The Instant Mall of the Future….an interesting idea

London’s new Containerized Mall

This  article A Walk Through London’s Boxpark, the Temporary Mall That’s Probably Coming Soon to a City Near You in the The Atlantic magazines Cities section talks about Boxpark, a containerized mall in london.  The structure are modified shipping containers with added insulation and fittings to make them into stores.  The whole thing was assembled on an empty lot in a few days and will be removed when construction starts on the building that’s going to go there permanently, in 5 years.  This is the next phase of the pop up store phenomenon, a pop up mall and there no longer needs to be an empty storefront available.  Also this would work to experiment with new store concepts, new locations, and even just to ‘freshen up’ or ‘change up’ a stale section of real estate. 

Also a dig for the Atlantic, which can be cranky liberal but is generally pretty even-handed and has some very good articles.  Their web page is pretty darn good and the Cities section has some fascinating off the beaten track articles.

Mark Twain and a thought or two about change

Twain in ~ 1890
Twain in ~ 1890

A picture from the Wikimedia archive of photos, which cover his adult life pretty thorouhgly.  this is a fantastic source of images.

Before I had chance in another war, the desire to kill people to whom I had not been introduced had passed away.
Autobiography of Mark Twain

Change is the handmaiden Nature requires to do her miracles with.
Roughing It

Strangely enough I have only read a little of Mark Twain’s work, I like reading about him and I like his humor and his philosophy but his classic novels don’t interest me.  Not sure if it was Junior High, High School readings that did it to me or if I’m just not  up for the experience.

I find the times in which he lived fascinating, in some ways we should be ashamed of ourselves for complaining about the rate of change today.  The rate of change during the Victorian era, or the Twain era (which overlap a great deal,) was simply incredible.  The biggest difference is that the impact was probably less personal than the changes today, but they were more physical.  The Transition from horse carriage and canal to train, the telegraph, the steam ship, the spread of parliamentary gov’t and limited monarchy, the explosion of broadsheet papers and journalism, the beginnings of scientific medicine etc.

By the time Twain died the world he had been born into would be almost unrecognizable.  The world you and I were born into are recognizably precursors to our life today.  However the differences in mental attitude and knowledge etc, are many orders of magnitudes greater than the same types of changes that happened across Twain’s life.

The intellectual changes that lead to the Victorian/Twain era explosion, happened in  the decades and years leading up to the years of greatest change.  Is that what we are seeing now, the build up of an underpinning that will enable quantum leaps in the physical characteristics of our lives like those that occurred from ~1840-1900?

Just a thought …

Did the ancient Myan’s predict the collapse of human civilization in 2012?

There have been a series of Cassandra video’s floating around this year, actually pretty much from the beginning of the internet.  I think the latest one I keep hearing glancing past is Post America or some such.  Ed Driscoll has a piece on the free fall of California that takes a lot of its material from this piece by Victor Davis Hanson then mentions the book After America from which the following comes:

 In ten years’ time, there will be no American Dream, any more than there’s a Greek or Portuguese Dream. In twenty, you’ll be living the American Nightmare, with large tracts of the country reduced to the favelas of Latin America, the rich fleeing for Bermuda or New Zealand or wherever on the planet they can buy a little time, and the rest trapped in the impoverished, violent, diseased ruins of utopian vanity.

“After America”? Yes. It will linger awhile in a twilight existence, arthritic and ineffectual, declining into a kind of societal dementia, unable to keep pace with what’s happening and with an ever more tenuous grip on its own past. For a while, there may still be an entity called the “United States,” but it will have fewer stars in the flag, there will be nothing to “unite” it, and it will bear no relation to the republic of limited government the first generation of Americans fought for. And life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be conspicuous by their absence.

I agree that things are ugly for certain segments and geographical subsets of the middle class.  But I do not see a wholesale breakdown of the American dream.  On one side the American Dream has always been time and place focused, on the other I see almost as many positive signs as negative if you look at things from a broader perspective.  Conservatives are always going to lament most changes they see around them and conservatives living hyper conservative lifestyles, (i.e. farmers, lawyers, police, military)  are going to see things going to hell with more poignancy. 

The way I see it we got here because of the sequence of bubbles we have lived through, from the Post Cold War Bubble, Tech Bubble, Internet Bubble, a General Bubble (up to 9/11/01) then the Housing Bubble.  All of this essentially enabled the following: 

  • Pandering to gov’t worker unions
  • venal politicians promising money they had no way of knowing would be there
  • Bankers divorced from personal financial risk taking too many risks
  • Stock investors who should know better always expecting smooth growth
  • Managers looking six months ahead instead of six years ahead
  • Apathetic voters:
    • Voters who vote for the guy who ‘looks’ the best
    • Voters who vote for the guy who promises the most
    • Young folks not voting because they’re working 60hours and playing 40.
    • Middle career folks voting on visceral because their working 60hours and then coming home to another 40 of honey dos
  • One issue voters
    • Old folks voting for their pensions with scant consideration for other issues
    • Gov’t workers voting their pocket book  with scant consideration for other issues.
    • Bee in their bonnet rich folks using referendum to drive through special initiatives with no concern for unintended consequences.
    • Bee in their bonnet single issue political movements who vote gut level issues like abortion or church state separation, lower taxes butleave no room for compromise even when most of the realize that compromise is the only way anything will ever really be done
    • Politicians who gutlessly sign pledges that lock out the possibility of compromise, which was the basis on which the US was established.
  • Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, as the king of Siam famously said

So…what am I saying?

That while I agree with the Cassandra’s that things look very bad this too shall pass, though sadly it’s not certain it will not pass without disorder and death, I expect that the United States will continue to exist for a few more centuries.  The majority of the country understands the general direction we need to go.  This majority does not include the rabid left or the zombie right but it does include many on both sides as well as the middle.

    • A retirement safety net that is much more focused on those in real need at a fraction of the current cost (means tested and not generally available till 75.)
    • A universal retirement savings system that is portable and personally monitored and focused on retiring at 70 only earlier if you have the funds or a real need due to disability.
    • A disability safety net that is probably little changed from today. but any federal mandate has to be funded by block grants from the federal gov’t .
    • Out of work benefits, system probably little changed from today but any federal mandate has to be funded by block grants from the federal govt’
    • Health Coverage:
      • A health insurance safety net focused on kids to 18
      • Universal Health Savings account (not mandatory you use it, not taxed), portable and personally controlled
      • Health insurance available, Insurance companies have to take new people, they can establish different price for different age groups (5 year min span.)  If you sign up as an adult with no prior insurance you will pay a reasonable premium for the first two years (25%)
      • Health cost published by all practitioners on their web pages, visits, shots, etc etc. 
      • Health practitioners are not allowed to charge different groups different prices for the same services.
      • People will pay their own health bills via a Pay Pal or equivalent system.
    • A simple but graduated income tax system without the bands.  I’d propose  simple linear progression from 0% at 10,000 to 20% at  $1 Million. Above $1M ‘income’ is considered capital gains and flat taxed
      • Capital Gains 25%.
      • No exemptions period end of sentence.
      • Special tax deals are special contracts with Department of Treasury / Inland Revenue, which Congress has to sign off on. 
      •  No tax deal can reduce expected tax rate below 10% ever.
    • Restrict the volume of regulations and laws.
      • A whole bunch of restrictions on length and length of effect.
      • You cannot make a regulation ex post facto (after the fact) just like no ex post facto laws restriction in the Constitution.
    • Anti Corruption
      • Congressmen have to put their money in a blind trusts.  No insider trading
      • All donations to all elected officials have to be public record, no restriction on the amount. No privacty for political acts.
      • Special interest groups who target politicians with adds, have to publish their financials and who provided the funds. No privacy rights for political acts.
    • Secrecy Restrictions
      • Debates on laws can be held behind closed doors but a proposed law has to be published on the internet at least ten days before the final vote and no special access for lobbyists etc.
      • Nothing can be held secret for more the 5 years without special and specific reasons agreed to by a committee of the senate and the maximum is 50 years.

  • No program / group above a certain size (10 people, $10 million) can be completely black, it has to have a public face and a public (and honest) reason for existence and its top level budget and basic structure must be public.

    • 5 and only 5 Departments of Executive Gov’t
      • Department of Treasury
      • Department of Defense
      • Department of State
      • Department of the Interior
      • Department of Commerce
      • All other departments shuttered and any necessary functions put in one of the others:
      • All current agencies would fall under one of these departments.  No independent Agencies of Gov’t. But can have an independent board of directors who can act as buffers…&seperate budget line item.
    • Recognize that blanket prohibition never works and establish a new regime for bad drugs including tobacco and alcohol.
    • Get Gov’t out of the marriage business.  Gov’t does care about stable committed partnerships for clear socio-economic reasons but should see it as a contractual issue.  Contract of Family Partnership to replace Marriage License.  Marriages are religious and can be restricted as the religious group sees fit. 

    So OK I got carried away, I’ve cut this list down several times then rebuilt it.  Not sure it’s really coherent but it does reflect my opinion on a number of topics.  I also think it reasonably represents the views of a lot of moderated, be they Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians, Progressives….I think.  I may find out I am absolutely wrong….but then that would require folks to read this…..sigh.


    Is Petabyte Storage and the supercomputer going to create the ultimate totalitarian state.

    FuturePundit: Government Total Recall On Past Communications.

    Is Petabyte Storage and the supercomputer going to create the ultimate totalitarian state?  There is some discussion that Syria and Iran already do this….as does the US.  The NSA theoretically only trolls outside the ‘Homeland’ but how can you be sure…isn’t this a bit like th False in one, False in all assumption, Roman lawyers pulled out of their butts a couple of millennia ago.

    Study of the Syrian Rebellion–update and some broader context

    This is an update of the earlier Syrian post. I think these two pieces supplement and bring up to date the ISW paper. First an article on the violence in Syria, which if compared to the white paper seems to show a continuing not accelerating level of violence. The bombings in Damascus would also appear to be part of a continuous ark rather than some large step, though I remain skeptical about who bears responsibility. The other Strapage article is a short discussion about the dueling use of orphans in sectarian violence, these boys and men grew up under awful circumstances and they tend to be easily turned into ruthless fighters. Another article the other day referenced the same socio-economic background for the Iranian Baij irregulars.

    The Struggle for Syria in 2011 | Institute for the Study of War.

    The scale of unrest in Syria has made it impossible for the regime’s security forces to simultaneously garrison all of the country’s key terrain. The regime has maintained control over Syria’s armed forces, despite limited defections. Therefore, the regime’s strategy has been to maneuver elite forces to key centers of unrest and conduct large clearance operations, using selective brutality in an effort to end the crisis.

    The regime successfully suppressed demonstrations in Dera’a, where the protests began in March 2011, by conducting aggressive clearance operations. This allowed the regime to focus resources elsewhere as the conflict progressed.

    Homs has become the conflict’s center of gravity because of its strategic location and its frequent sectarian violence. The regime attempted to quash Homs’ dissent in May, but emergencies elsewhere in Syria diverted attention and resources. By the time the security forces refocused on Homs in September, peaceful demonstrations had given way to armed resistance.

    Despite large demonstrations in Damascus’ northeast and southwest suburbs, the regime’s security presence and targeting campaign has successfully prevented demonstrations from overrunning downtown Damascus. The size of the pro-regime population in Damascus has also contributed to dampening unrest in the capital. From the beginning of the uprising, the regime has deliberately consolidated its control over the Alawite homeland of Syria’s coastal region. Clearance operations in Latakia, Baniyas, and Tel Kalakh targeted Sunni enclaves and shored up regime lines of communication

    From the Paper, a breakdown of the ethno religious makeup of the Syrian Populaion

    From the Paper, the distribution of the ethno religious groups in Syria
    From ArticleFrom the Paper, Gov’t Operations this year

    Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club pointed out this paper and has a very good analysis of it and some other bits, such as this, 58 Foreign Policy Analysts are urging Obama to act regarding Syria. And the article has an interesting lead in picture…

    Our Favorite Middle Eastern Leaders

    Getty Image/ Our Favorite Middle Eastern Leaders

    Now the problem is, which is more important for us to do keep our powder dry ready to deal with Iran, Ahmadinejad (in gray) or do we use assets and energy on Syria, Assad (dark blue) which is the more important world issue? Hands down, right now it would seem that Iran’s nuclear weapons and delivery system development is. Whereas sad Syria is suffering the agonies of realizing that the Dear Leader, is wasting the majority of its subjects potential and that the only way to change that is to change the leadership.

    Now some are asking why can’t we ‘do a Libia’ and I think the argument is that both the socio/economic and military situations are far more complex in Syria, the bad guy and his military are not utterly incompetent and the rebels are dispersed and often ambivalent about the use of violence. I think that the maps and the text show that the majority of the Military Potential of the Anti Assad camp have not become engaged.

    • What happens if Iraq blows up as we go in and blow up Syria, and then we really do have to do something about Iran.
    • Is it possible the Kurd, Shia, Sunni ethno religious cocktail goes cablooey.
    • What if the Kurds get the bit in their tenth regarding a Kurdistan stretching across their ethnic foot print (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and I think Iran)Do the Shia try for Shiastan…and that means bits of Shiadom on the other side of the Sunni Crescent in Iraq and Syria.
    • Do the Sunni go for an Emirate partnered with Saudi Arabia

    Things could really go to hell…and they may be on their way already regardless of what we or the west in general want.

    This can be interpreted as negative, but is it? And are there other factors?

    Plant Power alone sucks up $$$

    From Technology Can We Build Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs? I think the answer is a resounding yes though I agree there is reason to be cautious.

    Charts discussing manufacturing in the US
    Does this represent net loss or just change?

    As I have discussed before there is at least reasonable evidence that manufacturing in the US is on the upswing and while the charts paint a disappointing picture one has to be a bit careful about what is being measured. If mass production were giving way to boutique build +value add, might one miss it because we are importing what are essentially the bricks and mortar (which we by the way mostly designed or own a big part of) and the customization and final build (with their higher margins and more creative content) is done here?

    There is an interesting section in here dealing with the founder of A123 and then with a couple of solar cell manufacturers.  And the author makes some very telling points.  I think they should be emphasized:

    1. Unless there is a very fundamental change in a product, improving process technology to produce a that product will not start out producing a cheaper product and unless you can get over the hump of higher cost and lower sales the guy with the bog standard product and highly refined standard process will eat you alive.
    2. Controlling one (however important) process or input material does not mean you control the market, a sudden change in market dynamics, possibly one you created, can suddenly pull the prop out from under you and if you only have one prop you are finished.
    3. Getting from prototype to production is horribly expensive especially in a mass market (which are almost by definition price sensitive and commoditzed ones) A first article will cost you K, getting that product in front of customers is likely to cost you 2 time K and getting into production 5 times to 10 times as much again, sometimes many times more. 
      1. Why you Ask? Because you can do a lot of research for say $1M, that’s enough to support three or four researchers for a year.  But once you have to show it to a customer you have to be able to replicate the work and make either a full scale device and or prove you can do so repetitively or have a process that scales from desktop to garage at least and that usually takes 2 or 3 years or 2 or 3 times as much effort and expense.  The when you go to production you now have to build a factory staff it, train the staff, fill out all the paperwork, pay the lawyers to make sure you’re not doing anything illegal etc, etc.  And you then have to make enough of your product to put on the shelf and most of the time you have to price it at well below cost because the first batches and the smaller batches are much, much, MUCH more expensive than the run of the lot will be later and you cannot charge 10x the expected price.  Selling the first  ???  units at an average of 1/?? their actual cost can eat up a huge amount of money.

    The first comment after the article makes the point that established companies have in my way of thinking ‘normalized and processed’ innovation out of their main line business because of the costs.  It is easy to project cost and risk with incremental improvements.   The costs and risks of really new products/processes (disruptive ones) are much more uncertain, and few managers are allowed the latitude to innovate in big, risky ways. 

    But this circles back around, does this in fact facilitate the creative destruction that the US industrial base has depended on.  Once large corporations run by bull-headed industrialists did the risky stuff.  When that generation was replaced by the MBA brigade they froze up.  Then the innovations erupted in a series of mid rankers with mavericks at their head or in a series of entrepreneurial start-ups who then took down many of the old guard.  Are we seeing the wake of another change of phase…

    Anyway a good article but don’t take it as gloom and doom, its pretty evenly pro as well as con.

    Some very blunt advice…

    This article from the Cato Institute is very hard for me to argue with. Essentially the only parts of gov’t that matter when talking about deficits are (drum roll please) Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Defense department. And even the DoD is relatively small beer, it’s a traditional bee in the bonnet of Libertarian/Cato types (with some reason.) Mr. Bandow points out that all of these programs have to become purely means tested, I think the age has to move up into the mid seventies and should start doing so essentially on a year every year basis ASAP and that anyone ten years or more from ‘retirement’ would be affected, ten years is a huge time horizon to deal with the change.

    Anyway read the article it’s timely and prescribes the sort of major overhaul we need.