Cloud Atlas, a book and now a film

If you have not read anything by David Mitchell, you should. And CloudAtlas is a good one to start with.  Put simply, the book is about power, our will to power, and where it takes us individually, collectively, and historically.  The film trailer shouts out “everything is connected”, a cliché, but the book warrants, may even require, repeated readings.  And yes, part of the challenge and fun is figuring out how the stories tie together.

The novel is structured around a set of individual stories or vignettes which take place in different historical periods including the future, centuries into the future.  Each story is written in the vernacular of the period including the two stories set in the future.

There is plenty of tense drama, lots of action (hence, the film) and gorgeous writing.

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Health Care Reform Politics

This is an excellent video clip. The insurance mandate is the spinach we need to eat.

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Chinese Readers Repond to the Apple’s Great Chinese Success Story

If you did read the comments to the article from readers in China, were you surprised at all?

I would expect any Chinese reader even a reader of the NYT to support, even celebrate, the achievements of manufacturing in China.  The following reaction is illustrative of this perspective and its an argument often used in this country to defend so-called Right to Work legislation. If one drives up the cost of labor by protecting workers, fewer workers (rural migrants) will be employed.  The poor will lose out whenever labor laws regulate working conditions.  (To review, a prominent part of the NYT story was the availability of thousands of workers on short notice in the middle of night.)

If more rigorous labor protection standards and 8-5 working time protocol are being strictly executed, we can expect a plunge of the workers’ wages. If labor organizations with monopoly rights are established, those rural migrant workers who cannot find a position in the organization will be forced back to their hopeless villages. Manufacturing costs in China will increase in other ways and therefore harm its competitive advantage. Under such conditions, huge companies and advocates get to harvest their reputation and sense of achievement, but who else will get the real profit? — YeyeGem

If people saw what kind of life workers lived before they found a job at Foxconn, they would come to an opposite conclusion of this story: that Apple is such a philanthropist. — Zhengchu1982

Without Apple, Chinese workers will be worse off. I hope China can some day soon have dozens of its own companies like Apple, who (only) work on high-end research and development and send manufacturing lines to Africa. — Anonymous

From the other side –that there is an other side surprised me — come critical comments and moral judgments that will eventually lead to laws that protect workers, assuming that such laws are not already in place and unenforced. The trade-offs (some migrant workers return to their villages) implicit in labor market regulations will likely require more democracy in China. The germination of the critique of unfettered capitalism within today’s most successful capitalist country is added proof that free market capitalism is intolerable over the long term.

Even though Apple should be ethically condemned, the key point is: whether the working conditions inside the factories are supervised by law. This (supervision) is the duty of judicial officers and labor unions. Now everything is driven only by G.D.P., so which government official would dare supervise those companies? They (the governments) have long reduced themselves to the servant of the giant enterprises. — Occasional Think

There are two stories about Apple: one is about its brilliant business performance, and the other is about the blood and sweat behind Apple miracles. I strongly recommend that all Apple fans read this. Corporations should bear social responsibilities, and customers should also understand and be responsible to the society. —

I’m very upset after reading this. This is a universal problem, not only Apple’s. Apple cannot manage its suppliers to fulfill their suppliers’ social responsibilities. This is out of Apple’s business control. There’s no difference between those workers and the ones suffering serious mental stress. They have to work overtime until midnight as well, though they are sitting in the office. But seriously, it’s very uncomfortable to sit in front of a computer all day. — 艾咪莉王建秀



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Election 2012

Thus spake Mitt Romney.

He is not concerned because the poor have a safety that according to Mitt is in fine working order.

Mitt says he is not concerned about the rich, because they are in great shape, thanks to the devoted attention of the Republican Party — my comment, not Mitt’s.

I salute Mitt’s partial honesty — I don’t really believe the part about his lack of interest in the welfare of the rich. The plight of the poor is of no interest to Republican politicians and of little interest to most Democratic politicians.  For Democrat to talk about the poor is a political liability; better to talk about the struggling middle class and devise policies that support the poor.  Republicans have convinced themselves that by tending to the economically powerful the benefits of growth will “trickle down” to those at the bottom.

The Republican ideologists/apologists are not satisfied…

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Apple and Jobs in the United States

Two articles in the NYT last week on the success of Apple as a business and the impact that success has had on US employment and on Asia speaks to our future.  I’ll discuss the first article here and the second article on the health costs of overseas production in a separate post.

The success of Apple has not duplicated the success of GM and Ford in the 1950s.  A success, which employed over 400,000 workers in the US.  Most of the jobs associated with Apple have happened in Asia among the companies supplying Apple with parts and assembled products.  The 700,000 jobs created in the Apple supply chain, which is “mostly overseas”, dwarfs the 43,000 Apple employees in the US.

We like to think of Apple as a modern day American high tech business success story, that if replicated, would ease  unemployment and increase income among the “99%”.  The truth is a bitter pill. The cutting edge technology most associated with the United States high tech — Microsoft, Apple, etc. –is unlikely to lead to manufacturing jobs here according to this article.  The reason is not just our higher wages compared to Asia.  The cost of labor is a very small part of the cost of electronic devices.

…For technology companies, the cost of labor is minimal compared with the expense of buying parts and managing supply chains that bring together components and services from hundreds of companies…..

…. the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” …. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.” ….

Asia, chiefly China,  is the home of hundreds of suppliers of electronic parts.  To be a player in the supply chain it pays to be there. When demand for Corning’s high strength glass (the glass used in the iphone) rose following their success with Apple, Corning increased production in Taiwan and Japan because that’s where their customers are.

The ability of Asian companies to respond quickly to Apple is highlighted in the story about changing the iphone screens from plastic to glass. Steve Jobs  wanted it done quickly.

In mid-2007, after a month of experimentation, Apple’s engineers finally perfected a method for cutting strengthened glass so it could be used in the iPhone’s screen. The first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones. Within three months, Apple had sold one million iPhones.

The other advantages of Asia are a plentiful of mid-level technicians and engineers and the ability to hire and put them to work quickly and government subsidies that speed up production.

One final quote:

The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory. It had a warehouse filled with glass samples available to Apple, free of charge. The owners made engineers available at almost no cost. They had built on-site dormitories so employees would be available 24 hours a day. via Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class –

This sounds like bad news all around for us.  However, Chinese do in fact see something wrong with their splendid success–  the subject of my next post.

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Maybe Political Ideas Do Matter

I have been intrigued by the idea that what we need now is deeper political thinking, that starts with understanding those principles of government which the Tea Party and other libertarians have tossed aside.  When I am absolutely astounded by the stupidity of current political rhetoric I dream of a movement that engages all of us in dialogue about fundamental political ideas:  A science cafe focused on philosophy and government that would lead us to the  promised land of engaged, deliberating citizens.

I wake from this dream and discard it because I doubt that enough of us are truly  motivated by political principles and interested in principles as a basis for political decisions.   There is considerable evidence that what we profess philosophically in politics is a poor guide to the specific policies we prefer.  Americans have been called philosophically conservative, but “operationally liberal“.  When asked about specific problems we expect government to be part of the solution. On the other hand, we,  large majorities of us,  profess to support limited government and minimal taxation.

In Philosophy Shapes Politics Zack Beauchamp discusses the possibility that the political ideas we hold may motivate our views of government policies and programs.  He borrows the concept of motivated reasoning to explain how.

To get us started he uses an example from the kitchen:

…. motivated reasoning theory claims that, instead of using reason to get to the truth of the matter, we use it to get to the conclusion we want to reach. For example, if I really want sour cream on my Chipotle burrito, I won’t reason towards the truth on the health impact of sour cream, because that would move me away from my desire to get tasty sour cream. Rather, I’ll convince myself it’s not so bad for me (I exercised today! It has protein!) so I can get what I want.

This type of thinking is sometimes called a rationalization.  We are only pretending to search for reasons that will determine a decision.  How would motivated reasoning work in politics?

If we believe in an enforceable right to health care as an extension of our antecedent moral beliefs …. we want the government to be able to ensure greater access to better health care. If we think people have a right to keep fairly earned money on libertarian grounds, we want the government to respect that person’s right to their money.

In other words, our philosophical commitments might be motivating our policy views.

People who believe in a moral right to health care want to accept the claim that the government can effectively provide people with health care, as that would allow the government to be able to bring about the state of affairs they want. People who oppose taxation on moral grounds are more likely to accept supply side arguments that taxation (sic, tax cuts –wh53) will raise government income so as to eliminate arguments against the outcome their political philosophy inclines them to prefer.

If this is all true, then commitments to principles matters, and how we “think about principles” matters.  Philosophic discussion is not useless!  I can dream again!

Beauchamp adds, of course, (some of you have already arrived at this conclusion) —

 Unless, of course, people come to philosophical views based on another, more basic desire (rich people are opposed to taxation because they want their money).

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