UCCShooting and Mom’s arsenal

Oct 04 2015

Your correspondent attended an economics conference where Dr. Henry Kissenger spoke. He was asked about the difference between Russia and China from a policymaking view. He said that China was making the transition from obtaining what they want through military policy to using economic means instead. Russia, he pointed out, had not made that transition. In the years since, we can see how true this is.

In the recent shooting, it’s been revealed that the mother of the mass murderer was quite the gun advocate, and bragged about her arsenal. Your correspondent has been considering the problem of the right to bear arms enshrined in the Constitution for some time, never at peace with it.

But we see now that many Americans are still living in a past that never really existed: the Wild West. There is a minority of citizens who see themselves as persecuted, in danger of assault or robbery, and rather than live as civilized people they stockpile arms. The most extreme prepare for Armageddon, but others are simply powderkegs who sometimes explode and take vengeance on society for wrongs that never existed. Listening only to those like them, or those they love to hate, they attempt to return us to a savage time that they see as better, mostly due to their ignorance and need for a purpose in life, and hate gives them a sense of purpose.

There is no reason for this. The NRA and others who advocate gun ownership need to communicate this to their members and become a voice of reason. We are not in the Wild West. To have this bunker mentality, this belief that guns protect us, makes no sense.

The number of self-defense shootings is negligible compared to the number of violent crimes and murders. This has been consistent for decades. Why are we not paying attention?

Statistics: L.A. Times and Violence Policy Center. Yes, these are biased, but check FBI statistics and draw your own conclusions. We did.

Leave playing cowboy to Hollywood. Gun owners are more likely to kill themselves or someone they know than to defend themselves. Yes, there is some deterrent to having a gun visible (open carry), but the price to the rest of us for personal feelings of security for a few is too high. So is the price of getting to play cowboy or Dirty Harry.

It’s time to do something. Republicans, now is your time to shine. Show leadership and begin showing the country that we are a civilized country, not a bunch of children playing with dangerous toys. Shame on the Republican party if they do nothing. Democrats, shame on you if you don’t cooperate on this. You’ve been all talk and no action for too long. Both parties ought to agree on some basic first steps. We aren’t ready for an Amendment yet, but there is simply no reason to avoid taking this on now. Politicians, act in our best interest for once.

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Participative Commoditization

Aug 07 2015

Are you in a service industry where prices are being driven down by a fragmented market, lots of players, and burgeoning demand drawing even more suppliers?

We recently were called in to consult on business intelligence and analytics, and found that all sorts of marketing spins were used to excuse level transaction levels (quantity of services rendered) in such a market. This involved adjusting revenue reporting into “marketing dollars” instead of real ones, so that revenues would appear to be holding level in light of anemic growth.

But if a service is commoditizing, it is because the demand and supply are both high. And if you don’t see an increase, a strong one, in your transaction levels, you are not participating. You are being acted upon instead.

Eat or be eaten. Don’t let your marketing organization fool you. Keeping revenues constant under commoditization is a challenge, but that is marketing’s job. Shareholders don’t care about excuses. If prices are dropping and margins are getting tight, it’s going to show up in earnings, and that is all shareholders care about.

If you don’t have a high degree of automation, including operational and financial data warehousing, reporting and analytics, numbers can be spun too easily.

Know the numbers, believe the numbers, act on the numbers.

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Whom Do You Trust? Obama blocked US plan to arm Syrian rebels

Feb 08 2013

Briefly, the CIA, State Department (including Hillary Clinton) and Pentagon were all in favor of supplying arms to the Syrian rebels, but the President said no. For the record, Lokinomics opposes the President’s policies in nearly every case, but would like to consider the circumstances based on our experience. Whether or not arms should have been sent is the stuff of other days, but must a president, or any other leader, take the advice of their staff?

To hold the highest office in the land but have little trust in one’s own cabinet or staff is an insurmountable problem. The President has little choice but to rely on others, and let’s examine what he has to work with:

CIA – weapons of mass destruction – ’nuff said. Nobody trusts the CIA

State Department – Libya, Chris Stevens. No clue.

Pentagon) Needs to defend their budget, does not understand the Middle East. No one does.

Lokinomics has often had highly competent staff, in whom we placed great trust. Sometimes, we did not have this, and can sympathize with the President. A wrong answer risks another Iran-Contra or Afghanistan. It is completely reasonable that arms given to Syrian rebels would be used against civilians at some point, and quite likely for terrorist acts. We have believed from the beginning that the Arab Spring will end in even more hatred for the U.S., and with a strengthened position for radical Islam. The denial of arms will be a reason to hate us, as well. It is a lose-lose proposition.

The President does not trust his cabinet. Neither do we. We do not trust the President, and he does not trust us. This usually results in inaction, which is a kind of safety valve for ineffective administrations. Regarding Syria, inaction was the safest course for the President. Perhaps it was even the best one.

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The Wonders of Automated Recommendations?

Jan 28 2013

Lokinomics is currently involved in the creation of some mobile apps, and visited iTunes to view the competition. We were greeted with:

Looks like a recommendation... I wonder how users like it?

So we took a look at this app, and saw the following under Recommendations:

So this is the Editor's Choice? What are the criteria?

191 one-star ratings, and the author has at least 171 shills.

We are fascinated. As we enter the iTunes market (we have applied to be a supplier of apps), we must expect we will be offered the chance to be an Editor’s Choice… for a price. Is this some kind of automated system? Surely it can be better than this, or else the other choices were that much worse. It needs little comment from us, except this is why we get a well-deserved reputation for having a problem with authority. Apple may care about how the iPhone looks, but they apparently care little about the quality of apps they recommend.

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Young, gifted and slack

Dec 12 2012

Thoughts on “Young, gifted and slack,” by Dominic Barton, of McKinsey & Company, published in The Economist, The World in 2013 issue.

As Mr. Barton points out, there will be an “85m global shortfall of high- and middle-skill workers” at a time when young people in some countries are rioting due to lack of opportunity. A simultaneous glut and shortage.

LokiNomics, among other endeavors, has managed information technology teams, and always found a shortage of skilled team members. We have rarely hired a citizen of the United States, mostly H1-B from India, but also Russia, Ukraine, China, Pakistan. We generally attribute this to the United States’ educational system and cultural decay, and would like to explore Mr. Barton’s observations a bit further.

He notes that “nearly 70% of employers blamed inadequate training for the shortfall,” but “70% of education providers believe” they imparted the skills for the market. Note that while employers may place blame, they may also be incorrect. Current filter-based recruiting mechanisms may play a role (we have direct and hilarious experience with this), or hiring bias, or any number of selection issues, intentional or not.

The educators may also be incorrect. They may have incorrectly assessed market needs, or simply failed to deliver. We do not know, although our experience indicates the latter.

Perhaps it bothers no one else that the U.S. absolutely must import skilled workers. Our discomfort does not stem from xenophobia but two other concerns. First, there is gross inefficiency involved. Having dealt with visa issues for decades, and the difficulties of international travel costs and dialects, local labor is clearly preferable, all other considerations being equal. Second, why should we not have workers available in this country? Why does it say about the U.S. that intelligent workers must be imported, especially at a time of high unemployment?

LokiNomics spent a day in Sacramento earlier this year, meeting with state senators and assembly members to discuss education-related budget matters and various bills coming up for votes. Most notable for education was a discussion with assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-CA) to express our opposition to cuts in science education. A key point LokiNomics presented was our direct experience with the lack of Computer Science graduates from the U.S., and how reducing sciences funding was a step in the wrong direction. After calling us racist (he was apparently unaware that U.S. citizens come in all races), he then proceeded to say that the local university would be happy to fill all our needs. He was unaware that the state universities make up their budget shortfalls through foreign tuitions. In fact, American enrollment in graduate programs dropped 2.3 percent last year, while foreign enrollment climbed 7.8 percent (story here). If there is an improvement, it will not come from this legislator, especially as he was defeated in November.

At The World in 2013 Festival this past weekend, Lynn Forester de Rothschild talked about useful skills that could be taught, and how probabilities could be more useful at work than certain other kinds of math. In our day job, we find reasoning skills even more valuable than probability in prospective employees, and more rare. Reasoning is difficult to teach in an institutional setting, however, and especially at the younger ages. It borders on philosophy and values, which in turn borders on religion. Reasoning is best taught at home, but we have a chicken-and-egg problem there, as one cannot give what one has not got. Reasoning is not a popular practice in the U.S., but we would like to recommend it.

Mr. Barton’s suggestion of a practicum is fine, but executives tend to seek simplistic solutions, and this one can impart technical skills, but not reasoning. We believe the great question of the times is how to reenergize the thinking of a generation, to desire to be great in reasoning, in prudence, in foresight, but also in mercy, magnanimity, and respect for all people. If we do not raise the ability to reason effectively, we perish.

the need for logic

Maria’s class and lack of logic.

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The World in 2013 Festival

Dec 09 2012

Lokinomics attended The World in 2013 Festival in New York City this weekend. Eric Schmidt of Google (did I need to clarify that?) sat next to us during the early conversations on stage but was then moved up to the adults table.

Over the next few days, we will be writing responses to The World in 2013 publication and the predictions and comments made at the dinner Thursday and the programme on Saturday.

We have not been good at updating this blog, but the Festival has inspired us to remedy the situation, despite having a day job that requires long hours and flying about.

First up is a response to the article, “Young, gifted and slack” by Dominic Barton, of McKinsey & Company. Stay tuned.

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Nov 27 2010

Some time ago, an acquaintance told me he was moving back to Ireland. He said there was little point living here and having to work when he could be on the dole back home and live for free. Others I’ve met over the years complain about the stinginess of the U.S. government and wonder why we fail to provide for everyone, instead of making everybody work. Well, maybe they see why now.
The nanny state, the welfare state, is unsustainable. Doing something about environmental sustainability is fashionable, but not economic sustainability. The debt-GDP ratio is bad enough, but consider that these generous countries have a growing non-working population that will expect entitlements to continue, along with an inelastic workforce, and there will be too few workers to pay for it all.
In business school, during a discussion of the economic difficulties in the Caribbean, most students advocated wholesale forgiveness of debt. While their intentions might have been laudable, these actions are not without cost. We are still paying for the home giveaways through Freddie and Fanny, and the pressure on lenders to grant loans to those who could not pay, and the Fed has recently moved the recovery estimate out to five years (our initial estimate was fifteen years and we stand by it).
Recovery is far away, and will elude us until we get serious about cutting costs. The budget could be cut more aggressively just by removing waste. Reducing corruption is more difficult, but would yield additional savings. Government’s job specification needs to be cut down to the essentials: empower trade, protect the citizenry from invasion and crime, and perform those functions of government which cannot be effectively accomplished without it.

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Personal Economics and Job Hunting

Feb 28 2010

Taking a break from our usual pursuits and commentaries, we are posting a list of job boards analyzed and ranked by Scott Wilson, Director of Information Services at Shriners Hospitals for Children. His results are posted here, but if your browser cannot read it, the Excel file is here.

From our own experience as a consultant and interim manager, most postings on boards are useless. We respond within minutes to postings, hoping to catch the recruiter while the posting is fresh, and gaining a kind of first mover status, coming in strong and setting the bar high for latecomers. What a load of cliché, but largely true. If there is a phone number, we call to make contact right away, and ask at some point whether the recruiter is working with the hiring manager. If not, it will almost certainly go nowhere. In any case, we listen for objections and overcome them where possible.

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The 2011 Budget and the Dearth of Loans

Feb 01 2010

WSJ: White House Proposes $3.8 Trillion Budget

LokiNomics’ brother-in-law is looking for a small loan for his business, but the banks are having none of it, despite many years of successful operation. Indeed, this is a common pattern and addressed in the recent State of the Union address. Continue Reading »

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Why Senator Brown Doesn’t Matter

Jan 21 2010

Amid the hoopla surrounding the election of  the Brown-horse candidate in Massachusetts, it is worth remembering that this is not important, or only 1% so. He is one of a hundred senators now, but the effect on the moderate Democrats is important. In the coming days, Senator Brown’s “youthful indiscretions” will be paraded out, but too late. The only important reasons for his success at the polls is voter sentiment and the administration’s disconnect. A defiant Democratic party has been ramming a shoddy health care program through, loaded with the pork and back-room deals ostensibly deplored by the president, at least at election time. While record numbers of voters are losing their jobs, the administration and congress, working as a one-party system, has attempted to raid the voters to reward their supporters. Moderates (being moderate), lacked the spine to reject bad health care bills, but now they have an excuse. It may not be dead, but the president has apparently turned his attention to other ways to wreck the nation, imposing new regulations to guarantee further delays to the recovery and driving a jittery market down. A low Fed rate, 8.6 million jobs lost, a year wasted on a pork-infested health care effort while doing nothing about costs, escalated war spending (why are we paying a corporation for security there?), and the general feeling among most of us that the country is in decline yet the president and congress apparently have some agenda other than these concerns.

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