports that housing is up. Not surprisingly, these figures are over-hyped. Consumer confidence is also showing gains, although these are not dramatic—and have been fluctuating up and down. But suddenly everything is all right again?
Don’t think so. The housing market must be viewed narrowly—and pragmatically. Much as the automobile market. Those two categories are basic. Sooner or later people must buy a house, must replace the car. And these two areas will therefore respond to actual need. But when we look at the economy as a whole, it is still treading water. In the most recent monthly employment reports, all of the gains were in the Services sectors. Construction lost jobs, Manufacturing showed zero gains, Mining and Logging lost jobs too. The real economy is still stirring in uneasy sleep.
The upsurge of optimism is a function of unreasoning exaggeration. Our media does not simply report the news—with proper additions of the relevant context. It behaves, instead, like a megaphone with a mind of its own. The message is “Housing sales are picking up, home values are on the increase.” What we hear is something else: “Great news. America is confident again and the bonanza will soon resume.” But it isn’t over yet. The fat lady is still in the dressing room. It will be a while until she rolls on the stage and starts to sing.
A story in the Wall Street Journal informs me this morning that Amazon is developing a smartphone that will produce 3-D images on its screen. How will that look? Here from the story:
Using retina-tracking technology, images on the smartphone would seem to float above the screen like a hologram and appear three-dimensional at all angles.
Reminded me of my handful of experiences with 3-D attempts in the entertainment field going back into the 1950s. Each of these, from my perspective, was a total failure—introduced with a lot of hoopla but never taking hold. These foolish wastes of developmental money keep recurring at right regular intervals, but never bearing fruit.
On the same 2-D page where this story is, Aflac has an ad depicting, wouldn’t you know it, the Aflac duck. It looks perfectly three-dimensional to me, achieved by color shadings and a realistic perspective. What would I do if Aflac ducks were rising from my newspaper and seemingly floating in the air. Would shivers pass over my skin? Amazon, Amazon! Please! Don’t try so hard to amazon me.