Sunday, November 25, 2012

The death of simplicity

I sometimes think (but have no intention of acting on it or urging others to) that the world would be a better place if all architects were shot.  In their desperation for "originality" and novelty, architects these days seem to specialize in designing structures that are ever more ugly and dysfunctional.  A return to simpler, more traditional forms would work better, look better and cost a lot less.

But the desperation for originality is not confined to architects.  It is society-wide.  There is a society-wide fascination with the new.  For many poor souls, it is prestigious to have the newest of everything.

But that novelty is almost always dysfunctional in at least one way:  complexity.  New things are usually more complex than the old.  And that gets very tiring.  Thomas Sowell gives some excellent examples in his comments about hotels below  -- points that will undoubtedly be ignored by all hotels.  His points clash with the ego needs of the hoteliers.  They see prestige in having "the latest" of everything, regardless of how well "the latest" works.

I have lived long enough to have had a stream of electronic gadgets pass through my hands: radios, phones, TVs etc.  And each generation of them gets harder to use.  As Sowell found, the days of turning on a TV and using a simple rotary dial to find a station are long gone.  When you buy a new TV there are all sorts of complex performances required before any stations are accessible -- and poring over a manual to see what is required is a must.  And even after that ritual has been performed, changing stations can still be a puzzle for a while.

I don't suppose anybody uses VHS videotape recorders any more but they were a good example of the problem too.  If you had a power outage, all your settings were lost and there were guys who made a good living going around after outages and resetting videorecorders for confused ladies.

I myself took revenge on this loss of simplicity by doing something very eccentric:  I paid $300 for my kitchen radio (Illustration here).  Why did I do that?  I bought it because it was simple.  On the front on it are only three controls:  An on/off switch, a tuning dial and a volume knob.  I could use it the moment I turned it on!  Expensive though!  -- JR

Few things can make you appreciate home like staying in a hotel. This includes not only low-budget, bare bones hotels but also sweepingly large and ornate luxury hotels. What many hotels seem to have in common are needless hassles.

Since most people who stay in hotels do so while traveling, and stay only a few days in a given hotel, you might think that those who run hotels would want to make it easy for someone who arrives a little tired (or a lot tired) from traveling to use the various devices they find in their hotel room. But you would be wrong. That thought never seems to have crossed their minds.

Recently, at a well-known luxury hotel in Los Angeles, I found that something as simple as turning on a television set can require a phone call to the front desk, and then waiting for the arrival of a technician. Then it took another phone call to get a list of which of the dozens of channels were for which networks.

Why the turning on of a television set should be anything other than obvious to a newly arrived hotel guest is apparently a question that never occurred to the people who ran this hotel. Nor did it apparently ever occur to them that someone just arriving from a journey might want to be able to relax, instead of having to cope with complications that the hotel could easily have avoided.

The next morning, in the shower, I found myself confronted with a dazzling array of knobs and levers, none of which provided any clue as to what they did. The lever rotated and four of the surrounding knobs both rotated and tilted forward and backward.

Apparently it was not considered sporting to come right out and tell you how to get hot water or cold water. That was something you could find out for yourself by being either scalded or chilled.

Being fancy and opaque seemed to be the guiding principle. Getting on the Internet required another phone call to the front desk. In fact, it required two phone calls, because I was first referred to the wrong technical support group.

It is easier to get on the Internet at almost any institution other than a hotel. And, at this particular hotel, you had to go through the whole procedure every day, instead of just signing up for Internet access for your entire stay when you checked in or logged on.

Being a luxury hotel, this one provided bathrobes. But I had my own bathrobe. At least I had it until the maids took it away when cleaning the room while I was out. Another phone call to the front desk.

Since my bathrobe was a white, terry-cloth robe and the hotel's robes were a light tan and made of a different material, I thought there was no danger that one would be mistaken for the other. But I was wrong.

Just how wrong I discovered when, after a long delay, late at night when I wanted to get to sleep, a man appeared with a large bag containing two bathrobes. Apparently their search had also turned up another guest's bathrobe that the maids had taken. It looked even less like the hotel's bathrobe than mine did.

Something as simple as turning on a light can be a puzzle at some hotels. Again, the fatal allure of the fancy seems to be the problem with people who choose things to put in hotel rooms. Moreover, it is not uncommon for different lamps in the same hotel room to have different fancy ways of being turned on.

Years ago, at a hotel where I stayed for a week, it was only on the last day that I finally figured out, or stumbled on, the way to turn one of the floor lamps off and on.

Since I was very busy on that trip, I didn't feel like adding this to the list of things to phone the front desk about, especially late at night, when I was more interested in getting to sleep than in waiting for some technician to show up and unravel the mystery.

After my misadventures in Los Angeles, I was off to San Diego, where a hotel maid had to replace a light bulb in the bedroom and a technician had to fix a lamp in the living room. Later I had to fix a toilet that kept running after being flushed. I once had a toilet like that at home, so I knew what to do. But I replaced my malfunctioning toilet at home, unlike the hotel.

No amount of fancy things makes up for hassles.



The Twinkies story reviewed

Mike Shedlock returns to the fray below.  His summary is good but I think he takes insufficient account of history.

The union concerned is one of those power-drunk unions that repeatedly made restrictive and uneconomic demands that deprived management of the ability to manage.  Such unions can only be crushed rather than reformed -- as Ronald Reagan showed with PATCO  and Margaret Thatcher showed with the Fleet St print unions.

So the bosses at Hostess must have been heartily tired of dealing with the thugs concerned and the big money the bosses paid themselves were a "golden escape" for them -- to make it easy on themselves if they had to shut down the company.  (All value for the shareholders had already been lost through the earlier bankruptcy proceedings).

So Leftists rage at the money paid to management but if the union had been reasonable neither the big money to management nor the job losses would have been needed.  Both the big money to management and the shutdown were revenge for years of union thuggery.

The big money to management might even have been foreseen by management as a provocation that would cause the union to dig its heels in and thus justify the shutdown.  So an embittered management punched the union oppressors in the face by making them responsible for 15,000 lost jobs -- JR

At least a dozen readers sent emails in response to my previous two posts on Twinkies.

One misguided soul from the Netherlands wrote "Your article on the bankruptcy of Hostess is so extremely biased. I am NOT surprised because you're ALWAYS bashing the unions."

Many emails including the one from the Netherlands pointed to articles such as Vulture capitalism ate your Hostess Twinkies.

One person accused me of being an extreme right-winger. I also received comments about me being an extreme left-wing Obama fan.

Silliness is clearly in the eyes of the beholder as it is impossible for both of those to be true. (In fact, neither is true because I am issue-based, not political party based, and I have huge differences with both major political parties).

I sometimes wonder if people can read.  Regarding Twinkies, I distinctly stated on my blog and I repeat ...

"There is plenty of blame to go around, including untenable wages and benefits, leveraged debt, untenable management salaries etc.

However, the enabling factor behind the debt is loose monetary policy by the Fed coupled with fractional reserve lending. Factor in unions and corrupt management and there is no way the company could make it without huge concessions from the union.

Still, it is difficult to have much sympathy for those who vote to have no job in these trying times.

The union will likely see pension benefits slashed by 50% or more when handed over to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC). The PBGC is of course US taxpayers who should not have to pick up any of this tab at all (but they will)."

The person who accused me of being an extreme right-winger heard me on Coast-to-Coast where I mentioned "vulture capitalists" and leveraged debt.

So yes, I am aware of leverage. I am also aware of huge raises and other poor management decisions.  The facts remain as follows

*    The Fed's loose monetary policy and fractional reserve lending enable leveraged buyouts

*    The unions made a piss poor choice

*    Past is Irrelevant

There was an offer on the table that would have saved 15,000 jobs. The union said no. Are those 15,000 people better off with no job than a job?

That is all that matters. Management salaries and leveraged debt are in effect sunken costs. If the majority of those people can go out and find a better deal, then they made the correct choice. If not, they didn't.

Given that accrued pension benefits went up in smoke in addition to all those jobs, I strongly suggest the union made a very poor choice.

I freely admit that if a majority of those workers can find better jobs with better benefits, then I am mistaken. However, that begs the question: If those workers could do better elsewhere, than why were they working for Hostess in the first place?

Like it or not, nothing else matters. Cutting off your nose (or your job) to spite management is not a smart thing to do.



A vast moral difference

by Jeff Jacoby

Palestinians have a fierce new song to accompany their intensified conflict with Israel. "Strike a Blow at Tel Aviv," recorded by Shadi al-Bourini and Qassem al-Najjar, was posted last week on various Palestinian websites, including the Facebook page of the TV show Fenjan Al-Balad, which describes its mission as "trying to influence young Palestinian society for the better." The video, which features images of wounded Israelis and massed Qassam artillery rockets, opens with these lines:

Strike a blow at Tel Aviv.
Strike a blow at Tel Aviv.
Strike a blow at Tel Aviv and frighten the Zionists.
The more you build it, the more we will destroy it.
Strike a blow at Tel Aviv.

Over a driving beat, the lyrics (translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute) grow increasingly bellicose. "We don't want no truce or bargain," they proclaim. They exhort the missiles to "explode in the Knesset" and "terrorize Tel Aviv," while mocking the Israelis in bomb shelters who "cower with fear."

There have been many Israeli war songs over the years. Indeed, the endless conflict with the Arabs has engendered some of Israel's most enduring music. But most of it revolves around a longing for peace and the desire for normality. An Israeli equivalent of "Strike a Blow at Tel Aviv," ecstatic at the prospect of killing the enemy, is virtually unthinkable.

Other Palestinian videos have also been getting attention this week. Al-Aqsa TV, the official Hamas-run television channel, has been airing messages that extol suicide bombings and advise Israelis to get ready for more of them. "We've missed the suicide attacks," one video jeers. "Expect us soon at bus stations and in cafés." A second, along with video of rockets being fired into Israel, warns "the Zionists" not to go to bed: "We may get you in your sleep." In still another, Hamas reiterates the oft-repeated boast of murderous jihadists everywhere: "[We] love death more than you love life."

Media coverage of the hostilities in Gaza tends to focus on rockets and casualties and diplomatic maneuvering. Not emphasized nearly enough is the vast moral distance that separates Israel from its terrorist enemy. Israel and Hamas are not at war over territory. What divides them is an unbridgeable cultural abyss. On one side is a Jewish state that seeks peace with its neighbors and has repeatedly offered deep concessions to achieve it; on the other, a fanatic regime of jihadists who glorify death, abominate Jews – and are obsessed with eradicating that solitary Jewish state.

"Our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave," avows the hate-drenched Hamas charter. Success will not come, declares Article 7, "until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: 'O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!'"

By now it shouldn't come as news that Hamas means what it says. By now it should be obvious even to the congenitally naïve that so long as Hamas rules Gaza – a de facto Palestinian state, no matter what anyone calls it – it will never end its quest for Israel's annihilation. To Western eyes that may seem an improbable objective, given Israel's enormous military edge. But Hamas understands the value of terror. When it can send hundreds of rockets slamming over the border, when it can force Israelis to listen constantly for the siren that means they have just 15 seconds to find shelter, Hamas inches toward its goal. And when Israel finally retaliates and only then does an international uproar ensue, Hamas inches closer still.

What can diplomacy achieve with an enemy that rejects the basic norms of international behavior? That is not only indifferent to the suffering of its own people, but welcomes it for its propaganda value? That rejoices in suicide terrorism, and runs TV spots promising more of it?

Diplomacy cannot solve the problem of terrorist regimes. Neither can unilateral concessions or UN resolutions. The only solution is to deprive the terrorists of power. So long as Gaza remains a Hamas-ruled tyranny, peace will remain but a dream.




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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist.  It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day.  It was only to the Right of  Stalin's Communism.  The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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