Apple Stealing from Employees

Apple SucksAnother article that I’ve been waiting to write about is Apple’s theft from their employees. It amazes me that Apple has such a good reputation among young, liberal minded people. They are, in fact, a horror of a company. After all, Walmart may treat its employees poorly, but at least they hire a lot of them. Apple has a small core of employees that its treats about as well as any high tech firm. Then there is most of its American workforce (70%): the Apple Store employees who are little more than minimum wage slaves. And then there is the factory workers outside the country who are treated despicably. And this is all in support of one of the most profitable companies in the world that has been sitting on tens of billions of dollars in cash.

It turns out that working for Apple is even worse than this. Two weeks ago, Matt Yglesias reported on a class action lawsuit against Apple by its own employees at its retail outlets. Because Apple sells very small devices that sell for big bucks, all Apple Store employees are physically searched before leaving the store. I’m sure it isn’t what people have in mind when they think of the “Apple lifestyle.” Yglesias offers an apologia of sorts for this behavior on the part of Apple. But I wonder. After all, people work at all kinds of retail places where there is plenty of cash and those businesses manage to get by without pat downs. But regardless, Apple does it and it is so super keen that young people just love to work in those sterile white rooms.

The lawsuit isn’t about that at all. It turns out that Apple requires their employees to clock out before they are searched. So the minute or two that it takes for the search is something that Apple just can’t afford. And remember: this is a lawsuit. It must be the case that employees have been asking Apple to change this policy and Apple has refused. Remember: Apple has much more cash than it knows what to do with. But paying its employees another 50 cents per day is not one of those things they can use their money for. Yglesias explained the situation:

But one way or another, it’s indefensible. And that’s particularly true because of Apple’s larger corporate and financial structure. It obtains extremely high gross margins on the stuff it sells, and it’s not even coming close to using all that money to fuel new investments and expansion. Recently they’ve started taking some of their enormous surplus and kicking it out to shareholders as dividends and repurchases, which is a bit lame. But the bulk of Apple’s profits are absolutely idle. And it’s pretty clear that financial markets drastically discount the value of Apple’s hoarded cash on the perfectly reasonable grounds that the company seems to have no idea what to do with tens of billions of extra dollars. Tim Cook could stop shortchanging these Apple Store guys and leave nobody at all worse off.

Yes, they could. But that is not the Apple way. It’s a really vile company and I’m glad that Google and Samsung are kicking its ass. I really do think that Apple’s days are numbered. In 10 years, they could be as irrelevant as BlackBerry. The one thing they have is a good brand. If people knew more about how they operate, that brand would tarnish quickly.

Outrage Addiction

Fast Times at Ridgemont HighGiven the lack of political news, I have the opportunity to get caught up with some older articles that I haven’t gotten to yet. One of them is another article by Kathleen Geier, The Right’s Latest Candidate for History’s Greatest Monster: Jeff Spicoli. For those of you who aren’t so old, Jeff Spicoli is the surfer dude in Fast Times at Ridgemont High played by the young Sean Penn. He is the guy who famously ordered a pizza in history class and when questioned as to what he was doing, said, “Learning about Cuba; having some food.”

It seems that Fox News now has it out for surfer dudes who are collecting welfare. That’s very typical of the conservative movement: get people upset about a justifiably annoying issue that is literally exceptional and totally unimportant on a large scale. It is an issue that I’ve thought about a lot. And I have yet to come up with a way to talk to people about it. It doesn’t seem to matter (for example) that there are only a hand full of surfer dudes collecting food stamps and that they really have no relevance to the issue of food stamps which help millions of people who really are struggling. The surfer dudes make them angry and they can’t let go.

Geier gets to the heart of what is going on, I think. She wrote, “Like hippie punching, hating on the hipsters enables puritanical conservatives to feel morally superior to young people who reject certain bourgeois norms and who seem to be having some fun in their lives.” Now I don’t know about the reasons that these people feel superior. Geier suggests it is that the young people are having fun and the conservatives are not because they are old and bitter. But I’ve seen this same thing coming from young people. What seems to be going on is simple in-group and out-group politics. What they do is wrong simply because it is them. Often what is being done is the same thing. That’s certainly the case when affluent Social Security recipients complain about employable surfers getting food stamps.

The question is why is it so fulfilling. I think it is that feeling morally superior is like a drug. I’ve watched it. Hell, I’ve felt it. There is something deeply satisfying in justified anger. Clearly, neurotransmitters are released. But the effect is short lived and it needs constant tweaking. And that explains why three million people tune into Bill O’Reilly every night. They are getting their moral superiority fix while BillO gets his rage fix. Of course, people get this in a lot of different ways. I think the same thing (to a lesser extent) explains the popularity of the judge and “cops” shows.

I wish I knew a way to get through to these people, but it may be that I am especially ill-qualified in this endeavor. It isn’t that I don’t feel morally superior to others. I most definitely do. But it burns low and constant. Any given outrage story brings out my science training: I look for the error in the reporting. If that doesn’t work, I put it into perspective. Those two tools eliminate 99% of all outrage as I explain to everyone whenever they come to me with one. But apart from all of this learned behavior, I just don’t have the proper receptors for these outrage transmitters. When I hear of someone taking advantage, it just makes me sad. And that’s how I feel about all those outrage addicts who inject it right into their eyes and ears every night. It’s very sad—for them and us.

Where Schrodinger’s At

Erwin SchrodingerThe great violinist and composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber was born on this day in 1644. I guess he is technically a Baroque composer but his music doesn’t really sound like it. Of course, it also doesn’t sound like Renaissance either. Regardless, it is beautiful stuff. Here is his Mystery Sonata No. 1:

English composer Maurice Greene was born in 1696. He was an organist and you can definitely hear it in his music. Nonetheless, the music is quite nice. Here is one of this “harpsichord lessons” played on the piano:

Lake poet Robert Southey was born in 1774. Occultist Helena Blavatsky was born in 1831. Hitler’s mom Klara Hitler was born in 1860. Apparently, he never got over her death and that’s why he became a despot. Just kidding! You can’t even make a good Nazi joke anymore! The great American mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart was born in 1876. Director Cecil B. DeMille was born in 1881.

The great Hungarian abstract painter Tamas Lossonczy was born in 1904 and only died a couple of years ago at the age of 105. Can you imagine living through that period? Actor Jane Wyatt was born in 1910. She is most remembered for playing Spock’s mom on Star Trek. She is also famous for having the good sense to never marry Ronald Reagan. Independent filmmaker Samuel Fuller was born in 1912. You can find some of his films like Shock Corridor complete on YouTube. Actor Fulton Mackay was born in 1922. And the great actor John Cazale was born in 1935. Here he is in one of my favorite films, The Conversation:

TV director Richard L. Bare is 100 today. He directed The Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.” The great boogieman of the right, George Soros is 83. I read one of his books. He has some good ideas but he is no liberal loon. In fact, I would say he is more or less a New Democrat. But I guess even that is scary to modern day conservatives. Novelist and screenwriter William Goldman is 82 today. I admire his work, but I’m a much bigger fan of his brother James. Still, The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are both great. Speaking of conservative boogiemen, Willie Horton is 62. Remember this ad the next time someone claims that conservatives used to be reasonable:

And the president of France Francois Hollande is 59 today. I had hoped for more from him but there is no doubting that he is infinitely better than Sarkozy.

The day, however, belongs to one of the icons of 20th century physics Erwin Schrodinger who was born in 1887. There were two primary formalizations of quantum theory. The first was Schrodinger’s, which looked at potentialities in an explicitly statistical way. The so called wave equation tends to confuse people, I think. As a result of it people seem to think it has something to do with the particles and waves. Soon after Schrodinger’s work, Werner Heisenberg came up with a different formalism that used infinite matrices. Schrodinger quickly showed that the two systems were the same. Which version of the theory one uses is almost entirely dependent upon what field you are working in. Physical chemists tend to use Schrodinger. Theoretical physicists use Heisenberg. I think you can guess what I prefer.

Schrodinger's Cat

Most people know of Schrodinger because of his cat thought experiment. Here it is from the great name’s own pen:

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a “blurred model” for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

In other words, the cat is part alive and part dead. Schrodinger did not like that interpretation of his work and he never accepted it. There are many alternative interpretations. I don’t see the problem. I think that physicists have a tendency to mistake their theories for reality. The universe isn’t like that. It is a testament to our remarkable brains that we can construct models of the universe. But that is all that they are: models.

Still, there is no doubt that quantum mechanics (like all models of the universe) raised important existential questions. Indeed, both Schrodinger and Heisenberg were mystics. And that makes perfect sense—at least to me. What I don’t understand is how anyone can stare into the vastness of time and space and not marvel at it—at times even getting lost in it.

Happy birthday Erwin Schrodinger!

Rodney Alexander: Crazy Hypocritical Opportunist

Rodney AlexanderRegular readers know where I stand on switching parties. It makes perfect sense for Republicans to switch to the Democratic Party. For one thing, the modern Democratic Party really is a big tent. But more to the point: the Democratic Party has moved aggressively to the right. If a Republican had just held onto his beliefs since 1985, he would now be in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. (Similarly, someone like me who fit into the mainstream of the Democratic Party in 1985 now finds himself crammed at the liberal edge of the modern party.) In addition to this, I understand how people slowly move with their parties: humans are social animals and there is nothing surprising or even really bad about this.

But what are we to make of people who were in the Democratic Party for years and one day decided, “That Democratic Party has just gotten too liberal”? I’m not talking about people who have political conversions. I understand that as well. People have blinding insights in which the whole world looks different. Often those insights are idiotic. (See, for example, Christopher Hitchens.) But one rarely hears this. Usually it is simply that they stayed just the same and the Democratic Party got (quickly or slowly) all ultra-liberal.

Think about that for a second. The Democratic Party wasn’t liberal under Johnson when a huge new entitlement program Medicare was started. It wasn’t liberal when Clinton tried and failed to enact healthcare reform that was more liberal than Obamacare. But now! Those liberal Democrats have gone over to the dark side. This is the argument that these people are making. I don’t see the sense in it. These people are moving from a large and expanding ideological pool to a small and shrinking one.

Last week, Louisiana Republican Representative Rodney Alexander announced that he is retiring. He is one of these people. From 1988 to 2004, he was a Democrat. But in 2004, according to Wikipedia, he ran as a “Republican, changing parties on 6 August 2004, only three months before the election and only 30 minutes before the filing deadline, ensuring that no Democrat could challenge him. The move was widely derided as being ‘cowardly’.” You remember 2004: the Abu Ghraib torture that was implicitly (If not explicitly!) sanctioned by the administration; allowing North Korea to get the bomb; and Bush being the first president since Herbert Hoover to have net job losses during a four year term. Alexander had to get in on all of that!

On the New York Times editorial page, Juliet Lapidos noted something very interesting about Alexander’s reason for retiring. He said he couldn’t take the gridlock. Meanwhile, he voted to repeal Obamacare each of the 40 times the useless bill came up. But it is not too surprising that the Abu Ghraib, North Korea, Jobless Recovery guy would also be hysterically opposed to Obamacare. People who move from Democrat to Republican are either crazy or political opportunists or both. I don’t know which one Alexander is for sure (both I would guess), but there is no doubt with his retirement statements, he is a hypocrite.

Eric Cantor Now Outside GOP Mainstream

Eric CantorIt is a funny old world. It seems upside down. It is as if the drunk dozing in an alley has more wisdom to offer that the local pastor. (Which may be true!) And that is the sense that I have today, at least in politics. When Eric Cantor starts sounding reasonable, anything seems possible. But it isn’t really that the world is out of balance. Nor is it the case that Cantor is actually being reasonable. As I wrote about just two days ago, the Republican Party has gotten more and more nihilistic ever since Reagan. The critical phrase here is “more and more” because it is indeed getting worse.

Eric Cantor has long been one of the great examples of Republican nihilism. But the Republican Party seems now to have passed him by. Back in April, he put forward a bill that would extend coverage to people with preexisting conditions. The idea was to make the Republicans looks good while harming the overall framework of Obamacare. It would at least have put Democrats in a awkward position. It was a great example of old fashioned political strategy. As much as I may disagree with what he wanted to accomplish, at least he was doing something that might work. The House Republicans would have none of it, however, and the bill was pulled without a vote. Since then, I think they’ve voted for a full repeal of Obamacare another 3 times or something.

Today, I learn thanks to Steve Benen that Cantor thinks that a shutdown of the government is a bad thing. Can you imagine?! According to the National Review, he said:

To get 60 votes in the Senate, you need at least 14 Democrats to join Republicans and pass a CR [continuing resolution] that defunds Obamacare. Right now, I am not aware of a single Democrat in the Senate who would join us. If and when defunding has 60 votes in the Senate, we will absolutely deliver more than 218 votes in the House.

If it weren’t for the arm rests, I would have fallen out of my chair. Is he actually suggesting that shutting down the government for the purpose of “sending a message” is a bad idea?! The next thing you know, Cantor will switch parties. I mean, this short, two data point trend of Cantor’s seems to indicate that he has some interest in doing something, and that puts him well outside the mainstream of his current party.

Of course, just look at how far expectations have fallen. All Cantor is doing is making political calculations. But that is a big deal. For a lot of the House Republican caucus, doing nothing—with the inevitable result that it will destroy the whole system—is the point of going to Washington! That and stopping abortion and lowering the corporate tax rate. (You know what they say, “To God, every corporate dollar is sacred.”) In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king! Eric Cantor is that one-eyed man.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a drunk to discuss some problems in my life.